Monday, December 31, 2012

NYE Readathon

Picky Girl's NYE read-a-thon
Picky Girl's NYE Readathon
My lovely boss decided to close the office today,
and I tend to lay low on New Year's Eve, so I had planned to get some end of the year reading in today.

When I saw that Jenn over that The Picky Girl was hosting a NYE Readathon, and the relaxed rules meant I could join in at will, I figured, why not?

I've already finished one book today - Octavia Butler's Wild Seed. I had wanted to read some Butler this year. My first book by her was Kindred, back in October. Her books aren't what I'd usually read, but they are compelling in their own way. I'm sure I'll be reading more from her in the future.

I'll be updating this post throughout the day as I continue to read. And join in if you're so inclined!

1:13 Update: I've been trying to knock out a chunk of Midnight's Children. I took a break for lunch, and now to go to the grocery store.

2:36 Update: Back from the store, groceries put away, about to start reading again, this time on the porch (perks of living in Florida). Also. Jenn's got a mini questionnaire that fits right in with my update break:

1) Have you napped yet? Or are you still going strong? Well, I guess you could consider that I napped from midnight until 6:30ish, when my alarm went off this morning.

2) Do you have a favorite book if 2012? If so, what is it? Oh, dear. A favorite? Looking back at what I read, I'd probably have to call a tie between Edwidge Danticat's memoir Brother, I'm Dying and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God.

3) Any reading goals for 2013? More books in translation! I really slacked off this year.

4) Is anyone listening to any audiobooks? Maybe, but not me ;-)

5) What book are you most excited about in 2013? I haven't thought that far ahead yet!

Tuesday morning wrap up:

Well, I didn't read as much as I'd hoped, but I did finish one book, and I read 130 pages of Midnight's Children. I got up this morning and read some more of it, and the end is finally in sight. I have no idea what it was about this book that had me struggling so. I am going to make it the first book I finish in 2013! Happy reading, all!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Salon: Translation Challenge

In my monthly reading wrap up posts this year, I was disappointed to see I was reading far fewer books in translation than I'd like.

I've signed up for the 2013 Translation Challenge hosted over at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.

From the challenge:

"For the purpose of the challenge the book must have been translated into English. Books can be any length (indeed, novellas seem to be much more popular in continental Europe) and any genre (including non-fiction). You can read anything from mainstream Scandinavian crime to classical literature, it really doesn't matter as long as it's been translated. You do not need to be a blogger; as long as you have somewhere to post your thoughts (Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing, Tumblr, ReadItSwapIt, etc.) you can join in."

You commit to reading at least one translated work every month. I want to use that as a bare minimum, and strive for more. I'm going to focus on books I'm reading for other challenges or projects, such as
The Iliad, The Odyssey, Candide, and The Master and Margarita. I always welcome your suggestions, of course. You can take a look at what I read last year and this year to get a sense of my tastes. 

I'm looking forward to the book, of course, but also to connecting with some new bloggers. There are so many book blogs out there that it can seem overwhelming at times. Of course, no one can read them all. At the same time, I find myself turning to the same few over and over, and miss out on what a lot of other smart  interesting people have to say. 

Are you joining any reading challenges for 2013? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Ten New to Me Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by the lovely bloggers over at
The Broke and the Bookish
This week's theme is 
Favorite New-To-Me-Authors 2012

A lot of my top books this year were from authors I've read before, but there were still some new-to-me authors I'm looking forward to revisiting. Here are some of them:

Leslie Marmon Silko. I read Ceremony, which is a classic for a reason. Up next: maybe Garden in the Dunes. Sounds pretty interesting.

Afua Cooper. I read The Hanging of Angelique, which was excellent. Apparently she also writes poetry. I'd try Memories Have Tongues.

Erik Larson. I read The Devil in White City. My former book club recently read In the Garden of the Beasts, so I might try that one next.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I read  The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories. Next: His Religion and Hers: A Study of the Faith of Our Fathers and the Work of Our Mothers sounds like something I'd enjoy.

Jenny McPhee. I read No Ordinary Matter and was charmed. Up next: probably her first book, The Center of Things.

Sarah Waters. I read Tipping the Velvet, and while it wasn't a major work of literature, I did like it a lot. Lesbians! Yay! Next: her Booker-shortlisted Fingersmith.

Nuruddin Farah. I read  Maps, and since it's the first book in a trilogy, I'll probably read Gifts when I next pick up something by him.

Neil Gaiman. Okay, so I'd read a Gaiman short story, but that shouldn't count. At least, I'm not counting it. I read Neverwhere, and it was really fun. Next: you tell me - there are so many to choose from! Leave any suggestions in the comments.

Have you read any of these authors? 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence
The Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton

Or, Newland Archer is a Douche.

Okay, I made that up, but it does pretty accurately reflect my thoughts for much of the time I was reading Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winner. Not that it's not a good book. It is! Just probably not if you need to "like" the protagonist. It's worth reading even just for the descriptions of New York in the 1870s. It's a completely different world than Manhattan today.

I had heard that book referred to as "The House of Mirth-lite," but I have to disagree. True, there's much less focus on the dirty, gritty aspects of the dangers involved with falling to the underclass, but that really isn't the point in The Age of Innocence. There is still plenty of biting commentary on the hypocrisy of the aristocracy.

Newland Archer is the biggest hypocrite of them all. He is firmly planted in the upper-middle echelon of New York Society. He innately understands how to navigate all of the social minefields, and he has always managed to do so. He has decided that now the time has come to put away childish pursuits of unsuitable women and settle down with a proper wife.

Young, beautiful, sheltered May Welland is his intended bride. He looks forward to developing her mind and thoughts to coincide with his, away from her parents. That is, of course, until her slightly older cousin, Ellen Olenska, enters the scene from Europe, where she has left behind a bad marriage to a rich Polish Count.

So Newland wants this very respectable bride to be his very respectable wife in very respectable society. He wants to train her to think for herself, not be so naive, and leave to influence of her parents' house to be under his constant instruction. But. Whenever she thinks for herself he's annoyed. When she does what her society-obsessed parents want he's bored. When she puts off his physical advances (as she's expected to) he's enticed by the maybe-soon-to-be-divorced Countess. The Countess who is May's cousin, who has "experience", who goes to shocking parties, who hangs out with a married Jewish guy, who is inappropriately familiar with her maid. AND HE DOESN'T LIKE ANY OF THOSE THINGS.

Newland Archer is a douche.

I mean, I get it. He's a product of his society, blah, blah, blah. His society is constrictive and hypocritical and stifling. One one hand, he likes all the lovely parts, on the other, he longs for freedom. Before he can break away, and be the non-conformist he thinks he wants to be, he has to decide if that life of threadbare coats and small quarters in the unfashionable part of town, being talked about by his former friends as a disgrace to his mother, is what he really wants.

Enough about him. I want to talk about May. She is pretty badass. I mean, everyone kinda shuffles her aside and doesn't pay her much attention, but she is using her time off stage to pull some major strings. She knows the dangers to a young woman in her position - the scandal it would cause should she be jilted. The only way for her to keep her place in society is to marry well. She's not going down without a fight.

Here's to May Welland. This should be the cover of all the copies of this book:
Book cover showing May Welland with a bow and arrow at an archery contest

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Read YA

Veronica Roth

The first book in another planned YA trilogy (second book out already, final in 2013). Interesting premise about choosing your family group based on your dominant traits. Throw in some creepy mind reading/control, and you've got something pretty fun - even if it does get kinda campy towards the end.

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater

Mystical, bloodthirsty horses rising from the sea? Poor orphan girl struggling to help her remaining family survive? Harsh, windswept setting? Yes, please!

This was a fun, quick read. Yes, there were parts that made me roll my eyes pretty hard. There's no excuse to forget the characters' names, as they are mentioned on nearly every frickin' page. The ending was a bit...conventional? Pat? Whatever. All the horses means overall I was happy. (I like horses.)

Ally Condie

Another YA trilogy, centered around a love triangle. Why is it that teenage girls can only see a problem with society when it's through the lens of a romantic dilemma? Oh, wait - that's just how it is in some books. Sorry, I'm having trouble containing the snarkiness about this book. I just wonder if the author recognizes the irony in writing about matches and planning and the pitfalls involved when her professed religion... ok, I'll stop before I get into trouble.

But seriously, I do wonder how LGBT teens and people of color would relate to this book. Heterosexual seems to be the only recognized sexuality. Condie describes her characters pretty well, and they seemed to all be white - or at least, arguabley white. I can't think of a single one that was definitely a person of color. (Of course, I could be mistaken. I know white readers often read characters as white even when they are intended to be otherwise.) Maybe these are more diverse characters in the second and third books. Maybe Condie puposedly left them out so we can see their exclusion is a problem that needs to be addressed. Maybe. Hopefully.

Have you read any of these? Share your thoughts!

Monday, December 3, 2012

November in Review

November means elections
Goodbye November, Hello December!  

Another month has come and gone, and big changes continue. I swear, this year has got to be the most eventful I've ever experienced. I just transferred job locations and started a slightly different position. I had two jury trials in November (won one, lost one). I committed to a "holiday running streak," which means I'm running at least one mile every day from Thanksgiving until New Year's. My little sister and I are in a fashion show for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

On a bookish front, I bought a Nook! And I'm using it! Couldn't pass up the Black Friday deal at B&N. Not giving up the paper books anytime soon, though. 

Also, if anyone has any recommendations for publishers to look for on NetGalley, feel free to share. I just signed up for an account, and it's a bit overwhelming. I like "literary" fiction, interesting non-fiction, female authors... you know, the stuff I rave about here on the blog.

On to the numbers. 
Here's my November  breakdown:

7 books total     
4 fiction               57%
3 nonfiction         43%
5 female authors  71%
2 translated         29%

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were
Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston

So, this is another gushing post where I tell you just to go out and get a copy of this book, now, and read it, now.

The book starts with Janie, our protagonist  returning home after some time away. The townspeople watch her walk to her house, gossiping, wondering where she's been, what she's been up to. Of course, it's only her best friend Pheoby who actually goes to the house to welcome Janie back home. She's as curious as anyone about Janie. She feeds Janie, and in return is told her story.
Pheoby's hungry listening helped Janie to tell her story. So she went on thinking back to her young years and explaining them to her friend in soft, easy phrases while all around the house, the night time put on flesh and blackness. 
There are quotable passages on nearly every page. Beautiful, lush, evocative, language everywhere. This book is known for Hurston's use of dialect, and it is noticeable and distinct. She contrasts the colloquial with the ethereal in a way that has to be experienced for yourself. 

I read this book in high school, and I just couldn't get it through my thick skull. Back then, I had no real understanding about systemic, institutionalized racism or sexism. My English teacher tried to introduce us to literature that would expose us to these ideas, but without the solid historical background, and maturity to critically think about them, they were hopelessly lost on 16 year old me. The most I gleaned was that it was a local story - the title comes from Janie's experience living through a hurricane. Though the book doesn't explicitly mention it, it is based on the devastating 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. This storm was the second deadliest in United States history, and 75% of those who died were poor migrant farm workers, mostly African Americans.

Here are a couple pictures I took several years ago as I happened across the mass grave site used to bury the people of color who perished during the storm:
   Site finally receives a marker.
Wide view of the site. 

While the storm and its aftermath are an integral park of the book, it is not the whole story. This is Janie's story, through and through. She is a remarkable woman, who tries to follow society's rules and still find her happiness, until she realizes that just isn't going to work for her. Through her tale, you can see the limits placed on women like her, and how far we've come - but how far we yet have to go.

Want more like this? Try:  
  • "The Wrong They Could Not Bury", Dave Scheiber. It's not a book, but read this short article that talks more about the efforts of the African American community to have the mass grave site properly marked and recognized.
  • Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hurston. Ms. Hurston's autobiography, which includes portions about writing Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Sister CarrieTheodore Dreiser. Another great book with a strong, unconventional female lead.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Salon: October Wrap Up

Wow, October. The month just flew by. I feel like I've been thinking that after many of these monthly wrap-ups, and now I'm realizing it's November. I guess that means the whole year is really flying by.

I've got less than two months to meet my reading goals for the year. I've read 73 books so far. My overall goal is 100 - eek! Of course, last year I did read 21 books in December. Then again, I wasn't working full time.

I'm good on most of my challenges, except for the Back to the Classics challenge. I've read 5 out of 9 so far. I've started a 6th, Rebecca, so it's doable to finish before the end of the year, but it's going to be tough.

Here's my October breakdown:
9 books total    
8 fiction               88%
1 nonfiction         12%
8 female authors  88%
0 translated         0%

I do have two books in translation out from the library! I've had a significant drop off in reading translated books. Again, this is a reoccurring refrain. I am going to set a personal goal for this in 2013. Or maybe find a challenge. I'm sure there's a challenge out there, right? If you know of one, let me know :-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Visiting Book Shops in SoCal (and a little giveaway)

Hello, readers! I spent much of last week in a whirlwind. First, I was in trial Monday through Wednesday. I left the office as soon as trial was over Wednesday and headed to the airport and jetted off to California for the 75th National Lawyers Guild Convention. Of course, I ended up getting sick somewhere in there, and I'm still feeling the effects, but hey, whatever.

Anyways, I knew that the convention would be super packed full of activities and panels and talking to people, so I only brought one book with me. Ha! I read the entire thing on the plane ride. Going to CA.  Not having anything to read on the plane was stressing me out - how would I make it through four more days without a book?

My California book haul
Well, Thursday morning I made my way from West Hollywood to Pasadena. On the way, I took a nice little walk over to sunset Boulevard and had an amazingly delicious iced coffee from Rockpaper Coffee. (Why doesn't anyone near me sell cold brewed iced coffee?) While I sat there, I desperately was googling on my phone to find a bookstore near where I needed to pick up the Metro.

The best option was Larry Edmunds Cinema and Theatre Bookshop, over on Hollywood Boulevard. I started walking. Once I arrived, I spent the next half hour or so poking all around this little shop. It was small, and crammed full of books, but well organized, with high ceilings and lots of light that kept it from feeling oppressively cramped. It was full of biographies of movie stars, film theory, screenplays, and more. There was even a selection of paper doll books featuring classic Hollywood starlets. I bought two books, The Alcestiad, a play by Thorton Wilder, and Censored Hollywood, by Frank Miller.

When I got to the hotel, my room wasn't ready, but they offered to let me check my bags. I did so, then went for a bit of a walk to get some lunch. Of course, I left my new books with my checked bags. But no worries! There were more bookstores to be visited!

I made my way towards Vroman's, daydreaming and distractedly wondering how to pronounce it (V - Romans? Vvvvroman's Just Roman's, maybe with a silent V?), I noticed I was walking by a little hole in the wall place with a ton of old National Geographic magazines out front. Looking more closely, I realized it was a book store, with old neon in the window clearly telling me "Books, Books, Books." And thus I found Cliff's Books. It is one of those old school used book stores, cramped and creaky and maybe a little smelly, but super fun to explore. The guy at the front had to be Cliff - a little old white guy with a fun sense of humor, definitely a book lover. I bought Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog. He had a huge selection of books from old Hardy Boys to selections in Russian and large coffee table art books. Disorganized as it sometimes seemed, there were big, clear section markers to guide me along.

After I left, I realized I was only a couple blocks from Vroman's. Walking in there was a completely different world than Cliff's. It was like a Barnes and Noble, if BN was your neighborhood bookstore. Beautiful, clean, bright, with an attached cafe that sells a really good Italian soda (raspberry for me). It also felt a little...soulless. I was hating myself for liking it as much as I did, with all its silly displays of mass-produced carved Buddhas next to incense burners, across the aisle from a display of Moleskine notebooks. But it was so pretty! And everything was so neatly laid out and ready for you to find exactly what you came looking for! No wandering required. Which was kinda sad, actually.
Bookmarks from Vroman's

I shouldn't be so down on Vroman's, though (especially since I really did like it). In today's economy, I know bookstores have to diversify and sell other stuff. And honestly, I find a lot of the gift items in  bookstores are really nice - things that I'd love to give or receive as gifts. Clearly, book lovers have good taste ;-)

While I was there, I picked up a copy of Rebecca, which I am supposed to be reading for the Back to the Classics challenge. They had one with a pretty cover, which is kinda important in this case because I need all the encouragement to read this that I can get. I was thinking I'd read it in October. Seems like a good time of the year for it.

I also picked up these two cute bookmarks. They were the winning designs from area school children. The "Blast off with a Good Book" is from K-3 grade winner Aaron Ky-Riesenbach, and the "Buzz into a Book" is from Andrea Linares, the 4-6 grade winner.

So, would you like a bookmark? Just tell me what you like in an independent bookstore, and which bookmark you'd prefer. Make sure to leave you leave your email address so I can contact you if you win. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Child's Life: Graphic Novel

A Child's Life
A Child's Life and Other Stories
Phoebe Gloeckner

This is one graphic novel that certainly lives up to its name. I'm glad I wasn't reading it in public when I turned the page and saw the panel depicting two young girls peeping in through a broken bathroom window and catching their stepfather in a *ahem* private moment. (Granted, there were far more disturbing scenes, but that was the first one that I recall being particularly explicit.)

I came across this title when I was looking for graphic novels written and illustrated by women. It seems like a lot of the well known books in this medium are by men, and if you've read my blog at all you probably know I like reading female authors. (And yes, I read male authors and yes I like them and yes Maus I & II are amazing).

The characters in A Child's Life and Other Stories are clearly based on Gloeckner's self and family and friends. It was a little odd to get used to at first, as she often changed the main character's name from story to story. It's understandable that she would want to put some distance between herself and some of these incredibly painful experiences. The stories are in rough chronological order, grouped as child years, to teen, to adult. They were not all completed at the same time, so there are very noticeable differences in drawing styles. This isn't a bad thing - in fact, the differences lend interesting visual variety.

This is not a book to willy-nilly recommend to your friends. It is intense. The subject matter is dark - excessive drug and alcohol abuse, pedophilia, rape, child abuse.

Unlike Maus, there is no attempt to depict the atrocities in anything other than minute detail. All the horrors are present for perusal, which can make you feel a bit like a creepy voyeur. What does this mean? What is the purpose of these artistic choices? Perhaps it's to force the readers' heads point at these acts, force them to watch and acknowledge they exist. Because unfortunately, there are too many children who know about them first hand.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is set in London - both London Above and London Below. Wait - you thought London was London? Then clearly you are a member of London Above.

The inhabitants of London Below are nearly invisible to their Above counterparts. Richard, a twentyish Scot businessman, is on his way to an important dinner with his fiancee when she merely steps over the bleeding body of a young girl, Door. When Richard stops to help her, his fiancee doesn't understand why he is bothering. It's as if somehow only Richard can fully see Door. This encounter leads to Richard fading from the view of people in his life.

When his apartment is being rented out from beneath his feet, his office belongings packed up and stored somewhere, Richard decides to do what he can and reclaim his life. London Below is revealed.

This is your typical quest book. Door wants to find out who's responsible for the murder of her parents. Hunter is after the next big kill. Richard wants to get back to his normal, safe, boring London Above life. Will they find what they're looking for?

The descriptions are incredibly vivid - from the ghostly Metro to to nightmare Night's Bridge. It makes sense that this book is actually the novelization of a BBC miniseries. London Below is often dark, dank, dirty, foggy - but then again, as Door points out, so is London above. In fact, I learned a bit about killer fog from reading Neverwhere. See? Books make you smarter!

Overall, I did really enjoy the book. I'm sorry it took me so long to read one of Gaiman's full length works. My only other experience had been with one of his short stories. As I was reading, I kept wishing I've visited London so as to get more of the references, but it's certainly not necessary to appreciate the book. This is a perfect October read, so if you haven't read it yet, go get yourself a copy!

Monday, October 1, 2012

September in Review

Ah, September, end of summer, cool nip in the air, leaves beginning to change... Wait, where am I again? Oh, right, still stuck in 90 degrees with 98% humidity and daily rainshowers. Ahhh, Florida.

Well! I may not be posting much, but at least I'm reading. I knocked off eight books in September, not August's eleven, but not a bad number.

I said last month that I wanted to read come classics, and I did do that. Fahrenheit 451, The Age of Innocence, and The Remains of the Day all count towards classics reading challenges. Both The Age of Innocence and The Remains of the Day were very, very, good. Fahrenheit 451...well, my reaction was more mixed. I'll have to actually write a review and explain.

Here's my September breakdown:
8 books total
7 fiction                88%
1 nonfiction          13%
4 female authors  50%
0 translated           0%
Again, nothing translated. I wonder what's going on with my reading. It seems like I used to read a good number of translated books without trying. Now, I have to make an effort to include them.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Devil in White City, at Long Last

The Devil in the White City
The Devil in the White City  
Erik Larsen

Apparently when Chicago hosted the World's Fair in 1893 it was a big freaking deal. Who knew? (Ok, I bet a lot of people knew, but clearly I was not one of them).

Larsen's book lays out exactly why the fair was such a major production, the immense efforts it required, the staggering obstacles that had to be overcome to have a dazzling spectacle succeed so well.

The parallel plot revolves around early American serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes. Holmes took advantage of the large, transient crowds drawn to the fair to engage in a hobby a bit less wholesome than riding the Ferris wheel.

All in all, the book was engaging and well written. The only part that bothered me was there was lots of undiluted privilege being flung around. Of course, it's not like I wrote down any examples, like a good book  blogger would do. Also, I probably shouldn't have waited eighteen years to finish writing up my thoughts before posting them... Anyway! Read it! And read these other books while you're at it:

Want more like this? Try:
  • Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie. Those scenes when Carries first arrives in Chicago, when the city is still comprised largely of vacant lots, sprang to mind as I read about Chicago and the Fair being constructed.
  • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle. Chicago was known for its meatpacking, another bit of gruesome business.
  • Kevin Davis, Defending the Damned. Meet some modern Chicago killers, and those that defend them. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Salon: Hanging out with My "Little"

The Sunday Salon
Good Sunday, all!

I just got back from work this morning (yay, First Appearance hearings!), am watching a bit of the Melissa Harris-Perry Student Town Hall, and am looking at the piles of laundry that I need to wash and put away.

Later today I'm having my first one on one excursion with my new little sister. I am a new big sister with the Big Brother Big Sisters organization, and I am super excited about it. I have three nephews, but none of them live very close to me, and no nieces. Before I went to law school I taught high school, and loved being around young people. Even in law school, I made time to talk to high school students about their rights during interactions with the police. Since graduating, I have not had the opportunity to do much with young people. Big Brothers Big Sisters sounded like a great way to be a mentor to a young lady.

Two African American young men laugh as they bowl
Volunteer to Start Something
If you can commit at least 4 hours a month, I encourage you to explore the possibility of being a "Big." The organization especially needs people of color and men. MEN, please! My local organization has a TWO YEAR waiting list for little brothers to be matched, because there are so few men volunteering. According to BBBS, "more than 70% of our children waiting for a Big are boys, but only 3 out of every 10 inquiries to volunteer come from men.I know that volunteering in general is something that skews female, but this is so important. Ladies, if you've got a man in your life (significant other, brother, father, friend, whatevs), why don't you pass this on. Give your guy someone to go shoot hoops or play video games with. Seriously.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox for the moment and ask for help of a different sort: My little sister is eleven years old, African American, and has some self esteem issues and some trouble relating to her family. She likes school, and does like to read. I would like book suggestions that would be appropriate and interesting for someone meeting that general description. I've just met her briefly once, so I don't know what she's read or what she's liked, so I may be asking this again based on information that I gather :-)

What are some good books an 11 year old would enjoy?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Updated Fairy Tales

My Mother She Killed Me,
My Father He Ate Me
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me
Edited by Kate Bernheimer

I first heard about this collection well over a year ago. The title was great, and it had selections from authors I'd been meaning to read for awhile (ahem, Neil Gaiman). I bought it shortly after, during one of my last visits to the Strand before I left New York. I started it back then, but mainly just flipped through it, picking out the stories that sounded interesting, leaving the rest for later.

Well. Later has finally come, and I'm kinda wishing it hadn't. Turns out I read most of the good stories during my first go-round. A lot of the other ones felt like the author was trying to hard to evoke a theme, without really spinning a story. One of the great things about traditional fairy tales was they could be read on many levels - kids could get them, and adults could find elements to appreciate, too.

There were some very good selections. Amiee Bender's "The Color Master" was excellent - an engaging story with a touch of magic and a sense of foreboding lingering in the background. Stacey Richter's "A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility" probably wins the award for longest title, and is a fun tongue-in-cheek re-imagining of "Cinderella."

Neil Gaiman's story was good. It's the tale of a girl whose sister turns into an orange monster, and it's written in the form of the girl's answers to some unknown questions of an unnamed interviewer. It definitely intrigued me enough to read more by him (I just picked up Neverwhere from the library today).

Honestly, though, it's hard to judge the good stories on their own. Are they truly good? Or are the others so alike and so subpar that anything slightly original or interesting stands out like a shining beacon?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Salon: What to read next?

Good say, fellow Saloners.

I've managed to slog through the last couple stories in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. I've been reading it this past week, and while some of the stories are good, a lot of them are NOT. Fortunately, the last story was pretty good, so I didn't finish it and then hurl it across the room :-)

The other book I read this week was The Road, and I'm wondering why I let it sit on my self so long before I got to it. Yes, it slogged at times, but it was so well written that I didn't mind.

I'm trying to decide what to read next. I still have my half-read copy of Midnight's Children laying around somewhere. I also need to read more for my classics challenges. I think I need something quick and simple, though. I put a library hold request on Divergent, but the wait time is 17 days. grrrr.

There are a couple books making eyes at me: Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl's memoir, and Remains of the Day. Have you read either? Any thoughts?

Just because I'm curious: How do you choose what to read next? Do you have a method, a list from which to choose, or you just pick what suits your mood?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Link Round Up

I've been reading some great articles and posts around the interwebz lately, and thought I'd share some with you all. Nothing like sharing the love!

Libraries: They're about builing stronger, more just communities Well. I'm a lawyer, and a library lover, so of course I think this is fantastic: "This fall, Pro Bono Net is producing four national training webinars for public and public law librarians about free, online resources for people with legal needs. The Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series kicks off this Thursday, Sept. 13, with an overview of the legal information needs among low-income Americans and why libraries are essential partners in access to justice."

O. Henry postage stamp
O. Henry Pardon Application This post is from a Texas law blog I like. The blogger has been on a mission to posthumously pardon O. Henry, short story writer extraordinaire. "The pardon petition idea first bubbled to the surface after President Obama quoted the great writer last year while pardoning a pair of Thanksgiving turkeys in an annual ritual that IMO makes a mockery of  executive clemency powers. The Constitution's framers considered a pivotal check and balance to excesses of the criminal justice system. In Federalist Paper #74, Alexander Hamilton wrote that, "The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel." In modern times, though, executive clemency, especially at the federal level, has itself become a cruel joke to those who seek it."
Interested in signing your name in support? Here's the petition.

The (Imagined) Woman Reader and Male Anxiety Jenny McPhee writes "Male anxiety about the woman reader is as old as reading itself. In Belinda Jack's new book The Woman Reader, she meticulously explores the manifestation of this anxiousness historically. Some men encouraged and cultivated their women readers: Ovid created characters such as Byblis and Philomela to show his empathy for the female plight. Others, such as Lucian and Juvenal, wrote biting satires expressing their disgust for literate and intelligent women.... Rousseau, in his Émile: or, On Education, wrote that women should read and "cultivate their minds" but only enough to please their husbands. The eighteenth-century writer Samuel Richardson had an extensive female readership and kept up correspondence with them, often asking for their input and opinions. "My acquaintance lies chiefly among the ladies," he wrote, "I care not who knows it.""
If you want to read some of McPhee's fiction, I recommend No Ordinary Matter, which I read and reviewed earlier this year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Poetry After 9/11

Book cover, showing a view of lower Manhattan from the New York Harbor, showing the Twin Towers still standing.
Poetry After 9/11
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets*
Edited by Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians

As with all poetry, this collection is not something to rush through. Especially with this collection, there is an intensity, even with the more lighthearted pieces.

Alicia Ostriker writes in the introduction, "Not many of the voices in this book are solemn. Now do they repeat. Like an explosion, the poems fly out in all directions from an ignited core.... This book is a portrait of the New York temperament, a tangle of cynicism, pride, humor, compassion, and of course confusion. Plus the capacity to absorb hurt and rebound."

One of the more lighthearted pieces was Paul Violoi's "House of Xerxes," which describes a scene that it a cross between the Olympic Parade of Nations and the best of Paris is Burning. Here's the first stanza:

Here come those splendid Persians!
We were expecting fireworks
And here they are!
Short bow, long arrows,
Colorful long-sleeve shirts
Under iron breastplates -
Nice fish-scale pattern on those breastplates.
Just the right beach touch, very decky.
Quivers dangling under wicker-worky sheilds,
A casual touch, that.
And those floppy felt caps
Make it very wearable, very sporty.
Huge amounts of gold,
A killer-look feel
But it still says A Day at the Shore.

There are, of course, poems that deal more directly with the attack, such as Ostriker's "The Window, at the Moment of Flame":

and all this while I have been playing with toys
a toy superhighway a toy automobile a house of blocks

and all this while far off in other lands
thousands and thousands, millions and million

you know - you see the pictures
women carrying bony infants

men sobbing over graves
building sculpted by explosion -

earth wasted bare and rotten
and all this while I have been shopping, I have

been let us say free
and do they hate me for it

do they hate me


My favorite line in the whole collection, and maybe one of my favorite lines, period, came from Charlie Smith's poem "Religious Art"

I press hard with my feet
against the earth and
call this fighting back

Every day.

*This book was sent to me by the publisher, Melville House

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Classics Club: September Meme

September's task, courtesy of The Classics Club, is to "pick a classic someone else in the club has read from our big review list. Link to their review and offer a quote from their post describing their reaction to the book. What about their post makes you excited to read that classic in particular?"

I need all the excitement I can get as I gear up to read Rebecca. Jillian's review provided that spark:
In those last eighty or so pages I felt the dark curl of London shadowing the pages, the rain of a 1930s night beating the panes of the glass in sheets. The sense of doom that one cannot help but feel watching Maxim — well, I can’t say what he is doing without ruining it for others!
I'm so afraid this book will be tedious, but Jillian's over-the-top-enthusiasm reminds me not to take this - or any other venerable "classic" - quite so seriously.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Palace in the Old Village

A Palace in the Old Village
A Palace in the Old Village
Tahar Ben Jelloun

Mohammad, a Moroccan man living in France with his family, suddenly realizes that he is facing imminent retirement. He is forced to stop working at the auto factory where he's been employed for the last 40 years, ever since he emigrated from his beloved hometown in Morocco.

He considers retirement a form of death, Indeed, he worries over the fate of others who, seemingly healthy and full of life, quickly passed on when it was time for them to retire. He wonders - what will fill his days now that the factory has no more use for him? What is his purpose? Surely his children will look after him?

Mohammad will not live out his years aimlessly. He returns to his village to fulfill the ideals he was brought up believing in with all his heart. He will build a great house, give glory to his God, and live surrounded by his children. Yes, even his daughter who married that Italian Christian.

Unfortunately, his children are "Frenchies" through and through. Their adopted homeland has laid its claim on them.

Despite the very specific setting, the themes in The Palace in the Old Village are resoundingly universal. Generation gaps, family clashes, fear of outliving your usefulness. For such a slim little novel, there's quite a bit to work with.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely folks over at the Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is
Top Ten Books on my Fall TBR List

So, I really need to step up my challenge reading, or I'm not going to finish by the end of the year. If I put them at the top my my to be read list, I'll get to them quicker...right?

Beloved, Toni Morrison. A reread.

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. This on scares, me, to be honest. I really don't know why, but it's always been one of those books I think I'm not going to like. I'm planning on taking a deep breath and diving in.

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton. This is probably cheating, since I've already started it! (it's good).

The Remains of the Day, Kazou Ishiguro. I just picked up a copy of this on sale, so I need to read it. I love the cover, which certainly helps me want to pick it up.

Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters. I just put in an inter library loan request, so hopefully it doesn't take too long to arrive.

Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway. I haven't read any Hemingway in far too long.

Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehernreich. Another book that's been on my shelf, unread, for far too long.

Divergent, Veronica Roth. Something fun and quick. And something I can borrow from a friend. Free is good!

Black Boy, Richard Wright. I just read two books by Zora Neale Hurston, a contemporary of Wright's with supposedly completely different views of the racial issues of their time. It will be interested to make comparisons.

Midnight's Children, Salmon Rushdie. This really should be the book I'm most looking forward to finishing, as I started it months ago and then abandoned it. Not because I didn't like it, just because, well, I don't know why. I'm going to finish it!

Do you have any suggestion as to where I start? What are you looking forward to reading for fall?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Salon: August in Review

In August I made a real effort to step up my reading. I went from 6 books in July to 11 in August, which I think is pretty good. I also made sure I read some translated books, since I hadn't read one since  Miral  in May. All this reading means that I need to step up writing reviews!

So far this month I've started two books, Age of Innocence and Hemingway's Boat. Both of them are good so far, but completely different. I haven't read any Edith Wharton in awhile, and I'm wondering why. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but I'm really enjoying her observations about New York society. I'm thinking September is going to be a month focused on the classics, since I still have a ways to go on the Back to the Classics challenge.

Here's my August breakdown:

11 books total
5 fiction                45%
6 nonfiction          55%
7 female authors  64%
2 translated           18%

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quick Thoughts: Books You Need to Read

All three of these books earned 5 star ratings from this picky reader.

Alias Grace
Margaret Atwood

Let's start with the one I read back in January (eep!): Alias Grace. Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite living writers, fictionalizes the tale of Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant to Canada who is convicted of murdering her employer. I love Grace, the unreliable narrator, the "alienist" doctor intent on finding out the truth about her crime, and the Canadian frontier setting.

I wish I'd written my thoughts when the book was fresher in my mind, but it was not to be ;-) It was very good, that I clearly remember!

Anne Of Green Gables
Lucy Maud Montgomery

 I absolutely loved the Anne series when I was growing up. That Anne girl, with her endless, exhausting supply of energy, her determination to make the best of whatever life threw at her, her fiery red hair, worked her way into my heart. I'd been wanting to re-read Anne of Green Gables for some time, hoping it would provide a much-needed comfort read. Happily, it did not disappoint. Anne and the other characters were just as charming as they were fifteen years ago when I first met them. Montgomery's descriptions of Prince Edward Island have lodged themselves deep in my imagination, making me ever hopeful that I'll one day get to see the White Way of Delight for myself.

Brother, I'm Dying 
Edwidge Danticat

This is Danticat's story of her two fathers, who were also two brothers. As perhaps you would expect from a writer, there is a theme focusing on the importance of words running throughout this memoir. Her uncle depends on his words as an orator and preacher, then loses them completely when surgery removes his voicebox. He relies on compulsively jotted notes to detail the activities around him. Danticat listens to the stories of the elder women in the family and is taught about life, and about death. She struggles to find the words to communicate with her parents, who have left her and her brother in Haiti as they try to prepare a place in New York.

The end, of course, is heartbreaking. What else would you expect with a title like Brother, I'm Dying? There is hope though, and life, and beauty.

Okay, which one are you going to read first? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Classics Giveaway Winners Announced!

Gold medal US Olympic Soccer Team. Hey, you're a winner, too!
Last week I posted a classics giveaway, and today I'm announcing the winners. Thanks for everyone who participated. Go classics readers! Winners, be on the lookout for an email so you can send me your mailing address.

Melisa won Bleak House
Jenna won Things Fall Apart
Beth won A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Jillian won The Painted Veil
Reading Pleasure won Anna Karenina
Bex won The Bell Jar
Allie won Rabbit, Run (it probably helped that she was the only won who wanted it!)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Quick Thoughts

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
Christopher Moore

Supposedly a comedic re-imagining of the gospels, but I'd argue that there's really not that much actually re-imagined. I was going to write a long ranting review of this book, but I just cannot muster the energy. Just for starters, there is an incredibly infuriating rape scene. Plus, your typical rank misogyny and racism. I am so over comedy that seeks to uphold and reinforce existing systems of privilege rather than help dismantle them.

The Good Muslim
Tahmima Anam
The Good Muslim
Covers the rise of radical Islam in Bangladesh as experienced by one family.

There was nothing really terrible about this book, and I know a lot of people have really liked it, but it just wasn't for me. I couldn't connect with any of the characters, and there wasn't really much going on plot-wise, until the rushed-feeling climax. It kind of reminded me of Thrity Umrigar - lots of internal dialogue, focus on female characters, South Asian setting. Unfortunately, I'm not really much of a fan of hers, either - but if you are, maybe this book is for you. I didn't realize that it is actually the second in a series, so perhaps reading A Golden Age before this one would have at least helped me appreciate the characters a bit more.

(On a side not, when Zaid goes to the madrasa, it reminded me of clients who think their driving on a suspended license charge is no big deal, until they get sent to jail. It's like, wow, this is NOT GOOD.)

The Sense of an Ending*
Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending
I have the feeling that if I'd sat down and read this in one sitting I would have had a completely different reaction to it. I loved the first portion that I read. I was completely wrapped up in this remembering of the past. I put it down, went to bed, and when I picked it up next the magic was just gone. The more I read the less I liked it. The concept is good - what is memory? who am I? who are these people I once knew? - but not particularly original. So basically - meh.

*Sent to me by the publisher

Have you read any of these? Think I've got it all wrong about your favorite book? Feel free to tell me about it :-)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Classics Giveaway

I'm currently participating in a couple classics reading challenges. One is just this year, and one is a longer term project.

I noticed that many of the participants have chosen the same books, and some of those books are ones that I've read, and are currently sitting on my shelves, taking up space for new things I could be reading. That means one thing - a giveaway!

Get your choice of the following books:
  • The Painted Veil, W. Somerset Maugham
  • Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  • Rabbit, Run, John Updike
  • The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

Here's what you have to do:
Comment on this post, telling me which book you'd like AND telling me how to contact you should you win.

Here's what you can do: earn extra entries by following me on twitter and/or tweeting about the giveaway.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Hanging of Angelique

The Hanging of Angelique
The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal
Afua Cooper
"Slavery is Canada's best-kept secret, locked within the national closet. And because it is a secret it is written out of official history. But slavery was an institutionalized practice for over two hundred years. ...Canada may not have been a slave society - that is, a society whose economy was based on slaves - but it was a society with slaves."
Canadian slavery was certainly something I knew nothing about prior to reading this book. I was always taught that Canada was the promised land for slaves in the US, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act. Afua Cooper's groundbreaking book dispels that myth.

She focuses her narrative on one young enslaved woman, christened Marie-Joseph Angelique, who was accused of setting her mistress's house on fire and, as a result, burning down much of Old Montreal. Cooper is sure to put Angelique's story in context, explaining how slavery was an integral part of Canada's foundations.

Cooper does not shy away from placing blame on Angelique. In fact, the idea that this was a purposeful act, borne of the frustrations and chafing of the slave system, is central to her thesis.
"Did Angelique set the fire? Your guess is as good as mine. No one saw her light the spark that started the blaze. All the evidence was circumstantial. But I believe she did set it."
When Angelique set the blaze, she acted willfully, deliberately. She was not a woman to sit idly by and quietly bear the harsh hand she was dealt. Throughout her life she rebelled, through acts large and small. Her final act of rebellion ended up even bigger than she had probably anticipated.

Want more like this? Try:
  • Sojourner Truth, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Another slave narrative from a woman with Dutch ties.
  • Assata Shakur, Assata. A 1987 autobiography from another resistor that clearly shows the struggle continues.
  • Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace. The fictional retelling of a famous Canadian murder case. In this case, the accused is servant girl Grace Marks.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Favorite Classic

Over at The Classics Club blog (which is an outgrowth of Jillian's Classics Club idea and project), there is a monthly discussion question related, of course, to classic literature. This month the participants are asked:

What is your favorite classic book? Why?

I may have mentioned before that I hate choosing favorites. And a favorite classic? That's made even more difficult because I tend to further subdivide "classics" into other, more manageable categories - English, American, modern, ancient, world lit - how to choose?

So my choice is more like "a" favorite classic. And I'm going with Joseph Heller's Catch-22.

It was one of four books I had to read the summer before 11th grade AP English. It was the first book that I remember really struggling with - what was all this nonsense going on? I don't get it! Them, at some point, it just clicked, and I was in love. I felt like I was let in on a little secret, one that you had to work for. That was the first time that happened with a book, but not the last. Others since then have been Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

What books have made you feel that way? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Dovekeepers

Book cover of The Dovekeepers, featuring a young Jewish girl wrapped in a white dress and headdress with two doves sitting on her shoulders
The Dovekeepers
Alice Hoffman

From the first, it's apparent that Alice Hoffman has spent time researching this book. She attempts to bring to life the time of Jewish resistance to Roman rule in the first century CE, culminating with the siege on Masada.

She focuses on the women in the community, handpicked by Shirah, the Witch of Moab, to tend the fortress's doves. Four of the women narrate sections of the novel. Unfortunately, they all sound the same. I love a book that successfully handles multiple narrators, but here it just doesn't work. A third person narration, with a focus on the four women in turn, probably would have been a better choice.

I did love how she presented a part of early(ish? I'm not a scholar) Judaism that has been pretty well covered up - and had all these rebellious women. I love a good rebellious woman character. Her presentation of the fortress of Masada was really interesting. I never realized it was a retreat for King Herod, and would thus have all the trappings royalty would have demanded. It was pretty cool to think about turning it into a stronghold for rebels.

On the whole, though, I didn't love the book. Much of it felt overwrought, and it dragged on and on. I mean, it's set in Masada. I know what's bound to happen, but I felt like I was reading 450 pages just to get to the action. Still, worth reading for the good parts.

Want more like this? Try:*
  • Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra, A Life. While focused on Cleopatra (duh) this book offers a different perspective on her contemporary, Herod, and his desert kingdom.
  • Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book. Judaism through time, as illustrated by the travels of an ancient manuscript.
  • Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess. I haven't read this one yet, but I am excited to learn about this aspect of Judasim. I always thought it was a monotheistic religion from its beginning. 
*All book links are to the Indiebound affiliate program.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Salon: Fried Chicken and Books

This weekend, the hubby and I went out to dinner with another couple. They'd never been to this restaurant, but I assured them this place had some of the best chicken wings in town. (We were in that I-need-another-beer-and-some-bar-food-kinda-mood.) This got us talking about some of the places to get some really good food in town.

One of my favorite places is this cute little soul food restaurant in an area of town that's not got the best reputation. The restaurant's been there for decades, and in recent years it's gotten a facelift, along with other businesses on that block. I've never felt unsafe going there, and they have really good fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens, lima beans - all that stuff I just love. So I go there, and on many occasions I've sung it's praises to people I work with. I've managed to make a few converts ;-)

However, some people give me a hard time, look at me suspiciously, and wonder why I like to go to "the hood" to eat. I just smile and tell them I'll go wherever there's good food.

So anyway, my friend tells me that she's tried one of the fried chicken places in the neighborhood in question, and she didn't like it. I tell her I'll take her to the place I like. Then she says, with a little smirk on her face, "I think you go there to prove a point."

I gave her my usual answer. Good food rules.

But here's the thing - she's partly right. I do go there, and other places like it, and then talk about it, on purpose. I want to show people (mainly other white, middle class people like myself) that's it's really okay if they go to black owned businesses. If they let black people cook their food. That even when the young black guy at the rib place gets arrested and shows up in court for some stupid possession charge that yes, I'll still eat where he works. (Can you imagine not eating where potheads work? There's not a restaurant around not staffed by people who smoke weed.)

So what does this have to do with books?

I approach my reading in the same way. I do thoughtfully seek out books from people of color. When I like them, I sing their praises. When I'm at the salon, talking books with the manicurist, I'm sure to tell her I'm reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I'm enjoying it. She's never heard of it, so I tell her how it's set in Florida, it deals with the 1928 hurricane, etc. She tells me that A Land Remembered is one of her favorite books. It's also a book set in old Florida. I don't make a big deal out of the fact that Their Eyes is by a black woman. It's just a good book, plain and simple. (Well actually, it's a great book, but that's for my upcoming gushing review.)

But there are so many good books that don't get the credit they're due. Or someone reads one book by a Harlem Renaissance author back when they were in high school, didn't like it, and now doesn't ever want to tray another one.

It's like not liking the friend chicken at one restaurant and then never going to try the place next door. It's just waiting there, ready to knock your socks off.

Books links are affiliate links to 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Minding My Manners

Emily Post on Entertaining
Elizabeth L. Post

I've had this book on my shelves for ages now, and have done little more than flip through it. I'd read the first chapter. "Party Planning" and decided it was so out of the realm of anything I could see my self doing that I put it down without a second thought.

But you know what? Despite the dreadfully stuffy bits, this could actually come in handy. Not that I plan on hosting a formal six course dinner party any time soon. However, it demystifies some of the impenetrable fog of secret Greenwich WASP code that surrounds these events.

It's also got good tips on how to manage logistics of say, a beach picnic. Or a buffet lunch. It has pointers on housewarming parties vs. open houses (who knew?).

Honestly, it was almost fun to imagine myself in some of the less probable circumstances: How do I treat the servants? (politely, but not with familiarity). Can I leave before the President of the United States does? (absolutely not). Must I used engraved invitations when I have a reception for my Senator? (ha!).

Anyway, give it a try, even if it's just to remember that your water glass is the one on the right.
Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads, is a weekly blogging event open to anyone with a food related post to share. Do check out what this weekend's other participants are stirring up!