Archive for the ‘Current Reading’ Category

What am I Reading Lately?

Posted: October 18, 2007 in Current Reading

Wow, what a loaded question. I’m reading an awful lot of articles for school, plus of course a text book on the subject of information (who knew one word could require an entire textbook?).

For my LIS450 course, I’m currently reading Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, the story of a Hmong family’s struggle to care for their young daughter in a culture that’s entirely alien to them. It’s also about healthcare in this country, and the challenges and prejudices that come along with trying to help families with limited, or no, knowledge of English. That’s quite an education in itself, not even taking into account the role of information, and how that’s such an instrumental part of the whole situation.

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I’ve also been reviewing a fair number of books, more than I should be, to tell the truth, at this incredibly busy time. But agents and publishers keep waving all these things under my nose. I can only take so much.

I’ve done a few interviews, too, one of which I’ll probably post here soon. It’s an interview with the Director of Communications for the Library of Congress, the gent who writes their blog. What kind of sweet job is that?

Frankly, I’m reading so darn much it’s hard to keep track. Here are just a few of the absolute gems I’ve read lately (or am still finishing up):

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In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes
This book is heartbreaking, but so, so beautiful. It’s told from the perspective of a 7-year old girl who’s abused horrifically. It’s difficult to read, but the voice is absolutely brilliant. One of the most powerful books I’ve read with a child narrator, and what’s even more amazing is the voice never falters. You never stop believing this child is narrating. It’s a stunning achievement.

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The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Gathering, of course, just won the Man/Booker. So I ran out the same evening and grabbed a copy at Borders. What’s surprising is the voice in this book is so hauntingly similar to that in In Search of Adam. The subject matter may actually turn out to be similar, too, I can’t be sure yet. This book so deserves the honor it received, and in some ways it’s gratifying Enright came out of left field to snatch the prize. Competition was incredibly stiff, as it always is for the Bookers. Brava, Anne!

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The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan

Different sort of book here, much more funny, for one thing. The plots extraordinarily clever, too, though yes, I know, all plots are basically just derivations of the ten basic plots. Or whatever the number is. Imagine a mystery/thriller/spy novelist who’s a spy himself. That’s at the heart of this book, and it’s a really great read.

Add these to my several piles of other ongoing books and you have the sum total of what I do in my “free time.”

Oh, and to those who’ve been asking me lately how I do it all, the answer is CLONING. So you can tell us apart, I’m the better looking one.

Harry…

Posted: July 23, 2007 in Current Reading

Reader, I finished it.

It took me approximately seven hours to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which is just over 100 pp. per hour. Not that I’m bragging, or anything.

I picked up my copy at Borders in Algonquin at the midnight release, having secured myself a good place in line by braving the crowd that morning to pick up my stylish orange wristband. I got to the store at around 11:15 p.m., and thanks to my well-honed survival skills (from years of being a bookseller and having to secure my turf at book sales) managed to insert myself near the front of the line, deftly skirting past the old, the infirm, and those easily distracted by “someone” dropping five dollar bills on the floor.

Can’t imagine who’d be that devious.

I was one of the first 50 to buy a copy of the book at the Algonquin store. I managed to get out without overhearing anyone blurt out any information about the ending, too, which was a big fear I had going in. I also resisted the temptation to spread false rumors, though I have to tell you the wicked side of me was tempted for about a split second. But you’ll be glad to know integrity won out.

I was home before 12:30, and read until my book light died an untimely death at 2:30 a.m. I was falling asleep, anyway, and had cracked myself in the nose three or four times from falling asleep during the more “verbose” sections, so that was probably all for the good. I picked the book up again at approximately 9:00 the next morning, reading until I finished it at 2:30, just as my husband and I pulled into the parking lot of the Ambassador East hotel.

I’m still leery of posting spoilers this soon, since not everyone has the same freakishly fast reading speed I do. All I’ll say for now is I’m satisifed with the ending. I’m not happy about all of it, and especially not about the things I predicted that didn’t come to pass. JKR didn’t consult me before she wrote the final installment, and I hope she doesn’t come to regret that TOO badly. We all make mistakes. Maybe she’ll wise up for her next book.

For now I’ll leave you with these images from my weekend downtown. I caught a few people in the act of reading, and guess what book was captiving them?

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It’s great to “catch” so many people out reading, and even better when it’s a multi-generational affliction. A series like this is a once in a lifetime kind of thing, so I don’t expect to see the likes of Harry again. It’s been a lot of fun.

I’ll post in more detail about what I thought of the series as a whole soon. I’m planning to re-read the whole thing one more time, then set it aside for a while. I’ll miss these characters a whole lot, but I don’t know if I’d really want JK Rowling to write more about them. Sometimes it’s better to just close the book after you turn the last page, and let the characters stay as they were when you knew them. But I may be in the minority on that one. I know there are legions of kids who’d disagree, and probably a lot of adults, as well.

So, we’ll see. When Jo calls I’ll give her my opinion, then I guess it’s up to her. But if we go out to lunch SHE’S buying.

Even if I don’t always specifically mention it, I’m always reading. I may not be finishing books (mostly because I have the terrible habit of starting way too many at a time), but I am always reading. In addition to books, I read literary-related periodicals. Like with the books, I read far too many to have time to mention. That’s pretty much the state of my life.

Over the past couple of weeks I have actually finished three books, as well as a short story by Flannery O’Connor. Two out of three of the books were collections of short stories, which is unusual for me. I find short stories jarring, mostly because the action is so compressed, usually taking place in a very short space of time. By the time I get very engrossed in the story it’s over, and that tends to frustrate me. Short stories are also intense. After I finish a particularly good short story I usually can’t just plunge into the next. I have to take time to digest one story before I start into another. That’s why I tend to avoid collections of short stories, except in cases in which I have only short stretches of time to read. Then I find them well-suited. But my preferred method of reading is to grab as much time as humanly possible and read until my eyes cross. That’s more suited to novel or non-fiction reading than short stories.

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Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions was one of the books of short stories I completed this week. Being very much a fan of creepy, gothic tales, I enjoyed this one very much. My favorite story in the book was a re-telling of the fable “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” It puts the tale into a modern context, keeping the supernatural elements, and it works so, so well. Basically, a young boy encounters the billy goat while out exploring the ruins of an old, tumble-down house. After crossing a bridge he turns to go back over, but he’s stopped by the goat, who tells him he must “eat his life.” The boy bargains and pleads, and manages to get out of it by saying he’ll come back when he’s older, and thus a bigger meal. This happens over again when he’s older, and he again gets away. Then he grows up, gets married and is in a miserable situation in an unhappy marriage. I won’t tell you the outcome, but I thought it was absolutely brilliantly done.

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The Harriet Doerr book was this month’s selection for the library book group I belong to. This is a sort of memoir of Doerr’s life, from the perspective of a woman in her 80s, though it’s couched in fiction. Doerr didn’t even begin writing books until she was 74, and that first book of hers won the National Book Award for a first novel. Impressive, to say the least, so I wasn’t surprised to find how great this collection of stories was.

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The Victorian Chaise-Longue is a short novel, and again quite gothic in atmosphere. The basic story is, a young mother with tuberculosis is trying very hard to recover, so she can hold her baby for the first time. Tired of lying in bed, her doctor grants her permission to move to the sitting room, and lie on the chaise-longue to recuperate.

The chaise-longue is an antique she purchased soon after finding out she was pregnant, but she’d never really gotten to use it as she’d been put on bed rest shortly after that. So, lying on this chaise is a treat for her. She gets settled on it and takes a nap. When she wakes she finds she’s been transported back in time 90 years, and she’s become another woman who’s also sick from tuberculosis, and has also recently had a baby. But this woman wasn’t married, and she’s in disgrace. Melanie/Milly, this woman from two worlds, tries desperately to find a way to get back to her home and her family. And I won’t tell you the outcome… I loved this one.

Finally, I read the short story “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor was a southern writer, and I love southern literature. This is the first time I’ve read this classic story, and I found it tremendously moving. I wrote a really long essay on it for my professional/freelance blog, but I’ll recap it briefly here since I’m assuming not everyone has the stomach for my long rambles!

“Everything That Rises..” is about prejudice and bigotry in the South, but it’s not what you’d think. A young man returned from getting his college degree finds his home and his mother irritating after having seen a bit of the world. He’s impatient with what he sees as his mother’s narrow, bigoted mind, and he puts a lot of effort into belittling and mocking her. Her unselfish, sacrificing nature makes him feel very guilty, and he’s taking it all out on her. The title of the story has to do with the young man’s “rising,” or his consciousness-raising/education, and the fact when he comes back home and begins heckling his mother what he doesn’t realize is he’s become far worse than she ever could be. He’s become what he dreads most, impatient, narrow-minded and bigoted. But it’s against his own mother.
Really powerful stuff. It’s short, of course, and packs a huge punch. Very highly recommended.

So, that’s what I’ve finished over the past week or so. I’ve dipped into various other books, literary journals, etc., and those I hardly ever have time to share anything about. But consider those sorts of things a given each week, even if I don’t talk about them. They’re huge consumers of time, and I won’t even mention all the internet tangents! Oy.

As for what I’m working on now, I’m beginning a re-read of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening for the online classics group I run for the library. I’ve read this book a number of times before, and would give it my highest recommendation. It’s another book by a southern writer, and it’s widely considered a feminist classic. It’s also very short, which helps if you have a crazy schedule. And who doesn’t?!

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately, reading-wise.

No dallying here!

It’s a New Year and I’m not letting any grass grow under my feet. I’ve finished my first book of 2007 already, and some of you may be thinking that’s disgusting and wrong. I humbly apologize, but cite my traditionally frantic need to cram as much reading into each year as possible, especially now that I’m “of a certain age” (Lisa may be exaggerating for effect here, just a bit. We can’t vouch for all her wild claims or we’d never have ANY time off. – eds.) and can’t know for sure how accurate the longevity charts actually are. Nor can I rely on the vagaries of the gene pool. Despite the fact I had great-grandmothers on both sides of the family who lived into their 90s, I’ve had other relatives who’ve thought it proper to “check out” a little earlier than this.

Better frantic than sorry, I always say.

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The Jigsaw Maker by Adrienne Dines was my Book # 1 for the year. I chose to pick up this particular book partly because it was sent to me by the author, so that I may review it, and also I thought the title serendipitous and somehow appropriate, considering I enjoy putting together jigsaw puzzles over the holidays (the only time of year I don’t feel guilty being a slug).

I’m also a fan of the small publisher, Transita Publishing, that published this book. Transita has dedicated itself to publishing books about women who are over 40 and still manage to be interesting and vibrant. In an era that worships youth, this seems to be a radical concept, strangely enough, but Transita is doing a remarkable job championing some very good books with more mature heroines.

I’d put this book in the category of “comfort reads,” but I don’t mean to say it has nothing serious at all to it. In addition to being a very “nice” tale about a 50 year old spinster with hot flashes living in a tiny hamlet in Ireland, it’s also about some horrifying family secrets. I found it a very good choice to read over the holidays, a time I’m not looking to read anything terribly heavy or overly long. Its theme of the different aspects of a person’s life fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle is a very apt one. When a mysterious 30-something man arrives in the small Irish village she lives in, Lizzie Flynn is thrown for a loop. At first it’s his vocation as a photographer and jigsaw puzzle maker that intrigues her, especially after he tells her he’s out to capture the memories of places and not just make a puzzle and now he’s interested in her village. Shortly thereafter, she notices he also happens to be quite good looking and charming, and suddenly her newly-swarming hormones are up in arms. The more the story moves along the more the layers of Lizzie’s family history peel away, until she’s left having to face the truth about her past.

Next up is a novel by Victorian writer Wilkie Collins, as I’ve been having a hankering to read some more 19th C fiction. The book is Poor Miss Finch, and it’s all but guaranteed to become my Book # 2 for the year (if nothing else distracts me before I can finish it).

Wilkie Collins wrote some great mystery/detective fiction. His The Moonstone is a favorite of mine, and Poor Miss Finch is shaping up to be another potential favorite. In this novel beautiful, young Lucilla Finch is a blind woman in love with a man named Oscar Dubourg, a man she knows only by his beautiful voice. After making plans to marry Lucilla, Oscar is brutally attacked. Due to his injuries he develops epilepsy. With this possible impediment to their marriage threatening to derail their happiness, a forward-thinking doctor tells him he just may have the cure for his condition, but it comes at a price. The cure is silver nitrate, and the chemical would turn Oscar’s skin a blue/black color. Though he thinks to himself, Lucilla will never know, she’s admitted a certain fear of “dark people” in the past. And, there’s a chance an eye specialist may be able to restore her vision…

Can’t wait to see how this one resolves.

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Also reading:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
(New edition illustrated by Dame Darcy)

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Thomas Hardy: the Time-Torn Man by Claire Tomalin

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Hot Books for the Cold Months

Posted: October 10, 2006 in Current Reading

This time of year is positively deadly for me…

It’s the fall, and that means the hot books are coming out like mad, in anticipation of the holiday rush. I can’t NOT know about them, thanks to the many nefarious email and postal mail newsletters being sent to me by the publishers themselves (foul enablers!), and unfortunately for my bank account, I can’t NOT buy at least some of them, either. Well, I CAN, but I frankly don’t like listening to that little voice of reason.

That being said, I have a husband at home who asks, in continual exasperation, “If you work at a library why do you need to BUY BOOKS?!”

The question may be bigger than the both of us.

Here are a few new books that have caught my eye so far (don’t worry, I actually haven’t bought any of them!)(yet):

americanbloomsbury.jpgAmerican Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work by Susan Cheever

I’m not sure Cheever could have packed anything else into this title to make me find the dratted thing more irresistable. All of these people fascinate me, even the lesser-known Margaret Fuller. She used to hang out with The Transcendentalist Bunch, and spent some time carrying their message to Europe. Unfortunately, she was killed in a boat wreck on the way back so we’ll never know what she could have accomplished had she lived.

leonard Woolf a biography glendinning.jpgLeonard Woolf: a Biography by Victoria Glendinning

Okay, I did actually pre-order this one, but I’m such a fan of all things Woolf. Plus, it may wind up coming out around the holidays, in which case Santa can wrap it up and put it ‘neath the tree. He truly is a jolly old elf and I firmly believe in saving him a little shopping time.

thirteen moons.jpgThirteen Moons: a Novel by Charles Frazier

I read and loved Cold Mountain, so I was glad to hear Frazier had finally published another book. Reviews on this one have been a little mixed, though, so it’s looking doubtful this effort will be as stellar as his last. What that translates to for me is interlibrary loan, the two words my credit card company most loathes…

thunderboltkid.jpgThe Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson

If you haven’t read any of Bryson’s books I recommend you rectify that oversight, starting with Notes From a Small Island and proceeding through A Walk in the Woods. His memoir is all but guaranteed to be just as fantastically funny and entertaining as the rest of his books, maybe even more so as it will be all about him (one of his favorite topics).

humantraces.jpgHuman Traces by Sebastian Faulks

I wasn’t really crazy about Birdsong, and didn’t even get near Charlotte Gray, but this latest effort by Faulks sounds pretty interesting, at least enough to interlibrary loan. It involves psychiatry in the 19th century, which in itself is enough to perk up my ears. Anything that promises to be about madness, especially set in the Victorian era, is generally something I enjoy reading. I should probably be disturbed by that, but who has the time?

fragilethings.jpgFragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I haven’t read an awful lot by Gaiman, but what I have read has been impressive. This one also satisfies my reading needs for the short segments of time everyone needs to fill, either while waiting for children or doctors or what not. I can’t imagine this one won’t be good reading, judging by his reputation.

thunderstruck.jpgThunderstruck by Erik Larson

Here’s another historical narrative from Larson, to follow up his first two titles (that sold in the bazillions, by last count). This time his subject is Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, the first murderer to be caught with the aid of wireless communication, set against the backdrop of Marconi and the invention of the electronic telegraph. I sense another bestseller in the making here.

Well, that’s enough to keep me going a while. Hope I’ve added to a lot of other people’s reading lists, as well, and if so I’ll consider that a job well done.

Le Weekend Reading

Posted: August 7, 2006 in Current Reading

Not all surprises are good surprises, but recently I’ve discovered one that is. I’ve managed to find what I can only describe as my own personal warp drive (have been watching lots of Star Trek re-runs lately – does it show?) when it comes to reading speed. Perhaps it’s just a virtue of necessity, in the face of an ever-growing pile of books to read. Whatever it is, it’s working and I’m not about to question it. Set phasers to stun!

(Sorry .)

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The first book I read over this past weekend was Amy Ephron’s A Cup of Tea. Like so many of my other reads, this was recommended to me by a friend with similar reading taste. The book is somewhat reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, and set in the same general era. Ephron’s a contemporary writer, and her style is the more concise and sparing of the two. Though her book misses the depth of Wharton, it’s a good book to cozy up with for a couple of hours. I’d call it Wharton Lite, if forced to define it. (N.B.: No idea why anyone WOULD force me to define it, but it’s best to have your story prepared beforehand.)

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The book is about a love triangle and makes for a very quick read. Love triangles usually do find a way to be compelling, just by their very nature, and this one’s well written to boot.

After the Ephron I finished a book I’ve been working on for a while now, Jim Lynch’s wonderful coming-of-age story, The Highest Tide. Even without a working knowledge of the sea or marine biology this is a beautiful, lyrical book. It has a magical feel, and a sense there’s more out there in this crazy, cosmic world than we can very easily define. That’s not to say it goes over the edge in a New Age-y way. It doesn’t quite go that far, but it does hint there’s more in heaven and earth than we’ve dreamt of in our philosophies. It’s good to be reminded of that, every now and then, and a good consciousness-raising as to Mother Nature and her power doesn’t hurt, either. This book contains all of these things, and more.

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Finally, I read the first book in a young adult trilogy, Adele Geras’s Egerton Series, Book One, The Tower Room. This is a contemporary re-telling of the Rapunzel story, but with a very modern twist. Rapunzel’s role is filled by a young girl who has an affair with one of her teachers, which is something that may make parents a little nervous. The target age for the book is 12 and up, but I’d use a little caution before handing this off to my own 12 year old daughter. The themes are quite mature, and the main character gives her virtue with what some may deem a little too much ease. Even if the teacher is young, the girl is younger still (about 16 or 17). For a more mature young girl the subject matter may be fine, but I would exercise a little parental guidance on this one. Just my two cents’ worth.

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Nothing like a weekend spent reading, eh?