Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Happened in September, 2014


Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

Two Christmases ago, my daughter gave me Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks.  The movie was coming out, and the plan may have been to trick me into taking her to see it by giving me the book first.  The plan didn't work, and Safe Haven sat in my nightstand  unread for a year and a half.  In August, my family rented a house in North Carolina, and I decided that it was the perfect time to give Safe Haven a try.  I expected it to be a good beach book, with the added benefit that my daughter would see me reading it and appreciating her gift.

I have to say that Safe Haven was pretty much exactly what one might expect from a Nicholas Sparks book.  The main character, Katie, has left her abusive husband and fled to a small North Carolina town.  There she meets the recently widowed Alex, and falls in love with him and his two children.  All is going well until, yep, you guessed it. 

While the story was predictable, it was a page turner, and I found myself oddly unable to put it down.  Sparks played some hokey name games, and threw in an unexpected but equally unbelievable twist at the end.  Still, if you are renting beach house and looking for something to bring along, you might as well bring this one!

Challenges:  Rewind

Tags:  Light and Fluffy

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

I'm a pretty persistent reader.  Most of the time, if I can make it through the first hundred pages, I'll finish the book.  Last month, I put down . . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer after over 400 pages.  This month, I'm quitting The Finkler Question, despite being 2/3 through.

The Finkler Question is the story of three men living in London, Julian Treslove, Sam Finkler and Libor Sevcik.  Julian and Sam are about the same age as each other - mid 40s, and Libor is in his 80s.  Libor and Sam are recently widowed.  They are also Jewish.  So what, you ask?  Jewishness is all that they talk about.

Julian is mugged, and believes that he was the victim of an anti-Semitic attack.  Although he is not Jewish, he then experiences a huge case of Jewish envy, and tries to become Jewish by changing his manner of speaking and actions, without actually converting.  Libor is seemingly happily Jewish, although he spends a great deal of time thinking about whether attacks on Jewish people and places are understandable, if not justified.  Sam Finkler, on the other hand, joins a group who identify themselves as ASHamed Jews and are opposed to the Israeli state.

Much of the dialogue in The Finkler Question is focused on what it means to be Jewish, whether one can be Jewish and be ashamed of other Jewish people, and whether Jewish people who disagree with what other Jewish people are doing, especially in Israel, are anti-Semitic.

If you are Jewish, and are questioning your beliefs, this might be a great book for you.  I was actually not aware that some Jewish people don't support Israel, which I probably should have known.  So much of the book is about Jewish people as a group, and then the opinions of particular Jewish people.  All of this is great, but it just got old.  I was looking for another dimension to the characters.  Being Jewish, or being jealous of people who are Jewish, shouldn't be all that they are.

The Finkler Question won the Man Booker Prize for 2010. 

Challenges: Rewind, Audiobook, and I Love Library Books

Tags: British Stories, Man Booker Listed, Questioning Religions

. . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer

Well, I picked it up again.  This time I read from where I left off, at page 413 in 1880, until page 613 in 1887.  Some more club members have died, others have married, and the kids are mostly grown.  There are some hints that someone might be a lesbian, but I'm not sure if that was a topic discussed in popular fiction in 1982 when the book was first published, so I'm not expecting anything explosive.

The other members of The Typical Book Group are also struggling with this one.  We usually discuss our summer Big Fat Book in August, or possibly in September if everyone is out of town at the end of the summer.  This year, we have decided to move the meeting back until October.

Although this book is taking me forever, I am liking it.  It has a nice, soothing rhythm.  There's not a ton of action, but there is something about it that I like.  I'm taking a break again, but after I finish The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon, I'll try and knock out another 200 pages.

The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

In 1930, a judge in New York named Joseph Crater suddenly disappeared and became the "The Missingest Man in New York".  His wife, Stella was at their vacation home in Maine, while Crater went to Atlantic City with his mistress, Sally Lou Ritz.  He came back to the City, had dinner with Ritz and his lawyer, William Klein, then got in a cab, and was never seen again.  In her book, The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress, Ariel Lawhon offers a theory of what may have happened.

Lawhon's story focuses on the tangled connections between Stella and Crater and a cast of characters including a mob boss, Owney Madden, his unexpectedly friendly thug, Shorty, and the Craters' maid, Maria.  No one seems to actually have liked Crater, so there were lots people who might have preferred for him to disappear.  In fact, in real life as in the book it took 10 days for anyone to start wondering where he was.

During Crater's lifetime, there were rumors about how he secured his appointment to court. Lawhon speculates that Owney Madden was involved, and became worried when a grand jury was convened to investigate alleged corruption.  She then also guesses that the police investigating the crime may be indebted to Madden themselves.

Sometimes in a historical fiction book, there is something that happens that is so unbelievable that you know it must be true.  In this story, when it turned out that the Craters' maid was married to one of the policemen investigating the case, I knew that it must have been true, because there's no way that a police officer would be charged with investigating his wife's boss' mysterious disappearance, so no author would make that up.  However, when I got to Lawhon's end notes, it turned out that was a fictional twist.  The Craters did have a maid, but there's no indication that she was married to an investigator. 

All told, this was an interesting story, made all the more so with its morsels of truth.

Challenges:  I Love Library Books Challenge

Tags:  Historical Fiction   

In Other News

Pass it On

You might remember that I got my copy of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson from a Little Free Library.  I finished that book while I was staying that the beach house that I talked about in my review of Safe Haven, and so I left it there.  The shelves were crowded with more beach reads than literary fiction, but I found it a nice spot next to The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  While Safe Haven would have fit right in, I wasn't done with it yet.  So, I'll return Safe Haven to my Little Free Library instead.  Pass it on!

Man Booker Short List

The Man Booker Prize Shortlist was announced on September 9.  To my surprise, David Mitchell's new book, The Bone Clocks, did not make the cut.  Instead, Joshua Ferris' book, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour made the list, along with books by Howard Jacobson, Karen Joy Fowler, Richard Flanagan, Neel Mukherjee and Ali Smith.  Despite an earlier so-so review, the Times published this almost glowing review of To Rise Again on September 15.  What brought on the reconsideration?  I just might suspect that they didn't want to be left on the wrong side of the hype if Ferris wins this one.  More power to him.

Blogging for Rivera

This month, I had dinner in the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  No biggie really, I've been there before, and anyone in my tri-county area can go for free.  But it is pretty spectacular.  If you need a reason to visit Detroit, this could be it.

But anyway, sitting there, sipping wine, I was thinking about Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, and I couldn't help but think about The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.  The thing about The Lacuna is that although I know that it was a good book, and it was about Rivera and Kahlo, I can't tell you much about it.  Unfortunately, I read it during the period when I had officially started my blog, but before my Parent Rant that got me really writing about what I read.  And this is why I'm still blogging.  I'm convinced that if I stop, I won't remember the details about the books that I read.  So, here I go, blogging toward another month.

October Preview

In October, I plan to read and review the following books:

On Paper or Electronic Format:

. . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
White Woman on a Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
Bread and Butter by Michelle Widgen

On Audio

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What Happened in August, 2014


And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer

I tried.  Seriously, people, I tried.  For a full month I have been reading . . . And Ladies of the Club and I am still only 1/3 of the way through. 

. . . And Ladies of the Club was a popular book in the 1980s, and The Typical Book Group picked it as our summer BFB (Big Fat Book).  The story starts just after the Civil War, when two of the main characters, Sally and Anne, graduate from college and enter the real world of Waynesboro, OH.  They are asked by one of their teachers if they are interested in becoming part of a yet to be formed literary women's club, and they quickly agree.  From there, we meet 10 other women who become club members, their families, and their husbands. 

400 pages in, I am still in the late 1800s, three of the club members have died, and several others have been admitted.  The members have confronted social and political issues, like calls for prohibition, presidential elections, and the challenges of reuniting a divided country. 

The story reads like a classic, with not a lot of action, and lots of social dilemmas.  While I don't find it  boring, it is so soothing that it frequently lulls me to sleep after 5 or fewer pages.  So, I'm taking a break.  I would hate to waste two months reading a book only to say "meh" at the end.  We'll see.  If I read a couple more books and keep thinking about this one, I'll come back.

Tags:  Historical Fiction, Big Fat Books

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Circle is a company, likely based on Google or Facebook, where everyone who is smart and young wants to work.  They have a campus, which they would prefer that you not leave, where bands clamour to perform, where food and health care is provided and where innovation is constant.  The Circle wants to find out everything that is knowable in the modern world.  Do 27 year olds prefer Cancun or Hawaii?  How many grains of sand are there in the desert?  What happens when you transfer sea animals that have never before been seen into a Circle designed habitat?  The Circle is all about transparency.  If a person visits a park and doesn't post pictures to Facebook to tell their friends about it, why didn't they?  Were they ashamed?  Are they trying to hide their activities?  Or are they being anti-social?  It is quickly determined that all people are entitled to all experiences.  If you go to an art show in California, and I am stuck in Michigan, I can be there with you if you post about it.  But if you don't post about the experience, you are stealing that opportunity from me.  

Mae, a floundering Carlton College graduate, begins to work for The Circle when her friend, Annie, invites her to apply.  Mae quickly finds herself overwhelmed with gratitude to Annie, but also surprised by how much of her life The Circle wants to consume, and how much she is willing to give it.  Mae's dad is suffering from MS, and she is able to get better insurance coverage for him through The Circle.  In exchange, The Circle will monitor all of his care, which will obviously require live video supervision from 10 different cameras in his house.  Soon her parents begin to feel that this is too much, but Mae is insistent that The Circle knows best. 

The Circle is a commentary about how much of our privacy we are willing to give up while getting little in return.  As a customer experience worker, Mae finds herself devoting valuable time to people who she has never met but who have asked her to like them, instead of spending time with her family members and real life friends.  The instant gratification of having another "friend" and getting a favorable rating outweighs anything that Mae believes her parents could provide to her.

Part 1984, part "War Games", and part MaddAddam, The Circle predicts a not so distant future where online participation is mandatory.  Individuals control crime by mounting inexpensive video cameras which anyone can log into and see through.  This sounds good enough, but in a world where secrets are considered lies the superficial takes the place of the real.  Margaret Atwood calls much of her work "speculative fiction" instead of "science fiction", which is very apt in this case.  We can't be too many years away from a time when much of The Circle's technology is possible.  It is as though The Circle is a predecessor to the corporations that control the world in Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy.  In MaddAddam, each corporation has a campus and controls the lives of its employees, but there secrets are essential, and the corps will do anything to keep their secrets from getting out.  In the timeline of speculative fiction, The Circle would be placed between Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore and Oryx and Crake.  The Circle was a NYT Notable for 2013.

Eggers did an incredible job of imagining the world that could be.  Some of the technology that he explains, especially the "See Change" video cameras which can be mounted anywhere and are so inexpensive that they are readily available to everyone, seems possible.  My guess is that this is something that Eggers has mulled over, and that he hasn't gotten too many hours of sleep, for fear of the future.

The Circle was read by Dion Graham, who also read several of Egger's earlier books including A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What is the What.  To me, he is the voice of Dave Eggers.  It is a testament to Graham's ability that he is able to read these stories with such a range of topics and characters.

Challenges:  Audiobook Challenge, I Love Library Books Challenge

Tags:  NYT Notables; Sci-Fi-ish

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Have you ever had that feeling that if you just had something to do over again, you would do it differently?  So has Ursula Todd.  In Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, the novel consists of a series of episodes in Ursula's life.  There are three primary story lines, being the stories of Ursula's birth, that of her 16th birthday, and that of her World War II experience.  In each of these, the first time the story is told, it ends horribly for her, and she dies.  Each story is then retold, with Ursula making slightly different choices, as though she knows that she is trying to keep something from happening, but doesn't quite remember what.  Again, something horrible happens, and she dies.  The stories are retold again and again until Ursula has carefully navigated around all of the hidden hazards of her life, and can move on to the next episode.

Ursula feels a strong sense of deja vu, and eventually realizes that she has the ability to change the course of history, one tiny interception at a time.  If her maid falls down the stairs and can't go to a celebration in London, she won't bring the flu back to Ursula's household.  If she befriends Eva Braun, could she prevent World War II?

Atkinson's novel twists and turns while moving two steps forward and one step back.  It is almost as though she took Ursula's life, couldn't decide which way to go, and told the story every way that she could imagine.  However, the result is so carefully constructed that the novel presents Ursula's choices almost as a form of Darwinian evolution rather than simple drafts that didn't work out.

Life After Life was a NYT Notable Book for 2013, and the 2013 GoodReads Choice winner for Historical Fiction.

Tags:  Historical Fiction, NYT Notables, WWII Civilian Stories, British Stories

September Preview:

In September, I plan to read and review the following in paper or electronic form:

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
. . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hoover Santmyer (Try, Try again!)
The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

I also plan to finish listening to The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, and will post about that, and will start listening to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  However, at 32 hours, I am unlikely to post a review of this one before October.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Happened in July 2014



The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

Edmund De Waal is a famous twenty-first century potter (did you know that there was one?) who I first read about in this NYT article.  Although the article was intended to be about De Waal's new exhibit, the reporter talked enough about De Waal's family memoir, The Hare With Amber Eyes that I had to add it to my TBR list. 

What is amazing about Hare is that while it could have been the epitome of vanity publishing, instead it is a really great book, without bragging or pouting.  De Waal's family first made its fortune in Odessa through grain trading.  His great-great grandfather pushed the family into Europe, where they established banks in Paris and Vienna.  De Waal's great uncle was Charles Ephrussi, whose name was familiar to me, but for a while I didn't know why. Charles was the third son, and was able to avoid the family business and do things that were more interesting, like collect art.  He lived in Paris in the time of the Impressionists, and his collection included works by Pissaro, Monet, Renior, Cassatt, and Degas, all in one room of his home.  When De Waal discussed his uncle's relationship with Renoir, I knew why I knew Charles.  Charles Ephrussi is the man in the top hat in Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party.  Susan Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party is a book that I loved reading, and is on my list of books that I would like to re-read this year.  Unfortunately (fortunately?) I lent my copy to my friend, Kim, so I couldn't take a detour into fiction while reading Hare.

That's OK, because in Hare, the truth is better than the fiction could have been.   When Paris became obsessed with Japanese art in the 1800s, Charles jumped in, and amassed a collection of netsuke.  Netsuke are small, intricately carved objects, made sometimes from stone, ivory, or even wood.  Time passed, and the netsuke went out of style.  Charles sent his valuable collection to a nephew, De Waal's grandfather, as a wedding gift.  De Waal's grandfather went on to live in Vienna, where he ran the family owned bank.  According to De Waal, his grandfather's pre-World War II wealth, in today's dollars, was $400 million.  Unfortunately for the De Waal family, they were Jewish, and living in a Nazi state.  By the end of the war, most of the wealth was gone, but amazingly, the netsuke survived and passed through another generation, before landing in De Waal's capable hands.

While billed as the story of the netsuke, this is really a story of a family living in an incredible time.  It somehow doesn't read as a memoir, so much as a telling of historical events in a new and interesting light.  Definitely worth the read. 

Challenges: I love library books

Tags:  Memoir, Non-Fiction, WWII Civilian Stories, Paris

McSweeney's 44

McSweeney's is a quarterly something that generally includes short stories and articles, and was created by Dave Eggers.  I say that it is a quarterly "something" rather than magazine or journal or book, because it is really none of these.  Sometimes it comes with the stories loose in a box, sometimes it looks more like a magazine.  Usually, it looks a lot like novel, which is the case with 44.  The main contributors to 44 were Joe Meno, Rebecca Curtis, Tom Barbash, Jim Shepard, Stuart Dybek, and Wells Tower.  There was also a 82 page tribute to Lawrence (Ren) Weschler, to which many others contributed.

One of my favorite parts of 44 were the letters to the editor, which were all witty and quirky, and generally what one would expect from McSweeney's readers who are hoping to get published themselves. 

Jim Shepard wrote a particularly un-McSweeny-ish story that I liked called "The Ocean of Air", about the Montgolfier brothers who were the first to invent a hot air balloon safe for human travel.  I also liked Stuart Dybek's piece, "Happy Ending" which tells the story of a man, Gil, attending a party thrown by a mogul who claimed to be unhappy.  Gil shows the mogul how happy he is by inventing a scenario which would make his life much worse.  Another interesting story was "Birthday Girl" by Tom Barbash, where a driver who is possibly (almost surely) drunk hits a young girl, and then tries to make things right.

The story by Wells Tower, "The Dance Contest" is well written and interesting, but also strange.  It is about a man named Osmund Tower, the fictional father to Wells, who finds himself imprisoned in the luxury wing of the Theb Moob Mens' Prison in Thailand, due primarily to his naivete.  While he may be in the best possible part of the prison, it is a prison none the less.  The Captain in charge comes up with the idea of rewarding the prisoners with prizes, based on their performance in a dance contest, as judged by Internet viewers.  Cruel and unusual?  You decide.  What I didn't get about this piece is why Tower wanted to make it seem like his character was his father.  Why not just name him Tom Sutherland or Osmund Miller?

Although I, personally, didn't need such a long, funereal, tribute to Ren Weschler, he seems to be a person I should know more about.   I would recommend starting with the Errol Morris conversation with Weschler, and then skipping ahead to Jonathan Lethem's tribute.   If they leave you wanting more, 44 is well stocked.  As always, I finished McSweeney's feeling a little smarter (and maybe a little more smug) than when I started.

Challenges:  Rewind

Tags:  Keeping it Short, Historical Fiction, Non Fiction

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam is the third book in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy.  The first book, Oryx and Crake, focused on Jimmy, a guy in his early 20s who survived some sort of a plague, and wonders if he is the only human who made it.  He lives among people he calls "Crakers" because they were developed in a lab by his friend, Crake.  Much of that book was told through flashbacks about Crake and their shared love, Oryx.  The second book, The Year of the Flood, was told mostly by Toby and Ren.  They are members of a group, The God's Gardeners, who try to live in a more simple way among the corporations and criminals of the modern world.  MaddAddam again focuses on Toby, but this time the story is more about two other God's Gardeners, Zeb and Adam. 

MaddAddam takes place after the waterless flood of the plague, and begins right where The Year of the Flood ended.  Toby, Ren, Amanda and Jimmy are all in a confrontation with dangerous painballers, who are criminals who have fought to the death and survived.  Toby is happy to be reunited with her old crush, Zeb, and much of the book is Zeb telling about his life as a boy with his brother, Adam.  Adam and Zeb had to flee from their abusive but powerful father, the Rev.  Zeb found adventure slaying bears and impersonating big foot, while Adam went on to recruit like-minded people to become MaddAddams and God's Gardeners.

While MaddAddam brought resolution to the series, I found it a little lacking compared to the earlier two books.  Ren and Jimmy were marginalized and treated like children here, when they had much stronger roles in the earlier books.  At the end of the trilogy, I still don't know what the point of the MaddAddams was.  Was it just to be a  group of people gathering information about the bad things the corporations were doing?  The MaddAddamers don't seem to do anything, although they investigate a lot, and know a lot.  Also I'm totally lost about Adam.  Was he really into his Adam 1 God's Gardeners persona, or did he establish the God's Gardeners just as a front to hide corporate escapees and further the MaddAddam cause?  Much of the plot was also redundant, with Zeb telling his story to Toby, and then Toby telling the same story to the Crakers.

My favorite part of MaddAddam was the Crakers.  When Crake invented them, he intended them to be post-religion, and had no idea that they would come to worship him and Oryx as deities.  He also didn't anticipate Toby teaching one of them, Blackbeard, to read, or the creation of a Craker bible, the Book of Toby.  Atwell was also incredibly timely in describing how the religion of corporations can lead to the destruction of mankind.  In light of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, the world as she predicts it is all the more likely.  In MaddAddam, Adam and Zeb's dad was the leader of the Church of PetrOleum.  As he preaches, the "Petr" is from the apostle, Peter, and the "oleum" is because of all the references to oil in the Bible.  Clearly, God created oil for our use, and any government attempt to regulate the drilling or sale of oil is a violation of the religious beliefs of the Church.  Maybe, just maybe, we could learn from the mistakes that Atwood's characters make in the name of a self serving religious belief.

MaddAddam was a NYT Notable Book for 2013.

Challenges:  I Love Library Books and AudioBook

TagsNYT Notables, Sci-Fi-Ish, Questioning Religions

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

During the early days of  the siege of Sarajevo, in 1992, a cellist with the Sarajevo Opera named Vedran Smailovic, played his cello in ruined buildings and at funerals which were frequently targeted by snipers.  In The Cellist of Sarajevo, Steven Galloway takes Smailovic's story, and sets it to fiction.  In Galloway's Sarajevo, a young woman who calls herself Arrow is working as a sniper defending the city.  A man with a young family, Kenan, walks from one side of the city to the other in order to fill water bottles for himself and his neighbor.  An older man, Dragan, tries to get to the bakery where he works and where he knows bread is waiting for him.  Each of these characters faces the possibility at every intersection that he or she may be shot by a sniper or hit by a shell.  All of  them are eventually drawn to the cellist.

Sarajevo fell from being the host of the Olympics in 1984, to being a place where a person could expect to get shot while walking down the street just eight years later.  Galloway's characters face their new reality while not quite believing that it could be true.  Each of them refuses to be that person, living in that city.  They believe that if they can hold on to their integrity and standards, Sarajevo has hope of being restored.  Unfortunately the siege and the war waged on for years after this story ends, and after Smailovic left the city.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is the story of life in a war zone, where no one is coming to help.  It tries to be a story of hope, but the reader is left with the feeling that if Arrow, Kenan and Dragan aren't killed on one day, they may be the next.

There was some controversy about Galloway's use of Smailovic's actions in this book.  Galloway defends his story as being fictional but inspired by Smailovic's public acts.  Smailovic apparently was not told about the book before it was published and felt exploited by it.  However the story came to be told, it is worth knowing.  

Challenges:  Rewind, I Love Library Books, Audiobook

Book Group Reports

The Neighborhood Book Group Neighborhood Book Group met in June to discuss This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.  I was a lame book-grouper, and had to leave after only half an hour to go play bunco instead.  Life in suburbia!  Luckily, this book group is all business, so I actually got to do some book discussing before I left.  With the movie coming out this fall, we talked a lot about the characters and the stars who will play them.  Although I love Tina Fey, I just can't see her as Judd's sister, Wendy.  Like 90% of the characters in this book (Am I underestimating?  Is it 100%?), Wendy is having an affair, and her life is just basically  sad.  Maybe Tina will make her situation seem less pathetic.  We also talked about who was the most dysfunctional.  This discussion could last hours.  Most of the group sided with the mom, Hillary, or the younger brother, Phillip.  And, this is where I left them, so I'm not sure where the conversation went from there. 

Next month they (we?) will discuss The Vacationers by Emma Straub.  I'm so bogged down in The Typical Book Group's summer BFB, that I don't think I'll have time to get to this one.

 The Typical Book Group

The Typical Book Group never meets in July, but in June we pick a Big Fat Book (BFB) to read all summer long.  This year we picked . . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer.  Talk about a BFB.  My copy is 1184 pages, and it's actually a little uncomfortable to hold. After two weeks of reading, I am only 200 pages in.  I'll have to pick up my pace if I'm ever going to make it through this!

Tags:  Book Group Reports, Big Fat Books

In Other News:

Local Libraries

Are these cute neighborhood libraries popping up near you? 
My friend, Debby's father-in-law installed one in his front yard.  There's another one in the park at the end of my street.  They are the cutest things.  The idea is, you can pick a book to take, and leave a book for someone else to read.  No sign out slips, no late fees.  It's the honor system at its best.  Debby's F-I-L lives in a bit of a hoity-toity neighborhood, but in an area where lots of people walk, so I think his library will get lots of action.  Doing my best to convert young future Republicans to a more reasonable party, I deposited a copy of The Believer, which is a book review magazine by the McSweeney's people, as well as a cookbook, and my copy of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.  In exchange, I took a copy of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which has been on my TBR list since it became a NYT Notable.  Score!

Winner, Winner, Goldfinch Dinner

Guess what?  I won a copy of The Goldfinch audiobook by Donna Tartt.  Remember way back when when I was giving away a copy?  No, I didn't enter and win my own contest.  Because The Goldfinch won two Audies, there were two copies to give away, and I entered the giveaway on Wholly Books.  And I won!  I can't wait to get it and start listening!

Loss of a Legend

On July 3, we lost Louis Zamperini.  The real story here is not that a 97 year old man died, because really, what more could we expect?  What is remarkable is that Zamperini was still alive.  Zamperini was a former Olympic athlete who was shot down over the Pacific during World War II, and then taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese.  His story is told in Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, which Angelina Jolie has turned into a soon to be released movie.  Here is a link to the NYT Obituary.

Man Bookered

On July 23, the Man Booker Prize Longlist was announced.  This was the first year that authors from everywhere around the world were eligible, rather than just authors from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth.  So, with Americans now eligible, 5 made the list.  The only author who made it this year who I have read is Joshua Ferris, and the reviews of his recent book, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour have been pretty mixed.  Some might have expected The Goldfinch, which already won the Pulitzer, to edge out a few of the lesser known picks.  However, it was no surprise that Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn didn't make the cut.  Lost for Words is a thinly veiled satire of the Man Booker Prize, and it would have been a shock if the Man Booker judges were thick skinned enough to select it.  The Shortlist will be announced on September 9.  My money is on David Mitchell's new book, The Bone Clocks, even though it hasn't been released or reviewed on this side of the pond yet.

August Preview:

In August, I hope to review the following books:

The Circle by Dave Eggers
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - I'll only get started on this one - it's 32 hours!

Traditional or EBooks
. . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks (IF I make it through Ladies)
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson  (OK - this will be a stretch!)

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