Sunday, February 28, 2010

TSS: February Wrap-Up, Bring on Spring!

Even though it's the shortest month, February always drags for me. Winter begins to take it's toll and cabin fever sets in. We long for spring but, around here, it's still a long way off. Thank heavens there's March Madness to look forward to!

It's college basketball that helps us get through the winter! Last night at the Carrier Dome, an NCAA on-campus attendance record was set as 34, 616 fans watched the #4 Syracuse Orangemen defeat the #7 Villanova Wildcats. Just look at that sea of orange! No, I wasn't one of the lucky ones present. I had to settle for television, but will get all the details from my Dad later today.

We had almost 30" of snow Thursday and Friday. Schools were closed, but my book club is a hearty group. Our meeting went on as scheduled! We had a wonderful discussion of Sarah's Key, and I promise to get my review/discussion highlights up later this week! Next month we're reading The Help. That should give me a chance to work on my tbr pile, since I listened to it last year.

There are a few February awards to acknowledge. Madeleine at Wordbird gave me the Honest Scrap Award. I've played along with this one, so I'll direct you to Madeleine's 10 things. Have a look around while you're there.

Around Valentine's Day, Candace at Beth Fish Reads gave me the Who Loves You, Baby? button. Isn't that sheep the cutest thing? Thanks so much Candace.

Finally, Kals from At Pemberly passed on the Ohh la la! Award. As part of my obligations in receiving this award, I need to answer these questions:

Where is your favorite place to read a book?
on the couch or in bed at night

Do you snack while reading?
sometimes, but I try not to

Are you a book borrower or book collector?
A collector - I love to be surrounded to books!!

What is the best book you've read recently?
Fiction: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Non-fiction: Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

Thanks so much Madeleine, Candace, and Kals!

Finally, this week I will be reading South of Broad by Pat Conroy and listening to Julia Child's My Life in France. What do you have planned this week?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Weekend Cooking: "The Red and The White" by Calvin Trillin

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button, head over to Beth Fish Reads, and link up anytime over the weekend.

This weekend I am returning to Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink. Calvin Trillin's 2002 essay "The Red and The White" deals, of course, with wine. In it, he addresses the question of whether experienced wine drinkers, in the absence of color and temperature cues, can actually tell the difference between red and white wines.

From the outset, Trillin emphasized his lack of sophistication in matters of the vine:
"...when I'm trying to select a bottle of wine from a liquor store I'm strongly influenced by the picture on the label. (I like a nice mountain, preferably in the middle distance.)"

I laughed out loud when he recounted an experience at a "barrel tasting" held at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York:
"Displaying manners that I thought would have made my mother proud, I drank what was placed before me - not noticing, as I glanced around to see whether more food was ever going to appear, that everyone else was just sipping. I have since heard two or three versions of what transpired that evening, but they do not differ in whether or not I fell asleep at the table."

He also observes "... wine is way beyond any other subject in inspiring in the American layman an urge to refute the notion of expertise. (Modern art must come in second)."

Trillin attempts to get to the bottom of the question by investigating a famed study from University of California at Davis. He learned instead that the study had never been conducted and was, actually, little more than urban myth. UC Davis does, however, give a test at the end of a class it offers. Students try to distinguish between varietals using taste and, especially, smell. (Trillin flunked a 2 glass red-white test on the spot.)

Still curious, he approached a Napa Valley wine-making friend and proposed to round up a small group of "wine people" for the red-white test. An informal test was given, using methods suggested by the UC Davis professor... all wines at the same temperature, black glasses, some even wearing sunglasses!

And the result of this unscientific test? When there is no deliberate effort to fool the tasters, experienced wine drinkers could distinguish between red and white wines 70% of the time.

So tell me... will you be conducting your own temperature-controlled, black glass wine-tasting this weekend? I'm thinking it might be fun. Cheers!

Visit Beth Fish Reads for more Weekend Cooking posts.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Snow Day Give Away

It's a snow day give away! We have been buried under another 2 feet of snow and it will be months before my garden needs weeding, so I decided to tackle the shelves instead. In order to make room for new acquisitions, and inspired by Frances' generous example, these books are looking for a new home:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa
Wicked by Gregory Maguire

All are paperbacks and in good (Speak) to very good condition. I'll ship them anywhere. Let me know if one interests you.

All the books have found a new home! Please send me your addresses and I'll send them out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quote of the Week: Sarah's Key

"Why so much pain, so much suffering, thought the girl. "It's because they hate us," Rachel had told her with a deep hoarse voice. "They hate Jews." Such hate, thought the girl. Why such hate? She had never hated anyone in her life, except perhaps a teacher, once." (page 87)

By Tatiana de Rosnay

My book club will discuss Sarah's Key on Thursday.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Short Story Monday: "The Eatonville Anthology" by Zora Neale Hurston

With Black History Month in mind, "The Eatonville Anthology" by Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) is the subject of this week's Short Story Monday post. It is a series of vignettes, or snapshots, from a small African-American community in central Florida in the early 20th century. There doesn't seem to be anything holding the snapshots together but, taken as a whole, they provide an interesting look at life in the town.

The fourteen vignettes are headed with Roman numerals; some also have a title. They range in length from just a few sentences to a couple of pages. Each begins with a general statement of character, and then continues with either a few details or an entire sketch. Most are about specific people, but one is about a family dog, and another features the fable-like quality of talking animals. According to Hurston biographer Robert E. Hemenway, "The Eatonville Anthology" mixes well-known folklore with original material.

My favorite was number XII, THE HEAD OF THE NAIL. It begins:
"Daisy Taylor was the town vamp. Not that she was pretty. But sirens were all but non-existent in the town. Perhaps she was forced to it by circumstances. She was quite dark with little bushy patches of hair squatting over her head. These were held down by shingle-nails often. No one knows whether she did this for artistic effect or for lack of hairpins..."
Daisy flirted with married men. There were only two single men in town. She'd come on to Mr. Crooms one time too many and his wife, Laura, seeing an opportunity, could no longer contain her anger.

"There was a box of ax-handles on display on the porch, propped up against the door jamb. As Daisy stepped upon the porch, Mrs. Crooms leaned the heavy end of one of those handles heavily upon her head. She staggered from the porch to the ground and the timid Laura, fearful of counter-attack, struck again and Daisy toppled into the town ditch. There was not enough water in there to do more than muss her up. Every time she tried to rise, down would come that ax-handle again...."

"Is she hurt much?" Joe Clarke asked from the doorway.
"I don't know," Elijah answered, "I was just looking to see if Laura was lucky enough to hit one of those nails on the head and drive it in."
Before a week was up, Daisy moved to Orlando. There in a wider sphere, perhaps, her talents as a vamp were appreciated."

In 1887, Eatonville became the first incorporated African-American community in the nation. Some 100 such communities were founded during that era, but only about a dozen remain. Today, Eatonville is best known for its annual showcase of arts, literature and culture that celebrates its native daughter, Zora Neale Hurston.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

TSS: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I didn't so much "read" Let the Great World by Colum McCann as "experience" it. And what an experience it was...

The novel portrays an imaginary chain of events unfolding around Philippe Petit's actual high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in August 1974. We meet the Park Avenue judge who hears the case, his grieving wife and other members of a group mourning sons lost in Vietnam, heroin-addicted Bronx prostitutes (including a mother-daughter duo), an Irish radical monk and his brother, young artists, and even computer geeks from California.

I started out listening to the audio version of Let the Great World Spin. It features seven readers, and the story unfolds from multiple points of view. These narrators offer wonderfully distinctive voices, which are especially effective as some sections are told in the first person. After listening to the first couple disks, there were passages I wanted to reread and questions about the novel's structure to be answered, so I borrowed the book from the library. From that point, I listened in the car and read on at home in the evening.

I remain in awe of an imagination that can plot such intricate stories and then weave them together with a common thread.

Favorite passages:
"We seldom know what we're hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only it's memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant." (page 47)

"I don't know who God is but if I meet him anytime soon I'm going to get Him in the corner until He tells me the truth.
I'm going to slap Him stupid and push Him around until He can't run away. Until He's looking up at me and then I'll get Him to tell me why He done what H done to me and what He done to Corrie..." (page 230)

"I know already that I will return to this day whenever I want to. I can bid it alive. Preserve it. There is still a point where the present, the now, winds around itself, and nothing is tangled. The river is not where it begins or ends, but right in the middle point, anchored by what has happened and what is to arrive." (page 279)

The final section takes place in 2006. The events are looked upon with a post- 9/11 eye.
"A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building. One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories. We wait for the explosion but it never occurs. The plane passes, the tightrope walker gets to the end of the wire. Things don't fall apart." (page 325)

"The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough." (page 349)

Indeed! I loved Let the Great World Spin, and can certainly see why it won the 2009 National Book Award for fiction. Highly recommended.

A note of caution: DO NOT read the Publisher's Weekly summary on Amazon. It contains spoilers.

FTC disclosure: The audio was purchased from The book was borrowed from the library. It's overdue - I want to keep it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Want to feel like a kid again for a few hours? Find a copy of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and allow yourself to be carried away into a world of secrets, film, clocks, and machines. It's not easy to describe what the book is about, but the inside flap says it perfectly:

“Orphan, Clock Keeper, and Thief, twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric girl and the owner of a small toy booth in the train station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come together…in The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

This 526-page book is told in both words and pictures. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is not exactly a novel, and it’s not quite a picture book, and it’s not really a graphic novel, or a flip book, or a movie, but a combination of all these things. Each picture (there are nearly three hundred pages of pictures!) takes up an entire double page spread, and the story moves forward because you turn the pages to see the next moment unfold in front of you.”

I've read only a handful of graphic novels and couldn't tell you the last time I picked up a children's book (my 'babies' are 16), but this review at Ready When You Are, C.B. convinced me to find a copy of The Invention of Hugo Cabret right away. The book is aimed at 9 to 12 year olds, but I think it would actually appeal to a much wider audience. My teenage nephews would love this!

A couple quotes I especially liked:
"Did you ever notice that all machines are made for some reason?" he asked Isabelle. "They are built to make you laugh, like the mouse here, or to tell the time, like the clocks, or to fill you with wonder, like the automaton. Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do." (page 374)
"Even if all the clocks in the station break down, thought Hugo, time won't stop. Not even if you really want it to." (page 378)
And a couple of the drawings:

The size of this 500+ page hardcover "children's" book initally shocked me, but that quickly passed as I lost myself behind the walls of that Paris train station. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is pure fun at any age!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

TSS: Winter Break!

It's winter break! School is out, the twins are home, my husband has a couple of days off... there may not be much blogging this week. Our main activities will include college visits with Twin A (Twin B gets her turn in April), reading, catching up on movies, shopping, trying a few new recipes, and walking in the snow.

I finished a couple of books last week - Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork and Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. So now, in addition to Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann, I'm three reviews behind. One morning must be devoted to reviews!

Today I'm reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick - a novel in words and pictures. The size of the book shocked me when I picked it up at the library (over 500 pages, hardcover), but it looks like it can easily be read in a day. Not sure where I'll turn after that...

And finally, a winter weather tidbit. Baltimore edged out Syracuse, NY last week for first place in the snowiest city in the US competition! Syracuse has received about 76" so far and we're on track to receive out usual 120 inches. Baltimore was at 79.9" on February 10. I'm sure this is a competition they would rather not win! Read all about it here.

I hope you're enjoying this Valentine's Day. Are you reading, having a romantic dinner, or maybe digging out from the latest round of snow?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Parmigiano-Reggiano-Crusted Chicken Piccata

It's been a few weeks since I've participated in Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads. The last few Saturday mornings have found us in hotels (traveling to Daughter #1's college basketball games), but the games are 'home' this weekend. That means more time in the car driving back and forth both days, but at least we get to sleep in our own bed!

While preparing one of my favorite dinners earlier this week, I couldn't help but think of "Weekend Cooking". The Parmigiano-Reggiano Crusted Chicken Picatta from EveryDay with Rachel Ray magazine is just delicious... and so quick and easy! My husband and daughters seriously questioned my sanity as I tried to photograph their dinner, but I wasn't deterred. In the end though, my pictures were terrible. This one appeared in the magazine. There's a reason they professional food photographers!

(from EveryDay with Rachel Ray)


1/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1-1/4 cups grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded 1/4 inch thick
1/2 pound angel hair pasta
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Juice of 1 lemon, plus 1 sliced lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup capers, drained and patted dry, or 12 caper berries, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine (eyeball it)
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
One 5-ounce package baby spinach

Place the flour on a plate. In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs; place 1 cup cheese on another plate. Working with 1 cutlet at a time, coat the chicken with the flour, then egg, then cheese, pressing to adhere. Transfer to a plate.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt, then the pasta and cook until al dente, 3 minutes. Drain, reserving a ladleful of water.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, until deeply golden, 10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and cover with foil. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon EVOO, 1 turn of the pan, to the skillet. Add the sliced lemon, garlic and capers and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and parsley and cook until reduced, 1 minute. Lower the heat and bring to a simmer.

Stir the chicken broth into the sauce for 1 minute. Stir in the butter until melted, then stir in the lemon juice. Spoon a little sauce over the chicken. Add the spinach to the remaining sauce in the skillet and cook until wilted. Add the reserved pasta cooking water. Stir in the pasta and toss to coat; season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and toss. Serve the pasta with the chicken.

I use Wegman's Italian Blend fresh grated cheese. The recipe is still delicious without the parsley (why can't I remember to buy it?). I often skip the pasta, and serve it with roasted asparagus (or other vegies) and a salad.

More Weekend Cooking posts can be found at Beth Fish Reads.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter Awards... Sharing the Love

It's award time again! Even though I promptly visit and thank bloggers who give me awards, I can be pretty slow to pass them on. So, in honor of Valentine's Day on Sunday, it's time to share the love...

The Love Your Header Award comes from Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. As many of you know, I live on a small lake and use my header to highlight its beauty as the seasons change. It always makes me happy when readers comment on a new header photo, so this award is extra-special! And if Diane hadn't given the award to me, she'd be the first one on my list. If you haven't already seen it, you must take a look at her header - right away! A few of my favorite headers belong to:
Karen at BookBath

The Happy 101 Award came to me from three fabulous bloggers! First is Dana at Rantings of a Bookworm Couch Potato. She is a new blogger that has jumped right in. She has great taste in books, writes a wonderful review, and has already made lots of friends. Stop over and say hello!

Deb at Readerbuzz reads a LOT of books! She is a librarian and is especially passionate about children's books. Her latest project involves 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. Be sure and check it out!

Ivana at Willing to See Less is my blogging friend from Croatia. I met her thanks to her review of a Louise Erdrich novel and have been reading her blog ever since. She is a mother and a student, too... quite an amazing woman! Have you met her?

I'm supposed to:
1. List 10 things that make you happy.
2. Try to do at least one thing on the list today. (no problem there!)
3. List 10 bloggers who brighten your day. (I chose to highlight the bloggers that gave me the award instead)

10 Things That Make Me Happy

being with my family
a view of the lake
trying a new recipe
a trip to the bookstore
seeing my college roommate
a glass of wine (or two!) with dinner
Syracuse University basketball moving up to #2 in the AP Poll
reading a good book (especially on a beach!)
my laptop

The Prolific Blogger Award came from Laurel-Rain Snow at Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow. With so many blogs, she is definitely the most prolific blogger I know!
Here are the rules:

1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!
2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.
3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to This Post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.
4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners. (Click here for the Mr. Linky page.)

I'll share this award with:
Stacy at Stacy's Books

The One Lovely Blog Award came my way from Books in the City. Here are the rules for this award:
Accept the award, and post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his/her blog link. Pass the award to 5 other blogs that you've newly discovered.

This may be the most beautiful award button out there, but since I've already passed the love around a couple of times with this one, I'm going to focus on Books in the City instead.

It's one of the newest additions to my reader and one of my new favorites, too. We have both recently read and reviewed Nine Parts of Desire, share a love of audiobooks (especially by David Sedaris), and have a pharmaceutical background. If you haven't visited yet, please be sure and drop by soon!

Whew... that's a lot of love!! Thanks again to all the terrific bloggers for thinking of me, and Happy Valentines Day to all.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Hours by Michael Cunningham - revisited

Before I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham in 2003, I was well-aware of the connection to Mrs. Dalloway. Although I'd never read Virgina Woolf, it still seemed like an interesting premise for a novel. Plus, as a Pulitzer Prize winner, it fit in with the award-themed reading I was doing. As it turned out, The Hours was one of my favorite books that year. Cunningham's writing impressed me so much, I immediately read A Home at the End of the World and loved that, too! The Hours earned a spot in my 'permanent collection', and I knew I would revisit it one day.

That day came last month. Thanks to a gentle nudge from Woolf in Winter, I finally managed to read Mrs. Dalloway. As I turned the final pages, The Hours was already calling out, so I started it immediately. What was a good story with excellent writing in 2003 became sheer brilliance with Mrs. Dalloway fresh in my mind!

The prologue is an imagined account Virginia Woolf's suicide in 1941. The novel goes on to alternate, in relatively short chapters, between the lives of three women: Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown, and Clarissa Vaughan... all connected, in some way, to Mrs. Dalloway.

It opens with Clarissa Vaughan leaving her flat in New York City at the end of the twentieth century.
"There are still flowers to buy. Clarissa feigns exasperation (though she loves doing errands like this), leaves Sally cleaning the bathroom, and runs out, promising to be back in half an hour." (page 9)
Clarissa, 52, is giving a party for her friend Richard (who nicknamed her Mrs. Dalloway many years ago). He is a poet suffering from AIDS and is to be awarded a major literary prize later that evening.

The chapters about Virginia Woolf show her in the process of writing Mrs. Dalloway.
"Not eating is a vice, a drug of sorts - with her stomach empty she feels quick and clean, clearheaded, ready for a fight. She sips her coffee, sets it down, stretches her arms. This is one of the most singular experiences, waking on what feels like a good day, preparing to work, but not yet actually embarked. At this moment, there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead." (page 34)
Laura Brown is a suburban California housewife in 1949 who has difficulty coping with life's demands and is longing to retreat into the world of her current novel (Mrs. Dalloway).
"She brushes her teeth, brushes her hair , and starts downstairs. She pauses several treads from the bottom, listening, waiting; she is again possessed (it seems to be getting worse) by a dreamlike feeling, as if she is standing in the wings, about to go onstage and perform in a play for which she is not appropriately dressed, and for which she is not adequately rehearsed. What, she wonders is wrong with her. This is her husband in the kitchen; this is her little boy." (page 43)
If you've recently read Mrs. Dalloway, you must treat yourself to The Hours. You won't be sorry! And even if you haven't read Mrs. Dalloway, this is still a wonderful novel. While you're at it, watch the movie, too.

Other thoughts on The Hours:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - Marcelo in the Real World

...The real world.
As vague and as broad as this term is, I have a sense of what it means and of the difficulties it entails. Following the rules of the real word means, for example, engaging in small talk with other people. It means refraining from talking about my special interest. It means looking people in the eye and shaking hands. It means doing things "on the hoof", as we say at Paterson, which means doing things that have not been scheduled in advance. It means walking or going to places I am not familiar with, city streets full of noise and confusion. Even though I am trying to look calm, a wave of terror comes over me as I imagine trying to walk the streets of Boston by myself." (page 20-21)

by Francisco X. Stork

This book is about a 17-year-old boy with an Asperger's-like condition who is trying out life in the "real world" with a summer job at his father's law firm. It reminds me, so far, of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Short Story Monday: "Roses, Rhododendron" by Alice Adams

It's probably not the best idea to read a short story while watching the Super Bowl. If I've learned anything at all over the past year, it's that reading short stories requires a heightened sense of awareness and concentration. So much can be conveyed in just a single sentence. A brief lapse in focus and key elements may be missed.

Last week, Margot at Joyfully Retired reviewed "Roses, Rhododendron" by Alice Adams. The story was originally published in The New Yorker in 1976, and can also be found in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. It sounded good, so I began to read:

"One dark and rainy Boston spring of many years ago, I spent all my after-school and evening hours in the living room of our antique-crammed Cedar Street flat, writing down what the Ouija board said to my mother. My father, a spoiled and rowdy Irishman, a sometime engineer, had run off to New Orleans with a girl, and my mother hoped to learn from the board if he would come back."

What the Ouija board told her mother, was to take all the antiques, move down south, and open a store in a nice small town. The narrator goes on:
"That is what we did, and shortly thereafter, for the first time in my life, I fell violently and permanently in love: with a house, with a family of three people, with an area of countryside."

The rest of the story describes her relationship with the family - a relationship that continues even after she moves away. It is beautifully written, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It's hard to say much more because the details are fuzzy... but so are the details of the big game. Obviously, neither got my full attention. Searching for some sort of summary, I found this sentence:
"Roses, Rhododendron" contrasts the idealized outward appearance of a family with the actual dysfunctional state of their relations."
I suppose that will have to do.
Short Story Monday is hosted by The Book Mine Set.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

TSS: The Right Book at the Right Time

It's a great feeling! You know, when the right book appears at exactly the right moment. It happened to me yesterday at 4:45 PM.

The weekend had already been a long one. Friday, we drove out to visit Daughter #1 for her 20th birthday. Our plan was to attend her basketball game, take her out for birthday dinner, head back to the hotel for cake and presents, and then watch Saturday's game before driving home. Well, plans change! Daughter #1 was stricken with a nasty GI virus and missed the game. She slept in our hotel room while we had 'birthday dinner' without her, she rallied for presents and a mouthful of cake (which she managed to keep down), and was asleep by 10:30. Saturday, she was well enough to sit on the bench, but too weak to play.

By that time, I was feeling as if I'd been punched in the stomach and figured we'd better skip the game and head home in case things got ugly. Thankfully they didn't, but I was on the couch feeling sick for the rest of the day. I'd finished reading Let The Great World Spin (great book!), but couldn't seem to focus on anything in the immediate tbr pile.

The library called at 4:45 PM to say they had a book for me. A quick computer search of my account showed it was Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. Perfect! There was just enough time for my husband to get there before closing.

Now, I'm halfway through this YA title and just love it! Marcelo, a 17 year old boy with Asperger's Syndrome, has been attending a special school and has a job in their stable caring for therapy ponies. He's excited about a summer job that will allow him to train the ponies. His father, however, has lined up a job for Marcelo in mail room of his law firm in the city. He feels it's time for Marcelo to try to function in the "real world", and perhaps even attend a regular high school for his upcoming senior year. Marcelo in the Real World reminds me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon, a book I loved several years ago.

Today I feel much better, but am considering keeping that information to myself. I want to lay on the couch and finish the book!

Before that, I'm going to pour another cup of coffee and see what my blogging buddies are up to. Do your plans include a Super Bowl Party? Reading? Or, perhaps you're digging out from "snowmageddon"?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women opens as Geraldine Brooks, foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, attempts to check into a hotel in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990's:

The hotel receptionist held my reservation card in his hand. "Mr. Geraldine Brooks," he read. "But you are a woman."
Yes, I agreed, that was so.
"I'm sorry, but our reservation clerk made a mistake."
"That's okay," I said. "Just add an s and make it Mrs."
"No," he said. "You don't understand. I can't give you a room. It's against the law for women." (page 1)

The receptionist goes on to explain to Brooks that a lady does not travel alone in Saudi Arabia. "There is no reason for it. Unless she is a prostitute."

Brooks winds up in a police station where her travel documents and press credentials are verified. The officer says, " I think the lady hasn't been in Saudi Arabia very long. She doesn't know our customs." He eventually issues a permit that allows her to spend the next few hours in the hotel.

In Nine Parts of Desire, Brooks offers a look at the lives of Muslim women through a series of vignettes gathered while on assignment in the Middle East. She is clear, insightful, and very careful to avoid "the sensational and the stereotypical." Enough historical perspective is included to help the Western reader understand culture and tradition. The book is divided into twelve chapters with each focusing on a specific aspect of life - from veiling, marriage, and education, to business, politics, and even athletic competition. An entire post could easily be written on each chapter.

The book's title comes from the quote:
"Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men," said Ali, the husband of Muhammad's beloved daughter Fatima and the founder of Shiite Islam. (page 39)

Brooks reflects on how this is the polar opposite of her Catholic school teaching.
"Women bear the brunt of fending off social disorder in the Catholic tradition because they aren't considered sexually active, and in the Muslim tradition because they are. It is this notion of women's barely controllable lust that often lies behind justifications for clitoridectomy, seclusion, and veiling." (page 40)

A chapter titled "The Holy Veil" ends with this summation:
"Getting to the truth about hijab was a bit like wearing it: a matter of layers to be stripped away, a piece at a time. In the end, under all the concealing devices - the chador, jalabiya or abaya, the magneh, roosarie or shayla - was the body. And under all this talk about hijab freeing women from commercial or sexual exploitation, all the discussion of hijab's potency as a political and revolutionary symbol of selfhood, was the body: the dangerous female body that somehow, in Muslim society, has been made to carry the heavy burden of male honor." (page 32)

One chapter is devoted solely to Mohammad - his wives, children, revelations, etc. A detailed account of the Shiite-Sunni schism is included here. Brooks' meetings with King Hussein and Queen Noor are the subject of still another chapter, and make for very interesting reading.

It's important to keep in mind that the treatment of and restrictions placed upon women vary widely among countries in the Middle East. Also very important is the fact that this book was published in 1995. The world has changed a lot in the last fifteen years and, after turning the last page, I was left wishing for an "afterwards". Where are these women now? How have their lives changed?

My book club had, as you might expect, a very lively discussion of this book. I highly recommend Nine Parts of Desire.

Update: Booksnyc of Books in the City sent me this link to a new afterword found on Geraldine Brook's website. Thank you!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - Let the Great World Spin

"We seldom know what we're hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only it's memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant." (page 47)

by Colum McCann

This book won the 2009 National Book Award and I'm starting to see why! Although I began with an audio version, I decided to borrow the book from the library, too. Quite a reading/listening experience!

More Teaser Tuesdays can be found at Should Be Reading.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Short Story Monday: "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield

Virginia Woolf once said Katherine Mansfield produced "the only writing I have ever been jealous of." Woolf also wrote (perhaps jealously?) "... the more she is praised, the more I am convinced she is bad." These quotes, along with this mention from Paperback Reader, sent me in search of Mansfield's stories.

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) was a contemporary and a rival of Virginia Woolf. She was born and raised in New Zealand, contracted tuberculosis in World War I, and died at 34. Her story, "The Doll's House" (1922) was first published in The Nation & the Antheneum. It is seemingly simple and straightforward, and begins:

"When dear old Mrs. Hay went back to town after staying with the Burnells she sent the children a doll's house."

The house, described in some detail with emphasis on a tiny lamp, is cause for great excitement. The three Burnell children cannot wait to tell their classmates about it. Isabel, the eldest, said she would be the first to tell, but the other two might "join in after".

"There was nothing to answer. Isabel was bossy, but she was always right, and Lottie and Kezia knew too well the powers that went with being the eldest."

As the other children are told, they gather in a ring around the Burnells. They will be allowed to visit the doll's house in groups of two.

"And the only two who stayed outside the ring were the two who were always outside, the little Kelveys. They knew better than to come anywhere near the Burnells."

As bits of the Kelvey's history were presented, my heart grew heavier. Lil and "our" Else have not had an easy time of it. The story builds to a climax as their opportunity to view the doll's house presents itself.

The most striking feature in "A Doll's House" is that all the children seem to be so aware and accepting of social hierarchy - within the family, at school, and in the village. That leaves the reader with plenty to think about. You can read "A Doll's House" here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.


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