Wednesday, October 31, 2012

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Eight Girls Taking Pictures

“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:

Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto

Bestselling author Whitney Otto’s Eight Girls Taking Pictures is a profoundly moving portrayal of the lives of women, imagining the thoughts and circumstances that produced eight famous female photographers of the twentieth century. This captivating novel opens in 1917 as Cymbeline Kelley surveys the charred remains of her photography studio, destroyed in a fire started by a woman hired to help take care of the house while Cymbeline pursued her photography career. This tension— between wanting and needing to be two places at once; between domestic duty and ambition; between public and private life; between what’s seen and what’s hidden from view—echoes in the stories of the other seven women in the book.

Among them: Amadora Allesbury, who creates a world of color and whimsy in an attempt to recapture the joy lost to WWI; Clara Argento, who finds her voice working alongside socialist revolutionaries in Mexico; Lenny Van Pelt, a gorgeous model who feels more comfortable photographing the deserted towns of the French countryside after WWII than she does at a couture fashion shoot; and Miri Marx, who has traveled the world taking pictures, but also loves her quiet life as a wife and mother in her New York apartment. Crisscrossing the world and a century, Eight Girls Taking Pictures is an affecting meditation on the conflicts women face and the choices they make. These memorable characters seek extraordinary lives through their work, yet they also find meaning and reward in the ordinary tasks of motherhood, marriage, and domesticity. Most of all, this novel is a vivid portrait of women in love—in love with men, other women, children, their careers, beauty, and freedom.

As she did in her bestselling novel How to Make an American Quilt, Whitney Otto offers a finely woven, textured inquiry into the intersecting lives of women. Eight Girls Taking Pictures is her most ambitious book: a bold, immersive, and unforgettable narrative that shows how the art, loves, and lives of the past influence our present.

November 6, 2012 by Scribner.

National Reading Group Month Roundup!

Today brings National Reading Group Month to a close. So here is a roundup of blog posts about NRGM if you'd like to learn more, get good recommendations, and see what other people thought about NRGM. I am thrilled to see so many libraries, often ones without a WNBA chapter in their area, paying attention to NRGM! Libraries of course are a great resource for book clubs. They frequently host and organize them, many have book club programs including larger quantities of pre-selected titles, and you should contact your local library system to find out what is offered in your area.

Kent District Library,

A Reader's Place,

Blog a Book (Harford County Public Library),

To Be Read Books,

Verily Magazine,

Readers and Reference (Syosset Public Library),

RA For All,

Brownsburg Public Library,

Book Group Buzz (Booklist online),

The Story Woman,

The Practical Historian,

Atlanta Got Sole,

Caroline Bock

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Just Kids

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!

Just Kids by Patti Smith p. 26

"The city was a real city, shifty and sexual. I was lightly jostled by small herds of flushed young sailors looking for action on Forty-second Street, with its rows of X-rated movie houses, brassy women, glittering souvenir shops, and hot-dog vendors."

Having lived in New York, I know just what she means, even though the city was very cleaned up by the time I was there.

Book Review: The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

I can't believe there have been seven Thursday Next novels so far! And, like last time, I have trouble reviewing the book because I don't want to spoil things for people who may not have had the wonderful joy of discovering this series! If you are a bibliophile, if you like quirky, funny books, you MUST check these out! They are hilarious, I await the next book in the series eagerly each time, usually reading it the week it comes out. I was laughing out loud while reading, and wanting to read parts out loud to my boyfriend, but they'd take too much explaining.

You see, Thursday Next is a retired literary detective living in an alternate England in 2005 (the first book started in 1983 I think and we've moved forward, getting closer to now.) And by literary detective, I mean tracking down not only fake Shakespeare plays, but tracking down errant Hamlets who have escaped their books and are otherwise misbehaving. In the first book, The Eyre Affair, Thursday has to rescue a kidnapped Jane Eyre who has been removed from the original manuscript, so now everyone's copy of the book ends on p. 30. But the last 20 years of being one of the most famous law enforcement officers in England have put a target on Thursday's back and after the last book, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, she's a little worse for wear, which is why she is now the chief librarian of the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat at Fatso's Drink Not Included Library. But that's not nearly as quiet a job as you might imagine - Swindon's librarians are allowed to use lethal force. And Thursday is still in someone's crosshairs, although she's not sure whose. Due to a funny quirk of the situation, us readers know what's going on long before Thursday herself does. Also, there are multiple Thursdays which is both useful and confusing (and explains the surprisingly accurate title.)

Another excellent entry in this wonderful series, I hope Fforde keeps cranking these out. I want to know who's going to win the next Super Hoop, which city God will smite next, and if early version pet dodos are really the key to understanding Dark Reading Matter - otherwise known as the place where books go that have truly died.

I checked this book out of the library.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith

I finished this book last week and I rarely take this long to write a review, but strangely, I really have no strong feelings about this book one way or the other. It was for my book club, and there were strong feelings there as most people loved it and one hated it, but I felt only mildly pleased. It's weird.

So this memoir is by the rock star Patti Smith, and if you haven't heard of her, like most of our book clubbers, she wrote "Because the Night" (you've probably heard the cover by 10,000 Maniacs) and "Dancing Barefoot" (I first heard this as a cover by U2) and in the end we decided that she's more one of those musicians who's very influential on other musicians - but not wildly popular generally. Anyway, around age 20 after just having given up her illegitimate child for adoption, she hops a bus for New York City with only spare change in her pocket. The friends in Brooklyn she was hoping to stay with aren't actually there, and so she ends up sleeping in doorways and hallways. She lands a job at a bookstore, and keeps running into this skinny but beautiful boy, Robert Mapplethorpe, and after he saves her from a terrible date, they are inseparable. A close couple for many years, they shared everything including their various explorations in art, and while they didn't stay together (obviously - if you know anything at all about Robert Mapplethorpe you probably know he was gay), they were very best friends and stayed incredibly close for not only a long time, but through each of their most formative years, as they were figuring out which respective art forms their artistic expressions would best fit, and as they each found their voices. Robert became a wildly successful and even more controversial artists who used photography, painting, and installations to push the boundaries of art, until he succumbed to AIDS in 1989.

Some book club members were disappointed that while we are told how Patti's life turns out - married with two kids in Detroit - we don't find out how she met her husband or how they made the decisions to leave New York, but I found that all made sense. That was just a footnote. This book was about Patti AND Robert, and when Robert wasn't around anymore, that's the end of the book. This book truly is about their relationship, how they loved and supported each other, how they survived very trying living situations (they were pretty much starving for a few years), how they each developed their own art and influenced each other's as well.

The book flowed smoothly, but it is a little free of action, since she generally doesn't recreate long-ago conversations, just the gist of them. I found it a fast read and fairly compelling, but also a little flat, and she certainly is a name-dropper (funnily, we noted how many people she felt we obviously would be familiar with but that we'd never heard of.) Granted, it's impossible when you are hanging out with Janis Joplin and dating Sam Shepherd, but she did only meet Jimi Hendrix once for 15 minutes and yet she brought it up again and again. Yes, from a career point of view, as aspiring artists, it makes as much sense for them to try to penetrate the art world and meet the top players as it would in any other profession, but it feels a lot more artificial and self-aggrandizing when those people they're trying to meet are Andy Warhol. So this was another debate point- was it natural and normal given that they are aspiring artists? or is it blatant (and annoying) name dropping?

I wished I had loved it more. Or in fact, hated it more. I wished it had evoked stronger feelings in me, but it did not. That said, I certainly seem to be in the minority (it won the National Book Award for nonfiction last year!) so if you're interested, you should give it a try.

I got this book for free from the publisher.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Dig Tree: The Story of Burke and Wills by Sarah Murgatroyd
The Darwin Awards Countdown to Extinction by Wendy Northcutt

Up next:
Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right by Bill Bryson
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
Something for the Pain: Compassion and Burnout in the ER by Paul Austin

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Beginnings: Just Kids

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

Just Kids by Patti Smith

"I was asleep when he died."

Ugh! That's so sad! I do want to know who of course, but that's quite an opening line to prepare us for an emotional rollercoaster.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

“Waiting On” Wednesday: One for the Books

“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:

One for the Books by Joe Queenan

Goodreads synopsis:

One of America’s leading humorists and author of the bestseller Closing Time examines his own obsession with books

Joe Queenan became a voracious  reader as a means of escape from a joyless childhood in a Philadelphia housing project. In the years since then he has dedicated himself to an assortment of  idiosyncratic reading challenges: spending a year reading only short books, spending a year reading books he always suspected he would hate, spending a year reading books he picked with his eyes closed.

In One for the Books, Queenan tries to come to terms with his own eccentric reading style—how many more books will he have time to read in his lifetime? Why does he refuse to read books hailed  by reviewers as “astonishing”? Why does he refuse to lend out books? Will he ever buy an e-book? Why does he habitually read thirty to forty books simultaneously? Why are there so many people to whom the above questions do not even matter—and what do they read? Acerbically funny yet passionate and oddly affectionate, One for the Books is a reading experience that true book lovers will find unforgettable.

Expected publication on October 25, 2012 by Viking.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Russian Winter

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!

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay p. 11

"She worries the day will be ruined -- and after such a long wait, ever since Mother first explained about the ballet school. The vague, dreamlike description might have come straight from a fairy tale, a land where little girls wear their hair in high, tightly pinned buns and study not just the usual reading and geography and history but how to move, how to dance."

Doesn't every little girl want to dance? Want to take ballet? When I was this age, I actually had a Anna Pavlova doll, modeled after the famous Russian ballerina. The doll was way too beautiful to play with - she was just to be looked at. And aspired to.

Book Review: Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

I was nervous to read this book for two reasons: first, I read Doctor Zhivago last winter and hated it and worried I would hate this book about Russia and winter too; and second, I have met Daphne Kalotay and found her to be really lovely and so was worried about what I would say to her if I didn't like the book. Luckily, my worries were wildly unfounded, as I loved it.

Russian Winter is the story of Nina Revskaya, a former prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet, who is now elderly, friendless, living in Boston alone with her aches and pains and jewels. She decides to auction off her jewelry collection. The woman at the auction house coordinating Nina's sale, Drew, is then contacted by someone who claims to have an amber necklace that matches a bracelet and pair of earrings from Nina's set, and Drew sets out to investigate their provenance. Meanwhile, a Russian professor at a nearby university has been trying for years to talk to Nina about her husband, a poet, of who he is an expert, who died in Soviet Russia shortly after Nina defected. Nina refuses. But as these elements swirl around her, Nina's memories of the past rear up and at times overwhelm her.

It was fascinating to read about Stalinist Russia. Nina and her group of friends, all artists, represented an unusual group of Russians in the first place, as the place of artists in Communism was never clear, as what benefit to society they brought was not concrete. It was also truly eye-opening to read about Russians who adored Stalin, almost worshipped him, who bought the party line hook, line, and sinker, and tried very, very hard in spite of great hardships and terrible living conditions to be good Communists. That's a side of Communism us Westerners are rarely exposed to.

I loved the descriptions of the ballets (I not only took ballet through high school as a child, but I actually had an Anna Pavlova doll!) And poetry isn't my thing so I was thrilled there wasn't much of that. Nina now, the elderly Nina, is a very hard person to like, but meeting the young Nina in her memories, gave me much empathy for the old Nina, who has to live with mistakes she made. We're of course not privy of all the trauma in her past until the very end, and I admit that the twist at the end I kind of guessed, but then the twist has a twist, which is awesome and I didn't guess at all.

Although the book was long, it didn't feel like it. It read smoothly and swiftly, and the descriptions were spot-on and really made you feel like you were there. The characters were well-drawn and three-dimensional; I particularly liked Nina's mother-in-law who was one for the ages.

If you want to be swept away to another time and place, this is the perfect book to curl up with by the fire. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was sad when it ended. I am very much looking forward to Ms. Kalotay's next novel!

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (audio)
Just Kids by Patti Smith

Up next:
The Goats by Brock Cole
Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto
Harvest: One Man's Journey to Discover America's Family Farms by Richard Horan

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Beginnings: Russian Winter

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

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

"The afternoon was so cold, so relentlessly gray, few pedestrians passed the long island of trees dividing Commonwealth Avenue, and even little dogs, shunted along impatiently, wore thermal coats and offended expressions."

The little dogs in thermal coats looking annoyed made me smile! I do know that kind of cold, but the image makes it not so cutting and imposing.

My Sister's New Book Club!

My sister sent me the below email earlier this week without even realizing that it's National Reading Group Month! You can see my response to her below, but I do not have good suggestions for the second part of her request, for books like Ira Levin's. Anyone have suggestions for that? (In this picture, I am on the right, she is on the left, with Mom, of course, in the middle, in the original book club.)

My sister's email:
So three of my friends and I want to start a book club with a purpose that I think you can help us with. We want to read "good" books, no 50 Shades of Grey. We are think of "classics" that are fun. Lindsay and I both love Great Expectations and The Great Gatsby, something along those lines. I even suggested Ira Levin but I don't think he writes classics, I just really like novels from that period.
What suggestions do you have for me?

My response:
Man, do you have good timing! October is actually National Reading Group Month. First I’ll make some book suggestions, then give you some tips for starting the book club. I know you might have read some of these, but I’ve occasionally reread books for book club and it’s usually a good experience (although I was thrilled when a work trip conflicted with me rereading the D.H. Lawrence book that I had hated in college.)

Fun classics. Well those are the only ones to read, in my opinion. My book club read Doctor Zhivago in January and it was horrid!

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (or House of Mirth or Custom of the Country)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (or The Woman in White)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (I hated all other Steinbecks I was forced to read but for some reason this one book is hilarious.)
Three Men in a Boat: To Say Nothing of the Dog! by Jerome K. Jerome
Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

And here is a list one of my friends made of suggested classics for NRGM a couple of years ago.
1.  Middlemarch by George Eliot $10.00
2.  Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen $8.00
3.  The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins $6.95
4.  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith $13.95
5.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton $5.95
6.  Dracula by Bram Stoker $4.95
7.  Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse $18.95
8.  Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf $13.00
9.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith $14.95
10. Villette by Charlotte Brontë $12.00
11. Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon $10.95
12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott $3.95
Funny that only a couple overlap my list!

And another suggestion you might do is alternate current books about a classic author, such as reading The Paris Wife or Hemingway’s Girl, and then the next month reading A Farewell to Arms or A Moveable Feast. There’s a new novel out about Edith Wharton that is supposed to be great and there are also books about Jane Eyre and Louisa May Alcott and of course gazillions about Jane Austen.

If you’re looking for a list of 1950-60s books that are classics, that’s tougher. I’d suggest Kramer vs. Kramer and Peyton Place and Exodus, but then I get tapped out pretty quickly.

Some tips for starting the book club:
·         -You don’t have to meet every month. My book club doesn’t meet in December, and we only meet once in the middle of the summer. Then when you have these breaks, that is a good time to pick the fatter books. -When you only have a month between meetings, go for the shorter books. The breaking point is around 350 pages.
·        - Don’t pick a year’s worth of books at the beginning. That way if someone realizes the movie of Les Miserables is coming out in December, you can slot that in for January instead of waiting a year. But you do want to have 2 months’ worth picked out at a time so people who want to read ahead can do so. Have the group vote on the books. If you have each member of the group get to pick one book, you could have someone who really doesn’t understand who picks a Christian fiction novel or a Nicholas Sparks or a book about flying dragons. (seriously, I’ve seen all of these things happen or nearly happen.) With voting, one rogue member can’t make everyone read something awful.
·         -Meeting at a restaurant can be both loud and expensive. I’d recommend meeting at people’s houses, but if that doesn’t work, try a coffee shop.
·        - Someone does need to be the organizer. This person needs to keep track of all the books read (if your book club goes on for more than 2 years, people will start to recommend books they forgot and weren’t in the book club when they were read.) And when/where you are meeting and to email reminders. This person does not need to also be responsible for leading the discussion. That probably ought to be whoever suggested the book, but my book club usually doesn’t need much prompting (especially if there’s a book club discussion guide, which there often is. It might not be printed in the book, but if you google it, you’ll find them. Especially for classics, as they’ll often be required reading in school.) An easy question always is, if there’s something in the book that someone didn’t like, asking why do you think the author did that?

So, I hope she'll find this helpful and will get this classics-with-a-twist book club off the ground soon. Any additional suggestions, of classics, but particularly any that are of the Ira Levin era, are much appreciated!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Art Forger

“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 Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Synopsis from the publisher:
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—one of the degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing degas painting—the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.

Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

Publishing October 23, 2012 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: Losing My Sister

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!

Losing My Sister: A Memoir by Judy Goldman p. 22

"When I'm grown and teaching writing workshops, I'll assign this exercise to students: tell the myth surrounding your birth.

Here's mine:

I was born in Rock Hill -- unable to swallow."

Argh, I want to keep reading! Obviously she survived (or this memoir is very weird) but that's quite a terrifying detail she's revealed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch
Losing My Sister: A Memoir by Judy Goldman

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (audio)
Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Up next:
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Review: Losing My Sister by Judy Goldman

You have a pretty good hint in the very beginning of how Judy is going to lose her sister, but the bulk of this book is about losing your sister another way: through misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and resentments.

Judy and Brenda (and big brother Donald) grow up in Rock Hill, SC, just over the state line from Charlotte, NC (where they all end up) and seemed to have a pretty idyllic childhood, with loving parents, a beautiful house (they had a working fireplace in their childhood bedroom!) and neighborhood friends. Brenda, the older, was of course protective, and Judy liked to be protected. Until they became adults. And they began to chafe at childhood roles they'd long played.

Most memoirs I read are either of the stunt-memoir type (where someone does something crazy for a year like reading the entire OED or dressing like a man or working a different job every week) or they are very specific (like a memoir of working in a mental hospital or going back to working retail as an older adult or going to prison). Ms. Goldman's book hearkens back to a more traditional memoir -- a looking back upon one's life and reflecting on the history and what influences have made one what one is today, what memories stick with you, and what experiences turned out to be more consequential than one thought at the time. Her book reminds me of Beverly Cleary's terrific memoirs or Cursed by a Happy Childhood by Carl Lennertz. While Ms. Goldman also had a very happy childhood, that didn't translate into the perfect adulthood as well. In most arenas -- work, marriage, motherhood --  life sorted itself out well, but when it came to Brenda, things were very up and down. They'd go years with talking frequently, shopping and lunching, but then there'd be a blow-up -- often so surprising to Judy that she didn't remember afterwards what it was even over. And neither sister was good at apologizing. It's not that they wouldn't do it, but they'd do it in a way that was defensive, inviting more hurt feelings and not the reconciliation they had in mind. They pulled it together through their mother's Alzheimer's, and their father's cancer, but in large parts of both those situations, they were only pretending to get along, or they were ignoring the underlying problems that they both knew one one day rise up again, when it was more convenient.

I expect most sisters go through these kinds of upheavals. When I read You Were Always Mom's Favorite!: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives by Deborah Tannen a few years ago, I was struck by the rigidity and reinforcement of the birth-order roles from the moment we are born. For instance, when you meet two little girls, you might ask, "Who's older?" No one ever asks "Who's younger?" making it seem like being older is the thing to be, giving the older sister a sense of power and entitlement and the younger sister, resentment. Competition is something else imposed from the outside from nearly the very beginning: "Why can't you do XX like your sister?" is something every young girl has heard scores of times, and will unfailingly bring on an eye-roll. My own mother used to frequently tell me and my two sisters that when we were adults, we'd be best friends. As we were pinching and hitting each other, that seemed bafflingly impossible. Judy and Brenda start off their adult lives that way, but prove even sisters who are best friends as adults can have just as many difficulties. And those are made all the more poignant by the health issues and losses in their family.

The book is fluidly written with soft remembrances of times long past, along with sharp reminders of today. Anyone with a sister will see themselves in one of these two, and hopefully won't (but probably will) see too much of themselves in their rifts. Ms. Goldman speaks to a universal trial in our lives today -- how do we keep family close, without being suffocated by who we used to be?

Judy Goldman will be appearing at Bibliofeast in Charlotte on October 22. For more information, click here.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

Book Beginnings: Losing My Sister

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

Losing My Sister: A Memoir by Judy Goldman

"It's 1992 and I'm soaping my breasts in the shower so I can check for lumps."

Yikes, that's ominous! And nearly impossible to stop reading! Must find out what happens. A lump? Is it bad? Is it cancer? Wow, that's a lot of foreshadowing in the very first sentence! And I'm confused too because if the title is Losing My Sister, I'd expect the sister to be the one with breast cancer, so that's another thing I want to figure out.

Why Belong to a Book Club?

In years past I've posted about how to start a book club, tips if your book club has issues, lists of books for a book club if you're out of ideas, and yet I've never answered the most basic question of all: Why belong to a book club?

After college, I truly missed having a group of smart, interested people to discuss interesting books with. Sure, when I read a light, fluffy, superficial book, I wasn't thinking that. But when I read something more weighty, controversial, confusing, or just one that baffled me, I wanted someone to bounce ideas off of. I wanted to know what other people thought about the character/ending/decision. I also wanted to have other peoples' interpretations. I've always loved to see things from other angles and from other points of view (which is why I love covers of songs, and retellings of classic stories like Wicked or A Thousand Acres.)

Personally, for my work (in the publishing industry), I also appreciate very much being forced to read books I otherwise wouldn't have, many of which I've actually loved.

Last month I was interviewed for this article on book clubs and although it didn't make it into the article, the reporter asked me why book clubs seem to have been more popular in the last 15 years. The truth is I really don't know, but I do have some guesses. They were already starting to grow a little bit before the Oprah Book Club but Oprah obviously brought awareness into pretty much everyone's home. And I have noticed that the late 1990s also coincides with when Americans became truly mobile and stopped staying in their hometowns so much. I have an aunt and uncle who still live within 50 miles of where they grew up, and yet my three siblings and I have all moved away (and our mother did too!) The closest sibling to our hometown is about 5 hours away, and she's hoping to go abroad for graduate work next year. Book Clubs are a way to connect with a new community, it's one of the first things I did when I moved to Charlotte, and I was thrilled one of my local friends belonged to a book club I could join. And it is also unique in that unlike other clubs you can join, say a knitting club or a gardening club, you're not working with your hands and therefore you can't just gossip the whole time. Granted, plenty of book clubs do gossip before or after the discussion (mine certainly does) and I've sadly heard of some that have devolved completely into gossip without any book discussion, but that's not the point. The point is to actually have an intellectually stimulating conversation for a short while, even if your day has otherwise been filled with mind-numbing work, screaming children, traffic jams, and the other tedium of daily life. Thanks to book club, for one evening each month, I feel as smart as I did in college. I have made friends through book club, found great new books, and hung out with other people who love reading as much as I do. What other reasons do you need?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch

Wendy Welch and her husband Jack Beck own and run the Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books but more people know the store as the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap (yes, the same town that Adriana Trigiani is from and writes about.) It comprises the first floor of their house (they live on the second) and is a used bookstore they started more or less on a whim. Luckily they were both book hoarders previously, so when they started the store with mostly their own personal books, that still made up a few thousand, but it had exploded since then.

The book is told more or less in chronological order, but the chapters are also about individual topics, such as how often and how they deal with book donors who are donating after a loved one's death, and how small town gossip has both hindered and helped their store.

This book should be a must-read for anyone wanting to open a bookstore. Initially it's more of a cautionary tale of what not to do (start a bookstore on a whim in a very small close-knit town you're new to, without sufficient stock), but Wendy and Jack do learn through the years (and I really loved their tour throughout the upper Southeast and lower Midwest of other bookstores and how they picked up some Best Practices elsewhere that they brought home) and they have a few great ideas of their own (I was very impressed with the idea to advertise on the two blank sides of the napkin dispensers at local restaurants.) Having worked with dozens of new bookstore owners, I occasionally cringed at certain mistakes they were making  such as allowing customers to use just trade values to buy books - the better policy is to cap how much trade you can use towards a purchase such as at 50% so customers have to give you some cash, as the power company and water company won't accept books for their bills, so you do very much need cash coming in. Also they admit that at first they were accepting any books people brought in but they definitely don't do that anymore. Most readers won't be attuned to these details like a former bookstore rep is, and will breeze right past them. Plus, no shop owner has made no mistakes along the way. And some of them have turned into being happy accidents. I liked how they originally intended to impose a no cell phone policy but before they got around to posting a sign, they noticed that the vast majority of cell phone talkers in the store were talking about the store itself. They were telling the person on the other line about the new bookstore in town and often then taking an order of books for their friend. Personally it's rare that I'm on the phone in a store but it happens and I appreciate store owners who aren't martinets about these kinds of social faux pas.

Along the way Wendy and Jack make good friends, become a part of the community, and discover the many joys of running a bookstore (which have pretty much nothing to do with profits - they make enough to get by on and that's enough.) I especially loved the story of the gregarious old man who came in and bought Westerns frequently. After he died his daughter came to donate a handful of books. When Wendy inquired after the Westerns, she found out that not only had he bought them all to donate to the VFW, but he also was illiterate. Aw, so sweet!

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap is a quick, breezy read that anyone who loves a good bookstore will love. And if you want to know more, the author's blog is here. The author will be appearing at Bibliofeast in Charlotte, NC on October 22. If you'd like to buy tickets, click here.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Mrs Queen Takes the Train

“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:

Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn

Synopsis from the publisher:
After decades of service and years of watching her family's troubles splashed across the tabloids, Britain's Queen is beginning to feel her age. She needs some proper cheering up. An unexpected opportunity offers her relief: an impromptu visit to a place that holds happy memories—the former royal yacht, Britannia, now moored near Edinburgh. Hidden beneath a skull-emblazoned hoodie, the limber Elizabeth (thank goodness for yoga) walks out of Buckingham Palace into the freedom of a rainy London day and heads for King's Cross to catch a train to Scotland. But a characterful cast of royal attendants has discovered her missing. In uneasy alliance a lady-in-waiting, a butler, an equerry, a girl from the stables, a dresser, and a clerk from the shop that supplies Her Majesty's cheese set out to find her and bring her back before her absence becomes a national scandal.

Mrs Queen Takes the Train is a clever novel, offering a fresh look at a woman who wonders if she, like Britannia herself, has, too, become a relic of the past. William Kuhn paints a charming yet biting portrait of British social, political, and generational rivalries—between upstairs and downstairs, the monarchy and the government, the old and the young. Comic and poignant, fast paced and clever, this delightful debut tweaks the pomp of the monarchy, going beneath its rigid formality to reveal the human heart of the woman at its center.

October 16, 2012 by HarperCollins.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Not Reading New Books! Oh no!

I recently decided that I couldn't do the big Classics challenge partly because I need to keep my reading deck free to read new books. But then I read this in an article in Shelf Awareness:

Two years ago, 35% of book purchases were made because readers found out about a book in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, the single-largest site of discovery. This year, that figure has dropped to 17%, a reflection both of the closing of Borders and the rise of e-readers. In the same period, personal recommendations grew the most, to 22% from 14%. Some three-quarters of personal recommendations are made in person, while the rest come by e-mail (8%), phone (7%), Facebook (4%) and other social networks (3%).

A problem for publishers and authors of new titles is that the vast majority of personal recommendations are backlist titles. Only 6% of books recommended personally have been published in the past half year--and just 2% were published within three months.

At first I felt smug, figuring I was one of the personal recommenders, but then that second paragraph pulled me up. Only 6% of the books are frontlist? Really? But then I thought about the books I've been reading lately, and I knew it was true. I just finished Guns, Germs and Steel which was published in 1997. And before that I read The Giver, published in 1993. Hmm. So I decided to go back through the books I've read this year and see how many are recent.

And I'm pretty shocked at the numbers so far. Three books I read were brand-new when I read them, just out in hardcover. Those are: I Will Not Leave You  Comfortless, All Roads Lead to Austen, and The Girl in the Park. Then seven books were just recently out in paperback (although to be honest on most of those, I read the hardcover that had been sitting around my house for a while.) Those books are: Clara and Mr. Tiffany, The Tiger's Wife, The American Heiress, What Alice Forgot, The Snowman, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, and Malled.

So 10 of the 53 books I've read this year were frontlist, and actually only 3 were truly frontlist and not reprints. Yikes. I really don't read as much frontlist as I thought I did! Wow.

I am currently reading a frontlist book, and the next one in my pile is also frontlist, so that'll bring me up to 5 which is 10%, more respectable. But jeez, I need to stay on top of this better next year! Yes, this year I did get a few books off my To Read list from eons ago (Terms of Endearment, The Thorn Birds, The Fatal Shore), but it truly is part of my job to stay abreast of what's publishing now. So for the rest of the year, I'm going to try to get my number up to 10. We'll see. I do still have two challenges to finish (Australian and Non-Fiction Non-Memoir) as well as my book club, so I'll really have to work to squeeze them in. But I've done enough cleaning up of old shelves - I need to read some books just out now. I think I'll check right now with the library on the new Jasper Fforde, a friend from Hachette is sending me a couple of books I'll pounce on, and I'll buy a couple of the new Great Group Reads titles for National Reading Group Month. Wish me luck!

Book Review: Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

I got this book nearly ten years ago, I saw the PBS miniseries, and my boyfriend has been harassing me to read it for over two years, but I just now got around to it. Yes, it was largely due to the book's imposing size and density, but I am glad I finally read it!

The book is about geographic determinism. Mr. Diamond sets out to show why civilization and technology developed where it did (the Fertile Crescent, Europe, China) instead of where it didn't (the Americas, Africa, Australia). He's completely convinced that the theories of old are wrong (that the Europeans are simply smarter, and obviously that means their race is better and destined to rule), but at the same time there must be some explanation and no one had really come up with an alternate explanation to racism, even though it was obvious that there must be one.

So here it is: geographic determinism. There are several causes of the varied development, but it boils down to a few things: what animals and plants were available on the continent, which way the continent was oriented (North-South is not good, East-West is), and the ease of mobility and trade to other continents. If you were lucky enough to be born in Europe and Asia, you had many potential crops to domesticate that would provide good value and nutrition. You also had many potential animals to domesticate, which were not only good for food but also for hauling and plowing, and living in close contact with these animals gave immunity to a host of diseases that would eventually prove wildly destructive to other peoples who did not have that exposure. You could easily get both the good food and good animals from your neighbors. Since they were at the same latitude, the crops likely would grow well in your area too. Plus, it was easy to travel across Eurasia with its low mountains and width. In the Americas for example, corn was the only crop option, which was very difficult to domesticate and didn't provide many nutrients. The only animals option was the llama, which was in the Andes and never spread very far. If you wanted to take corn and spread it to another country, you were changing latitudes considerably, which changes climate and the corn might not grow well or at all in the new area. Also if you are traveling very far, you have to deal with huge mountains (the Andes, the Rockies), and then you have to get across the very skinny isthmus of Panama, and what is now the Southwestern United States was basically a big desert. If you managed to get through all of these barriers, you still had something no where near as good for you as wheat or rice or barley. And yet, you were still much luckier to be in the Americas than Australia, where the Aborigines had no domesticatable plants (the only one that even modern scientists have been able to work with is Macadamian nuts) and no domesticatable animals.

In fact, Mr. Diamond almost makes the assertion that the "natives" elsewhere in the world proved they were not only just as smart, but possibly even smarter, by their super-fast adaptation to non-native plants and animals when they were introduced (think of Native Americans riding horses) as well as other technologies (guns), although as a scientist he'd never make a statement quite that bold that can't yet be proven. Although he also points out that a head start and good luck with plants and animals doesn't always mean a civilization would dominate -- look at the Fertile Crescent. They had an incredible head start with both food sources, they developed technology very early, and then they stagnated. They cut down all the trees in their delicate environment, causing what was once the most fertile land on earth to become today's deserts.

The early access to good food was necessary for civilizations to appear. Without farming, people stay hunter-gatherers, and hunter-gatherers can't develop specialized technologies like metallurgy and writing. For those developments to happen, there needs to be large-scale food production so that those specialized tradesmen could trade for food instead of procuring their own. Once farming develops, civilization soon follows. Then many technologies were developed separately on separate continents, although with more or less success in different areas (in the Americas, wheels were only used on children's toys.)

Finally, the question he began the book with is addressed - why did Europeans conquer the "new" world, instead of the other way around? This is the question the title answers: because the Europeans had developed guns, germs, and steel. Germs were really the very most useful for conquering, although the Europeans had no idea they were even doing it. And luckily for them, the diseases raced ahead of them, wiping out populations before Europeans ever set foot in some areas. Of course then guns and steel armor proved no match for arrows and quilted armor and the end result was a forgone conclusion. But the only reason the Europeans had these advantages over the rest of the world, is that they were lucky to be born in a place with favorable environment and native plants and animals. If wheat and cows had been naturally appearing in the Americas or Africa instead of Eurasia, the history of the world might have been very different (although it would have taken longer to get to this point, due to the North-South orientation of those continents and the difficulty that added to these issues.)

The book was fascinating, although I found it a little long. Particularly in the last chapters where he's talking about how languages have evolved and how those evolutions prove certain time frames for the adaptations of certain technological advances, well I could have done without that. At times he got a little technical for a book for a general audience. But the vast majority of the book is very accessible and it's so important that a scientist addressed this longstanding question that previously had only been answered with racism. I'm very glad this book has been so successful for so long, and hope it will continue to be read for generations. I loved the 2003 updated afterword, where he's able to expand on the New Zealand Musket Wars, on why Europe and not China dominated, and how the book has been adopted and adapted by business schools and business professionals (including Bill Gates) to apply to the world of product development and domination today. I hope Mr. Diamond continues to update the afterward periodically and that scientists continue to explore this fascinating and vital area of questioning, to find further answers as to why modern society evolved the way we did.

I do not remember how I got this book but it was a long time ago and I did not do book reviews at that time.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

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!

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch p. 32

"My husband cast a suspicious eye towards me, knowing that when I said not to worry, he probably should. But I continued with an expansive wave at the dead books, "Clearly we need more inventory.""

While the expense that inventory will cost is worrying, it's also necessary. You don't have a store without anything to sell.

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch

Up next:
The Jew Store by Stella Suberman
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

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

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch

"Three AM. Sleep was gone."

Okay, that's two sentences, but considering I still only have five words, I think it should be allowed. Sleeplessness seems normal when doing something crazy like starting up a bookstore in a small town in the midst of a recession.

I Love my Book Club!

Last week my book club met as usual and we discussed The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. And for the first time in a long time, we had a new member! After the book discussion, we had a great time recommending books to her! We were mostly recommending books we've previously read in book club. We didn't know anything about her except that if she wants to be a book club, she must like book club type books. What are book club type books? Well, they're usually mainstream (not as many genre books and if they are genre books, they're truly exceptional ones that transcend their genre. In fact we mentioned that a few of the genre books we suggested to her are found in the general fiction section at bookstores), they're fairly literary although not too difficult/dense, and they have interesting and controversial topics, preferably a lot of them.

So I thought I'd share our list here of books our book club has loved. We did not have the master list at this meeting (our fearless leader wasn't able to attend) so we were using my Goodreads list, but that means if I didn't go to book club one month, that book isn't listed. Oh well - I've been in this book club for 8 years and I've attended every meeting that I reasonably could. I think in all that time I've only missed 2 meetings when I was in town.

While I Was Gone by Sue Miller
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Don't forget, October is National Reading Group Month! Want more info? Click here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

I knew nothing going into this book except that it's a dystopian award-winning YA novel that is now required reading everywhere (and also often challenged) and that I don't particularly like the cover (which is still true after having read it. What about a grizzled old man would appeal to young teens? Even if he is the title character?)

Jonas is growing up in a pretty ideal world. At first it seems nice - everyone gets a bike when they turn 9 - but it's also a little creepy - every morning everyone has to tell their dreams and the family analyzes them, and every evening you have to tell your emotions from the day, which are also analyzed. But overall it doesn't seem too bad. Jonas has a best friend, Asher, his little sister Lily is cute and only very mildly annoying, and it's nice to see 11-year-olds doing volunteer work with the elderly, even if it is mandatory (that you do volunteer work is mandatory, not where.) But when Jonas turns 12 he, like everyone else, is assigned to his career and beings training. And that's when you begin to discover, along with Jonas, just how controlled, limited, and rigid this society is.

As Jonas discovers more about the real world outside (or is it just before? Is the outside really the same as where he is?), he has to decide how to deal with the choices that come his way, choices which he has never made before (Big-Brother-esque cameras and loudspeakers seem to watch what everyone does.) There simply aren't choices in his life and in his community. But that means they're missing out on a lot of good, as well as bad. When war is eliminated, so is love. Adults are matched by a committee with their partners, they are assigned two children, a boy and a girl, to raise, and once those children are adults and don't need their parents any longer, the parents move into Childless Adult housing. It's true, there is no hunger, no doubt, no hurt feelings, and no fighting. But at what cost? And what, if anything, is Jonas willing and able to do about it? Can he handle the responsibility of knowing the truth?

I can really see why this is taught in schools - the moral issues are very obvious and easy topics for school papers (not that there are any easy answers to them). Jonas is a very appealing character, if a little bland (presumably that's partially imposed by the hyper-conformity of the community) and easily relatable. It was smoothly written and I whipped through it in just a few hours. It's powerful and the questions it raises about tradeoffs and costs are ones adults should ponder as well.

I'm a bit confused as to why it's one of the most frequently challenged books unless it's political. It was called "lewd" and "twisted" - huh? Also its “mature themes” including suicide, sexuality, and euthanasia, have attracted detractors, but that's silly as those are all issues that should be debated. They're not open and shut cases. I read Brave New World in 10th grade and we had to then write essays on controversial technological advances. I did mine on RU-486, the "abortion drug," and my friend Lauren did hers on euthanasia. If these topics were worth discussing in the 1980s, they certainly are worth talking about now. (And the "sexuality" is pretty light both in content and discussion in the book. Jonas has some feelings they call "stirrings" and he's put on a drug that stops them.) I suppose the people who want to ban this book are the ones who think you can just hide children from controversial topics and they somehow will be completely sheltered, and also they will 100% agree with and not question their parents' opinions, if they're not exposed to any literature that makes them think. Why on earth do we want teens to not think? Baffling. I'm glad this book is required reading in my school district (and I don't even have a kid!)

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

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Woman Who Died A Lot

“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 Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

Synopsis from Goodreads: 

The Bookworld’s leading enforcement officer, Thursday Next, has been forced into a semiretirement following an assassination attempt, returning home to Swindon and her family to recuperate.

But Thursday’s children have problems that demand she become a mother of invention: Friday’s career struggles in the Chronoguard, where he is relegated to a might-have-been; Tuesday’s trouble perfecting the Anti-Smote shield, needed in time to thwart an angry Deity’s promise to wipe Swindon off the face of the earth; and the issue of Thursday’s third child, Jenny, who doesn’t exist except as a confusing and disturbing memory.

With Goliath attempting to replace Thursday at every opportunity with synthetic Thursdays, and a call from the Bookworld to hunt down Pagerunners who have jumped into the Realworld, Thursday’s convalescence is going to be anything but restful as the week ahead promises to be one of the Next family’s oddest.

Expected publication on October 9, 2012 by Viking.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Some jerk thought this book was porn and wanted it banned from his kids' school. Wow, that guy is really the opposite of the judge who says he knows porn when he sees it, because of the YA books about sex, you'd be hard pressed to find one less graphic, and where it's such a small part of the story. (Admittedly, he didn't read the book he wanted to ban. Nice.)

No, this is a book about friendship, about grieving, and about secrets. Anna is going to California with her best friend Frankie for Frankie's family's annual vacation, partly as a distraction because last summer Frankie's older brother, Matt, died in a freak accident. Frankie, who has been acting a little wild this last year, decides this summer vacation is the perfect time for Anna to have her first romance, and so if they can meet a boy a day (hence the title), they have a good shot at meeting a decent boy or two. But Frankie doesn't know that Anna's first romance was last summer -- with Matt right before he died. He hadn't had a chance to tell Frankie yet and made Anna promise not to tell her until he did, but he died first. And now Anna is stuck with this promise, not knowing which is worse, breaking it or admitting the deception to Frankie?

Meanwhile, Frankie is dealing with Matt's death unevenly. Her grades have slipped a lot, her reputation has also slipped a little, as she's become obsessed with makeup, hair, and boys. She's also worried that her parents will split up. Anna feels caught in the middle. She wants to help Frankie deal with Matt's death in whatever way best works for her, but she's not crazy about the fashion- and looks-obsessions, Frankie's sometimes reckless behavior, and of course she's always guarding again her own unwelcome secret.

Partly this book is a traditional summer vacation book, with boys and sunburns and surfing and smoothies, but it does have a dark undercurrent. And it does have a lot of questions to keep readers turning the pages. Will Frankie find out about Anna and Matt? Will she be understanding or mad? Will Frankie and Anna meet some cool boys? Will Anna lose her virginity? Will Frankie's parents divorce? Will life ever get better? Will either girl ever stop thinking about Matt all the time? When will things get back to normal? What is normal? Do they even want that?

Anna is a pretty good girl, but she does stretch those boundaries a little, particularly with the encouragement of the wilder Frankie. I do wish she had a little more personality, but she didn't feel two-dimensional or non-existent, just a little flat. I also wish the beginning part, before Matt dies, was longer. I wish we'd gotten to know him a lot better to know just what it was Frankie and Anna were missing so badly, but also so we could have gotten to know the "before" Frankie and Anna better. And Matt was a touch unrealistic - a guy who just loved to hang out with his little sister and her best friend? Who read to them long excerpts from novels? Who wrote poetic and philosophical postcards? And who didn't seem to have any negative traits aside from an unknown heart condition and bad timing?

These niggling issues aside, it was a touching book. The teenagers were well drawn, realistic (neither major nerds nor hard-core partiers), the grief felt real and Anna's quandary did feel truly like she was stuck in a lose-lose situation with the secret. It read very quickly, and I thought the ending was quite good -- it was properly set-up and appropriate. Not predictable, but at the same time what I expected as it was inevitable given the characters' personalities and the situation. That's exactly what you want in an ending -- it is true to the characters and the plot, with no left field twists.

Banning books is never a good idea. Unfortunately, teenagers do sometimes have to deal with loss and a book like Twenty Boy Summer could be incredibly helpful for a teen dealing with their own grief. They also do often lose their virginity, and the experience in this book is drawn in a careful and thoughtful way, not presenting it as a casual or frivolous thing, but also not the Most Important Thing In The World. Again, teens will be dealing with this issue and it's good for them to explore the different facets of different decisions before they are faced with it themselves, and books are a wonderfully safe environment for exploring.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

Monday, October 1, 2012

October is National Reading Group Month! 2012

It's my favorite time of year again! Because October is National Reading Group Month! It was started in 2007 by the Women's National Book Association, and has been picked up by libraries and bookstores nationally. I love book clubs, and I particularly love that there's a whole month devoted to them. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by the Erie, PA newspaper in a long article about book clubs.

Four years ago the WNBA started putting together a list of Great Group Reads. A group of members read ALL of the submitted books (We're talking 30+ in just a month or two!) and then based on votes, they pull together a final list of books that would be great for book clubs. That doesn't necessarily just mean books the readers liked, but they specifically look for books that would lead to good discussions, have compelling characters, interesting topics, and a variety of themes.

Here is the 2012 list of Great Group Reads:
The Absolutist by John Boyne
An Age of Madness by David Maine
Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
Boleto by Alyson Hagy
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani
Faith by Jennifer Haigh
I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
The O’Briens by Peter Behrens
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
The Right-Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeannette Winterson

Finally, for once there's a GGR selection I've already read! I loved What Alice Forgot and I agree, it would make for an excellent book club discussion. If you want even more options, check out the website for National Reading Group Month and they have now four years' worth of GGR lists.

Are you in a book club? What's the best book your book club has read? Do you have any book club tips? If you do any posts about National Reading Group Month, please link to me and I'll post a round-up of blog posts on NRGM!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Giver by Lois Lowry

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (audio)

Up next:
Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book by Wendy Welch
Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz