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Archive for December, 2010

Caught My Interest

When I was young my mother always kept an “I’m Interested In” list of books in a notebook she kept in her purse. In December we would sneak in and jot down a few books to give her as presents. For my Grandmother, a writer who loved death, we would go down to the bookstore and ask if anyone had killed someone interesting that year – this was way before True Crime had a section all to itself. My brother and I always got a least one book for a present and part of the day was spent curled up on the couch reading our newest gems. My mother had a genius for picking just the right book at just the right time.

I too love giving books as gifts. Himself got to two of  The Years Best Science Fiction collections from Santa – this year’s and then  the one from three years ago which Santa had lost in his sleigh and forgot to give him. My favorite Christmas book I have ever given was in December of 1997. I walked into the Children’s Corner Bookstore (alas – it is no more) picked out what I needed for nieces and nephews and I had one more person on my list, a twelve year old boy I had a soft spot in my heart for. I asked someone in the store for their recommendations and said, “This is a boy who feels like he doesn’t fit in his family”. She replied, “there is this new book from England, no one in the states has really heard about it but I think it is going to be big and it is perfect for this boy.” I walked out of the store with a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and she was right – it was perfect for that child.

This year himself looked at my To Be read list and then pointed out I had very eclectic tastes. He managed to wade through the list and did a really good job; so today what has caught my interest is what was underneath my Christmas Tree Saturday morning.

Bound To Last: 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book Edited by Sean Manning: Rabhih Almeddine, Anthony Doerr, Julia Glass, Joyce Maynard, among others have all written never-before-published essays about a printed book they hold most dear not only for the words written inside or the story told, but also the circumstances of the book; circumstances including where, when, or by whom or how they acquired it. I have just read Ray Bradbury’s forward and know I am in for a treat. Here is Bradbury talking about reading Edgar Allan Poe for the first time, a book provide to him by his beloved Aunt Neva:

I lugged it over to the table and opened up that huge book and looked at the stories. By pure accident I turned to the page with “The Cask of Amontillado.” I plunged in and got drunk immediately. I was nine years old and had never read anything like it: I fell in love completely with Edgar Allan Poe. (pg. x)

The Palisades: A Novel by Tom Schabarum: Regardless of what I finally end up thinking of this book, I will always have a soft spot about it. It was the very first book that “caught my interest” when I first discovered book blogs. Not to mention it is set in one of my favorite areas of the country, the Big Sur coast of California. Nicholas, in his first meaningful relationship, feels he must investigate his past in order to be open to his future. The novel is about the ripple effects of loss and the healing nature of place.

In Big Sur there is a cottage that sits at the edge of a palisade. It is the last refuge before the high mountains that rise up like sentries to the rest of the country. When the air is clear you can see the coast run its length to the horizon, but when the fog rolls in it is masked and hidden as if a magician had waved his hand over the earth to erase it. (p. 7)

Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto: In 2001 Rizzouto goes to Hiroshima to interview survivors of the atomic bomb. This memior contains those interviews along with the parallel story of Rahna as she deals with the aftermath of 9/11 as well as her troubled marriage. I haven’t read much memoir this year and this seemed to be a good way to get back into the genre. I like what the back blurb says, “…Rizzuto’s personal awakening show memory not as history, but as a story we tell ourselves to explain who we are. My family has always used story to explain things so I am looking forward to seeing how Rizzuto explores this theme.

I can tell you the story but it won’t be true.

It won’t be the facts as they happened exactly, each day, each footstep, each breath. Time elides, events shift; sometimes we shift them on purpose and forget  that we did. Memory is just how we choose to remember.

We choose. (pg. 11)

Purge by Sofi Oksanen: A book about two women, Aliide, an older woman who has lived through the Soviet occupation of Estonia and Zara, her great-niece who has been subjected to the sex trade by the Russian Mafia. Together these two women explore the past, the history that binds them together, the effect of shame, and what it takes to survive. A complicate book with a disturbing subject, Purge is an award winner and the author is one to watch in the years to come.

The mound was lying in the same spot under the birch tree. Aliide moved closer, keeping her eye on the mound but also keeping an eye out for any others. It was a girl. Muddy, ragged, and bedraggled, but a girl nevertheless. A completely unknown girl. A flesh-and-blood person, not some omen of the future sent from heaven. Her red-lacquered fingernails were in shreds. Her eye make-up had run down her cheeks and her curls were half straightened; there were little blobs of hairspray in them, and a few silver willow leaves stuck to them. Her hair was bleached until it was coarse, and had greasy, dark roots. (pg. 8)

The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia by Laura Miller: Eva from A Striped Armchair recently raved about this book and I loved the quotes she included in her review and in other mentions she made of this work. I still remember my mother coming home from a trip and handing me a boxed set of C.S. Lewis Narnia Series. I started reading it that day and I don’t think I stopped until I was done. I re-read that set over and over throughout the years and even read from them to my own children. My youngest, a re-reader himself, finally wore out my original set and I had to purchase a new one which still sits upstairs. Miller captures this perfectly saying:

It was this book that made a reader out of me. It showed me how I could tumble through a hole in the world I knew and into another, better one, a world fresher, more brightly colored, more exhilarating, more fully felt than my own. This revelation really did make a new person out of me. I reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and its six sequels countless times. I became one of those children who haunt libraries, checking out the maximum number of titles every week, scouring the shelves for signs that this one or that one would spirit me away to a place almost as marvelous as Narnia.

Finally, I received Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison by Ted Kooser: In the autumn of 1998, Kooser was recovering from cancer surgery and treatment. Unable to be in the sun, he took long walks in the countryside before dawn and wrote a series of poetical postcards to a friend. This collection contains 100 of those cards, small poems about nature, connection, and life with all its daily trails and triumphs. My favorite form of poetry is haiku and Kooser is described as “a realist, a nearly haiku-like imagist”.  If the first poem which serves as a dedication is any indication, I am in for a treat.

The quarry road tumbles toward me
out of the early morning darkness,
lustrous with frost, an unrolled bolt
of softly glowing fabric, interwoven
with tiny glass beads on silver thread,
the cloth smoothed by my father’s hand
as he stands behind his wooden counter
(dark as these fields) at Tilden’s Store
so many years ago. “Here,” he says smiling,
“you can make something special with this.”

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Merry Christmas

And may all your days be merry and bright. A good Christmas was had here although I missed my eldest terribly. We had a good call with him this morning and then opened presents. Youngest was thrilled to get a silly straw that formed glasses to wear – it is amazing what will tickle an 18 year old’s fancy.

Just had to share one of the best presents of all time – my mom let us take this home after Thanksgiving and it was immediately put to use in our front hall/dinning room and is perfect there. I think everyone in the house is in love with it and it is easy to say why. But let me preface this by saying I am old enough to remember card catalogs and I have always liked them and miss them. Don’t get me wrong, I love my library’s fantastic internet system and wouldn’t want to give it up, but there was something about those catalogs, the physicality of them, their aesthetic nature, their form follows function, the action of flipping through the cards. Whenever we were in a new library, we would look my grandmother’s name, flipping through the cards and see which books of her’s the library had. You don’t get that same thrill looking at a computer screen.  So in one of the best galleries eve,r in Salem Oregon –  Mary Lou Zeeks, sat this table and I was a goner. And it has three other things going for it: the top is made of rulers which pleases my woodworker, engineer husband, one of the drawers actually has the original cards, and it was made by Alan Zeek, Mary Lou’s husband. So here is the best gift himself and I received this year – enjoy and Merry Christmas and many many thanks Mom.

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Words for Wednesday

Today’s words come in two parts – first is this wonderful Op-Ed piece in the New York Times about the original Winnie the Pooh Animals. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for A.A. Milne – The story of Winnie the Pooh and Milne’s poetry are my earliest reading memories. My mom used to put my brother and I on each side of her on the green couch in the Library and read out loud to us. Also in that room were some very early stuffed animals representing Pooh, Tigger, Kanga, etc. I was particularly fond of Tigger because he had a unique crook in his tail. They don’t make stuffed animals like that and there is still very little to read to young children than Milne. The four book set is still my mom’s baby present of choice. So read the article and remember the simple days of listening to your mother or father’s voice read to you and all was right in the world.

New York Time Op-Ed: The Library at Pooh Corner

Second for your further reading pleasure:

Buckingham Palace
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They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terrible hard,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We saw a guard in a sentry-box.
“One of the sergeants looks after their socks,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
We looked for the King, but he never came.
“Well, God take care of him, all the same,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
They’ve great big parties inside the grounds.
“I wouldn’t be King for a hundred pounds,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
A face looked out, but it wasn’t the King’s.
“He’s much too busy a-signing things,”
Says Alice.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
“Do you think the King knows all about me?”
“Sure to, dear, but it’s time for tea,”
Says Alice.

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Caught My Interest

The living Christmas tree is now in the house awaiting decoration, himself is preparing to travel across the pass to see eldest and play Santa Claus since eldest has to work and can’t come home (sigh). Youngest plopped all his books in a pile yesterday and then washed his running clothes that he keeps at school (good!). Cat is complaining that life doesn’t revolve around him like it should, Chico finally has his bounce back after the ear infection to end all infections, and Elly would like me to drop more food on the floor in the kitchen. The dried peppers that himself dropped the other day do not count as food in Elly’s eyes. Just a few more presents to buy for himself, stockings are done, and three more batches of lemon bread and I am good to go for Christmas. Now to finish Trespass which is really, really good. I hope all your preparations go well and Happy Holiday’s to all my bookish friends.

I don’t know if my cousins read my blog but if they do – this book is for all their kidlets. From Bibliophile By the Sea comes the story of Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendshipp. Owen is a baby hippo stranded in a tsunami. After being rescued, he is transferred to an Nature Preserve in Africa and he finds a new mom in 130 year old tortoise. And if you look here – there is a picture book about the same hippo called Mama.

Kim of Reading Matters briefly mentioned an Australian Author who was unknown to me – Elliot Perlman so I dug through some of Kim’s reviews of his previous work and I am very interested in Seven Types of Ambiquity which sounds somewhat reminiscent of The Slap. Since Perlman’s book was published first I am intrigued to see if I like it better. I will end with a brief quote from her review:

It’s about an unemployed teacher briefly abducting Sam, the seven-year-old son of an ex-girlfriend, and the consequences of that one misguided incident and how it impacts on so many different lives in so many different ways. It’s also a psychological thriller, a court room drama, a romance, a satire, an insightful commentary on modern day existence, morals and values, and a kind of literary juggernaut that borrows the title of a well known non-fiction book by William Empson on literary criticism. Throw in politics, big business and prostitution and pretty much every genre and theme is covered here. You certainly can’t complain about its breadth of scope.

Lord of Misrule which won the 2010 National Book Award is reviewed at length by Kevin From Canada. If this book, about the horse racing world, is on your radar, I highly recommend his review not only because Kevin is a good writer but he also has personal knowledge of the complex world of horse racing which greatly enhanced his review.

Hungry Like A wolf led me to Tony’s Top ten list which led me to Ether: Seven Stories and a Novella by Evgenia Citkowitz. Citkowitz is the daughter of author Lady Caroline Blackwood and pianist Israel Citkowitz. For a brief period of time, Poet Robert Lowell was her stepfather. Tony writes, “Evgenia Citkowitz has a way of telescoping the events that occur in these stories down to their interesting bizarre essentials.  You can tell that she cares deeply for all of her characters, wishes them the best no matter how much things go awry.   The stories are not at all straightforward, but are told with a severe slant so they can not be summarized.  The writer is aiming for and achieving something deeper than just a point.” All I can say is Wow and does my library have a copy?

It is time for 2010 wrap-up reports and Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog mentions several she reviewed last year and there are two that need to be on my list. The first, a short story collection called Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs is set in the south and feature fantastic writing, a strong sense of place, and are filled with the dichotomy of dreams and reality as well as “quiet revelations, both explicit and implied, that shape and re-shape the reader’s experience of characters whose understandings of their lives are, like Cutie Young, “delicate in [their] moods” and always changing.”

The second book is for my wonderful niece Jessica and is called Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists and features 29 essays by young women discussing “What was the moment that made you a feminist? Was there one person, event, book, or idea that made it happen?”

The Millions has a report on the 13 most underrated books of 2010. As they say, most of these will not be found in the New York Times but deserve recognition. I was interested in James Hynes Next, Charlie Huston’s Sleepless, and Toby Ball’s The Vault. The article did include Julia Orringer’s The Invisible Bridge. While I enjoyed the book, it would not make my top list for 2010.

The Guardian from the UK reviews 1222 by Anne Holt featuring retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen, a snow storm to end all storms in, a derailed Norwegian train, taking refuge in an old hotel, and deaths ala Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Your classic “locked room” mystery with a detective who doesn’t want to detect and rising tension.

And finally for all lovers of The Phantom Tollbooth (my eldest’s favorite book and one of mine as well), Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer have collaborated on a new book, The Odious Ogre, a picture book for all ages and favorable reviewed in this week’s New York Times Book Review.

 

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Tidbits

I was fortunate to participate in a Holiday Swap hosted by Nicole of Linus’s Blanket. I got to choose books for Rob, a blogger from Hawaii who loves mystery’s. I spent a delightful morning in the book store with his wish list and had so much fun. It turns out the Rob visits the Hinterland every so often. And the other day I received my gift from the lovely Michelle at My Books My Life. She seems to be a pretty eclectic reader so it was fun going over her blog. I will forgive her for being a Michigan fan – I just won’t mention it to youngest. Michelle gave me The Wrong Blood by Manuel de Lope and I am dying to read it. Unfortunately it will have to wait. I need to finish Trespass and then I have two inter-library loan books: Clandestine in Chile and Vilnius poker. Plus my one book group picked Cutting for Stone for our January read. Sigh…but I do love the gift Michele and I hope to sneak in reading it sometime soon. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

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Words for Wednesday

From Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong:

 

 

 

The truth about my family was that we disappointed one another. When I hear the word “disappoint”, I tasted toast, slightly burned. But when I saw the word written, I thought it first and foremost as the combining or the collapsing together of the words “disappear” and “point”, as in how something in us ceased to exist te moment someone let us down.

Small children understand this better than adults, this irreparable diminution of the self that occurred at each instance, large and small, of someone forgetting a promise, arriving late, losing interest, leaving too soon, and otherwise making us feel like a fool. That was why children, in the face of disappointments, large and small, were so quick to cry and scream, often throwing their bodies to the ground as if their tiny limbs were on fire. That was a good instinct. We, the adults or the survivors of our youth, traded instinct for societal norm. We stayed calm. We swallowed the hurt. We forgave the infraction. We ignored that our skin was on fire. We became our own fools. Sometimes, when we were very successful, we forgot entirely the memory of the disappointment. The loss that resulted, of course, could not be undone. What was gone was gone. We just could no longer remember how we ended up with so much less of ourselves. Why we expected nothing, why we deserved so little, and why we brought strangers into our lives to fill the void. (pg. 38)

 

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Finding Nouf

Before the sun set that evening, Nayir filled his canteen, tucked a prayer rug beneath his arm, and climbed the south-facing dune near the camp. Behind him came a burst of loud laughter from one of the tents, and he imagined that his men were playing cards, probably tarneeb, and passing the siddiqi around. Years of traveling in the desert had taught him that it was impossible to stop people from doing whatever they liked. There is no law out here, and if the men wanted alcohol, they would drink. It disgusted Nayir that they would wake up Friday morning, the holy day, their bodies putrefied with gin. But he said nothing. After ten days of fruitless searching, he was not in the mood to chastise. (pg. 3)

I think at the heart of every good mystery is conflict. Most of the time the conflict is between the criminal and the detective with one hiding and one seeking. But a really great mystery will also highlight internal conflict within the characters and shows their growth as the internal and external conflicts are resolved

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris is set in Saudi Arabia; a 16 year old girl from a rich family is missing. Nayir, a Palestinian desert man and friend of the family is asked to search for her. Unfortunately, Nouf is found dead in the desert. The family at first covers up her death and then Othman, an adopted son, asks Nayir to discreetly invistigate and to use the services of his fiancee, Katya who happens to be a forensic scientist.

Conflict abounds because of the legalistic, cultural, and religious restraints present in Saudi society. A woman is not free go unescorted, having a job is frowned upon, and arranged marriages are the norm and these restraints lead to internal conflicts with several of the characters. The constraints of male and female relationships are at the heart of this novel. Nouf disappears three days before her wedding to a distant cousin – we come to find she was very unhappy with her fate. Nayir is a devout Muslim anxious to get married in a society where it is difficult to meet or get to know a woman. Katya is older and finally engaged but she desperately wants to keep her job, something she has worked very hard to obtain and keep. Nayir wants to solve the mystery but how can he work with Katya?

It is to the author’s credit that these internal conflicts are so accurately portrayed. Ferraris was married to a Saudi man and has spent time in Jeddah with his family. Her eye for detail enriches the book to the smallest detail. For example, a minor character – an Egyptian Optometrist shows the reader how Saudis, particularly Bedouins, have difficulty resolving their need for eye care with their traditional role of strength in the face of anything that comes their way.

Ferraris also shows the different characters, most particularly Nayir and Katya struggle with their internal conflict and try to come to some sort of resolution and growth. At first Nayir is remarkably unlikeable as such a devout man he cannot even look at a woman’s feet without feeling shame. And yet as he works the case, the reader comes to understand Nayir and appreciate him for who he is and who he is trying to become.

While the city of Jeddah and the culture and religion of Saudi Arabia have center billing in this novel, the basic mystery is strong. The reader is given the clues as Nayir and Katya find them, we see the same possibilities and yet the solution is not easy to guess. Once we come to the end we see the solution’s plausibility but Ferraris makes us work for it which I appreciate.

She has a second book out, City of Veils, which also features Nayir and Katya. I will be looking for this sequel as I found Finding Nouf to be just the right kind of mystery for me – a compelling setting, fascinating characters, a puzzling mystery and good writing. A reader couldn’t ask for more.

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