Category: Weekly Event

Sunday Salon – January 27, 2008

January 27, 2008

9:41 AM

Another Sunday of gray weather. We had over two feet of snow on Thursday, then the temperatures warmed and it has been raining since Saturday morning leaving the ground slushy. The up side to this horrid weather is that it keeps me inside with my books.

I managed to slog through and finish Great Expectations on Friday (read my review). The sense of accomplishment is perhaps worth the drudgery. But, in any case, I’m happy to move onto my next book.

Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell is this author’s debut novel. I discovered Mitchell last year – first reading Black Swan Green (read my review), and then Cloud Atlas (read my review). Since Mitchell likes to bring back characters from novel to novel, I would actually recommend readers start with his first novel and work forward from there. But, even if you read them from new to old, you won’t be disappointed.  Mitchell is one of the bright and shining “new” authors on the scene. He writes beautifully, slowly developing his characters and unraveling his literary puzzles. I’ve read through the first two chapters of Ghostwritten so far, and am enthralled. The novel is a series of nine linked stories. Already I’m fascinated at how Mitchell will bring them together – but I have no doubt he will. Ghostwritten has a lot in common with Cloud Atlas in this regard – and if you’ve read that novel, you will like this one.

As the month winds down, I am reflecting on the reading I’ve done. This month I received quite a few early release novels to read and review – and so I did not get to all the books on my reading list. I still have two early releases to read:

1. Theft of the Master, by Edwin Alexander – which was first published in the UK. I received this book from Lisa with on-line publishing. It will be the next book I pick up after I’ve finished Ghostwritten.
2. The Outcast, by Sadie Jones – which I received from the Harper Collins First Look Program. It is due for release in March, and my review of it is due by February 8th.

The books I wanted to read, but didn’t get to in January include:
Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham
Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood
Alentejo Blue, by Monica Ali
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters
What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman

Maybe in February….

Sunday Salon – January 20, 2008

January 20, 2008

6:00 PM

What is it about classics that we tend to romanticize? I always envision myself curled up beneath a warm blanket in front of a glowing fire with a cup of herbal tea at hand. Kristen at Delightfully Dawgmatic got me thinking about this with her wonderful post about reading Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. She found her romantic vision of the book shattered when she actually sat down to read it. I must admit to a similar experience.

I picked up Great Expectations to read for My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge (being hosted by the women of Estella’s Revenge). I looked forward to becoming entrenched in the book, my husband unable to pull me from its clutches. But, reality is that I’m struggling. I find my eyes drooping after only a few pages. I’m constantly doing the math to see how many more pages I must read to get me to the end. I  re-read the same paragraph over and over with the dull realization I’ve stopped paying attention.

I want to love this book – it’s a classic! It’s Dicken’s, for goodness sake. Who doesn’t love Dickens? I remembering reading and loving A Tale of Two Cities in high school. Why can’t I remember reading Great Expectations way back then? Is it possible it was entirely forgettable?

Perhaps I am just not in the mood for Victorian era fiction; maybe if I read this six months from now it would fascinate and bowl me over. Maybe not.

Lest you think I just can’t stomach a good classic – let me share with you a book I read earlier in the week. So Big, by Edna Ferber (read my review) is one of those classics that I adored. Rich characterization, a strong lead female character, beautiful setting, and a story that will never grow old. Now that’s a classic I can recommend!

Sunday Salon – January 13, 2008

January 13, 2008

11:20 AM

I’ve been puttering around this morning – picking up the clutter, playing with the cats, making chicken stock for the soup I plan to prepare later this afternoon, baking bread. Not reading – not yet. But, I’ve been thinking about what I read and why. 

Earlier this week, on one of my many Yahoo book groups, someone posted that a friend of theirs thought reading fiction was a waste of time. This caught my attention…fiction is my overwhelming choice when it comes to reading material. When I chose non fiction, I tend toward that which ‘reads like fiction’ or memoirs, or crime stories which focus in on the people (characters, so to speak) and their motivations. I dislike dry histories or political exposes; I have to force myself to read professional journals.

I love historical fiction, or fiction in translation, or fiction which explores another culture. I fall into literature with rich, complex characters. Recently I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid (read my review). This book is being discussed at the 21st Fiction Yahoo Group. The discussion is fabulous – making me look more closely at American politics and foreign policy and our place in the world; forcing me to examine my biases and beliefs about a culture very different from my own. Certainly, this fiction is not a waste of time.

Looking back on 2007, scanning the nearly 100 books I read (85 being fiction), I find only a handful I would categorize as ‘a waste of time.’ The vast majority gave me reason to pause; to think about bigger issues; to examine my feelings about war, discrimination, interpersonal relationships, equality, religion and racism. Because a book is fictional does not mean it doesn’t contain reality or philosophy about the issues in our lives. I love connecting to fictional characters who are given permission to explore the world unencumbered by political correctness or adherence to the ‘facts’ per se. Not that fiction doesn’t contain real life events…we all know it does…but it is more about the exploration of ideas than about events. And this may be why I prefer it. I don’t want to just learn about an event and when it happened…I want to understand the individuals behind the event – their motivations, their thoughts, their moral dilemmas. Fiction feeds this need.

What do you think? Would you rather read fiction or non fiction? Have you thought about why you might prefer one over the other?

5:00 PM

Just so you all don’t think I completely blew off my reading today, I thought I’d give you a final update. I’m currently reading an early review book from Random House: Have You Found Her, by Janice Erlbaum. This is one of those memoirs that reads like fiction – a disturbing, yet compelling book about the author’s experience (obsession) with a drug addicted, homeless teenager she meets while volunteering at a shelter. The book has a sense of doom about it…I’m half way through…and I’m nervous about how it will end. As memoirs go, this one fits the “genre” – lots of horrible childhood memories and how the author overcomes them. I don’t mean to sound overly negative. It’s a good read so far.

Until next week…Happy reading fellow Saloners!

Sunday Salon – January 6, 2008

January 6, 2008

9:00 AM

I’ve started 2008 with a bang – completing two books and starting a third. I don’t normally read children’s literature…but the last book of 2007 was The Borrowers (read my review here) by Mary Norton, and the first book of 2008 was The Giver (read my review here) by Lois Lowry. Both are examples of excellent children’s literature that also speaks to adults. I had forgotten what a joy it can be to read a child’s book.

Yesterday I completed a whopper of a book: The Winter Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly. This was an early review book through Library Things Early Review Program and published by Hyperion Books. In college, I read almost exclusively historical fiction because I could immerse myself in the pages and didn’t have to think too hard – it was a welcome relief from college texts! But in 2007, I tackled more literary and award winning fiction, as well as the classics – a great year of reading, but one which stretched me intellectually at times. It was wonderful to drop myself into Donnelly’s novel and get lost. Filled with romance and treachery, it is quite readable – and I flew through the more than 700 page book in five days. It probably helped that we were having a huge winter storm here in Northern California. You can read my full review here.

So today is another gray and wintry day in the mountains. I have a pile of end of the year tax records and work to get to – but, my current read is calling out and saying “read me!”  The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton came to me through the Barnes and Noble First Look Program…and I am hearing only great things about it. Set in England, the novel is a look back to the roaring 20’s through the eyes of 98 year old Grace Bradley. It was published to critical acclaim in Australia and became a #1 best seller in England. I started it last night, curled beneath my blankets, and blew through the first 25 pages. I would have kept reading, but my body wouldn’t cooperate and I fell asleep with the book drooping from my fingers.

More later…

4:40 PM

Guilt prevented me from reading too much this afternoon. I pulled all my 2007 files and organized them into my tax box, along with invoices and receipts. Then I thinned my other files: my ongoing writing projects, Physical Therapy reference files, all my Triple Creek Ranch board meeting and staff meeting notes. After lugging a huge bag out to the trash, I finally allowed myself some pure enjoyment time and returned to The House at Riverton.  This novel is very good – it reminds me (in tone, voice and somewhat of plot) of The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield…a book I read in 2006 and absolutely loved.

Morton has my attention – I want to see what the secrets are and find out what happens to the characters. Following are some passages I’ve marked thus far.

About Memory:

I have surprised myself. While moths have torn holes in my recent memories, I find the distant past is sharp and clear. They come often lately, those ghosts from the past, and I am surprised to find I don’t much mind them. -page 6-

But of course, those who live in memories are never really dead. -page 25-

About Aging:

Obstinate, I own. But I m not deaf and do not like it when people assume I am – my eyesight is poor without glasses, I tire easily, have none of my own teeth left and survive on a cocktail of pills, but I can hear as well as I ever have. It’s only with age I have learned solely to listen to things I want to hear. -page 11-

I love books that suck me in and have me inserting stickie notes here and there. I think I’ll finish this one quickly…

Sunday Salon – December 30, 2007

December 30, 2007

My husband and I have been out of town since Friday and although my post is late today, that does not reflect a lack of reading…merely a lack of access to the Internet.

In the last week, I read The Outlander, by Gil Adamson – an early review book from Ecco/Harper Collins which blew me away (read my review here).

I then picked up Candide, by Voltaire. Although slim, it packs a punch and is not exactly a “light” read. I have the Barnes and Noble Classic edition which has a great timeline and introduction, as well as ample notes and comments that helped me keep the historical events in perspective and gave me a better understanding of the novel’s meaning. In addition, this particular edition includes some incredible pencil plates drawn by Alan Odle. Overall, I enjoyed the book (read my review here), but I’m glad that this will be the discussion book for my Banned Books Yahoo group in January as I believe a novel like this can only be fully appreciated after much discussion and analysis.

After Candide, I felt a tremendous need for something light. I’ve picked up Mary Norton’s classic children’s book: The Borrowers. This was a favorite book of mine from childhood. I read the whole series at least half a dozen times. The story appeals to the imaginative mind of child in that it revolves around a family of “little people” called The Clocks who live beneath the floorboards of an old English country home. Norton is a gifted writer whose work has been honored and recognized by the Lewis Carroll Shelf Awards and The Carnegie Medal Award, as well as making the ALA’s list of most Distinguished Books. This is one I am happy to read snuggled beneath a blanket in front of the fire with a cup of good peppermint tea in my hand. If you haven’t read The Borrowers and the books that followed it…do yourself a favor and go get yourself a copy. You won’t regret it!

Sunday Salon – December 23, 2007

December 23, 2007

7:40 AM

Two days before Christmas, and I wouldn’t have thought I’d have time to read. But, this is looking like a quiet sort of day – cloudy and cold, with snow on the breeze. And I think I’ll finish my current read today – The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder. Wilder is probably best known for his play: Our Town. But The Bridge of San Luis Rey earned him a Pulitzer prize in 1928. I started this novella yesterday and despite its slim size, it is taking me longer to read than I thought it would. The book is described as a moral fable – and Wilder links the characters in unusual ways. I’ll share more thoughts after I’ve finished it.

Last week I completed my read of  I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak (read my review here). I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Book Thief, but it is worth the read. Zusak is one author I’ll be keeping my eye on. He is brilliant.

I read my second Kiran Desai book this week: Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (read my review here). The novel was a bit of a disappointment. Desai writes beautiful, lyrical prose … but her characters in this book are a bit strange. The novel is touted as a satire of Indian culture – and the humor is entrenched in the Indian experience, which may be why the book felt like it passed me by. Earlier in the year I read her Booker prize winning novel: The Inheritance of Loss (read my review here), which I enjoyed. But, that said, it forced me to do some research on my own to understand the subtleties of the story and it was work to wade through. I’ve given Desai two goes … and my feeling toward her work is this: strong beautiful writing, but weak character development. I’d have to think twice before reading another of her novels.

More later…

6:50 PM

I finally finished The Bridge of San Luis Rey – in between making Swedish meatballs, Cardamon Bread, and prepping other food for our big dinner tomorrow. I haven’t yet written a book review. I must admit to being a little …well, confused might be a good word. I’m not a dummy. I have a professional degree and did well in college. I love reading award winning fiction. But, I have to admit to being less than thrilled about this novella. First of all, it is only just over 100 pages and it took me two days to slog through it. There were some good parts, but most of it was just plain work to read. I know this is supposed to be this very intellectual, literary morality tale…but I turned the last page and said “huh?” The book I read had a wonderful introduction by Russell Banks, and a good Afterword provided by the publisher. But, I still thought there was far too much intellectualizing and very little basic information about what this book was about. From what I can gather, Wilder’s goal was to ask questions and pose ideas and readers were left to come to their own conclusions. I guess I would have liked a little more structure. I’ll think about this one for a day or so and eventually write a review. In the meantime, have any of you read this one? What did you think? Anyone else think it is over rated? Or am I just not in a philosophical mood?

Sunday Salon – December 16, 2007

December 16, 2007

7:00 AM

It is the perfect day for reading – dark clouds hang in the sky threatening snow, the thermometer hovers around 20 degrees, and I have just built a roaring fire in the woodstove. I have an abundance of reading materials laid out for myself: a novel (I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak), a short story (Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera, by Ben Fountain – published here), and a toppling stack of magazines I have been looking forward to perusing.

In the last week, I finished two novels: The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud AND Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. These two authors have very different styles. Messud is a bit verbose, her sentences tend to run on and she uses a lot of commas. Coetzee’s prose is spare, often unemotional. But they share an ability to create complex characters and subtle tension that keeps the reader turning pages. I liked both books – Messud’s for its sharp wit, and Coetzee’s for its powerful exploration of race, sex and generational differences.

I began reading I Am The Messenger on Friday and am about a half way through the book. I wonder why I have waited so long to open its pages after reading Zusak’s The Book Thief last winter? I was blown away by Zusak’s use of language – his insights and way of turning a phrase. The man is brilliant. I Am The Messenger is quite a bit different from The Book Thief, but Zusak’s talent is clearly on display.

More later…

2:15 PM

I just finished reading Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera – a short story by Ben Fountain. Fountain’s writing is ironic and pointed. The main character of the story is John Blair, an ornithology student from Duke University who finds himself a hostage of Columbian rebels. When Blair tries to point out that kidnapping is a crime, the Commandant – a man named Alberto – responds: “This isn’t a kidnapping, this is a retencion in the sociopolitical context of the war. We merely hold you until a fee is paid for your release.”  Blair later convinces Alberto to let him continue his studies of the birds…and discovers a flock of rare, nearly extinct parrots. Fountain captures the futility of the war, and the hypocrisy of the situation throughout this short story.

In the evenings the officers gathered on the steps of their quarters to listen to the radio and drink aromatica tea. Blair gradually insinuated himself onto the bottom step, and after a couple of weeks of Radio Nacional newscasts he understood that Columbia was busily ripping itself to shreds. gargantuan car bombs rocked the cities each week; judges and journalists were assassinated in droves; various gangs, militias, and guerrillas fought the Army and the cops, while the drug lords, and revanchists sponsored paramilitary autodefensa squads which seemed to specialize in massacring unarmed peasants.

I found this to be a powerful story, one which explores the limits of our natural resources, environmentalism in the context of war, and the role of our government and financial institutions in the destruction of the rain forests and their inhabitants.

In other reading today, I made some headway in the Zusak book. I love Zusak’s prose, the way he make inanimate objects come to life…little gems like this one:

I’m about to speak when an argument breaks out in one of the neighboring houses.
A plate smashes.
Screams jump over the fence.
The fighting intensifies, voices slam, and the doors shout shut.
– From I Am The Messenger, page 142 –

I’ve also thumbed through the November 2007 issue of Bon Appetit magazine and torn out some amazing looking recipes for fattening desserts and comfort food.

More later…

10:00 PM

Well, I didn’t finish I Am The Messenger – but I made a significant dent in it and should complete it tomorrow. Stay tuned for my review of this interesting book.

See you next week, Sunday Saloners!

Sunday Salon – December 9, 2007

December 9, 2007

I’ve decided to join The Sunday Salon after reading several posts by other readers over the last few weeks. The idea is to spend time reading and blogging about your reading each Sunday. Content is up to the blogger. I’ve subscribed to the email feed so I get alerts about others participating in the Sunday Saloon. It just sounds like fun to me!

So without further ado…here goes!

I have quite a stack of books to be read in December. My goal is to hit 100 books for the year, and to do this I need to knock off 11 more books this month. Quite a feat – and a stretch in a month when my attention is diverted by Christmas shopping, baking and decorating.

Yesterday I started reading The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud. I’m almost 100 pages into this character driven book set in New York. Messud has an interesting style – one which has taken some getting used to, but am enjoying the further I get into the story. None of the characters is terribly likable – in fact they all derive from the privileged classes and are far too concerned with their angst and notoriety. In one memorable passage, the father of Marina (who is himself a bit of a snob) recognizes he and his wife’s failure in raising a daughter:

He suddenly saw his daughter as a monster he and Annabel had created – they and a society of excess. -page 66-

Despite their annoying traits, I find myself wanting to know what the characters will do next. I would like to get to the halfway point of the novel before the end of the day.

The next book up on my to read list will most likely be one of these:
Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters
The Outlander, by Gil Adamson (an early review book from Ecco Harper Collins)

Have you read any of these books? Any reactions to them?

Earlier this week, I finished Fatal Voyage, by Kathy Reichs (read my review). Every now and then, I love sinking into one of these forensic crime novels…and Reichs is at the top of her game. I’ve read a few of her other books and found them all to be riveting.

I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (read my review) yesterday amid tears and an ache in the middle of my chest. I felt like I needed to go for a long walk and then read something trivial after the intensity of that book…it’s one which will stick with me a long time, I think.

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