Sunday, January 31, 2010

TSS: A Woolfish Weekend

Good morning! Temperatures are still hovering below zero as I sit here with my steamy mug of coffee. The sun is shining brightly and, for a brief moment, I considered heading outside for a walk. On second thought, I decided to save that for a warmer day (maybe 15 degrees?) and just hit the treadmill instead.

So, I missed the trip To The Lighthouse on Friday, but am still in the midst of a very Woolfish weekend. Last Sunday, I mentioned that Mrs. Dalloway has continued to occupy my thoughts. This week, I reread The Hours by Michael Cunningham (a book I loved before reading Woolf's novel). I am simply in awe of Cunningham's talent.

Yesterday, I returned to Mrs. Dalloway (it's unheard of for me to reread a book so soon) - opting to read the foreword by Maureen Howard this time. And last night, I finally watched The Hours. If there's anyone left that hasn't seen this film, I highly recommend it!

A Woolf biography seems to be on the reading horizon and my inclination is to choose Hermione Lee's. Does anyone have a recommendation?

It wasn't all Virginia Woolf this week though. Eudor Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." was the topic of my Short Story Monday post. It's a great southern story and, especially after reading Softdrink's review of The Optimist's Daughter, a trip to B&N is in order this afternoon.... can't let a coupon expire unused! I also posted my thoughts on Marvel's graphic adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.

Now there's time to visit some of your blogs before settling in for an hour or two with Mrs. Dalloway. What will you be reading today?

Friday, January 29, 2010

To The Lighthouse... trip delayed

It took me 25 years to finish Mrs. Dalloway. The most important lesson learned from the experience is that timing is everything. Last Friday, I picked up To The Lighthouse. My intention was to complete the book and have a thoughtful post ready for Woolf in Winter today.

Funny thing though, Mrs. Dalloway was still on my mind. Woolf's gorgeous prose left me filled with awe and unable to move on. There is somehow a need to 'finish' Mrs. Dalloway. For me, that will involve a reread of The Hours by Michael Cunningham (hope to complete this today), probably followed by a reread of Mrs. Dalloway, and then a movie adaptation.

I will eventually make the trip To The Lighthouse. Let's just hope it doesn't take another 25 years to get there!

Emily is hosting today's discussion of To The Lighthouse. It can be found here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pride & Prejudice gets graphic

Nancy Butler (adapter), Jane Austen (author), Hugo Petrus (illustrator)
Marvel Books, 2009
120 pages

What would Jane think? Graphic novels are still new territory for me, but my experiences with Ethel & Ernest and French Milk have lead to some high expectations for the genre. Last week I read Nancy Butler's graphic adaption of the beloved classic Pride & Prejudice, recently published by Marvel Books. The story is all there - Elizabeth, Darcy, Pemberly, even Miss Bingley's offer to "take a turn about the room" - but somehow, it didn't feel quite right.

It's obvious that Butler knows Pride & Prejudice. And it's an impressive accomplishment to distill a classic novel down to 120 illustrated pages, include key phrases and passages, and manage to preserve the overall flavor.

My quibble is with the illustrations. They seem too modern to me - just take a look at the Bennet sisters! I know I'm probably in the minority here. My 19 year old daughter just loved them. But then again, middle-aged Janeites aren't exactly the target audience here.

That said, I do recommend this to fans of graphic novels, fans of Jane Austen, and anyone just curious to see how the two could possibly meet. As for me, I definitely prefer classics in a more traditional format, but I will continue to read the occasional (non-classic) graphic novel.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - The Hours

"She has dreamed of a park and she has dreamed of a line for her new book - what was it? Flowers; something to do with flowers. Or something to do with a park? Was someone singing? No, the line is gone, and it doesn't matter, really, because she still has the feeling it left behind. She knows she can get up and write." (page 30)

by Michael Cunningham

This is a reread, but a perfect follow-up to Mrs. Dalloway. I'm even more appreciative of Cunningham's brilliance this time around.

More teasers can be found at Should Be Reading.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Why I Live at the P.O." by Eudora Welty

Just mention Southern Literature, and Eudora Welty (1909 - 2001) is one of the first names that comes to mind. "Why I Live at the P.O." was one of her earliest stories, appearing in Atlantic magazine in 1941 and later in the collection A Curtain of Green. It features southern dialogue, the ultimate dysfunctional family and, despite it's dark nature, some very funny moments.

The story opens:
"I was getting along fine with Mama, Papa-Daddy and Uncle Rondo until my sister Stella-Rondo just separated from her husband and came back home again. Mr Whitaker! Of course I went with Mr. Whitaker first, when he first appeared here in China Grove, taking "Pose Yourself" photos, and Stella-Rondo broke us up."

The first person narrator, known simply as "Sister", gently appeals to the reader to take her side as younger sibling Stella-Rondo attempts to turn the family against her. Adding further interest, Stella-Rondo has brought home her "adopted" 2 year old daughter, Shirley-T, that the family knows nothing about and who bears a striking resemblance to Mama's father, Papa-Daddy.

Things come to a head on the Fourth of July, when Uncle Rondo takes action:

"But at 6:30 A.M. the next morning, he threw a whole five-cent package of some unsold one-inch firecrackers from the store as hard as he could into my bedroom and they every one went off. Not one bad one in the string. Anybody else, there'd be one that wouldn't go off.
Well, I'm just terribly susceptible to noise of any kind, the doctor has always told me I was the most sensitive person he had ever seen in his whole life, and I was simply prostrated. I couldn't eat! People tell me they heard it as far as the cemetery, and old Aunt Jep Patterson, that had been holding her own so good, thought it was Judgement Day and she was going to meet her family. It's usually so quiet here."

Sister decides she must move out. There are some very funny passages as she chooses what to bring with her, what is rightfully hers, as she goes to live at the China Grove Post Office where she is postmistress.

The story can be read in its entirety here, and a 1956 audio clip of Welty reading an excerpt can be found here. I don't read much Southern Literature, but "Why I Live at the P.O." has got me thinking about trying one of Welty's novels.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set. Stop by to see who else has a short story post to share.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

TSS: Sunday Musings

Good morning! A cup of coffee and my computer is a favorite early morning routine, but Sundays are the best. The house is quiet, I can relax as I peruse my favorite blogs, and maybe even be inspired to write a Sunday Salon post of my own. Friday and Saturday driving back and forth on the New York State Thruway for Daughter#1's college basketball games has left me tired, but giddy with anticipation of a quiet day at home today.

It's been an unusual reading week. I finished Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks, and my book club met Friday for a discussion. I read and posted about Jonathan Franzen's short story "Good Neighbors". It's rumored to figure into his new novel, and I can't wait! One evening was spent with a graphic adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. (What would Jane think?) M.F.K. Fisher's essay "The Secret Ingredient" was the subject of yesterday's Weekend Cooking post, and a review Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (audio version) was also posted.

But it was Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway that continued to occupy my literary thoughts this week. The plan was to start To The Lighthouse. It's the next Woolf in Winter book, so I picked it up and read the first chapter/section (what do you call Woolf's divisions?) only to find I wasn't ready to move on to a "new" Woolf. So, there may be a reread of Mrs. Dalloway sooner than originally planned... and probably The Hours, too.

This morning I'll read one more short story, then choose a book from the towering tbr pile to begin this afternoon. What are you reading today?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weekend Cooking: The Secret Ingredient by M.F.K. Fisher

For today's Weekend Cooking, I pulled out Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Wine, and read "The Secret Ingredient" by M.F.K. Fisher. This essay, at the beginning of the "Dining In" section, begins:

"It is common in small communities, especially if they are far from large towns, for one person or another to become known for a special power... At present, I myself, living less than a hundred miles from a big city and with about two thousand other townspeople, do not know of any witches or warlocks, but there are several people who seem to have an uncanny power over food. They manage to keep to themselves whatever it is that makes their creations subtly and definitely better than any attempts to approximate them. They are willing to make... clowns of themselves to protect their recipes."

The author goes on to describe one such person - Berite Bastalizzo. When Bertie made food for her friends or neighbors, she would include specific instruction on everything from how long to let the food "rest", suggested accompaniments, and even the type of bowl or tray to serve it on. But one thing Bertie would not share was her recipe. Oh, she may have given some instruction on how her dish could be recreated, but it was never the same. Her semi-literate scribbles always seemed vague or lacking. Occasionally, there was even an outright error.

Fisher muses, "I really cannot believe that a good cook will distort a prideful recipe."

Well, I can! The entire essay could have been about mother's friend Tina - also an Italian woman - who spoke with a heavy accent and loved to prepare food for her friends... but would not share her recipes.

Baked Italian Fish was one of her specialties. Tina and her husband loved to fish. Following one of their early morning expeditions, we would often get a late afternoon phone call. "I gotta some feesh for you. I'ma comin' now." What a treat!

Tina's Chicken Riggies were to die for, but it was a well-known fact the recipe she shared was not the recipe she used. Something was purposefully omitted.

Tina knew my particular favorite was her Eggplant Parmesan. She wouldn't share that recipe either but often, when she made it for her own family, she would bring my mother a small plate the following day. "I know JoAnna likes this one."

Fisher wrote this essay in 1968, just a few years before Tina started bringing me her Eggplant Parmesan. Bertie and Tina are both gone now. Maybe that "secret ingredient" mentality is gone, too. Maybe it was a quality particular to Italian immigrants. Either way, the essay made me wish for a glass of my grandfather's homemade wine so I could raise a toast to Tina.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Visit her blog for links to more Weekend Cooking Posts.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (audio)

Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear
Narrated by Rita Barrington
BBC Audiobooks America, 2008
(originally published 2003)
10 hours

Publishers summary:
The debut of one of literature's favorite sleuths! Maisie Dobbs isn't just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence - and the patronage of her benevolent employers - she works her way into college at Cambridge. After the War I and her service as a nurse, Maisie hangs out her shingle back at home: M. DOBBS, TRADE AND PERSONAL INVESTIGATIONS.

But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

My thoughts:

Maisie Dobbs has quite a following among book bloggers. After listening to the first of these literary mysteries, I certainly understand why.

It's very well written, features a smart female character, a wonderful historic setting, and just the right amount of suspense. We learn of Masie's experiences growing up, as a nurse in WWI , and how she came to be an investigator. In addition to cracking her first case, the book lays the foundation for the series by providing valuable insight into Maisie's character. Much of it will, no doubt, be built upon in future books.

The audio version of Maisie Dobbs is very well done. The reader's wonderful British accent enhanced my perception of Maisie's intelligence and manners. I was also impressed when her voice took on a detached, almost dream-like, quality as wartime events were recalled.

I will definitely continue with Birds of a Feather, the second title in the series. The only decision to make is whether to read or to listen!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - Pride & Prejudice (Graphic Novel)

A visual 'teaser' this week...

from Marvel
Nancy Butler (adapter), Jane Austen (author), Hugo Petrus (Illustrator)

product description:
Tailored from the adored Jane Austen classic, Marvel Comics is proud to present Pride & Prejudice! Two-time Rita Award-Winner Nancy Butler and fan-favorite Hugo Petras faithfully adapt the whimsical tale of Lizzy Bennet and her loveable-if-eccentric family, as they navigate through tricky British social circles.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Short Story Monday: "Good Neighbors" by Jonathan Franzen

Do you remember Jonathan Franzen, the Oprah book club debacle, and The Corrections? I sure do. It turned out to be one of my favorite books of 2001 and, if I took the time to compose an actual list, it would be one of my favorites of the decade, too. Since then, I've been eagerly anticipating a new novel from Franzen, and occasionally reading his essays.

Last week I found "Good Neighbors", a short story published in The New Yorker last June. There's been some buzz recently that Franzen's new novel, with a working title Freedom, will appear late this year; this sketch is rumored to figure into it.

Like The Corrections, "Good Neighbors" is, at its heart, a tale of suburban dystopia. It opens:

"Walter and Patty Berglund were the young pioneers of Ramsey Hill - the first college grads to buy a house on Barrier Street since the old heart of St. Paul had fallen on hard times three decades earlier."

At that time,
"the collective task in Ramsey Hill was to relearn certain life skills that your own parents had fled to the suburbs specifically to unlearn, like how to interest the local cops in actually doing their job, or how to protect a bike from a highly motivated thief, and when to bother rousing a drunk from your lawn furniture... There were also more contemporary questions like: What about those cloth diapers? Worth the bother? And was it true you could still get milk delivered in glass bottles? Were the Boy Scouts O.K. politically? Was bulgur really necessary? Where to recycle batteries?..."

Patty, one of the few stay-at-home moms, is the ultimate neighborhood resource. She is "famously averse to speaking well of herself or ill of anybody else." Patty remembers everyone's birthdays, often showing up at the door with a plate of cookies or "some lilies of the valley in a little thrift-store vase that she told you not to bother returning."

However, there are some mysteries in Patty's past. Walter seems practically a non-entity. Problems arise with their beloved son, who eventually moves in with the neighbors. There's even more trouble when the single mom next door's boyfriend, "a goateed young backhoe operator" named Blake, moves in, cuts down the trees, and builds an addition (referred to as "the hangar") in Patty's clear view.

The reader gleans much information from conversations (that occur mostly while doing dishes) between Seth and Merrie Paulsen, another neighborhood couple. The Berglund's gradual decline is chronicled.

"...the emotions prevailing among the Ramsey Hill gentry were pity for Walter, anxiety about Patty's psychological health, and an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude at how normal their own children were - how happy to accept parental largesse, how innocently demanding of help with their homework or their college applications, how compliant in phoning in their after-school whereabouts, how divulging of their little day-to-day bruisings, how reassuringly predictable in their run-ins with sex and pot and alcohol. The ache emanating from the Berglunds' house was sui generis."
As the Berglunds spend less and less time at home, neighbors gradually lose interest. Two weeks after 9/11, a for sale sign appears in the front lawn and Walter and Patty make their way through the neighborhood saying their farewells. The story concludes with a final,very telling conversation between the Paulsens.

I love Franzen's writing style, his keen insight and slightly sarcastic humor. When his next novel finally does appear, I'll be there buying a hardcover copy the day it is released. You can read "Good Neighbors" on The New Yorker website.

Visit John at The Book Mine Set for more Short Story Monday posts.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Woolf in Winter: Thoughts on Mrs. Dalloway

After three attempts spaced over 25 years, I've finally managed to finish a Virginia Woolf novel. And not only did I finish it, I liked it. I really liked it.

While there's no way I can offer any profound literary interpretation of Mrs. Dalloway, many insightful posts can be found on Sarah's blog today as she hosts the Woolf in Winter discussion of this novel.

Instead, I've spent some time thinking about "why now". What has made this particular experience different from the others? Why did Virginia Woolf 'work' for me this time, but leave me unwilling to turn another page in my thirties? Obviously Mrs. Dalloway hasn't changed; it must be me.

The book, originally published in 1925, follows the thoughts and actions of Clarissa Dalloway over the course of a single day as she prepares to host a party. Peter Walsh, just returned from years in India, visits Clarissa before the party. We're also privy to his thoughts. A tangential story line follows Septimus Smith, a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress and descending into madness. As the day progresses, clocks chime as the hours pass, yet the two story lines never directly intersect.

English was always my favorite subject in high school, but a very science-oriented pharmacy curriculum never allowed for lit electives. Graduation meant time to read for pleasure again, and Virginia Woolf was one of my first choices. It was an epic failure. I doubt I read more than 20 pages. Clinical pharmacy is a very concrete field - blood levels, half-life, dosage, etc. Woolf's long sentences and nebulous prose didn't fit with that mindset.

Fast-forward to 1995... Stressed to the max at-home Mom, with a 5 year old in half-day kindergarten and 2 year old twins. Virginia Woolf failure number two. My ability to concentrate on more than Goodnight Moon or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom suffered during those years.

Finally... the day after Christmas 2009. A lovely stack of books sits under the tree but, for some reason, I'm drawn to Virginia Woolf. I'm feeling absolutely stress-free, relaxed, and calm; the kids, now all in their late teens, will sleep until noon or beyond. This is it!

The words are beautiful. They flow over me and swirl around me. Maybe I'm not catching the full meaning of every single sentence, but it doesn't matter. I'm in a zone. Not much is actually "happening", but I'm enthralled. Before I know it, I've read 75 pages. There are no breaks. No chapters, just sentences.

A few passages that stopped me in my tracks:

"She would not say of anyone in the world now that they were this or were that. She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time she was outside, looking in. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day." (page 8)

"The compensation of growing old, Peter Walsh thought, coming out of Regent's Park, and holding his hat in his hand, was simply this; that the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained - at last! - the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence, of turning it round slowly, in the light." (page 79)

"People were beginning to compare her to poplar trees, early dawn, hyacinths, fawns, running water, and garden lilies, and it made her life a burden to her, for she so much preferred being left alone to do what she liked in the country, but they would compare her to lilies, and she had to go to parties, and London was so dreary compared with being alone in the country with her father and the dogs." (page 134-135)

As Violet at Still Life With Books says in this excellent post, reading Virginia Woolf's novels requires a "slight shift of consciousness". I believe she's got it exactly right. You must carefully choose your time to read Woolf but, if you get it right, the rewards are great.

I want to reread Mrs. Dalloway - immediately - but I'm also anxious to explore more of Woolf's novels. The Woolf in Winter discussion continues January 29 as Emily hosts a discussion of To The Lighthouse.

Remember to visit Sarah (what we have here is a failure to communicate) for more views on Mrs. Dalloway.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - Nine Parts of Desire

"Their idea of a fun night out was to go to one of Tehran's husseinias - Shiite study centers - to listen to a radical mullah lecturing on Islamic revolution. The two would, of course, sit separately - Khadija in her heavy black hijab always in the back with the other women, where their presence wouldn't distract the men." (page 61)

by Geraldine Brooks

... my book club's January selection.

For more teasers, visit MizB at Should Be Reading.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Short Story Monday: "The Color of Shadows" by Colm Toibin

After reading Brooklyn by Colm Toibin , I was prepared for a quiet, understated story and that's exactly what I found in "The Color of Shadows".

The story opens:
"Ali Hyland, one of the neighbors in Enniscorthy, phoned Paul in Dublin to say that his Aunt Josie, his father's sister, had been found that morning on the floor, having fallen out of bed in the house where she lived alone; they thought that she had been lying there most of the night."

Aunt Josie is taken to the hospital, then placed in a nursing home where she slowly begins to fade, and eventually dies. The end of life experience at the nursing home was especially well-written. Unfortunately, there's not much more to say.

Paul, whose father died when he was young, was raised by his aunt due to circumstances, involving alcohol, that are not fully revealed. He never saw his mother again, but believes her to still be alive. There are unresolved issues, or shadows, that come to light in the course of Aunt Josie's decline and death.

This was a good story, but nothing special. Perhaps after Brooklyn, my expectations were too high. "The Color of Shadows" appeared in The New Yorker magazine in April 2009. You can read it on their website.

For more Short Story Monday posts, visit John at The Book Mine Set.

TSS: Over The Top - catching up on awards

Over the last couple of months, a few awards have come my way. These awards always make my day! It means so much to be acknowledged by fellow readers and bloggers. I'd like to offer my sincere thanks for each, and pass them on to a few blogs I visit regularly.

The Over The Top Award came from Sandy at You've GOTTA Read This! Can there be anyone out there who doesn't know Sandy and her awesome blog? She reads a ton of books, listens to even more, cooks, travels, posts movie reviews, finished the 100 mile fitness challenge... and even had her Christmas cards done by the end of Thanksgiving weekend! Where she finds the energy for all that I'll never know. Anyway, according to the rules, these need to be one word answers, but...

Your cell phone? maroon
Your hair? only the stylist knows for sure...
Your mother? Loving
Your father? Amazing
Your favorite food? warm bread
Your dream last night? forgotten
Your favorite drink? wine
Your dream/goal? Happiness
What room are you in? Kitchen
Your hobby? Reading
Your fear? snakes
Where do you want to be in 6 years? traveling
Where were you last night? home
Something that you aren’t? short
Muffins? Banana nut
Wish list item? e-reader
Where did you grow up? New York State
Last thing you did? shovel snow
What are you wearing? black jeans
Your TV? off
Your Pets? died :-(
Friends? fun
Your life? full
Your mood? good
Missing someone? yes
Vehicle? no more minivan!!
Something you’re not wearing? sunglasses
Your favorite store? J. Jill
Your favorite color? sage green
When was the last time you laughed? today
Last time you cried? yesterday
Your best friend? Kath
One place that you go to over and over? Wegman's
Facebook? not much
Favorite place to eat? Brewster Inn

This award goes to:

Next is the One Lovely Blog Award, and I really think this is the most beautiful button ever! This came from both Kals of At Pemberly and Madeleine from Wordbird.

I met Kals through the Everything Austen Challenge last year, and always love visiting her blog. Once you move past the gorgeous header photo, you'll find some outstanding reviews. Kals has been focusing on Indian writing lately - both fiction and nonfiction.

Madeleine started blogging around the time of BBAW last year - can you imagine a more overwhelming experience?! She's a young blogger that has a real talent for writing. It's always fun to look at the world through her perspective. Stop by Wordbird and see for yourself!

One Lovely Blog Award goes to:

Rachel at BOOK SNOB

The Humane Award comes from Kim at Chapter Chit Chat.
This award is to honor certain bloggers that are kindhearted individuals. They regularly take part in my blog and always leave the sweetest comments. If it wasn't for them, my site would just be an ordinary book review blog. Their blogs are also amazing and are tastefully done on a daily basis. I thank them and look forward to our growing friendship through the blog world.

Isn't that a great sentiment? Kim has become a regular stop in my blog-visiting routine. She has a great header photo and her book reviews are always well done, but I always seem to come away from her blog with a smile! Just look at the latest Wednesday Wishes post.

The Human Award goes to:

Stacy at Book Psmith

Finally, the Honest Scrap Award came from Laurel-Rain Snow at Obsessions and Compulsions. Laurel-Rain is unique in her ability to maintain so many blogs... and keep them all straight! Each on fulfills a specific purpose - stop by and see for yourself. For this award, you're supposed to list ten honest things about yourself and then pass it on to ten other bloggers. I'll bend the rules just a bit and declare my "Over the Top" answers above to fulfill the requirements.

The Honest Scrap Award goes to:

Verity of The B Files
Karen at Book Bath

Now I'm off to visit some blogs, and then I'll turn to my book group selection, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Woman. The book is fascinating, but taking longer to read than I'd anticipated. What are you reading today?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Woolf in Winter... begins Friday

Have you noticed that everyone seems to be talking about Virginia Woolf lately? That's because Woolf in Winter is about to begin. Whether you are a Woolf scholar or a complete novice like me, everyone is invited to join in the fun.

Frances explains the details:

Sarah, Emily, Frances and Claire. Four readers with a plan to embrace the words of Virginia Woolf this winter. Together. And that seemed enough. At first. But we are sociable types so we thought we might give the shared read a name, and extend an open invitation to all inclined to join us. Now, we are thrilled to be the girls hosting what is shaping up to be a remarkable party. And if you have not RSVPed yet, we would still love to hear from you. I will add you right in!
The plan? Four books by Woolf in two months. The schedule? Sarah will host the Mrs. Dalloway conversation on January 15. Emily will host the To the Lighthouse conversation on January 29. I will host the Orlando conversation on February 12. And last but never least, Claire will welcome us all over to talk about The Waves on February 26. We geek (or dork as Emily prefers) Virginia Woolf, and invite you all to do the same with us!

That sounds good to me. I finished Mrs. Dalloway last weekend, but still need to gather my thoughts to post on the 15th. Now if I can get my book club selection (Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks) read in time, I may even attempt To The Lighthouse.
So are you in?

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Pete Hamill Post

(AP photo/Bebeto Matthews)

When Pete Hamill's name appeared on the speaker list for the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series, it wasn't immediately familiar. After a quick search, I remembered hearing about Snow in August, but didn't know much about his career in journalism. A few months later, two of his books were on my 2009 list of favorites, his lecture was fantastic, and I am officially a fan!

After years of thinking, my book club finally took the plunge and eight of us purchased season tickets for the Gifford series. The group had been struggling with selections, and the lectures provided built-in reading material while infusing much-needed enthusiasm. Since previous authors focused on their most recent books, we chose North River for our December meeting.

After just a few pages, I loved it! Set in New York City during the Depression, it features mobsters and political corruption, but mostly revolves around Dr. James Delaney, a GP wounded in WWI and deserted by his both his wife and daughter, who one day finds his two year old grandson, dropped at his doorstep. Delaney, still struggling with war wounds and abandonment, hires Rose, a Sicilian illegal immigrant, as housekeeper and surrogate mother to Carlito, and a make-shift family is formed.

"Hamill has crafted a beautiful novel, rich in New York City detail and ambiance, that showcases the power of human goodness and how love, in its many forms, can prevail in an unfair world." (from Publisher's Weekly)

North River has it all - beautiful writing, wonderful characters, and a setting rich in detail. Check out the few sentences I highlighted in this Teaser Tuesdays post.

After finishing North River, I wanted to read another of Hamill's books immediately. My choice was an audio version of the nonfiction Downtown: My Manhattan, read by the author.

Hamill is an excellent reader, and Downtown: My Manhattan ended up being my favorite nonfiction book of the year. It's a fascinating look at the history of Manhattan with bits of Hamill's life woven in. It covers everything from baseball to vaudeville, and architecture to politics. Hamill's love of the city is obvious throughout. While listening to him describe Trinity Church and its surroundings, I was wishing he would record narrated walking tours of Manhattan!

Finally, it was the evening of the lecture. As luck would have it, the weather was simply miserable and half the group didn't make it, but those that did were enthralled for 90 minutes. Hamill talked more about his life and experiences than the books he's written. He talked of his love for libraries ("temples of wisdom") and books, and the power of words. At 75, he's rereading many of his favorite books, and finds them even richer with the perspective gained from a "life lived".

As Hamill talked about print journalism, I was amazed to learn that 70% of the cost of a newspaper is in the delivery - the paper and ink, trucks and gas. He believes in the future of journalism, but sees a new model of delivery evolving.

We loved hearing about Hamill's childhood. We were taken with his humor, as well as his humility, and decided he'd be an asset to any dinner party! Since it's doubtful I'll ever find myself on the same guest list, reading more of his books will have to do.

The lecture series takes a short hiatus during the winter months (what writer would come to Syracuse in February?) and resumes in March with Richard Russo.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays - Mrs. Dalloway

"She held her hands to her head, waiting for him to say did he like the hat or not, and as she sat there, waiting, looking down, he could feel her mind, like a bird, falling from branch to branch, and always alighting, quite rightly: he could follow her mind, as she sat there in one of those loose poses that came to her naturally and, if he should say anything, at once she smiled, like a bird alighting with all its claws firm upon the bough." (page 147)

by Virginia Woolf

That's actually only one sentence, but what a sentence it is!

For more teasers, visit MizB at Should Be Reading.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Short Story Monday: "A Lovely Time" by Dorothy Whipple

One of my 2010 reading resolutions is to read more by authors I have recently discovered. Dorothy Whipple (1893-1966) is a favorite 2009 'discovery', so I'm not wasting any time! The Persephone Biannually (No. 6 Autumn & Winter 2009-10) includes Whipple's "A Lovely Time" as the featured short story.

Someone at a Distance primed me to expect everyday people occupied with everyday tasks, and that's exactly what Whipple delivers in "A Lovely Time".

Alice Barnes has taken to spelling her name 'Alys' (pronouncing it to rhyme with 'knees') now that she's come to London. She is naive, unsophisticated, works in an office, and since arriving from Ilkeston a few months ago, lives in a women's rooming house.

After a long day at the office, Alice is in her room writing a letter when the glamorous Sheila Spence asks her to fill in for a sick friend and go on a double date (dutch treat, of course) that same evening. Alice, oblivious that she is a last resort, is thrilled.

"She sang a song as she took off her work-a-day clothes. Fancy Miss Spence asking her! It was most kind, because she hardly knew her really and yet she called her darling and asked her out to dinner and a night club. Oh, London life had begun! She had been lonely, she had been dull, she had been cold and felt the food at Vale House inadequate, but now the lights had gone up, the fun, the excitement, the experience she had come for were about to begin!"

Upon arrival at the restaurant, Alice doesn't look as fashionable as she supposes:
"Her mirror was so small that she could not see that her hair had risen at the back of her head in a still hackle which caused amusement to people at other tables. She sat in bliss and ignorance, looking very small, young, and a little peculiar."

When the waitress calls for 'Pane' to be brought to the table, Alice is practically overcome.
"Pane! How thrilling! That must be Italian for bread!"
"Pane! Pane! whispered Alice ecstatically. Oh, this was the wide world! This was even more than London; it was the cosmos. She would be able to ask for 'pane' when she went home to Ilkeston for her holiday."

As you might imagine, the evening is a complete disaster. Conversation is more than strained, and the 'date' cuts out early. It even takes poor Alice a minute to realize that she is no longer welcome to accompany the other couple to the night club. The reader's heart aches for Alice. I wanted to straighten her dress, fix her hair, and give her a few basic social pointers!

"A Lovely Time" possesses the same strengths found in Someone at a Distance, yet is remarkable since it is accomplished in just a few pages. Whipple fashions characters we can relate to. Their emotions and feelings come alive for the reader. I look forward to reading more of Whipple's work, both novels and short stories, as the year progresses.

Visit John at The Book Mine Set for more Short Story Monday posts.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Decisions, Decisions...

It's cold! It's snowing and blowing... I don't want to leave the house today. The Christmas tree is down and the decorations are put away, so I'm just going to read. My morning started with a hot cup of coffee and a short story by one of my 2009 author 'discoveries', Dorothy Whipple. Her novel Someone at a Distance was among my favorites last year, and I was delighted to find the same realistic portrayal of emotion in her short story. I'll post on it tomorrow for Short Story Monday.

Next I read from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Now there are just 20 pages left, so I'll finish this afternoon and maybe even jot down a few thoughts. The Woolf in Winter discussion begins January 15.

What's up next? The choices include:

- The Hours by Michael Cunningham - One of my favorites of 2003, it seems to be the perfect follow-up to Mrs. Dalloway.

- To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf - The plan was to read just one book for Woolf in Winter, but this is on my shelf and I seem to be on a roll.

- Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks - This non-fiction title is my January book group selection, but I've loaned my copy to a friend.

-South of Broad by Pat Conroy - This ARC came from Staci just before the holidays. My mother finished it yesterday, absolutely loved it, and has already started rereading Beach Music. She says I must read it... now!

Decisions, decisions...
I hope you're having a good New Year's weekend. Have you set aside some time to read today?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Tuscan Bean Soup

There's nothing like soup on a cold winter day! My family loves it and, at this time of year, there is always some hot on the stove or in the refrigerator ready to be warmed.

Tuscan Bean Soup is one of our favorites. A basic version of this recipe was published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine a year or two ago. My addition of sausage and pasta (along with a loaf of warm bread!) makes this a hearty winter meal.

Tuscan Bean Soup


1 cup chopped carrots
1 small onion, chopped
3 T olive oil
2 - 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 carton ( 32 oz.) + 1 can (14 oz.) chicken broth
(may need more at the end)
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1 cup ditalini pasta, cooked and drained
2 - 3 T dried Italian seasonings


- cook sausage; set aside
- cook carrots and onion in oil ~ 3 minutes
- return sausage to pan; add beans, broth, seasoning
- bring to boil; slightly mash beans
- reduce heat; simmer uncovered 8 minutes
- add spinach and cooked pasta
- stir to combine; add additional broth if needed

Serve topped with grated Italian cheese.

* I always seem to add an additional can of broth, and should probably change the recipe to read 2 cartons.

Weekend Cooking is a weekly event hosted at Beth Fish Reads. See who else is cooking here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Short Stories Reviewed

This post will be updated regularly throughout the year.
Click on title for review

"A Lovely Time" by Dorothy Whipple
"Good Neighbors" by Jonathan Franzen
"Why I Live at the P.O." by Eudora Welty

"A Doll's House" by Katharine Mansfield
"Roses, Rhododendron" by Alice Adams
"The Eatonville Anthology" by Zora Neale Hurston

Anthropology by Dan Rhodes (collection)
"The Name of the Game" by Colm Toibin
"(She Owns) Every Thing" by Anne Enright
"Slade" by Frank Ronan

"First Confession" By Frank O'Connor

"Death by Scrabble" by Charlie Fish
"Doctor Jack-o'-Lantern" by Richard Yates

"Farewell" by Guy deMaupassant

"The Confession" by Guy de Maupassant

"A City of Churches" by Donald Barthelme

2010 Books Read

This post will be updated regularly throughout the year.
Click on title for review

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks
Pride & Prejudice (graphic novel) published by Marvel Books
The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Anthropology by Dan Rhodes

South of Broad by Pat Conroy
My Life in France by Julia Child
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Ladies' Paradise by Emile Zola
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (see Wuthering Heights Wednesday posts)

Doreen by Barbara Noble
Poetry Speaks Who I Am - Elise Paschen, editor
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Cheri by Colette

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper
A Year in Japan by Kate Williamson

Mariana by Monica Dickens
Summer by Edith Wharton

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - intro post, translation comparison

Bleak House by Charles Dickens - wrap-up post
The Group by Mary McCarthy

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Reflection and Resolutions

Happy New Year 2010! As I look back on 2009, my first year of blogging has provided many opportunities for personal growth. In addition to "meeting" new book-loving friends and discovering a new hobby (and learning quite a bit in the process!), this has been my most enjoyable reading year - ever.

I've rediscovered short stories, read graphic novels, joined challenges, learned of Persephone Books, had a review published and, most important of all, read some truly wonderful books. Earlier this week, I posted some stats that got me thinking about New Year's Resolutions. Here's what I came up with ...

1. Read more non-fiction.

2. Read the books I own. In 2009, only 11% of books read came from my stacks while, at the same time, they grew at an unprecedented rate. Nearly 50% of books read were new purchases. This must be lower if I'm going to make a dent in my tbr pile. As a result, I'm re-imposing my modified book-buying ban. No book will be purchased unless I plan to start reading it that day.

3. Book club selections are my #1 priority.

4. Read more books by newly "discovered" authors. I was shocked to find that 63% of my 2009 books were written by new-to-me authors. Now I want to make time to read more by my favorites.

5. No challenges ... for now. Since I enjoyed challenges in 2009 (and even completed 6 of 8), this was a hard resolution to come to. I'm very much a mood reader, and my experience with Virginia Woolf this past week has reinforced that fact. When choosing what to read next, I want it to be what I feel like reading and not what fits with a particular challenge.

Along these lines, I've decided to give read-alongs a try... beginning with Woolf in Winter.

6. Continue reading short stories. Short stories were an important part of my reading and blogging in 2009, and will be again in 2010.

7. Expand my reading horizons... even more. Prior to last spring, I thought graphic novels were something X-rated! The few I read in 2009 were wonderful, and I have several more blogger-recommended titles ahead. YA, science fiction, and fantasy may even get added to my list!

8. Read those chunky books on the shelf. Who cares if I go more than a week without a review? I love classics and long books... especially in winter.

9. Audiobooks - I love them and have been averaging one a month. If I listen while exercising (instead of just in the car), I can "read" even more... and maybe even lose a few pounds!

10. Reread old favorites. I failed the Everything Austen Challenge because I never got around to rereading my all-time favorite Pride & Prejudice. Sure, I could have watched one more movie, but my reason for joining in the first place was to read the new annotated edition. I will reread Pride & Prejudice - yet again - in 2010.

So there they 2010 resolutions. I'll revisit the list quarterly to see how it's going. Will you be making reading resolutions?


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