Archive for November, 2010

I meant to finish and post this last night after we got home but I spent my time on the couch communing with my kitty who spent the last 5 days living with a murderer (known to us humans and the dogs as the house sitter).

Open is an autobiography by Andre Agassi. Normally I would have just skimmed S. Krishna’s review as I am not into tennis but on a message board I read, people are raving about this book – about Agassi’s candor and the quality of the writing. S. Krishna agrees with that assessment.

Devourer of Books is having a “Harvest Week” reviewing an appropriate set of food related books: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver; The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell; and Coop by Michael Perry. Jen writes good reviews and if you are interested in food, what we eat, and how it is produced you may find something you like.

Matt from A guy’s Moleskin Notebook briefly mentions The Meaning of night by Michael Cox and his note sent off to the internet to do some more looking. For some reason literary mysteries have been at the top of my need to read pile in part because I am trying to figure out what the difference is between a mystery and a literary mystery. This book, set in Victorian England has a betrayal, a lost inheritance, and a man hell-bent on revenge. If you need to like the protagonist, then this isn’t your book but if you like Gothic creepiness, you might want to give it a try.

Tom from a Common Reader reviews what seems like a delightful family memoir centered around a collection of Japanese Nutsuke. The Hair with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal explores the history of these family heirlooms. Looking at the collection on-line (through links Tom provides) you can see just how incredible these tiny carving are and what rich detail the sculptor can bring to the material. Even if the book doesn’t interest you, the art itself is worth exploring.

And just for himself – Stefani of So Many Books posts a link to the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2010 of which I have actually read one (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks). My husband has lots of time to read now that he commutes mainly by bus and he is dividing his time between science books, technical science fiction and grading.  Of course his “To Be Read” pile is growing faster than he can read.

Happy reading!


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Himself and youngest drove down to Oregon for Thanksgiving – we were missing eldest who was unable to come to his Grandma’s due to work. Himself mentioned the book store and of course I was more than willing to go again so today we set off and now have two more large stacks of books – half for himself’s commute and the rest for me:

Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey is the story of a Eva and her visits with two companions, a woman and a girl, who may or may not be real. Eva is being raised by her mourning father and her aunt (as her mother has died).  The publisher’s blurb describes the book as a “magical novel about loneliness, love, and the profound connection between mother and daughter. Since I have spent the last few days giggling with my mom, it seemed fitting to read about a mother/daughter connection.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I just finished Great House which is a book that sticks in your brain, rattling around and coming up again in odd spots (like my dreams) so when I saw this earlier work by Krauss I snatched it up.  The novel features fourteen-year-old Alma Singer scouring New York to find a book she thinks may cure her mother’s lonliness.

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Dean. This novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1996 and takes place in Ireland where every adult has a secret and an unnamed young narrator tries to search for the truth. I read somewhere that this novel is very dark but I was drawn to it after reading the epigraph:

The people were saying no two were e’er wed
But one had a sorrow that was never said.

“She Moved Through the Fair”

The next three books I had on my “To Read” list and discovered them through various book blogs:

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a coming of age story set in Nigeria. Kambili and her older brother get a reprieve from their father’s suffocating house to visit their aunt. Unfortunately, the political climate forces the two back home and they have to adjust from freedom to a dictated lifestyle.

Santa Evita by Tomas Eloy Martinez is a novel about Eva Peron an, most importantly, her corpse. Nonsuch reviewed the book here and I was struck by this quote, “As you said, it’s a novel,” I explained. “In novels, what is true is also false.  Authors rebuild at night the same myths they’ve destroyed in the morning.” For some reason, this really resounds with me and I hope I enjoy the rest of the book as much.

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris is a mystery about a young Saudi girl who disappears. Set in the confining society and political climate of Saudi Arabia the protagonist has to work past the barriers erected by religion, custom, and personal need. I found this book through S. Krishna’s blog.

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Words For Wednesday

When I stay at my mom’s I sleep on the bed in her office and wake up to look at her bulletin board each morning. Her board is covered in family pictures (including youngest’s most Churchillian one when he was little – big forehead) as well as notes, political buttons and other miscellany from her life.

She also as several poems that she loves scattered among the flotsam including the following:

Don’t Make Friends With the Dead
By Richard Stansberger

They end up coming over every morning
with a flicker and a pop
as soon as you step into the shower.

Then all day long you follow them around
asking questions like a dumb little brother.

They go from room to room for their own reasons.
Handel loves the soap operas and the way
the silver sounds when he dumps out the drawers.
Gogal is fascinated by the rock collection.
and Otto III studies the scrolls of light
unfolding on the floor.

But the dead bore easily, get blurry. and you
end up following them down the basement stairs
where they disappear through a back wall
and you suddenly notice your barefeet
cold in the dirt of the root cellar.

From “The Yellow Shoe Poets: Selected Poems  1964-1999” edited by George Garrett (Louisiana State University Press: 232 pp.)

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Adding To The Stack

Made a trip down to the local used bookstore here in West Salem and spent a delightful hour or so looking through the shelves. I forgot my “want to read” list which made it a fun and different experience. Instead of just looking for certain books, I browsed the shelves while listening to the pitter patter of  the rain on the tin roof.

I did end up with a few that I knew were on the list and a few from authors I had either enjoyed in the past or had wanted to read.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – this book seems hard to describe with six different narratives that are intertwined. I liked his writing in A Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet even though I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the story itself so I am excited to read this novel and see if story and writing merge for me. I tend to be a fan of kaleidoscopic/nesting doll type stories, especially if they are well done.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald – I have heard of The Blue Flower by this author which won the Booker Prize but it has never really interested me. This bookshop had four of Fitzgerald’s novels and I picked The Bookshop. I liked the description of the plot – a woman opens a bookstore in an out-of-the-way English town after WWII and “only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: that a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.”

Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner – In a past Caught My Interest I mentioned this book and the many different references to Anita Brookner I was coming across so I grabbed this small novel as soon as I saw it.  Edith Hope is sent away to recover from an “unfortunate lapse” and becomes wrapped up in the lives of her fellow hotel guests. This sounds like a perfect curl up on the couch rainy day book.

Passing On by Penelope Lively – I first read The Photograph which is about a man who discovers a compromising picture of his wife after her death and loved it. I then read Moon Tiger, her Booker Prize novel about a woman on her deathbed looking over her past and also loved it. I think Lively has wonderful language and her novels tend to focus on memories and how they inform both our thinking and our actions. Passing On is about a middle-aged  brother and sister looking back on their lives after their domineering mother dies.

Last but not least: Snow by Orhan Pamuk winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. I have heard of this author before mainly because of his remarks about the deaths of Armenians in Turkey and the subsequent uproar that followed. And my parents visited Turkey a few years ago and had a wonderful time. They fell in love with Instanbul and my mother has said that Turkey is the most hospitable country she has ever visited. So when I came across Pamuk’s Snow I grabbed right up. I am looking forward to reading a book that explores modern Turkey.


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Sunday Caught My Interest

I am in Beautiful Salem planning pies (apple, pumpkin, pecan, and mince) and doing the first of the grocery shopping.  On the plane ride I sat by a delightful woman who is a reader and we had a fantastic discussion about books, reading, and its place in our lives. It is always refreshing to have a conversation with a “bookish” person. One of the best quotes from this conversation came when we were talking about reading different genres and Bobbie said “sometimes you need a palate cleanser”. As a lover of sorbet – I love this image she came up with.

Eva at the Striped Armchair has many interesting posting this week. She reviews By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah in this post – mentioning tight writing style and page-turning narrative tension and memorable characters with honest examinations of race and refugees and the legacies of colonialism. Not to mention gender and sex and power and governmental legitimacy and memories and personal histories and identity…oh, this book was so rich!” With a review like this, who can resist putting it on one’s reading list.

She also discusses Literary Fiction in the post but what intrigues me is the quotes from Laura Miller’s The Magician’sBook: A Skeptics Adventures in Narnia. Laura Miller writes of her love for C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series and her gradual awakening to their religious content. The New Yorker called it “a meditation on the schism between childhood and adult reading. I remember first getting the Narnia set and have re-read the books several times – my childhood set is currently in the youngest’s bedroom and he too re-reads the books. I have also read many biographies and works about Lewis and his circle so this book is definitely on my wish list.

A Common Reader has a great Christmas gift for readers in this post reviewing John Sutherland and Stephan Fender  new book Love, Sex, Death, and Words. The two scholars team up “to supply us with significant literary happenings from each day of the year, together with puckish short essays about each event” as quoted in the Guardians’ review of the work. This book sounds like the perfect palate cleanser and should be under every book lover’s tree.

Nicole at Linus’s Blanket reviews a book that came out in September – Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld. The novel is about two women who become friends and then become estranged and evolves into a story of three generations and the ties that bind people together beyond the bounds of blood.  Set in the south, it also touches upon race and the walls we build as well as the inheritances mothers pass onto their children.

Chris from Chrisbookarama shares a link to the Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Book Stores of the world – of the ten, I have only been to City of Lights in San Francisco but I have bookmarked this page just in case I get to go somewhere else in the world.

Mookse and the Gripes reviews a book from the 1980’s that I have never heard of – The Assault by Harry Mulisch and it looks quite interesting. Set in Germany in 1945, an act of violence occurs on a street that has devastating effects on the innocent bystanders. From this one event, a survivor spends the rest of his life reflecting on this incident, its ramifications and struggles with the desire to know more.  Sounds absolutely fascinating.

I am off to caramelize some onions for quiche – here is wishing safe travels to those on the move, lots of gravy to those, like me, who think this is the best part of the upcoming festivities, and lots of great bookish conversation.

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Room by Emma Donoghue

Today I am five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed, in the dark, I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then zero.

“Was I minus numbers?”

“Hmm?” Ma does a big stretch.

“Up in Heaven. Was I minus one, minus two, minus three – ?”

“Nah, the numbers didn’t start till you zoomed down.”

“Through skylight you were all sad ‘til I happened in your tummy.”

“You said it.”

So starts Room, by Emma Donoghue, a novel short-listed for the 2010 Booker Prize. Room is narrated by five-year old Jack who lives in a small room with his mother, kept there by Old Nick. If you lived in a small room your entire life, what is your reality? Jack is told what is on TV is fantasy, as far as he knows the world consists of three people. What happens when you get older and you begin to have more questions then your mother can answer? And what happens if you leave Room? How do you adjust your thinking and perspective? Much like Alice going down the rabbit hole, Room is about adjusting to a new reality.

There are many references to Alice in Wonderland in this short novel from explicit – Alice is one of the few books Jack’s mom has in Room, to subtle.  It is just one of the various items of detail that make reading Room a pleasure despite its subject matter. Room is not easy to read if you have difficulty reading about children and women in peril.  What Jack and his mother are going through is harrowing and dangerous and Jack’s mother will do anything to protect him.

What is amazing is the level of detail Donoghue is able to achieve, the amount of thought she has put into this story: Jack’s language, his way of speaking to the physical issues he has, even down to how Jack and his mother spend their day.  The reader truly has a feel for Jack’s reality and the adjustments he needs to make.  My heart broke for Jack, his Ma, and the struggle they go through. In addition to the detail, Room is very well written with such sentences as “Before I didn’t even know to be mad that we can’t open Door, my head was too small to have Outside in it. When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I am five, I know everything.” And as we learn, knowing everything doesn’t make living any easier. However, if Jack can adapt, perhaps we can as well.

Epigraph to Room

My child

Such trouble I have.

And you sleep, your heart is placid;

You dream in the joyless wood;

In the night nailed in bronze,

In the dark you lie still and shine.

Simonides (c. 556-468 BCE)

“Danae” (tr. Richard Lattimore)

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Sunday Caught My Interest

A week of computer troubles, lots and lots of pictures, more doctor appointments, and a reading slump…so today I am catching up on the blog world and watching youngest write four essays for the University of  Washington. One of the essay questions is to compare the scientist to the poet and youngest has been bombarded from both sides having an English Major for a mom and a Engineer Professor for a dad. I think we are more excited about the topic than he is.

Kate Morton is a good modern day Gothic novelist who produces works with compelling mysteries and great atmospheres. S. Krishna reviews her newest book The Distant Hours and since I enjoyed The Forgotten Garden and I will put this new one on my list for a nice escapist read.

I have never read Anita Brookner’s Hotel De Lac but this short review by Vintage Reads makes me want to rethink things. I do think it is true that we have different reactions to books depending on the stage we are at when we are reading them. I thought Anna Karenia was a romantic figure when I was in my twenties – in my forties, I wanted to slap her. Which book of Brookner’s is your favorite?

Caroline Bookbinder has a link to the American Book Review’s 100 Best First Lines in Fiction and it is fun to look at their list – everything from “The best of times” to CS Lewis: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”. They also had a line from Anita Brookner’s The Debut: “Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.” I think the world is trying to tell me something.

I don’t often recommend non-fiction but I stumbled across The Wayfinder’s” Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World at Page247 and I am enthralled. Based on the CBC’s Massey lecture, Wade Davis explores what it means to be human and the contributions made to our world by indigenous cultures.  I also found a  review of the book at The Globe and Mail.

Iris on Books and some other bloggers have started a project called A Year of Feminist Classics featuring both fiction and non-fiction. They have set up a special blog for this here and their reading list – which is very impressive – can be found here.  I may join them a time or two – The Doll’s House by Ibsen is intriguing and I haven’t read a play for a long time (The last being Angels In America). It would also be fun to read and discuss A Room of One’s Own.

And to celebrate the end of  high school cross country running (at least for youngest – himself is still planning on doing stats) – here is a photo from the last GSL meet of youngest and his friend celebrating a season well run.

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I received my first book in the mail courtesy of Lizzy of Lizzy’s Literary Life. Lizzy is embarking on a Novella Challenge so if you like short novels or have a limited amount of reading time during the holidays – be sure to check out her blog for suggestions. I won a copy of The Rider on the White Horse by Theodor Storm which The New Yorker describes as “one of the greats” of the novella form. A story on man against nature with beautiful descriptions of atmosphere, I can’t wait to dig in. Thanks Lizzy.



Since I loved getting something unexpected in the mail I have also signed up for the Book Blogger Holiday swap which also means I get the fun of picking out a book for someone else!

I think I will also have to include some lemon bread as well as it is a holiday tradition here. For every three loaves I make, one gets eaten here – something the teenager appreciates.

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The Birth of Love

History is full of theories which have been proffered and self-appointed experts who have rejected them, simply because they were novel, or threatening of a general orthodoxy. Those religious beliefs which dominate in my country, and equally in yours, Professor Wilson, such as the divinity of Christ, and the truth of the Gospels, have at various points been regarded as madness and heresy and the mere expression of them has caused individuals to be slaughtered. Indeed, history is a series of rising and falling so-called truths, each generation directed by certain absolutes where are most often cast off by the next. (pg. 161)

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna is set in three different time periods: Vienna in 1865; present day London; and somewhere in the year 2153. What ties the periods together is childbirth as seen from a medical perspective, an individual perspective, and the perspective of society.  In 1865 you have the specter of childbirth fever and Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis’s claim that women will not die if doctors simply wash their hands.  Dr. Semmelweis ends up in an asylum wringing his hands and haunted by dead women.  In London, Bridget Hughes prepares to give birth to her second child and trying to cope with the pain.  In the future, society harvests the wombs of women at the age of eighteen and then sterilizes them. Women do not carry, birth, or nurture their children.

Thematically, the reader can see how the stories tie together and there is also subtle connections as well.  However there is also a side story in present London of a hermit author who has written a novel about Dr. Semmelweis and is coping with the issues he has with his own mother.  These sections seemed almost ill-fitting to me and I found them somewhat jarring within the narrative.  I couldn’t tell if the author was equating writing a novel with birthing a baby.  The images of childbirth were also fairly graphic and I found them unpleasant to read.

The section I enjoyed the most was the futuristic section. I found the prisoners testimony quite moving and their longing for a connection, both to a homeland as well as to the act of birth, was haunting. I wish the author had spent more time on this section. The difference in perspective in the three sections was also interesting. Other than that, I found this book was a struggle to get through and I am not sure what the author intended to sayin the end.

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Computer issues delayed this weeks caught my interest post…

Bibliophile By the Sea tends to have similar taste to mine so when she raves about a book I usually sit up and notice.  Here she reviews Strangers at the Feast, the story of a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving.  Having had a few “interesting” Thanksgiving dinners myself, I am interested in seeing how the Olson family deals with their day.

S. Krishna reviews a “interesting and contemplative novel that I recommend to fans of literary fiction, especially if you are interested in the construction and mechanics of philosophy” called The Pages by Murray Bail set in a remote farm in Australia.  Sometimes I find I am in the mood for something that provides just a little nibble and this sounds like it might be just the thing for such an occasion.

Myra Goldberg, author of The Bee Season, has written another novel, A False Friend, which is reviewed by NPR here. They also include an excerpt so you can get a flavor of the book itself.  An adult woman, Celia, sees a VW bus and it triggers a childhood memory where Celia suddenly remembers leaving a friend in a perilous situation.  When she goes back home, Celia finds that not everyone remembers things the same way.  I loved The Bee Season and look forward to reading this new novel.

And to end on a semi-book related note: If it is a beautiful fall weekend day and you are seventeen, what do you do with your afternoon…you go to the local park and play Quidditch:








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