Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Night Soiree

Good evening, lovelies!!! Baby Greyson is off to his G-Mama's house for the night, and I'm left with a fridge full of beer and a pile of books. Sounds like a Saturday night soiree, right?

It has been one hell of a week; one of my full-time faculty resigned leaving five classes to cover, the Rockets did some irresponsible kid screw-uppery, and in general, I'm just beat. I spent most of my daylight hours playing with G and attempting to clean the house a bit while Chuck was in his Drawing II class.

Tonight, the lineup is all about the books (and maybe a rogue episode of What Not to Wear). My Nook is charging, and when it's done I'll likely get right back to The Woman in White. I've been reading it for far too long. I really like the story, but the Google Books copy I downloaded for free is not great. Lots of misspellings--I assume because it was scanned with a text recognition program and left as-is.

I'm also salivating over Siri Hustvedt's new novel The Summer Without Men, but I'm trying my best to hold off and read the other books I have lined up first. Oh fickle book lover is me!

So what are you doing this weekend? Any special Saturday night plans?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BookClubSandwich #3: The United States of Arugula!

It's here! The third reading choice for BookClubSandwich--a book club for foodies and wannabes--is David Kamp's The United States of Arugula: The Sun-Dried, Cold-Pressed, Dark-Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution. How's THAT for a title??!!

Discussion of The United States of Arugula will begin on Monday, March 14th. Just stop on by my blog or Kim's place to join the discussion.

For a little info about The United States of Arugula, straight from David Kamp's website, see the blurb below:

The United States of Arugula is a book about one of the happiest developments of our time: the quantum leap forward in food choice, food quality, and culinary sophistication in America in the last sixty years or so. I was born in 1966, when American adults were in thrall to convenience foods and NASA chic (you know, Tang orange-drink powder and those Pillsbury food sticks that looked like Slim Jims and tasted like Tootsie Rolls), and I’ve been fortunate to witness, over the course of my lifetime, a radical refurbishment of my family’s larder and just about everyone else’s. We have a greater variety of ingredients and products available to us, representing a wider-than-ever range of ethnic influences (it’s shocking how literally white-bread American cookery was in the midcentury), and if we care to, we can eat better, healthier, and more flavorful food than our ancestors could have dreamed.
Previous BookClubSandwich picks:
  • Coop by Michael Perry
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Monday, January 24, 2011

Memorable Passages: My Reading Life

One of the things I love about my Nook is that I can quickly and easily mark passages of interest in the e-books I'm reading. I've always been a perpetual note-taker, dog-earer, and passage highlighter.

As I was working my way through Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, I found myself marking a LOT of passages. While I'm not planning to write a formal review given the gushing in my last post (that opinion did not change), I will share another passage that made me smile and laugh a little at the end.
Here is what I want from a  book, what I demand, what I pray for when I take up a novel and begin to read the first sentence: I want everything and nothing less, the full measure of a writer's heart. I want a novel so poetic that I do not have to turn to the standby anthologies of poetry to satisfy that itch for music, for perfection and economy of phrasing, for exactness of tone. Then, too, I want a book so filled with story and character that I read page after page without thinking of food and drink, because a writer has possessed me, crazed me with an unappeasable thirst to know what happens next. Again, I know that story is suspect in the high precincts of American fiction, but only because it brings entertainment and pleasure, the same responses that have always driven puritanical spirits at the dinner table wild when the talk turns to sexual intercourse and incontinence.
Right on!

Have you read any noteworthy passages lately?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Sunday Salon - The Book Diet

Three books finished in the new year, and while it might not have been a lot for me in previous years, I'm feeling downright fine this time around. Roughly a book a week is pretty satisfying these days, and my string of winners has gotten me excited about my shelves (digital and physical) all over again.

Today, with what time I have after taking down our Christmas decorations--yes, we're late--I plan to finish up my re-read of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or spend some time with Wilkie Collins. I started The Woman in White for RIP V in 2010, but I laid it aside when I went through my big slump starting in October.

As much as I love my e-books and as much as I'm lusting after a couple of my recent downloads, I'm not totally ignoring my printed book shelves. Above is a pic (click to make larger) of a portion of our main bookcase in the living room. These shelves are a mixed bag of favorites and TBR. The shelves pictured are a majority TBR, and glancing over them there are soooo many yummy books I hope I get around to this year.
  • The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble
  • The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall
  • The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer
  • The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais (library book)
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin (sad I haven't read already)
Some days I'd like to pack up all the books that don't catch my eye immediately and put them in storage only to be left with a little stack of books I've hungered for forever but which get passed over for one reason or another time and again. This may be another draw of e-books: a smaller collection makes choosing far easier.

If you could put yourself on a book diet and make a small stack of TBR what would you keep out to read in 2011?

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Love What I'm Reading

Every once in a while, one of those books comes along worth savoring, worth dragging out for far longer than it should take to complete. I'm three fourths into one of those books now; My Reading Life by Pat Conroy is just beautiful. It's funny, quirky, smart, and not at all short on emotion.

In one particularly touching essay, "On Being a Military Brat," Conroy recalls his abusive relationship with his father, a fighter pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces. He discusses not only what it was like to be uprooted constantly and deal with abuse, but also how his father was reformed and learned to love in his later years. The end of the essay is especially touching, as he explains his vision and his dream of hosting a parade of "military brats" just like himself with armed forces fathers lined up in the stands saluting those brats' "service" to America. His mother, and the kids alike, always felt that they were part of the military just as much as the father and served America by being true to one of its protectors and constant in their devotion and service.

While I'm not a military brat myself, and I can't relate to the lack of belonging Conroy discusses in the essay, it was just unbelievably powerful. Here's a snippet about the parade he imagines:
To the ancient beat of drums we could pass by those erect and silent rows of fathers. What a fearful word "father" is to so many of us, but not on this day, when the marchers keep perfect step and the command for "eyes right" roars through our disciplined ranks and we turn to face our fathers in that crowd of warriors.

In this parade these men would understand the nature and the value of their children's sacrifice for the first time. Our fathers would stand at rigid attention. Then they would begin to salute us, one by one, and in that salute, that one sign of recognition, of acknowledgment, they would thank us for the first time. They would be thanking their own children for their fortitude and courage and generosity and long suffering, for enduring a military childhood.
And now off to read some more...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Growing Up

He's growing up so fast! 9 months old yesterday: eating like a champ, trying to walk and talk, 21 pounds, 30-some-odd inches long (LONG!), and the sweetest thing. These were "New Year" pics taken in the suit Chuck's mom gave him for Christmas.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

So first off, I had THE HARDEST TIME with this fracken title for the longest time. I was reading on my Nook, and from the glances I took at various covers, "Dane" is a total afterthought. So like a goober, I ran around calling this one The Physick Book of Deliverance for the longest time. Then I realized there's a "Dane" dangling out there and I had to correct myself, but by then it just sounded weird.

But here we go with actual reviewiness!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had an interesting time with The Physick Book of Deliverance...Dane." At times I wanted to nail the protagonist in the head with a mallet and at one point this book damn near made me cry.

Hormonal? Maybe.

Quick synopsis: Two interwoven narratives, present day is Connie Whats-Her-Face, a PhD candidate in the history department of Harvard, with lots of pressure from her stuck-up, celebrity-intellectual advisor to find a new and stunning historical source for her dissertation. She just so happens to move into her grandmother's dilapidated house near Salem to clean the joint up after the grandmother's death, and BOOM, source evidence shows up! The other narrative is from the 1600s and is the story of  Deliverance Dane, a cunning woman and healer, aka, witch! Accused at the Salem Witch Trials and all.

There were distinctly good and distinctly crappy parts to this book. On the good side, the basic premise is fascinating. Everything I've ever read (as Connie points out in this novel) on the Salem Witch Trials assumes the accusing girls were subject to mob mentality, it was the Puritan social order being tested and rebelled against, etc. In other words, they were full of crap and very, very bratty. But this book asks what it would have been like if magic was real. What if those darn bratty girls did accuse wrongly for the most part, but there was one witch in the bunch??? Interesting stuff. I found the practice of witchcraft quite interesting in the novel as well. These were more than herb-and-candle witches, but not quite Harry Potter witches either.

On the craptaculous side, I sort of wanted to stab Connie--the contemporary, supposedly brilliant, PhD candidate--in the eyeball on several occasions. For one thing, and I absolutely do not consider this a spoiler since it was so sickeningly obvious someone using the book pages as kitty box liners could've figured it out...Connie is related to the witches in her story. Their names are Deliverance, Mercy, Constance, Prudence, and other such Puritan fare. All of a sudden around page 250 of the book, Connie realizes that her full name is Constance and she's bowled over by this revelation!

Really? Seriously? That was a point at which I sat back, rolled my eyes, and actually said aloud, "Wow, this one jumped the shark." I just found it ridiculous that at that point in the novel, after so much time researching, living at her grandmother's house, and dabbling in some weird shizzle, she wouldn't have realized this piece of info. What-ever.

Anywho, while Connie was a dumbass sometimes, I did really enjoy the Harvard academic-speak, reading about her research process, and the atmosphere in her grandmother's OLLLLD house was comfy and cozy for me as a reader. I loved the bits about the house, the way it was built and furnished, the items she found inside, and all of that cool stuff.

Of the two narratives, the one about the actual Salem witches was far superior to Connie's contemporary journey. I sort of felt that Howe's heart was in the historical, and not so much with Connie in the present day. Connie inhabited more pages of the book, but all-in-all her storyline provided flash but less quality, while the historical storyline seemed much more thoughtful.

Am I sorry I read this book? No! Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a waste of time at all. It was just kind of "meh" at the end of the day. Some parts were nice, some parts sucked donkey toe, and overall it made for an interesting experience. I usually don't feel quite this yanked in different directions about my reading.

Now I want to know what you thought! If you've reviewed it, weigh in with your thoughts and let's see if I'm in the majority or just cranky this morning. If you haven't read it, is this a book you would tackle?

Note: Katherine Howe tweeted my review link and mentioned the donkey toes. Ha! Peace, Ms. Howe! 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Sunday Salon - The Bookish Weekend

Yesterday was a bit of a Mama Field Trip. Chuck met a photography buddy at Barnes and Noble, so I went along for a little peace and reading. Greyson partied all day with the Rockets and Chuck's mom. After a quick drink and bite at Starbuck's, I ran off with my Nook to find a comfy chair and to read.

First order of business: I finished my second book of the year, Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. I'm really looking forward to writing the review because there were times when the book made me roll my eyes, and other times I got a little teary reading it. Very strange experience--definitely not all good and not all bad.

After I cruised the store and looked over some Really-Want-'Em books, I headed back to the cafe and read through some essays and free in-store content before diving into Pat Conroy's literary memoir, My Reading Life. I've read three of the essays so far, and I adore them. I've never read any of Conroy's other work, but I think I'll be more apt to do so after I finish this collection.


And it's now many hours later. We've run errands, bought groceries, cleaned house. Chuck is lying down with Mr. G., the Rockets are doing whatever they do upstairs, and I'm lounging on the couch, TV turned off, and I think I'll spend a decent chunk of the rest of my evening perusing the written word.

I spent part of my morning looking over my shelves, gearing myself up for the Chunkster Challenge. I found some Hemingway novels I picked up at a garage sale a while back, and For Whom the Bell Tolls looks like a front runner for the challenge. Not to mention the other books I listed on the 2011 Challenges page up top. I also spent some time dusting bookshelves this afternoon, relocating some of the books to higher ground since Greyson can grab at them now.

It hasn't been a terribly cohesive or restful day, but it has been a bookish day--and weekend for that matter--and for that I'm thankful. Slowly but surely I begin to feel more like my old reading self, and that's the best way the new year could start off.

How was your Sunday? Any glowing recommendations to pass along?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Readerly Shift, or E-Books Saved My Life

Ever since I was a wee lass, I've loved a good book. The heft of it in my hands, the swish of the pages, a pretty cover or a delightful turn of phrase. This love of books hasn't morphed too much in my lifetime. I delight in seeing them on my shelves, rearranging and reordering them, shuffling and placing them just so, and of course sucking up the content like a slurpy.

As a pre-teen, I was super into supernatural teeny bopper books--and this is before Twilight. Way way before. But my mom used to buy a stack of books for me over my Christmas break, give them to me early, and watch as I devoured them before the break was over.

Even as an adult in my early 20s, I could spend hours holed up in the Writing Center or some other boring job pouring gobs of classics into my head. Pure bliss!

As I've inched (and squarely landed) on toward 30, my attention span has shortened. I'm sad to say it. It doesn't make me feel terribly satisfied that I have the focus of a cocktail peanut, but it's true. As the squeeze of work and family increase, I have a harder time tackling chunky books. A big door stopper of a tome will send me reeling. I'm as likely as anything to lose interest and start something else...something slimmer.

Since I received Homer, my Nook, in January of 2010 I've noticed a shift in my reading. One of the biggest shifts in my reading life, perhaps. While I've always taken a dive into my shelves when it's time to pick new reading, now I take a dive into my e-book archives. I lay hands on the screen instead of the pages.

That's right folks, I think I prefer e-books to print.  And I'm saying (writing?) it out loud!

BEFORE YOU SHUN ME...check this out.

It's not that I don't enjoy printed books anymore. It's not that at all. But I have noticed some distinct trends since I had a baby:
  • Short attention
  • Limited time
  • A distinct sense of flightiness
  • Lack of sleep
All of those make for decreased reading. But what I find e-reading offers me is a quicker reading experience. I'm not even shitting you, people. I read faster on my Nook, and I'm not sacrificing any comprehension. In fact, it may even be up UP UP. I've decided the Nook makes me a faster reader for a few simple reasons:
  • I'm not flipping to and fro to see how many pages are in a chapter, or a section, or the rest of the book. It's a little number in the bottom of the screen, and all of a sudden it's abstract and I don't care as much about length.
  • I'm looking at smaller chunks of text and whipping through them like LIGHTNING
  • I'm not intimidated by even the largest book. I started War and Peace on my Nook, for God's sake. I'm like a horse with blinders on!
I know some of you are poo-pooing me in your heads right now. Go ahead! Certainly the Nook doesn't feel like a book in my hands, and it doesn't swish, but I don't think I mind. Ever since I had Greyson I've CRAVED reading like never before. With a stressful job and kiddos to look after, I've lost a great deal of focus (and sanity). I couldn't be more pleased with my family, but I do have to carve out time and the right mindset to read: in the mornings when the house is quiet, in bed before I conk out, at work on lunch break.

What e-books offer me right now is a more focused, uninterrupted, less distracted version of my old reading life, and I could not be more thankful for it. It may still take me two weeks to finish a book, but it's better than four weeks! And I'm tackling books that I wouldn't have tackled before.

Thank you, Homer! Thank you, e-books! You saved my reading life!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Come Discuss The Good Earth!

Hey folks! I'm leading the first-quarter discussion over at The Classic Reads Book Club and we're tackling The Good Earth! Come over and read the whole post, but in the meantime, here's the schedule!

The discussion will be split into four parts:

•February 14th, Chapters 1-9 (Happy Valentine’s Day!)

•February 21st, Chapters 10-19

•February 28th, Chapters 20-28

•March 7th, Chapters 29-34

Saturday, January 08, 2011

New Book Bonanza!

I've become quite fond of Kobo coupons. Borders and Kobo are quite free with their coupons, and I just can't resist a good buy. Kobo and sell epub format e-books, so they're compatible with Homer, my Nook!

It all started a week or two ago with some percentage off of a first e-book purchase. I found a bunch for $5, did a quick Twitter poll, and I landed myself a copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. This is one of those "it" books that I let pass me by, and now I'm circling back around after the hype.

Yesterday I was exhausted after a 12-ish our day at work, and what better to do when you have a stress headache than buy books? I had another coupon, so I bought Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge.

I'm so excited about all of my new e-books! I'm plugging right along on The Physick Book of Deliverance. I'd be done right now if I didn't have to field the start of another term. Y'all know the days are crazy when school starts back. Things should even out a bit next week and I can get back into heavy-duty reading.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend so far!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Sunday Salon - Challenges Out the Wahoo and a Teeny Reading Goal

Greyson has been at my mom's house since Friday afternoon, so that means mama has been reading like a crazy person! Last night was glorious. I lounged in bed and dove headlong into The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. If work isn't too crazy this week I'll probably be able to polish it off in a day or two. I also spent some time with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I'm loving my re-read.

However, I also did something odd last night. You might remember that BookClubSandwich's first pick last year was Coop, by Michael Perry. I was really excited about the book, but somehow I got bogged down in the process and 50 pages or so have been left unread since last year. Anal retentive that I am, I just couldn't leave it unread with that little to go. I devoted a few minutes to finishing it up last night. Soooo, Coop is my first finished book of 2011 though it seems a bit cheatish since I read 90% of it in 2010. Oh well! I'm free-flowing this year, so I'm going with it.

By the way, Jill, I loved Little Miss Shake-n-Bake. *tear*

This morning I spent some time reviewing 2011 challenges to decide what I want to tackle. I failed my 2010 challenges hands-down with the exception of the Woolf in Winter read-along of Mrs. Dalloway. In 2011 I'm limiting my challenges, but I couldn't resist The Chunkster Challenge, What's in a Name 4, and the E-Book Reading Challenge. I've also downloaded an e-book copy of War and Peace for that big honking readalong. See my 2011 Challenges page up top for more info!

Finally, this time of year inevitably entails reading goals for the new year. The idea I like most is "reading deliberately" in 2011. I did this much more in 2010 than I have in the past, and I'll continue to work on it. So what does "reading deliberately" mean to me?
  • Reading what I really want to read!!! I aim to cut down on obligations in 2011. When there's a due date attached to reading, I generally lose interest. This is a direct result of a Masters degree in English.
  • Taking fewer books for review. Crazy, right? I just don't do well with this. It's the due date thing I mentioned above.
  • Switching up the types of books I read. I generally fall into a slump if I read too much of the same in a row.
  • Picking quality reading: I love literary fiction, classics, graphic novels, and essays. If I read more of these I'm more likely to feel fulfilled by my reading.
  • Indulge in e-books. I'll have a whole post about this coming up soon, but I actually read faster and more efficiently on my Nook. I might as well embrace it!
So that's my Sunday Salon thus far. Been doing a little challenge hunting, reflecting on my own reading habits, and soon I'll be diving back into a book. We have an hour drive out to my mom's and an hour drive back to get Baby G. Sounds like prime reading time to me!

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Why 2010 Did Not Suck - A Nontraditional Year in Review

Top 10 list?? Not this year!
I just can't seem to drag that much structure out of myself. As we're saying a heave-ho to 2010 and welcoming 2011 today, I'm just thinking back over my year in reading, and life in general. I've been heartily blessed with a gorgeous little boy who is just the cutest, sweetest little thing ever!!! Although, we have to start working on putting him down in bed and walking away. Oh God, I dread that.

But I digress...

The family is healthy and thriving. The kids are growing like weeds, are super fun, and while they are often teenagery, they are great kids.

This year has also been a whirlwind with the big promotion to Program Chair at the college. While it's sucked up a good bit of the free time I used to enjoy, I wouldn't change it for a moment. I love the people I work with and the job I do is a challenge but also a bunch of fun.

The year in reading was much slower than I'm used to, but the quality did not lag. Here are a few memorable books:

Most Engaging, Grab-Me-By-the-Hair Book of 2010: The Passage by Justin Cronin. I'm not giving out a favorite book award this year because that sort of diminishes the complexity of the books I read in 2010. This one did grab me by the hair the most, though. I could not put my Nook down while reading this book. I bounced through 800 pages with a newborn in the house, and looking back, that is a great tribute to the book.

Best Classic of 2010: I didn't read many, but one stands out heads above the small pack: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I hope you all will join me for the discussion I'll be leading over at The Classic Reads Book Club. I'll be posting a discussion schedule here and there in the coming week.

Coziest Books That Made Me Smile:
This is really a toss-up. I can't really give JUST ONE this little honor, so I'll go with two!
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Both were sweet and delightful and quirky and heartwarming. Good for busting a slump, especially.

Best Non-Fiction:
Hands-down this one goes to Marilyn Johnson for This Book is Overdue! She champions librarians like no one else I've read in a while, and she does it wonderfully. I can speak from experience: it's the next best thing to being in library school.

Most Memorable Book That I Didn't Love:
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. You might remember that I thought there was far too much sex in this novel (and I'm totally not opposed to novel sex). I believe I said it was as exciting as an OBGYN visit. However, while this novel was not a complete winner, I remember a striking amount of it! In this fast-paced year, that's nothing to sneeze at. For being memorable, it certainly deserves a nod.

Biggest, Fattest, Dismal Failure of the Year:
Beatrice and Virgil. Hated it.

2011 seems to be off to a good start. I'm enjoying The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, and it will certainly be my first completed book of 2011. Is it without flaws? Certainly not. But it's good fun all the same.

I also had a bit of a reading surprise right there at the end of 2010. Thursday night I raced through Reginald Rose's classic play, Twelve Angry Men, so expect a review of it in the next day or so.

I hope everyone is having a fantastic New Years day. Be safe and have a great time!
Images by Freepik