26 December 2006

May your days be merry and bright...

And may all your holiday bookstacks be taller than you can handle.

22 December 2006

Oh, there's no place like...

Live from the airport! I am on my way home for the next ten days, where I anticipate reading a lot. I didn't fulfill my own goal to finish all my review books before today, but que será, será. I'm not missing any deadlines by bringing them home, although they add to my luggage (review books + gifts = a 50-pounds-exactly bag, and lucky it was).

What do you want to read, if you're facing at least a little vacation time? Have you gotten, or are you hoping to get, a special book for the holidays?

20 December 2006

Great Books? Well, some of them are just OK.

News flash! Our children no longer read the classics! Siena College took a list of 30 "Great Books" and surveyed freshmen and faculty on whether they had read these classics. The article goes on to (unfairly) pick on an English professor who includes books by Julia Alvarez (living Hispanic female) and Ernest Gaines (living African-American male) in her Great Books class. In the footsteps of pages turned I decided to look at the list myself and do some fessing up.

So I've read 18 out of these "Great Books," which I consider to be pretty good. I'm not sure, though, that we need to make room for WAR AND PEACE and MOBY DICK in high schools. Plato's REPUBLIC, on the other hand, would have been good, and I can think of several books I was made to read -- DELIVERANCE, HOUSE ON MANGO STREET and THE SHIPPING NEWS, for instance -- that could have been replaced by works of more merit. But don't take my word for it; after all Britney Spears has me beat on the Greeks.

1. The Works of Shakespeare -- I've read most, but not all.

2. The Declaration of Independence

3. Twain, Mark, Huckleberry Finn

4. The poems of Emily Dickinson -- Selections

5. The poems of Robert Frost -- Selections

6. Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Scarlet Letter

7. Fitzgerald, Scott F., The Great Gatsby

8. Orwell, George, 1984

9. Homer, Odyssey and Iliad -- I complained a lot about having to read THE ODYSSEY in ninth grade, but I think it's worth it.

10. Dickens, Charles, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities -- I read GREAT EXPECTATIONS on my own, though. We did read A CHRISTMAS CAROL in middle school -- gotta love those amendment exempt private schools [although I celebrate Christmas, so at the time it didn't bother me].

11. Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales -- I think we might have skipped some of the minor ones.

12. Salinger, J.D., Catcher in the Rye

13. The Bible -- Selections, although by then I had already been exposed to it in church, so I thought reading the Bible in school was silly. I'm sure my ninth grade English teacher made a very good argument as to why the Bible is so crucial to Western Literature, but I probably just rolled my eyes and wrote in my journal, "Yeah, whatever." Sorry.

14. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden

15. Sophocles, Oedipus

16. Steinbeck, John, the Grapes of Wrath

17. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays and poems -- Selections, but not until college did I read him in any depth.

18. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice -- And oh, how the boys complained...

19. Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass

20. The novels of William Faulkner -- Now here's a place I always thought was an Actual Hole in my education. When I took American lit in high school, we had a semester of it, but because the semesters were not equal in length, people who took the class in the spring read one more book than we in the fall did. That book was AS I LAY DYING. I feel like I've made up my Faulkner deficit from reading that book, plus ABSALOM, ABSALOM!, GO DOWN, MOSES and THE SOUND AND THE FURY, but none of that happened before I got to college.

21. Melville, Herman, Moby Dick -- Not in school. Not, I think, really necessary for people to read in school.

22. Milton, John, Paradise Lost -- Just selections.

23. Vergil, Aeneid

24. Plato, The Republic

25. Marx, Karl, Communist Manifesto -- Some excerpts.

26. Machiavelli, Niccolo, the Prince -- Excerpts.

27. Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America -- Excerpts, although I do own it. Points for trying?

28. Dostoevski, Feodor, Crime and Punishment

29. Aristotle, Politics

30. Tolstoy, Leo, War and Peace -- But no one made me, I spent most of the second semester of my freshman year reading this.

19 December 2006

Kaavya and Jayson rejoice?

Every time you think you've got the latest in plagiarism at your disposal, someone goes forth and tops you. A Swedish book critic was recently fired for panning a book in the newspaper Helsingborgs Dagblad. So what? She was panning a book that was never published. On behalf of my quarter of Swedish heritage, I am sorry for inflicting this nonsense on the world. (Via Edrants.)

18 December 2006

Books I read recently, in haiku form.

#102. David Mitchell, BLACK SWAN GREEN
Thirteen's hard. Secret:
I like hobbits, poetry.
Wonder what that means.
#103. Heidi Julavits, THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT
Kidnapped, or did she
Fake escape from Boston 'burbs?
Add witch metaphors.
#104. Michael Lewis, TRAIL FEVER
'96: Gore's liked,
Dubya's drowned out, Nader's fresh.
Attack ads still run.
#105. Kate Muir, LEFT BANK
He cheats. She's a bitch.
Kid runs away. Pretty Paris can't
keep him from nanny.

13 December 2006

And the challenge with the best name is...

The Chunkster Challenge! Read at least one book over 400 pages in the first six months of 2007. I remember from finishing A SUITABLE BOY this year how satisfying a very, very large book can be to complete. I'm going to aim for three, and perhaps I can do more -- Doris Lessing's THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK, Cathy Kelly's WHAT SHE WANTS (which I just had checked out but was too daunted to actually crack open) and Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL (Michelle of overdue books is doing this one too).

Have you read a very large book you enjoyed? Share, please. (One of my favorite books, ANNA KARENINA, is a chunkster -- and I swear I'm not being pretentious, I've read it three times and recommend it to pretty much everyone I know.)

12 December 2006

It's the final countdown...

We're getting closer and closer to the end of the year and the year-end lists are coming out. Unfortunately for all of you, I am nowhere near deciding what my favorite books were this year. I hope, however, that I come up with superlatives as -- well -- superlative as this list does. Still, to give myself something to update later on in December, for what it's worth, here are

Statistics for my 101 books read so far this year:
72 were for pleasure
29 were for reviews (a personal best!)
42 were nonfiction, 58 fiction, 1 by Hunter S. Thompson (a genre all his own?)
Of reviews only, 10 were nonfiction, 18 were fiction
41 of those were in the first six months of the year (school used to take a huge toll on my reading time... yet I still miss it)
36 were library books -- I can't believe I remember this, but I have a pretty good memory for book covers, which I guess helps. Seems pretty low until you take out the 28 review books, which means almost half the books I picked up this year for pleasure were library-owned. Let's hear it for your local library! Hoo rah!
18 I purchased during 2006 (bad! bad! And those aren't even the only books I bought this year.)
1 I bought and then returned
16 books read in November, the highest month (cold weather + traveling over Thanksgiving break)
4 books read each in February and March, the lowest months (not counting December)
8.41 average books per month
0.2765 average books per day

And on the nightstand I have
4 books to review
3 From-the-Stacks challenge books (which I want to finish before January 1st, even though I know the challenge goes on longer)
59 library books ETA: Oops?

So in theory if I only read those books, I will top out this year at 113 -- not my best performance but not my worst either. Frankly, if I crack 100 books I'm pleased. I know it's a lofty goal, but for me right now (being childless and not in school) it's doable.

Of course there's the matter of me having seen more movies than books read this year -- but that's another post.

11 December 2006

How cool...

Is Will Self? Not only is he a major walker, but his work space looks like some kind of Post-It wonderland. These photos of it are mesmerizing.

08 December 2006


Yesterday I finished my hundredth book of the year. The book was Steve Almond and Julianna Baggotte's WHICH BRINGS ME TO YOU, an amazing novel-in-letters that I recommend you all go out and buy, beg or borrow.

In other news, next week there is a book sale at work, and I am already prepared to swear off the sale and then in a moment of weakness grab at least 5 books. Maybe I can get some Christmas shopping done while I yield to temptation? I have a stack of eight books to donate to the sale, so if I'm savvy I can come out ahead. (It benefits the Friends of the Emmaus Public Library, so I know at least my failure is another person's aid.)

29 November 2006

From The Stacks Update: Kirsten Lobe, PARIS HANGOVER, I'm Already Packing My Bags

Have you ever hesitated to read a book, not because you didn't want to, but because you were afraid it wouldn't live up to expectations? Of course, when you do read it you end up kicking yourself, because you could have known about it so much sooner!

I bought this book because it sounded like a fluffy, fun read (complete with pastel cover). This was before the New York Times identified it as part of a trend (TimesSelect) of books set in contemporary Paris. It is way more than that. With this book I actually put it down for a few days so I wouldn't finish it all in one sitting. It was that captivating.

A lot of it reminded me of my expat days of 2005, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes painfully. Narrator Klein is hilarious and awkward and lovely, but most of all honest about what it means to drop your American life (in her case, much more glamorous than my own) and take up residence in an arrondisement. By 50 pages in I was practically dusting off my passport. The book wasn't entirely realistic -- even a former fashionista would have a hard time living off her savings while trying to make it as an artist -- but I bought it, because heck, it's romantic. This book makes a great escape.
  1. Erica Jong, FEAR OF FLYING
  2. Kirsten Lobe, PARIS HANGOVER
  5. Adrian Nicole Leblanc, RANDOM FAMILY

Learn more about the From the Stacks Challenge here.

28 November 2006

Generation Q

Here's an interesting article about how the consumption of entertainment has shifted recently to a consume-later mindset -- from saving movies in theatres to your Netflix queue (of which I am guilty) to Amazon.com and TiVo. (I would add del.icio.us and Bloglines to that list, even though I'm not spending money on those when I consume them.)

I was just talking with one of my coworkers the other day about how I wanted a Netflix for books, so I didn't end up with (as I have now) scads of books that I haven't read, which get pushed back and back because of my propensity for library books. I've attempted to implement a system similar to that with which I discipline my Netflix queue -- where I sit down the night before my books are due and read the first few chapters of the ones I haven't even touched, to see if I do actually want to read them, or if they aren't what I expected or wanted. (Nancy Pearl's Book Lust recommends reading the first 50 pages of a book if you're under 50, less if you're older.) Sometimes this backfires -- I went ahead and renewed Sex with Kings and then it lagged a ton in the middle and I regretted it, but hey, back it goes, no loss. At least this way I don't amass huge library fines. For Netflix, this system has meant returning a fair amount of movies whose first half hour just didn't grab me, and that's all right, too.

Of course, there's always self-imposed limits like the From the Stacks challenge (in which I am advancing -- more on that later!), but sometimes those don't work. Like this weekend, when I was traveling and had three library books waiting at home while I bought more books. I should have held back, but my dad was buying -- he knows the way to my heart all right.

I feel stupid.

Either Britney Spears actually read Antigone, or she read enough of it to write a middle-school essay on it. I have not, in fact, read Antigone. (Via Jenisfamous.)


The number of books fiction judges for the National Book Award get to review. Between May and August. Judge Marianne Wiggins writes in the L.A. Times that she "constructed an elaborate system of piles: read, unread, couldn't get past page 10, crap, bloated, vomitous, kill-me-now and praise God." OK, I'm sold.

27 November 2006

NY Times Notable Books of 2006

Here are my stats, given there are 100 books (or as Paperback Writer points out, 99 books and 2 novellas) on the list:

I reviewed 1 of them.
I read 1 of them (not counting the ones I reviewed).
I own 1 of them that I haven't read yet.

Coming later, my early predictions for my personal notable books of the year.

18 November 2006

Early Reading Meme

I swiped this from pages turned.

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?

I don't know! I'm told I was 3, but I don't really remember. It's not that I don't trust my mom's words, but I'm really, really not sure. I definitely knew by kindergarten because I remember how excited I was to get to go to the school library. I imagine my parents both taught me and I picked up anything else I needed from "Sesame Street."

2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?

The first books I can remember as mine were the American Girl series (see below) and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. Those butter-yellow books still sit in the bookshelves at home although now the pages are yellow and brittle. I read those over and over -- with the exception of BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE and THE LONG WINTER, because of all the bad stuff that happens in them. (I won't elaborate, in case you still want to get back and read or remind yourself.)

3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?

When I was 5 or 6 I got $1 a week for my allowance, and American Girl chapter books (yes, these, although mine were white paperbacks) were $6. To foster Good Spending Habits, I had to save $12 in order to be taken to the much-missed Cedarburg Books and buy one book. Another hard lesson: When the price of those books went up to $7, meaning it now took 14 weeks to earn enough to get a new book. That hurt! Apparently they haven't gone up in price again since then, though.

4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?

Oh heck yes. I read ROLLER SKATES by Ruth Sawyer and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith over and over. And MATILDA and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, and Gordon Korman's NO COINS, PLEASE, which permanently shaped my view of the world. Ditto ANNE OF THE ISLAND and the EMILY trilogy by L.M. Montgomery. (ANNE OF THE ISLAND, the third Anne of Green Gables book, was the best because Anne goes off to college and lives with really cool roommates in dodgy boarding houses, plus **spoiler alert** she ends up with Gilbert at the end.) And I had the USBORNE BOOK OF WORLD HISTORY, which I now recognize as a completely Western-centric, sexist, racist book, but it had great drawings in it.

5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?

My parents are going to kill me for admitting this, but here goes anyway. As a kid I can remember very few books that I was actually kept away from, and I started reading "adult" novels probably before any librarian would feel comfortable recommending them to me. (Then again, YA books weren't what they are today.) I remember wanting to read THE FIRST WIVES' CLUB, which all my mom's friends were reading, and having that taken away from me. (But not THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X... even though I never got past the part where he went into prison.) But the best book to read when Mom and Dad were out was P.J. O'Rourke's MODERN MANNERS: AN ETIQUETTE BOOK FOR RUDE PEOPLE. Probably 90 percent of the jokes went over our innocent little heads, but I still remember and quote the page on how to speak Fake French, and I still sometimes look for it in bookstores. At some point my sister and I got caught and the book disappeared -- I never found it in the house again. I think I was 8 or 9 at the time.

6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?

I think I will always be a little sad that Harry Potter Mania didn't hit until I was almost out of middle school. I had to read the books furtively on family vacations instead of devouring them in public noisily. (Exception: last summer's ...HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, which I read on the Chicago El even after a strange man said to me, "You got boobs. You too old for Harry Potter." Sir, I disagree!)

17 November 2006

"Don't make it a big deal, don't be so sensitive." -- Fiona Apple

Maybe Chuck Klosterman ought to stop reading some of his reviews:
The AV Club: When you're reading reviews of your work, do you
generally find them fair, as someone who's done a lot of criticism yourself?
The people who review my books, generally, are kind of youngish culture writers who aspire to write books, or write opinion pieces about what they think of Neil Young, or why they quit watching ER or whatever. And because of that, I think there's a lot of people who write about my books with the premise of, "Why this guy? Why not me?"... When someone writes a book review, they obviously already self-identify as a writer. I mean, they are. They're writers, they're critics, and they're writing about a book about a writer who's a critic. So I think it's really hard for people to distance themselves from what they're criticizing.

I haven't read any of Chuck Klosterman's books, just his Spin essays (which I liked), but I'm feeling a distinct refusal to roll over and submit to his glorious and untouchable prose. Also, you know he wants to be Van Halen and/ or Sofia Coppola.

A spot of business.

Let's talk objectivity. Blogger Kimbofo at Reading Matters had an interesting post recently about the place of personal reading Weblogs in book promotion -- specifically, that viral marketing via blogs is a little insidious, people trust book blogs as someone's personal recommendations unless they hear otherwise, and free books ought to be declared as such. The trigger for this was a form e-mail from a publisher announcing a contest for bloggers who plugged a certain book -- Kimbofo got this e-mail and deleted it, and then saw that there were other bloggers who wrote about the book without mentioning they could win $100 and free books to do it.

Publishing institution Miss Snark shoots back that a book's mention in a blog, which is not the same as a plug, is seen as a win for publicists, and that just because you get a free book doesn't mean you've sold your soul -- unless of course you want to. Also, that publishers send out tons of free books, and they're just harnessing the book blogging community as another destination for those promo or advance copies.

Reading this made me a little jealous because I for one have not received any free books as a result of keeping this blog. Zero! And, being a student and mostly broke, I am always on the lookout for freebies. But I do want to make the following things clear:
  • I do review books for money, but when I do, I don't write about them at length on this blog. Places that review books have different policies on first rights to review versus all rights, but for my own benefit it's better that I don't repeat myself. For example, see this post, in which I say I've read four good books lately. The fourth was for a review. I may start linking to those reviews on a regular basis.
  • Most of the books I write about, I get from the library. Sometimes I buy books (even though I'm trying not to), like this one.
  • That said, I do occasionally get free books -- from the giveaway table at my Place of Business, from friends, found in train stations, that kind of thing. Should I be more scrupulous about mentioning where I got each book? I think I will only mention it if it's from a publisher. For example, I did get both MARLEY AND ME and BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, mentioned in my summer round-up, for free on a field trip at HarperCollins. (Yes, a field trip. Because I am 12. Not really.) Well, now you know.
  • That means if you are a publisher reading this [HA!], feel free to e-mail me [lnvsml AT gmail DOT com] about sending me books, but I will mention in my review that you did so, and I won't necessarily like it.
This is all a bit grim, really. I'll post something more fun later.

16 November 2006

Quote of the Week: No love for the PSB.

I don't want to harsh on people, but The Good Earth? The Good Freaking Earth?

-- Mimi Smartypants, on loss of cultural relevance

13 November 2006

I don't mind a quick ride on that Marisha Pessl hit parade.

I have to disagree with Gawker and say that this picture is kind of neat! Of course, I liked the book too, which probably makes me predisposed to not hate her. This profile is pretty standard, although I kind of liked the high school teacher bit.

From The Stacks Update: Erica Jong, FEAR OF FLYING, Not A Self-Help Book

Naturally, I didn't think this book was a self-help book when I picked it up -- but I think the people on the bus to New York this weekend who saw me reading my first From the Stacks book might have thought I was self-medicating on the way to Newark Airport. Rest easy, people, I love planes.

No, FEAR OF FLYING is, according to the back copy on my 25-cent paperback, an erotic novel extraordinaire which is supposed to scare guys who think women don't think about sex. And given that it was published in 1973, the novel is groundbreaking for how frank it is. Isadora Wing is in Vienna with her second husband who is great in bed and eerily quiet the rest of the time, tempted and seduced by a British psychologist she meets at a conference, trying to sort out how her sex life got to be such a mess. As Isadora gets deeper into the affair she goes backwards to her first marriage and her first sexual experiences to guide her in the present.

I liked this book first of all because it avoided that cliche of dramatic independent movies and lazy authors, the Infidelity-As-Necessity plot. Or rather, as Isadora decides to be unfaithful to her husband, she recognizes that what she's doing is wrong, what she's doing will hurt him and that her affair won't fix anything. Maybe it's because I'm in a relationship right now, but I feel like I'm always pushing away books or movies in which Character has an affair because she or he just had to, and the book or movie seems to support that kind of necessity. I'm not saying Isadora and her type should go down like Madame Bovary for her infidelities, but enough of the pretense that cheating on your spouse is fun and glamorous and not at all hurtful, eh?

But another reason I liked it is that Isadora's voice is just so well done. I related to her own long-winded explanations far more than I expected to, because she's just so blatantly honest. Too late I realize, there's a reason this book became a ridiculous success -- not because Isadora is written like Everywoman, because she's placed very specifically in 1970s upper-middle-class educated New York City, but because she has universal appeal.

Here's the new list, although no guarantees I'll go in order:

  1. Erica Jong, FEAR OF FLYING
  4. Kirsten Lobe, PARIS HANGOVER
  5. Adrian Nicole Leblanc, RANDOM FAMILY

Learn more about the From the Stacks Challenge here.

10 November 2006

From the Pile: The Buick's in the drive, it's good to be alive.

I hope your office isn't like mine on Fridays. But in case it is, enjoy these morsels gleaned from my attempt to clean out the "saved items" of my Bloglines reading-blog folder. I am awful with saving stuff and never getting back to it, just like with real paper.

09 November 2006

There's something about a really great title that I love. I was browsing on Mediabistro today when I hit this great one to add to my collection: In the Year of the Long Division. It's by an editor who just moved from O, the Oprah Magazine to More. I've never read More, but O has great book coverage -- I was going to write "surprisingly," but it isn't given Oprah's Book Club -- and maybe Dawn Raffel is part of the reason. Looks like it's out of print, and my local library doesn't have it. But now I'm dying to know what that collection is about.

08 November 2006

From the Stacks Winter Challenge

Now here's an interesting idea I picked up from surfing the book blogosphere: Michelle of overdue books proposes having a From the Stacks Winter Challenge for November 1st through January 30th, dedicated to reading five of those books you always meant to read -- the ones sitting on your shelf at home right now, waiting to be loved. As Michelle says, "The bonus would be that we would finally get to some of those titles (you know you picked them for a reason!) and we wouldn't be spending any extra money over the holidays."

I need this badly. I have four books out of the library at this moment and easily have 15 on my shelf that I haven't read, many of which I just couldn't live without in my last trip to Houston, land of the magical Half Price Books. (I know, they're everywhere, but I always go when I'm in Texas.) I'm not looking at my shelf right now, but I'm thinking...

  1. Erica Jong, FEAR OF FLYING
  4. Kirsten Lobe, PARIS HANGOVER
  5. Adrian Nicole Leblanc, RANDOM FAMILY

As a bonus to me, these are all paperbacks suitable for all the fabulous traveling I'll be doing in the next three months. OK, I only have two trips planned (Thanksgiving and Christmas), but a girl can dream.

05 November 2006

Victoria Beckham, author.

Not to speak ill of a fellow author, but... Does Mrs. David look like she's completely checked out at her own signing? I love the title of her (second?!?) book, though: That Extra Half an Inch: Hair, Heels and Everything In Between. Although if I were writing it, I would have gone for, That Extra Inch and a Half: Cheating On Your Driver's License So You Don't Seem Like The Shrimpiest Member of Your Family. And of course, it would be fiction. (Wink.)

03 November 2006

"For there was TIME now..."

In the New Yorker world, glasses aren't made to be broken. (Buy it here.)

01 November 2006

The title of the blog post also contains the best music-related pun of the year.

A third of those surveyed said that they "would consider flirting with someone based on their choice of literature". It's finally official, people. Reading is hot.

--The Guardian on the changing public perception of reading. A little old, but who doesn't want to hear that kind of news? Via splinters.

31 October 2006

30 October 2006

Okay, I'll say it: I've been in kind of a book rut recently. I was reading a lot of stuff for work that was not inspiring, and which left me too tired to read anything else besides. Isn't it hell when you can't find a good book? I just get so disillusioned with life; it seems like all the sparkle goes out. This weekend did a lot to turn that around. While traveling home -- more on that later -- I read four really good books in a row (three of which I'll talk about here) and now I feel all energized to tackle the rest of my stack.

Ted Heller, SLAB RAT. Recommended to me via Sara Nelson's SO MANY BOOKS, SO LITTLE TIME (she's the editor of Publisher's Weekly, so she should know!) A dark comedy set in the magazine world at a "Vanity Fair"-ish rag called It. The slab in question is the giant, menacing building in which protagonist Zach Post lives and works. So much of it rings true, even the zany bits. It's out of print, but go to your library and hunt it up (or get it second-hand).

Ken Jennings, BRAINIAC. I expected this one -- part memoir, part history from the world's winningest "Jeopardy!" champ -- to be good, and it was better than expected. I had read some things on Jennings' blog before, so I knew what to expect as far as his writing style -- wry, occasionally over-explained, salted with clean but occasionally lame jokes -- but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed following him through his "Jeopardy!" run. The trivia questions in each chapter don't hurt either.

Laurie Graham, GONE WITH THE WINDSORS. A Whartonian history in diary form? I'm so there. Maybell is a young rich widow who goes to stay with her sister in London in the 1930s, where she reconnects with an old friend -- Wallis "Wally" Warfield Simpson, a social climber with a vengeance. Maybell is not too smart, so her diary dutifully records Wally's attempts to be introduced to the prince, but she couldn't have predicted that Wally would ever become romantically attached to the prince, or what would happen after. This reminded me of an Ann Rinaldi book I read when I was younger, IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE, which employs a Civil War coincidence (the farmer in whose fields the war began ended up providing the Appomattox house where the war ended) as the backdrop to a coming-of-age story, but subtly ensures you will never forget the historical events of the time.

I realized while sitting in Newark Airport that airports, or really any kind of transportation hub, are the best places to read. I may also enjoy reading in bed with my flashlight, but airports are so nowhere and general that anything you read feels like a specific somewhere. Plus it's much less messy than, oh, assembling scrapbooks, or knitting, or building things out of Legos. Not a lot of small pieces to a book, usually, is what I mean.

I caught a glimpse of Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions at a bookstore in Newark on my way home (killing time before the bus) and I am daunted, but want to try it. Anyone read it? The Antonia Fraser book on Marie Antoinette also caught my eye, but due to the popularity of the movie the tie-in edition, the only one in stores, costs $17 list in paperback. (I didn't love the movie, although I do love Steve Coogan.)

22 October 2006

Sounds like heaven!

Book... fair? All I can think of is the days when Scholastic would bring all their new stock into my elementary-school gym and class by class we'd get to go and Buy! Books! Which reminds me of the time I got in trouble for ordering from the school book club, but that is another matter entirely.

12 October 2006

My friend Brian swears by Greil Marcus, so I guess I'll add this book to all the other ones of his that are supposed to be great. Plus, everyone loves a good Laura Palmer joke. (Salon)

11 October 2006

Not how I would have put it.

"The Book Of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" Via reading under the covers.

Booker 2006: Kiran Desai Takes Home A 'Manny'

The envelope, please: Kiran Desai bests David Mitchell, Sarah Waters to take the Booker Prize. I requested it at my local library as soon as I heard -- did you? Meanwhile, the Nobel Prize sucks, says Salon (via Largehearted Boy). Notable sentence from that piece: Perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised when the [Nobel] blows up in our faces. (Among other things, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite. Classy.

08 September 2006

Summer Reading Wrap-Up 2006

I haven't posted here for a long time. WHEW. But I am not leaving you! And I'm planning to post again regularly now that my off-blog life is a little bit sorted.

So while there is still sand in my swimsuit*, here are the highlights of what I read between Memorial Day and Labor Day in this, the summer of 2006:

Celebrity Death Match Books
Megan McCafferty, CHARMED THIRDS

Not What I Expected At All
Kazuo Ishiguro, NEVER LET YOU GO

Not What I Expected At All (But In A Good Way)
Colleen Curran, WHORES ON THE HILL

It Latched Onto My Brain And Now It Won't Let Go Oww

Haven't Laughed So Hard Since... The Last Time I Laughed So Hard
Carolyn Parkhurst, LOST AND FOUND

Completely Random Reads
Bridget Harrison, TABLOID LOVE

Like Taking A Miniature Trip
Joshua Zeitz, FLAPPER

Like Taking A Very, Very Long Trip

Hyped and Worth It

Not Sure Why I Bothered To Finish
Hilary De Vries, SO 5 MINUTES AGO

*so to speak. Shouldn't that be a phrase? Like, "I have a bee in my bonnet," but less scary than bees?

10 July 2006

It's Gonna Be Me (Writing the Family History)

So after reading this piece on the literary Minot family squabbling over their family history, I have to say... One thing my siblings and I have never fought about is who's going to write the family novel. I have to say, and I'm not trying to brag, that it has always been me.

It's not like my siblings are book-allergic; they all read in various quantities, from fantasy series to THE KNOW-IT-ALL, from sports almanacs to PREP. But I've never seen them show much interest in writing fiction. Claire keeps (or kept) a diary, but I can hardly describe that as fiction. (Not that I've read it, dear.) I was that writing kid. And from the NYT piece, I suppose I ought to count my blessings that we didn't end up like the Brontes.

The only really serious contender in my family for the title of Novelist is my mum, ever since her writing career took off.* Mum probably reads more novels than me during the year (or at least she has been while I've been in school), but I've never heard of her wanting to write one. So, rough life for me! No competition.

*And when I say "took off," I mean: Mum quit working in 1990 when she learned she was pregnant with her third AND fourth children, and picked up 12 years later as a financial writer and editor. She's quite good, too, and it's only through marvelously bad luck that neither of her major book projects have gotten to print yet. But that's another story.

05 July 2006

Looks like I'm not the only one with a bunch of half-finished books in my past.


Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO = Jodi Picoult's MY SISTER'S KEEPER + Curtis Sittenfeld's PREP.

You heard it here first.

02 July 2006


I think this blog is lucky because right after I wrote this, I finished the book. All of it. And I didn't even skim the Nehru chapter!

Then I read 10 pages of the new Jay McInerney book, THE GOOD LIFE, and just couldn't seem to care. I guess I need a new mega-book. Suggestions?

28 June 2006

My Big Pretentious Indian Novel

One thing, I'm told, that you should never do when applying for a publishing job is talk up the books you love -- if you love classics or very obscure literary novels. "Don't bring a pretentious novel into the waiting room," one editor said. "You think we don't see right through that? And if you go into your interview and talk about how much you love F. Scott Fitzgerald, that doesn't help us that much."

I have occasionally been guilty of the pretentious-novel-as-conversation-starter, although not as guilty as these anonymous examples, I suppose. But what if that seemingly pretentious novel happens to be what I'm reading?

For, dear readers, I am reading a novel that sure looks pretentious, yet I would contend my motives for reading it are not at all pretentious. I read Indian diasporic writer Vikram Seth's travel book (FROM HEAVEN LAKE) and two of his other novels (THE GOLDEN GATE and AN EQUAL MUSIC) before I was gently pushed to pick up this novel, A SUITABLE BOY, which is Tolstovian in scale, rich in irony, and... well... 1400+ pages long. (1474, exactly, and don't think I haven't checked.) But I wouldn't have it in my possession at all were it not for my mom's having already read it, gushed over it and (gradually) pushed me towards it. And while Mom's taste doesn't necessarily mirror mine -- I still don't get ANGLE OF REPOSE, for instance -- she got to me to the point that I did, in fact, want to read this obscenely long book.

I started it in the beginning of May, and at long last I have made a, shall we say, suitable dent in it. An impromptu bus trip last weekend pushed me over the 1000-page mark, and I actually got into it. Still, if I don't take it to lectures and on errands with me, I may never finish it. I know I may look pretentious standing in line at the post office with a paperback book that really requires two hands, but I'm just trying to finish it sometime this year. I already missed Mum's deadline of June 17th, and she has promised it to someone else as soon as I finish it. When I finish it. (I can't say if any more; I couldn't bear to waste all that work and put it down now.)

Pretentious or not, I am finally heading into the home stretch, and so far I actually do recommend A SUITABLE BOY -- for people who like long novels. (It's about 3.5 times more interesting than WAR AND PEACE, for example, and for only 50 extra pages!) Maybe lifting it several times a day will help me build up hand strength for the almighty business handshake. But probably I'll move onto something less pretentious, not for my prospective employers' sake, but just because I'll need a break.

23 June 2006

Things I learned about Curtis Sittenfeld and the PREP phenomenon.

1. Curtis Sittenfeld is not Lee Fiora from PREP, even if she did go to boarding school. NB: She said she appropriated a lot of the campus architecture and institutions from Groton for PREP because it was easier that way, since she was already making up the entire book.
2. She has serious writerly chops -- it was her dream to go to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and she did.
3. Her personal style is not so much preppy -- when a Washington Post style writer wanted to cover her style, she asked her publicist, "Can I wear sweatpants?"
4. The real way to get magazine editors to notice your book? Send it out with Moleskines, flip-flops and pink white-out attached. (This via Ms. Sittenfeld's publicist.) Anyone know where I can get some pink white-out? Or should I say, pink-out?
5. Stalker alert! She lives in Philadelphia.
6. When PREP was published she promised her ninth-grade English class that she would buy them pizza if it hit the New York Times best-seller list -- and she actually did. In this case it's probably best she didn't go to #1, because she had promised them all a trip to Hawaii.
7. She found out at 22 that she is Tony Orlando's daughter. (Oh, I made that one up. But you believed me, didn't you!)

16 May 2006

Adam Gopnik Sez: Lost Generation Not Lost Enough

I was lucky enough to hear New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik speak last night through the Brown Friends of the Library. Gopnik talked about the American ideal of Paris in writing from Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson until... well, himself, in his book PARIS TO THE MOON about his 1995 to 2000 residence there.

Gopnik's point was that Americans see Paris as a type of idyll, in the same way they see New York, and have gone there either to be good bourgeois and study at the Sorbonne and rub shoulders with the literati, or to drink and smoke and have lots of sex and be good bohemians. (Right now in New York he does neither, although he acknowledges that most people he meets still think he lives in Paris because he lives in "the Paris of their minds.") Franklin and Jefferson were both in Paris on diplomatic missions, but Jefferson studied it like he studied his farms, while Franklin concluded "[the French] must have some way of changing the air here that we are not acquainted with."

His talk gave me a whole raft of new authors to read about the city, which I have been lucky enough to visit once. Nathaniel Parker Willis, who Gopnik said is largely forgotten today, wrote about "restaurant Paris"; Art Buchwald of the New York Herald Tribune chronicled the city in the 1940s. Henry James had an unrequited romance with the city, because he tried to live there and never really felt accepted. "No American has known Paris better" than Edith Wharton. But the Lost Generation, most often invoked in the same breath as Paris, lived a much more insulated life among fellow expats than earlier chroniclers of the city -- hence him saying they weren't lost enough. And having tackled THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ALICE B. TOKLAS, I confess I did wonder where the French were and why Stein and Toklas moved in such a small circle. In any case, he really whetted my appetite to read more about the City of Light (besides my abortive attempt earlier this semester at HAUSSMANN, OR THE DISTINCTION). Suggestions?

In other news, it appears that Starbucks is going to start selling books soon. Oh, help us all.

13 May 2006

Sonnets from strangers, and a great way to keep mum.

In my sophomore year of college, I wrote that one of my life goals (per "As You Like It") was to find a boy willing to tie sonnets on trees for me. If I had known about these London sonnet walks, in which you are given directions from Shakespeare's Globe and random people come up to you and recite poetry, I might have given up on males in general! (But it's a good thing I didn't.)

Here's a funny interview with author/ blogginista Paperback Writer, one of my personal favorites.

11 May 2006

Extra: Karyn Bosnak, 20 TIMES A LADY

Whatever else you can say about Karyn Bosnak's 20 TIMES A LADY, you can't say it's totally autobiographical.

How do I know? Because I've read her memoir, SAVE KARYN. Bosnak's claim to fame is that she started a personal Website at SaveKaryn.com (which is still up, although mostly concerning her new book), to ask strangers for money to pay off a $20,000 credit-card debt and to highlight her own struggle to cut lifestyle corners. People criticized the book (and the author) for its seemingly fancy-free approach to money -- easy go, easy come, I guess -- but I enjoyed it because Bosnak looks at herself and says, "I'm not in debt because something tragic happened to me. I'm in debt because I was foolish." And that takes the huevos grandes.

Very little of that struggle shows up in Bosnak's first novel, of which I was lucky enough to get an advance copy. Her heroine, Delilah Darling, does have a pet mascot and a love for all things cute and luxurious, but Delilah's troubles in love -- not money -- take center stage. After she reads a New York Post article on sex and decides she may have been, well, a bit too free with her favors (as befits someone named Delilah, I guess!) she decides to sink her unemployment into a cross-country trip to find her hookups of yore -- because if she can rekindle the spark with one of them, she won't have to add another man to her "list." It's cheesy and silly, but like a good romantic comedy, you feel satisfied at the ending. Not that I'm giving any clues.

Sure, there are some autobiographical details in 20 TIMES A LADY; reading Bosnak's new blog I notice she has a Yorkie now, like the heroine, and a few memorable scenes take place in her old stomping ground of Chicago. But my major deal-breaker for chick lit is when the biographical similarities are so overwhelming that it feels like the author, well, didn't make anything up for herself! Jennifer Weiner is another author who knows how to use her experiences (like her love for Philadelphia) in a way that doesn't overwhelm the reader. I know most people wouldn't be bothered by this, but I felt pretty miffed when I discovered that John Irving had pretty much copy-pasted his entire life into THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. Bosnak is obviously a more talented writer than her Internet detractors give her credit for.

09 May 2006

Our libraries are furniture. They are decoration. They threaten the breathable air to paper ratio in our apartments and offices. Books spill over my shelves. They crowd my kitchen table. We are what we read...paper will continue to be used by academics for a long time to come purely on the basis of its utility as an information technology. But we are not passionate about paper because it is a good research tool. We are passionate about it because of the way that it smells and feels. Our love of paper springs from the way it insinuates itself into not only our career, but our souls. An academic defends the text universe. Lovely!

07 May 2006

Extra: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL

What I learned from reading the memoir of Brazil's second-to-last president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, now a Brown professor:
  • Scholar-presidents do a pretty good job (see also: Woodrow Wilson).
  • It's no accident that the Brazilian currency Cardoso instituted to solve the country's inflation crisis in the early '90s is named the real; the title (translated as "royal" or "real") was meant to reassure citizens that it would, unlike previous currencies, actually be worth something in the weeks and months after it was introduced. Diabolical!
  • As much as the 2003 election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Cardoso's successor) may have freaked the crap out of the West, "Lula" (a Union leader of working-class origins) used to be a lot more radical...
  • ...which is something I didn't pick up on at all when he took office on January 1st. I was in Rio de Janeiro at the time, and all the press coverage stressed how far-left he was, never mind that Cardoso himself was pretty center-left.
  • My dad's flippant comments about how "people would just disappear" when he lived in Brazil in 1972? Not so much kidding on that account. (Dad was an AFS student who checked the "Send me anywhere" box on his application and landed in Sao Paolo knowing no Portuguese. We visited his old neighborhood when we were there.)
  • Not even fame or democratic election can save you from having a terrible Wikipedia picture.

23 April 2006


I updated my LibraryThing. Don't be scared at the rolling tide of job-hunting books appearing on the shelf. As they say, "It's the most wonderful time of the year..."

22 April 2006

Spring Cleaning

So I'm moving in about a month and a half, to parts currently unknown, which means it's time to go over the ol' book collection. I made the probably unwise decision in September to try and consolidate my "can't live without 'em" books here on the East Coast, as opposed to in my childhood bedroom, but the upshot is I have way more books than I have bookshelves or boxes. I also mailed myself a ton of books to sell on Amazon.com, most of which I later found out were pretty much unsellable. (Alas, the same vendors that allow me to buy books for $0.01 also thwart my own sales!)

In about half an hour I pulled a whopping 26 books out of this place, most books I've read or used for a class that I really no longer need or want. I was originally going to send them to the New Orleans Public Library, but they are asking for monetary donations over books, so I think I'll just send them what I would have spent on mailing the books, and put them in the donation box set out by my local bookstore during textbook buy-back season. And as long as I was searching, I found two books to return to my sister, six to lend to my mom (who has lent me umpteen books over the years) and one to lend to my dad (who finally has time to actually read books I recommend to him, like THE TWINS OF TRIBECA). As if I needed another proof of my decadent lifestyle, that's thirty-five books just taking up space chez moi. That's just ridiculous on so many levels.

And that was the easy part! I also have in my room probably upwards of 20 books I've been meaning to read and haven't gotten around to yet. Even if I dropped out of school today, I probably couldn't finish them all before my move-out date. (And I'm not dropping out, so don't worry, Mom and Dad.) But it's ridiculous to cart that many around when not only does the world hold a large number of superlative libraries (like, um, the one three blocks away), but I am also constantly acquiring new books. Heck, I just bought seven or eight books on job hunting and careers (the fabulous life of a college senior) and I don't have space for them. I barely have room for the books I always take with me, foreign-language dictionaries and THIS SIDE OF PARADISE and LOST IN PLACE: GROWING UP ABSURD IN SUBURBIA and the like. My name is Ellen, and I officially have a Book Problem.

And I need a Battle Plan. Because on the other hand, I would like to be a minimalist even though I have stuff trouble. At least I know I have stuff trouble. Maybe I should return or read my library books first, right? And also, delete the document on my desktop called "Library to-do list." I'm not joking. I really do have a problem.

15 April 2006

The War Within

It's confession day at LN VS. ML.

I've been keeping a computerized list of books I've read since late 2001 (actually the weekend I visited a certain school while reading THIS SIDE OF PARADISE for the first time). If you saw the list you would only be able to conclude that I'm crazy, because it has all kinds of signs and color codes and I can sort it by author or by date. Because while I am a 21-year-old college student, I am also apparently the 40-year-old virgin with a copy of Excel in lieu of a lot of action figures.

Last year was the first complete year in which I kept track of all the movies I watched. I had compiled a list in the fall of 2004 while I was taking a Spanish film class and wanted to remember all the movies we watched for my friends not in the class who also loved Almodovar. Then I went abroad, and my library in Madrid had a pretty decent collection of recent Spanish movies, so I figured I'd use it to keep track of my weekly rentals. A lot of the movies I saw in theatres in the first six months of last year haven't even come out yet in the states ("Reinas", for example, which the blue states are just going to love because it's like "Love, Actually" but with a mass gay marriage, and features a number of hot actresses over 40 as the mothers of the affianced) so it was useful to keep track of them. I kept up the habit when I got home because it was blockbuster season (not that I saw most of the blockbusters, but that's neither here nor there).

Then I counted up at the end of the year and saw I had more movies than books on my lists (just barely more!).

I guess it's not that hard to understand. It can take a lot longer to finish a book than a movie, depending on the book (and the movie?), and sometimes watching movies is preferable (like when I'm trying to do something else). But I feel like I'm giving up if I let the books not matter as much to me, because I was very much a books-first teenager (I probably didn't see more than 5 movies a year in theatres until I started driving). But assuming I can't read and watch movies at the same time -- well, I can do class reading, anything that's meant to be skimmed anyway -- I can only do one of them, and I have library books but I also have Netflix.

All this blather means I should probably stop keeping lists if I'm going to look at them every day and obsess over them. But I'm thinking about cutting back on my Netflix account. My stack of books I want to read is piling up faster than movies I want to watch, and there's really no substitute for a good book.

03 April 2006

Books I brought with me on vacation.

This is for a one-week vacation with a four-hour flight, mind you:


So maybe the last one was a bit of a stretch... Needless to say, I guess, I made it through the first four, and started the Michel. Usually I read a lot more during vacations, but this time I spent most of my leisure time sleeping. I'm looking forward to being a commuter again so I'll "have to" read an hour, or more, every day. I'm also looking forward to graduating.

14 March 2006

Look Elsewhere?

Check out this really nice reading page I just discovered from reading the improbably titled blog round-up Damn Hell Ass Kings. I would love to design my own page (maybe not exactly like this, but I dig the four-color separation for various categories) like this, whenever I have time to learn Dreamweaver. The owner doesn't like magical realism, which is a MAJOR minus in my book, but I'd be willing to debate him over that.

I haven't had a lot of time to read lately, not as much because it's midterm season as because work has been quite hectic (the trouble with theatre box offices is, when it's show time EVERYONE wants a dang ticket!) and also because my boyfriend was visiting this past weekend for my birthday. Ah yes, my birthday! I got a couple of books on film from my father (who first pressed into my dirty little hands a copy of William Goldman's ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE), including B-movie actor Bruce Campbell's memoir and a hilarious Fametracker collection, and I am eagerly awaiting a book (as yet unknown) from my mom. And lest I forget ATOMIC BODYSLAMMERS TO WHISKEY ZIPPERS: COCKTAILS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, from my Francophile friend Ainslie (whom I met in Paris -- as I never tire of repeating). As soon as I get paid I'm going to pick up WHAT LOVE MEANS TO YOU PEOPLE, a debut novel from a blogger I've been reading for about four years now, which is so exciting I can hardly wait till it gets here.

I can't wait until spring break (two weeks hence!) when I can take a good week off and do some serious poolside reading. (Yes, I have been known to rock the poolside hardcover.) How about you?

10 March 2006

The Great Answer Post

Okay, let's finish this...

#1: "There's never been an opera about me..." is from WATCH YOUR MOUTH, the second novel by Daniel Handler, the "ghostwriter" behind the Lemony Snicket phenomenon. I actually put down WATCH YOUR MOUTH after about 50 pages, not only because I felt like I knew where it was going but also because it was too gross. I guess I ought not to be surprised, given his current occupation. His debut, THE BASIC EIGHT, is more conventional (a high-school diary novel) but also, so far, less quease-inducing. This is one of my conquests from the Interlibrary Loan system, the source of many of my smaller joys.

#2: "The faces of the judges..." comes from the first, uneven novel by Cintra Wilson with the hilarious title of COLORS INSULTING TO NATURE. I think it was intended to be a Bildungsroman for the modern age, and the kitsch factor of it is astounding, but it got a little tiresome after I hit the 275-page mark. I recommend INDECISION by Benjamin Kunkel instead. I bought this book at the Brown Bookstore, which, alas, is facing corporate buyout.

That leaves #4, "Yesterday, I found Violet's letters to Bill." I'm not exactly sure how I got interested in Siri Hustvedt's book WHAT I LOVED except for the fact that it's a not very implicit roman a clef (I'm thinking of the "New Yorker" cartoon that reads, "More roman, less clef.") about Hustvedt, her relationship with fellow writer Paul Auster and her stepson, Michael Alig, now infamous for a New York City club-kid killing in the early '90s. (This was also covered in the book, and later the movie, PARTY MONSTER -- but that is a memoir. Reportedly. Not that James St. James did drugs during that era or anything.) Weirdly, the novel got the most attention for its connection with the murder, even though the murder is really only covered in the last hundred pages of th ebook, and then obliquely. It's no Margaret Atwood, but it's pretty good.

Next time maybe I should offer a prize or something.

06 March 2006

Black Pawn, White Pawn

Continuing with the answers...

Besides Capote, Stephen L. Carter was the other outlier in the bunch because his book THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK is a legal thriller with a pretty heavy hand. As I mentioned I borrowed it from my mom, who raved about it and then recanted when I finished, which was weird. The chess-game-as-race-conflict metaphor governs the book, and is about as subtle as, say, representing those conflicts with automobile accidents. (Sorry, I watched the entire Oscars last night. Give me a break.) Anyway, here's the first line, as narrated by the main character (a law professor at a very Yale-ish university) about his wife (a newly minted Supreme Court nominee):

"'This is the happiest day of my life,' burbles my wife of nearly nine years on what will shortly become one of the saddest days of mine."

Stay tuned for the final three!

05 March 2006

In Lukewarm Blood

Nobody has a guess on my last post? You know, Truman Capote didn't have a guess either...and now he's dead.

Okay, I shamelessly ripped that off an old Herald house ad, but I think living or dead Mr. Capote would have recognized #5 as being the opening of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. I pulled out the tiny black-and-pink paperback I got at Dom Knigi in St. Petersburg, in which slang terms like "suitable for the Colony" get their own dutiful Russian gloss in the back. It cost 75 rubles (the receipt is in the back).

Here's #5 again if you don't feel like scrolling down: "I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment."

I'll keep posting the answers this week one by one. Not that you can't still guess. Come on!

01 March 2006

First Lines to Authors

Can you guess who wrote what? Answer in the comments to be proclaimed either a literary superstar, or just a really good guesser. NB: If you cheat and use Google, I won't be your friend any more.

1. "There's never been an opera about me, never in my entire life. Normally this wouldn't bother me. There hasn't been one about you, either, and besides, I'm still young."
2. "The faces of the judges revealed, although they were trying to hide it, deep distaste for the fact that the thirteen-year-old girl in front of them had plucked eyebrows and false eyelashes."
3. "'This is the happiest day of my life,' burbles my wife of nearly nine years on what will shortly become one of the saddest days of mine."
4. "Yesterday, I found Violet's letters to Bill. They were hidden between the pages of one of his books and came tumbling out and fell to the floor. I had known about the letters for years, but neither Bill nor Violet had ever told me what was in them."
5. "I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment."

A. Stephen L. Carter
B. Cintra Wilson
C. Truman Capote
D. Daniel Handler
E. Siri Hustvedt

17 February 2006

I've fallen in love!

... in this case, with a book website. (One topic at a time!)

A similarly book-minded buddy recently linked to LibraryThing, a website that allows users to log, tag and visualize their libraries online as well as peek at other people's libraries and comment on them. Just to start out I catalogued the various library books, recent purchases and half-completed books I have scattered around my room. It's a little misleading, since half of them are library books and thus do not have the gorgeous (or heinous) Amazon-provided cover art, but it's a decent approximation. Looking at my "shelf" gives me both a sense of adventure, of knowledge yet to be taken in, and the urgent feeling that I ought to be reading instead of, you know, updating this blog.

So I believe I'll do just that. I hope everyone who has a long weekend for Presidents' Day enjoys it with a good book, and for the rest of you -- I'm sorry, but hopefully you can get some reading done anyway!

07 February 2006

How I Find Time

One of my friends recently asked me how I find the time to read for fun.

When I was a kid, I read literally all the time. I read in the car under streetlights (I was fortunate enough to almost never get carsick!) and on the bus to and from school, I read walking home from the library, I read under the covers despite my little sister's protestations. I read during class, and during recess (until I got caught). I even read when I was practicing the violin -- I don't recommend this, however, because it won't help you on your Juilliard app. It was my favorite form of portable entertainment -- cheap, light and endlessly renewable.

I guess it's these habits that have carried me over to the point where I rarely go anywhere without an extra book (or two!) just to fill the time. I got a lot of reading done last spring when I was in Madrid in part because I was commuting -- 45 minutes to school, then 30 minutes to my internship and 30 minutes home. Here at school I don't commute unless you count a five- to ten-minute walk to class, but I have a fair amount of time in between other things. It doesn't even have to be a book either; one of the things I love about the "New Yorker" is that it's textually very dense and also very light and easy to carry. If you don't mind looking like a complete egghead, you could take it to the gym, because unless you work out for 4 hours at a time you probably won't finish it. (Can't say the same for "Glamour," although I subscribe to that too.)

I'm not saying all this because I'm trying to brag; I'm actually a pretty slow reader, so I probably need all that extra time to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. And I certainly don't read as much as I like to during the school year, because (surprise!) I have plenty of other assigned reading to keep me occupied. But what I'm saying is, you can make time to do it, maybe before bed or during morning coffee or in that last half-hour before you leave work and when you never get anything done anyway. Maybe people might look at my textual habits and tell me I need to "get a life," but honestly, I have a life. It's just broken up by a lot of reading.

03 February 2006

The Importance of Being Earnest?

I've refrained from commenting on the James Frey controversy in this space for one specific reason: I haven't read A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, a qualification which I feel is germane to the discussion.

As a journalist I can't help but be a little angry at Frey (and other fabrications -- J. T. LeRoy, are you listening?) for exaggerating the truth to the extent that he is accused of. Obviously it isn't just Oprah who despises being lied to; we all do, and Frey's efforts to claim the "memoir" as a new style of writing which has little to do with nonfiction is just ridiculous. Just because Lillian Hellman did it doesn't mean it's okay, buddy! And I can understand how so many readers (like this guy, who bought the book just before the storm hit) feel duped, especially those who found inspiration in Frey's tale of how (allegedly, and this is a parenthesis I hate) he pulled himself out of drug addiction on his own. My favorite piece of damning evidence is the statement that Frey had shopped the book as fiction before shopping it as nonfiction, and while I'd like to believe he did a thorough edit in between, it's doubtful he even did a Search and Replace. (And don't get me started on his publisher-mandated author's note.)

But I think there are two different issues here, the outrage over what Frey did and the demotion in value of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES as a result, and I'm having trouble reconciling the two. Some of the devaluation seems to say that nothing that isn't true is valuable, and I resent that. I mean, I know there is no real Lily Bart, but that didn't stop me from enjoying THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, or identifying with Bart for that matter. If people are put off by Frey's deceitful behavior and thus choose not to read his books, I can understand that. But why can't a work of fiction have the same life-changing effect on people as nonfiction? I think this is a fairly recent attitude, and a troubling one, that one can't be inspired by fiction in the same way as with nonfiction. When I think about my childhood literary heros, most were fictional (those kids in Narnia, Christopher Chant of Diana Wynne Jones' books) or quasifictional (the Ingalls girls belonging in the latter category, I imagine), even though I owned and loved biographies of Mother Teresa, Anne Bradstreet and other figures. Now that I'm grown, can I not find similar figures that move in books like THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA or THE WOMEN'S ROOM, because they're fiction?

Once again I end with more questions than answers. I'm not advocating feeling sorry for Frey, but rather speaking on behalf of any readers (and there must be some!) who find merit in his book aside from its contrast with the police reports.