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.