Friday, July 20, 2012

Blog Hiatus!

I'm taking off about three weeks from blogging. Back in mid-August!

Book Beginnings: The Jane Austen Book Club

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme originally hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages but now hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

"Each of us has a private Austen."

I am enjoying this book very much, but having a very hard time divorcing it from the movie.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Book Review: The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

I heard this book was silly, and I heard the movie was silly. Then I got a free copy of the movie and figured what the hell, it wouldn't kill me. And to my surprise, I really liked it! To the point where I've watched it 4-5 times now. So when I saw a free copy of the book I grabbed it. But I've put off reading it because the movie was too fresh in my mind. Unfortunately, that was still true now, when I finally did pick it up, and there were moments when a few minor discrepancies threw me off (Allegra and Bernadette least match their descriptions, and Prudie's storyline was amped up considerably in the movie while Bernadette's was reduced - adding sex in place of age, sigh) but overall, I have found that the movie was quite true to the book, and the book is wonderful.

I was at moments a little thrown by the point of view, but in the end it worked for me. Each chapter is a book club meeting that is told in what I can best describe as reverse second person, interspersed with flashbacks in limited third person. What I mean by reverse second person is that the meetings are talked about as if "we" are there. "It hadn't occurred to any of us to read it." "We paused for a moment." But whoever is speaking in first person is never made clear. In fact, it's almost as if our narrator is a seventh, unnamed member, because as we go around the group and each member gets a chapter, never once do the "we"s and "us"s turn into "I." It sounds odd (and admittedly, I don't recall ever having run across this before, or even having heard of it) but it's not confusing or awkward.

I liked the bits of humor ("If only she [Prudie] would stop speaking French. Or go to France, where it would be less noticeable." p. 58) I loved the Austen analysis of course. This is the second book about Jane Austen's novels that I've read this year and I do hope to reread one in the fall. I also wish my book club could stay on topic as well as theirs, which did make it seem a little fake, but I've heard that other book clubs do stay on topic more, so maybe the problem is with my book club, not with the depiction in this novel.

I wished the book didn't end! I wanted to know about Bernadette's other husbands (that's the big storyline that is left out of the movie - how Bernadette met her first husband), I wondered why Allegra's did what she did at the end (It's different from the movie somewhat so I don't want to spoil it, but I wasn't thrilled with her decision), and I wondered how Grigg and Jocelyn's relationship was going to go and how Sylvia and Daniel's reconciliation also would turn out. The characters all felt very real to me, and I imagine their lives as going on, outside of the novel, which is so tantalizing.

I especially loved the discussion questions at the end. They are slightly critical of the author (although I suspect written by the author herself, particularly since I am ready an Advance Reader's Copy, which normally does not have discussion questions.), given by the different characters, and also are very funny. Such as, "Have you seen any of the adaptations of Austen's novels that star a Jack Russell terrier named Wishbone? Do you want to?" or "Did you ever stop to wonder how a woman [Allegra] who supports herself making jewelry affords health insurance?" or "Do you ever wish your partner had been written by some other writer, had better dialogue and a more charming way of suffering? What writer would you choose?"

I am thrilled I finally read this book. I enjoyed it immensely. And while perusing the long compilation of quotes from notables about Austen and her novels at the end of the book, I noticed something about Twain's famous critique. He says, "Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone." And yet, for all his protestations, read it again. Did you notice he said "every time I read..." which means he has read Pride and Prejudice multiple times. Hmmm. I wonder exactly how much he could have hated it, to have reread it repeatedly.

I picked up this copy at a book swap for free.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Caveat Emptor

“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:

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger by Ken Perenyi

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence collected. The case was closed and the FBI file was marked exempt from public disclosure.

Now that the statute of limitations on these crimes has expired and the case appears hermetically sealed shut by the FBI, this book, Caveat Emptor, is Ken Perenyi s confession. It is the story, in detail, of how he pulled it all off.

Glamorous stories of art-world scandal have always captured the public imagination. However, not since Clifford Irving s 1969 bestselling Fake has there been a story at all like this one. Caveat Emptor is unique in that it is the first and only book by and about America s first and only great art forger. And unlike other forgers, Perenyi produced no paper trail, no fake provenance whatsoever; he let the paintings speak for themselves. And that they did, routinely mesmerizing the experts in mere seconds.

In the tradition of Frank Abagnale's Catch Me If You Can, and certain to be a bombshell for the major international auction houses and galleries, here is the story of America's greatest art forger.

Publishing August 1, 2012 by Pegasus Books.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Eucalyptus

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!

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail p. 32

"Word of Ellen spread gradually from the town and across the paddocks and hills; she was unzipped by the railway line to other country towns; to the suburbs of Sydney; faint aftershocks reaching distant capitals of other states and other countries. And the idea of her beauty grew with its scarcity value."

I like the book much more than Ellen is featured. The Latin names of the thousands of types of eucalyptus trees is wearing on me.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly

This book wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I actually had thought it was likely to be like a stunt memoir where someone normally does something crazy for a year, although working retail is far from crazy. But I still thought it would mostly be stories about crazy customers, slightly nutty coworkers, and cold corporate bosses. While I did get the last one, the first two were sadly lacking. But let me back up.

In late 2007 Caitlin is a fifty-year-old well-respected journalist who recently was fired and has been trying to get by on freelance work alone. In order to have a reliable if small paycheck, she applies for and gets a job with The North Face at a tony, upscale mall in Westchester County, New York. It's a brand-new store so they do get some training since it isn't open yet, although she concedes that's far from usual. Caitlin is normally the store's top seller despite only working 2 days a week (which she soon cuts back to 1, and that gets cut back to 5 hours after the recession hits.)

She does have a few stories of crazy customers but... in my opinion they're just not all that crazy. They're unreasonable and demanding, but that's not unusual at all. That's a normal customer (especially in a rich part of town). She never seems to deal with the genuine kooks or the people asking for truly bizarre things (if you'd like some examples, this is a fun website.) She does deal with racism (as an older person and the only white employee in the store, most customers mistake her for the manager, even after being told otherwise), she does explain the difficult lives of many of her co-workers and I appreciate that she didn't seem shocked that several of them have college degrees. (When I worked at B&N, everyone in the store had a degree, mostly from top-notch school, we had 2 with Ph.D.s and one M.A., with the exception of 2 teenagers who went on to Ivy League colleges.)

In a lot of ways what I was expecting was a lot less. I think the jacket leads one to think the book will be more fun, but as a journalist, Ms. Kelly couldn't help but do research on the world of retail, the average pay, average turnover, and she interviewed long-time retail workers in a dozen different stores. But I was hoping for more of just the odd everyday things. She gripes repeatedly about a lot of the same corporate shortcomings over and over. She seems naive in thinking that corporate would want to make the employees' lives easier or better in any way, and so her learning the opposite is not a satisfying lesson in the retail world. She complains a lot about the world of journalism, which isn't germane to this book at all. I just wanted more fun stories! I wanted stories about people like I see in REI, the earnest whippet-thin outdoorsy-types who are shocked - SHOCKED that I eat a Snickers when I do my long (12+ miles) walks instead of something disgusting and overpriced - but appropriately balanced with the exact types of electrolytes and protein - like Gu.  I know from experience that clueless customers will stand on displays, stand on merchandise even, let children destroy merchandise right in front of you, insist you conjure sold out merch from thin air, insist they called your store to hold an item and yell about how incompetent you are only to discover on a loud cell phone call to his wife that he's at the wrong store. These were the stories I really wanted.

That said, Ms. Kelly did live through an interesting time in retail, with the recession starting about 9 months in to her stint. And unlike Barbara Ehrenreich, she didn't cut corners - she truly did need this paycheck and she worked hard for it, for over two years. I zipped through this book very quickly. It was informative and interesting, but it wasn't terribly fun. If you go into it, knowing what type of book it is, I think you'd enjoy it very much. I'd probably shelve it in sociology. If I still worked retail.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

Books completed last week:
Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

Up next:
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
I Will Not Leave You Comfortless: A Memoir by Jeremy Jackson

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Beginnings on Friday: Eucalyptus

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme originally hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages but now hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

"We could begin with desertorum, common name Hooked Mallee."

I shouldn't be surprised that a book titled Eucalyptus would begin with some of the species and scientific names thereof, although it's not my favorite way to start a novel, having failed biology myself.

Books for Australia!

I am soon going to Australia. I know, it totally rocks! And I have been pondering/obsessing about what to bring with me to read, especially since as you know, I am opposed to and don't have an eReader. Last year I went on a cruise and I also had to fret over what books to bring, but that was 1 week, and this is 2+ and getting to the cruise only involved a 2 hour flight, not 3 flights, one of which is 17.5 hours!!

For the cruise I brought 4 ginormous books. I read one. Well, half of one. Although that's not all I read on the cruise - the cruise ship had a library (!!!) so I read two books from there. And half of a 950+ page book is nothing to sneeze at. But one of those books is probably joining me on this year's trip as well. My criteria include: the books must be mass market, preferably disposable (bought used), and they get extra points for being about Australia and/or potentially appealing to my boyfriend as well. Here's my current probable list:

leftover from last year's trip:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (trade paperback)

my boyfriend might also enjoy:
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carr├ę

brain candy for the later parts of the flights when my brain won't be functioning much:
Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes
Terms of Endearment  by Larry McMurtry
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

We are actually planning on bringing a small bag just for the in-flight entertainment and snacks as it's pretty much a whole day each way, particularly when combined with multiple layovers. I wish I could sleep on the plane but the best I do is doze off and get a terrible neck cramp. So I don't even try and instead hope to get tons of reading done. Some of my very best reading is done on planes. It's one of my favorite things about flying. In the past I've read Roots and World Without End on cross-country flights (I did have to finish them at home but thanks to hitting the West Coast for a day and then coming right back, in 2 days I did read more than 2/3 of each book, so it was easy when I got home to just sit down and finish them. I was so invested at that point, I just had to keep going!)

I'm a little worried that 8 books won't be nearly enough, but I'm excited to go to a couple of Australian bookstores, and I can always steal from my boyfriend (I hope he's also being thoughtful and bringing books I'll have some interest in.) If I end up having to shop at an airport bookstore, it could get ugly, but they're usually decent these days. The problem is if you're stuck in a terminal that doesn't have an actual bookstore, only a newsstand. You'll find out in about a month how I fared!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

“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:

Tigers in Red Weather: A Novel by Liza Klaussmann

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha's Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House. In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their 'real lives': Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war.
Soon the gilt begins to crack. Helena's husband is not the man he seemed to be, and Hughes has returned from the war distant, his inner light curtained over. On the brink of the 1960s, back at Tiger House, Nick and Helena--with their children, Daisy and Ed--try to recapture that sense of possibility. But when Daisy and Ed discover the victim of a brutal murder, the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.

Brilliantly told from five points of view, with a magical elegance and suspenseful dark longing, Tigers in Red Weather is an unforgettable debut novel from a writer of extraordinary insight and accomplishment.

Publishing July 17, 2012 by Little, Brown and Company.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Malled

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!

Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly p. 11

"Reading my local paper, I saw in September 2007 a help wanted as for The North Face, a national chain of high-end outdoor wear. The company was opening a new store in an upscale mall nearby, filled with high-end names like Versace, Tiffany, and Neiman Marcus, in an affluent county near New York City."

Having worked retail myself, I think she has a somewhat romantic view of retail work, but working at a high end mall is a smart move.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

Books completed last week:
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
About Alice by Calvin Trillin

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail by Caitlin Kelly

Up next:
A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS by Jennet Conant
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

Book Review: The Secret River by Kate Grenville

It was a bit weird at first to read this novel about a British felon transported to Australia right after having read The Fatal Shore, but I quickly got lost in the story. Will Thornhill almost made it. He was super poor growing up with a passel of siblings and no prospects. But he met a girl, Sal, and her father, who had no sons, eventually took him on as an apprentice riverman. Will was quite successful, learning the trade, buying his own boat, marrying Sal, having a kid, and it looked like the poor kid was breaking into the middle class! But then each of Sal's parents gets sick and dies in quick succession, leaving a fistful of doctors' bills Sal and Will couldn't afford, kicking them right back down to where Will started. And worse when Will gets busted, stealing some wood. Luckily, some of their earlier friends were able to pull strings and not only get Will transported instead of hanged, but get Sal transported as well (and their son).

In Australia, Will is assigned to Sal so it's not so hard. He is able to go back to working on boats and when he goes up the Hawkesbury River, he is surprised to find beautiful land that he falls in love with. He convinces Sal to move there with him and give it a shot for five years. But they quickly find out that while the wilderness looks deserted, it is anything but.

I was at first expecting a more traditional homesteading story, but the struggle with the aborigines went to a very dark place. There was a moment, 50 pages from the end, when I paused and really wondered where the story was going. I don't remember the last time an ending was set up so well. I could clearly see that the situation was coming to a head, there were multiple potential outcomes, but I really wasn't sure which one it was going to be. I just couldn't put the book down in those last pages.

This book is based on the author's ancestor, so I assume that what happened in the end actually happened. But it does make for a good story. The book uses a few conventions I'm not a fan of - the dialogue is set in italics instead of in quotation marks, and there is very little of it - but it's written so well that I barely noticed. The book is dark and yet hopeful, and really brought the Australian bush to life.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Secret River

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme originally hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages but now hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

"The Alexander with its cargo of convicts, had bucked over the face of the ocean for the better part of a year."

Luckily, Ms. Grenville doesn't give us the details of the trip as I expect it would be disgusting, but starts with arriving in Sydney, although shortly after she gives us an extended flashback to show what led up to William Thornhill being transported to Australia.

Give All the Books Away!

After I read a book, I give it away. Every time, without fail. Okay, there are some exceptions (Anne Taylor, Tom Franklin, Jill McCorkle) but 99.8% of books I read, I give away. And I know many bookish people are currently having heart attacks, but I stand by this.

Being in the book business, I get a lot of books. I have already given away hundreds of books that I never even read. Yes, once or twice in a blue moon I have wished for a book back after I got rid of it, but it's so seldom that I don't worry about it. I have rebought books once or twice - for other people. But I need to keep the books in my house rotating in AND out! Otherwise, there wouldn't be any room for more new books, which would be terrible!

I know people (I'm looking at you BookNAround) who have 10,000 books in their house, but without an entire full, finished basement to fill to the brim, nor the cash for all the built-in bookcases, that's just not an option. Plus, I have a longstanding fear of dying in an avalanche of my own creation! 

At first I would collect stacks of my books for different friends and occasionally go to the trouble of packing them up and shipping them, but not only is that a lot of trouble, but some of my friends started to feel a little inundated after the fourth of fifth box.

Sometimes I had books I didn't want to pass along. Some were gifts that weren't my style, some were just sucky, and for some I just didn't have the right person. I don't often sell books to used bookstores, but occasionally I have. More often I have donated books at places like Julia's Cafe, the bookstore at the Habitat Restore, or brought them to our WNBA book swaps (leftover books are donated).

I did start keeping my book list at the same time I started giving books away. I keep my books in my mind (and thankfully now also at Goodreads.) But I really feel strongly about giving the books away. I want them to find good homes, but I want that to be somewhere else. That way I can keep bringing books in, without looking like I belong on an episode of Hoarders!

Book Review: About Alice by Calvin Trillin

This book is incredibly brief and yet it speaks volumes. When the book first came out it got rave reviews and I had many, many people tell me I should read it, but I was reluctant to spend the money on a book so short (thank you, library!)

Mr. Trillin over the years has apparently written a lot about his beloved wife Alice in his books and essays over the years, to the point where many of his readers felt like they knew her and wrote him some very touching letters after her death. Kind of in response to those people reaching out, Mr. Trillin wrote this homage to Alice.

Alice was pretty, smart, with a sharp-tongue and good editorial sense. She grew up in a financially insecure household, so she loved that she always felt safe with Calvin. She gave back to the community by teaching at a prison and a treatment center. She would lecture smokers more than anyone, but she never shied away from telling people what she thought about their remodeling plans or any other area she could give advice.

Mr. Trillin felt so lucky that he had Alice. Although he got an extra 25 years after her lung cancer diagnosis (she did not smoke but both her parents did), she still left way too soon. The book isn't at all sad or maudlin, which actually was not what I was expecting (I thought this was going to be a lot like The Year of Magical Thinking which had me sobbing more than once.) Instead it is a celebration of Alice Trillin. They had the sort of relationship we all aspire to, and I do hope my boyfriend adores me like Calvin does.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

“Waiting On” Wednesday: When in Doubt Add Butter

“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:

When in Doubt Add Butter by Beth Harbison

synopsis from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Always Something There to Remind Me comes a delicious new novel about the search for true love and all the ingredients that go into it.

As far as Gemma is concerned, her days of dating are over. In fact, it’s her job to cater other peoples’ dates, and that’s just fine by her. At thirty-seven, she has her own business, working as a private chef, and her life feels full and secure. She’s got six steady clients that keep her hands full.

There’s Lex, the fussy but fabulous department store owner who loves Oysters Rockefeller and 1950s comfort food; Willa, who needs to lose weight under doctor’s orders but still believes butter makes everything better; a colorful family who may or may not be part of the Russian mob; an ├╝berwealthy Georgetown family; the picture-perfect Van Houghtens, whose matriarch is “allergic to everything”; and finally, a man she calls “Mr. Tuesday,” whom she has never met but who she is strangely drawn to.

For Gemma, cooking is predictable. Recipes are certain. Use good ingredients, follow the directions, and you are assured success. Life, on the other hand, is full of variables. So when Gemma’s takes an unexpected turn on a road she always thought was straight and narrow, she must face her past and move on in ways she never would have imagined. Because sometimes in life, all you need is a little hope, a lot of courage, and---oh yes---butter.

Publishing on July 17, 2012 by St. Martin's Press.

Patriotic Books

My boyfriend majored in ancient history: Greece, Rome, Egypt, even China and Japan. Compared to these countries, he finds America's history... well... short. I however love American history. I think we've crammed an awful lot of interesting stuff into just a few centuries and being as how we are here now, I think it affects our lives more (although perhaps it would affect it less if our politicians actually did know something about ancient history instead of dooming themselves to repeat and repeat and repeat, but alas, that's unlikely to change.)

If you agree with me and are in a patriotic mood this 4th of July, here are some terrific, below-the-radar books about American history:

A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America by Tony Horwitz
-American history didn't start in 1776! My review here.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
-One of the harshest periods in American history, explained.

A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor
-In my opinion, Dolley is the best First Lady we've ever had, and without her James would have been one of the worst presidents (but wasn't.)

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk
-Our greatest president was also our most human. My review here

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
-Our most badass president did other awesome stuff besides presidenting, like exploring. My review here.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
-Chicago was remade with this event which really did change America in so many ways, not all of them good.

All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
-Our most flawed president is crucial for understanding the state of America today.

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West by Stephen E. Ambrose
-Lewis and Clark, forever synonymous with the West, went on an epically dangerous journey that took balls of steel and more than a dash of crazy.

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
-Sarah loves presidential assassinations and so took a series of quirky trips to find out more about Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley.

Monday, July 2, 2012

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:
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle, read by Barrett Whitener
Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Up next:
The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose with It by Alice Sparberg Alexiou
Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Book Review: Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban

This book has been on my radar since it was published in 1998, so yes, that's a very long time.

Mr. Raban goes to Montana and explores the promises that brought a generation of homesteaders to the state in the early 1900s, how their dreams worked out (badly, for as we know now, these poor souls were looking at the dust bowl and Great Depression in just a generation.) It was a little weird for me to figure out he was British. That was never mentioned directly, and instead I was left to figure it out when he frequently compared the scenery to England instead of, say, Iowa. It was odd not only to not have that addressed specifically, but to have a Brit writing about something so incredibly American.

But that said, it was a terrific book. He really captured the hope and optimism, while showing the marketing that was used to obscure the inevitable difficulties. It kept bringing me back to memories of The Little House books, of how hard and rewarding farming can be, and how the hope for the future can conquer any qualms. Mr. Raban's love of the region is palpable and his respect the for people is admirable. His writing is fluid and his descriptions are evocative. I do wish there was a photo section, not only of the geography, but of the people who lived there, and of the old photos he talks about finding, but also from the famous photographers who were in the area and documented the life.

Overall I did like the book a lot, while it left me wanting more (the images particularly) it mostly left me wanting to visit the region! I'd love to see the buttes and the badlands he's talking about. Anyone who's interested in the American West needs to read this book for a better understanding of our heartland.

I bought this book used at the Friends of the Library book sale.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reading Challenges, the Halfway Point

So I thought I'd check in on my Reading Challenges since it is half-way through the year. And also since I just read my best Reading Challenges book ever - the only one I could think of that would hit all four of my reading challenges (The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes.)

I am elated to be completely done with one of them! The Immigrant Stories Challenge. I only signed up for the lowest level, which was 3, but I am done, yay! I am exactly halfway on the Chunksters Challenge, three of six. Which actually does have me a little nervous but if my reading on my Australia trip goes as planned, I am bringing some chunksters along so I hope to knock this out then. And speaking of going to Australia, I have read five of twelve for my Aussie Author Challenge. I'm only one book behind and I'm not nervous because I pan to read Australian books while I am there. That only leaves my Non-Fiction, Non-Memoir Challenge. I was a little nervous about this one at the beginning of the year because I do love memoirs so much, and while it's been difficult to mostly forgo them, I haven't had any trouble reading Non-Memoir Non-Fiction books and have read 10 of my fifteen, with another one mid-way (listening to it on audio.)

Overall, I also set myself a number of books challenge which was 70 (I nearly went with 72 which is 6 a month but I rounded down for a round number.) According to Goodreads, I am 2 books behind. I've been behind since the very beginning, since I read 2 chunksters in January, but I did catch up this month, thanks to a few long plane trips. Those always make for excellent reading time, which is also why I'm looking forward to the Australian trip (17.5 hours from Dallas to Sydney! Not to mention getting to Dallas from here and getting to Adelaide from Sydney!)

All in all, I'm doing better than usual on my challenges! I'm not feeling particularly constrained or anxious about them, and I'm not especially behind on any. Yay! A good way to start the second half of the year.