Wednesday, November 30, 2011


When I visit people, I always end up looking through their books

And judging. Yes, I admit - I'm a (recovering) book snob.

But it is nice if you see a similarity in tastes - then you can make a mental note of what else is there so you can add to your TBR list.

And if they don't have visible books? The horror!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Persepolis 2

Persepolis 2
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis 2 starts up where the first volume left off - Marjane has left Iran for the safety of Europe, where she bounces around from house to house, school to school. I was shocked by the seeming ease with which her initial host family carted her off to a boarding school in the Alps.

Marjane has trouble fitting in and making friends. She misses her family, but tries to put on a brave face, knowing how much they've sacrificed to allow her this opportunity, and knowing what they must be going through at home with the revolution.

The pressure becomes too much when she has a bad breakup with a boyfriend. She completely breaks down and ends up homeless and suicidal. This signals the beginning of the return, when Marjane rejoins her family in Iran.

But returning to Iran does not solve her problems. Satrapi eloquently portrays her feelings of fitting in in neither a secular, Western culture, nor the Islamic, repressive society Iran has become. It is fascinating to read her story as she progresses from the headstrong young girl of volume one into the equally strong willed woman in volume two.

Satrapi's illustrations do not disappoint. On one page, she describes an art class. It's amazing how much she is able to express when the majority of the illustration is a flowing black garment.

I really enjoy graphic novels. I don't know why I haven't read more of them. Maybe I can fit in a couple more before the end of the year. Do you have any suggestions for me to look for? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thoughts on The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins

A friend at work was raving about this trilogy, and I finally decided to give in to the hype. I have to say, I'm happy that I did. In The Hunger Games Collins does a great job painting a scary dystopian portrait of North America after a major disaster. The main characters, especially Katniss, are entirely believable. Since this is part of a trilogy, Collins doesn't tell you everything - but it leaves you wanting more. It's like you are in Katniss' shoes as she starts to focus on more than just the survival of her family and learns more about the Capitol and the rest of Panem.

Okay, so as you probably know, Katniss volunteers to take her young sister's place in a government sponsored fight to the death. There are two "tributes" from each of Panem's 12 districts. The other tribute from District 12, Katniss's district, is Peeta, a boy the same age as Katniss. The two of them are at times thrown together and torn apart as they try to formulate a strategy to win the game. Of course, there can only be one winner, or can there? dun dun dun.

You might have heard about the controversy about the movie's casting choices. First, there was the issue of specifically looking for a white actress to play Katniss, when her description seemed to contain the possibility that she was Mediterranean or something other than Caucasian. Then, when the casting for other characters, like Rue and Cinna were announced, people were exclaiming that neither of them should be black. In the book, Rue is specifically described as black - with "satiny brown skin." Cinna isn't described much beyond having short dark hair (green?) eyes, and a penchant for gold eyeliner.

As I read the book, I knew about these issues, so I was already keeping an eye out for the descriptions. I normally don't really pay attention to what characters look like. I don't form a picture of them in my head - I've just never been that type of reader. This time, though, knowing who was cast definitely influenced how I saw the book in my mind.

Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, from Winter's Bone, is playing the Katniss. I know the book described her with dark hair, but I just kept seeing her as Ree Dolly. As for Cinna, I think Lenny Kravitz is a brilliant choice. I can totally see him as a stylist with a mysterious past. I didn't know that Woody Harrelson had been cast to play Haymitch, Katniss's mentor. I had just finished reading Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad before picking up The Hunger Games, and for some reason her description of Odysseus totally clicked for me as Haymitch.  Not that great looking, with short stubby legs, not all that strong or fast, but smart and wily. I do think Harrelson will do a good job playing Haymitch, but he wasn't what I pictured.

Have you read The Hunger Games? What do you think about the movie casting choices?

Here are my posts on part 2 and part 3

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Small Business Saturday Success!

So yesterday I went out and participated in Small Business Saturday. I drove up to a local(ish) independent book store that I'd been wanting to check out - the Vero Beach Book Center. It's about a 20 minute drive, and in the next county over, but it's the closest I've got! I was supposed to be doing Christmas shopping, and I did, but I also picked up a few things for myself:
The Bloody Chamber, Middlesex, & Shadow Tag
I paid full price for Shadow Tag, but I found the other two books used. The place is really big. It's actually two separate buildings. The first building is the regular adult bookstore. It had a good selection of local books on Florida, bestsellers, etc. I bought two books there - Shadow Tag, and Hidden Seminoles,* a gift book. Both were full price. I knew what I was getting into with Hidden Seminoles, though. It was $40, which is a lot for a book, but not bad for a Christmas gift. It was a little easier to take paying full price when they offered to gift wrap it for me.

After I finished in the first building, I headed over to the second. That's where they keep the children's section,  bargain books, and used books. I didn't know it, but apparently Santa was visiting that day. The place was mobbed. I thought I had avoided the whole holiday shopping ridiculousness, but no, i got my fair share. I thought about leaving and coming back another day, but I bravely pushed through and found more books. This is where I found Middlesex and The Bloody Chamber. I also bought some bargain priced books for the kids on my list.

All said, I spend a little over $100 during my Small Business Saturday shopping excursion. I'm happy to know that more of that money is staying in my community than if I'd have chosen to do my shopping at a chain, or on Amazon. I know that shopping local isn't always a feasible option for everyone, but I'm trying to do my small part.

Oh - and I spent much of yesterday and today thankfully reading The Bloody Chamber. It's really good! Retold fairy tales for the win!

*affiliate link

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Booked Solid

Lots of reading to be done if I'm going to reach 100 books read this year. Two finished so far this weekend, now deciding what to tackle next. Catch y'all in a bit!

Oh - and it's Small Business Saturday, so when I take a break from reading I'll be hitting up the indie bookstore closest to me. You could do the same!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bookish Weekend Plans

Guess who's not spending this weekend shopping at ridiculous Black Friday sales? This girl!

I do plan to participate in Small Business Saturday by heading up to an independent book store that I've been wanting to check out. I figure I'll see about buying some Christmas gifts there and well, maybe just a little something for myself. The hubby and my dad are planning to ride their motorcycles to some kind of car show swap meet thing that's a couple of hours away, so I'll have plenty of time to do bookish browsing to my heart's content.
3 books to review

On the blogging front, I need to get my review of The Hunger Games written, since I'm giving the book back to my friend on Monday. She's bringing me the other two in the trilogy - yay! I have two other books on my to-review list, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Persepolis II. I'll see what I can do about getting those reviews finished, too.

Of course, if I catch up on reviews, that means I need to read more books! I'm almost done with Mr. Fox, and I plan to finish that this weekend. I won a book through Amy's Nigerian Literature challenge, so I might give that one a try. It's not the type of book I'd normally pick out, but I try to stay open-minded. I also picked up a Barbara Ehrenreich book at a library book sale, so that is certainly an option.

Check out more posts from Black Friday avoiders at Jenn's Bookshelves.

What are your reading plans this weekend?

Thursday, November 24, 2011


White pumpkin with the words THankful Thursday
Today in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving. I'm choosing to focus on the positive aspects of this holiday, where I express gratitude for the many good things in my life.

One of those good things is my ability to read. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. First, a good friend's mother has recently gone nearly blind from macular degeneration. She is an older woman, but never had vision problems. Then one day, boom! she's going blind. I've been told that I'm at high risk for this condition as I age. The thought of not being able to see is absolutely terrifying.

The other incident that inspired this post is a friend who could not pass a written test to get a job. The job is a  good paying one, and it would have been very helpful to his family had he been able to get it. However, he had trouble with reading the information on the test and answering questions based on it.According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, forty percent of American adults, "who although they do not meet criteria for functional illiteracy, nonetheless face reduced job opportunities and life prospects due to inadequate literacy levels relative to the requirements of contemporary society."

So I'm thankful. For my current ability to read, and much more. For my family and friends, some of whom I'll spend time with tomorrow, eating good food and enjoying each other's company.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Measure of a Man Doesn't Measure Up

cover of The Measure of a Man Audiobook
The Measure of a Man
The Measure of a Man
Sidney Poitier

I listened to this on audio book last month, and have been hesitating to write the review ever since. I just really, really, disliked it - and I was hoping to enjoy it. I mean, it's Sidney Poitier! Who doesn't like Sidney Poitier?

I spent half the book wondering if I didn't like it simply because it was an audio book. It was only the second audio book I've listened to, so I thought "well, maybe the format just isn't my thing." Nope. I've since listened to another audio book and loved it. Not the format.

Okay, so what was it that bothered me about this book? It starts off strong. Poitier is talking about how he doesn't believe that we should look to other, less developed societies to find ways to be strong, upright people. That basically, your kid isn't going to grow up to be a screw-up because zie has access to television. Makes sense. THEN he spends the rest of the book extolling the benefits of growing up on an undeveloped island in the Bahamas where there was no electricity, running water, etc. He comes back to this theme all the time. I guess that you could say he's just explaining where he personally came from, but the impression is that this is the way all children should be raised and if they aren't - if they're raised in say, Miami, they're going to be morally bankrupt by 16.

There's also a lot of self congratulating going on. Poitier takes nearly all the credit for the success of the play A Raisin in the Sun. It was painful to listen to. His vision of the play may have been a better one - I'll concede that - but wow, the ego involved was staggering. Of course, it takes quite a bit of ego to write a book about your life and be sure that many people would want to read it, and I'm sure most people in Hollywood probably have enormous egos, too.

I was interested in Poitier's interactions with civil rights activists. He talks about how studios wanted to to sign contracts that he wouldn't associate with certain people who were considered agitators, and he refused to do that. Again, this part of the book fell short. I don't know if he had his reasons for not talking about these encounters in more detail - was he protecting someone? - but I wanted to know more.

I do want to read Harry Belafonte's new memoir, My Song. He and Poitier were friends, and I heard him interviewed on NPR about the two of them splitting a theater ticket, one watching the first half of a play and the other going in to watch the end. Something about how Belafonte told the story was more engaging than anything that I heard from Poitier.

Have you read this? Did you like it? What am I missing?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Penelopiad: The Oddessy Retold

The Penelopiad
The Penelopiad
Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad is Margaret Atwood's reconsideration of Homer's classic The Odyssey from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus's wife. Penelope narrates her story from Hades, where she and her contemporaries are spending eternity, with the occasional visit to Earth and modern times.

Penelope tells her story, starting from her childhood, before Odysseus was ever in her picture. We learn about her family, how her mother, a Naiad (water nymph) was more interested in playing with sea creatures than parenting a daughter, and her father, the king, tried to drown her when she was a small child.
You can see by what I've told you that I was a child who learned early the virtues - if such they are - of self-sufficiency. I could see that I would have to look out for myself in the world. I could hardly count on family support.
Penelope does her readers a favor by reminding them of elements of the traditional telling of The Odyssey, so if you haven't looked at the poem since high school, you'll be fine. She then tells you what really happened. Of course, there's a bit of a problem completely trusting her take, as she's not exactly a reliable narrator. But why should she be? We've been hearing a slanted take on the story for millenia.

I actually found the maids to be the most interesting aspect of the story. They are just girls who are trying to make their way the only way they can. If they're favored because of their rosy cheeks, well, they're grabbing every advantage. The fates are not kind to the maids, however, as you know - they end up hanged from a ship's beam.

I loved how Atwood not only took a classic myth, framed it through the eyes of Penelope, but then offered the an additional academic interpretation of the story's meaning. Sometimes I think Atwood's viewpoint gets a little heavy handed, and it does verge on it here, but I thought overall the feminist perspective was presented in a smart, thoughtful way. This is the third Atwood novel I've read, and I'm glad there are many more out there to read!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Looking Back: February

I bring to you the second of a seven or so part series, looking back on my 2011 pre-blogging reads.

 was a much better month for reading than January.

Total: 9 books
7 fiction                          78%
2 nonfiction                   28%
5 female authors           56%
3 works in translation   33%

Algerian White, Assia Djebar*** This memoir was good, and I would have enjoyed it more if I had any idea who or what she was talking about. It's the author's recounting of Algeria's struggle for independence,and many of the intellectuals who lost their lives during the events. I definitely want to read more by Djebar, especially An Algerian Cavalcade, which has been on my TBR list for well over a year.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
, Alison Bechdel***** Graphic novel about a young woman growing up, coming out as a lesbian, and discovering her father was gay. Really, really good. Bechdel is also famous for the Bechdel movie test, which a film passes if it has 1) Two named female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man. It's scary how many movies fail, big time.

Circle of Magic: Daja's Book
, Tamora Pierce****I was running out of reading material and had these on my shelves, leftover from my classroom library days. I had heard Tamora Pierce wrote really strong, well rounded female characters, so I gave these a try. I was pleasantly surprised.
Circle of Magic: Tris's Book, Tamora Pierce****See above.
Circle of Magic: Sandry's Book, Tamora Pierce****See above.

I am the Messenger, Markus Zusak***Disappointing. I really liked The Book Thief, but this was not as strong. Just...enh. Not bad, but not anything I'd read again, or gush over.

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
, Jorge Amado**** Cute, fun story with magical realism elements dealing with what makes the title character a happy wife.

The Death of Artemio Cruz
, Carlos Fuentes***This was really well written, but the graphic subject matter got to be a bit much for me. I'd give Fuentes another try, though. 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
, Raymond Carver***I was stranded at the airport and started chatting with a guy in the same position. He was a reader, and insisted I borrow this for the flight home. I read the whole short story collection on a 2 hour flight. It was good, but I wish I had more time with it to better reflect my thoughts.

Assia Djbar. I just really like this picture by Irmeli Jung, so I'm posting it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wouldn't that be nice

Source: via MJ on Pinterest

Today is one of those days where I wish I could just hide away in my private library and read all day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Written & Illustrated by Marjane Satrapi

Yes, I know I am quite late to the Persepolis party. Oops. But I suspect not a few readers haven't gotten around to this famous graphic novel yet, so take this post a a reminder to go track it down.

Persepolis is the memoir of Marjane Satrapi's growing up in the Iranian Revolution. Her parents are Communists who supplement her school education with books like a comic edition of "Dialectic Materialism," which contains arguments between Rene Descartes and Karl Marx. Marjane is intrigued that Karl Marx resembles her God:

Marx and God facing each other. Caption reads It was funny to see how much Marx and God looked like each other, Though Marx's hair was a bit curlier.
Marjane is a willful, stubborn child growing up in a violent, confusing world. Her parents attempt to walk a fine line between keeping her safe and protected from knowledge that may hurt her and telling her information that's necessary for her to have an idea what's going on.

When it seems that they can no longer keep her safe in Iran, Marjane's parents send her to school in Europe. That's where Persepolis ends and where Persepolis II begins.

I am really happy that I finally read this. Satrapi did a wonderful job telling the story of the revolution from a child's perspective, while still writing a sophisticated, adult book. The emotions of all the characters are perfectly communicated through a combination of dialogue and illustration. If you haven't gotten your hands on this yet - Go!

(You can buy this title through  this affiliate link)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Beginnings

Book Beginnings via A Few More Pages
How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Mr. Fox & Helen Oyeyemi
This week I'm reading Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. Here are the first few lines:

Mary Foxe came by the other day - the last person on earth I was expecting to see. I'd have tidied up if I known she was coming. I'd have combed my hair. I'd have shaved. At least I was wearing a suit; I strive for a sense of professionalism.

From the cover, you know that Mary is the narrator's muse, so I love how he just casually talks about her like she's a real person who simply dropped by for a visit. You get the sense that she's been absent for awhile, and she might be back to stir up some trouble. I'm almost halfway through and this point, and I'm really enjoying it. I can't wait to keep reading!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Short Story for Ghana Lit Week

The Prophet of Zongo Street
Kinna over at Kinna Reads is hosting Ghanaian Literature Week, and the list of #GhanaLit posts keeps growing. Kinna was kind enough to send me a couple links to Ghanaian short stories, as I had trouble locating anything in print in my area.

Last night I read "Mallam Sile," a short story by Mohammed Naseehu Ali, which was published in The New Yorker back in 2005. As I read it, I realized I'd read this before, although  I couldn't tell you when. I thought it was a charming story the first time through, and thought so again upon a reread.

The title character, Mallam Sile, is a tea seller on Zongo Street, a fictional community in Accra, Ghana. He's from the northern part of the country, and is treated rather roughly and unkindly as an outsider. His customers have no interest in engaging him in conversation. Eventually,
The tea seller learned to swallow his words, and eventually spoke only when he was engaged in a transaction with a customer. But nothing said or even whispered in the shop escaped his sharp ears.

He's an astute, successful business owner, but he's lonely. It seems that he's resigned himself to perpetual bachelorhood, until one day he makes a drastic change and finds a wife. Abeeba enhances his life in ways that he never expected - or did he? He may seem naive, but his actions have shown otherwise.
I enjoyed the realistic characterizations and the playful treatment of gender roles. I 'd like to read more from Ali, especially if he continues along these themes. This story is part of his collection The Prophet of Zongo Street. Short story collections can sometimes be hit or miss, but if even a few are as good as "Mallam Sile," I'd consider the book a success.

Order The Prophet of Zongo Street from an Indie bookstore near you. (Affiliate link: ie, I will earn pennies if you buy this.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Looking Back: January

I started blogging in July, but I started tracking my reads in January. I've reviewed a few of the books I read pre-blogging, but I wanted to do a summary of this years' reads that I haven't talked about yet. Also, I'm interested in doing my normal breakdown as to gender/fiction/translation. So, here goes! This is January's installment, and since I only read four books, it'll be brief.

Total: 4 books
2 fiction                          50%
2 nonfiction                   50%
2 female authors           50%
1 works in translation   25%

Out of Africa, Isak Dineson: One star, aka, I'm ready to send you to prison for writing this.
Dear lord I hated this book. First of all, it's a bunch of annoying ramblings from a white European woman managing a coffee plantain in Kenya. I gave up trying to count all the different ways she compared "the native" to various animals. There are parts where the writing is really beautiful, but it just wasn't worth it. Stick with the movie, if you must visit this story: gorgeous scenery, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep.

Still from Out of Africa. Credit

Bleak House, Charles Dickens: One star.
Yes, I hated this, too.  I read this for my book club, a collection of lawyers who just had to read Dickens' polemic raging against the Chancery court. I predicted pretty much every plot resolution from the first few pages. Static, two dimensional characters, healthy dose of misogyny, way too many coincidences - blerg. 

Eat Me, Linda Jaivin: Two stars.
Honestly, I'm embarrassed to admit I read this. As a rule, I don't read erotica. A friend, who shall remain nameless, passed this one to me, promising that while the first chapter was rather explicit, the rest didn't rise to that level. That may be so, but I can be a bit of a prude when it comes to my books. It was pretty funny in some places, and I thought it was a nice representation of women taking control of their sexuality. If you are into erotica, this probably isn't a bad choice.

Eating the Dinosaur, Chuck Klosterman: Four stars.
Have you read Chuck Klosterman? No? You should. His essays are funny and charming. Some are a bit dated, but I don't really care about that. Yeah, he's kind of annoying, and over privileged, but he's got a healthy sense of self awareness, so that takes the edge off.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Don't Take the library!

Amid all the news about the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park was the rumor that the protestors' library had been destroyed. Commentors all over the internet were up in arms - and for good reason.
Books = Knowledge = Power

The OWS library was, from what I've heard, remarkably well organized and staffed by actual librarians. Books were donated from all kinds of sources, from individuals to publishers. There's something incredibly sinister about the government coming in and confiscating (and possibly destroying) all of that reading material.

Well, it turns out that the books were not destroyed. (Update: No, it looks like a good portion of them were.) However, the exact sequence of events makes me wonder if the public outrage over the library and comparisons to totalitarian regimes played some part in Mayor Bloomberg's decision to refrain from having the books destroyed. I suppose we'll never know. I have heard that this eviction, and the disruption of the library in particular, have led people to actively support the movement. These are people how may have leaned towards support before, but hadn't taken an active or vocal role.

One lesson? Don't mess with the books.

stacks books from Occupy Wall Street library
Stacks of books from the #OWS Library

Monday, November 14, 2011

Customer Service, or Lack Thereof

Customer Service
Customer Service
Benoît Duteurtre
Translated from the French by Bruce Benderson

Another great pick from Melville House's Contemporary Art of the Novella Series.* Duteurtre is a French music critic and writer. Here, he focuses his satiric wit on the ever-more-powerful and interconnected business world.

Set in present times, the author describes a world in which corporations have infiltrated every move that their customers make - even when those customers have no idea they are even buying the company's product.

A global telecom company, with the mysterious "Leslie Delmare" as Director of Customer Service, is happy to help the narrator replace his beloved smartphone, which was tragically left in the back of a cab. Of course, there's a price. Not only must he pay for his new phone, and new service, he most also continue to pay for the lost phone service until the contract runs out. This is only the first of many incidents that lead him to a simple conclusion. Companies are attracting customers at cut-rate prices, locking them into unbreakable contracts, and then charging them for the most minor infraction of the rules. This creates a new source of income:

[W]aiting time had been transformed into an economic agent and source of profits.
Why pay more phone operators when you can simply charge your customers $1.99 a minute to wait on hold?

Things take a decidedly more sinister route when our narrator finally meets the supposedly nonexistent Leslie Delmare. Leslie Delmare can be whomever you wish. She can take care of your problem, smooth things over. That's her way - until she decides not to.

The ending of Customer Service was eerily reminiscent of 1984 - only this time, Big Brother isn't the government. Your contract with this overlord is not a theoretical social one, but rather one that is filed away in a monstrous system, the other party waiting for you to violate your terms so it can gleefully profit of your misery.

Full disclosure: Melville House sent this to me for participating in the Art of the Novella reading challenge.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Diversity in Fantasy Writing

Maybe you all have seen the recent discussion sparked by the Salon article If Tolkien were black. One of the authors interviewed, N.K. Jamison, wrote a follow up piece on her blog that's worth checking out as well.

Movie poster for The Return of the King
I confess, I never was into epic fantasy. First of all, I simply wasn't allowed to read anything like that when I was younger. My mom had a very strict no-magic-stuff policy. I do think I may have liked these books, though. I absolutely loved the Narnia series (which I was allowed to read because C.S. Lewis was a Christian). But I never read any Harry Potter until I finally broke down this year and read the first book in the series.

When I have read fantasy books or watched fantasy tv shows or movies, I'm often struck by how male dominated they are. (I'm white, and while I have noticed the troubling racial disparities, that's not the first thing that I notice.) I watched the first season of Game of Thrones, and admittedly, enjoyed some parts of it. But I was reminded again about the seemingly inherent conservatism of the genre that Laura Miller notes in her article. 

I can see why artists are drawn to medieval England as the basis for their work. The setting is well known, and often romantic. Wind swept moors, galloping horses, gorgeous clothes, shining armor - it is appealing. At the same time, this landscape is altered in some way to make it not actual medieval England, but some fantastical version of it. 

My question is, when an author is imagining a fantasy world, with scary monsters beyond a boundary wall, nine year long winters, and dragons that hatch from petrified eggs, walking trees, floating eyeballs, why are race and gender roles still so static? Why is the dominant culture white and patriarchal? Why is it so hard to imagine a world with gender and racial equality?

Even though I'm not a fantasy reader, I will be making an effort to check out N.K. Jamison's work, as well as some of the other authors she mentioned in her post. I invite you to do the dame, especially if fantasy is a favorite genre.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Henri Matisse and Reading

Henri Matisse is one of my favorite artists. He seems to have had a fondness for women reading, as evidenced below.
Woman Reading, 1894

In Woman Reading, I love how he's captured a quite private moment. I identify with the woman here - it's as if she just wants time to herself to spend time absorbed in her favorite book. Of course, I would never choose to sit in a straight-backed chair to do so. Give me a overstuffed couch any day!

In Marguerite Reading, I love how you don't even see the book, but it's clear that Marguerite is, in fact, reading. I'm impressed that Matisse was able to capture so much with just a few pen strokes. It reminds me a bit of Hemingway's "iceberg theory" of writing - I'm paraphrasing, but it's something like if you are writing about a subject you know you can leave out certain things and they will still be communicated to the reader.
Marguerite Reading, c. 1906

The last example here is a much later work, from 1939. It seems that no matter how much Matisse's style may have changed over the years, he was still drawn to the same subjects. Each work, though very different, shares a similar sensibility - the lowered head, the enjoyment of a moment to one's self. The subject in Woman reading, black background, looks like a true bookworm, trying to get a few more minutes of reading in before whomever she's waiting for finally arrives.
Woman reading, black background, 1939
Which is your favorite of the three? Do you have any favorite reading pictures?

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Favorite Reading Spot

I love to go to read on the beach. On windy days, I go to one spot in particular, where I can sit on a bench under a gazebo, listen to the waves, and watch the kite surfers. They're like big, colorful birds swooping through the sky. It's a perfect reading backdrop - although sometimes the scenery is better than the book, which can be distracting!

Kite Surfers from MJ on Vimeo. video description: Several kite surfers out on the waves.

Do you have a favorite spot to read? 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back to the Classics Challenge

Sarah over at Sarah Reads Too Much is hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge 2012. She's selected nine categories, and there will be prizes for successful completion. Prizes! Woohoo! Of course, I am adding a little twist. All the works I'll read will be by female authors.
  • Any 19th Century Classic: The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot. I really loved Middlemarch and enjoyed The Lifted Veil. I want more Eliot! (done)
  • Any 20th Century Classic: Silent Spring, Rachel Carson. This is a book I've wanted to read for a long time, and it's certainly a classic that's left its mark on the world.
  • Reread a classic of your choiceBeloved, by Toni Morrison. I read this in high school, but just didn't like it. I recently read another Toni Morrison book, A Mercy, and loved, loved, loved it. Now I want to go back and give Beloved another chance. *Update: replacing this with Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. (done) 
  • A Classic Play: The Rover, by Aphra Behn. Okay, this may be a stretch for a classic, since it's not famous like Shakespeare's work, but there aren't many widely read female playwrights. I recently learned about Behn. She was the first English woman to make a living from her writing, after King Charles II stopped paying her for her work as a spy. (done)
  • Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction: Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. I've been inspired by  the Discovering Daphne readalongs hosted by Polly of Novel Insights and Simon at Savidge Reads, and I'm going to give  Dame du Maurier a try. 
  • Classic Romance: Wuthering HeightsEmily Brontë. I'm sure I read this in high school, but it has not stuck with me at all. I'm hoping a reread will give me more appreciation. 
  • Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your languageDeclaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen, Olympe de Gouges. De Gouges was an outspoken feminist and abolitionist during the French Revolution. She died by guillotine during the Reign of Terror. Her Declaration was a response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which had been adopted by the French General Assembly. It was meant to point out the ways that the French Revolution had failed women. ***Update: I've swapped this one out for The Book of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pizan. Written in Middle French. (done)
  • Classic Award Winner: The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton. This book was awarded the Pulitzer in 1921, which was the first time a book by a female author won the prize. Of course, it was only the third year it was given out, so that's not too shabby! (done)
  • Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime: The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck. I would go to China, but it's not anywhere near the top of my list. And I've been wanting to read this, so on the list it goes. (done)
So that's the plan. I can't promise I'll stick to the list exactly, but at least it gives me a starting point.

What's your favorite classic work by a female author?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Local Book Challenged

A local father has brought a challenge against Shadow, by Joyce Sweeney. His eleven year old daughter, a sixth grader, checked the book out from her middle school library. Apparently, it contains a sex scene, an abortion, and an "aborted rape" scene (I don't know what that exactly means).

Obviously the book engages with heavy issues. I don't know how well it does this, as I haven't read it. I'd be interested to know how it handles the issues that the parent has problems with. I'd appreciate if we had books that sensitively dealt with issues like rape - especially if they make it clear that rape is unacceptable. It's unfortunate that young people need to know of these horrors, but they do. If you watch or read the news, you know that young people are the victims and perpetrators of awful crimes. 

The book is meant for young people in grades 7 through 10. However, in most Florida schools, grades 6 through 8 are together in middle school. As far as I'm aware, all students have access to the books in their library, regardless of their grade level. That means that sometimes children will get their hands on books that are above their reading or maturity levels.

I appreciate the school district response, which said in part:

"Challenged materials may be removed from use in the school where the complaint was initiated only after the complaint and decision procedures of this policy have been completed. The material in question shall be studied by a school materials review committee. Even with these guidelines, it is possible for students to encounter reading material that is of a mature nature. In this case, the system worked as it is designed: the parent(s) properly engaged with the student, and a family decision was made that the book did not align with the student's family's values. The normal policy-based process is now underway to determine whether the book should be available to other students and families if they select it." (Emphasis mine).
However, the book is still subject to be removed from shelves. The parent says he never thought he'd be the type to challenge a book, and he supports free speech, but he doesn't think that this book is appropriate.

Um, okay? You're either for book censorship or you're not. If you don't want your daughter to read it, then don't let let. End of story. Why deny other students access to the book, especially seventh and either graders who are the book's target audience?

Here's some local news coverage of the issue:

What do you think? Should books be removed from schools because not all students are mature enough to read them?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gifting books

I like to buy books as gifts for people. When I was growing up, my favorite present was the "book box." Every year, without fail, my mom would have a box full of books for me, waiting under the Christmas tree. It was the one present I was never allowed to open as my Christmas Eve gift. Books are expensive, and often there would be a mix of new and gently used books for me to read. I didn't care - they were all going to be gently used soon!

I think that is, at least in part, what makes me enjoy giving books as presents. I like thinking about what each person would like and trying to get something that matches their tastes. For my littlest family members, it's also about encouraging a love of reading from an early age.

A couple months ago I was at the Cloisters Museum in NYC and saw these awesome books in the gift shop. I made a note for myself to remember them for later in the year. I've decided that I'm buying Encyclopedia Mythologica series books for my elementary age nephews for Christmas. I would buy them for my elementary age nieces, but um...I DON'T HAVE ANY. Seriously, family members. Get on with the girl-producing. (Just kidding! I love my nephews and don't want to pressure anyone to have more children.)

Encyclopedia Mythologica series
The Encyclopedia Mythologica books are written and illustrated by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda. They also may be the most awesome popup books ever. If you can't look at one in a store, here's Matthew Reinhart giving a tour of Gods and Heros:

And remember to support your local independent bookstores and small businesses on Small Business Saturday, and all throughout the year. You can buy God and Heros and the other books in the series at IndieBound. (affiliate link)

Do you buy books as presents? Do you have any ones you've already picked out for this year?

Monday, November 7, 2011

DNF: The Girl with Glass Feet

The Girl with Glass Feet

I do not normally abandon books. I will stick it out to the bitter end, even if I know I’m going to hate a book. I’ve always had admiration for those who have a rule that if they aren’t enjoying a book 50 or so pages in they stop and move on to something else.

Today, I declared The Girl with Glass Feet a DNF (Did Not Finish).

I made it 43 pages.

I didn’t want to give this up for a few reasons. First, I want to make it to 100 books this year, and I need to get reading. I figured I’d already invested some time, so to give up would be a waste. Plus, I already had it checked out from the library, I should just finish it. Then I realized that I was actually just wasting reading time, since it was going to take me forever to finish a book I just didn’t care about.

So why didn’t I care about it? Well, it’s outside the type of books I normally read. It has magical or fantasy elements, which isn’t what I normally go for – not that I’m against those things. They just aren’t my go to books.

Second, it’s about a girl that needs saving. This always makes me pause. Them, when we meet said girl, she’s rather…boring. BUT! The guys all luuuuuuuurrrvvvvvvvvvveeeee her.

When I came to the third guy mooning over her, her kindly “uncle” who was also in love with her now-deceased mom, I had to stop. Especially when his introductory chapter ends with him visiting the dead mother’s grave and kissing her tombstone. Enough!

Back to the library it goes.

Wanna try it anyway? Shop Indie Bookstores (affiliate link)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop
This month I'm participating in the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase!

This monthly blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion.

This month's discussion question is:
To what extent do you analyze literature? Are you more analytical in your reading if you know you're going to review the book? Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience?

I like to think that I analyze what I read. I mean, I'm not back in AP English, writing a full analysis of a book, covering themes, motifs, symbols, syntax, etc, but I do try to touch on those elements as they jump out at me.

My focus lately has been to analyze books from a feminist/social justice perspective. I'm less concerned with pointing out the technical merit of a work than I am with wondering what that work says about our culture and society. One of the values in blogging is that I can add my voice and perspective to the myriad others out there. While I am not (by far!) the only blogger with a feminist viewpoint, it seems that I can add to an understanding of books through my analyzing them.

Am I more analytical when I know I'm going to review a book? Maybe. If I'm not reviewing a book or discussing it at a book club, there's no real need for me to fully form my thoughts and argue for a position. That's another reason I like blogging - I'm currently without a book club, and the hubby can only nod his head and say "Unh-huh" so many times before I give up. Not that I blame him. He's never been a reader.

Being critical of a book does help me enjoy it. I want to engage in the text. Every now and then I get a wild hair to read something decidedly non-literary. Maybe my grandma's left a Nora Roberts book at my place and I pick it up. I get about halfway through I literally start to feel ill. It's like I've gorged on candy and made myself sick. Of course, I keep going! I rarely abandon a book. (I do not judge those who choose to read Nora Roberts. To each their own. Just read!)

So, are you an analyze-er?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I Want a Kitty

Cartoon of man reading a book while a cat looks on
By Peter Steiner
Or a puppy. Well, a dog (adoption only, please!). Puppies are too much work and as much as I think kitties are adorbs, they make me sneeze something fierce. I'm willing to try allergy shots, but I'm afraid they won't work, and I'll suffer. Argh. I'd really like to snuggle up with my book and my little furbaby, reading and scritching ears simultaneously.

It's been over two years since I lost my Delilah, and I still miss her. I think I'm finally ready for another dog, but my life is so unsettled right now that I can't see fitting a dog into it. Hopefully soon things will settle down and I can see about making a family addition.

Do you have a favorite reading companion?
Picture of me on a sofa getting kisses from my dachshund
Me, post surgery, snuggling with Delilah

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Libraries

When I was living in Brooklyn, I used the public library a lot. The Brooklyn Public Library has an amazing selection. I've been working on reading books from every country in the world, and I could usually find what I was looking for at BPL. My local branch was a 3 minute walk from my apartment, and there was another branch about a mile away. If I couldn't find what I wanted at either of those locations, I just put in a request and within a few days The Map of Love was on its way to me (& can be on its way to you through that affiliate link!).

Unfortunately, I am no longer in Brooklyn. I graduate from law school and am now jobless. I moved back to Florida to do a temporary post-graduate fellowship. I'll take the Florida bar exam in February, and hopefully I'll eventually be able to find a job in one state or the other.

Fortunately, there is a library very close to where I live (which is also very close to my fellowship placement). Unfortunately, the selection is rather... uninspiring. I hear about all these great books on twitter or on book blogs, and I want to read them. I check at the library, and they aren't there. I try to tell myself that this is to be expected. I live in a small town that skews toward Nora Roberts and James Patterson readers. My tastes are a bit more eclectic.

However, I need to stop complaining. You know why? At least I have a library very close to me. And they may not have everything I want, but they still have books. This is the stack I currently have checked out:
My current library loot
That's Toni Morrison's A Mercy on audiobook, both Persepolis volumes by Marjane Satrapi, Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol (another graphic novel), Ali Shaw's The Girl with Glass Feet, and Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi's newest book.

Yes, I did have to request some of these from other branches. Yes, the hold system is clunky and outdated. But the books came in quickly, and the librarian actually called me and told me when they came in. How cute!

Speaking of the librarians, they are just so darn nice. As much as I loved the BPL, the librarians I encountered were, well, Not Nice. Have you read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? Remember the librarian who never looked up at Francie, even though she checked out a book every day? Yeah. I think the current BPL librarians are her direct descendants.

And finally, you can't beat the view from the second floor reading area of my library. Gorgeous!

View from library window of the Intracoastal waterway
The Intracoastal Waterway

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Anya's Ghost

Anya's Ghost
Anya's Ghost
Written & Illustrated by Vera Brosgol

Anya's Ghost is a typical story of a high school girl struggling to fit in. Anya's ashamed of how her Russian immigrant heritage makes her stand out, of her thick thighs, of not having a boyfriend (or many friends at all). You might guess what makes it a bit different - the ghost of a dead girl named Emily.

Emily's been dead for over ninety years, stuck in the bottom of a well, just waiting for someone to find her. When Anya trips and falls down the same well, it seems like Emily has found her saving grace.

But Anya, being a rather selfish teenager, is mainly interested in how Emily can help her cheat on tests and get the guy she wants. Emily is happy to help, as she never really got to live a teenager's life before she died.

Things take a bit of a sinister turn when Emily decides that she really likes hanging out with Anya and living through her. I admit, I was a little creeped out at some of the illustrations. I won't post them, so if you read this you'll be surprised by them like I was.

Overall, I thought this was a fun, quick read. It has some mature themes (after all, the characters are in high school) so it's not a "comic book" for young kids.

Here's an interview with Brogol, with some additional examples of her illustration work. I was interested that she said she draws men all day at her day job, which is one reason she likes drawing women on her own time. I'm glad she had the opportunity to draw Anya and her friends, and get paid for it!

And finally, a book trailer for Anya's Ghost. No transcript necessary, as all the words are on the screen. I do recommend turning off the sound if you're viewing this at work. Not that anyone browses blogs at work, right?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: The North of God

The North of God
The North of God
Steve Stern

I started reading this little novella not really knowing what to expect. Melville House, the publisher, sent me this book back in August as part of a prize pack for participating in the Art of the Novella challenge. This is part of their (defunct? I can’t find anything on their website) Contemporary Art of the Novella series. It’s the third one that I’ve read, and all three have made me want to do their authors’ taxes, at least for the year. I remember briefly glancing at the blurb – something about Stern writing fantastical Yiddish based tales – and figured I’d like it. I didn't know it was going to morph into a Holocaust tale. Nothing wrong with that, but I wish I'd had a little warning (so I'm making sure you get one).

And I did like it. The first part was definitely a tale like none I’d read before. A “marriage” to a piece of furniture leads Herschel, a gifted Talmudic scholar, to abandon his studies and his intended bride to immerse himself in the earthly (or other-worldly) pleasures of an insatiable succubus.

The second part took a sickeningly horrific turn, to the area “to the North of God, where his jurisdiction no longer held sway.”

Velvl, a minor character in part one – takes over the narrative. He’s in a packed cattle car, standing in bodily waste, on his way to an unnamed concentration camp, telling Herschel’s story to a young mother and her child. Velvl is intent on keeping the pair entranced for as long as it takes to get to their ultimate destination.

He weaves ever more outrageous tales of how Herschel lived out the remainder of his days. Velvl’s imaginings are blasphemous, sacrilegious, darkly comic. His update on Purim, the Old Testament story in the book of Esther, is a raucous example.

The North of God is about the power or stories, or words, but also about their limitations. Because no matter how moving, a story by itself can take us only so far.