Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Few Words About Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Remember the Classics Club Spin #2? When number 6 was chosen, corresponding to Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy on my list, I'll admit to being a little apprehensive. After all, I had a history with that particular novel. About ten years ago, I began reading it with an online group, fell behind around page 150, and quietly returned it to my shelf... where it has been a reminder of my failure ever since.

My progress was painfully slow on this second attempt, too, so I decided to speed things up by making the book a read/listen combination. Of course, I chose the Simon Vance narration, because Vance is the  voice of classic British literature as far as I'm concerned. I finished listening on July 1, just under the wire for the spin deadline.

Surprisingly, I knew very little about the plot of the novel and will not go into detail here, but if you have not read this classic, you really must. Tess gained my sympathies early on and I was enraged at the treatment she received - from  Alec d’Urberville,  Angel Clare, her family, and society in general. The ending left me utterly speechless.

Despite needing the audio to pull me through, I have added Tess of the d'Urbervilles to my list of favorites. It truly redefines my idea and expectations of a tragedy.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Sentence: Hotel du Lac

Sunday Sentence highlights the best sentence(s) I've read this past week, out of context and without commentary.

"The beautiful day had within it the seeds of its own fragility: it was the last day of summer."
Hotel du Lac
by Anita Brookner
page 67

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Modern Library Food Series

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

Instead of a book review or recipe, today I want to tell you about a recently discovered series of books. I've long been a fan of Modern Library and, when faced with a choice, almost always opt for their editions.

A couple of weeks ago, in conjunction with Paris in July, Audrey reviewed Clementine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlain. Audrey's reviews often prompt additions to my wish list, but this time I was thrilled to discover that the book is actually part of Modern Library's Food Series.

Naturally, further investigation was in order. Though not a large series, the books, both nonfiction and fiction, seem to have vintage leanings and several look quite interesting. My wish list is officially out of control.

Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet (Modern Library Food) by Gourmet Magazine Editors and Ruth Reichl

The Passionate Epicure: La Vie et la Passion de Dodin-Bouffant, Modern Library Food Series by Marcel Rouff 

Katish: Our Russian Cook (Modern Library Food) by Wanda Frolov, Henry Stahlhut and Marion Cunningham

Cooking with Pomiane (Modern Library Food) by Edouard de Pomiane, Peggie Benton and Elizabeth David

High Bonnet: A Novel of Epicurean Adventures (Modern Library Food) by Jones, Idwal and Bourdain, Anthony

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

The Other Typist
by Suzanne Rindell
narrated by Gretchen Mol
Penguin Audio, 2013
10 hours and 6 minutes
source: review copy from publisher

Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2013
368 pages
source: purchased

Publisher's summary:

Rose Baker seals men’s fates. With a few strokes of the keys that sit before her, she can send a person away for life in prison. A typist in a New York City Police Department precinct, Rose is like a high priestess. Confessions are her job. It is 1923, and while she may hear every detail about shootings, knifings, and murders, as soon as she leaves the interrogation room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for filing and making coffee.

This is a new era for women, and New York is a confusing place for Rose. Gone are the Victorian standards of what is acceptable. All around her women bob their hair, they smoke, they go to speakeasies. Yet prudish Rose is stuck in the fading light of yesteryear, searching for the nurturing companionship that eluded her childhood. When glamorous Odalie, a new girl, joins the typing pool, despite her best intentions Rose falls under Odalie’s spell.

As the two women navigate between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night and their work at the station by day, Rose is drawn fully into Odalie’s high-stakes world. And soon her fascination with Odalie turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.

My thoughts:

Could Rose be crazy? That possibility dawned on me fairly early as I listened to The Other Typist. Something is not quite right in Rose's voice, in her manner, as she recounts this tale of obsession, glamour, and extravagance set against a backdrop of prohibition, corruption, and, eventually, murder in 1920's New York City.

This Gatsby-esque drama drew me in right away, yet I felt slightly off-kilter somehow throughout Rose's narrative. Near the halfway mark, I found that there wasn't enough listening time (CDs in the car) and ended up purchasing a hardcover copy.

I turned the pages quickly, yet lingered over passages like this:
"After all, summer was over. It had abandoned us, leaving behind a feeling of dissatisfaction, and taking with it all those too oft unfulfilled beach-day aspirations of a brown-skinned, primitive freedom. The weather would turn cold before we knew it and drive us back into the cramped and stuffy steam-heated rooms we called civilization." page 308-309
The final pages, however, left me stunned and speechless - what the heck just happened??  Now I don't mind an open ending, but this is ambiguity in the extreme, folks. In fact, some might claim that it's just plain confusing.

Either way, The Other Typist  leaves the reader with a delicious dilemma to puzzle over... one my book club could spend an entire meeting discussing. I'm still trying to work out what actually happened.

A note on audio production:
Gretchen Mol is a new-to-me narrator and I loved  her portrayal of Rose. Her carefully measured delivery perfectly captured Rose's holier than thou, know it all attitude. The Other Typist  is her only credit at audible, but I will keep an ear on her career!

My rating:

Bottom line: The Other Typist  is another winner from the Amy Einhorn imprint, but if you prefer books with a neatly packaged ending, then run, don't walk, in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday Intro: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

"A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture.  Or so it seemed for now, to a woman with flame-colored hair who marched uphill to meet her demise.  Innocence was no part of this.  She knew her own recklessness and marveled, really, at how one hard little flint of thrill could outweigh the pillowy, suffocating aftermath of a long disgrace.  The shame and loss would infect her children too, that was the worst of it, in a town where everyone knew them. Even the teenage cashiers at the grocery would take an edge with her after this, clicking painted fingernails on the counter while she wrote her check, eying the oatmeal and frozen peas of an unhinged family and exchanging looks with the bag boy: She's that one.  How they admired their own steadfast lives.  Right up to the day when hope in all its versions went out of stock, including the crummy discount brands, and the heart had just one instruction left: run.  Like a hunted animal, or a racehorse, winning or losing felt exactly alike at this stage, with the same coursing of blood and shortness of breath.  She smoked too much, that was another mortification to throw in with the others.  But she had cast her lot.  Plenty of people took this way out, looking future damage in the eye and naming it something else.  Now it was her turn.  She could claim the tightness in her chest and call it bliss, rather than the same breathlessness she could be feeling at home right now while toting a heavy laundry basket, behaving like a sensible mother of two." 
Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kingsolver

I plan to start this book later today; it's my book club's August selection. I've read Kingsolver on and off over the years and have enjoyed, to varying degrees The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, Animal Dreams, The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer (my favorite), and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I haven't read her most recent novels, so look forward to catching up with her work.

What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading this novel?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's My Birthday and I'll Read What I Want To...

Yes, today is the day and it looks like I'll be sharing it with royalty. Kate is in labor and the world awaits news of a royal birth.

As for my reading...

Remember last week's stack of abundance? In a moment of rashness, I returned the entire pile to the library and decided to start over. Now that I know about suspending holds, my list should be kept under better control and six books won't become available at the same time. At least that's the plan.

I finished The Dinner by Herman Koch and liked it very much, but talk about weird! This family group  would never be on my list of desirable dining companions.

Next, I started Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. The writing and descriptions are lovely, but my mood  isn't suited to such a quiet novel right now, so I'm setting it aside.

The Good House by Ann Leary is my current audiobook and I LOVE it! The narration is outstanding. Mary Beth Hurt is  Hildy Good. I've just passed the half way mark and am already certain it will appear on my list of favorites in December.

The plan today is to search my bookshelves and read whatever strikes my fancy. No review books, no book club selections... it's been a while!

What are you reading today?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cooked by Michael Pollan (audio)

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
by Michael Pollan
narrated by Michael Pollan
Penguin Audio, 2013
13 hours and 25 minutes
source: review copy provided by publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.

Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius "fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships. Cooking, above all, connects us.

The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.

My thoughts:

Yes, I'm a Michael Pollan fan. Years ago, his book The Omnivore's Dilemma helped change the way I thought about food. I became more conscious of where my food came from and began cooking with local, organic ingredients whenever possible. A couple of years later, In Defense of Food further fueled my efforts. As a result, my family's diet is 'cleaner' and healthier than it was in 2006.

In this book, as the title suggests, Pollan examines cooking - an activity, he notes, which distinguishes humans from animals. Cooked chronicles his three-year adventure learning, and trying to perfect, techniques involved in barbecue, braising, bread baking, and fermenting. He regales his reader with tales of time spent alongside barbecue pit masters, in cheese caves, hanging out with "fermentos", and cooking away leisurely Sunday afternoons in his own kitchen. I especially enjoyed Pollan's obsession with baking the perfect loaf of bread, and I plan to experiment with braising techniques myself when cooler weather arrives.

As good as this book is, however,  it does nothing to refute the argument that Pollan is an elitist. I am fortunate to have readily available ingredients, financial resources, and enough time to prepare healthful meals for my family, and to experiment with the various techniques covered in this book. However, this is not necessarily the case for a majority of Americans. There is an excellent article in the latest issue of The Atlantic entitled "How Junk Food Can End Obesity" by David H. Freedman. It provides another interesting perspective on the issue... the food processing industry got us into this mess and they have the ability to get us out of it, too.

I enjoyed Cooked immensely and recommend it to anyone interested in food, cooking, or eating... so just about everyone. I'm also going to make a prediction: I think probiotics may be Pollan's next big thing. He seems poised to jump on that bandwagon. Kombucha, anyone?

A note on the audio production:
I loved Pollan's easy, conversational narration style. It was like listening to a friend tell you all about his adventures. Not to take anything away from Scott Brick, but I wonder why Pollan didn't start narrating his own books sooner.  In all honesty, I think I would have struggled a bit with Cooked in print, and remember thinking the same thing about The Omnivore's Dilemma, so I'm very glad I listened to this book. Micheal Pollan is definitely an audio author for me.

My rating: 

Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday Intro: The Dinner by Herman Koch

"We were going out to dinner. I won't say which restaurant, because next time it might be full of people who've come to see whether we're there. Serge made the reservation. He's always the one who arranges it, the reservation. This particular restaurant is one where you have to call three months in advance - or six, or eight, don't ask me. Personally, I'd never want to know three months in advance where I'm going to eat on any given evening, but apparently some people don't mind. A few centuries from now, when historians want to know what kind of crazies people were at the start of the twenty-first century, all they'd have to do is look at the computer files of the so-called "top" restaurants. That information is kept on file - I happen to know that. If Mr. L. was prepared to wait three months for a window seat last time, then this time he'll wait five months for a table beside the men's room - that's what restaurants call "customer relations management."
The Dinner 
by Herman Koch

I started this book on the train Sunday, was drawn in quickly, and read half of it before arriving in New York. I hope to finish this unusual novel within the next day or two.

What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Sunday Salon: When It Rains...

You know that old saying... and lately it applies not only to the weather, but also my out-of-control library queue.

As to the weather,  the rain actually started in late June. After several days of torrential downpours, a couple of towns in the area experienced severe flooding. FEMA has recently stepped up with federal aid for the victims, but the rain keeps falling. Not constantly, but a storm seems to roll in every afternoon.

We are on relatively high ground, but a few streets in our village flooded and the lake's water level reached an unprecedented high last week. This prompted the town to declare a state of emergency for the lake on Wednesday and order a 'no wake' zone, prohibiting motorized watercraft. An eerie silence descended over the water on a beautiful summer evening ... no motors in the distance, no shrieks of laughter from kids water-skiing or tubing, no conversations between fishermen carried unknowingly over the water... just the sound of birds, waves, and the occasional kayak paddle. So peaceful!

The water has now receded to a high normal level, but we have yet to receive word that the state of emergency has been lifted, although there were a few boats on the lake yesterday evening.

Now, about that library queue...

As I have been glued to The Woman Upstairs all week, several of my library holds arrived at the same time. I thought I was picking up Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (finally, after months of waiting), but when I got to the circulation desk, they also had The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel and Life After Life by Jill McCorkle ready to go. {I don't think I've ever had two books with the same title by different authors before!}

When I got home, there was an email informing me that e-book holds of The Dinner by Herman Koch and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo were available.

All those books... and I had been planning on starting Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner for Heavenali's Brookner Reading Month and The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison for Paris in July.

So, what's a reader to do?

Someone mentioned in passing this week that it would be great if library hold lists worked like Netflix, and I heartily agree! I'm considering returning them all and starting over again.

Here's the plan for now...  I read the first chapter of Hotel du Lac last evening and want to continue. I'm intrigued by the story and really like the writing. Since it's on my kindle and I prefer e-reading at bedtime, I'm several chapters into The Dinner, too. They will be the books I concentrate on this week. Then, we'll see if I can carve out enough time for the others before they are overdue.

What will you be reading this week?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice
by Lisa Genova
293 pages
Pocket Books, 2009
source: personal copy

Summary (from Goodreads):
Alice Howland - Harvard professor, gifted researcher and lecturer, wife, and mother of three grown children - sets out for a run and soon realizes she has no idea how to find her way home. She has taken the route for years, but nothing looks familiar. She is utterly lost. Medical consults reveal early-onset Alzheimer's.

Alice's slowly but inevitably loses memory and connection with reality, told from her perspective. She gradually loses the ability to follow a conversational thread, the story line of a book, or to recall information she heard just moments before. Genova's debut shows the disease progression through the reactions of others, as Alice does, so readers feel what she feels - a slowly building terror.

My thoughts:
Still Alice is a devastatingly sad  portrayal of early onset Alzheimer's told from the point of view of the victim - in this case a 50 year old Harvard professor, wife, and mother of three. Alice's character is so real, the reader seems to experience her decline as well as her family's struggle to cope.

I suggested Still Alice  to my book club a couple of years ago, but it was rejected on the possibility of being "too depressing".  It took a while, but I decided to read it and see for myself. Let me tell you, I literally sobbed toward the end of the book.

There is much in this novel to discuss with a group and it begs for sharing of personal stories, but now that I've read it,  I probably will not suggest it again.  Instead, I will mention it during the time reserved for additional reading recommendations.

While Alice's story is so immediate and informative, the writing struck me as utilitarian and, at times, almost clunky. I marked some passages for ideas, but found no quotes to share. However, the novel is important to raise understanding and awareness of early onset Alzheimer's, the disease in general, and its impact on both victims and family members.

Bottom line: 
Still Alice is a novel to be read for the story, with allowances made for the writing.

My rating:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Six by Six: A Midyear Summary

It's that time again. We've reached the midpoint of 2013 and it's time to take a closer look at what I've been reading. Although I've modified the categories to suit my needs,  Jo  deserves credit for creating this little exercise.

Six books I loved:
1. Mudbound  by Hilary Jordan
2. Calling Me Home  by Julie Kibler
3. The Burgess Boys  by Elizabeth Strout
4. And the Mountains Echoed  by Khaled Hosseini
5. Tess of the d'Urbervilles  by Thomas Hardy
6. The Thirteenth Tale  by Diane Setterfield

Six new-to-me authors:
1. Ken Follett
2. Tana French
3. Angela Thirkell
4. Hilary Jordan
5. Diane Setterfield
6. Julie Kibler

Six tried-and-true authors:
1. Henry James
2. Barbara Pym
3. Elizabeth Strout
4. Khaled Hosseini
5. Michael Pollan
6. Laura Lippman

Six read/listen combinations:
1. Vanity Fair  by William Makepeace Thackery
2. The Picture of Dorian Gray  by Oscar Wilde
3. Tess of the d'Urbervilles  by Thomas Hardy
4. The Other Typist  by Suzanne Rindell
5. And the Mountains Echoed  by Khaled Hosseini
6. The Thirteenth Tale  by Diane Setterfield

Six favorite blogging events:
1. Vanity Fair  read-along
2. Barbara Pym Reading Week
3. Classics Spin, 1 and 2
4. Audiobook Week
5. Pin It and Do It Challenges
6. Estellagram

Six books I'm looking forward to reading:
1. The Dinner  by Herman Koch
2. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
4. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
5. The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman
6. Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

How's your year stacking up?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday Sentence: The Woman Upstairs

Sunday Sentence, inspired by author David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, highlights the best sentence(s) I've read this past week, out of context and without commentary.

"Above all, in my anger, I was sad. Isn't that always the way, that at the heart of the fire is a frozen kernel of sorrow that the fire is trying - valiantly, fruitlessly - to eradicate."

The Woman Upstairs
by Claire Messud
page 88

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July, Already?

The month of June was a whirlwind, both on the blog (Pym Reading Week, Audiobook Week, Going Public...In Shorts, and The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop) and on the home front. In the above photo, you see a combination of books waiting to be reviewed and a couple in progress. I finished Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy yesterday afternoon, just in time for the July 1 Classics Spin  deadline. It has left me speechless, but what an amazing book!  It truly redefines my idea and expectations of a tragedy.

In addition to Tess, reviews are in progress for Cooked by Michael Pollan, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, and The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell.

My current audiobook is The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier. I picked up a print copy from the library in case I decide to read, too.

In print, I'm loving The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. Unfortunately, we were away for several days and I forgot to bring it along. Can't wait to get back to it tonight. I've also just started The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison.

July marks the beginning of a new era - life without Google Reader. I've switched to Blogluvin' and have added  a button to my sidebar if you'd like to follow me. Keeping up via Blogluvin' does not seem to be quite as easy as with Google Reader, but I have found the iPad app less cumbersome than accessing the main website from my laptop. Commenting is a problem on a handful of blogs though.

Events for the month:

... is hosted once again by Karen and Tamara. The rules are the same as in years past, but I have not officially signed up yet. I hope to read Gigi  by Colette (for The Classics Club) and The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison. Watching Midnight in Paris,  yet again, is also a given.

...is hosted by Heavenali.  I picked up a copy of Hotel du Lac  at the library book sale last summer and plan to read it later this month.

These plans may be derailed by my current literary fiction binge. I can't remember the last time I've read so many recent releases, and now it seems all my library holds are coming in all at once. Life After Life  by Kate Atkinson and The Astronaut Wives Club  by Lily Kopell are ready for pickup, and I've also just received notification than an e-book of The Dinner  by Herman Koch is available for download.

However... all my reading and blogging will have to wait as the 4th of July approaches. The holiday is a very big deal in our little village -  a road race, parade, concerts, sidewalk sales, and, of course, fireworks over the lake (without a doubt the best display around). Our oldest daughter is coming home from NYC tomorrow, Twin A's boyfriend has already arrived, and preparations are well underway for our annual Independence Day bash. I'll be closing up shop here for the rest of the week so I can fully enjoy the festivities.

Happy July!


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