Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Teaser Tuesday - June 30

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!  Here's how it works:
-grab your current read
-open to a random page
-share two teaser sentences from somewhere on the page (avoid spoilers!)
-be sure to include the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their tbr list if they like your teaser
-leave a comment with your link at Should Be Reading

My teaser:

To Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.
    Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let Furnished for the month of April.  Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.   

by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Rosa", from The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick

A couple of months ago, Lezlie at Books 'N Border Collies wrote a review of The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick.  The book consists of a very short story, "The Shawl", and an extended story (novella?) entitled "Rosa".  I found "The Shawl" in a short story collection I own and wrote about it for a previous Short Story Monday.  It was a very bleak, violent story about a Nazi concentration camp.  While very well written, it was not at all fun to read.

I decided to read "Rosa" after Lezlie assured me it wasn't as harsh and, in some ways, tempered "The Shawl".  It picks up thirty years later with Rosa, "a madwoman and a scavenger", living in 
a Miami hotel. Rosa has literally destroyed the junk shop she ran in New York and is being supported by her niece, Stella, who also spent time in the concentration camp.  Rosa, understandably, has never recovered from her experience.  In one of the most memorable scenes,  Rosa is talking to a man she met at the laundromat and says,

"...in America, cats have nine lives, but we - we're less than cats, so we got three.  The life before, the life during, the life after... The life after is now.  The life before is our real life, at home, where we was born."
"And during?"
"This was Hitler."   (page 58)

While "Rosa" was nowhere near as horrifying as "The Shawl", it was not a light read.  There is, however, a redeeming glimmer of hope at the end.

Last winter, while browsing at Barnes and Noble, I read the first few pages of Heir to the Glimmering World .  The writing was captivating, and I had to purchase it immediately. (I look forward to reading it very soon.)  The Shawl seems to be written in a slightly different style, perhaps one more appropriate to the subject matter, but still just as engaging.  Ozick is a wonderfully talented writer. 

To see who else has a short story post this week, or to share one of your own, visit John at The Book Mine Set.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

TSS - Audiobooks: When Writers Read

Good morning!  The past few days, I've been thinking about audiobooks.  Specifically, audiobooks read by the author.  On Friday, I finally posted my review of The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett.  I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and enjoyed it quite a lot.  It's always a treat to hear an author's voice; somehow it gives additional dimension to the work.  An author reads the piece the way he meant for it to be read. For example, if sarcasm is intended, it comes through in the author's voice, while another reader may be unaware of that intent. When an author reads their own work, I feel like I'm getting the true picture.

Beth, from Beth Fish Reads, left me a comment saying she's had uneven results with authors as narrators. I've heard that said before, but my experience has been mostly positive.  I've been listening to audiobooks for nearly six years (almost exclusively while driving), and several have been read by the author.   Have I just been lucky in my choices?  Do certain types of books better lend themselves to author-readers?

Humor, or humorous essays, seem to work well when read by the author.  Could anyone other than David Sedaris read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (or any of his books, for that matter)?  Nora Ephron was perfect reading I Feel Bad About My Neck.

I actually prefer autobiography and memoir to be read by the author.  It seems to reveal more of the author's personality.  Anthony Bourdain reading Kitchen Confidential comes to mind here, as well as Ayaan Hirsi Ali reading Infidel.  However, even though I ended up liking Eat, Pray, Love, I initially had some trouble with Elizabeth Gilbert's voice (personality?).

I haven't come across many examples of authors reading their own fiction (other than Bennett), but T.C. Boyle was positively brilliant reading Tortilla Curtain.

General non-fiction has been more of a mixed bag for me. Malcolm Gladwell read both Blink and The Tipping Point.  They were perfectly acceptable, but I wonder what a professional narrator could have done.  The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin was a great book. I noticed there were two versions available from audible and purchased the one read by the author. By the time I realized this was an abridged version, it was too late.  However, Toobin did a fine job reading.

So, what has been your experience with an author reading his or her own work? Are there any you would recommend? Which ones should be avoided?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Everything Austen Challenge

Just as I was contemplating scaling back or abandoning challenges altogether, along comes a new one I simply cannot resist! Stephanie at Stephanie's Written Word is hosting an Everything Austen Challenge.

The rules can't get any easier - just pick six Austen-themed things to do between July 1, 2009 and January 1, 2010. The possibilities are endless! Jane's own writing, movies based on her novels, sequels, spin-offs, biographies...see what I mean?

I have a list to choose from, but will make some adjustments as the challenge progresses. Here is my starting point:

Jane Austen novels:
re-read Pride and Prejudice, the new annotated version
re-read Northanger Abbey

Pride and Prejudice, BBC version (Colin Firth will always be my Mr. Darcy)
Pride and Prejudice, 2005 (Daughter #1's favorite - Matthew Macfayden is her Darcy!)
Lost in Austen

Books already on the nightstand:
Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terrence Hill
Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin

Austen-related novels:
The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street (not to be missed, according to Daughter #1)
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

The annotated Pride and Prejudice was already part of my summer reading plan, as was Two Guys Read Jane Austen. Austen-related novels always make for good summer reading, and I'd watch P&P again even without a challenge. This is a challenge that I can definitely complete! Thanks, Stephanie, for hosting such a fun challenge.

Completed Activities:

1. Lost in Austen - DVD... see review here.
2. Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill - reviewed here.
3. "I Dated Jane Austen" by T.C. Boyle - reviewed here

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett

The Clothes They Stood Up In
by Alan Bennett
Audiobook, BBC WW
read by the author
2 hours 18 minutes

"The Ransomes had been burgled.  "Robbed," Mrs. Ransome said.  "Burgled," Mr. Ransome corrected.  Premises were burgled; persons were robbed.  Mr. Ransome was a solicitor by profession and thought words mattered. " 

These opening lines were featured in my Tuesday Teaser last week, but they are so memorable I had to include them again!  As the novella opens, the Ransomes  have come home to find their apartment completely cleaned out - right down to the toilet paper!  Some uproariously funny moments ensue as the investigation begins, but soon things take a more serious, even dark, turn.

Mr. and Mrs. Ransome have very different ways of coping with their losses.  Mr. Ransome, who enjoys a rigid, structured existence, is able to return to his normal routine, just slightly compromised, with relative ease.  For Mrs. Ransome, the task is not quite so simple.  Being stripped of all her possessions presents an opportunity to question both her routine and many past decisions.  She does exactly that and becomes quite a changed person in the process.  

It is always a treat when an author reads his own work, and Mr. Bennett delivers a wonderful performance.  The Clothes They Stood Up In, while not charming in the vein of The Uncommon Reader, still delivers a message that caused me to stop and think.  I'm not done reading Alan Bennett.  Perhaps The History Boys: A Play will be next, or maybe an essay collection...

My audio rating: A

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - HOT!

Today's question:

Now that summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), what is the most “Summery” book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you?

(I’m not asking for you to list your ideal “beach reading,” you understand, but the book that you can read at any time of year but that evokes “summer.”)

My answer:
Today's question didn't require a lot of thinking, since I recently finished a book that says "summer" like no other.  If long, lazy days on Cape Cod appeals to you, check this out:

by George Howe Colt

My review can be found here.

Thinking about summer reading also takes me back to my childhood. I can a see myself, as an 8 or 9 year old curled up on the couch or outside on a lawn chair, reading Key to The Treasure by Peggy Parish, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, Charlotte's Web, Black Beauty, and, of course, Harriet the Spy. Those books, to this day, remind me of summer.

What book says 'summer' to you?  Read more responses at today's Booking Through Thursday.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"The Dress" by Louise Erdrich

"Behind her eyes and nose Celestine felt a prickling, a surge of heat that she didn't even recognize at first as tears.  It had been so long, almost too long to remember, since she had cried. She didn't now, either; it made no sense to start over something as ordinary as the issue of a dress, although that was, Celestine now realized, connected to larger things in life."

 Twelve year old Dot is captain of her softball team, practically lives in her uniform (her mother washes it while she sleeps), and, more than anything else in the world, wants a new first-baseman's glove from the Sears catalog. But, as Celestine, a single mother in desperate financial straits, takes note of Dot's sudden growth spurt and changing body, she knows the money must be spent on new clothes before the start of Junior High. 

 The glove costs $22.95.  Celestine has twenty dollars set aside for emergencies. Dot has saved nine dollars from her birthday and bottle refunds.  Upon finding a special in the catalog, "Grab Bag Dresses One Dollar Each", Dot proposes a deal. They purchase the glove and six dresses - one for each day of the school week, plus Mass on Sunday.

On the first day of school, a grab bag dress is unwrapped and found to be utterly hideous.  In addition, the new glove elicits less than the anticipated admiration, and Dot begins to feel a mistake has been made.  Disaster strikes when the remaining five dresses are found to be identical to the first! 

The embarrassment and ridicule Dot faces when she realizes the entire school is taking bets on the date her outfit will change is brilliantly captured, as well as her solution for dealing with it.

All readers know the feeling when an author's writing really 'works' for them and, after reading a single short story, I'm pretty sure I've found that here.  Louise Erdrich has been on my 'authors to read' list for ages, but it was a mention of  her anthology, The Red Convertible, at The Betty and Boo Chronicles that finally convinced me the time had come.  I clicked right over to the library website and the book was in my hands just a few days later.

The title story is my usual starting place with anthologies but, in this case, the broken spine automatically fell open to "The Dress".  Just a quick scan of the first paragraph and I was compelled to continue.  The following morning, a Border's 40% off coupon appeared in my inbox, the library book was returned, and I purchased a copy of my own.  I'm looking forward to slowly making my way through this collection! 

Have you read anything by Louise Erdrich? It won't be long before I'll be looking for novel recommendations!

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.  Stop over to see who else has a short story to review, or leave a link to yours.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

TSS - Summer Reading Assignments

Last Sunday, Amanda at The Zen Leaf  wrote about a perceived lack of incentives and encouragement to keep teens reading.  All those great summer reading programs at the libraries and bookstores seem to have an age cut off of 12.  My first thought, as the mother of three teens, was 'required summer reading'.

In our experience, those summer reading assignments stared around age 12.  At that point, two of my three children were already avid readers. A trip to the library or  bookstore was all the incentive they needed. For my reluctant reader, however,  it can take the whole summer just to read the required books and complete the associated assignments. Any further reading program, regardless of incentive, would amount to torture.

This week, those summer reading lists came home. I've been a list lover for as long as I can remember, and am always curious about what teens are reading, so I couldn't wait to see what was included this year.  I'm betting that with all the librarians, teachers, and parents out there, some of you will be interested in seeing those lists, too!

Twin A attends a private prep school and has three books assigned for summer reading:

The Color of Water by James McBride  - for AP Language
10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America by Steven M. Gillon  - for AP US History
State of Fear by Michael Crichton - for Chemistry

Twin B must choose 2 books from the following list and write 5 one-page journal entries for each book. This is all for her 11th grade English class at the local public high school.

-The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
-Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner
-The Astonishing Like of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1 by M.T. Anderson
-The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
-A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
-Hole in My Life by Jabk Gantos
-The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
-I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak
-Monster by Walter Dean Myers
-A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
-The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
-Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
-Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
-Wicked by Gregoru Maguire
-Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
-I Am The Cheese by Robert Cormier
-White Oleander by Janet Fitch
-Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates
-Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn
-The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- Breakfast of Champions (or anything else) by Kurt Vonnegut
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
-The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

- A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
-Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking at the Harlem Renaissance Through Poems by Nikki Giovanni

Historical Fiction
-Mississippi Trial by Chris Crowe
-Hitch by Janet Ingold

Graphic Novels
-American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
-Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer and Randy DuBurke

-We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
-The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
-The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
-World Leader Pretend by James Bernard Frost

-Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
-Left For Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis by Peter Nelson
-The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
-Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong

-Hoop Dreams: A True Story of Hardship and Triumph by Ben Joravsky
-In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais
-Lord of the Deep by Graham Salisbury
-Raider's Night by Robert Lipsyte
-Roughnecks by Thomas Cochrane
-Rundown by Michael Cadnum
-Bleachers by John Grisham
-Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
-Any title by Patrick McManus

-How Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and Lincoln Steffens Helped Expose Scandal, Inspire Reform, and Invent Investigative Journalism by Ann Bausum
-Thomas Jefferson: Draftsman of a Nation by Natalie S. Bober
-Who Was First? Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman
-The Great Adventure: Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America by Albert Marrin
-An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy
-Stranded at the Plymouth Plantation by Gary Bowen
-This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie by Elizabeth Partridge
-Ben Franklin's Almanac: Being A True Account of the Good Gentleman's Life by Candace Fleming
- Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II by Amy Nathan
-From Slave Sip to Freedom Road by Julius Lester
- The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon

No choices have been made yet but, based on Molly's recent review, I'll certainly be pushing for Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.  Did you have assigned summer reading? Was there anything that left a lasting impression? 

What will the teens you know be reading this summer?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spring Reading Thing Wrap-Up

Can spring be over already? The calendar tells me summer starts tomorrow, and Molly's Summer Vacation Reading Challenge is in full swing, so it must be so.  The Spring Reading Thing, hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days officially ends today. It's time to take stock and see what was accomplished.  This was the plan:

Read 7 books:

1.  The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever - completed, but did I forget to post a review?
2.  The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry - nearly finished, review pending
3.  The Home-Maker by Dorothy  - complete, reviewed here
4.  The Shack by William Paul Young (April book club selection) - complete, reviewed here
5.   May book club selection:  The Big House by George Howe Colt (non-fiction) - complete, reviewed here
6.  June book club selection:   The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - previously completed, pre-blogging days
7. one non-fiction book:  Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon - reviewed here

Additional goals:

1.  Read at least one short story per week and participate in Short Story Monday -  goal reached.  Links to short story posts found in the sidebar. I did miss one week, and there were a couple Short Story Tuesdays, but I think that's close enough!

2.  Listen to three audio books - goal reached
The Help by Kathryn Stockett - reviewed here
Brooklyn:  A Novel by Colm Toibin - reviewed here
The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett - review pending

3.  Whittle down my stack of New Yorker magazines - goal reached, sort of...the stack present when I started the challenge is gone, but somehow a new one has accumulated!

4.  Inspired by a Booking Through Thursday question, I conducted my own graphic novel experiment.  Heather recommended a  how-to book on reading graphic novels, and I was off.  My favorite, so far, has been Ethel &Ernest by Raymond Briggs. 

In summary:

Though most of the goals were met, I'm disappointed all the reviews weren't done in time. Perhaps the Bloggiesta event would have been a good idea!  

Also, that cute button so prominently displayed  in my sidebar has made me smile whenever I've looked at it. Thank you so much, Katrina, for hosting this event.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn: A Novel
By Colm Toibin
Blackstone Audiobooks, 2009
7 hours 37 minutes
Narrated by Kristen Potter

It's 1950's Ireland and jobs are scarce. Eilis Lacey's brothers have already left for England, and the decision has been made to send Eilis to America. Her sponsor, a parish priest in Brooklyn, has lined up a department store job and a boarding house room. Rose, her gainfully employed older sister, will remain at home with their widowed mother. Eilis has only the vaguest notion of life in America:

" It was a long journey across the Atlantic, she knew, at least a week on a ship, and it must be expensive. She had a sense too, she did not know from where, that, while boys and girls from the town who had gone to England did ordinary work for ordinary money, people who went to America would become rich." page 26

Though Eilis struggles, she gradually builds a life for herself in Brooklyn. A couple of years pass before a family crisis calls her back Ireland. Eilis must then choose between remaining in Ireland or returning to the life and love she has found in Brooklyn.

My thoughts:

Upon reading a summary, it would be easy to dismiss Brooklyn as just another immigrant story. But if given the chance, Toibin's writing, so rich with feeling, will draw you in. His simple, elegant, spare prose could easily have kept me listening to a book twice this length.

The reader, with her captivating Irish accent, was excellent, too. I was transported to 1950's Brooklyn - the sights, sounds, even the smells came alive. At times, I became very frustrated with Eilis and her passivity. Too much just 'happened' to her. I wanted her to take a stand, make a decision...something! Of course, in the end, she had to.

Why has it taken me so long to discover Toibin's work? The Master has been on my wish list forever and, a couple of years ago, I even brought The Blackwater Lightship home from the library. Unfortunately, it was due back before I had a chance to read it. You can be sure I won't make that mistake again!

Have you read Toibin? Can you suggest what to read next?

My rating: a solid A

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Fantasy and Sci-Fi

One of my favorite sci-fi authors (Sharon Lee) has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day.

As she puts it:

So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?

My answer:

Well, that's easy.  Since I rarely read Fantasy or Sci-Fi, there will no celebration on the 23rd. 

In fact, I've never been much of a sci-fi or fantasy reader.  Although I am tempted to give Fahrenheit 451 another shot, it was a struggle to get through it in high school.  I wonder if it would be different viewed from an adult perspective.  Lincoln's Dreams by Connie Willis, read for a book club, has the dubious honor of being my least enjoyable read of the past ten years.

Time travel is mildly appealing to me though.  I was impressed with Octavia Butler's Kindred (also read for a book club) and, more recently, enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife.

My fantasy reading is also limited. I read the first Harry Potter book aloud to my children, but they were on their own after that! We did, however, attend several midnight parties to purchase multiple copies of new installments.  At Twin A's insistence, I finally read Twilight last fall. It created quite a stir around school that "even Moms"  were reading it, but I couldn't muster the enthusiasm for New Moon.

I'm not opposed to reading more science fiction of fantasy.  Do you have any suggestions?  Perhaps I'll find a few on the 23rd!

More responses to this question can by found at Booking Through Thursday.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - June 16

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B at Should be Reading.  Anyone can play along!  Here's how it works:
-grab your current read
-open to a random page
-share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page (avoid spoilers!)
-be sure to include title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their tbr lists if they like your teaser

My teaser:

The Ransomes had been burgled.  "Robbed," Mrs. Ransome said.  "Burgled," Mr. Ransome corrected.  Premises were burgled; persons were robbed.  Mr. Ransome was a solicitor by profession and thought words mattered.    (pg. 3)

by Alan Bennett

I loved The Uncommon Reader and had to try more of Bennett's work.  I'm listening to The Clothes They Stood Up In  on CD.  It is read by the author and is such fun to listen to!  I cheated a little on the teaser though - these are the opening lines.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

A few days ago, Paperback Reader wrote a post on The Lottery by Shirley Jackson that really captured my attention.  I had to stop what I was doing and immediately read the story.  A single word sums up my reaction - horror.  I was utterly and completely horrified.

The Lottery, first published in The New Yorker in 1948, centers on a very ritualistic  yearly lottery that occurs  in  a small, pastoral village.  The story is very short (just 5 pages) and to say much more could spoil it.  Read the story for yourself here, if you dare.

Throughout her life, Jackson (1916 - 1965)  shied away from interviews and refused to promote or explain her work.  However, The Lottery aroused such controversy that Jackson issued a statement in The San Francisco Chronicle on July 22, 1948:

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.

The Lottery is truly an amazing read.  I've never had a story evoke such strong emotions. Jackson is also well known for The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle  It sounds like these would make excellent Halloween reading fare, and I'd like to read at least one of them this fall.

To see who else is talking about short stories today, visit The Book Mine Set.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Is there a "magic number"?

Good morning, saloners!  For my post this week, I'd like to pose a question.  How many books does it take to be a book blogger?  

I started Lakeside Musing seven months ago to share "thoughts on books and life from here by the lake".  Not sure exactly where I was going or what my focus would be,  I wrote posts about food and recipes, weather, travel, and the lake in addition to posts on books and reading (which I figured would, eventually, end up taking center stage).

In the past several months, I have settled into a somewhat comfortable blogging routine.  Late last winter, I rediscovered short stories and started participating in Short Story Monday.  I joined The Sunday Salon two months ago.  Booking Through Thursday is always fun and I seem to have fallen into the habit of posting a book review on Fridays.  Occasionally, I do a Library Loot post, play along with Teaser Tuesdays, or highlight my book club meeting.

This leads me to my question.  How many books does it take to be a book blogger?  Is there a magic number to strive for? In the best of times, I rarely read more than one book per week. Now, with all the usual demands on my time plus a new-found interest in blogging and reading blogs, I'm struggling to maintain that 'best of times' pace.  Is one book review and one short story review per week enough?  Will people notice/care if it's less than that?

I'm not a very fast reader to begin with.  My college-aged daughter says the problem is that I read everything closely.  "Don't you ever skim, Mom?",  she has asked more than once.  For that reason, really chunky books have become intimidating since I started blogging.  I'd also love to join in with some of the recent extended reading projects, but I'm afraid I won't get anything else read.

I suppose the answer is that since I'm blogging mainly for myself, I should not feel pressured to post anything at all.  But, it just seems to be part of my personality to keep striving to improve on this blogging hobby.  So, thanks for taking the time to read my ramble.  I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Finally,  I'd like to share one of the highlights of my week.  Becky, from One Literature Nut..., has presented me with the Literary Blogger Award.  It is described as:
...an award which acknowledges bloggers who energize and inspire reading by going the extra mile! These amazing bloggers make reading fun, and enhance the delight of reading!
 Becky, who is much-deserving of this award herself, features wonderful reviews (like her most recent on The Inheritance of Loss) and other reading-related posts. Her blog is on my 'must read daily' list! 

I'd like to pass this award on to:
Jackie at Farm Lane Books
Claire at Kiss a  Cloud

They review so many wonderful books, and have lead me to several I may not have found on my own.  They've also caused some significant growth in both my tbr pile and list!  If you don't already know these bloggers, I urge you to stop by and say hello.

I hope you all enjoy the rest of the weekend and are able to carve out some time for reading!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Big House by George Howe Colt

The Big House:  A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home
by George Howe Colt
Scribner, 2003
319 pages

The title nearly says it all.  Colt gives us a brief history of his well-connected Boston family and the summer home they built on Cape Cod in 1903.  He recounts childhood summers spent at the "big house" and details the family struggle to maintain this vanishing way of life.  Ultimately, the house must be put up for sale. The book is, perhaps, Howe's way of saying good bye.

My thoughts:

The Big House was the May selection for my book group and the original plan was to incorporate my thoughts with the group's overall reaction.  However,  the meeting was cancelled at the last minute, and there will be nothing left if hold my thoughts for another month!

May was a perfect time to read this book, so I was not surprised to see it featured on Barnes & Noble's summer reading table.  It is so evocative of time and place, that it made me nostalgic for a way of life I have never known.  My favorite quote describes the rhythm of a typical day:

"Two weeks in, the days have a comforting sameness to them:  mornings at the Bluff, afternoons at the Big Cove, evenings on the piazza.  We live in our bathing suits.  Our feet, callused from going barefoot all day, no longer cringe on the rocky shore.  Rubbed by sun, wind, and water, our city edges are wearing away.  I feel as weathered as driftwood, as smoothed as sea glass.  When I woke this morning I couldn't remember what day it was."  (page 173)

There are descriptions of sailing races, the big tennis tournament at summer's end, indoor hide-and-seek, and, of course, summer reading and the books found all over the Big House. Summer has a rhythm that Colt compares to an ocean:

"Summers have their own oceanic rhythm.  June, when the water is cool, people are scarce and the bay is empty, is low tide.  In July - as families arrive, the houses fill, the sun ripens - the tides rises.  August - the tennis tournament is in full swing, the bay is full of boats, the Red Sox making their annual run for the pennant - is high tide.  And then the tide slowly ebbs:  the days grow shorter, the nights cool, the Red Sox fade.  There is a surge of false hope on Labor Day weekend, but then the streets and stores are empty, the crowds are gone. Low again." (page 173-174)

As time passes, lifestyles no longer allows for entire summers off, family wealth is somewhat diluted, and it is a struggle to maintain the Big House and it's way of life.  Eventually, the house is put up for sale.  It languishes on the market for several years.

Most potential buyers wanted to subdivide and develop the property. Living in a small, historic village, I could easily relate to the zoning laws, efforts of preservationists, and the negative impact this may have on potential buyers (our town successfully fought off Wal-mart nearly ten years ago).  Eventually, there is a mostly acceptable resolution.

It was also interesting for me to note that Colt is married to writer Anne Fadiman.  Her book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, lead to one of my book club's best discussions ever.  I am also a fan of her essay collection Ex Libris.

This book is a perfect choice for summer non-fiction reading. I found a couple of sections slow-going, and would have really appreciated a map of Cape Cod, but these are just minor complaints.  This virtual trip to Cape Cod was an enjoyable start to my summer reading.

My rating: 4/5  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Niche

Today's question:

There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.)

But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.

What niche books do YOU read?

My answer:

I suppose my 'niche' books have changed, or evolved, over the years as my interests have developed.  Of course, there have been constants. My collection of cookbooks has been growing and changing for almost 25 years.  Some I use often, while others come out only for holidays, a specific season, or a special occasion.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The number of gardening books seems to be increasing. They are kept on an easily accessible shelf for quick reference.
This higher shelf is home to niche books I don't use as much anymore.  Some of my antique furniture and pottery books are her, as well as a few dog books, and child/adolescent/parenting books (I should probably pull these down for a  "teen" refresher!).
The needlework, craft, and decorating books can be found on another shelf, along with various travel guides, and an assortment dictionaries and atlases.  Most of the home remodeling books were donated to the library book sale (we're not doing that again!). If you add in my husband's niche books, the collection looks even more eclectic! 

Read more answers to this question at Booking Through Thursday.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - June 9

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along!  Here's how it works:
- Grab your current read 
- open to a random page
- share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page (avoid spoilers!)
- be sure to include the title and author, so other TT participants can add the book to their tbr list if they like your teaser

My teaser:

" It was a long journey across the Atlantic, she knew, at least a week on a ship, and it must be expensive.  She had a sense too, she did not know from where, that, while boys and girls from the town who had gone to England did ordinary work for ordinary money, people who went to America would become rich."   page 26

by Colm Toibin

Sunday, June 7, 2009

TSS - At least I'm thinking about reading

Good morning, readers!  As the school year is winding down, the end-of-the-year activities are in full swing.  This week we've had a concert, awards banquet, and the first graduation parties of the season.  It almost goes without saying, but there hasn't been much  reading going on.  However, I have been thinking about reading.  In particular, I've been thinking about authors I have 'discovered' over the course of the school year.  Here are ten authors whose work I have sampled and want to spend more time with. 

Tobias Wolff
Old School, featuring literature and loss of innocence, is set in a New England prep school in the 1960's.  
Next:  This Boy's Life, a memoir, or a short story collection.  Wolff is probably best known for his stories.

Colm Toibin is my most recent discovery.  I just finished listening to Brooklyn and was totally captivated!  
Next: I've heard good things about The Blackwater Lightship and The Master.  Both are on my tbr list.

W. Somerset Maugham
The Painted Veil was one of my favorite books of 2008.   The character of Kitty Fane is not easily forgotten.
Next:  Of Human Bondage? The Razor's Edge?

Emile Zola
Therese Raquin will surely be on my list of favorites this year. It paints a fascinating psychological portrait of lovers who commit a horrible crime in order to be together.
Next:  ???  I don't know much about Zola's work and welcome any suggestions.

Alan Bennett
Next: The Clothes They Stood Up In - I've decided to try the audio version.

T.C. Boyle
The Tortilla Curtain was another favorite of 2008.  Set in California, this novel put very real faces on both sides of the illegal immigrant question.
Next:   The Road to Wellville, a short story collection, or his new novel The Women

John Cheever
The Wapshot Chronicle, the saga of the Wapshot family of New England, won the National Book Award in 1958. 
Next: The Wapshot Scandal or his collected stories

Alice Walker
I posted about "Everyday Use" a couple of weeks ago for Short Story Monday.
Next:  The Color Purple, of course

Tillie Olsen
I stumbled across Olsen's story  "I Stand Here Ironing"  in the Norton Book of American Short Stories and wrote a Short Story Monday post about it.
Next:  Tell Me A Riddle

Cynthia Ozick
I read her story, "The Shawl", in The Best American Short Stories of the Century.  It was a very short, brutal story set in a Nazi concentration camp.
Next: I brought The Shawl home from the library last  week. It pairs the title story with a novella that picks up the same character living in Florida thirty years later.  Her novel, Heir to the Glimmering World is near the top of my tbr pile.

I'll also mention Sebastian Barry here.  I've recently started The Secret Scripture and, after just 50 pages, I know this an an author I will come back to.

So, there you have it - my new authors of the school year.  Of course, there are countless others 'discovered' earlier that I've yet to get back to.  And the many authors still on my tbr list?  We won't even go there...

What authors have you discovered this year?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What's Your Word?

Your Word is "Think"
You see life as an amazing mix of possibilities, ideas, and fascinations.
And sometimes you feel like you don't have enough time to take it all in.

You love learning. Whether you're in school or not, you're probably immersed in several subjects right now.
When you're not learning, you're busy reflecting. You think a lot about the people you know and the things you've experienced.

What is your word?

I found this fun quiz at Fleur Fisher reads today.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Sticky

Today's question comes from Shelley and asks:

"This can be a quick one.  Don't take too long to think about it.  Fifteen books that you've read that will always stick with you.  First fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes"

My answer:

Though not necessarily my "favorite" fifteen,  these are books, both fiction and nonfiction, that have really stuck with me over  the years. They have opened my eyes to new places, cultures or time periods.  They have increased my understanding, or broadened my perspective of people or events. The writing may have been some of the best I'd ever read, or perhaps it was a book from childhood that I returned to over and over again.

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  3. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  4. Corelli's Mandolin by Louis deBernieres
  5. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
  6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  7. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street)
  8. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
  9. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
  10. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
  11. The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede
  12. And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts
  13. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  14. The Diary of Anne Frank
  15. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - June 2

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along!  Here's how it works:

- Grab your current read 
- open to a random page
- share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page (avoid spoilers!)
- be sure to include the title and author, so other TT participants can add the book to their tbr list if they like your teaser

My teaser is from The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry.  Since I just started reading last night, the teaser is from the beginning of the book, and I've included three sentences, instead of two:

"I am completely alone, there is no one in the world that knows me now outside of this place, all my own people, the few farthings of them that once were, my little wren of a mother I suppose in chief, they are all gone now.  And my persecutors are gone in the main, I believe, and the reason for all this is that I am an old, old woman now, I may be as much as a hundred, though I do not know and no one knows.  I am only a thing left over, a remnant woman, and I do not even look like a human being no more, but a scraggy stretch of skin and bone in a bleak skirt and blouse, and a canvas jacket, and I sit here in my niche like a songless robin - no, like a mouse that died under the hearthstone where it was warm, and lies now like a mummy in the pyramids."  (page 4)

I love this lyrical writing and can't wait to get back to the book this evening!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick

This is week's short story comes from Cynthia Ozick, an author who has been on my 'to read' list for far too long.  The Shawl, first published in The New Yorker in 1981,  is a harsh, brutal story set in a concentration camp during World War II.   It opens:
"Stella, cold, cold, the coldness of hell.  How they walked on the roads together, Rosa with Magda curled up between sore breasts, Magda wound up in the shawl."
Rosa, her infant daughter Magda, and 14 year old niece Stella are prisoners at a concentration camp.  Magda, silent and hidden in the shawl, is unknown to the German soldiers.  Food is scarce.  It is presumed that Magda will die.

"It was a magic shawl, it could nourish an infant for three days and three nights. ... Rosa knew Magda was going to die very soon; she should have been dead already, but she had been buried away deep inside the magic shawl, mistaken there for the shivering mound of Rosa's breasts; Rosa clung to the shawl as if it covered only herself.  No one took it away from her.  Madga was mute. She never cried."

Rosa's fears are realized when Madga is eventually discovered.  Written with spare prose, the ending of this story is truly horrifying. 

The story is paired with a novella entitled "Rosa" and published as The Shawl.  "Rosa" picks up thirty years later, as she has survived the Holocaust and is living in the United States. This short book may be a good choice for the next read-a-thon.

Teddy Rose is hosting Short Story Monday this week.  Check here to see who else has a story to share. 


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