29 January 2008

Lag time

I've been feeling a lot like bookgirl described recently: Between review books and challenge books, I have stacks of "must-reads" that feel a little overwhelming. My last couple trips to the library I haven't even strayed to the New Arrivals shelf as I try to "read down" the library books I have (and there are eight of those).

Still, I was reminded yesterday of how much I still enjoy reading when, frankly, I was prevented from doing so. I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning on Sunday night and spent almost all of Monday in bed, unable to do more than push buttons on my iPod. I stared longingly at my bookshelves like I stared at the food in my fridge I felt too upset to eat.

Here are a few books I'm looking forward to fitting in, just for fun:

Francesca Delbanco, ASK ME ANYTHING. A BookMooch find -- the premise (advice columnist by day, actress by night tries to balance her two lives) just seemed really interesting.

Kenneth Anger, HOLLYWOOD BABYLON. Before there was Star and OK! and US Weekly, there was this book which dished the dirt on classic stars like Bette Davis and Clark Gable. Another BookMooch find.

Joseph Berger, THE WORLD IN A CITY. This book about the neighborhoods of New York was a Christmas gift. I love reading about New York, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to love this one.

27 January 2008

Tom Stoppard is the man.

“If I am on a journey where I only have time to read one-and-a-half books, I never know which one-and-a-half I’ll feel like reading,” [Stoppard] said. “So I bring eight.”

Damn straight. I have packed with this theory in mind so many times, now I really want his shelf-of-books valise.

22 January 2008

More BookMooch evangelizing.

I've been giving books away on BookMooch like a fiend recently -- 12 books sent since Christmas, and five more ready to be delivered to the post office. It started just before Christmas when, anticipating some shelf-sized presents from my family, I did a little bit of sorting and was able to give away 7 books. As a result I've banked a bunch of points, which may not do me much good during the Great Un-bookening but will be nice to have in the future.

All the books I gave away, I've read -- I haven't been able to quite cross the line into deciding I would never read a book definitively. Call me crazy, but I still think I'll have time to read all of them... eternal optimism of a book lover, I guess. Only now am I getting to the point where I can return unread library books like Steve Martin's BORN STANDING UP. I wanted to read it and it got great reviews, but it's due tomorrow, and I won't have time to go to the library tomorrow, so it has to go today. I've been thinking about creating a special shelf on Goodreads for books like this, which I wanted to read but just didn't have the time. (I could just keep it and pay the fine, but this time around, I don't think it's worth it.)

20 January 2008

Bookstore Tourism

My friend Dennis recently sent me this article from CNN: Nine bookstores worth a tourist stop. To my chagrin, I've only been to two of them (Powell's City of Books in Portland and The Strand in New York City), but there are a lot of juicy destinations on that list, from Coral Gables, Florida to Seattle, Washington.

Unfortunately it seems like I have a jinx on the bookstores I love: my treasured hometown bookstores where I collected the American Girl books volume by volume merged, then failed; the indie struggling next to my college bookstore is now an Indian clothing store. But here are a few of my favorites currently in operation, and maybe if you visit them you can save them:

Best social bookstore: J & J Books & Coffee, Madrid, Spain. This remains the only bookstore I've ever visited with a bar inside. I never bought enough books from this English-language secondhand shop when I lived in Madrid for a semester, but I visited nearly every week for Friday night's British-style pub quiz. If you've never experienced this kind of team trivia competition, it's a blast. They buy back books too, which is useful if you need to make some room in your luggage.

Best selection: Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, Washington. I have family in Eastern Washington and it was a special treat to walk around in downtown Spokane reaching for the brass ring at the carousel, drinking lemonade at Cucina Cucina! and drop in here for a new or used book. This store's so big it even contains another store -- Uncle's Games. How cute is that?

Best-looking store: B&N Bookstop, Houston, Texas. It's a chain, I know, but it's a chain set inside a classic Art Deco theatre whose inside, besides the addition of shelves and carpet, has changed very little since the original movie palace closed in 1983. Check out these incredible photos by Flickr user outerspace. Morally opposed to buying from Barnes & Noble? See the sights and then hop over to Kaboom Books, a delightful used nook born after its sister store in New Orleans was forced to close due to Hurricane Katrina. As far as I know, the original French Quarter store is in operation again, but hopefully they'll keep a foot in Houston, too.

18 January 2008

From the Stacks Update: Higher and higher.

"So, Ellen, how's that From the Stacks challenge you signed up for going?"

Erm... not so well. As usual, I had the best of intentions, but other stacks (most notably my to-review stack and from-the-library stack) got in the way. Since I'm about to start the Great Un-Bookening, this worries me a little; I'm going to have to use words like "discipline" and "no" on myself.

At least one of the books I won't be finishing at all; I picked up Lesley Lokko's SAFFRON SKIES, read about 50 pages, and was so bored I couldn't bear to go on. So here's what my list looks like now:

1. Michael Gross, 740 PARK
3. Alexandra Potter, ME AND MR. DARCY Read all about it!
5. Martha Moody, BEST FRIENDS

My realistic goal by January 31st is to finish 740 PARK and maybe one of the other books. Disappointing, I know, but I also have a few library books to finish in that time. But please check out all the great reviews coming in from the challenge! I know I'm about to go on a major commenting spree over them.

17 January 2008

Eat, Pray, Read Faster

I'm pretty sure I'm one of the last people in North America to read Elizabeth Gilbert's surprise best-seller EAT, PRAY, LOVE. The tripartite memoir about Gilbert's world travels following her divorce got its own "Oprah" special, has been optioned for a movie by Julia Roberts and can be seen in the hands of at least half the people on your next flight.

I understand why it's become such a phenomenon: This book is eminently, compulsively readable. How readable? I started it around 6PM on a Saturday, read it on the train somewhere, read it on the train home and kept reading until I finished it at 2AM on Sunday. My friend Pearl pointed out that your experience with this book lives or dies on how well you tolerate Gilbert's presence, and for the most part, I didn't mind her as a character-slash-narrator. I didn't agree with some of her choices, but I wanted to know how it all ended up nonetheless, which led me to characterize it as an emotional page-turner. (Not a thriller, but suspenseful in its own way.) Also, unlike a lot of nonfiction, I didn't feel like it was too over-researched after the fact. Sure, she went back and put in quotes and some facts, but she didn't try to cram the book with Everything I've Learned.

Still, here's why I won't be making room for EAT, PRAY, LOVE on my permanent shelf: I didn't find her journey all that inspiring -- at least parts of it. I didn't want to run away to India and meditate for six hours a day, nor did I have any desire to go to Bali and live in a small house in the middle of nowhere. I realize the point of a memoir is not usually to make the examined life look worth living, but I felt like in some way Gilbert was selling it to me as some kind of Reality Improvement package, and I wasn't buying. Even in the part I wanted to buy into -- the first section of the book, in which Gilbert takes Italian lessons and conducts her own eating tour of Rome -- I thought, "There must be more happening than what she described." She claims to have gone to only one museum during her time in Italy, and I'll let her have that, but I still felt like there was more she did and wasn't telling... starting with, for example, taking notes she would eventually use to write the book. (Gilbert includes the fact that she sold the proposal before she left on her yearlong journey, something I appreciated.)

I also felt that the ending was just a little too neat, even for someone who believes in fate as much as Gilbert does or claims to. Her year made her "better," but I wasn't completely convinced she learned anything. I guess the sequel to EAT, PRAY, LOVE will make that clear, if I ever read it. It won't be at the top of my list, though.

16 January 2008

Filmbook: No Country For Old Men (2007)

When I finally got around to reading Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel, I was sitting on a plane that was experiencing a series of delays. Between threatening weather at our destination, on-the-ground traffic and the announcement that 11 people would be removed from the flight because of weight restrictions, I should have been worrying about getting home. Instead, I was worrying about being chased a violent psychopath running around the border towns of the U.S. and Mexico.

I was bowled over by NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The movie version of "No Country" did not exactly give me that same feeling, but I can understand how critics who saw it would come out freaked out and marked, because that's how I felt when I finished the book. When I shut its red covers, it seemed to faintly vibrate in my hand, binding me to the world it takes place in -- a world that couldn't be further away from me and my life. I went to see this movie deliberately at a matinee so I would be able to emerge in daylight, and I was still frightened. (My movie buddy on this, my dad, claimed he had a nightmare after seeing the trailer. No word on whether he's having nightmares now because I made him see the attendant flick. Love you, Dad.)

I completely understand why the Coen brothers chose to approach this material and I think they did a really good job adapting it. There's one major change to the plot, which I didn't like, but which I will discuss in a comment because it's a big ol' spoiler. A major advantage the movie has over the book is its setting; while filmed mostly in Nevada [Thanks, Anonymous in New Mexico in the comments!], it uses just enough sweeping rural vistas to convey the country that will serve as a playing field for the characters (naive Llewelyn, menacing Anton, the resigned sheriff). Because McCarthy's descriptions are typically terse, the visual matching of those moments was great. Another credit I must give the brothers Coen is that they excised my least favorite part of the book, in which the sheriff and a buddy discourse on modern manners and morals. There's just a hint of that in the movie, which I think is enough.

"No Country for Old Men" isn't in my top 5 movies of 2007, but it was definitely one of the most memorable books. Considering how outside my genre this stands, that's high praise.

Filmbook verdict: Read the book, then see the movie.

Poster: Fifthamendmentking. I never saw this one anywhere, but I really like it.

15 January 2008

Reading Goals for 2008

1. Read two books from the Modern Library list every month. I'm more than halfway there! All I need is to keep going.

2. Read, or give away, as many of the books I own and haven't read as possible. In 2007 I looked at my empty shelves and, well, got a little greedy with all the Bookmooching and used-book shopping. I would say the most unread books I should have at one time is 20. The way I'll do this is by cutting back on my library borrowing and book shopping. I'll still get review copies in regularly, but I would rather abide by the principle of one in, two out. I'm going to start on this in earnest on February 1st, and will refer to it as The Great Un-Bookening of 2008.

3. Seek out more non-memoir nonfiction. I love memoirs, but I don't read enough regular nonfiction.

4. Continue writing as many reviews as possible. I wrote my first paid book review in 2003, and the more I do it, the better I get (I think).

5. Continue updating the blog regularly, of course!

14 January 2008

Best Superlatives of 2007

Best Fiction I Read in 2007
Critic choice: Thomas Mallon, FELLOW TRAVELERS

Best Nonfiction I Read in 2007
Francine du Plessix Gray, THEM: A MEMOIR OF PARENTS
Rob Sheffield, LOVE IS A MIX TAPE

Best Page Turners Of 2007
Critical choice: Yannick Murphy, SIGNED, MATA HARI

Best books about New York City
Cheryl Mendelson, LOVE, WORK, CHILDREN
Dawn Powell, A TIME TO BE BORN

Best discovery of 2007
Dawn Powell, where have you been all my life?!

Most depressing reads of 2007
Mary Childers, WELFARE BRAT (entry here)
Critical choice: Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley, RESTLESS VIRGINS

Modern Library of Awesome
James M. Cain, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (entry here)

A book for conspiracy theor...hey, who's at the...

Alexandra Robbins, SECRETS OF THE TOMB (entry here)

Why did I finish this?
Seth Margolis, CLOSING COSTS (entry here)
Cecily von Ziegesar, THE IT GIRL

Saddest series ending
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

Series that probably should have ended a few books ago
Cecily von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl series.

Most overrated books
Joshua Ferris, THEN WE CAME TO THE END (entry here)

Most underrated books

Jeannette Walls, THE GLASS CASTLE

Rated exactly where it belongs, actually

08 January 2008

2007 Reading By The Numbers

Books I read in 2007: 151.
That's 12.58 books per month on average, or .41 books per day.
My running average since 2001 is about 104 books per year; this has been

Of those books, 42 were for reviews and 109 were for fun.
Of those, 49 were nonfiction and 102 were fiction. (Of the review books alone, 8 were nonfiction and 34 were fiction.)
Of those, two were self-help books (SHOULD I DO WHAT I LOVE? and THE FOUR-HOUR WORK WEEK).

I read 87 books from January to June and 64 from July to December.
Best month for reading: March, 18 books (followed by February and April, with 17 each). My theory for this: I was the most broke during those three months, the months immediately following my move to New York City, and library books are free! Or very cheap if you return them late.
Worst month for reading: October, 7 books. No idea.

72 of the books I read were library books -- I love the New York Public Library!
At the end of 2007 I had 8 books checked out of the library. Right now I have 11, plus 2 DVDs... I'm aiming to keep these to 5, for reasons I'll explain in a future post.

I lost track of how many books I bought in 2007 (shame!), but I read 5 books that I purchased in '07.
On the other hand, I read 16 books that I mooched on Bookmooch this year, out of 50 mooches.
While I was mooching those, though, I also gave away 51 books. Not shabby!

Books I had to look up because I couldn't remember whether they were fiction or nonfiction, or anything about them really: 1; Margaret Atwood, MORAL DISORDER. Guess that won't make tomorrow's list of my favorite books of the year. Stay tuned...

03 January 2008

Happy new year?

Despite the hype, it seems like New Year's Day kind of snuck up on me this year. I was traveling off the day planner (which for me is the equivalent of "off the grid" -- I am permanently attached to my planner, for better or for worse) and, oh presto, my wall calendar is finished!

I still haven't unpacked yet, but I thought I'd drop in and report that I kept not a single one of the reading resolutions I made for 2007. I have more books, I only read two (I think?) books off the Modern Library list, and as you see, I have no blogroll. I think they were all good ideas, though, and elements of those will feature in 2008's Reading Resolutions. (I can just make them any time I want, right? Doesn't have to be the first.) So stay tuned for those, as well as some stats on the books I read in 2007 and (if anyone wants it) the mostly-complete list of titles. For now, I need to recaffeinate and unearth my suitcase.