Tuesday, January 31, 2012

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

La Perdida, by Jessica Abel, is the story of Carla, a young Mexican-American woman who moves to Mexico City to "find herself." While she initially spends the bulk of her time with American expats, she befriends numerous Mexican citizens and leaves her expatriate friends behind to experience a more "authentic" Mexico. When her time in Mexico begins, she barely speaks Spanish and idolizes Frida Kahlo. It doesn't take long for Carla to realize she'll gain no respect from her native Mexican friends by living on the outskirts of the culture. Soon she is entrenched in a party lifestyle with radical friends and a free flowing supply of cocaine, and it's all downhill from there.

The Mexico that Abel presents in La Perdida is not flattering in the slightest. The Mexican youths surrounding Carla are thugs and the relatives of drug lords. She doesn't realize it right off the bat, but it's one of many ways that Carla begins her journey with very little awareness of the culture surrounding her. And she's a bone head. She never seems rattled to be meeting drug lords or snorting coke. And she's not quite as disturbed that her boyfriend is dealing pot and not paying rent as I might be in the same situation. She chalks it all up to an "authentic" experience in Mexico.

When we're looking at issues of ethnicity, I suppose we could assume that by experiencing this story from Carla's point of view, we can see how Americans are less aware of...well, everything. Carla seems oblivious to most things -- mostly the bad things -- happening around her. It could be a critique of Americans' lack of  political and cultural awareness outside of our borders. In this way, the book could be considered clever.

But the book really sort of pissed me off. While there are real problems with drug cartels in Mexico, this whole story line just seemed a really easy way to go. Carla was a caricature. Mexico itself seemed a caricature. I suppose I would've rather experienced a more nuanced plot and characters that made observations in a unique way rather than a stereotypical one. Instead of investigating Mexican youth culture I got another drug lord story. Crocodile Dundee comes to mind...the second one, with the kidnapping and pistol whipping.

Blah.

This book was not a painful one to read. I enjoyed the characters' humor, and I like Abel's brush-stroke illustrations. It successfully emphasized the busy atmosphere in Mexico City and the rush of people in a large, metropolitan area. However, beyond the aesthetic, this one wasn't for me. 

Rating:
Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: May 2008
Publisher: Pantheon
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13:   978-0375714719 
Source: Purchased by me.

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

La Perdida, by Jessica Abel, is the story of Carla, a young Mexican-American woman who moves to Mexico City to "find herself." While she initially spends the bulk of her time with American expats, she befriends numerous Mexican citizens and leaves her expatriate friends behind to experience a more "authentic" Mexico. When her time in Mexico begins, she barely speaks Spanish and idolizes Frida Kahlo. It doesn't take long for Carla to realize she'll gain no respect from her native Mexican friends by living on the outskirts of the culture. Soon she is entrenched in a party lifestyle with radical friends and a free flowing supply of cocaine, and it's all downhill from there.

The Mexico that Abel presents in La Perdida is not flattering in the slightest. The Mexican youths surrounding Carla are thugs and the relatives of drug lords. She doesn't realize it right off the bat, but it's one of many ways that Carla begins her journey with very little awareness of the culture surrounding her. And she's a bone head. She never seems rattled to be meeting drug lords or snorting coke. And she's not quite as disturbed that her boyfriend is dealing pot and not paying rent as I might be in the same situation. She chalks it all up to an "authentic" experience in Mexico.

When we're looking at issues of ethnicity, I suppose we could assume that by experiencing this story from Carla's point of view, we can see how Americans are less aware of...well, everything. Carla seems oblivious to most things -- mostly the bad things -- happening around her. It could be a critique of Americans' lack of  political and cultural awareness outside of our borders. In this way, the book could be considered clever.

But the book really sort of pissed me off. While there are real problems with drug cartels in Mexico, this whole story line just seemed a really easy way to go. Carla was a caricature. Mexico itself seemed a caricature. I suppose I would've rather experienced a more nuanced plot and characters that made observations in a unique way rather than a stereotypical one. Instead of investigating Mexican youth culture I got another drug lord story. Crocodile Dundee comes to mind...the second one, with the kidnapping and pistol whipping.

Blah.

This book was not a painful one to read. I enjoyed the characters' humor, and I like Abel's brush-stroke illustrations. It successfully emphasized the busy atmosphere in Mexico City and the rush of people in a large, metropolitan area. However, beyond the aesthetic, this one wasn't for me. 

Rating:
Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: May 2008
Publisher: Pantheon
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13:   978-0375714719 
Source: Purchased by me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Syndicated!


My recent post over "influence" in book blogging was picked up and syndicated by BlogHer!

Find it at "My Tipping Point Regarding 'Influence' in Book Blogging"

Syndicated!


My recent post over "influence" in book blogging was picked up and syndicated by BlogHer!

Find it at "My Tipping Point Regarding 'Influence' in Book Blogging"

It's Monday! And a Book Slide!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila from BookJourney!


I'm sort of cheating today. Sort of! I got ahead of myself and talked about my current reading for The Sunday Salon yesterday, so today's Monday reading report is a little different.

When I read the list of books for The Morning News Tournament of Books, 2012, I immediately went out to my library's website and added them all (nearly ALL, seriously) to my library holds list. It's ridonkulous how many people are in front of me for most of the books, but as is usually the case, they all come in at once!

I got a notice that the first book available from my list is Ann Patchett's State of Wonder! I've been excited about this one since before it was published, but I've been dragging bootay on actually reading it. This is one I'd love to purchase since I hate dragging around bulky hardbacks, but as my wallet is currently squished under the load of books I'd like to buy, I'll be sticking with the library's copy and hoping I don't develop carpal tunnel from holding it. Also, I have an employee with a VERY similar name to Ann Patchett. Kinda weird!


The next available book on my holds list should be Open City by Teju Cole. I sincerely hope it'll be at least a week until it comes in. Else I might be crushed by my gigantic amount of holds getting ready to tumble into my hands.

On the non-library side, I received a copy of Paris My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas a couple of days ago. Sourcebooks offered to send this one, and after reading the sample chapters, I was hooked! I accepted another foodie, travel memoir from them last year: Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler. I loved that one, so I have really high hopes. This looks like just the thing for a fun, bookish getaway. Also, I'll be singing the praises for Sourcebooks in the near future. In my experience, they are a model for how publishers should interact with freelance book reviewers and bloggers. Hurrah!

So that's it for now! Those are the newest goodies to fall into my hands, and I'm sure there will be copious others in coming weeks.

What new books have you snatched lately?

It's Monday! And a Book Slide!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila from BookJourney!


I'm sort of cheating today. Sort of! I got ahead of myself and talked about my current reading for The Sunday Salon yesterday, so today's Monday reading report is a little different.

When I read the list of books for The Morning News Tournament of Books, 2012, I immediately went out to my library's website and added them all (nearly ALL, seriously) to my library holds list. It's ridonkulous how many people are in front of me for most of the books, but as is usually the case, they all come in at once!

I got a notice that the first book available from my list is Ann Patchett's State of Wonder! I've been excited about this one since before it was published, but I've been dragging bootay on actually reading it. This is one I'd love to purchase since I hate dragging around bulky hardbacks, but as my wallet is currently squished under the load of books I'd like to buy, I'll be sticking with the library's copy and hoping I don't develop carpal tunnel from holding it. Also, I have an employee with a VERY similar name to Ann Patchett. Kinda weird!


The next available book on my holds list should be Open City by Teju Cole. I sincerely hope it'll be at least a week until it comes in. Else I might be crushed by my gigantic amount of holds getting ready to tumble into my hands.

On the non-library side, I received a copy of Paris My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas a couple of days ago. Sourcebooks offered to send this one, and after reading the sample chapters, I was hooked! I accepted another foodie, travel memoir from them last year: Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler. I loved that one, so I have really high hopes. This looks like just the thing for a fun, bookish getaway. Also, I'll be singing the praises for Sourcebooks in the near future. In my experience, they are a model for how publishers should interact with freelance book reviewers and bloggers. Hurrah!

So that's it for now! Those are the newest goodies to fall into my hands, and I'm sure there will be copious others in coming weeks.

What new books have you snatched lately?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sunday Salon - Bookgasm

Good (early) morning! Greyson is out and about but I still wake up at 7am no matter if he's here or there. Such is the life of a mama, I suppose. Oh well, it gives me time to lounge with coffee and breakfast, getting a little reading in, or maybe watch a movie before I go pick him up this afternoon.

First off, I have to thank the SCADS of you who responded to my previous post on some growing influence and pressure in blogging. I was genuinely (wonderfully) shocked at all of the similar sentiments and the number of bloggers who chimed in. This is not the last you'll hear from me on this issue, I'm sure, but it was great to get that initial post out into the world and confront this issue that's been bugging me for a while.

As a result of this conversation, there are some things in the works in the background of this blog. Heather and I are doing some scheming for a combined project, and I'll leave it at that. Some of you will know immediately what's shaking, and others of you may be surprised. Especially if you're a newer blogger. :)

It's been a very bookish week around here. I've made a concerted effort lately to unplug at various points in the day and really focus on my reading. Heather and I were able to hunker down and bust through our buddy read of Madame Bovary in just around a week. The text of the novel is between 350-600 pages depending on the edition. On my Nook, it was 740 pages. Given, Nook pages aren't very large and don't hold much text, but I was still pretty happy to put my head down and make so much headway so consistently. This can be a problem for me, especially with a book that verges on Chunkster. The key is staying consistent and involved with the reading. Helps me avoid getting antsy!!!

After I finished up Madame Bovary on Friday, I picked back up with Jessica Abel's graphic novel, La Perdida. It was a really good graphic novel, but I had some issues with it. While I enjoyed the plot, there were parts of it that bugged. It should make for an interesting review later in the week.

Finally, I'm digging into Kergan Edwards-Stout's Songs for the New Depression. While I've had some issues with the writing from page one, I think the protagonist is gonna be an interesting fellow to follow along. It'll also be a quick read, so I should finish it early in the week.

2012 is off to a great start. The last couple of years it's taken me much longer to read through...anything! Hopefully this is a good omen of things to come. I am happy with a book a week (or a little longer if it's lengthy and/or dense). On track so far! We'll see how the rest of the year plays out. 

Oh, and who's seen Midnight in Paris?! I have it in my hot little hands! I'm so excited to watch it as I've read really good things. And who doesn't like the idea of hanging out with Hemingway and Fitzgerald after midnight in Paris?! Count me in!

The Sunday Salon - Bookgasm

Good (early) morning! Greyson is out and about but I still wake up at 7am no matter if he's here or there. Such is the life of a mama, I suppose. Oh well, it gives me time to lounge with coffee and breakfast, getting a little reading in, or maybe watch a movie before I go pick him up this afternoon.

First off, I have to thank the SCADS of you who responded to my previous post on some growing influence and pressure in blogging. I was genuinely (wonderfully) shocked at all of the similar sentiments and the number of bloggers who chimed in. This is not the last you'll hear from me on this issue, I'm sure, but it was great to get that initial post out into the world and confront this issue that's been bugging me for a while.

As a result of this conversation, there are some things in the works in the background of this blog. Heather and I are doing some scheming for a combined project, and I'll leave it at that. Some of you will know immediately what's shaking, and others of you may be surprised. Especially if you're a newer blogger. :)

It's been a very bookish week around here. I've made a concerted effort lately to unplug at various points in the day and really focus on my reading. Heather and I were able to hunker down and bust through our buddy read of Madame Bovary in just around a week. The text of the novel is between 350-600 pages depending on the edition. On my Nook, it was 740 pages. Given, Nook pages aren't very large and don't hold much text, but I was still pretty happy to put my head down and make so much headway so consistently. This can be a problem for me, especially with a book that verges on Chunkster. The key is staying consistent and involved with the reading. Helps me avoid getting antsy!!!

After I finished up Madame Bovary on Friday, I picked back up with Jessica Abel's graphic novel, La Perdida. It was a really good graphic novel, but I had some issues with it. While I enjoyed the plot, there were parts of it that bugged. It should make for an interesting review later in the week.

Finally, I'm digging into Kergan Edwards-Stout's Songs for the New Depression. While I've had some issues with the writing from page one, I think the protagonist is gonna be an interesting fellow to follow along. It'll also be a quick read, so I should finish it early in the week.

2012 is off to a great start. The last couple of years it's taken me much longer to read through...anything! Hopefully this is a good omen of things to come. I am happy with a book a week (or a little longer if it's lengthy and/or dense). On track so far! We'll see how the rest of the year plays out. 

Oh, and who's seen Midnight in Paris?! I have it in my hot little hands! I'm so excited to watch it as I've read really good things. And who doesn't like the idea of hanging out with Hemingway and Fitzgerald after midnight in Paris?! Count me in!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pulling the Trigger on "Influence" in Book Blogging

I stay out of drama. I'm not about drama in the blogosphere because, generally speaking, this site is my happy place. To put things in perspective, I've been blogging for seven years as of February 21st (I've already written the happy, gushy post). I was here before review books and NetGalley. I was here before authors and bloggers started quibbling. I was here before there was a debate over what constitutes a "review" or a "reaction." I was here before it was cool. I was here before it made money. I was here and I remain here because I love to read, and I really love the friends I've made online. I adore sharing ideas with you.

Today, however, was something of a tipping point for me. I've already had icky feelings (quietly, and in my own brain) over what feels like the publishing industry gaining (or attempting to exert)  more "control" over blogging. It started with ARCs. Everyone wanted ARCs. Publishers started e-mailing, authors started e-mailing, the review copies started sliding through the door. This was years ago, mind you. But publishers started dangling carrots! Unlike most, I have never felt one iota of obligation to review a book unless it's something I specifically requested from a publisher or publicist. Even then, I make it really clear that if I don't want to review a book, I won't. If I don't like it. If I'm too busy. Because it's my blog. And my blog is mine.

After the scramble for ARCs started, the scramble for "traffic" started. Everyone wanted to talk about how to increase traffic and "brand" their blog. We came up with lists of best practices and what-not-to-dos.  Everyone hopped on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Ning and Goodreads and Shelfari and had to be plugged in all the time.

Am I different? No. I'm not. I admit it 100%. My blog has a "look," I have a Twitter account and a Tumblr account and a Facebook fan page. I used to run a 'zine for BLOGGERS (not for publishers). But do you want to know why? Because I like to talk to my friends who read. Because the bloggers I know are the only friends in my life who read.

But something that "old age" in blogging has taught me and that I see more all the time is this: we are a tool. We are an available and fertile market. We publicize what needs publicizing, mostly, for free. I've also learned that I don't want to be dictated to. I don't want to be pushed or nudged or shoved into anything.

As I logged into NetGalley the other day for the first time in months, I realized something--some publishers are getting pushy! A surprising number of publishers now want to know how many visitors visit one's blog in a day or a week or a month. How many people subscribe to one's blog? How quickly one can review a book?

And do you know what I have to say to these "guidelines" and these demands?

KEEP THEM.

To the wonderful, polite, genuine publishers, publicists, and many many authors I've worked with here over the years, thank you! This anger is not for you. That's really important. But it seems like every day this idea of book blogging is becoming more mechanized and impersonal at the hands of external forces.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to me about blogging is the reading I do. It's the friends with whom I share my words. I don't want to feel pushed around. I don't want to feel purchased. I want to feel liberated because that's always what reading and blogging have done for me -- they've freed me! Freed me to open my mind and think new thoughts. They've freed me to write my experiences and send them out into the world with confidence.

Come hell or high water, ARCs, no ARCs, publisher inquiries or not. Social networking or not. Obligation or not. I will read. I will write about what I read. I will read and write what I want and what is in my heart. And I hope that as a group that is always our goal. Our ultimate and most cherished goal. To be truthful and open-minded and collegial to one another, no matter what external forces are at work, exerting influence. I can tell you this: whether it's another seven days or another seven years, this blog is mine. It is the essence of who I am as a reader, and reading is a part of my soul in a way that nothing else is. Sharing my reading and all that is literary is my job every day and my hobby, too. I am lucky. I am blessed to do what I love. I will always read what I want. I'll write what I want. And I will do so feeling strong and never intimidated by what I should do with an Internet home of my own making.

Limitations are not welcome here.

Pulling the Trigger on "Influence" in Book Blogging

I stay out of drama. I'm not about drama in the blogosphere because, generally speaking, this site is my happy place. To put things in perspective, I've been blogging for seven years as of February 21st (I've already written the happy, gushy post). I was here before review books and NetGalley. I was here before authors and bloggers started quibbling. I was here before there was a debate over what constitutes a "review" or a "reaction." I was here before it was cool. I was here before it made money. I was here and I remain here because I love to read, and I really love the friends I've made online. I adore sharing ideas with you.

Today, however, was something of a tipping point for me. I've already had icky feelings (quietly, and in my own brain) over what feels like the publishing industry gaining (or attempting to exert)  more "control" over blogging. It started with ARCs. Everyone wanted ARCs. Publishers started e-mailing, authors started e-mailing, the review copies started sliding through the door. This was years ago, mind you. But publishers started dangling carrots! Unlike most, I have never felt one iota of obligation to review a book unless it's something I specifically requested from a publisher or publicist. Even then, I make it really clear that if I don't want to review a book, I won't. If I don't like it. If I'm too busy. Because it's my blog. And my blog is mine.

After the scramble for ARCs started, the scramble for "traffic" started. Everyone wanted to talk about how to increase traffic and "brand" their blog. We came up with lists of best practices and what-not-to-dos.  Everyone hopped on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Ning and Goodreads and Shelfari and had to be plugged in all the time.

Am I different? No. I'm not. I admit it 100%. My blog has a "look," I have a Twitter account and a Tumblr account and a Facebook fan page. I used to run a 'zine for BLOGGERS (not for publishers). But do you want to know why? Because I like to talk to my friends who read. Because the bloggers I know are the only friends in my life who read.

But something that "old age" in blogging has taught me and that I see more all the time is this: we are a tool. We are an available and fertile market. We publicize what needs publicizing, mostly, for free. I've also learned that I don't want to be dictated to. I don't want to be pushed or nudged or shoved into anything.

As I logged into NetGalley the other day for the first time in months, I realized something--some publishers are getting pushy! A surprising number of publishers now want to know how many visitors visit one's blog in a day or a week or a month. How many people subscribe to one's blog? How quickly one can review a book?

And do you know what I have to say to these "guidelines" and these demands?

KEEP THEM.

To the wonderful, polite, genuine publishers, publicists, and many many authors I've worked with here over the years, thank you! This anger is not for you. That's really important. But it seems like every day this idea of book blogging is becoming more mechanized and impersonal at the hands of external forces.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to me about blogging is the reading I do. It's the friends with whom I share my words. I don't want to feel pushed around. I don't want to feel purchased. I want to feel liberated because that's always what reading and blogging have done for me -- they've freed me! Freed me to open my mind and think new thoughts. They've freed me to write my experiences and send them out into the world with confidence.

Come hell or high water, ARCs, no ARCs, publisher inquiries or not. Social networking or not. Obligation or not. I will read. I will write about what I read. I will read and write what I want and what is in my heart. And I hope that as a group that is always our goal. Our ultimate and most cherished goal. To be truthful and open-minded and collegial to one another, no matter what external forces are at work, exerting influence. I can tell you this: whether it's another seven days or another seven years, this blog is mine. It is the essence of who I am as a reader, and reading is a part of my soul in a way that nothing else is. Sharing my reading and all that is literary is my job every day and my hobby, too. I am lucky. I am blessed to do what I love. I will always read what I want. I'll write what I want. And I will do so feeling strong and never intimidated by what I should do with an Internet home of my own making.

Limitations are not welcome here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Re-Reading and Remembering

Re-reading is something I didn't do for a very long time. Occasionally I would grab a book for a re-read when I was in a slump, but I've also long wished to re-read more often, to enjoy books again, or to re-evaluate them with a little (or a lot) more age. I missed yesterday's "freebie" day for Top Ten Tuesday, so I thought I'd throw these out for today instead. These are the top ten (ok, eleven) books I would like to re-read including my impressions of them as I remember them and the time in my life they take me back to visit.

From my high school days: 




The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway made me hate Hemingway! I read it as a 9th grader with no idea about anything in the world. The main character seemed antiquated and yucky and "why would he care so much about this fish?" I hated it. I'm curious what age and some additional literary expertise would do to my opinions of this slim novel.


A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens was my second or third Dickens novel. Great Expectations was the first. I read it as a 9th grader and later undertook A Tale of Two Cities as a senior taking concurrent high school/college English courses. While I didn't first love it as much as GE, it's really stuck with me in a similar way. I remember a lot of the characters, I remember specific scenes and impressions, but it's another novel I think worth revisiting. It's also the best opening paragraph in literature!

From my early 20s:




The Red Tent by Anita Diamont was one of the first novels I read at the recommendation of Yahoo! Groups book discussion groups. At 21, I had not been reading for several years, but I'd just started back. As a student at Baylor, I spent a good deal of time in the art section of the library and picked up a slim biography of Auguste Rodin, the sculptor. That was all I needed to get back into the groove of reading for pleasure. When I joined the book discussion groups, I met a lot of the bloggers I'm still friends with today and I began to read outside of anything I'd read before. At this particular point in my life, I could go into a bookstore and be completely overwhelmed because I had no idea what to read. This novel was beautiful and thoughtful and everything I knew I wanted to read more of.


Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross was another book I read at the recommendation of my book group buddies. It was a wooonderfully involving historical novel about a supposed female pope in the 9th century. My book group also had the opportunity to chat with the author, which is when I first realized how accessible many authors are to their readers. And what a delight that was to discover!


The Hours by Michael Cunningham made me think very seriously about womanhood and motherhood. At the time, at the age I was when I read it, I found it somewhat terrifying, but I could also relate to some of the feelings of isolation as I devoured it shortly after my grandmother passed away. It's one of the most oddly uplifting and hopeful books I've ever read, and the closing paragraphs remain my favorite conclusion of a novel.

From graduate school:




Call it Sleep by Henry Roth is one of those classics that not many people discuss anymore. It sort of got passed over in favor of other novels. An American Modernism professor introduced this book, and I remember camping out under the breakroom table in the university writing center inhaling this one before class time. It's a stunning novel of the immigrant experience that incorporates some of the bravery and experimental elements of the Modernist period.


The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak was a cryfest! It was also one of the best discussions we had in my Adolescent Lit class. I found an affinity for Holocaust novels in graduate school in all their incarnations. This was just a great book, and I'm still fond of the narrator, Death.


The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum is sadly underread. It came to me by way of the same professor who introduced Call it Sleep. It's a wonderful mishmash of magical elements, history, and Holocaust. Specifically, it deals with the ways in which Holocaust families inherit the Holocaust trauma. It contains some of the most wonderful passages...
Despair, if nothing else, is a private matter. The mind isn't required to share such information. That's because the soul is the master of its own short-circuitry, the system shutdown, the fading pulse that monitors the brokenness of both spirit and heart. When a state of mind sinks to a point where the life itself--the day-to-day engagements, the nightly slumber and silences--becomes unbearable, who are we to second-guess or armchair analyze? There was no way to properly insert oneself inside the minds of the Levins and follow the logic of [Holocaust]survivors who would one day choose a synagogue as the setting to turn off their own life-support systems.


Mail Order Bride by Mark Kalesniko is a graphic novel I don't hear too much about. I read it right after grad school and found the characters to be a lot of fun: a nerdy, virginal husband and a waify, aloof mail order bride. This one was full of multi-ethnic issues that I felt compelled by and it was a lot of fun to discuss the book via conference call with the author.

From then on...




The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was just fabulous. I loved the premise, the execution, and it made me bawl like a baby. I'm kind of a sucker for books that grab me by the heartstrings.


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is the most recent book on my list, so I won't gush any more than I already have. This is one of those books that was atmospheric enough and twisty enough and quirky enough that I want to feel the same sense of wonder again. I'll wait for the memory to fade a bit and pull the book out when I need to revisit that sense of fantasy.

Re-Reading and Remembering

Re-reading is something I didn't do for a very long time. Occasionally I would grab a book for a re-read when I was in a slump, but I've also long wished to re-read more often, to enjoy books again, or to re-evaluate them with a little (or a lot) more age. I missed yesterday's "freebie" day for Top Ten Tuesday, so I thought I'd throw these out for today instead. These are the top ten (ok, eleven) books I would like to re-read including my impressions of them as I remember them and the time in my life they take me back to visit.

From my high school days: 




The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway made me hate Hemingway! I read it as a 9th grader with no idea about anything in the world. The main character seemed antiquated and yucky and "why would he care so much about this fish?" I hated it. I'm curious what age and some additional literary expertise would do to my opinions of this slim novel.


A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens was my second or third Dickens novel. Great Expectations was the first. I read it as a 9th grader and later undertook A Tale of Two Cities as a senior taking concurrent high school/college English courses. While I didn't first love it as much as GE, it's really stuck with me in a similar way. I remember a lot of the characters, I remember specific scenes and impressions, but it's another novel I think worth revisiting. It's also the best opening paragraph in literature!

From my early 20s:




The Red Tent by Anita Diamont was one of the first novels I read at the recommendation of Yahoo! Groups book discussion groups. At 21, I had not been reading for several years, but I'd just started back. As a student at Baylor, I spent a good deal of time in the art section of the library and picked up a slim biography of Auguste Rodin, the sculptor. That was all I needed to get back into the groove of reading for pleasure. When I joined the book discussion groups, I met a lot of the bloggers I'm still friends with today and I began to read outside of anything I'd read before. At this particular point in my life, I could go into a bookstore and be completely overwhelmed because I had no idea what to read. This novel was beautiful and thoughtful and everything I knew I wanted to read more of.


Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross was another book I read at the recommendation of my book group buddies. It was a wooonderfully involving historical novel about a supposed female pope in the 9th century. My book group also had the opportunity to chat with the author, which is when I first realized how accessible many authors are to their readers. And what a delight that was to discover!


The Hours by Michael Cunningham made me think very seriously about womanhood and motherhood. At the time, at the age I was when I read it, I found it somewhat terrifying, but I could also relate to some of the feelings of isolation as I devoured it shortly after my grandmother passed away. It's one of the most oddly uplifting and hopeful books I've ever read, and the closing paragraphs remain my favorite conclusion of a novel.

From graduate school:




Call it Sleep by Henry Roth is one of those classics that not many people discuss anymore. It sort of got passed over in favor of other novels. An American Modernism professor introduced this book, and I remember camping out under the breakroom table in the university writing center inhaling this one before class time. It's a stunning novel of the immigrant experience that incorporates some of the bravery and experimental elements of the Modernist period.


The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak was a cryfest! It was also one of the best discussions we had in my Adolescent Lit class. I found an affinity for Holocaust novels in graduate school in all their incarnations. This was just a great book, and I'm still fond of the narrator, Death.


The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum is sadly underread. It came to me by way of the same professor who introduced Call it Sleep. It's a wonderful mishmash of magical elements, history, and Holocaust. Specifically, it deals with the ways in which Holocaust families inherit the Holocaust trauma. It contains some of the most wonderful passages...
Despair, if nothing else, is a private matter. The mind isn't required to share such information. That's because the soul is the master of its own short-circuitry, the system shutdown, the fading pulse that monitors the brokenness of both spirit and heart. When a state of mind sinks to a point where the life itself--the day-to-day engagements, the nightly slumber and silences--becomes unbearable, who are we to second-guess or armchair analyze? There was no way to properly insert oneself inside the minds of the Levins and follow the logic of [Holocaust]survivors who would one day choose a synagogue as the setting to turn off their own life-support systems.


Mail Order Bride by Mark Kalesniko is a graphic novel I don't hear too much about. I read it right after grad school and found the characters to be a lot of fun: a nerdy, virginal husband and a waify, aloof mail order bride. This one was full of multi-ethnic issues that I felt compelled by and it was a lot of fun to discuss the book via conference call with the author.

From then on...




The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was just fabulous. I loved the premise, the execution, and it made me bawl like a baby. I'm kind of a sucker for books that grab me by the heartstrings.


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is the most recent book on my list, so I won't gush any more than I already have. This is one of those books that was atmospheric enough and twisty enough and quirky enough that I want to feel the same sense of wonder again. I'll wait for the memory to fade a bit and pull the book out when I need to revisit that sense of fantasy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Twisty, Twisty Books: Literary Fiction and Inextricable Genres

Last year I made it my mission to read literary fiction and it's been seven months that I've had this little scheme in action. I loved the books I read last year so it was a no-brainer to continue into the new year.

When I started this journey I wrote a post titled, "Why Literary Fiction and What the Heckfire Is It?" After these seven months of ruminating, I've pretty much decided that literary fiction is fiction marketed as literary fiction. I think I'm also still keen on my original definition that, "authors who write literary fiction might have more of an agenda than the average bear." Literary fiction is also (typically) critically well-received. This is the trifecta, you see: agenda, marketing, critical reception.


Notice, the trifecta definition does not exclude any genre, and that leads me to my next lightbulb...

As a result of the literary fiction post I linked above, Carl and I had a great conversation about the rub between literary fiction and genre fiction and how MANY MANY MANY literary fiction works do include an element of some genre or other: sf, historical, etc. It was interesting to go back and revisit this conversation Carl and I had because I've been spending a lot of time thinking over the books I read last year and gazing at my immediate TBR, and I know something very specific about my literary fiction tastes after seven months of this personal project: I MUCH prefer literary fiction that incorporates a specific genre or some sort of unique angle. 

Of the 20 or so books on my immediate To Be Read pile, it seems to me that the majority of them have a very specific angle or incorporate multiple genres. Let's have a sample...

  • Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin - historical, retelling of Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life 
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - sci-fi
  • The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer - retells or makes overarching references to Lysistrata
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters - historical, GLBTQ
This is a really small sample, but I think it illustrates what I'm driving at. Seems to me "literary fiction" is a genre imposed from the outside by publishers and consumers. Any genre can be literary fiction if the conditions are right. 

The literary fiction titles on my shelves tip the scales heavily toward historical novels (The Sisters Brothers, C), retellings or homages (Wicked), and sci-fi/fantasy or magical realism (The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake). Even within these examples it's almost impossible to distinguish one genre-within-a-genre from another! Wicked was a retelling/homage but also a fantasy. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was magical realism with a bit of historical thrown in.

I suppose what the last seven months have done for me is to really help me pinpoint and refine my tastes. It's brought me a greater sense of self-awareness (and shelf awareness!) and has made me realize exactly how closely bound all genres really are and how silly it is to get into a tizzy over genre lines. I don't tizzy, but some readers most definitely do.

In conclusion, I really want to thank all of you who responded to my original post back in June 2011 and those of you who come here and converse with me over these bookish thoughts. You bloggers, you make me think and by allowing me to discuss these items with you, allow me to understand myself and my reading better all the time. 

Twisty, Twisty Books: Literary Fiction and Inextricable Genres

Last year I made it my mission to read literary fiction and it's been seven months that I've had this little scheme in action. I loved the books I read last year so it was a no-brainer to continue into the new year.

When I started this journey I wrote a post titled, "Why Literary Fiction and What the Heckfire Is It?" After these seven months of ruminating, I've pretty much decided that literary fiction is fiction marketed as literary fiction. I think I'm also still keen on my original definition that, "authors who write literary fiction might have more of an agenda than the average bear." Literary fiction is also (typically) critically well-received. This is the trifecta, you see: agenda, marketing, critical reception.


Notice, the trifecta definition does not exclude any genre, and that leads me to my next lightbulb...

As a result of the literary fiction post I linked above, Carl and I had a great conversation about the rub between literary fiction and genre fiction and how MANY MANY MANY literary fiction works do include an element of some genre or other: sf, historical, etc. It was interesting to go back and revisit this conversation Carl and I had because I've been spending a lot of time thinking over the books I read last year and gazing at my immediate TBR, and I know something very specific about my literary fiction tastes after seven months of this personal project: I MUCH prefer literary fiction that incorporates a specific genre or some sort of unique angle. 

Of the 20 or so books on my immediate To Be Read pile, it seems to me that the majority of them have a very specific angle or incorporate multiple genres. Let's have a sample...

  • Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin - historical, retelling of Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life 
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - sci-fi
  • The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer - retells or makes overarching references to Lysistrata
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters - historical, GLBTQ
This is a really small sample, but I think it illustrates what I'm driving at. Seems to me "literary fiction" is a genre imposed from the outside by publishers and consumers. Any genre can be literary fiction if the conditions are right. 

The literary fiction titles on my shelves tip the scales heavily toward historical novels (The Sisters Brothers, C), retellings or homages (Wicked), and sci-fi/fantasy or magical realism (The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake). Even within these examples it's almost impossible to distinguish one genre-within-a-genre from another! Wicked was a retelling/homage but also a fantasy. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was magical realism with a bit of historical thrown in.

I suppose what the last seven months have done for me is to really help me pinpoint and refine my tastes. It's brought me a greater sense of self-awareness (and shelf awareness!) and has made me realize exactly how closely bound all genres really are and how silly it is to get into a tizzy over genre lines. I don't tizzy, but some readers most definitely do.

In conclusion, I really want to thank all of you who responded to my original post back in June 2011 and those of you who come here and converse with me over these bookish thoughts. You bloggers, you make me think and by allowing me to discuss these items with you, allow me to understand myself and my reading better all the time. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Short and Antsy

I mentioned yesterday I'm still in the midst of Madame Bovary, and while I'm still in the midst of it today, I did knock off another 50 pages or so last night. In my 740-page e-book  (it's usually half that in print), I'm on page 400. I hope I can have this one wrapped up this week. Heather and I have been discussing this one behind the scenes as we go, and I can't wait to dig in with her some more! So much to talk about.


Yesterday morning, I was feeling just a tad antsy with Madame B. so I decided to take Nancy's advice and start reading a smaller book to keep me feeling energized. I picked up Jessica Abel's graphic novel, La Perdida. My first encounter with Abel's work was back in 2009 when I read her funky vampire graphic novel, Life Sucks. I re-read my review of Life Sucks and it brought back a lot of the details that I'd forgotten. Abel has an interesting take on life and a distinct humor. I see it coming through in La Perdida, but I already have a few problems with it. I'll hold my judgement until I'm done, but I'm thinking a post on multi-ethnic literature and criticism is in order. 

I have a few review books I've accepted recently, so those are on the horizon immediately after MB and La Perdida. First up is Kergan Edwards-Stout's novel, Songs for the New Depression. I was already looking forward to this one, but even moreso since it's shortlisted in the GLBTQ category for this year's Indie Lit Awards. I admit, I'm woefully underread in GLBTQ lit, so this should be good! 

After posing my question yesterday about which book I should read next from my TBR, it looks like I Capture the Castle takes the cake! I'm planning to read it in the next couple of weeks, and I'm really excited about it! I have wanted to read it for a good 10 years. Lots of my fellow bookworms recommended it to me back when I was an active member of Yahoo! Groups, pre-blogging. 

And that's all that's shaking in my reading today. Greyson is off to daycare since my mom was kind enough to shuttle him this morning, I'm hunkered down with a cup of coffee, and I have a few minutes to myself. All I have left before I start the commute to work is to do are makeup and pick out an outfit for the day, so I have a few minutes to Tweet or read. I should read, but I'm leaning toward the Tweeting. 

I hope you all have a great Monday full of books!


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila from BookJourney.

Short and Antsy

I mentioned yesterday I'm still in the midst of Madame Bovary, and while I'm still in the midst of it today, I did knock off another 50 pages or so last night. In my 740-page e-book  (it's usually half that in print), I'm on page 400. I hope I can have this one wrapped up this week. Heather and I have been discussing this one behind the scenes as we go, and I can't wait to dig in with her some more! So much to talk about.


Yesterday morning, I was feeling just a tad antsy with Madame B. so I decided to take Nancy's advice and start reading a smaller book to keep me feeling energized. I picked up Jessica Abel's graphic novel, La Perdida. My first encounter with Abel's work was back in 2009 when I read her funky vampire graphic novel, Life Sucks. I re-read my review of Life Sucks and it brought back a lot of the details that I'd forgotten. Abel has an interesting take on life and a distinct humor. I see it coming through in La Perdida, but I already have a few problems with it. I'll hold my judgement until I'm done, but I'm thinking a post on multi-ethnic literature and criticism is in order. 

I have a few review books I've accepted recently, so those are on the horizon immediately after MB and La Perdida. First up is Kergan Edwards-Stout's novel, Songs for the New Depression. I was already looking forward to this one, but even moreso since it's shortlisted in the GLBTQ category for this year's Indie Lit Awards. I admit, I'm woefully underread in GLBTQ lit, so this should be good! 

After posing my question yesterday about which book I should read next from my TBR, it looks like I Capture the Castle takes the cake! I'm planning to read it in the next couple of weeks, and I'm really excited about it! I have wanted to read it for a good 10 years. Lots of my fellow bookworms recommended it to me back when I was an active member of Yahoo! Groups, pre-blogging. 

And that's all that's shaking in my reading today. Greyson is off to daycare since my mom was kind enough to shuttle him this morning, I'm hunkered down with a cup of coffee, and I have a few minutes to myself. All I have left before I start the commute to work is to do are makeup and pick out an outfit for the day, so I have a few minutes to Tweet or read. I should read, but I'm leaning toward the Tweeting. 

I hope you all have a great Monday full of books!


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila from BookJourney.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Sunday Salon - The Shrunken TBR

Mornin' bloggers! It's been a very bookish weekend. I dropped Greyson off yesterday for a visit with the fam, and quickly did some shopping. With some new jeans and a rad military-style jacket under my belt, I headed home to settle down with Madame Bovary. Just as many of you have pointed out, Madame Bovary is not a nice person. But I also know this novel is considered a hallmark of literary realism, and bitchy is the m.o. of the movement. I read Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie in grad school and really liked that one, and it was a whole lot of bummer. I'm ok with bummer sometimes!

I've been looking at my TBR a lot this weekend. Wanna see? Click to embiggen...



Having so few books in my possession is a great help (the rest are in storage). I don't spend tons of time waffling about what to read next when I have a small group of great choices in front of me. Also, note the jack-o-lantern candle holder. A Greyson original. So, in short, I'll be choosing from this pile next. Let me know what you'd like to endorse. :D

The rest of my day will be uneventful. Kiddo will be coming home, I'm hunkering down with more Madame Bovary until then, and doing a little blog surfing to see what the rest of you are up to on this lazy Sunday.

The Sunday Salon - The Shrunken TBR

Mornin' bloggers! It's been a very bookish weekend. I dropped Greyson off yesterday for a visit with the fam, and quickly did some shopping. With some new jeans and a rad military-style jacket under my belt, I headed home to settle down with Madame Bovary. Just as many of you have pointed out, Madame Bovary is not a nice person. But I also know this novel is considered a hallmark of literary realism, and bitchy is the m.o. of the movement. I read Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie in grad school and really liked that one, and it was a whole lot of bummer. I'm ok with bummer sometimes!

I've been looking at my TBR a lot this weekend. Wanna see? Click to embiggen...



Having so few books in my possession is a great help (the rest are in storage). I don't spend tons of time waffling about what to read next when I have a small group of great choices in front of me. Also, note the jack-o-lantern candle holder. A Greyson original. So, in short, I'll be choosing from this pile next. Let me know what you'd like to endorse. :D

The rest of my day will be uneventful. Kiddo will be coming home, I'm hunkering down with more Madame Bovary until then, and doing a little blog surfing to see what the rest of you are up to on this lazy Sunday.
 
Images by Freepik