Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the few books I have read that stands up to every re-reading. Her biography is fascinating. For example, I learned that she started but did not finish law school. The publishing industry was a different beast in 1960, the year Mockingbird was published to great critical acclaim. Forty years later, Lee would have signed a multibook deal, and we'd all be waiting eagerly for another novel.

Monday, April 27, 2009

UPDATE: 41 for 41

Six months into my personal reading year, I thought I would offer an update. True confession: the first month or so tends to start strong because I include books that are on my radar or that I will be reading soon for book group or Conversation. It’s easy to knock those off. Then, I tend to stall out. But, I think I’m doing okay this year. Assuming, of course, that I would actually manage to read all the books on my 41 for 41 list, I still have a long way to go.

To date, I have finished Unaccustomed Earth, Lulu in Marrakech, Friends Lovers Chocolate, something by Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book), Ghostwalk, Little House on the Prairie, and Loving Frank. That’s seven of forty-one. Wow. Felt like more. That’s okay, as I’m way ahead of 40 for 40, which ended with six total books read. Plus, I’m measuring success by quality rather than ratio.

Heading into the third quarter of my reading year, which runs October ’08 through October ’09, I am reading Animal Vegetable Miracle (not Mineral, which, apparently, I’ve been writing all over the internets, much to my horror), as well as The Other Side of the Island. Also, I am carrying a copy of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps in my purse—almost as good as reading it.

New strategies
I thought I would jettison a few from the list, namely those that I intended to read for Conversation with Books. Then I was able to procure from the library, an unabridged audio version of Loving Frank. Listening to this book while running errands or commuting was easy and enjoyable. I’m going to try to do more audio “reading,” which should enable me to get to more titles on the list.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

currently reading

The past couple week have been s-l-o-w in the reading department, which seems so shameful because I have piles of juicy books from the library, as well as the recent purchases. I hate when this happens...this casting about for something to read when I have plenty to good books right in front of me. So, I'm enjoying whatever I manage to read.

~ Acqua Alta, Donna Leon's fifth Brunetti mystery. I love this one!! My favorite, to date. Art theft, an incredible depiction of Venice’s seasonal high waters (the annual flooding sounds awful), a dramatic search-and-rescue that I hadn’t expected, and the return of characters from Death at la Fenice, the first book in the series. Here is the opening paragraph:
Domestic tranquility prevailed. Flavia Petrelli, the reigning diva of La Scala, stood in the warm kitchen and chopped onions. In separate heaps in front of her lay a pile of plum tomatoes, two cloves of garlic chopped into fine slices, and two plump-bottomed aubergines. She stood at the marble counter, bent over the vegetables, and she sang, filling the room with the golden tones of her soprano voice. Occasionally, she pushed at a lock of dark hair with the back of her wrist, but it was no sooner anchored behind her ear than it sprang loose and fell across her cheek.
And I'm reading an occasional story from Lauren Groff's acclaimed collection, Delicate Edible Birds. I was going to write that I was a little underwhelmed by the stories though still very drawn to them. Then I read a few stories that were moving: “Fugue,” which has multiple, converging storylines, and “Majorette,” which seemed simple initially, then pulled on my emotions until I found myself crying. I had no idea the story was going to go in that direction. I look forward to reading Monsters of Templeton to see what Groff can do with the longer fiction form.

Finally, I am "reading" Loving Frank, the bestselling historical novel about Frank Lloyd Wright, by Nancy Horan, on unabridged audio. I detest this sort of historical fiction for too many reasons to list here. But, it's really easy to listen to, and I find myself wanting to do more commuting or run longer errands to spend more time with it. I’m on Chapter 38, past the midpoint, and I suspect that this novel really isn’t about Frank Lloyd Wright at all. At the least, I don’t trust that much is based on fact, except for maybe a timeline—i.e., that he lived in a particular place at a particular time or that he visited Europe in a certain year. The feminist theme plays stronger for me than Mamah Cheney’s affair with FLW.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

march statistics

March was a fantastic and productive reading month. I had an opportunity to read a mid-century classic and two "of the moment" novels. To my sons, I read two middle reader novels from series. And, I finished reading a book I started back in October. But I have also realized the following: since it has taken me days to write this post, which is holding up my blogging, as well as my current reading, in a significant way, I need to blog about what I read immediately following the last page—or not at all. Without further delay, here are some of the highlights from March.

finished: 8

Revolutionary Road, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Little Bee, Deltora Quest 05: Dread Mountain, The Graveyard Book, Yarn Harlot, Little House on the Prairie, Warriors 04: Rising Storm

Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates)
Richard Yates’ domestic drama has been on my TBR list for over ten years so I was thrilled when it was chosen for book group. In fact, my book group had one of its best—and longest—discussions in quite a while. The novel blew me away. Set in 1961, the story explores suburban ennui through the young, ambitious couple, Frank and April Wheeler. A lot of this novel is like watching a train wreck as adultery, alcohol abuse, job dissatisfaction, and keeping up with the Joneses are plot staples. Even though there isn’t a single sympathetic or likeable person in the novel, Yates has masterfully drawn his characters, getting under each one’s skin. The dialogue is pitch perfect, and the scene is set with such vivid details that you can't help but step right into the early 60s. At the same time, Yates has an enviable economy of language and his word choice is exact—concise but not sparse. Kurt Vonnegut called Revolutionary Road the Gatsby of his time, and it was a National Book Award finalist in 1962 (Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer was the winner and the rest of the shortlist is pretty remarkable). I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, which should be on video soon.

Rapunzel’s Revenge (Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illus. by Nathan Hale)
My friend Caryl and a number of others have been gently urging me to read Shannon Hale so when I stumbled upon Rapunzel’s Revenge at the library, I realized the time had come. This updated Rapunzel story is retold by Shannon Hale and her husband Dean Hale, and is illustrated by Nathan “No Relation” Hale as a graphic novel, to brilliant effect. After Rapunzel escapes from years of imprisonment, she sets out to save the valley from her evil mother. Rapunzel teams up with Jack (as in Beanstalk Jack) for a Western-themed adventure that is very entertaining and rewarding, if you’re a fan of fairy tales—and who isn’t? It’s amazing what that girl can do with her braids! I’m not only inspired to read more Shannon Hale, but to read more graphic novels. If you’ve got time to burn, check out Shannon Hale’s absorbing website, with lots of great background info about her books, as well as her blog.

Little Bee (Chris Cleave)
Little Bee is a pretty remarkable novel, and Chris Cleave has done a bang-up job of artfully telling a story, in alternating voices that each reveal a little at a time. I loved and hated the novel simultaneously for this and for a plot that hinged on the kind of cliffhangers you find in more commercial fiction. But I’m willing to put those things aside because Little Bee, the character, is absolutely unforgettable. So, the story alternates between Little Bee and Sarah. Little Bee is a 16-year-old girl who lands in England, a refugee from Nigeria, where her village was burned because it sat on an oil field. Sarah is a young mother, a successful magazine editor, and a recent widow, who met Little Bee on a beach in Nigeria, where she was vacationing with her husband. Okay, I’m not really sure how to write about this book and its plot without completely spoiling it so I’m just going tell you to read Little Bee. The novel is compelling and stylish and well-paced. The characters are well drawn, and even if some are unlikable, they’re still sympathetic. Cleave doesn’t bash you on the head with geopolitics but writes about horrifying atrocities in a way that makes the read take notice. One review compares the experience of this novel to that of an Ian McEwan novel, and I would have to agree.

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
The Graveyard Book is easily one of the best books I have read this year. In fact, it is an impeccably written novel that makes it impossible to pick up anything else. My expectations for a stunning plot and sparkling characters are so high that the next three books I try to read will be cast aside in disappointment. Which is why I have turned to Brunetti. Back to Gaiman. The Graveyard Book stars Nobody Owens, who has been orphaned as a baby when his parents and sister are brutally murdered. Nobody is an odd name but we soon learn the purpose it serves. Nobody wanders into a nearby cemetery, where he is rescued by Silas, who becomes his guardian, and the Owenses, a Victorian ghost-couple, who become his parents. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Gaiman’s bildungsroman is revealed in a series of adventures that has Nobody befriending a witch and learning how to open and close a ghoul gate. I loved every character, as well as the careful depiction of the graveyard as a community. The Graveyard Book—already a Newbery Award-winner, as well as a Hugo-nominee—is a real treat. I know I will read it again and again, and I look forward to the day when my boys are ready to enjoy it.

purchased: 4
~Wanderlust (Rebecca Solnit)
I read about this social history of walking on a blog and special ordered it from Common Good Books

~Stern Men (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Gilbert’s first novel, written before her wildly successful Eat, Pray, Love; involves Maine lobstermen; impulse purchase at CGB while picking up Wanderlust

~Homemade Life (Molly Wizenberg)
A memoir in essays by a popular food blogger that I have been following almost from her first day; shamefully purchased at a chain with a discount on top of a discount on top of a discount. I know. The store practically owed me money for purchasing.

~State by State (Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland)
I have been drooling over this book—50 authors, portraits of 50 states—for months; one day whilst browsing at Sixth Chamber, a copy found me

~Warriors 04 and 05 (Erin Hunter)
Purchased at Red Balloon and Wild Rumpus, each an outstanding children’s independent