Wednesday, June 30, 2010

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Bitter in the Mouth

“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:

Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong

From the publisher:
From Monique Truong, the bestselling and award-winning author of The Book of Salt, comes a brilliant, mesmerizing, beautifully written novel about a young woman’s search for identity and family, as she uncovers the secrets of her past and of history.

Growing up in the small town of Boiling Springs, North Carolina, in the 70’s and 80’s, Linda believes that she is profoundly different from everyone else, including the members of her own family. “What I know about you, little girl, would break you in two” are the cruel, mysterious last words that Linda’s grandmother ever says to her.

Now in her thirties, Linda looks back at her past when she navigated her way through life with the help of her great-uncle Harper, who loves her and loves to dance, and her best friend Kelly, with whom Linda exchanges almost daily letters. The truth about my family was that we disappointed one another. When I heard the word “disappoint,” I tasted toast, slightly burnt.

For as long as she can remember, Linda has experienced a secret sense—she can “taste” words, which have the power to disrupt, dismay, or delight. She falls for names and what they evoke: Canned peaches. Dill. Orange sherbet. Parsnip (to her great regret). But with crushes comes awareness. As with all bodies, Linda’s is a mystery to her, in this and in other ways. Even as Linda makes her way north to Yale and New York City, she still does not know the truth about her past.

Then, when a personal tragedy compels Linda to return to Boiling Springs, she gets to know a mother she never knew and uncovers a startling story of a life, a family. Revelation is when God tells us the truth. Confession is when we tell it to him.

This astonishing novel questions many assumptions—about what it means to be a family and to be a friend, to be foreign and to be familiar, to be connected and to be disconnected—from others and from the past, our bodies, our histories, and ourselves.

Publishing 8/31/2010 by Random House.

Book Review: A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz

Very recently I had been lamenting to a friend that I was melancholy as I'd only read one 5-star book this year (stars are on my Goodreads reviews.) And then I read A Voyage Long and Strange! Yay! My second 5-star book this year! I ran across this book a couple of months ago at a friend's house in Chicago. I was just about to hide it amongst my jeans in my suitcase when I noticed it was autographed. Argh. I couldn't even ask to borrow it since I live in another state. I looked at all the maps and other images throughout, read the first few pages, and lusted for it. I got a copy shortly after I got home which like every book I own, joined a pile of hundreds of its friends. Sunday I picked it up to Read All Day. I will admit to not having finished it in one day but it is longish (400 pp.) and has a ton of information, and also I was thrilled that it took so long to read as I got to enjoy it all the longer!

Mr. Horwitz was in Plymouth, MA, and saw the Plymouth Rock. If you've ever seen it, it's a big let-down. It's fairly small, has a big crack down the middle, and really doesn't hold up to its publicity. He thought it was a little silly to have so much hype for something not important in American history (and actually, whether it has any historic importance is even up for debate), as Plymouth was by far from the first place Europeans set foot on American soil. In fact, what happened between Plymouth and 1492? That's a good chunk of time. And of course the answer isn't "nothing." So Mr. Horwitz sets out to find out exactly what happened during that century that history class normally skips. Turns out, a lot, and it was pretty interesting (in my opinion history class always skips the interesting stuff.)

Did you know that Plymouth wouldn’t have been colonized if not for Syphilis? And the woman who successfully got Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday is the same woman who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”? And that St. Augustine, FL is 50 years older than Plymouth? And that Vikings (actually Greenlanders) visited Canada and Maine centuries before Columbus?

I thought this book was going to be a more straightforward history book, but instead it's also a memoir/travelogue. Mr. Horwitz literally follows in the footsteps of the explorers and conquistadors (and slaves and castaways) that traipse nearly all over the lower 48 prior to the landing of the Mayflower. He visits historic sites (many sadly difficult to find, neglected, and some even paved over or sunken), and talks with park rangers, tour guides, local historians, reenactors, and sometimes local kooks. I was impressed actually with the number of locals he talked to who do know who Coronado and Hernando de Soto are (in fact, I fear a quiz taken at my local suburban Wal-Mart would result in far worse answers than he gets in the back woods and rural communities of the South and Southwest.)

Although Mr. Horwitz is erudite and full of historical research, he manages to talk to otherwise reticent individuals who don't always want to share, and obviously doesn't come across as a snob. He's willing to go into a Florida swamp in summer, eat mysterious foods, and canoe across the Mississippi river. I imagine his willingness to try things goes a long way towards his ability to get strangers to talk to him. He's also fun and funny. He recognizes irony and the humor in futility. He doesn't treat these explorers with reverence, nor is he attempting to tear down all sacred cows with his research. He is trying to present realistic portrayals of men who today's society might find to be racist barbarians, and even occasionally crazy (I have read excerpts of Columbus's journals and Mr. Horwitz is very kind in his summary of them.) Mr. Horwitz goes into this project with an open mind, and a healthy dose of skepticism and determination. I occasionally laughed out loud, learned a vast amount (most of which is pretty darn useless, my favorite kind of information!), and immediately ordered his other books. To me, this book read a lot like Bill Bryson's travels around the U.S., but with a large dose of historical facts sprinkled in. I am thoroughly annoyed with myself that I had heard about his books when they came out, I even thought to myself that they sounded good and like I'd like them, and then I didn't do anything. Didn't buy then, didn't read them. Am rectifying that egregious oversight now. Expect reviews of Blue Latitudes and Confederates in the Attic later this year! I absolutely loved this book. A perfect chaser to it would be Mayflower by Nathanial Philbrick, who takes over just where Tony Horwitz ends (although not with much humor or irreverance.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and other Adventurers in Early America by Tony Horwitz

"Kent acknowledged that this passion for close-range killing made the Spaniards 'unpleasant people,' at least by our standards. As a soldier though, he admired their endurance and discipline."
p. 243

The book is absolutely fascinating. Obscure history made real is really one of my very favorite things.

Bestsellers of the Century!

Thanks to Books on the Nightstand for pointing me to this list of bestsellers across the decades, compiled from Publishers Weekly by the Washington Post's The Answer Sheet. It doesn't include this last decade though, I suppose because we are still in 2010. What's interesting to me is how few I've read (only three!) and even more, how few I've heard of! The lists include nonfiction for the last 50 years but only fiction for the first 50. Which is a pity because the nonfiction list is funnier. It's fascinating how many of these books are not an author's most famous book. I have 1 on my TBR list (The Burden of Proof) but most of these I don't particularly want to read (possible exceptions: Kon-Tiki and Hawaii). I did use this as an excuse to finally watch the movie of The French Lieutenant's Woman which had been saved on my TiVo for months. How many have you read?

update: these are not lists of the full decade, but just a list from every 10 years. So the list from 1990 is only the top 10 from that year. Now I wonder why there was no 2000 list included, since they could easily have done that one without 2010 data.

1. The Plains of Passage, Jean M. Auel
2. Four Past Midnight, Stephen King
3. The Burden of Proof, Scott Turow
4. Memories of Midnight, Sidney Sheldon
5. Message from Nam, Danielle Steel
6. The Bourne Ultimatum, Robert Ludlum
7. The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, Stephen King
8. Lady Boss, Jackie Collins
9. The Witching Hour, Anne Rice
10. September, Rosamunde Pilcher

1. A Life on the Road, Charles Kuralt
2. The Civil War, Geoffrey C. Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns
3. The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Heritage: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother, Jeff Smith
4. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
5. Financial Self-Defense: How To Win the Fight for Financial Freedom, Charles J. Givens
6. Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child, John Bradshaw
7. Wealth Without Risk: How To Develop a Personal Fortune Without Going Out on a Limb, Charles J. Givens
8. Bo Knows Bo, Bo Jackson and Dick Schaap
9. An American Life: An Autobiography, Ronald Reagan
10. Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990s, John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene

1. The Covenant, James A. Michener
2. The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum
3. Rage of Angels, Sidney Sheldon
4. Princess Daisy, Judith Krantz
5. Firestarter, Stephen King
6. The Key to Rebecca, Ken Follett
7. Random Winds, Belva Plain
8. The Devil’s Alternative, Frederick Forsyth
9. The Fifth Horseman, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre
10. The Spike, Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss

1. Crisis Investing: Opportunities and Profits in the Coming Great Depression, Douglas R. Casey
2. Cosmos, Carl Sagan
3. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, Milton and Rose Friedman
4. Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient, Norman Cousins
5. Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Gay Talese
6. The Sky’s the Limit, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
7. The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler
8. Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet, Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey
9. Nothing Down, Robert Allen
10. Shelley: Also Known as Shirley, Shelley Winters

1. Love Story, Erich Segal
2. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
3. Islands in the Stream, Ernest Hemingway
4. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart
5. Great Lion of God, Taylor Caldwell
6. QB VII, Leon Uris
7. The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, Jimmy Breslin
8. The Secret Woman, Victoria Holt
9. Travels with My Aunt, Graham Greene
10. Rich Man, Poor Man, Irwin Shaw

1. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex but Were Afraid To Ask, David Reuben, M.D.
2. The New English Bible
3. The Sensuous Woman, "J"
4. Better Homes and Gardens Fondue and Tabletop Cooking
5. Up the Organization, Robert Townsend
6. Ball Four, Jim Bouton7. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris
8. Body Language, Julius Fast
9. In Someone’s Shadow, Rod McKuen
10. Caught in the Quiet, Rod McKuen

1. Advise and Consent, Allen Drury
2. Hawaii, James A. Michener
3. The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa
4. The Chapman Report, Irving Wallace
5. Ourselves To Know, John O’Hara
6. The Constant Image, Marcia Davenport
7. The Lovely Ambition, Mary Ellen Chase
8. The Listener, Taylor Caldwell
9. Trustee from the Toolroom, Nevil Shute
10. Sermons and Soda-Water, John O’Hara

1. Folk Medicine, D. C. Jarvis
2. Better Homes and Gardens First Aid for Your Family
3. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook
4. May This House Be Safe from Tigers, Alexander King
5. Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Book
6. Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Ideas
7. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer
8. The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater
9. I Kid You Not, Jack Paar
10. Between You, Me and the Gatepost, Pat Boone

1. The Cardinal, Henry Morton Robinson
2. Joy Street, Frances Parkinson Keyes
3. Across the River and into the Trees, Ernest Hemingway
4. The Wall, John Hersey
5. Star Money, Kathleen Winsor
6. The Parasites, Daphne du Maurier
7. Floodtide, Frank Yerby
8. Jubilee Trail, Gwen Bristow
9. The Adventurer, Mika Waltari
10. The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg

1. Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book
2. The Baby
3. Look Younger, Live Longer, Gayelord Hauser
4. How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, Frank Bettger
5. Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl
6. Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, Peter Marshall
7. Your Dream Home, Hubbard Cobb
8. The Mature Mind, H. A. Overstreet
9. Campus Zoo, Clare Barnes Jr.
10. Belles on Their Toes, Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

1. How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellyn
2. Kitty Foyle, Christopher Morley
3. Mrs. Miniver, Jan Struther
4. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
5. The Nazarene, Sholem Asch
6. Stars on the Sea, F. van Wyck Mason
7. Oliver Wiswell, Kenneth Roberts
8. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
9. Night in Bombay, Louis Bromfield
10. The Family, Nina Fedorova

1. Cimarron, Edna Ferber
2. Exile, Warwick Deeping
3. The Woman of Andros, Thornton Wilder
4. Years of Grace, Margaret Ayer Barnes
5. Angel Pavement, J. B. Priestley
6. The Door, Mary Roberts Rinehart
7. Rogue Herries, Hugh Walpole
8. Chances, A. Hamilton Gibbs
9. Young Man of Manhattan, Katharine Brush
10. Twenty-Four Hours, Louis Bromfield

1. The Man of the Forest, Zane Grey
2. Kindred of the Dust, Peter B. Kyne
3. The Re-Creation of Brian Kent, Harold Bell Wright
4. The River’s End, James Oliver Curwood
5. A Man for the Ages, Irving Bacheller
6. Mary-Marie, Eleanor H. Porter
7. The Portygee, Joseph C. Lincoln
8. The Great Impersonation, E. Phillips Oppenheim
9. The Lamp in the Desert, Ethel M. Dell
10. Harriet and the Piper, Kathleen Norris

1. The Rosary, Florence Barclay
2. A Modern Chronicle, Winston Churchill
3. The Wild Olive, anonymous (Basil King)
4. Max, Katherine Cecil Thurston
5. The Kingdom of Slender Swords, Hallie Erminie Rives
6. Simon the Jester, William J. Locke
7. Lord Loveland Discovers America, C. N. and A. M. Williamson
8. The Window at the White Cat, Mary Roberts Rinehart
9. Molly Make-Believe, Eleanor Abbott
10. When a Man Marries, Mary Roberts Rinehart

Monday, June 28, 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:
Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? by Jen Lancaster
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz

Up Next:

Algonquin Books is an awesome independent publishers here in my state (NC) and I have these books of theirs on my TBR pile currently:
Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart (I have a black thumb and hate gardening, but I have read two of her previous books - The Earth Moved and Flower Confidential - and loved them both)
Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith (short story collection, and sadly not about Jane Austen)
A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein

Book Review:Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

An accessible and well-written biography of the scandalous and brilliant Egyptian queen, Ms. Schiff has given us a new thinking about Cleopatra VII.

Turns out I didn't know much about Cleopatra at all, only what I'd gleaned from Shakespeare and Elizabeth Taylor in passing, having not actually even watched all of either performance (which is all well and good as those tales are spurious at best.) One thing I didn't realize was how close in time Cleopatra's time (and hence Julius Caesar's, Mark Antony's, and Octavian's) was to the time of Jesus. In fact, Herod was a contemporary of Cleopatra's. She was born in 69 BC. A family of Greeks that had long ruled Egypt, the Ptolemys were notorious for marrying their siblings, and killing most of their immediate families (including parents, children, siblings, spouses), and for being direct descendants of Alexander the Great. Cleopatra was married twice, both times to her brothers, the first one tried to overthrow her, and the second one she had killed before he could get such notions. She had 4 children, 1 by Caesar and 3 by Mark Antony. She ruled Alexandria and Egypt for 22 years. Well-educated, Cleopatra was fluent in many languages, and was a master manipulator. Her first husband/brother at thirteen years old had exiled her and would have killed her. Undeterred, the 21-year-old Cleopatra snuck into the capital and into the palace under his nose, to persuade Julius Caesar to take up her cause.

Her famed beauty is mostly mythological if we look at her image on her coins, the only images we have from her era. But she did certainly have a way of bringing men under her spell. A quick study and a thoughtful scene-stealer, she went out of her way to create a vision of herself that spoke to men's egos. Not a strumpet or a loose woman, she seemed very faithful to the two fathers of her children. As a powerful woman, most of her story tellers found her indefensible, wanton, conniving, and frightening, and therefore the stories we have of her have been colored by fiction. Ms. Schiff is a historian of the first order, who manages to brush away all the tall tales and rumors, to leave bare the truth of the richest ruler of the time, who managed an empire nearly as large as Rome's, as peacefully as one could be in that era, and who lived on her own terms.

Lyrically written, this is a first-rate biography. Ms. Schiff brings ancient Egypt to life, with the Alexandrian library and Cleopatra's decadent feasts and celebrations. An inspiring and calculating ruler, Cleopatra should serve as an example of what a strong woman ruler can do (minus the familial bloodshed; but in her defense, that was a centuries-old tradition which primarily served to save her life and her throne. Along with her husband-brother, her sister Arsinoe also planned to usurp her. Her older sister Berenice, was killed by their father, after she had ruled in his absence. Killing her sencond husband-brother before he could get any bright ideas was just the smart thing to do.) Thoroughly enjoyable, I really respect Cleopatra for all she accomplished and for doing things her own way.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Review: Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster

Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? by Jen Lancaster

You really need the full subtitle to truly appreciate Ms. Lancaster's humor and snarkiness. Another funny, fun memoir from the twisted mind of Jen Lancaster. Some of hers have more of a point (losing weight, getting a job) than others, and this is less of a themed memoir with a point than simply a bridge book between two others, and it's just a year in the life of Jen. Not that this is any kind of a complaint, but some people who like memoirs to always have a point and not just be like a journal might want to steer away from this one.

I do have one teeny-tiny issue with this book is that one of her temp jobs is working for a darling Southern gentleman, and she relates his Southern language as best she can, but she frequently has him saying "y'all" when he's only referring to Jen. Not to the staff in the office or Jen and Fletch, or Jen and his other assistant, but just Jen. I'm sorry, and I know she's a Yankee so I shouldn't be hard on her, but Southerners just don't do that (except when words are put in our mouths by Yankees.) I was worried about mentioning this. I don't want Jen to hate me, because I love her. I worry this will be our "scrunchy" moment like Carrie and Burger when she had just one teeny tiny criticism of his book and it ruined everything for him. For me, as a former editor but even more just as a well-read former English major who does read deeply and for meaning and knowledge as well as escape, a critique shows how closely I did read a book. I only pick because I love.

That said, as usual Ms. Lancaster is mean and shallow and hilarious and smart and I loved every minute of this book. I adore that she works out in pearls (and I am tempted to do so myself.) I agree with her wholeheartedly as regards the brilliant Don Knotts (although I haven't seen that movie she references and it kind of scares me.) I admire her patience with her dogs, and with Fletch's cooking. I agree that those kids probably did have sex on his boss's boat.

One thing I find fascinating is when she talked about going to Barnes & Noble and seeing her book (Bitter is the New Black). I can't recall any other memoir I've read where the memoirist acknowledges that they are a bestselling author. People like David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell and J. Maarten Troost make most if not all of their money from writing, and yet you wouldn't know that from reading their books. The only book I can think of that has a moment of knowledge is A. J. Jacobs's The Guinea Pig Diaries when he decides one of his crazy months of doing bizarre things ought to be doing everything his wife says, since so many people comment to him on how she must be a saint, putting up with his months (and years) of personal experiments. But that still only acknowledges the things he writes about, not the writing, editing, touring, etc. I really appreciate that in Ms. Lancaster's books. They really are about being a writer. she talks about deadlines, her pretty jacket, having to go to book signings, and so on. She also of course talks about being bored writing, and avoiding writing, which is the real reality of the job!

I really needed a light, humorous book this week and it's lovely to have someone so reliable. I know I can't go wrong with a Jen Lancaster book. They hit the spot, every time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Do Nothing But Read Day - tomorrow!

Sunday June 27 is Do Nothing But Read Day. This is good timing, as the rest of my weekend is fairly full, and yet I really want to read two books this weekend:

Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets and Growing Up in the 1970s by Margaret Sartor

A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and other Adventurers in Early America by Tony Horwitz

About a month ago I picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Read 80 pages, and then got stuck. I managed to squeeze in a book here and there but this book was like a curse. Even after I decided to give up on it, it was oozing bad juju into my home. I've finally gotten it out of my house, and I am trying to reverse the curse. That means recently I have completely indulged my natural tendency to read nothing but nonfiction, particularly memoirs and history. I do hope to get back to fiction, but have to make sure the bad vibes are 100% gone first. Can't risk another week where I only catch up on back issues of Newsweek. (Plus, only have one of those now, since I caught up during the Hedgehog-induced malaise.)

Also, at work we have a year-long reading contest going on. I am currently #16. If I read 2 books this weekend (and I also have only 30 pages left in my current read so I will in fact have completed 3 books by Monday morning), I should be able to leapfrog up to #14. Provided those other women (only 1 man in the top 20) spend the weekend doing other things. (I'd have to read 6 MORE books to catch up with #13, so I think 14 is by best goal for now.) I am also happy to report that I am currently at 50 books for the year at the end of June. Although I didn't (yet) sign up for the 100+ Books Challenge, since the Southern Reading Challenge is not around this year, I think I will pick that one up. I'm trying to not start new Challenges, but this one just a quantity, not any particular types of books to read, so that I can work well with. And the 3 more books I'll have finished before July will put me in a comfortable position to feel like I can read another Chunkster without falling too behind.

It's blazing hot here. Today it's only supposed to get to 93, after 3 straight days of 98 (two of them setting new records) so sitting inside reading sounds just marvelous. But I really need to get some sun on my feet as all my walking is starting to give me quite a sock mark at my ankle. Either that, or invest in a lot more ankle-strap shoes.

Book Review: Stuart Little By E.B. White

Rereading favorite childhood books as an adult is a funny thing. How can they ever live up to our expectations and memories? But at the same time, if I hadn't reread Stuart Little, I had forgotten most of the stories and would never have remembered the care and thoughtfulness that went into them. E. B. White of course has such as feel for children. He doesn't talk down to them, uses some hard vocabulary words, and he also never explains things in his books. He presents the world in his books as it is and doesn't ever defend how a family's second son could "look very much like a mouse." Yet his stories are reassuring in their consistency and his self-assured tone. This is certainly not to say there aren't grave dangers and scary situations, but children of course need to be exposed to scary things in order to understand that being scared is okay.

The story that really had stuck with me, and that I remembered before rereading, is the one about Stuart Little piloting a sailboat across a pond in Central Park. It's funny that I didn't remember about the canoe at all - even though it's on the cover (and I like canoeing.) But it came back to me the minute I saw Garth William's stunning illustrations of the chapter (is there a better illustrator of children's books? I think not.) I had forgotten all about Margalo, the bird that came to live with them, and while some details - like the little car, and the little girl that he meets - did jog my memory of reading it as a child, other parts - Stuart being a substitute teacher, and ending up on a garbage barge in the East River - seemed completely new to me although they couldn't possibly be. I was quite surprised by the ending. I had erroneously assumed he'd find his friend the bird and return home. Instead, he drives North, continuing to look for her. It implies more fun adventures to come which is certainly thrilling, but it's not the happy, secure ending I had expected. (I'm sure the movie changed that! I really don't want to see it.) Also how many of Stuart's adventures go astray, off-kilter, and sometimes end up with him in quite a bit of danger, but he always gets out okay can be reassuring to children that when they end up in a predicament, even if it doesn't end as they'd have hoped/planned, it still likely will end okay.

Naturally as a child, I saw no Big Messages in these fun stories. I just imagined how much fun it would be to sleep in a bed made from a cigarette box and clothespins, and how funny it was that Stuart had to bang on the handle of the bathroom sink with a mallet to brush his teeth in the morning.

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

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. 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.

Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster

"Dear Carrie Bradshaw,

You are a fucking liar."

I lived in New York City when "Sex and the City" was on TV, and you know what? Jen is so right. Even if Carrie didn't have a super-nice apartment, didn't eat, didn't go out to amazing restaurants and club all the time, didn't wear couture, even if she spent 100% of her salary on her shoes, she still couldn't afford them. Not to mention have you seen New York City streets? They're filthy. I once considered buying some Manolos but I could never have brought myself to touch them to the NYC sidewalks. I would have put them on a pedestal in the middle of my living room. Luckily in the end I decided to pay my rent instead.

Book Blogger Hop!

I am your host, Carin. I post book reviews, a few memes (Teaser Tuesday, Waiting On Wednesday, My Favorite Reads), and on Thursdays I post about jobs in this crazy industry of Book Publishing! Not all of the jobs will be ones you're familiar with, which is exactly the point. I love books, and hope you will join the love! This week I covered Art and Design jobs in publishing.

In the spirit of the Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and find new blogs that we may be missing out on! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed! So, start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list!!

Your blog should have content related to books, including, but not limited to book reviews.

Most importantly, the idea is to HAVE FUN!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My Favorite Reads: Alex & Me

In My Favorite Reads, each week I am featuring one of my favorite reads from the past. June is Pet Adoption Month. Please adopt a pet from a rescue organization or shelter, don't buy one from a breeder.

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process by Irene M. Pepperberg

Summary (from the publisher):
On September 6, 2007, an African Grey parrot named Alex died prematurely at age thirty-one. His last words to his owner, Irene Pepperberg, were "You be good. I love you."

What would normally be a quiet, very private event was, in Alex's case, headline news. Over the thirty years they had worked together, Alex and Irene had become famous—two pioneers who opened an unprecedented window into the hidden yet vast world of animal minds. Alex's brain was the size of a shelled walnut, and when Irene and Alex first met, birds were not believed to possess any potential for language, consciousness, or anything remotely comparable to human intelligence. Yet, over the years, Alex proved many things. He could add. He could sound out words. He understood concepts like bigger, smaller, more, fewer, and none. He was capable of thought and intention. Together, Alex and Irene uncovered a startling reality: We live in a world populated by thinking, conscious creatures.

The fame that resulted was extraordinary. Yet there was a side to their relationship that never made the papers. They were emotionally connected to one another. They shared a deep bond far beyond science. Alex missed Irene when she was away. He was jealous when she paid attention to other parrots, or even people. He liked to show her who was boss. He loved to dance. He sometimes became bored by the repetition of his tests, and played jokes on her. Sometimes they sniped at each other. Yet nearly every day, they each said, "I love you."

Alex and Irene stayed together through thick and thin—despite sneers from experts, extraordinary financial sacrifices, and a nomadic existence from one univer­sity to another. The story of their thirty-year adventure is equally a landmark of scientific achievement and of an unforgettable human-animal bond.

Why I chose this book:
A short, quick read, this is a touching story of the very smart parrot, Alex, who you may have read about when he died (he had an obit in the New York Times as well as on NPR and various other news outlets), and his owner/researcher/friend Irene. Turning conventional wisdom regarding "bird brains" on its head, Alex was irrepressible and charming. Too bad his life was too short. It's amazing to think of what he could have accomplished in another 20 years.

Art and Design: Judge a Book By Its Cover

Art and Design are the creative departments. Design does the interior, Art produces the jacket. The jacket is what we present to the world, but the interior text is what the actual book consists of. Both need a background in art, but you must be able to take criticism, be willing to edit your ideas, and understand that books are a collaborative effort. But you can be an artist with health benefits!

The jacket isn't just the front cover. It includes the back cover, spine, and flaps for a hardcover, and a front, back and spine for paperbacks. At the beginning of a season the Art Department will come to Editorial for a Jacket meeting. All of the books for the upcoming season will be reviewed briefly, with the editor telling the Art Designer if there is any direction for the book. They might say "It needs to look like a Big Book" (which usually means all big type on the front), or say, "It's a chick lit novel but please can it not be pink or yellow, those colors are so overplayed?" or "This book really appeals to readers of Jhumpa Lahiri, so can we do a design that looks pretty much like her last book?" They might bring in actual copies of book jackets to emulate or inspire this book's design. They should give a one-sentence description of the book, and if there's any important symbolism or talisman that ought to be featured prominently, this would be the time for it to be mentioned. The designers will get copies of the manuscripts, but given the time frame, if they're able to read the first 50 pages of each, that's a lot. The more direction Editorial can give them, the better. If this is not a first book, the back cover needs to leave room for blurbs for the author's previous book (or if it's the paperback of a hardcover), but if it's a first book, the designer might need to come up with something for the back cover to hide the fact that there are no blurbs. They need to leave room for logos, barcodes, pricing, and so on. The wording (title, subtitle, and author) on the front cover needs to be readable. The cover needs to convey the proper tone, feel, and atmosphere for the book. A jacket designer will need to initially come up with 4-5 different design concepts for a jacket. They then need to be approved by the editor, publisher, marketing, and sales, and one will come out as the frontrunner. Sometimes an author will have "jacket consultation" in their contract but that isn't the same as "jacket approval" (which almost no authors have) which can slow the process down. All of these people will rip the different designs to pieces. An Art Designer really does need to have a thick skin. While yes, this is art, it has to be legible, appropriate, accurate, and scream "buy me!" They will have to rework a design 15 times. They will get conflicting comments. They work on very tight deadlines. And they have small budgets for most every book. Any special features like a matte cover, spot gloss, a 5th or 6th color (silver, gold), foil, step-back, die-cut, adds expense. Sometimes a designer will be very clever and manage to squeeze a special feature into their budget, such as matte, by not doing a 4-color jacket. Some really appealing jackets have been done with only 2 or 3 colors.

Meanwhile, the Interior Designer is also working away. Most people don't notice, but usually the interior and exterior fonts and designs are completely different (not always of course.) They both might appeal to different audiences. And a font that's really cool for the title might really grate after 400 pages. The interior designer picks the fonts, the chapter headers, where page numbers fall, and if it's a heavily designed book, they might also work on sidebars, callouts, photo captions, quizzes, quotes, illustrations, maps, table of contents, and so on. For cookbooks, travel books, poetry and other specialized books there's even more detail work for the interior designer. Usually just the editor and their boss signs off on the interior.

While the Interior Designer doesn't have the glamorous job, it's almost more important, and it's lower pressure. It can have a lot more design elements to it, and can make or break a book. If a jacket really doesn't work, the publishing house will often redesign it for the paperback, but the interior will stay the same aside from minor copyediting corrections (these are fixed in Production and do not go back to the Designer.)

For you font dorks, here's a hilarious McSweeney's bit about Comic Sans, and a serif joke here. And last year I watched a documentary about Helvetica. This week's Publisher's Weekly cover article is about doing a photo shot for a YA series. The online version doesn't actually show any of the photos though, so you'll want to get your hands on a print copy.

Recently the winners of the AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers competition were announced, and you'll see half the winners are for covers, whereas half are for the book itself. My favorite cover is The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen is a harrowing memoir of what happens when everything goes wrong in a pregnancy.

Alice has known since she was 30 that she was infertile. She had probably always suspected it as she's a DES daughter (her mother took DES, an anti-miscarriage drug, which was later found to cause birth defects, primarily in the reproductive arena of the baby girls.) But while married to her first husband, they wanted to have children, and she was told definitively there was no way. She was also put on horse estrogen pills that she'd probably have to take for the rest of her life, and they adopted a beautiful baby girl.

Fast forward a few years. Alice is divorced, a single Mom, dating a man ten years her junior, and her life is starting to get back on track. She's a writer, performer, and editor (all freelance), and her boyfriend is also a performer. They are very happy, and that's when her health starts to go off the rails. She feels sick all the time, and sore. Her doctors give her antacids and tell her that's just aging. Her period stops and she's having to go to the bathroom all the time. The doctors say she's entering early menopause, and a weakening of the bladder walls is a normal part of aging. Her breasts hurt (must be underwire bras) and she has a swollen abdomen (abdominal muscles lose tone as you get older). She has an x-ray of her aching hip (nothing), a gynecological exam (nothing) and is told, go ahead on vacation to Italy, drink lots of wine and relax. She goes on a diet and tries to work out.

Finally, she goes to the hospital and has an MRI. And that's when she hears the most shocking news. She's expecting them to tell her that she has a tumor, has cancer, will die. Instead, she is 6 months pregnant. She's 44, has been taking horse estrogen pills the whole time, dieting, drinking, taking no vitamins, and naturally (and with reason), she's terrified. The odds of her baby being malformed, handicapped, seriously ill, is very very high. She's not sure having the baby is the best option. But at 6 months, her options are very limited.

She goes through a roller-coaster of emotions as she tries to parse out what would be her best course of action. Her boyfriend is also upset, and they aren't always on the same page. Her insurance is terrible, and she's on bed rest and no high-risk ob/gym in New York will see her.

At the end of each chapter she writes out a list of things she thinks she knows. As a performer and writer, Ms. Cohen knows how to built up tension, how to stay focused on the crucial points, and how to draw the audience in. It's smoothly written and a whirlwind, just like the actual events were. I was riveted to the page and read the whole book in one sitting. I'm not going to spoil the ending, so you'll just have to read it to find out what she decided to do and how that worked out. Great memoir.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Doctor and the Diva

“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 Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell

From the publisher:
A breathtaking novel of romantic obsession, longing and one woman's choice between motherhood and her operatic calling

It is 1903. Dr. Ravell is a young Harvard-educated obstetrician with a growing reputation for helping couples conceive. He has treated women from all walks of Boston society, but when Ravell meets Erika-an opera singer whose beauty is surpassed only by her spellbinding voice-he knows their doctor-patient relationship will be like none he has ever had.

After struggling for years to become pregnant, Erika believes there is no hope. Her mind is made up: she will leave her prominent Bostonian husband to pursue her career in Italy, a plan both unconventional and risky. But becoming Ravell's patient will change her life in ways she never could have imagined.

Lush and stunningly realized, The Doctor and the Diva moves from snowy Boston to the jungles of Trinidad to the gilded balconies of Florence. This magnificent debut is a tale of passionate love affairs, dangerous decisions, and a woman's irreconcilable desires as she is forced to choose between the child she has always longed for and the opera career she cannot live without. Inspired by the author's family history, the novel is sensual, sexy, and heart-stopping in its bittersweet beauty.

Viking Press is publishing on 7/22/2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Audiobook Week

June is National Audiobook month and Devourer of Books has designated this week as Audiobook Week! You might recall how I smashed the Audio Books Challenge, earlier this year. I also contribute to the monthly AudioSynced Audiobook review round-ups hosted by Stacked and Abby (the) Librarian.

In my review yesterday of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, I admit I am finally going to give up on fiction audiobooks. I'm not sure why, but I just can't get into them. Even when they're truly excellent like that one was. So from here on out, I'm going to stick to nonfiction. Unfortunately when I look up nonfiction audiobooks, I usually get a list filled with business, self-help, and religion, all of which fall into my categories of What I'd Least Like to Read. Memoirs, history, and behavioral economics are my bailiwick when it comes to nonfiction. And the most important factor: Unabridged.

I hate abridged books and have one ever listened to them if A) they were free B) they were the only option for a book I really, really wanted to listen to or C) I was unaware it was an abridgement until too late. The absolute worst was 1776 by David McCullough (which fell into category A), as it's a 400 page book, but it was a 4-CD audio. This wasn't just abridged - this was seriously condensed. It was more like reading a long summary of the book. Two other books I listened to abridged - Babyproof (A and B) and Manhunt (B and C), I loved, but left me feeling gypped. What had I missed out on? Was it worth rereading the physical book? Didn't that just mean then that I'd wasted all the time I'd spent listening to the audio? The only abridgements I can tolerate are books like Naked and Assassination Vacation, where the book is more of a series of essays and so instead of shortening the stories, they've just skipped some. That way if I do want to go back and reread the physical book I can skip the stories from the audio and only read the ones that were omitted. But either way, I just don't understand abridgements. What's the point? Sure, some of these audiobooks are long - but they're nearly that long when you read them in physical format unless you're a speedreader. I hate them and want to ban them from my life. Although not all are well-marked, and still you can end up with an abridged accidentally. That really ticks me off.

Luckily I haven't yet run across any narrators that I hate. It can be interesting when the author reads the book him/herself, but that doesn't always work. If the author is also a performer of some kind (Steve Martin, Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris), it can improve the work, but not always. A notable winner in this category for me was Al Franken reading Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, as when he quoted from notable politicians like Condoleeza Rice or Dick Cheney, the were often able to use an excerpt from the actual speech so you could hear it exactly as it was. And alternately, when they couldn't get an excerpt, Al Franken would do an impression of the person reading their speech, which was hilarious. This is an example of when the audiobook actually surpassed the print book. Similarly in Steve Martin's memoir, Born Standing Up, I have kept one audio segment on my iPod for the last 2 years and occasionally listen to the song that he sings, and here's my favorite part:

"Be pompous, obese and eat cactus
be dull and boring and omnipresent
criticize things you don't know about
be oblong and have your knees removed.
Be sure to stop at stop signs
and drive 55 miles an hour
pick up hitchhikers foaming at the mouth
and when you get home get a Master's degree in geology.
Be tasteless rude and offensive
live in a swamp and be three-dimensional
put a live chicken in your underwear
go into a closet and suck eggs."

There's no way in the world that this song is as funny in print as it is when he sings it.

Audiobooks are perfect if you have a long commute. Also great for long-distance drives, and for walking/jogging. I even listen to them while cleaning as it's very helpful for me to have a distraction while scrubbing the bathtub or it's liable to not get done. With a few exceptions, audiobooks are mostly books I probably never would have gotten around to otherwise, so they also expand my reading horizons. Personally, I have a subscription to Audible, but I have in the past also bought audiobooks in CD (my current car has a tape deck. Yep, you read that correctly.) They each have their advantages/disadvantages.

My one big complaint is that I don't get the photo-inserts on history and biographies. I know the book has them. If music companies can include a 16-page booklet of lyrics with a CD, why can't publishers do that as well for the photo insert? And I can download a digital booklet when I download an entire music CD - again, why don't I get that with the photo insert for audiobooks? Not only am I paying the same price as someone buying the print version, mine often costs much, much more.

Do you like audiobooks? Hate them? Where do you listen to them? Any pet peeves like mine?

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen p. 18

"Driving into Tuscany, Michael at the wheel, he took a wrong turn and we ended up in downtown Florence, stuck in traffic outside the city hospital. My hand on my hard belly, I had a fleeting fantasy of checking into the hospital."
Do you think something might be wrong? You'd be right! And you'd be ahead of most of the doctors.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

I have long heard good things about Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, and since I prefer shorter (unabridged) audiobooks, this seemed to fit the bill. And I really liked it. But I'm going to stop trying fiction on audio.

I thought the choice of B. D. Wong as narrator was interesting as he's Chinese-American, but of course on an audiobook, you don't see the narrator so there's no reason to have found someone of the appropriate ethnicity (particularly as he doesn't have an accent, and presumably - although I haven't researched - English is his first language.) But I liked that detail as I did picture him as the main character.

Our hero and his friend Luo have been sent out to a rural village during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to learn how to appreciate the proletariat. They are subjected to demeaning, backbreaking work, but all the boredom and stress melts away when they discover the beautiful daughter of the region's tailor, and a stash of translated Western novels.

The novel was very evocative. I found myself physically recoiling at some very accurate imagery more than once, as I was out walking. I would make faces, clench up, and sometimes even try to move out of the way, as the descriptions were so visceral that they seemed real. B. D. Wong was good at giving the different characters different voices, and I never was confused about who was speaking. With the Chinese names, I was a little glad to have someone else pronouncing them instead of me guessing, although many of the characters didn't even have names, but nicknames, like "Four Eyes," the owner of the illegal novels.

Once I was listening I had no troubles with getting into the story, even when a week went between listenings, but I never wanted to pick it back up and had to force myself each time. I never have that problem with nonfiction. I know I am the opposite of what most people like in audiobooks, but I think I will stick to nonfiction from here on, and stop trying to force myself to learn to love fiction audios. They just aren't for me.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was a romantic, delicate story that opened my eyes to the Cultural Revolution (I had heard it referenced before but never understood what it was.) A fine gem, the book has moments of humor, fancy, danger, and passion.

This review is a part of the AudioSynced roundup hosted this month at Stacked.

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:
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
The One-Week Job Project: One Man, One Year, 52 Jobs by Sean Aiken
What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen
Okay, I think I kicked my reading blahs. Since I gave up on The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and mostly caught up on my magazines, I still wasn't able to really get through anything or feel happy about it. So this weekend I decided to indulge my whims and read memoirs, cull some of the TBR pile that was taunting me, and get rid of Hedgehog. I think it was still giving off bad vibes. Hopefully I am now putting that behind me.

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Up Next:
Here are some books published by independent publishers, currently on my TBR list:

Guideposts Books
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Pattillo

Brimfield Rush: The Thrill of Collecting And the Hunt for the Big Score by Bob Wyss

Northeastern Univ press:
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Review: The One-Week Job Project by Sean Aiken

I heard about The One-Week Job Project: One Man, One Year, 52 Jobs by Sean Aiken on NPR many months ago. I love books where people do something crazy for a year (My Jesus Year, The Urban Hermit, Not Buying It). I also am a mentor at my college through the career center for young and future alumni in my industry. (I encourage everyone to do this actually - it's been really rewarding, and involved surprisingly little effort. Really, the biggest effort is that I give them advice and occasionally do a resume critique.) My little brother graduated from college last year and has only been marginally employed since then. So this book, about a 25-year-old who doesn't know what to do with his life so decides to try 52 different jobs in a year, appealed to be on a whole bunch of levels.

It's a very readable memoir, and Sean is a relatable guy. He's not doing this because of any kind of failure or lack of effort - he was valedictorian in college after all. But young adults get a lot of well-intentioned but useless advice that just stresses them out. In particular, they're frequently told that they have to make career decisions RIGHT NOW and those decisions will affect The Rest Of Their Lives. I'm here to tell you, that's so not true. And Sean discovered that too.

There was no big plan here. Basically, Sean came up with the idea, his friend Ian helped him build the website, and then he mostly just winged it. He didn't take every job offer that came his way, but he did always manage to have a new job every week. A few were jobs he was very interested in, like advertising and stock trading, and others were just really random like cowboy and cattail picker. This isn't a business or self-help book, and so he doesn't give a 2-3 page recap of every job. In fact, he rarely talks about the jobs at all. Because one of the things he eventually learns is that despite the fact that one does spend at least 40 hours a week in their job, one's job isn't necessarily one's life. He learns that life happens regardless of plans, both good (meeting a girl) and bad (an illness in the family.) And he learns that one difference is being a "grown-up" is that one keeps to their commitments. The final lesson he learns is one that's been around for a long, long time: the path is the goal. As much as people kept asking him what he thought he'd do after the 52 weeks were over, the more it seemed like this project was going to be that. Not continuing to do one-week jobs, but talking to students about their lives and careers. Emphasizing that while it's important to do something you're passionate about, you can change your mind later, and money isn't everything. Sean was fairly sure of some of these things going in, but they were just theories, whereas at the end, he was sure he'd proven what was important.

At first I found it a little strange that he kept using American statistics when he was in Canada, but about half-way through the project, he started working a lot in the U.S. so then it made sense. A lot of this project came together through serendipity, but that's often true in the real world (that's how I got my first "real" job.) He travelled all over North America, even to Hawaii! He learned a lot of valuable lessons - how to motivate people (and how not to), the importance of communication, and what was important to him. This experience is going to stay with him for many,many years. I found his story inspiring, and reassuring. I think a lot of 21-to-25-year-olds would find Sean's story very valuable. In fact, I intend to send this copy to my brother, and mention it to a couple of my mentees.

I appreciate that Mr. Aiken went to so much trouble to really find his life's calling, and I hope others will be inspired by his experiment, to not be pressured into doing what their parents think they should do, and instead refuse to settle. There is no easy answer that will tell a recent grad exactly what they should do in life, but I hope this book tells them that's okay. Speaking as a former bartender, research assistant, receptionist, mortgage typist, retailer, telemarketer, box office assistant manager, babysitter, and library assistant, I agree with Mr. Aiken that you can really do anything, and you can also change if that doesn't work out. It's frustrating when you're in the "I don't know what I want to do!" stage, but it won't last forever, and you will find something to do. Hopefully it'll also be rewarding and satisfying, but figuring out what you want to do is part of the goal itself. I wish Mr. Aiken much luck in his future endeavors.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

A few years ago I was putting together a list of classic children's books (and new classics) for a friend who was pregnant, so she could steer thoughtful gift-givers away from stuffed animals and towards much more practical and useful gifts. As I was referencing different lists to jog my memory, I kept running across Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, which I did not remember at all, but which very much intrigued me (my mother has since informed me that while we didn't own this book, we did check it out of the library many times, but I really have no memory of it at all.) So I bought a copy. And wow, what a lovely book it is!
Victorian-era Alice was captivated by her grandfather's tales of his travels across the seas. She said "When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea." But her grandfather made her promise to do one more thing as well: make the world more beautiful. When she grew up, she moved away and became a librarian. She travelled to the tropics, to mountains and jungles and deserts. But when she hurts her back in India, she decides it is time to "find my place by the sea." She planted some flowers, but then was laid up with her back again. When she was finally able to get around, she found that her favorite lowers, lupines, had spread all over her property. And she decided to help. She walked all over the area, scattering lupine seeds. And she made her niece make the same promise she had once made to her grandfather.

The story is so expansive and beautiful, yet matter-of-fact. There is no talk of how her travels must have been tiring and difficult. There is no judgment at all about her being a single librarian and never marrying. In fact, Miss Rumphius might not have been able to travel so much if she were not single. The book shows children that there are so many options in life, and that you really can do anything you set your mind to. It shows both the importance of home, and the wonder of travel. I think the "by the sea" parts look an awful lot like Maine, but I suppose it could also be the Pacific Northwest. The illustrations are detailed and fanciful. Obviously the lessons in the story are for a slightly older child (5-6) but it would be so wonderful to ask a child after reading this story: Where do you want to travel? What do you think you could do to make the world more beautiful?
This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Book Blog Hop

I am your host, Carin. I post book reviews, a few memes (Teaser Tuesday, Waiting On Wednesday, My Favorite Reads), and on Thursdays I post about jobs in this crazy industry of Book Publishing! Not all of the jobs will be ones you're familiar with, which is exactly the point. I love books, and hope you will join the love! This week I discussed a couple of issues in the book industry hiring: race and gender.

In the spirit of the Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and find new blogs that we may be missing out on! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs that they may not know existed! So, start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky list!!

Your blog should have content related to books, including, but not limited to book reviews.

Most importantly, the idea is to HAVE FUN!!

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. 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.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

"Among the most famous women to have lived, Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt for twenty-two years."
First of all, I had no idea she was Cleaopatra VII. Although really she was Cleopatra VI as someone earlier had lost count of all the Cleopatras. A real force of nature!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Careers in Publishing - Links and Issues

I'm doing my Publishing Careers post a little differently this week. I have seen some interesting posts in the blogosphere I wanted to pass along. Recently BookEnds posted about What It Takes to be an Agent, and Nathan Bransford also talked about what the majority of an agent's job is (and it's not reading unsolicited manuscripts) in his post, Agents Are Not Just Gatekeepers. I also recently found a blog that seems to me to be picking up the mantle of honesty and humor where Miss Snark left off: Editorial Anonymous. She's a children's book editor at a major New York publishing house, but is anonymous so she can tell the truth, and so she can say hilariously snarky things.

Finally there's an excellent post at ShelfTalker called The Elephant in the Room, which is about the extreme lack of diversity in publishing. This is obviously true and also obviously a problem. In my New York publishing job, I worked with several Asian-Americans, and not one African-American in 5 years, let alone any other ethnicities. At one of the very largest publishing houses, I could count the African-Americans employed there on one hand. This post also has links at the bottom to resources and other articles of interest. (The elephant images here were commissioned for the ShelfTalker post.)

And while it isn't as obvious, I think the business is also still sexist. According to last year's Publisher's Weekly Annual Salary Survey, men out-earn women by over $30,000 US, which is an improvement. The standard explanation (echoed in that article, although only half was articulated) is that men who into the business/management side while women go to the editorial side, and that's why they are paid less. Isn't the same excuse made about why men and women in general are paid differently? Women want to work in "soft" jobs like teaching which pay less while men go for the "hard" jobs like banking, which pay better. But my question is, which came first? Women going into those careers, or the low salary? Teaching used to be paid much better... and it used to be dominated by men. Is it really okay to pay our Editors less than everyone else in comparable positions in the industry, and say that's the only reason women in publishing make less money?

I don't have any solutions to these issues, but I do want people to be aware going in. Of course most every American industry has these problems, but if we don't talk about them, they won't be improved. And to that end I do want to recommend a book for women. I never, ever read business books, but I had picked up Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel for a friend. That evening, I flipped through it, just to see what it was like. I read the whole thing, in that one night. And I learned several things that I still pay attention to today. Personally these are three things I stopped cold turkey:
  • never play with your hair at work. Invest in bobby pins if it really is driving you crazy. Playing with your hair is a flirting sign, even if you don't mean it to be.
  • never sit on your leg. You don't always need to have both feet planted on the floor, but sitting on one leg is infantilizing. It sends the message that you are a child
  • never refer to yourself as a "girl". This tip is right in the title. The reason nice girls don't get the corner office? Because women get the corner office.
This book also had quizzes and sidebars which make is an easier read than 90% of business books. Now, I am still working on some of her tips, like not asking so many questions (I don't need to ask permission to make decisions about my accounts. I should tell my boss where I am on certain issues, but not ask him if it's okay.) but this book has great advice I wish I'd read when I was just starting off in the business world.