Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ahab's Wife - Sena Jeter Naslund

Title: Ahab's Wife or, The Star-Gazer
Author: Sena Jeter Naslund
Country: America
Year: 1999
Rating: B+
Pages: 668 pgs.

First sentence: Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.

With this first sentence, Sena Jeter Naslund sets the scene for a historical novel that brings the female perspective to an American classic, Moby Dick. Through the eyes of Una, we are given a glimpse into mid-19th century America, a time when abolition was beginning to gain momentum, whaling was an acceptable trade, and transcendentalism abounded (at least in Una's realm).

Although slow to start, I ultimately enjoyed this epic novel. The first 100 pages or so dragged as you first meet Una as a young girl living in the Kentucky frontier. Raised by a liberal, Quaker mother, and a fundamentalist Christian father, somehow Una grows up agnostic. Her religious differences with her father finally lead her parents to send her to New England, where her Aunt and Uncle maintain a lighthouse on a small island. It is here that the story picks up in its momentum. We follow Una as she experiences the world, partaking in her own adventures, which eventually lead her to Captain Ahab and beyond. The story could be described as adventure, but overall it is a romantic novel. A very well-written one.

Ahab's Wife, as attested by numerous reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, certainly has its flaws. I do not believe that Naslund set out to write a masterpiece, as so many reviewers cite her for failing in this goal. Una herself sometimes does come across as flat and unchanging, and although I really liked her, I found myself drawn more to the outlying characters (Mrs Maynard, Aunt Agatha, Uncle Torchy, Mary Starbuck and the Judge were some of my favorites). Although I felt that overall it worked quite well, famous individuals of the time do make somewhat random appearances--the most glaringly contrived is that of Una's run-in with Henry David Thoreau.

But you know what? I don't care. Simply for the fact that I enjoyed reading this book. It kept me up at nights, a feat which usually only occurs with mysteries and other suspenseful books. I felt the story was truly entertaining. And isn't that what reading for fun is all about? Ahab's Wife is simply a good, well-written story. I initially picked up this book since Naslund will be at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC in September. I definitely look forward to hearing her speak and delving into her latest novel, Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette.

A runaway slave Wanted poster on a steamboat in Kentucky (Una's mother tore it down):

Large, strong, coal-black $800 male Shifty eyed,
bit-broke teeth on left
Clover-leaf brand left shoulder
Dangerous and Desperate
$50 for information
$500 for return to Sweet Clover Farm
A personal revelation:
Since my time on the Sussex, I have ever feared the weathervane in me. Sometimes I point toward Independence, isolation. Sometimes I rotate--my back to Independence--and I need and want my friends, my family, with a force like a gale. I have in me a spinnaker sail that finds the breeze and leads all my sails in that direction. (p.190)
An interesting cure for that dreaded female 'disease', hysteria:
And very soon I was eating buttered toast, followed by bacon, followed by fish, followed by oatmeal--all to ward off hysteria. And it worked very well. After a while, the judge took up business again.

Booking Through Thursday

There was a widely bruited-about statistic reported last week, stating that 1 in 4 Americans did not read a single book last year. Clearly, we don’t fall into that category, but . . . how many of our friends do? Do you have friends/family who read as much as you do? Or are you the only person you know who has a serious reading habit?

I've had a chance to think a bit about this statistic since it came out in the news report last week. One thing it doesn't mention is whether or not people were only polled about books they read for entertainment?

My husband reads a lot. But, the majority of what he reads are medical journals and surgery textbooks so that he can stay on top of things, and prepare for the board exams he takes each year of his residency. Working approximately 80 hours a week, he rarely has time to read anything else except when we are on vacation. He only reads 3-4 books each year for fun (mainly fantasy and science-fiction, some non-fiction), but he is still reading constantly (well, not when he is operating on people. He tends to focus on the operation and patient care!).

My family is a mix. My father rarely reads,;my mother is starting to read a lot more than she used to (mainly self-help books and christian non-fiction, with some of my recommendations thrown in). My friends are also a mix, but most of them read to some extent. Many of them read quite a lot, and we seem to have similar reading tastes, which makes it easy to share books! One of my friends is an editor, so she reads constantly. And, to counter the CNN article, all of my male friends are avid readers, of both fiction and non-fiction.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

In the Land of Fairies - Daniela Drescher

Title: In the Land of Fairies (Komm mit ins Elfenland)
Author: Daniela Drescher
Country: Germany
Year: 2004
Rating: A

Now that I have begun to re-familiarize myself with children's literature and picture books, these types of reviews will probably pop up more frequently.

I first discovered In The Land of Fairies on a day trip to the small town of St Michael's, on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. Nestled amongst touristy boutiques and ice cream shops is The Faerie Glen, owned by proprietress E. Aspiras, and her tiny shop is a sight to behold. I was instantly drawn to the collection of books she sold, many of which I had never heard of, with this book nestled amongst them.

A few weeks later, I came across the books of Daniela Drescher once more, while perusing Three Sisters Toys, a website filled with natural toys and Waldorf style toys. The Waldorf philosophy on play and learning for young children not only focuses on creative, spontaneous, and voluntary imaginative play, but is also known for it's emphasis on the changing of the seasons and our relationship with nature. Daniela Drescher's books are a perfect addition to the library of a Waldorf parent, but are equally suitable for any children's library.

In The Land of Fairies was first published in Germany as Komm mit ins Elfenland. It was translated into English in 2004. The story is worth reading for the illustrations alone, which are breathtaking. In the story, we follow the fairies and animals of the forest through the changing of the seasons.

Short on words, the focus of the novel relies heavily on the illustrations. However, the small story line is just as enchanting. We see the forest from the fox's perspective in spring, 'The cautious fox hears every sound, By night and day, Creeping with care across the ground'; watch as fairies gently push the forest towards summer, 'Midsummer time, a magic night, So full of life, Now fairies dress the woods with light.'; and nature's preparations for winter, 'Among the tree-roots, down below, Nuts, berries, grain are safely kept beneath the snow.'

I absolutely love this book, along with her other stories In the Land of Merfolk, and In the Land of Elves. Maya gets a daily dose of the story each day, and it is a delight to read out loud (less than 3 months to go until I can read to her while looking at her charming little face!).

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Best Novels in My Opinion

I have decided to start compiling a list of novels that I consider the cream of the crop, including both classic and contemporary authors.

This list is followed by a much shorter list of authors I am supposed to like, and many others love, but I do not. Of course, I am only listing books I have already read, which is why you might spot some gaps, but I hope to come back to this list to update it over time. An author is only represented once: if I love many of their books, I have chosen the one I love the most.

  • Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. A gem from the African continent, and one of the best portrayals of the introduction and impact of colonists I have ever read.
  • Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus. I also highly recommend Half of A Yellow Sun.
  • Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women.
  • Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits.
  • Anonymous. One Thousand and One Nights. I never grow tired of these enchanting tales, and adventures with Scherazade, Ali Baba, Aladdin, and Sinbad the Sailor, to name a few.
  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. I love many of her books, but this remains my favorite.
  • Austen, Jane. Emma. I have yet to read Pride and Prejudice, so we shall see if Emma remains my favorite of her works.
  • Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. I revel in Jane's outlook on life, her tenacity, and unfailing goodness.
  • Cather, Willa. O Pioneers.
  • Chopin, Kate. The Awakening. An emotional (and at the time it was written, taboo) journey that is not easily forgotten.
  • Christie, Agatha. A Caribbean Mystery. The grand Dame of mysteries. It was hard to pick just one.
  • Diamant, Anita. The Red Tent.
  • Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
  • Dreiser, Theodore. Sister Carrie.
  • Dumas, Alexandre. The Three Musketeers. There is no adventure to big for this delightful trio.
  • Greene, Graham. The Heart of the Matter. I started reading Graham not sure I would like him. What a wonderful surprise to see how much I enjoy his books!
  • Garcia, Cristina. Dreaming in Cuban. This book was my first introduction to magical realism (which led me to Allende, Marquez, and many others). It remains one of my favorites in that genre.
  • Golding, William. Lord of the Flies.
  • Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D'urbervilles.
  • Hesse, Herman. Siddartha. In the shade of a banyan tree, a classic story is born.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. Old Man and the Sea. I'm generally not a fan of Hemingway, but this short novel holds a special place in my heart.
  • Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. Of all the books published in the 2000's that I have read, this is one of the best.
  • Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables.
  • Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees.
  • Kingsolver, Barbara. The Poisonwood Bible. I read this quite a few years ago, but the story still haunts me.
  • Lamb, Wally. She's Come Undone.
  • Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird.
  • Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. One Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. A magical reading experience that makes you want to start all over when you turn the last page.
  • McCullers, Carson. The Member of the Wedding. There's just something about Frankie that grabs your heart and holds on tight. Although, Bone in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter ranks up there, as well.
  • Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. What can I say but, divine!
  • Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. I always believed Anne and I were kindred spirits.
  • Nobokov, Vladimir. Lolita.
  • Orwell, George. 1984. Eerily prescient today, I often reflect back on this book.
  • Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia.
  • Pym, Barbara. Excellent Women. Her representation of a certain kind of woman of a certain generation in England is spot on. All of her books are delightful.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Discovering the magical world along with Harry Potter is a true delight.
  • Rushdie, Salman. Satanic Verses.
  • Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice. I really need to read more Shakespeare, I've only read 3 of his plays, but this one comes out in front of Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.
  • Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion.
  • Shikibu, Murasaki. The Tale of Genji. This book is amazing.
  • Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. Read this one. Skip On Beauty.
  • Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. It is so difficult to choose just one. East of Eden, The Moon is Down, and Of Mice and Men are all great.
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. A must read for everyone.
  • Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. Ah, Becky Sharp. Always the achiever.
  • Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings.
  • Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. The final scenes of this novel are permanently imprinted on my mind.
  • Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Read the book. Then go watch the movie. Both are superb.
  • White, E.B. Charlotte's Web. A heart-warming tale about friendship.
  • Winton. Tim. Blueback: A Fable for All Ages. One of the rare times a fish has managed to capture my heart.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. I know, I know, this is not fiction. But I had to throw it in. Go read it!
  • Woolf, Virginia. Mrs Dalloway. This is the only Woolf I have read so far. If you take your time reading it, her genius shines through.
  • Wright, Richard. Native Son. All of his books are an enlightening read.
Books that others love, but I do not:
  • Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Go read Chinua Achebe instead.
  • Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I am not a fan of Haddon's writing style, although his portrayal of an autistic child was very good.
  • Naipul, V.S. The Bend in the River. I think I liked this book, but I don't remember anything about it.
  • Paton, Alan. Cry the Beloved Country. Again, I just liked this book, didn't love it.
  • Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. Blaaaaahhhh. You should have stuck to philosophy, Ayn.
  • Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. Good. Not great.
  • Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited. Liked it, did not love it.
  • Welty, Eudora. The Optimist's Daughter. This one is on the border. I enjoyed reading it, but when comparing it to all of the books above, I felt it didn't quite fit in.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Laura Lippman on NPR

I caught part of her interview on the Morning edition a few days ago. I never realized that her Tess Monaghan series (of which I have yet to read) is based in Baltimore.

I think Laura sums things up quite well when she says, "Anyone can love a perfect place. Loving Baltimore takes some resilience."

Laura Lippman's Baltimore: Loving A Flawed Place

Saturday Six

I don't usually do the Saturday Six (on Sunday no less), but I liked this week's questions.

1. Considering all possible factors about a person that make us different, like age, appearance, religion, race, origin, sexual preference, etc., with 10 being the most prejudiced and 1 being the least, how do you think you would rate yourself?
I think I would rank myself about a 2. Equality is one of my personal crusades, and the fact that I openly advocate against prejudice and for equality (especially on issues such as racial equality, accepting religious and cultural diversity, marriage as a civil right for everyone, and gender equality) is one reason why I give myself such a low number. But I am not perfect. I have been known to complain on occasion about "old drivers" when an elderly person partakes in some road folly, knowing very well that bad driving crosses all ages. I also admit to my slight prejudice against older, white men. Possibly because as a young professional woman, there have numerous occasions in the workplace I have been treated by mainly older men in a less than appealing way. The only way this latter prejudice shines is the fact that I am more likely to stand my ground and argue my opinion with older men than anyone else. I'm not sure what that ultimately says about me?

2. You’re having a problem with a product or service and you call customer service. You are finally connected with someone who has a thick accent that sounds difficult to understand. What is the first thing that goes through your mind?

Accents never bother me. Working with refugees, I long ago learned that if I have a hard time understanding someone, the problem is probably because I am not actively listening to them. It amazes and disheartens me to see the number of times a person speaking fluent English with an accent is pawned off as being unable to speak the language. Listen, people!!
Anyway, what is most important to me is whether or not a customer service rep can answer my question, not how they sound. If they can't answer my question, I asked to be transferred to someone who can, regardless of whether I am talking to someone at a call center in another country, or down the street. And the very first thing that goes through my mind for all calls to customer service is "Is this person in a good mood?" :)

3. A co-worker you like tells you that his or her church is holding an “open house” and is encouraging people of other faiths to visit. You and your co-worker are of different faiths. How likely would you be to attend?

It depends on the co-worker, and more info about the type of open house. If it is an open house to promote diversity and interfaith dialogue with a coworker who is a friend, I would attend. If it is an open house to recruit converts, or with a coworker whom I don't know very well, I would likely stay away. Interfaith dialogue is great; conversion tactics not so great. My family is quite happy in its Jewish faith and prefers not to enter into situations focused on showing us why our faith is wrong. We get enough of that from my parents, who aren't exactly pleased that our children will be raised Jewish (hubby's faith) instead of Christian (I was raised Lutheran).

4. Take the quiz: Are you prejudiced?

You Are Not Prejudiced

Not only are you color blind, but you're also ethnicity blind, gender blind, and sexual orientation blind.
You don't judge someone until you truly know them. And even then, you're probably reluctant to judge.
You try to treat everyone equally. Everyone has a fair chance with you.
Good job - there's not a prejudiced bone in your body.

5. You lose a big promotion to someone who you considered to be less qualified than you are, despite the fact that you are only going by instinct in making that determination. If your boss later pulls you aside and explains that because of a growing effort to promote diversity, the other person was selected over you. What would your first reaction likely be?

My first reaction would be "Why is my boss telling me this?" That's not very professional. I would probably be a little bit upset at the situation, but not towards the person who got the job.

6. Your car breaks down in a neighborhood in which everyone is of a different race than you: are you more likely to be uncomfortable?

I would be uncomfortable in any neighborhood in Baltimore if I was by myself in a broken down vehicle, especially since Baltimore is in the top 3 cities for the highest violent crime rates in the US. If I was by myself, of course I would be uncomfortable. And, in certain neighborhoods in this city where I am technically a minority (although certainly not in terms of government representation), I might feel slightly more so, but only because I feel Baltimore has a long loong way to go in its race relations, and I have been witness to quite a few racial 'comments' directed in both directions (black to white, white to black, and both to hispanic). Any other city we have lived in, including Philadelphia (#4 on that list of highest violent crime rates), the racial make-up of a neighborhood would not have made a difference in how safe I felt.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

When growing up did your family share your love of books?
Did my family share my love of books? Not quite. But, from the time I was a newborn, my mother did read to me. She reads more now, about 10 or so books each year, which does put her ahead of the average American, according to a recent CNN article.

If so, did one person get you into reading?
Not so much as one person, as my situation might have led me to love reading. I think the fact that I was an only child, and many summer days I was stuck going into my dad's office because they couldn't afford a babysitter (my mother worked with my dad), probably contributed to my bibliophilia. There wasn't anything else for me to do.

And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)
Do the late nights hiding under the blankets with a book and flashlight count? :) I always loved the trips to the public library in the summer with my mom. I would marvel at the Adult section, with its high ceilings, wrought-iron railings, and really big books. Then I would scamper down to the kid's library to find a dozen books that appealed to me. I would inevitably be engrossed in one of them by the time we left the library. I was always one of the first kids to finish the summer reading program, and I loved collecting the stars on my little card more than the prizes they gave out! I also loved the fact that I had my very own library card!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Reading Meme

This is borrowed from Kate's Book Blog, who is one of the latest to post this meme.

What are you reading right now?
I had a hard time choosing which book to pick up after finishing my last two books. I finally decided on Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund. It is much longer than I originally realized so it will probably take the rest of August to read it, but so far I quite like it.

Do you have any idea what you'll read when you're done with that?
Decisions, decisions! It will most likely be Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck (Bookworms Sept book choice over at yahoo), The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, or Human Cargo by Caroline Moorehead.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?
The New Yorker, Natural Parenting, and Newsweek.

What's the worst thing you were ever forced to read?
In 8th grade history, we were required to read The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I HATED it! It is the only book that I have ever utilized Cliff notes for.

What's the one book you recommend to just about everyone?
I have recommended The Kite Runner to a lot of people, as well as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I try to tailor my recommendations to people's tastes, so there are very few books I would recommend to everyone.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don't they?
Well, I don't believe they know my name, but there are a few that definitely recognize my face.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all? There are quite a few people out there who don't like The Handmaid's Tale. I often get funny faces when I recommend Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, or Salman Rushdie's novels.

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving? I tend to read magazines while I eat breakfast, and occasionally books. While taking a bath? All the time. I hardly ever watch TV, but when I do, I often read during the commercials. Music? Occasionally. During sex? I don't think my hubby would like that very much. Driving? Absolutely not.

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits? Not that I can recall. But I did spend many a summer day holed up on a couch or under a tree with a book.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Before that, it was Agatha Christie's Murder with Mirrors.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Birth Partner - Penny Simkin

Title: The Birth Partner
Author: Penny Simkin
Country: America
Year: 2001
Rating: A
Pages: 337 pgs.

First sentence: Congratulations!

This is the 4th book I read for the Non-fiction five challenge. It is an alternate for Birthing from Within, which had difficulty obtaining from my library as it is continually checked out. Out of all the books I have read so far to prepare for unmedicated childbirth, this is by far the most useful of them all. It is definitely a book I would recommend for anyone who is pregnant, as it is geared towards everyone, not just those who are planning for natural childbirth. However, I'm just about exhausted of reading pregnancy books, so I'm not sure how many more I'll be fitting in.

Baby update: While I'm on the topic, I have just passed over into the 3rd trimester this weekend! Things are continuing to go very well, and the belly has definitely expanded these past few weeks (although my appetite continues to remain pretty much the same). We've picked a name, Maya Jean B! Baby Maya continues to make her presence known quite regularly, she is definitely an active one! Only 3 months left until my due date!

Blogger problems? Has anyone else had problems uploading photos to the sidebar? Every time I try lately, my photos become stretched out (for example, my currently reading photo, Ahab's Wife). Does anyone know how to fix this?

Some Light Reading

Title: Shopaholic and Sister
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Country: America
Year: 2004
Rating: C-
Pages: 352 pgs.

This was my least favorite of the Shopaholic series. But, I have heard that her latest, Shopaholic and Baby, is better, so I will probably continue with this light, chick lit series. It's great for when I am in the mood for complete fluff!

Title: I is for Innocent
Author: Sue Grafton
Country: America
Year: 1992
Rating: B
Pages: 343 pgs.

I never get tired of Kinsey Millhone and her many adventures.

Authors in Action

The start of autumn will be bringing a lot of book events to the Baltimore-DC metro area - I can't wait! My reading schedule will take some juggling to incorporate a few books by some of the authors listed below that I haven't gotten around to reading yet.

From September 28-30, Baltimore's Mt Vernon neighborhood (home to the Peabody Institute) will be hosting the Baltimore Book Festival. A celebration of Baltimore's diverse community is evident in the group of author's that will be making an appearance. A few I am looking forward to meeting and/or hearing speak are (and the books they are most well known for):

- Roya Hakakian, author of Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran
- Pam Munoz Ryan, author of the young adult novel Esperanza Rising
- Tim Wise, author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son
- Laura Krauss Melmed, author of the children's picture book Moishe's Miracle: A Hanukkah Story"
The full list of authors appearing at the festival can be found here. One of the founders of The Paperback Swap will also be in attendance as one of the exhibitors.

Overlapping with the Baltimore Book Festival is Washington DC's 2007's National Book Festival, hosted by the Library of Congress and Laura Bush, and held on Saturday, September 29. Fortunately, the events I plan on going to at the Baltimore festival are scheduled for Friday and Sunday, or otherwise this would have been a tough decision! The National Book festival doesn't have quite as many authors I am interested in meeting this year (namely, Khaled Hosseini, I'm still a bit annoyed I missed his appearance there last year). But, there are a few:

- Sena Jeter Naslun (Ahab's Wife, which has been getting rave reviews from other bloggers and which I just checked out from the library, and her new book Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette)
- Jodi Picoult
- Susan Vreeland, author of many historical fiction novels including Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and Luncheon of the Boating Party. I hope to read Girl in Hyacinth Blue before the festival.
- Nancy Pearl, I will read Book Lust by the time of the festival!

Other well known author's coming to the DC festival include:
- Terry Pratchett
- Joyce Carol Oates
- David Baldacci
The full line-up can be found here.

Perhaps I should start setting aside some spending money now. :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New Challenges

Since I have just finished two challenges, of course I need to add more! Must. Feed. The. Addiction!

I am on schedule for most of my challenges, with the exception of my personal Reading Across Borders challenge. And of course, there are my over-arching goals of reading a book from every country in the world (more on that at a later date); reading all of the Booker winners--7 down, lots to go; and the Pulitzer Prize winners. In regards to the latter goal, I have just joined 3m's latest undertaking, The Pulitzer Project.

But there are some irresistible new challenges popping up in the blog-o-sphere which seem to mesh well with some of my reading plans for the next year. Here are the new challenges I plan on joining, with the preliminary list of books to read:

Hosted by: Callista at SMS Book Reviews
Timeline: September - December

Books Chosen:
1. The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri
2. The Hours - Michael Cunningham
3. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress - Dai Sijie


Chocolat - Joanne Harris

Unread Authors Challenge
Hosted by: Sycorax Pine
Timeline: September 2007 - February 2008
Books Chosen:
1. Independent People - Haldor Laxness
2. Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan
3. A Woman in Jerusalem - A.B. Yehoshua
4. The Giver - Lois Lowry
5. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
6. Girl in a Hyacinth Blue - Susan Vreeland

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Eragon - Christopher Paolini
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Climbing the Mango Trees - Jaffrey Madhur
The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Hosted by: Joy at Thoughts of Joy
Timeline: October - December

Books Chosen:
1. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
2. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
3. Serving Crazy with Curry - Amulya Malladi

Eldest - Christopher Paolini
A Man Without A Country - Kurt Vonnegut

Hosted By: Wendy at Caribousmom
Timeline: January - June 2008

Books Chosen:
1. Thursday Next: First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde
2. Lean Mean Thirteen - Janet Evanovich (finished 16 February 2008)
3. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith (finished 4 May 2008)
4. K is for Killer by Sue Grafton (finished 15 January 2008)

What is my theme, you might ask? They are all books that feature, strong, quirky, fun female stars.

Southern Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

The Southern Reading Challenge, hosted by Maggie Reads, was truly a fun challenge. Although it officially wraps up the end of August, I thought I would post a summary of my experience soon after finishing all of the books on my challenge list. The challenge was to read at least three books by Southern authors. I read all three books I had originally set out to read, with a slant towards Southern Classics.

And of course, a great big thank-you to Maggie for hosting this wonderful challenge! I love to read about all the southern writers on her blog, and she definitely made this challenge unique and well worth participating in.

My finished challenge books are:
The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd
The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty
To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee

The best book: To Kill A Mockingbird would definitely come out as the lead book. As I had hoped, it completely lived up to its acclaim.

What book could I have done without: I did not like The Mermaid Chair. It certainly did not hold a flame to Kidd's first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, a book I really enjoyed. However, I would still read one of her books if she comes out with a new novel.

Any new authors? This was the first time I had read anything by Eudora Welty, and Harper Lee was also a first.

Books I did not finish: I finished all of the challenge books I set out to read.

What did I learn -- about anything -- through this challenge? I learned that although I thought I was well-read in the Southern Literature genre, I most certainly was not! The challenge helped me to catch up on some classics I had been meaning to read. I also added a LOT of books to my TBR list looking at what other challenge participants were reading. If Maggie would decide to hold this challenge again next year, I would definitely participate, and try to read some of the lesser-known Southern authors.

Pilgrimage - Natasha Trethewey

Here is a much delayed, final entry in the Summer Poetry Reading Challenge.

Natasha Trethewey received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry this year for Native Guard. The following poem, 'Pilgrimage' is one selection from this book. I definitely plan on reading the whole book sometime; her poetry is engaging, and the imagery is profound as she chronicles part of the history of the South, especially the Native Guard, one of the southern black regiments engaged in the Civil War.

Here, the Mississippi carved
its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
above the river's bend—where now

the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed.
Here, the dead stand up in stone, white

marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand
on ground once hollowed by a web of caves;

they must have seemed like catacombs,
in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor,

candlelit, underground. I can see her
listening to shells explode, writing herself

into history, asking what is to become
of all the living things in this place?

This whole city is a grave. Every spring—
Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle

with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders
in the long hallways, listen all night

to their silence and indifference, relive
their dying on the green battlefield.

At the museum, we marvel at their clothes—
preserved under glass—so much smaller

than our own, as if those who wore them
were only children. We sleep in their beds,

the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped
in flowers—funereal—a blur

of petals against the river's gray.
The brochure in my room calls this

living history. The brass plate on the door reads
Prissy's Room. A window frames

the river's crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream,
the ghost of history lies down beside me,

rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.

Monday, August 13, 2007

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee

Title: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Country: America
Year: 1960
Rating: A
Pages: 323 pgs.

First sentence: When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

Finally. I can finally say I have read To Kill A Mockingbird, an achievement that is long, long overdue. I'm not sure how I managed to make it through school without having to read this modern American classic. It was also a delight to read one of the original reviews, About Life & Little Girls, published in Time in 1960.

In Maycomb, Alabama, which is rumored to be based upon Lee's hometown of Monroeville, everybody knows everybody else, and almost everybody is related to you in one way or another. And, as I'm sure many of you are familiar with the unforgettable characters of Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Dill--and the many wonderful neighbors Miss Maudie, Miss Rachel, and the Radleys--I will not rehash the storyline here.

I'm always hesitant to begin a book that I have heard so much about, and To Kill A Mockingbird certainly has its fair share of acclaim. Fortunately, I feel it completely lives up to the hype. I was drawn in to the story from page one, and felt it was a wonderful portrayal of many of this issues going on in the 1930's South: racism, social class differences, Southern chivalry and what that meant at that time, and what courage is.

This was my last book for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge , and a wonderful note to end it on (I'm also reading it for the Book Awards challenge). To cap it off, I made a quintessential Southern summer dessert. No, not pe-khan pie. :) But the next best thing, a scrumptious peach pie. We picked up a bushel of peaches at the market this weekend, and boy are they good! It was the first time I had ever made a fruit-filled pie. I've always been more of a cook than a baker, and struggle with desserts, but I must say this pie was divine! I had hoped to photograph my very first peach pie, but we, ah, dove into it before I remembered the camera. Ah well, y'all just have to use your 'magination.

More than meets the eye:
'Nobody knew what form of intimidation Mr. Radley employed to keep Boo out of sight, but Jem figured that Mr. Radley kept him chained to the bed most of the time. Atticus said no, it wasn't that sort of thing, that there were other ways of making people into ghosts.' (p. 12)

Simple delights:
'Summer was on the way; Jem and I awaited it with impatience. Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all. summer was Dill.' (p. 38)

On courage:
"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what." (p. 112)

Young love:
'With him [Dill], life was routine; without him, life was unbearable. I stayed miserable for two days.' (p. 132)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Meme of Four

I know I was tagged for this ages ago, and I forgot who, but it's better late than never, right? I have really enjoyed reading other people's responses to this meme.

Four jobs I’ve had or currently have in my life:
1. Freelance Grant-writing and Research Consultant, mainly for refugee/immigrant non-profits
2. Joint Coordinator of a community organization that helps refugees and asylum seekers
3. Sales Associate for Sheridan Australia
4. Hostess, Red Lobster

Four countries I have been to:
1. Vietnam
2. Kenya
3. India
4. Cuba

Four places I’d rather be right now:
1. The swimming pool
2. Our old home in Australia (where it is currently a nice, mild winter)
3. A bookstore
4. An ice cream shop

Four foods I like to eat:
1. Chana Dal
2. Huevos Rancheros
3. Chewy, fudgy brownies
4. Fried bananas

Booking Through Thursday

Do you have multiple copies of any of your books?
If so, why? Absent-mindedness? You love them that much? First Editions for the shelf, but paperbacks to read?
If not, why not? Not enough space? Not enough money? Too sensible to do something so foolish?

I have a few multiples. I have two copies of The Catcher and the Rye; the one I read in high school, and one that has the original dust jacket illustrations (it is the thirty-fourth printing of the first edition).

When visiting The Book Thing, I sometimes pick up nicer copies of books I already own. What can I do when they're free!! Recently, I nabbed a hardback copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera and a nicer copy of Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. I rarely do this, because I also like to hold onto my original books. And of course, now I've found I'm having a hard time giving up my paperback copy of Marquez' book, since I also like to collect paperback Penguin editions.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Hilda and Pearl - Alice Mattison

Title: Hilda and Pearl
Author: Alice Mattison
Country: America
Year: 1995
Rating: C
Pages: 293 pgs.

First sentence: Hilda said she'd take the plums back to the cottage with her, because if she left them at the lake no one would remember to bring them.

Hilda and Pearl begins from the viewpoint of Frances, an only child living in the McCarthy-era New York. However, much of the story consists of flashbacks of the friendship that evolved between her mother, Hilda, and her aunt Pearl, and the secrets and tragedies hidden in that friendship.

The basic premise of this book is one that I usually like, especially the relationship between the two women. I always love settings that take place in the 30's and 40's, as it is a period of time that fascinates me. Ultimately, however, this book was disappointing. I felt much of the writing was telling me what was happening, rather than describing it. The only word I can think of to describe the book is flat, from the second I finished the book I have struggled with my overall disinterest in how to write a review.

I have one of Alice Mattison's other books, The Book Borrower, on my bookshelf, but I don't know if I want to give her a second chance. Has anyone read The Book Borrower? What did you think?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

My third post in the Summer Poetry Challenge is about Edward Fitzgerald's interpretation of 12th century's Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat, which became one of the most widely read poems of the 19th century. However, it is not considered to be a literal translation of the original, as Fitzgerald took a many liberties in his interpretation, in order to make a beautifully styled English version. Despite this, many scholars still consider Fitzgerald's version to be faithful to Omar's original meaning.

It would take years to begin to understand the metaphorical, intrinsic meanings of the quatrains. On the surface, The Rubaiyat seems to encourage living your life fully each day. It is impossible to understand the world around you, so live life to its fullest. There also seems to be a focus on the importance of friendship, and the delights of the tavern. I know, very profound. :)

Here are a few of my favorite quatrains:

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night

Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán's Turret in a Noose of Light.

Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,"
Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup"
Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry."

Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears:
To-morrow! Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday's Sev'n thousand Years.

Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to Rest.

And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new Bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend, ourselves to make a Couch--for whom?

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust, to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!

Up from Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many Knots unravel'd by the Road;
But not the Knot of Human Death and Fate.

There was a Door to which I found no Key:
There was a Veil past which I could not see:
Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE;
There seem'd--and then no more of THEE, and ME.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Her Kind - Anne Sexton

This is my second post for the Summer Poetry Challenge.

'Her Kind'
, by Anne Sexton, published in 1960, is a deeply personal poem. It is written in first person, yet Anne compares herself to the female subject of the poem. 'A woman like that is misunderstood. I have been her kind.' Irregardless, this poem delves deep into her psyche, and is the portrayal of the multiple nature of human personalities. I think the poem is also telling of the stereotypes women faced (and continue to face) in a male-dominated society. It is a deeply mysterious poem, one that can produce hundreds of interpretations. Below is what it means to me.

The poem illustrates three personas: witch, housewife, and martyr, all personified in the theme of a woman being burned at the stake. The first stanza Anne describes the subject as a possessed witch:

I have gone out, a posessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of my mind.

A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
Using the metaphor of the traditional image of witch, Anne is describing the ways in which she does not fit the caricature of the 1950's/60's ideal woman. She dreams evil; is more comfortable in herself in the dark of night rather than the well-lit homes of the suburbs. She is twelve-fingered, different from others in ways that she feels are obvious.

The second stanza, Anne embodies the traditional witch image with that of the housewife:
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carving, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
She uses the imagery of a housewife, with components that seem out of place to this image, such as 'fixing the suppers for worms and elves'. Anne has tried to fill this role: marrying, having kids, living the life of a suburban housewife. Through this experiences she has learned how women are pigeon-holed into this life in order to be accepted by society. Many women in this role are unhappy, and misunderstood, like she was herself.

The third stanza is the persona of the martyr, and she goes back to the historical time when women were burned at the stake if found to be a witch:
I have ridden in your car, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not afraid to die.
I have been her kind.
I feel this last stanza illustrates the most self-empowering of all three. She has come to accept that her lifestyle is different from society, and in essence is thumbing her nose at everyone else, saying she does not care what they think. She is finally true to herself. Despite the approach of death, she is setting an example of empowerment by defying the roles conscripted to herself and other women, and that is what matters most.