Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Sunday Salon - On Finishing One and Starting Another


Another book finished! It looks as if my slump may be breaking up. It's about damn time.
I finished up Suzanne Collins's fantabulowondermous novel, The Hunger Games, and you can read my full review of it tomorrow at Bibliobuffet. It really was the most gripping novel I've read in a long time. I cared about the characters right off the bat, and while it reminded me of some stories I've read before (M.T. Anderson's novel, Feed, and Shirley Jackson's short story, "The Lottery") it was still fresh and innovative in its own way and just freakin' fantastic. Eloquent way for me to put it, eh? But soooo true.
Now I'm on to my very first read of the Reading In Order Challenge. I thought I'd begin with Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, but upon further inspection of the far, dark corners of my TBR, I discovered that Yevgeny Zamyatin's We was hiding. Maybe it's a happy accident since it's a dystopian novel written in the 1920s and I just finished The Hunger Games, which was very much a dystopian novel. I've only read a few pages, but it seems interesting enough. I often have issues enjoying Russian novelists' work, so we'll see how this goes. I'm not sure if I've gotten hold of really bad translations in the past or what, but they usually seem to stilted and unpoetic. Maybe this translation will change my mind.
So that's my Sunday in a nutshell. For now I'm off to design some bookplates and bookmarks for my new, up-and-coming Etsy store. Keep an eye out for the annoucement that it's open!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Reading In Order Challenge


Here it is! The official announcement of the Reading in Order Challenge. A few of you expressed interest in joining me when I mentioned this challenge before, so I threw together a button and we're off and running! Here's the poop on the challenge:

Goal: To read through one's stacks (a bookcase, several bookcases, the entire "to be read" pile, etc.) alphabetically.

The rules: Read alphabetically by author or book title. Make allowances as you see fit. Personally I will make allowances for library books, review books and non-fiction because my main goal is to read through my fiction stacks (graphic novels, children's/teen, and general fiction). See below:

  • I will allow myself to drop books if they're not kicking up my skirt, but I will progress to the next book in line by author name.
  • I will allow myself to veer off track when a review book or library hold comes calling or when I feel an overwhelming urge for a non-fiction break.
  • I will include all genres of fiction: general/literary fiction, children's and adolescent, and graphic novels.

I will be reading my stacks in a reverse alphabetical order beginning with Z and working to A. This is another one of those things that's personal choice. If you want to read through a genre alphabetically by author name or book title, that's fine. If you want to read through a specific bookcase alphabetically, that's fine. And so on and so forth. Tailor this challenge to your own needs and ambitions.

You will find the challenge blog at: http://readinginorder.blogspot.com. If you wish to join the challenge blog so you can post your own reviews, leave a comment here with your e-mail or e-mail me at andi (dot) miller (at) gmail (dot) com.

Good luck!

Note: This is an open-ended challenge. There are no time constraints.

Personally: What a Week!

What a week it's been, folks! Chuck and I have spent every day marketing our new business venture or working on quotes for various companies in the area. On top of that, yesterday I started my first set of summer courses. I teach developmental reading and English from 7am to 9am and 9 to 11. I am not naturally a morning person, so this arrangement is not optimal. It's money for summer, though, and that's awesome! The students were really warm and fun, so I expect even the early mornings might not be too painful in the long run.

I have one more week before I begin my other summer courses. I'll be teaching a lit class in the afternoons from 1-3 for five weeks, and then I switch over to a freshman composition class for five weeks that runs from 3-5 every day. It's gonna be a handful, but things should be less turbulent in the Fall when I settle back into my combination of online and in-person classes.

For fun, Chuck and I have been out with our new Nikon D90 digital camera. I'm having a blast with the macro lens to take ridiculously-close-up shots. We went out Memorial Day evening, got burgers to go, and took Rocketboy to a local park. We took pictures of ducks and people and "stuff" for a while in the near-dark, and the pics came out looking like daylight. So cool!

The reading has been slim this week. Whenever I've been home, I've been napping or working, calling clients and lesson planning. I'm still neck-deep in The Hunger Games and loving it! Sadly, I didn't finish Death with Interruptions before it had to go back, but whenever I get to the S's in my TBR for my Reading in Order Challenge I'll definitely be picking it back up! More to come!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Reading In Order: A Personal Challenge


I've long been perplexed and slightly overwhelmed by my hulking "to be read" or TBR pile. I have hundreds of books in my house that remain unread after years on my shelves, and while they still look tantalizing, it seems like I'm constantly looking over them in favor of other things. After I finished Julie and Julia the other day, I started thinking that I sort of wish my bookish (and life and work and romance, etc.) blog had a theme of some variety. Some goal or general purpose.

As I was lying in bed staring at my TBR and my library books and my review books I thought to myself, "Why don't I just read them in order?"

Hmmm. There's a thought.

I have my books alphabetized and categorized by genre. The general fiction is the one that gets passed up most often lately, so I've set a new personal challenge for myself. I plan to read through my books in order, alpha by author, beginning at the end of the alphabet and working my way toward the beginning. That means I'll be starting somewhere around Jane Yolen and working up to Jane Austen.

As you all know, I refer to myself as "the finicky reader" because my reading moods often dictate what I choose. Therefore, I probably need to give myself some leeway in this little project of mine to avoid burnout. The fine print:

  • I will allow myself to drop books if they're not kicking up my skirt, but I will progress to the next book in line by author name.
  • I will allow myself to veer off track when a review book or library hold comes calling or when I feel an overwhelming urge for a non-fiction break.
  • I will include all genres of fiction: general/literary fiction, children's and adolescent, and graphic novels.

I don't undertake this challenge to limit myself in a bad or unpleasant way. In fact, I feel that having some sort of structure in the way that I attack the books I already own will push me to read some new titles and a larger variety than I have before. Oftentimes I have a hard time choosing my next read because three or four or five books are calling to me, but if I'm urged to take them one at a time, I think my "wandering eye" might be assuaged a bit.

I'm right smack dab in the middle of The Hunger Games, and I'm going to try to finish Jose Saramago's Death With Interruptions by the time it's due back at the library, but after those two are finished I'll be diving into my first "Reading In Order" book and whatever needs to be reviewed next.

I did take a quick glance at the shelves this morning, and I think the first book to begin this personal challenge really is Jane Yolen's Briar Rose. I'll check again later, but I'm almost certain that's the one. Incidentally, it's been sitting on my shelves for several years, it looks great, but it always gets passed over. No longer! Watch out, Jane Yolen, here I come!

If anyone else cares to join me in this personal challenge--if you're as nutball crazy as me--let me know. I might even make a button for it!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fine, It's Just As Good As They Say


So you know how those "hype" books sometimes disappoint. You read or hear people talk them up endlessly and by the time you actually pick the book up for yourself it falls flat and you wonder how you could've fallen into the hypey trap?
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is not one of those books.
I've heard/read bloggers and friends far and wide praise this damn book, and so far it's living up to--and surpassing--every possible expectation I could've had.
If you've been reading here for a while, you probably already know that Heather F. and I share a brain when it comes to books (with the exception of Inkheart--sorry, Heather). She heartily recommended The Hunger Games, so I put it on hold at my library, and it fell into my eager little paws a couple of days ago. I picked it up and began seriously reading a day or two ago when I finished Julie and Julia, and I cannot PUT IT DOWN.
It's been far too long since a book really grabbed me by the nosehairs, but The Hunger Games looks to be one of those books. I'm about 50 pages in, and I've been leaving it in the car with me whenever I go marketing the new business with Chuck, and I read it while he's off giving people quotes or having proofs made up. In fact, he's off to a quick meeting with a client at Starbuck's in a few minutes, and I plan to hunker down in the corner, pretend I don't know him, and have an Espresso Truffle while I read some more.
I won't rehash the plot since it seems like this "it" book is all over the Internet, but I do urge you, if you're like me and resist hype, to go ahead and snatch it up. If it keeps up at this pace I'll be done in no time, and my slump will be officially busted. Three cheers for deslumptitude!

Friday, May 22, 2009

451 Fridays


The lovely and fan-freakin-tastic Elizabeth from As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves invited me to participate in her Friday bloggy feature: 451 Fridays. You can read the scoop at Eli's place, but the basic premise is that bloggers choose five favorite books that should be "saved" if we ran into a crappy future like that of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Participants are also asked to choose which book they would like to "become" or memorize if that was the only way to preserve our literary culture.

You can see my choices and my gushing rant about the book I want to become HERE.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Author Interest: Poppy Z. Brite

Poppy Z. Brite is a name I've long heard in the book world, though I have yet to pick up any of her writing. After years of looking over her stuff, I know enough to realize that she's a horror writer. Books like Wormwood, Lost Souls, and Exquisite Corpse pepper the shelves under her name. I'm not much of a horror reader myself, so I actually sat up and took notice of Brite's catalog of work when a fellow group member at Shelfari mentioned Liquor several years ago.

Liquor is something of an homage to New Orleans, and it's foodie fiction! Given my recent fascination with foodie memoir, Julie and Julia, I started thinking about Liquor after a long time of...not thinking about it. Since I have a gift card for Half-Price Books burning a hole in my pocket and I have another week before the summer classes I'm teaching kick up, I think now is the time to go on a Poppy Z. Brite hunt.

If you're interested, here's the blurb for Liquor:

As much a love letter to the Big Easy as it is to the demanding (and sometimes debauched) lifestyle of a chef, horror maven Brite's (Lost Souls) first foray into the trendy genre of foodie lit is a winsome entree. New Orleans natives and lovers John Rickey and Gary "G-man" Stubbs, affable characters from Brite's recent coming-of-age/coming-out tale The Value of X, decide to capitalize on Rickey's brainchild of opening a restaurant with a "whole menu based on liquor." Word passes through the gossipy Nola restaurant scene that two up-and-comers have a hot concept but no money, and soon enough, Rickey and G-man find themselves backed by celebrity chef Lenny Duveteaux, known as "the Nixon of the New Orleans restaurant world" for his habit of taping his phone conversations. At first doubtful of Lenny's motives, the two come to regard him as a mentor even as they question some of his choices. In one of the many conflicts that Brite embroils her main characters, the yats (colloquial for natives) have to fend off increasingly threatening actions from Rickey's former boss, cokehead Mike Mouton, while experimenting with dishes like white rum–laced fettuccine Alfredo and veal kidneys √† la li√©geoise.

Sounds fun, right?? There's also a follow-up novel called Soul Kitchen that sounds promising. If you happen to have read Brite's work before was it her horror or one of her other offerings? Where would you recommend I start, even if I decided to jump on the horror train?

Poppy Z. Brite is one of those rare authors that gets stuck in my head purely by chance and keeps resurfacing time and again. Now if I'd just get off my readerly butt and read some of her work!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The reading continues...


Yep, you read it here first, I'm actually making decent headway on the books that have been gracing my sidebar for EONS! Eons I tell you. The book I'm petting hot and heaviest here lately is Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell. I have about 80 pages left, and I'm honestly wondering why in hell I'm on the computer when I could be nose-deep in the book and finishing it. I have a week off before the summer session starts, and my very detailed plan is to READ READ READ.

Nevertheless, I miss you bloggy peeps when I'm away, so I'm here to gush about this book. Chuck and I have been busily trying to get our freelance business going (we have a website now: http://www.daprixgraphics.com -- watch for a sidebar link soon) and I'm not the expert in this particular situation, so yesterday I found myself draped over the IKEA couch in the office watching him type and reading Julie and Julia. As he called around for quotes on silk screening and posters I would sporadically take the opportunity to share funny paragraphs that made me guffaw. I'm sure by the end of the day he felt as if he'd read Julie and Julia himself, but quite honestly, I had a good time chirping at him, and that was all that mattered at the time.

Speaking of funny bits, here's one now. And just to give you a little context so this makes a bit more sense, Julie and her husband Eric were living in a crappy (code: old) Long Island City apartment. Their pipes froze up for 80-some-odd hours and this little incident occurred some 30 hours into the adventure:

...neither shiraz nor Navarin Printanier will help melt the chill in relations. Eric thought it might. That night in bed he curled around me, kissed my shoulder, and in other ways made it entirely clear that he thought it was time for a thaw. I ignored it for as long as I could, then let out an aggravated sigh.

"What's wrong?"

"What are you trying to do, exactly?"

"It's just--it's so cold in here, I thought we could--"

"What? Have sex? Eric! I stink of roasted lamb and three days of body odor! I haven't shaved! I have to get up and go to work tomorrow, and then I have to come back to this SHIT HOLE apartment at the end of the day and COOK some more! I DON'T want to have sex! I may NEVER want to have sex AGAIN!

Yep, she's brutally honest, wouldn't you say? If you're not already familiar with the premise of this book from my endless months of nattering (since it's all I've really been reading), go check it out at Amazon or Powell's. It's really a foodie's wet dream of a memoir, and Powell is ridiculously funny.

I also wrote a short review of the book for Bibliobuffet this week. The movie adaptation of Julie and Julia comes out on August 7th, and I'm really excited about it. Nora Ephron (You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle) is directing and it stars Amy Adams and Meryl Streep among others. Wanna squeee with me? Come on, you know you want to. Go watch the trailer at Yahoo! Movies or wherever you trail. It's worth it!

I'm probably the last foodie woman on the planet to read this memoir, but I really am enjoying it greatly. Better late than never! Oh, and thanks to Heatherific for sending this to me. You rock my socks, girl!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Miscellany, and Pardon My Ads

Hey folks! Greetings from Chez Andi. I intended to post a Sunday Salon entry along with a Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers, but alas, life took over and I didn't have a chance, so now I'm back with a random Thursday post filled with inane details and gooey pictures.


I was in a bad mood on Friday or Saturday and comforted myself by looking at photos of red velvet cakes (don't ask...I usually comfort myself with bakery birthday cakes), which gave Chuck the bright idea of baking a red velvet cake for me for "Stepmother's" Day.

Isn't it pretty? I saw a picture of a cake I liked with the red velvet crumbles on top, and Chuck took it to a new level with sprinkles, strawberry roses, and mint chocolate Pirouettes cookies on top. Yum! Sadly, the last piece of cake was eaten today, but it sure was gooey-tastic!

Also, you might notice the new ads on the sidebar. It seems hard financial times have fallen on Chez Andi (summer pay sucks), so I've added some extra ad space and if it brings in any extra money, cool. If not, meh! I'm not out anything. You can also expect to see me "advertising" a new Etsy shop full of my artwork soon. It's been far too long since I picked up a brush or pen, but there's no time like the present!

I hope you're all well. I'll be back with a reading update shortly. I'm right in the middle of some good ones at the moment.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Library Haul!

In the spirit of lusting after my new library, I thought I'd share with you my new finds! I took the Into the Wild DVD back unwatched as well as my copy of Castle Waiting just so I could move on to unlimited checkouts. Wooohooo! <--I literally said woohoo, I'll have you know. Since I'm so fond of the graphic novels section, the majority of the books I checked out are graphic novels...with a few fic and nonfic thrown into the mix.

Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi, is one I've had my eye on for a long time. I just read Embroideries recently after having loved the two Persepolis books several years ago. In this book Satrapi tells the story of her uncle, a celebrated Iranian musician (tar player), who gives up music and his life after breaking his instrument and not being able to find a suitable replacement.

Sounds a bit extreme (and cracked) to me, but maybe there's more to this story than the blurb lets on. I always enjoy Satrapi's style and humor, so I can't wait to dive into this one. And I don't think it ever takes me more than an hour or so to read her books, so it's just the thing for a slump.

I also picked up Mr. Punch: The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. I so love Gaiman and McKean together (think Coraline, The Wolves in the Walls) so I snatched this one right up knowing absolutely nothing about it. The blurb at Powell's is decidedly boring, so let's go with the one from the back of the book:

In his grandfather's failing seaside arcade, a young boy encounters a mysterious Punch and Judy Man with a dark past, and a woman who makes her living playing a mermaid.

As their lives intertwine and their stories unfold, the boy is forced to confront family secrets, strange puppets and a nightmarish world of violence and betrayal, in a dark fable of childhood innocence and adult pain.

Sounds good, right? I could use something dark, nightmarish, and Gaimanesque right about now!
Next up, Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale (no relation). I've never read a bit of Shannon Hale's work, but I hear so many good things about it, I just couldn't pass this book up. Melissa reviewed it for Estella's Revenge a while back, and it's been on my radar ever since.

Once upon a time, in a land you only think you know, lived a little girl and her mother...or the woman she thought was her mother. Every day, when the little girl played in her pretty garden, she grew more curious about what lay on the other side of the garden wall...a rather enormous garden wall. And every year, as she grew older, things seemed weirder and weirder, until the day she finally climbed to the top of the wall and looked over into the mines and desert beyond.
Newbery Honor-winning author Shannon Hale teams up with husband Dean Hale and brilliant artist Nathan Hale (no relation) to bring readers a swashbuckling and hilarious twist on the classic story as you've never seen it before. Watch as Rapunzel and her amazing hair team up with Jack (of beanstalk fame) to gallop around the wild and western landscape, changing lives, righting wrongs, and bringing joy to every soul they encounter.


Moving right along, the only novel I ventured to check out right now is Jose Saramago's Death with Interruptions. I always admire the premises of Saramago's novels, but I've never actually had the gumption to pick one up and complete it. In fact, I have Blindness and All the Names on my stacks as we speak. However, I think this may be the best premise yet:

On the first day of the new year, no one dies. This of course causes consternation among politicians, religious leaders, morticians, and doctors. Among the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration& — flags are hung out on balconies, people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life. Then reality hits home — families are left to care for the permanently dying, life-insurance policies become meaningless, and funeral parlors are reduced to arranging burials for pet dogs, cats, hamsters, and parrots.
Death sits in her chilly apartment, where she lives alone with scythe and filing cabinets, and contemplates her experiment: What if no one ever died again? What if she, death with a small d, became human and were to fall in love?


And last but certainly not least, the only book I've actually started at this point: Between the Covers: The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures by Ellen Heltzel and Margo Hammond. It's basically a book of book lists, and what's not to love about that? I've only just begun to dive in, but the first section is all about ballsy women--memoirs, fictional characters, historical women and their biographies, etc. Looking over at my shelves, I don't really think I need any more recommendations, but isn't that the plight of all book gluttons lovers? I love the recs even if I don't have room for them in my house.

Oh, and silly me for forgetting: I re-checked my copy of Castle Waiting. I really want to read it! Now I just need to finish up the books I have on the go and I can dive into these yummies with zero guilt (not that it's ever stopped me before).

Have a great weekend! I'll see you all with an update for the Sunday Salon.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

My Name is Jason. Mine Too.


My Name is Jason. Mine Too. is a mixed media poetry extravaganza for teens. Authors Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin were college roomates. One is a poet and one is a painter. They've worked together on a number of projects including a big coffee table-style book called SELF and they're about to debut a new stage show called Graduation.

The first thing that really caught my eye about My Name is Jason. Mine Too. (subtitled "Our Story. Our Way.") was the artwork. From the cover's mix of paint and photograph to the scribbly drawings on the initial pages, it's apparent right off the bat that Jason Griffin is a very talented artist (I think...I kept getting my Jasons confused). The illustrated autobiographical poetry book contains all sorts of media from watercolors to pen and ink, collage, paint, and pencil. Most of the images are busy, overlapping and highly interesting. There's plenty of detail to mull over and tease out on almost every page.

Reynolds' poetry is pretty straightforward and a good read for the younger set. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of hidden meaning--it tells the guys' story. They moved to New York to follow their respective dreams, they lived in a small apartment and subsisted on Ramen noodles and peanut butter, and they eventually made a life for themselves. The poetry chronicles all of those emotional, intellectual, and physical struggles. The good stuff as well as the bad.

One of my favorite poems is one in which Reynolds discusses a foray into teaching poetry. He writes:

"A Poet"

He walks in
His hair everywhere
His clothes not so neat
But he's comfortable
And confident

He walks in
Books in his hand
Words running around
His mind like children
Playing tag on a snow day
He's ready

He walks in
Introduces himself as a poet
And their professor

Each student wondering
Where his corduroy blazer was
Where his horn-rimmed glasses
And corncob pipe were
And when was his beard going to turn white

He walks in
As himself and
Teaches his first lesson
On cliche

While I found some of the poetry to be a little bit forced and awkward at times, overall I thought the book was a lot of fun. I admire authors and artists who take risks, and this book certainly pushes "literature" in fun new directions. It's not a graphic novel, it's not solely an art book, it's not just poetry. It's an innovative hybrid work by two guys that seem to have a great deal of humor to give and certainly a good deal of talent.

To see more of the book's artwork and read up on the authors, visit their blog at http://www.increase-decrease.com.

I'll definitely count this book for My Year of Reading Dangerously!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Gym Rat, Reading Fool and the Eco Challenge

Hey folks! A happy Tuesday to you all. I'm thrilled to be about halfway through my end-of-semester grading. Of course I have students calling to complain about their grades, but I just try to overlook it and set my sights on all the FREE TIME I'll have to read over the summer. When I'm not teaching summer courses, that is. OK, scratch that, I probably won't have much free time aside from May and August, but whatever. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to pretend.

Just wanted to throw out a shameless plug for my newest Bibliobuffet installment of The Finicky Reader. This one is called "Gym Rat, Reading Fool" about my dislike of exercise which is greatly sweetened by a book. Or an audiobook...but that's a different (upcoming) column.

Read it HERE.

And because I've been doing so much reading lately (coughcough), I've decided to join Chris's Eco Reading Challenge! How could I pass this one up, really? Read more about it HERE.

I'm off to eat some breakfast for dinner and walk to the mailbox with RocketBoy. See you on the flipside!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Sunday Salon - The Return!

Wow, it's been friggin' ages since I participated in The Sunday Salon. It's just WRONG!!! I've actually been doing a big of reading this week, topped off by a wonderful-fantastic development...I got a new library card!!!

One of the best parts of moving into Dallas county is a bigger library system. I'm in the city of Richardson, and while their system isn't nearly as gargantuan as Dallas proper, it's still a big step up from the little city library I used to visit. No one in our house wakes up before noon on Sunday except me, so I've spent the last three hours adding books and holds to my new library account. In just a few hours I managed to add 58 books to my wishlist. Scary, but delicious!

I was limited to three items on my first checkout, but I think I did a good job. I grabbed Linda Medley's Castle Waiting, which has been on my Amazon wishlist for years. Nymeth reviewed it awhile back which pushed me over the edge into "gotta-have-it." If you're not already familiar, here's a blurb:

The 450-page Castle Waiting graphic novel tells the story of an isolated, abandoned castle, and the eccentric inhabitants who bring it back to life. A fable for modern times, Castle Waiting is a fairy tale that's not about rescuing the princess, saving the kingdom, or fighting the ultimate war between Good and Evil — but about being a hero in your own home.

While I was browsing the graphic novels, Chuck found a DVD copy of Into the Wild. I'm almost finished with the book, so we'll be sitting down to take in the movie when I'm done. The reading is still slow going, especially as the semester is crawling to an end. However, as of next week, I'll have almost a full month off before classes kick back up in June. I'm teaching two courses over the summer, so it'll be nice to have a break from this ridiculously busy semester and read WHATEVER I want!

Now I'm off to catch up on some blog reading and dive back into one of my books. I'll probably go ahead and start Castle Waiting as well since graphic novels seem to be my best reading bet lately. The following are still on the go.

  • Julie and Julia, by Julia Powell
  • Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
  • Stargazer, by Claudia Gray

Happy Sunday!