Friday, December 30, 2011

Highlights and Favorites: 2011

2011 will be remembered as the year I began moving toward a reading and blogging regimen that fits the rest of my life.  The combination of no challenges/minimal commitments with great events/group reads reduced pressure and resulted in a very satisfying reading year. A few more adjustments are needed, but I'm definitely headed in the right direction.


The TBR Dare brought me back to Richard Yates.

Virago Reading Week warmed up a snowy January.

Persephone Reading Weekend  was spent book shopping in London!

Paris in July, and finally reading A Moveable Feast

The Art of the Novella Challenge - my August classics fix

A stormy Labor Day weekend spent indoors reading Wish You Were Here blazed a path for a new  Stewart O'Nan devotee.

The House of the Seven Gables group read - meeting new blogging friends proved more enjoyable than Hawthorne's novel

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Fiction Honorable Mention:
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman 
Cold Spring Harbor by Richard Yates


A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey
- the best literary biography I have ever read

Non-Fiction Honorable Mention:
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Room by Emma Donoghue

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner

Audio Honorable Mention:
What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Peony by Pearl S. Buck

"Bliss" by Katherine Mansfield
Although short stories haven't been featured over the past several months, "Bliss" was my clear favorite of 2011. 

Reflections, Resolutions, and Plans for 2012 coming soon...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday Intro: The Sense of an Ending

We live in time - it holds us and moulds us - but I've ever felt I understood it very well. And I'm not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's  malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing - until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.

The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes

I started this book last night and was immediately captivated by the gorgeous writing. Reading is top priority today and, at just over 160 pages, I'll easily finish this afternoon. Why have I waited so long to read Julian Barnes?

This is actually the second paragraph. Diane is reading the same book and has already posted the first paragraph. Visit her blog for more Tuesday Intros.

Monday, December 26, 2011

End-of-Year Book Survey

My official 'best of' list is still days away, but this quick survey has appeared on several of my favorite blogs and has helped focus my thinking.

1. Best Book(s) You Read in 2011?

A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey
The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan

2. Most Disappointing Book?

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya  Sones
I never thought a novel in verse could be so much fun.

4. Book(s) you recommended to people most in 2011?

 Richard Yates and Stewart O'Nan... I recommended authors this year.

5. Best series you discovered in 2011?

Series are to be avoided.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011?

Stewart O’Nan
Toni Morrison
Barbara Pym

7. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

8. Book you most anticipated in 2011?

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

9. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011?

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
This UK cover (a library sale find) is more attractive than its US counterpart.

10. Most memorable character in 2011?

Richard Yates - A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey

Most memorable fictional characters include:

Jack from Room by Emma Donoghue
Emily from Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan
Bo and Elsa from The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner

11. Most beautifully written book(s) read in 2011?

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

12. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011?

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman was an intense, emotionally draining novel.

13. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read?

a novel by Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye)

14. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2011?

"You had to stay in a place to make it a home.  A home had to be lived in every day, every month, every year for a long time, till it was worn like an old shoe and fitted the comfortable curvatures of your life."

The Big Rock Candy Mountain
by Wallace Stegner

15. Book That You Read In 2011 That Would Be Most Likely To Reread In 2012?

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas to all...

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on Earth, good-will to men!

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

*photo credit

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Invitation to Read Along...

As the New Year begins, Terri and I will embark on a new project. We're going to read Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. This 18th century masterpiece, subtitled Or the History of a Young Lady, is an epistolary novel composed of 537 letters dated from January 10 through December 18. At roughly 1500 pages, we'll try to read the letters around their corresponding dates. This should provide at least a loose structure to the venture.

Plot synopsis (from amazon):
Pressured by her unscrupulous family to marry a wealthy man she detests, the young Clarissa Harlowe is tricked into fleeing with the witty and debonair Robert Lovelace and places herself under his protection. Lovelace, however, proves himself to be an untrustworthy rake whose vague promises of marriage are accompanied by unwelcome and increasingly brutal sexual advances. And yet, Clarissa finds his charm alluring, her scrupulous sense of virtue tinged with unconfessed desire. Told through a complex series of interweaving letters, Clarissa is a richly ambiguous study of a fatally attracted couple and a work of astonishing power and immediacy. A huge success when it first appeared in 1747, and translated into French and German, it remains one of the greatest of all European novels.

I will be reading a very hefty (nearly 3 pound!) Penguin Classics edition, while Terri has the tome downloaded on her e-reader. We don't have a firm posting schedule set, but are leaning toward monthly progress updates. We'll be chatting on twitter, too. Would you like to join us?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement

by Jane Ziegelman
Harper-Collins, 2010 
272 pages 
source: purchased 

Summary (from Publishers Weekly):

Ziegelman puts a historical spin to the notion that you are what you eat by looking at five immigrant families from what she calls the "elemental perspective of the foods they ate." They are German, Italian, Irish, and Jewish (both Orthodox and Reform) from Russia and Germany--they are new Americans, and each family, sometime between 1863 and 1935, lived on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Each represents the predicaments faced in adapting the food traditions it knew to the country it adopted. From census data, newspaper accounts, sociological studies, and cookbooks of the time, Ziegelman vividly renders a proud, diverse community learning to be American. She describes the funk of fermenting sauerkraut, the bounty of a pushcart market, the culinary versatility of a potato, as well as such treats as hamburger, spaghetti, and lager beer. Beyond the foodstuffs and recipes of the time, however, are the mores, histories, and identities that food evokes. Through food, the author records the immigrants' struggle to reinterpret themselves in an American context and their reciprocal impact on American culture at large.

My thoughts:

More a culinary history of New York's Lower East Side than actual immigrant stories, 97 Orchard looks at five distinct ethnic groups through their native food customs, and then explores how their traditions were adapted to life in the United States. It begins with German immigrants in the 1860's, progresses through waves of Irish immigrants in the 1880's, to German and Russian Jews toward the end of the 19th century, and finally ends with the Italians of the early 20th century. A single building, located at 97 Orchard Street, is the common thread that binds the narrative. Five families, each a representative of one ethnic group, called it home. Today that structure is at the heart of New York City's Tenement Museum.

I was expecting specific immigrant stories told from a gastronomic perspective. Instead, the families themselves are only incidentally mentioned. Census records provided names of families living at the address, along with specific dates for births, deaths, etc. Beyond that, any mention of the families was limited to what "may" have happened, where they "might" have eaten or shopped, how they "would have" prepared a meal, etc.

The book covers immigrant food life from the dining halls at Ellis Island to German beirgartens and Jewish delis on the Lower East Side. It discusses the push-cart markets that flourished from the 1880's through the late 1930's. It covers life in the boarding houses along with the purpose and function of the Settlement House. Photographs, recipes, and newspaper articles provide an added dimension to the narrative.

Tenement life was difficult, especially for women. A lack of indoor plumbing and cramped conditions with minimal privacy added to the burden. Water had to be hauled up the central staircase. Without refrigeration or storage space, food was purchased immediately prior to preparation. Much of a typical day revolved around procuring and preparing meals. Ziegelman brings the sights, sounds, and smells of tenement living to life for the 21st century reader.

Book Club reaction:
Eight of us met to discuss the book last month. Six had read the book, one was still in progress, and one got the wrong book from the library (similar title, but written for a YA audience). Overall reaction was positive, but several expressed disappointment at the lack of specific information on each family. The sections on Ellis Island and the push-cart markets sparked lively discussion and there were also raves about the Tenement Museum itself. It's number one the itinerary for my next trip to NYC.

My rating:

Bottom line:
An interesting and enjoyable book, but a somewhat deceiving title lead to false expectations of specific immigrant stories

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 and link up over the weekend.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (Audio)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog 
by Muriel Barbery
Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris
HighBridge Company, 2009
9 hours and 34 minutes
source: purchased

One sentence summary (from publisher):
An enchanting New York Times and international best seller and award-winner about life, art, literature, philosophy, culture, class, privilege, and power, seen through the eyes of a 54-year-old French concierge and a precocious but troubled 12-year-old girl.

My thoughts will be brief, as I may truly be the last blogger to read or listen to The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The book has been exhaustively reviewed. Just type the title into Book Blogs Search Engine and you'll see what I mean.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an incredibly thought-provoking, cerebral novel. There isn't much in the way of plot and that made it hard for me to get involved initially. But once hooked, I was entranced. The ending came out of nowhere and was a complete surprise - I was dumbstruck.

This audio production is absolutely brilliant! Barbara Rosenblat is Madame Michele, the concierge, and Cassandra Morris is equally convincing as twelve-year-old Paloma. In fact, I think audio may actually be the best way to experience this novel. I may not have persevered through the slow beginning otherwise.

Passages I liked:
"I have read so many books...
And yet, like most autodidacts, I am never quite sure of what I have gained from them. There are days when I feel I have been able to grasp all there is to know in one single gaze, as if invisible branches suddenly spring out of nowhere, weaving together all the disparate strands of my reading - and then suddenly the meaning escapes, the essence evaporates, and no matter how often I reread the same lines, they seem to flee ever further with each subsequent reading, and I see myself as some mad old fool who thinks her stomach is full because she's been attentively reading the menu."  (page 53) 
"Madame Michel had the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress,but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary - and terribly elegant." (page 143)

My rating:
Half a start off for the slow start

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Buddha In the Attic by Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
129 pages
source: borrowed

Publisher's Synopsis:
Julie Otsuka’s long awaited follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine is a tour de force of economy and precision, a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ nearly a century ago.

In eight incantatory sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces their extraordinary lives, from their arduous journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the deracinating arrival of war.

In language that has the force and the fury of poetry, Julie Otsuka has written a singularly spellbinding novel about the American dream.

One word review:  Meh

And to elaborate: 
The Buddha in the Attic provides an insightful look into the difficult lives of Japanese 'picture brides' in the early 20th century. As with her earlier novel, When The Emperor Was Divine, Otsuka's language is spare and powerful. This time though, while it serves to accentuate her point, it struck me as sing-song and repetitive.
"One of us blamed them for everything and wished that they were dead. One us us blamed them for everything and wished that she were dead. Others of us learned to live without thinking of them at all. We threw ourselves into our work and became obsessed with the thoughts of pulling one more weed. We put away our mirrors. We stopped combing our hair. We forgot about makeup. Whenever I powder my nose it looks just like frost on a mountain. We forgot about Buddha. We forgot about God. We developed a coldness inside us that still has not thawed. I fear my soul has died. We stopped writing home to our mothers. We lost weight and grew thin. We stopped bleeding. We stopped dreaming. We stopped wanting. We simply worked, that was all...."  (page 36-37)
Several bloggers loved this novel but, had it been much longer, I may not have finished.

Violet had a very different reaction and I urge you to read her review before deciding against this novel.

My rating:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Intro: Howards End is on the Landing

"It began like this. I went to the shelves on the landing to look for a book I knew was there. It was not. But plenty of others were and among them I noticed at least a dozen I realised I had never read. 
I pursued the elusive book through several rooms and did not find it in any of them, but each time I did find at least a dozen, perhaps two dozen, perhaps two hundred, that I had never read. 
And then I picked out a book I had read but forgotten I owned. And another and another. After that came the books I had read, knew I owned and realised that I wanted to read again. 
I found the book I was looking for in the end, but by then it had become far more than a book. It marked the start of a journey through my own library."

Howards End is on the Landing
by Susan Hill

As the end of the year approaches,  I have come to the realization that I may only finish one or two more books. Perusing my shelves, I spied Susan Hill's book (subtitled A Year of Reading from Home), and thought it would be the perfect lead-in to The TBR Double Dare. I'm only proposing to read "from home" for three months, but these first few sentences have me even more excited to begin.

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. Every week she posts the opening paragraph (maybe two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the button and play along.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Author Birthday: Gustave Flaubert

From today's Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Gustave Flaubert (1821) (books by this author), born in Rouen, France. He was a notorious perfectionist in his work, and once said, "I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it." In 1851, he began what would become his first published novel, and his masterpiece. Five years later, Madame Bovary (1856) appeared in La Revue de Paris in serialized form. It's the story of Emma, a doctor's wife, who is dissatisfied with her life and longs to experience the passion, excitement, and luxury she has only read about in novels. She has two long-term affairs, accrues insurmountable debt, and ultimately takes her own life with arsenic.

From Madame Bovary, chapter nine: "Deep down in her heart, she was waiting and waiting for something to happen. Like a shipwrecked mariner, she gazed out wistfully over the wide solitude of her life, if so be she might catch the white gleam of a sail away on the dim horizon. She knew not what it would be, this longed-for barque; what wind would waft it to her, or to what shores it would bear her away. She knew not if it would be a shallop or a three-decker, burdened with anguish or freighted with joy. But every morning when she awoke she hoped it would come that day."

A month after the final installment of Madame Bovary was published, the French government banned the book, and hauled Flaubert up on charges of offending public and religious morality. Flaubert and his lawyers defended the book, saying that, by exposing vice, the novel was actually promoting virtue. Flaubert was narrowly acquitted, and Madame Bovary was published in book form two months later. The publicity and scandal of the trial contributed to its success.

Flaubert wrote: "It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes."

Madame Bovary was one of my favorites books of 2010.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem
by Sonya Sones
Harper, 2011
420 pages
source: borrowed

In a nutshell:
The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is a coming-of-middle-age story told in verse.

My thoughts:
Holly is turning 50, sending her only child off to college, and desperately trying write a book. She's also dealing with wildly fluctuating hormones, an empty nest, an aging mother in the midst of a health crisis, editorial deadlines, and a husband who may or may not be fooling around. And that's just for starters.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn't consider reading a novel in verse, but The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus came with Sandy's personal assurance that I'd love it - and Sandy has never steered me wrong. Every woman of 'a certain age' will be able to identify with at least some of the issues Holly faces. You may even find yourself asking "Could she be writing about my life?"

This book is well-suited to the busy month of December.  It reads quickly - perfect for several short bursts, or you can read the entire novel in a sitting or two. One cautionary note: Be careful where you read it. You may burst out in laughter in inappropriate places or, like me, cry while waiting in the dentist's office.

Favorite poems:


Well, you are old
if you had trouble understanding
the title of this poem.

You are old
if you have no idea who that person is
who's hosting Saturday Night Live.

You are old
if before you head off
on your morning run

you find yourself
tucking your husband's
cell phone number in your pocket

so that the paramedics
will know
who to call.


Michael and I watch her
skip off down the sidewalk
with her new roommates,

the four of them already a unit,
their bursts of laughter floating back to us
as they disappear around a corner,

than a litter
of leashless pups.

Then, the two of us
head out into the night,
hand in silent hand,

to find
the nearest
liquor store.


First it burns with desire,
with uncontrolled lust.

You touch each other
and you combust.

But if no one remembers
to stir the embers,

to feed them, poke them,
tend them, stoke them,

the blaze that once sizzled
will sputter and fizzle.

Which is why
I always say:

thank the Lord
for lingerie.

And take a look at this poem:
(click to enlarge)

My rating:

Bottom Line:
As Sandy would say, "You've GOTTA read this!"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Audio)

The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain
narrated by Carrington McDuffie
Random House Audio, 2011
11 hours and 27 minutes
source: purchased

Quick summary from
If what they say is true — that behind every great man there’s a great woman — then Hadley Richardson is the woman behind Ernest Hemingway. In the novel The Paris Wife, Paula McLain traces their relationship from its frowned-upon beginnings in Chicago to its painful end in Paris six years later, and narrator Carrington MacDuffie brings a cast of historical characters out of the required reading list and brightly to life.

My Thoughts:
Whatever your opinion of Ernest Hemingway's writing, the writer himself was certainly larger than life. Last year, I read Catherine Reef's biography geared toward young adults. This year I thoroughly enjoyed A Moveable Feast and the movie Midnight in Paris. Craving more Hemingway, I turned to The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

It is told from the perspective of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, and recounts their relationship from initial meeting through the tumultuous breakup six years later. During this time, Hemingway wrote many stories and a novel that would become The Sun Also Rises.  McLain includes many details of his writing process and, midway through the book, I purchased a copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway  in order to read the stories as they were mentioned.

Other members of the 'Lost Generation', Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, figure prominently in the story and add further color the novel. I doubt I'll ever tire of reading about this time and place.

The Paris Wife is not a book to race through. It's pace is slow, leisurely, and pleasant - easy to put aside and pick up again later. I thoroughly enjoyed Hadley's voice and insights, and admire McLain's creativity for her unique approach.

A note on the audio production:
This was my first experience with Carrington McDuffie. Her tone, inflection, and pace seemed perfectly matched to the novel. Her name in the credits will be a positive influence in choosing future audiobooks.

My rating:

Bottom line: Highly recommended to anyone interested in Ernest Hemingway, Paris, and the 'Lost Generation'.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Intro: The Lost Wife

"He deliberately dressed for the occasion, his suit pressed and his shoes shined. While shaving, he turned each cheek carefully to the mirror to ensure he hadn't missed a single whisker. Earlier that afternoon, he had even bought a lemon-scented pomade to smooth his few remaining curls. 
He had only one grandson, one grandchild for that matter, and had been looking forward to this wedding for months now. And although he had met the bride only a few times, he liked her from the first. She was bright and charming, quick to laugh, and possessed a certain old-world elegance. He hadn't realized what a rare quality that was until he sat there now staring at her, his grandson clasping her hand. 
Even now, as he walked into the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, he felt as though, seeing the young girl, he had been swept back into another time..."

 This is a novel that starts at the end with Josef meeting his long lost wife. It rewinds through history (WWII in Europe), before eventually delivering the reader back to the present. Ideally, all four pages of the first chapter should be shared here. But I'll leave you, instead, with the final three lines.
"Do you remember me now?" he asked, trembling.
She looked at him again, as if giving weight and bone to a ghost.
"Lenka, it's me," he said. "Josef. Your husband."

The Lost Wife
by Alyson Richman

I purchased this book after reading Jill's review. A few chapters in, I'm totally invested in Josef and Lenka's story. Does this one appeal to you?

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

TSS: Winding Down, Planning Ahead

Good morning and Happy December! It's hard to believe 2011 is winding down and those 'best of' lists I love so much have already begun to appear. My reading month is off to a great start, so any lists I compose will have to wait a few more weeks.

Last week I read The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones. Subtitled 'A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem', it was a quick read that had me both laughing and crying (and slightly embarrassed, since the latter occurred in the dentist's waiting room).

A couple of trips to the mall put a good dent in my Christmas shopping and allowed just enough time to finish State of Wonder by Ann Patchett on audio. The combination of a great story, beautiful writing, and an excellent narrator made this a near-perfect audio experience.

I'm currently reading The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman (Jill's review sold me) and started Peony: A Novel of China by Pearl S. Buck on audio. Both are off to very strong starts.

Now it's time to 'close the book' on 2011 and begin planning for 2012. There are currently eight reviews in my draft folder that need to be completed before the end of the year. I really don't want to start the new year with a backlog, so they will be a December priority.

2011 was a challenge-free year at Lakeside Musing. I participated in events, dares, and group reads... and enjoyed every moment. My strategy for 2012 will be identical. Early plans include:

Sponsored once again by James at Ready When You Are, C.B., it runs from January 1 until April 1. You can modify the rules to suit your needs, but basically James dares us to read only books from our tbr (to be read) pile for three months. I'm in for the entire time, but will make exceptions for book club selections, audiobooks (no tbr pile), and Stewart O'Nan's new novel that I have already pre-ordered. Full details are here. Will you take the dare?

Co-hosted by Bellezza and Ally, this is technically a challenge but I'm calling it an event (much like Paris in July). Details, reading suggestions, and collected reviews can be found on this dedicated blog. Since this coincides with the TBR Double Dare, I am scouring my shelves for books set in Venice. Miss Garnet's Angel is all I've come up with so far. Will you join us in Venice?

Now it's time to relax with another cup of coffee and tackle my google reader. We're having a birthday party for my father later this afternoon, and I'm hoping to spend time reading The Lost Wife this evening. What are you up to today? Have you started planning you 2012 reading?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This Is Where I Leave You
by Jonathan Tropper
Plume paperback edition, 2010
339 pages

Publisher's summary:

The death of Judd Foxman's father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years. There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd's wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio- shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public. Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva-and spend seven days and nights under the same roof. The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed and old passions are reawakened. Then Jen delivers the clincher: she's pregnant.

This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper's most accomplished work to date, and a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind-whether we like it or not.

My thoughts:
This novel defines the old phrase 'putting the fun in dysfunctional'. I read it early last summer, but never got around to writing a review. This Is Where I Leave You was the perfect pick-me-up after a spring spent reading Richard Yates. There is no alcoholism or mental illness. Instead, we have a family that simply cannot communicate or relate to one another.

I chuckled at these opening lines, then found myself laughing out loud as I continued.
"Dad's dead," Wendy says offhandedly, like its happened before, like it happens every day. It can be grating, this act of hers, to be utterly unfazed at all times, even in the face of tragedy. "He died two hours ago."     "How's Mom doing?"     "She's Mom, you know? She wanted to know how much to tip the coroner."
I purchased the book after reading Sandy's excellent review. Rumor has it there's a movie on the way, too.

My rating:

Bottom line: This is the funniest novel I've read in years!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (Audio)

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
by Mary Roach
narrated by Shelly Frasier
Tantor Audio, 2004
7 hours 59 minutes

Publisher's Summary:
An oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem.

For two thousand years, cadavers (some willingly, some unwittingly) have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.

In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

My thoughts:
It seems like Stiff has been in my library forever. I downloaded it sometime in 2004 and vaguely remember listening to a few minutes before deciding the timing wasn't right. When I began again last month, I wondered if perhaps that elusive 'right time' would never arrive.

The introduction posed no problem but then, in the opening chapter, Roach visits a face lift refresher course for plastic surgeons. A new technique is to be practiced on cadavers. Roach finds herself gazing upon a classroom of cadaver heads draped in lavender cloths, propped in roasting pans at individual work stations, awaiting face lifts. This image literally made me shudder!

However, I'm glad I persevered. Mary Roach is an extraordinary science writer. A natural curiosity drives her to ask questions that might not occur to you or me. She then conveys the answers in an immensely readable manner, and her slightly irreverent, sarcastic sense of humor makes it all fun. Yes, a study of the lives of human cadavers can actually be a lot of fun.

Roach explores 'cadaver life' possibilities that reach far beyond traditional medical research or an anatomy lab for first year medical students. {The section of medical students' reflections on their cadavers was truly touching, and mirrors conversations I've had with medical students over the years.} Cadaver involvement in automobile crash tests has lead to significant safety improvements. Cadavers have taken part in decomposition studies which have aided crime investigation. Roach also talks about funeral practices ranging from traditional embalming and cremation to more experimental techniques such as human composting.

Stiff provides an interesting look at a topic many of us (myself included) tend to avoid. I look forward to reading Roach's other work.

A note on the audio production: Frasier is a new-to-me narrator. She did an excellent job of capturing Roach's slightly sarcastic sense of humor and I would be happy to listen to her again.

My rating:

Bottom line:
Stiff is very interesting and, at times, even funny, but definitely not for the squeamish.


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