Friday, December 31, 2010

the year (2010) in books

Happy New Year!! It has been so long since I have blogged that I’ve forgotten how to do it (nearly). 2010 was a good reading year even though I read far fewer books—34—than I had hoped to. Again, I blame school. During spring semester, I attempted frantically to keep up with school assignments and prepare for portfolio review, which I passed (definitely a high point of the year!). This past fall semester was spent trying to keep up with a full course load and attendant work. But it’s all good. I love design and designing. Perhaps I can include more design books on my 2011 reading list.

In a nutshell, I focused on quality rather than quantity this year, choosing to read more classics and literary books when I could. In June we traveled to England. Fiction and nonfiction related to the trip figured prominently on my list. To set the mood before our trip, I read Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux’s classic account of walking around Great Britain’s coast. Upon our return home, I read Hound of the Baskervilles to cement my memories. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s chilling depiction of the Grimspound in Dartmoor National Park transported me to the very ground I had walked mere weeks earlier.

Time spent waiting in airports and on planes and trains gave me many opportunities to read aloud to the boys. We read some fantastic books, including The Hobbit, which I realized, once again, is about the most perfect adventure story ever. A recent read of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has inspired us to finish the epic C.S. Lewis series in the new year.

Another way I made up for lost time reading was to listen to audio books on my commute to school. For the most part, I listened to mysteries and thrillers, which I find more forgiving on my attention span, especially when practicing presentations or reviewing for tests on same drive. I also listened to a few books that were in the Tournament of Books, which I knew I wouldn’t otherwise get to. Both were disappointments, and I’m glad not to have gotten bogged down in their pages.

Herewith is a list of the thirty-four books I read in 2010. A small list of statistics follows.

1.  Whiteout (Rucka and Lieber), graphic novel                
2.  Nicholas (Goscinny and Sempe)
3.  The Girl Who Played with Fire (Steig Larsson)
4.  The Vintage Caper (Peter Mayle) audio
5.  Chronic City (Jonathan Lethem), book group, 42 for 42
6.  The Unnamed (Joshua Ferris), 42 for 42
7.  A Gate at the Stairs (Lorrie Moore) audio, 42 for 42, TOB
8.  When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)
9.  That Old Cape Magic (Richard Russo) audio, TOB
10. Committed (Elizabeth Gilbert) audio
11. Fatal Remedies (Donna Leon)
12. Man from Beijing (Henning Mankell) audio
13. The Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan)
14. Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Steig Larsson)
15. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)
16. Kingdom by the Sea (Paul Theroux)
17. Red Pyramid (Rick Riordan)
18. My Love Affair with England (Susan Allen Toth)
19. Lost on Planet China (J. Maarten Troost) audio
20. Life as We Knew It (Susan Pfeffer)
21. Hound of the Baskervilles (Arthur Conan Doyle)
22. Remarkable Creatures (Tracy Chevalier)
23. Cricket in Times Square (George Selden)
24. Red Hook Road (Ayelet Waldman)
25. Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (John Grisham)
26. Day for Night (Frederick Reiken), my favorite of 2010
27. Friends in High Places (Donna Leon)
28. Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
29. 84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff)
30. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkein)
31. Yarn: Remembering the Way Home (Kyoko Mori)
32. Viognier Vendetta (Ellen Crosby), audio
33. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)
34. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis)

Fiction: 30
Nonfiction: 4
Books written by women: 14
Books written by men: 20
42 for 42 challenge: 5 (last year: 11)
Mystery/thrillers: 10
Travel essays: 3
Culinary essays: 0 (no way!)
Donna Leon: 2
Children’s: 10
Story collections: 0
Audio: 7
Classics: 5
Graphic novels/memoirs: 1
First novels: 0

Off to get a jump on 2011 reading!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

happy merry to all!

It’s Merry Chaos here in Princeton. Has a year gone by already? This fall has been very busy. I took four interior design classes, two of which were studio classes and another that had a lab. More on this later. For now, a comment on the day. As anticipated, there is no snow here in New Jersey, which is fine by me. It's a blessed relief from the two feet of snow that blankets my neighborhood. I don't need a white Christmas to be happy, just surrounded by family. Lots of squeals of delight over plastic crappies (Scarlett and Sophia, 4 and 5, respectively) as well as more subdued gratitude for much desired cell phones (Simon and Winston). 

I feel like a kid myself after consuming half a pound of grapefruit gelees in lieu of breakfast. But, a 23-pound turkey with Southern cornbread stuffing--straight out of the Columbus, GA, Junior League Cookbook--and bourbon sweet potatoes are in my immediate future. So all is right in the world.

No matter where you are and what you believe, I hope that your day is filled with peace and glad tidings!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

checking in

It's mid October and midterm so I thought I'd check in quickly. Since school started eight weeks ago, I have finished reading exactly one book—Yarn by Kyoko Mori. The author, who is a poet, novelist, and writing professor, analogizes the fabric of her life with knitting. She writes about being a foreigner in small-town Wisconsin, struggles in her marriage and its eventual dissolution, her mother who committed suicide when the author was a teenager, her estrangement from her family (her abusive father, her father's mistress who became her stepmother, and her brother who was closer to their stepmother than their birth mother), and the friendships she values. She learns to knit and to spin and weave, and she raises angora rabbits for their fur, which she cards and spins. The analogies are lovely, which matters since the emotion feels heavy. The palpable weight of sadness hangs on this woman like a wet blanket. But there's a redemptive quality in the life she makes for herself. Ultimately I enjoyed the book well enough but can't offer a strong endorsement.

Also since school started, I have tried to pack my SRS in the hope of squeezing in some pleasure reading. One of the biggest benefits of the e-reader is that its slim size and light weight make it very portable, which makes a difference to the heavy load of my backpack. You should see how many huge textbooks I carry on a daily basis! I have need for a chiropractic adjustment. The other plus for me is that I can load a bunch of books onto the device so I have choices. I'd like to finish Anthropology of an American Girl, which I started on the flight to London in May. Alas, the downside of an e-reader is battery life. My device is dead at the moment, and I rarely remember to charge it. That said, I do have a goal to finish up this loose end before the end of the year. Fingers crossed.

I'm currently reading Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. One morning a few weeks ago, I decided to treat myself to some pleasure reading before I started my homework. Mistake! I couldn't stop reading. The first fifty pages of Freedom were fantastic. The novel is set in St. Paul, and the places and stereotypes are very real. Sometimes I think if John and I were 10 years older, we would have been the main characters. I haven't touched the book since that day, except to move it from my reading corner in the den to my bedside table. And, I fear that with my current workload I may not have an opportunity to pick it up until finals are over. In December. And, at that point, I'll be debating whether to shlep it on a flight or take my SRS. It's a perpetual cycle.

I am listening to audiobooks on my drive to school, which makes the endeavor a little less stressful. At the moment, I have in rotation Harlan Coben's Long Lost, which takes sports agent/sleuth Myron Bolitar to Paris. Yay, transporting! The book is read by Steven Weber, who is spot-on as an "affable, horny fool."  I now imagine that Myron Bolitar looks like Steven Weber instead of the author.

In the meantime, I have read half of a textbook on environmentally responsible interior design, one-quarter of a textile textbook, and an entire AUTOCAD manual. So, it's not like I haven't been reading...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

booker prize shortlist

Whittled down from 13 titles, here are the 2010 Booker Prize finalists:

Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
Emma Donoghue Room (Picador - Pan Macmillan)
Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (Atlantic Books - Grove Atlantic)
Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
Andrea Levy The Long Song (Headline Review - Headline Publishing Group)
Tom McCarthy  (Jonathan Cape - Random House)
I haven't read any of these books nor heard much buzz, which isn't unusual since many of the books nominated for the Booker haven't been published yet in the states. Peter Carey has won the Booker twice, and, if he wins again, he will be the first author to have won three times. Whee. The winners will be announced on October 12.

Monday, September 06, 2010

back to school books

Tomorrow I return to school as a full-time design student. I’m pretty excited, but also a little nervous. Last year, school was challenging, especially the shift from working primarily with words to art and creating things. The constant projects and deadlines were dizzying. But, I got good grades and did good work and passed portfolio review—and I cannot forget that. There is no time or room for self-doubt in this program.

It’s hard to say how much pleasure reading I’ll do over the next 16 weeks. Over the long weekend I finished reading The Hobbit aloud to the boys. My friend Caryl brought me a gift from Kansas City—An Expert in Murder: A Josephine Tey mystery, which I’m pretty excited to start. And, I recently picked up Jonathan Franzen’s latest, Freedom, which is set in St. Paul.

Nor do I think I’ll have many opportunities to blog here. I’m not going dark, however, because I remain just deluded enough to picture myself keeping up with everything.

Hold tight until mid December and happy reading!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Persephone Books

Earlier this summer, while on vacation in London, I made a pilgrimage to Persephone Books. My friend Caryl introduced me to Persephone a few years ago, and I have been a huge fan since. Thank you, Caryl!!
Stateside, Persephone isn’t widely known, sadly. They’ve published 88 books ranging from serious fare, such as Etty Hillum’s Holocaust journals, to unique selections, such as Miss Ranskill Comes Home, a novel about a woman who was swept overboard and lived on a desert island for three years. But, Persephone published Winnifred Watson’s Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which is even more delightful than the movie version with Amy Adams and Frances McDormand.

There is so much to love about Persephone.
~The packaging: French flaps and hefty high-quality paper make these books more substantial than most paperbacks. Dove gray covers look like a classics library when you have multiple books lined up on the shelf. But, the real treat is the beautiful endpapers and matching bookmark, which are inspired by vintage textiles that mirror the mood of each title.
~The content: “neglected” and rediscovered 20th century fiction, mostly by women, for women. They also publish select nonfiction, such as short memoirs and cookbooks. I groove on the nostalgia factor. Persephone describes their choices as not too literary but not commercial and definitely unforgettable.

~The catalog: the Biannually, which Persephone mails to me free. It doesn’t only have the newest books, wonderfully described, but the catalog also has articles so it’s meaty.
Not surprising, I loved the store. It’s located in my old stomping grounds, Bloomsbury, just on the other side of Russell Square from the British Museum. The store is tiny and softly lit and brimming with books. This is also the location from which Persephone ships books so all around the store tidy piles were waiting to be packaged. I thought about all the lucky recipients. My favorite feature of the store was a display table with piles of books and a sign that read: Books We Wished We Had Published.

Naturally I bought a few souvenirs. I had a hard time choosing just one so I took advantage of Persephone’s special—three books for a flat, slightly discounted rate—and picked up Good Food on the Aga, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, and, for Caryl, Dimanche and Other Stories (Irene Nemirovsky). 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

august statistics

Red Hook Road (Ayelet Waldman), Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (John Grisham), Friends in High Places (Donna Leon), Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)

Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins), Packing for Mars (Mary Roach), Hangover Square (Patrick Hamilton)

On my radar
The Island (Elin Hildenbrand), The Snack Thief (Andrea Camilleri), A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

at the moment

~trying to finish up John Grisham's novel for middle readers, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. Theo is hard not to like. He's passionate about the law (both parents are lawyers; one of his best friends is a judge) and hopes to practice one day. In the meantime, he dispenses legal advice (“I don’t take money”) whenever his peers solicit it. The novel hinges on his interest in a high-profile murder trial. The defendant, Mr. Duffy, stands accused of murdering his wife. The defendant seems guilty, but all the evidence is circumstantial. No doubt, Theo Boone will find that key piece of evidence that neither lawyer nor investigators have been able to dredge up. So far, it’s enjoyable read—quick and compelling with explanations of legal terms and processes.

~starting Frederick Reiken’s third novel, Day for Night, which is exactly the book I was looking for. After completing Red Hook Road, nothing I picked up felt right. Actually, the novels I started, including Allegra Goodman’s Cookbook Collector, all had the same feel when I was hoping to find something fresh. Day for Night first came to my attention on Facebook, where some bookseller friends raved their early reads. Then my friend Suzanne, whose personal library resembles mine, recommended it as one of the most unique novels she had read recently. Plus, it got good industry buzz as one of the books from Reagan Arthur’s inaugural list at Little, Brown. So I checked it out and quickly came to my last three-week renewal. To my surprise, there’s no waiting list in the St. Paul Public Library system. People, that status has to change—read this book. Until I find an adequate way to talk about the book without giving away the plot, suffice to say the novel has linked stories. But not really stories, rather chapters with shifting points of view—because there is one story running through the disparate parts. I hope I’m not ruining it. Reiken is an insanely talented writer.  

~contemplating dipping into another book. Contenders include Color: A Natural History by Victoria Finley, which is on my 42 list, or an armchair mystery, such as Donna Leon’s Friends in High Places, or a high-brow beach read, such as Elin Hildebrand’s Castaways. Thoughts?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

july statistics

Hound of the Baskervilles (Arthur Conan Doyle), Life as We Knew It (Susan Pfeffer), Remarkable Creatures (Tracy Chevalier), Cricket in Times Square (George Selden), Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninja Frogs (Ursula Vernon)

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 (Michael Cappuzo)

On my radar
Allegra Goodman's Cookbook Collector, Frederick Reiken's Day for Night

Friday, July 30, 2010


Recently I spent a sun-, sand-, and taffy-filled Jersey Shore vacation. I didn't get much work done, but I managed the following:

~finished Hound of the Baskervilles, which I had picked up to prolong our June trip to England, during which we spent a glorious day exploring Dartmoor National Park. While attempting to find Hound Tor, an enormous granite outcropping, we got lost. The roads in Dartmoor aren’t very well marked. But, we did spot another tor, which we hiked. At the top we saw a stone circle with smaller stone circles within and recognized it as a Bronze Age settlement. As we poked around in the stone circle, we met two women walking their dogs and learned from them that we were in the Grimspound, the exact location where Arthur Conan Doyle set portions of Hound of the Baskervilles. One woman said, “You should be reading it right here, right now.” Indeed. Hound is a fantastic ghost story driven by setting. The moor was really spooky. And, I found Sherlock Holmes to have a fantastic sense of humor. My future reading lists will include more Holmes adventures.

~read Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures. Set in Lyme Regis, England, this novel features real-life, mid-19th century fossil hunters, Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning. Like Girl with the Pearl Earring, Remarkable Creatures is light fare with rich details of time and place, which made it perfect, in so many ways, for the beach. In addition to discovery, Chevalier explores women’s rights and friendship. My little family visited Lyme Regis in June. We went there for the boys so they could fossil hunt. Fossils are, 150 years after Remarkable Creatures, still incredibly abundant, and you can bring home what you find. Needless to say, we found nothing because we were on the beach at the wrong time—high tide. Who knew? In one scene, Mary Anning is digging out an ichthyosaur from the cliffs facing the English Channel when she’s caught in a landslide. Paul Theroux When I think about this book, I will remember sprawling on the bed, with its faded green gingham bedspread, in Cape May.

~continued with Anthropology of an American Girl. Slow-going b/c I'm reading it on my e-reader, which I only pick up sporadically. I read it on the airplane and in the car as we drove from Princeton to Cape May and back again. Other people read their e-readers on the beach, but I couldn’t manage to keep sand out of mine. At 150 pages into this 600 page novel, I hope to finish it this summer. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic coming of age that feels somewhat retro 70s, like reading a more grown-up version of Judy Blume. I hope the ending for Evie is uplifting but I get the sense she may be tragic.

~blasted through Cricket in Times Square with the boys, which was charming. I loved Chester Cricket and his friends Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat. The boys looked forward to listening every night, even though it felt like a slightly old-fashioned story, especially when compared to the insanity of Dragonbreath: Attack of the Ninja Frogs. I read the latter, in its entirety, in the ninety minutes it took for our return flight to take off (yikes). In hindsight, I could have finished one of my own books in those ninety minutes. Reading aloud to the boys helped me feel connected to them during a time when I was experiencing intense anxiety. I had to apologize to the hipsters ahead of us, who kept peeking through their seat backs to see what I was reading.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June statistics

Fiction: Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley) and The Red Pyramid (Rick Riordan)
Nonfiction: Kingdom by the Sea (Paul Theroux), Lost on Planet China (J. Maarten Troost), My Love Affair with England (Susan Allen Toth)

The Boat (Nam Le), Yarn (Kyoko Mori), Busman’s Honeymoon (Dorothy L. Sayers), Hound of the Baskervilles (Arthur Conan Doyle), 84, Charing Cross (Helene Hanff), Eating Air (Pauline Melville), Burning Land (Bernard Cornwell)
oHound of the

June was a “gift” reading month in which I felt like I made up for time lost to textbooks over the past academic year. Studying was worthwhile, to be sure, but I missed my pleasure reading. 

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
One of the first books I dove into was Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which my friend Sarah pressed upon me. I know this is a popular book and has a precocious protagonist, both of which made me leery initially. But once I started Sweetness, I was immediately charmed by the main character’s voice, as well as the author’s style.

Life for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is starting to get interesting. First she finds a dead bird, with a postage stamp stuck to its beak, on her front doorstep. Then she stumbles upon the body of a man about to take his final breath. When Flavia’s father becomes the prime suspect, she takes on the task on solving the mystery and is often a few steps ahead of the police.

If you like traditional, locked room mysteries or interesting characters, then I highly recommend this book. Flavia is a budding chemist with two annoying older sisters, all of whom are left to raise themselves after their mother’s death. Her family lives in a decaying English manor house, which lends its own character. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie had similar charms to those I found in Alan Bennett’s Uncommon Reader and Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie mysteries. I am looking forward to reading The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag.

Kingdom by the Sea
Just in time for my first return to England since 1988, I read Kingdom by the Sea.
Initially I thought Theroux was a horrible snob, not at all open to the spirit of the place. He painted every seaside town on the southern coast of England as a hellhole. Initially, I thought, maybe they are, but having paid a recent visit I realize Theroux was unnecessarily harsh or dismissive, even though the year was 1982 and England wasn’t in a good place economically. Most of England was depressed. Unemployment rates were high. Even though British Rail was on strike, it had long since stopped running to many of the places Theroux would visit. Northern Ireland was thick in the Troubles. Scotland was imbued with irrepressible rugged beauty. The eastern coast of England was fading into the sea.

Many times through the course of the book, I found Theroux dispirited, lacking the excitement of discovery, and it often felt as if he was fulfilling a publishing contract. Susan Allen Toth even alludes to this crankiness in her memoir, My Love Affair with England. In the end, Theroux creates lasting memories of the coast and a particular time in British history. Quite frankly, I found Lyme Regis rather agreeable, neither run down nor overly touristy, while catering clearly to a summer crowd. 

The Red Pyramid
Also this month I read aloud The Red Pyramid to the boys. This book is the first in Rick Riordan's newest series, which chronicles siblings Sadie and Carter Kane's adventures in the world of Egyptian mythology. The book sucked. Yes, I know it's a middle reader book. Even so, I think it's a travesty that Riordan was able to write a sloppy story for page count. The story is marred by too many side adventures. As in Riordan's Percy Jackson series, I enjoyed the mythology. The boys' recent visit to the British Museum was even more rich for knowing about the Rosetta Stone and assorted Egyptian gods (the baboon Thoth, for example) and accoutrement (such as shabti, or clay figurines). Still, I expect a lot more from book two. Better, I would like the boys to read these books on their own and report back to me. 

Thursday, June 03, 2010

retail therapy

Feeling a little at loose ends without pressing deadlines, and having starved myself of frivolous book purchases these past five months, I tore myself from launderess duties and headed for St. Anthony Village, that charming St. Paul neighborhood. I had a short list of a titles that I’ve read about recently and have become obsessed with. There's no more perfect a place to shop than a local independent bookstore. Thank goddess we still have two in St. Paul.
Owners Tom and Hans—who are friends from my book rep days when I called on them at Hungry Mind/Ruminator—resurrected dusty Micawber’s, in 2003. In almost no time at all, the two bookselling pros cleared out all the old books (I swear Norton, the previous owner and a friend, never pulled a return) and loaded shelves and display tables with the latest handpicked titles.
Micawber’s, consequently, is one of my favorite bookstores to browse. Inevitably, in the course of a visit, I pick up far too many books to purchase. On this visit, even though I didn’t find the books I was looking for, I also didn’t walk out of the store empty-handed. I picked up a remaindered hardcover copy of The Boat, Nam Le’s critically acclaimed debut story collection. While I was browsing, Hans kindly loaded my arms with a few advanced reading copies of spring titles. He suggested leaving them behind on my travels. Planting the seeds, as it were.
Of these books, I’m most excited about Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth, which is her follow up to The Book of Salt. And, I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised by Michelle Hoover’s first novel The Quickening, which is published by small Other Press and got a strong Margot Livesey cover quote. But Deirdre Madden’s Molly Fox’s Birthday, a finalist for the Orange Prize, is also promising. It’s a Picador paperback original, and I happen to know a thing or two about these, having worked for Picador as it was started up.
Overall, a wonderful visit for the books in hand as well as those added to my TBR list. Plus, it was really good to share some chit-chat with Hans and Karen, with whom I worked at Odegard’s, twenty years ago…gadzooks.
I love what this store is doing and hope that it will be around for a long time. Please support Micawber’s!

Monday, May 31, 2010

May stats

Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan), Man from Beijing (Henning Mankell), The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Stieg Larssen)

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (Roald Dahl)

Spring-Summer 2010 Salmagundi for The Island, a novella by Andrea Barrett novella

By mid-May, I finished spring semester of school and threw myself back into reading for pleasure. The first change up in my reading came when I shifted from almost exclusively listening to audiobooks (thank goodness for audiobooks!!) to holding a book in my hands, which feels so good.
I finished the second book in the Percy Jackson and the Last Olympians series, The Sea of Monsters, which I read aloud to Winston. It was neither as satisfying nor as memorable as the first book in the series, but Winston found it exciting. His ability to hang onto details is amazing, even when a week has gone by without hearing the story, so often I ask him for a recap before beginning a session.

I also finished reading the third book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (GWKtHN). Lizbeth Salander might be one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. She’s feisty and a little gritty, socially awkward, and a survivor. The trilogy encompasses a couple thousand pages of novel, carved into three books. Book three begins right where book two left off. In fact, book two (Girl Who Played with Fire) ended with such a colossal cliffhanger that Mr. Bibliotonic decided he needed to read the next book immediately. Since we live in a global economy, we could indulge in instant gratification with an order placed to So I started reading GWKtHN during spring break in March but didn’t finish before school started up again. The book and I were reunited just after portfolio review. But this is the conclusion to Lisbeth’s story and her quest to prove her innocence in three murders.
If I were editor, I would have lopped at least 150 pages, including those with Ericka Berger’s harassment story, which did absolutely nothing to advance the plot. It was horrible filler. But ultimately I found GWKtHN to be very satisfying. I loved the trial scene, particularly Lisbeth’s defense lawyer, who is journalist and main character Michael Blomqvist’s sister. The trial was the saving grace of the last 300 pages and Giannini really socks it to the system that has screwed over Lisbeth since she was a child.
The books are far from perfect. For one, they suffer from translation problems, an opinion which I’m going to put out there without benefit of examples. Also, the plot could have been more taut. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading all three books. At best, they were well paced, which is more than can be said for many books being passed off as thrillers these days. Dan Brown, I’m looking at you. If you were wondering, Girl Who Played with Fire was my favorite book of the trilogy. This is the book that fleshes out Lisbeth, especially as she creates a new life for herself. Also, it was the first book I read on my e-reader and will, thus, always have a special place in my reader’s heart.
This month, I officially abandoned Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I remember reading John Hanken's copy as a kid, but what I don't remember was how utterly odd this follow-up to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was. Perhaps I found it entertaining because, without doubt, at 10, I had a greater tolerance for silliness. But reading aloud now, ack! Knowing what I do about publishing, I'm guessing that Dahl had a contract to fulfill. Winston and I have loved other Dahl novels, such as BFG and The Twits and James and the Giant Peach.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I'm back

Earlier today, I presented my interior design portfolio to a committee. My very best work from the academic year was pinned to a 4'-0" x 8'-0"display board. I had ten minutes to encapsulate the objectives as well as the design decisions I made to achieve those goals. The anticipation leading up to the presentation was nerve-wracking, but I spent the preceding hour practicing my speech. And, to quote the kids, "I killed." Next week I will have the results that hopefully seal my fate for the next three years*. 

A very intense academic year has precluded reading for pleasure. If you look at my stats, I have read 13 books, a third of which have been audiobooks. Thank goodness for audiobooks! My daily commute is forty minutes roundtrip, which isn't horrible and certainly has been much improved by being able to listen to books. Recently I listened to Henning Mankell's most newest book, Man from Beijing. Quite frankly, the novel was a huge disappointment. Two story lines are meant to converge but never do successfully. As a result, at many points, I wondered what the book was really about: the brutal crime committed in a small Swedish village or the story of one of China's new captains of industry, who has a devious plan. Perhaps the problem was listening to the audio version. I think there are inherent problems with "reading" audiobooks while driving, especially during moments of attention deficit in favor of traffic. Nonetheless, I have a Kurt Wallender mystery on my current reading list and will give Mankell another try.

After portfolio review, I rode the bus home from campus (my car is dead, unexpectedly), which gave me an opportunity to dip into Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux's classic account of traveling around the coast of England. I love Paul Theroux and have read both his fiction and nonfiction. Last year I read the novellas in Elephanta Suite, which were stunning and dark. But his travel accounts, which appear in publications such as Architecture Digest and Conde Nast Traveller, blow my skirt up most. Something about the way he captures a place that is simultaneously repellent and desirable. His full-blown travel accounts are genre defining. 

I'm reading Kingdom by the Sea in anticipation of my summer vacation. It's 1982 and England is waging war in the Falklands, which becomes the backdrop for the prose. After living in London for over ten years, Theroux realizes he hasn't really been out of the city.  He jokes about towns like Lyme Regis and Chipping Camden but has never been to any of them, so he takes a trip, circling the the perimeter of the UK and Ireland. I'm reading a copy of the book that I bought in 1988, after returning from my London year abroad. When I picked the book up again, I found a bookmark (my younger brother's "calling" card from his year in Loudun) at the spot where I stopped reading—page 77. 

I hope to do better this time round, but it may be a challenge. Theroux is cranky; every town is a pit. He's nearly to the southwest counties, where I will be spending my summer vacation in three short weeks. He better not crap on my anticipation. Maybe I should stop reading now. 

But it feels so good to be reading for pleasure again. Writing for pleasure does not suck either.

*If not, I hope there is a place for me somewhere in the publishing world.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tournament of Books 2010

Week two of the Morning News' annual March madness, the Tournament of Books, began this morning. I wanted to post some quick comments before I read the results of today's match between Logicomix (a graphic "novel" about Bertrand Russell) and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (the thick novel about Henry VIII, which won the most recent Booker and the National Book Critics Circle awards). The battle hardly seems fair. I mean, really, when you consider how utterly incomparable these two books are, how do you pick a winner? 

This very question, though, is why I'm so fond of the ToB. The contestants are all so mismatched, but the judges decisions are often very arbitrary. Historically, some judges never finish reading their books and declare a winner nonetheless. Some judges are suspicious of books because of the hype heaped on them from established literary reviews and will, out of spite, choose the underdog. 

It's really anyone's guess who will prevail today. I started reading Logicomix yesterday, and I'm enjoying it though I'm not far enough into it to have a sense of how this book would stand up to a culty literary star such as Hilary Mantel. I've never read Mantel, but came very close in the mid- to late-90s when I worked at Holtzbrinck (now Macmillan USA). Mantel was published by Henry Holt and even then was a darling who had enjoyed countless accolades from UK reviewers and had been nominated for Whitbread and Orange prizes but was, by no means, a household name stateside. I imagine that Wolf Hall will be a formidable challenge for a graphic novel about a logician, even if the judge doesn't manage to finish the 532-page novel. I predict Wolf Hall will win today.

Anyway, I filled out the brackets before the tournament began. I want to go on the record to say that I think Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver will duke it out in the final round. Talk about a literary cat fight. And so far, for the first time in the six years I have been following this contest, I called the winners of last week's battles with 100% accuracy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

books of the decade

I’ve been fighting the urge to post a list so close on the heels of another list. That said, January is a “listy” time of year, what with making resolutions and refreshing the “to-do” lists. But, here we go: At some point during my vacation in Princeton, I realized that we were upon the end of a decade. Yes, I’m late to the “close out the aughts” party, but I’ve been hunkered down as an art student with nary a moment to come up for breath. A breath that would allow me to see what I’m missing while mired in deadlines and revisions. Yes, I missed all those fun end-of-the-decade lists of best music, best books, best movies. And I think it’s okay because, as an inveterate list-maker, those round-ups would have driven me to the brink of insanity, if I wasn’t there already. Yet I decided to make my own favorite books of the decade, which was relatively easy to do. I just dipped into the black Filofax where I have recorded my reading habits since 1993. Someday, I’d like to marry this list with the one I started in 1984.

Between the dawn of the millennium until the last day of 2009, I finished close to 400 books (395, to be precise). I don’t keep track of abandoned books, even if I almost finished reading them. Imposing a little discipline to my crazy is sometimes necessary. I love maintaining these lists because they are a great reminder of what I was up to. In the last decade, I had four jobs, one of which had a book group that met over the lunch hour. I had two babies in 2000 and distinctly remember cradling Simon while he napped, reading Mark Kurlansky’s A Basque History of the World. After I left Holtzbrinck in 2000, freeing me to read whatever book struck my fancy but obligating me to purchase my own books, I got the first library card of my adult life. When I see Linda Greenlaw’s fabulous Lobster Chronicles on the list, I’m transported to our first magical trip to Maine. Likewise, Alan Bennett’s subversive Uncommon Reader was devoured on a plane to New York City for a whirlwind weekend of museums and food, while Vincent Lam’s quiet Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures was read in a bright window at Vesuvio’s in San Francisco, channeling the ghosts of Kerouac and Ginsburg. Tony Bourdain’s Cook’s Tour (2002) began an obsession with Thomas Keller and The French Laundry. And the countless books that I have read with the Storknet gals or with my book group trigger warm feelings of community that share the love of reading.

A few statistics:
First book finished in the decade: Galileo’s Daughter (Dava Sobel, read for book group)
Last book of the decade: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson)
First book checked out on the first library card of my adult life: Two Moons (Thomas Mallon)
Books by men: 179
Books by women: 216
Nonfiction: 113
Fiction: 182

And now, my favorite books, by year, in no particular order. What constitutes a favorite books? Anything I'd press on someone else to read or that I would re-read in a heartbeat. Clearly, some years were better reading years than others! 

2000: Catfish and Mandala (Pham), Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri), Bee Season (Myla Goldberg), The Fig Eater (Shields)

2001: Operating Instructions (Anne Lamott), Being Dead (Jim Crace), A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson), In a Sunburned Country (Bill Bryson), The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen), White Teeth (Zadie Smith), Up in the Air (Walter Kirn), Personal History (Katherine Graham), Lecturer's Tale (James Hynes)

2002: The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien), A Beautiful Mind (Sylvia Nasar), Atonement (Ian McKewn), Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

2003: Empire Falls (Richard Russo), The Quiet American (Graham Green), The Two Towers (JRR Tolkien), Soul of a Chef (Michael Ruhlman), The Singular Pilgrim (Rosemary Mahoney), Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde), Lobster Chronicles (Liinda Greenlaw), Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi), Bel Canto (Ann Patchett), Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs (Alexandra Fuller), Saul and Patsy (Baxter)

2004: Naked from Baghdad (Paul Auster), Long Quiet Highway (Goldberg), The Photography (Penelope lively), Miles from Nowhere (Savage), Three Junes (Glass), Candyfreak (Steve Almond), Cook’s Tour (Tony Bourdain), Bangkok 8 (John Burdett), Swimming to Antarctica (Lynne Cox), Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

2005: Gilead (Marilynne Robinson), Polysyllabic Spree (Nick Hornby), Man Walks into a Room (Nicola Krauss), Saturday (Ian McKewn), Nice, Big American Baby (Judy Budnitz)

2006: The World to Come (Dara Horn), Toast (Nigel Slater), Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton), Calcutta Chromosome (Amitav Ghosh), Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Iishiguro), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark), My Life in France (Julia Child), The Big Oyster (Mark Kurlansky), Housekeeping vs. The Dirt (Nick Hornby), Girl in Landscape (Jonathan Lethem)

2007: Shadow of the Wind (Zafon), Henry Huggins (Beverly Cleary), Fieldwork (Mischa Berlinski), Girls of Slender Means (Muriel Spark), Astrid and Veronika (Linda Olsson), Brief History of the Dead (Kevin Brockmeier), Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert), The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon), The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion), The Places in Between (Arthur Phillips), Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie), Uncommon Reader (Alan Bennett), Feeding a Yen (Calvin Trillin)

2008: What Is the What (Dave Eggers), Service Included (Pheobe Damrosch), Sunday Philospher’s Club (Alexander McCall Smith), Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan), Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Winifred Watson), Death at La Fenice (Donna Leon), Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper (Fuchsia Dunlop), Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris), Hens Dancing (Raffaella Barker), Homer Price (Robert McCloskey), Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick), Gumbo Tales (Sara Roahen), French Milk (Lucy Knisley)

2009: Me Talk Pretty One Day (David Sedaris), Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates), Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman), Script and Scribble (Kittey Burns Florey), Acqua Alta (Donna Leon), Beat the Reaper (Josh Bazell), Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz), Case Histories (Kate Atkinson), How I Live Now (Meg Rosoff), Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons), Spy Who Came in from the Cold (John leCarre), Elephanta Suite (Paul Theroux), Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins), Mysteries of Pittsburgh (Michael Chabon), Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steig Larsson)