March 2007 archive

The Tournament of Books


March 8, 2007
– The Morning News is doing its annual Tournament of Books. It’s a lot of fun. Today there are interesting reviews of Half of a Yellow Sun and Absurdistan…the two books that went head to head in the first round. Half of a Yellow Sun came out as the winner.

March 9, 2007 – Another round…this time between the Echo Maker and The Emperor’s Children. The winner is here.

March 12, 2007 – Round three pitted Brookland against Firmin. And the rat came out ahead. Read the reviews here.

March 13, 2007 – Round four completed. The contest was between a book I’m dying to read (The Road) and one I’ve never heard of (The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo). Read reviews and see the winner here.

March 14, 2007 – I was looking forward to Round five with two NYT Most Notables facing off (and both books I want to read): Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes AND One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson. They both got good reviews (which made me especially happy because I just purchased both of these books in the last two weeks), but one came out ahead as the better mystery of the two. Check it out here.

March 15, 2007 – Colin Meloy writes a witty and original review to expose today’s winner in the TOB. The Lay of The Land faces off against a book I’ve never heard of – English, August.

March 16, 2007 – A surprise winner today over at TOB. Apex Hides the Hurt and Alentejo Blue are both reviewed for Round Seven. Are the rest of you enjoying this as much as I am?

March 19, 2007 – Hope everyone had a grand weekend…now back to the tournament. Round eight – whereby Against the Day is pitted against a short, graphic novel: The Pride of Bahgdad. I have to admit, I would probably never read either one of these books. Check out the not so surprising winner here.

March 20, 2007 – We are onto the next tier of the challenge…officially Round Two, Match One. Half of a Yellow Sun came up against The Emperor’s Children. I thought it would be a blow away win for Adichie’s beautiful book, but it seems the judge actually didn’t really like either book! To read the review and see who won “by default” go here.

March 21, 2007 – The first day of Spring and Round Two, Match Two at the Tournament of Books. Lots of people have been waiting breathlessly to see Firmin face off against The Road. From the small amount of information I’ve gleaned about these two books (sorry, haven’t read either – YET), I didn’t think it would be much of a competition. And it wasn’t. At least according to judge Mark Sarvas. See the results here.

March 22, 2007 – Round Two, Match Three. I’ll warn you right now – if you intend to read either of these books you might not want to read Maud Newton’s lengthy reviews with spoilers included. Here’s another judge who apparently liked neither book too much. Lay of the Land receives a bit more of her verbal thrashing, but One Good Turn doesn’t fare well either. Click on over to The Morning News to view the results of this match.

March 23, 2007 – So here we are in the final match of Round Two – Alentejo Blue vs. Against The Day. How can someone really determine which of these two books is “the winner?” They are of vastly different styles. It would be like me trying to choose which I like better: chocolate or reading (I love them both and couldn’t possibly choose one over the other!). At any rate, Sam Lipsyte admits to not having finished reading Pynchon’s massive tome, but that doesn’t seem to impact the judging. Once again there is a fair amount of negative comments for both books. Go here to see the results.

March 26, 2007 – We are in the semi-final round and what a way to kick it off with Half of a Yellow Sun pitted against The Road. I’ve read the former, and loved it. The latter is on my TBR pile for May. Elizabeth Gaffney admits to loving both books  (finally a judge who enjoyed the books!) and having a difficult time choosing the winner. To see her pick, go here.

March 27, 2007 – In Match Two of the Semi-finals Against the Day faces off with One Good Turn. Apparently Judge Sasha Frere-Jones didn’t think it necessary to actually read both books. In fact, she’d already made up her mind before reading either book. Does this seem a little meaningless to anyone else? Results are here.

March 28, 2007 – So today is the Zombie round where they resurrect a “loser” and pair it with a winner. The Road vs. Against The Day. You already know which one wins, right? Here is what I’ve been pondering. How did Pynchon’s giant tome make it into the semi-finals when almost no one can even finish reading it?

March 29, 2007 One Good Turn goes against Absurdistan in the final Zombie round. Rosecrans Baldwin writes an interesting review of these books – one that will likely keep me from reading either book for a long time. To end the suspense, go here for the winner.

The Championship Round
March 30, 2007

And so, The Tournament of Books comes to an end. All the judges voted and the winner has been chosen. I bet 99% of you can guess who steamrolled over the competition to become number one!

Visual DNA

Childhood Memories – Writing Contest

UPDATE (March 13, 2007) – Winners and participants are posted here.  Congratulations to Becky for her winning entry!


Scribbit is hosting a writing contest. Simply post a childhood memory with a link to her blog, then send an email with the permalink for the post by March 11th to enter. Archived posts are allowed and you can submit more than one entry. I’m entering two posts:

Reconnection (posted way back March 2005) and “I Was Hatched” (a more recent post in February of this year).

There are prizes…which are great for those people with children…for me, I’d like to just get the “Way to Go!” award!!

Beasts of No Nation – Book Review

So I am joining. Just like that. I am a soldier. – From Beasts of No Nation, page 11 –

Uzodinma Iweala set out to tell a universal story about terrible violence and brutality. It is a story, set in an unnamed African nation, about a child soldier named Agu who is recruited by a ruthless commandant The novel unfolds through Agu’s unique voice, which is at once both  foreign and difficult to understand as it is poetic.

“His language is a construct, loosely based on Pidgin English, inspired by voices of ordinary Nigerians, and of course by such writers as Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chinua Achebe, and Amos Tutuola.” – Uzodinma Iweala, 2005 –

I must admit to some ambivalence around Agu’s voice. Initially, I was put off by the lilting choppiness of it – but as I read, it took on a lyrical and rhythmic quality that seemed to suit the subject matter. There are times when the reader feels almost as if she is watching a dream unfold.

The novel flows from past to present to a boy’s fantasies of an uncertain future. It gives the reader glimpses into Agu’s life before war came to his tiny village, and then reveals the numbing and harsh realities of his present life. Agu’s friend, Strika, is equally haunting though we hear his voice only once. When Agu sees Strika drawing a picture in the dirt of a man and woman with no head he begins to understand his friend’s silence.

His picture is telling me that he is not making one noise since they are killing his parent.
From Beasts of No Nation, page 36 –

Beasts of No Nation is a devastating novel about a boy’s shattered life. It is a demanding book which although slim, packs a huge punch. Sorrowful and stunning in its simple narration – this book will weigh heavily on the reader’s heart.

Passages from the Novel:

My thinking is like the road, going on and on, and on and on, until it is taking me so far far away from this place. Sometimes I am thinking of my life far far ahead and sometimes I am thinking of all the life I am leaving behind. – From Beasts of No Nation, page 93 –

…but I am knowing now that to be a soldier is only to be weak and not strong, and to have no food to eat and not to eat whatever you want, and also to have people making you do thing that you are not wanting to do and not to be doing whatever you are wanting which is what they are doing in movie. – From Beasts of No Nation, page 31 –

To read more reviews or discussions on this book, please visit The NYT Most Notable Book Blog.

Water for Elephants – Book Review

I don’t talk much about those days. Never did. I don’t know why – I worked on circuses for nearly seven years, and if that isn’t fodder for conversation, I don’t know what is. Actually I do know why: I never trusted myself. I was afraid I’d let it slip. I knew how important it was to keep her secret, and keep it I did – for the rest of her life, and then beyond. In seventy years, I’ve never told a blessed soul.
 – From Water for Elephants,  page 4 –

Jacob Jankowski is 90 – or 93 – years old and living in a nursing home … and he has a story to tell. Told alternately from the point of view of the elderly Jankowski and the “younger” Jankowski, Water for Elephants is an entertaining novel of the circus which uncovers a long kept secret about a murder. Gruen fills her novel with colorful characters with names like Camel and Kinko. She weaves true (albeit outrageous) vignettes about circus life through her fiction. Black and white photos from circus archives are interspersed throughout the novel.

Water for Elephants is about love and loyalty, greed and cruelty. For anyone who has thought about running away to join a circus, this novel is a must read. Animal lovers will fall in love with Bobo and Rosie, and cheer at the end.


Reading Through The Decades Challenge

Image created by Joy from Thoughts of Joy.

**UPDATE: October 12, 2007 – I completed this challenge!! My favorite read of the challenge was East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. My least favorite was For Whom The Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway. This was a fabulous challenge that gave me a flavor of the decades from which I was reading. I plan to participate in Michelle’s Decades Challenge in 2008 too!!

Michelle over at 3M’s Booklist has come up with a new challenge…read 15 books in 15 consequetive decades over the course of 2007. She’s being liberal with the rules. You can pick less than 15 books and you can overlap challenges. Oh, and there is a prize too (a book of your choosing from that is priced $15.00 or less…the more books you chose, the more chances you have to win).  You have until June 30, 2007 to sign up for this one…so make haste!

UPDATE April 6, 2007:  I just realized that I am currently  reading a book published in 1940, so I have added this one to my list to make 7 books. I don’t have to buy any (phew!) and some of them meet other challenges. So, here goes:

1940sFor Whom The Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway (completed 4/7/2007 – read a review here)
1950sEast of Eden, by John Steinbeck (completed 10/12/2007 – read a review here)
1960sTo Kill a Mockingbird, by Lee Harper (completed 3/21/2007 – read a review here)
1970s Terms of Endearment, by Larry McMurtry (completed 5/26/2007 – read a review here)
1980sDinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler (completed 6/23/2007 – read a review here)
1990sEast of the Mountains, by David Gutterson (completed 10/1/2007 – read a review here)
2000sLost Geography, by Charlotte Bacon (completed 8/25/2007 – read a review here.)

To Read participant reviews of books read for this challenge go here.

Piker Press Site – Down But Not Out

March 13, 2007 –

Sand Pilarski has written a brilliant article about what happened to The Piker Press. I wanted to reiterate her thanks to Josh Brown for rescuing The Press from the black hole of cyberspace. THANK YOU JOSH!!!!!

MARCH 9, 2007 –

The problem has been solved, and readers are invited to return to the pages of the Press.

March 7, 2007 UPDATE:
Infinology, the “host” of the Piker Press site is just horrible. Not only have they not responded to multiple emails asking why our site is down, but they don’t answer their phones either. They just take the money, and do nothing to sort out the problems. I can’t say this enough: DO NOT USE INFINOLOGY! That said, the Pikers have found another host and are working like demons to transfer the gazillion files. Thank goodness we have some wonderful tech people who don’t get fazed by error messages. With some luck, the Piker Press should be back up no later than March 12th. Thanks for your patience.

**UPDATE:  The lizard man and his entourage are working round the clock to restore the Press to its readership. The forums are still open (follow the link) AND submissions are still welcome.

The Piker Press site has been down for a week now. Attempts to resolve the problem have so far been unsuccessful…BUT please don’t give up on the Pikers! We will keep working on the problem until it is resolved; and I’ll let you know here on my blog when you can once again enjoy reading the work of some very talented writers!

Tortilla Curtain – Book Review

The coyote is not to blame – he is only trying to survive, to make a living, to take advantage of the opportunities available to him…The coyotes keep coming, breeding up to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry and unstoppable.
 – From Tortilla Curtain, pages 214-215 –

T.C. Boyle has created a novel about social injustice which is stunning in its simple yet eloquent language. Two couples inhabit the land just outside of the urban jungle of Los Angeles…Kyra and Delaney, wealthy and comfortable within the confines of their gated community, and Candido and America, illegal immigrants struggling to find a better life far from their native Mexico. Boyle crafts these characters carefully, contrasting the vast gulf between the wealthy and the poor.

He and Kyra had a lot in common, not only temperamentally, but in terms of their beliefs and ideals too – that was what had attracted them to each other in the first place. They were both perfectionists, for one thing. They abhorred clutter. They were joggers, nonsmokers, social drinkers, and if not full-blown vegetarians, people who were conscious of their intake of animal fats. Their memberships included the Sierra Club, Save the Children, the National Wildlife Federation and the Democratic Party. They preferred the contemporary look to Early American or kitsch. In religious matters, they were agnostic. -From Tortilla Curtain, page 34-

After a week and a half of living on so little that his stomach had shrunk and his pants were down around his hips, the effect of all that abundance was devastating. There was no smell of food here, no hint of the rich stew of odors you’d find in a Mexican market – these people sanitized their groceries just as they sanitized their kitchens and toilets and drove the life from everything, imprisoning their produce in jars and cans and plastic pouches, wrapping their meat and even their fish in cellophane – and yet still the sight and proximity of all those comestibles made his knees go weak again.
 – From Tortilla Curtain, pages 122-123 –

Boyle’s novel reveals the harsh realities of survival among desperate people. Simple things, like a roof over one’s head or food in one’s belly, become pivot points upon which this story turns. I found myself wondering, what would I be willing to do when faced with wretched circumstances or the simple fact of starvation?

Churning through the novel are questions about the political quagmire of illegal immigration. Boyle deftly reveals the human side to the immigration issues, forcing the reader to grapple with this problem and wonder about the solutions. Might illegal immigration be merely a symptom of a larger, more difficult problem?

When Delaney’s ordered world intersects with Candida’s, the normally liberal minded Delaney is forced to address his own racism.

“…Well did you ever stop to think what happens when they don’t get that half-day job spreading manure or stripping shingles off a roof? Where do you think they sleep? What do you think they eat? What would you do in their place?” Jack, ever calm, ever prepared, ever cynical, drew himself up and pointed an admonishing finger. “Don’t act surprised, because this is only the beginning. We’re under siege here – and there’s going to be a backlash. People are fed up with it. Even you. You’re fed up with it too, admit it.” -From Tortilla Curtain, page 146 –

Boyle uses symbolism skillfully, employing the natural landscape as a backdrop to the conflicts between the characters. The desolate country haunted by wild and evasive coyotes conjures up a world of fear where survival of the fittest becomes the law of the land. At times deeply disturbing, Tortilla Curtain ultimately leaves the reader with a shadow of hope.


What Books Have You Read – A Meme

Since I read Bookfoolery and Babble’s response to this question, I was tagged! If you are reading this, consider yourself…

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