30 November 2008

Unbookening in the New York Times

They don't use the term, but that's exactly what "The Well-Tended Bookshelf" is about, is it not? 
Dr. Johnson once said of second marriages that they represent the triumph of hope over experience. So, too, do my bookshelves. I have turned out to be less rational about this than I thought, and have made my library into a charm against mortality. As long as I have a few unread books beckoning to me from across the room, I tell myself I can always find a little more time.
Just to be contrarian, here are some decorating tricks for if you don't have enough books: 
  • Check out a bunch of books from the library to fill up your shelves. Even if you don't end up reading all of them, at least there will be something there. 
  • At a conference or multi-week temporary housing? Borrow a book from your neighbor. It's also a great way to make friends, even if you disagree on the book itself. 
  • For those with too much wall space: Blik's Me, Myshelf and I gives the appearance of those graceful floating bookshelves apartment dwellers can't put up. 

29 November 2008

And now I'm desperate...

The biggest advantage to taking something to book club or some other kind of group reading session is that you can take your novel, with its problems, to a readymade group of people who have (probably) all read it and say, "I have to know what you think of X." Paula Fox's DESPERATE CHARACTERS fit that bill, and I feel unable to dig into a critique of this book, since it has received a fair amount of critical adulation, before I say: Maybe I just didn't see it. 

I guess it's Disappointments Week on WORMBOOK (which seems wrong, because there's nothing disappointing about vacation!) but when Jonathan Franzen throws his weight behind a book, says it's better than anything else of his time, even devote an entire essay in his collection HOW TO BE ALONE to how underappreciated it is, I expect fireworks. Perhaps my expectations for this slim novel about a Brooklyn couple watching their marriage fall apart over a dreary weekend were indeed outsized, but it just didn't make an impression on me. In fact, most of the time I was distracted by what I saw as the characters' obsession with race -- mentioning a guest at a party is "a Negro," but nothing else about him. 

Anyway, in the absence of a reading buddy I turn to the Internet. Reading for Writers praises the novel's plotting, in that the book is framed by a bite the wife gets from a stray cat while not letting that occupy the foreground, and suggests the couple's bewilderment and impoliteness are the reactions of a couple in the '60s who feel themselves being left behind by the culture. I think my favorite scene in the book, though it derived its energy largely from a caricature, depicted the couple, Sophie and Otto, going to a party where they meet people who make them feel stodgy and out of it. 

Reading Matters points out that Sophie and Otto's relationship is doomed and was so long before the stray cat showed up (the cat itself being an engine of disagreement; Sophie wants to feed it, Otto wants to leave it alone). Still, since we largely follow Sophie's perspective, and she has done certain things to damage the marriage, I found it difficult to see any nuance in that portrayal; her cruelty overshadowed it for me. 

Have you read DESPERATE CHARACTERS? Want to explain to me why I feel so left out in the cold? I would love to know. My reaction was more like The Occasional Review's; while there were scenes I appreciated briefly, the more I thought about them the more they fell apart for me. (Also, has there ever been another book or movie with a motif of an injury someone refuses to get looked at? Maybe I'm going crazy, but I'm certain there is one.) 

28 November 2008

Post your scores!

Just in time for the holiday weekend, the New York Times posts its Notable Books list for the year. Is there anyone anywhere who has read all 100 books? I doubt, say, Sam Tanenhaus would have to finish all of them before writing this list, but with that in mind I wonder how the Gray Lady puts these together. (Secret ballot, I assume.)

I read seven of them, which is one more than last year (five fiction, two nonfiction). How'd you do?

Previously: 2007, 2006

27 November 2008

46. Joseph Conrad, THE SECRET AGENT

Here's what my Goodreads friend Liz, proprietress of Footloose Fish, had to say about Joseph Conrad with regards to THE SECRET AGENT:
"I'm better at reading Conrad in the summer, when I can lie on the beach and just get lost in long descriptive paragraphs about people arguing in embassies and parlors."
Perhaps I should have waited. This is my second Conrad experience in the LN VS. ML project, and unfortunately my second underwhelming experience. HEART OF DARKNESS I was willing to chalk up to my own inexperience with him (or perhaps the fact that I'm a little rusty with my close reading), but having now finished THE SECRET AGENT and being thoroughly underwhelmed, I'm not sure Conrad and I can be friends any more -- although I know there are two more Conrad books lurking in the Modern Library list.

This relatively short novel is subtitled "A Simple Tale," which must be old Joe's idea of a good joke considering how befuddled I was for about half the book as we follow the day-to-day errands of Monsieur Verloc, a London shop owner who is also involved in various but colorless unsavory activities. I got lost, the way Liz describes, but not in the good way. When I wasn't completely confused by what was going on, I was waiting for characters to stop obfuscating and do something. Maybe it's because
I read this book for free in my e-mail using Dailylit, but I felt as if I were being dragged along on errands like a little kid, waiting in the car outside an unknown building where every second's an hour.* If I hadn't had this list to fulfill, I would have given up on this book very early on.

There was one thing I liked about the book, and that was the ending. From the moment that Verloc enters his house to the final scene, I was struck by how Conrad raised up a previously undefined character -- Mme. Verloc -- and (in contrast to this passage I quoted from THE SECRET AGENT) made her predicament interesting and urgent in a way that the rest of the book adamantly wasn't. By then, though, it was too late for me. English teachers look away: If I had to do it over again, I would probably just skip to the hilarious-looking 1996 Depardieu-Broadbent adaptation, which apparently features not only Serious Robin Williams but a young Christian Bale as Stevie. Now I must hide, lest my comparative literature degree be taken away from me for writing that sentence.

Progress of LN VS. ML: 49 read, 51 unread.

Next up: John O'Hara's APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA (#22), which is not available on Dailylit but which I am bringing in dead-tree form on my trip tomorrow, since I didn't get around to reading it last time.

*Why yes, this is probably why I no longer leave the house without a book. Usually two. Also, when my mom asks me if I want to go somewhere with her I immediately demand a full itinerary. Sorry, Mom.

26 November 2008

Reading On The Road: Bay Area, CA Part II

So how did my light luggage experiment go? Pretty well! I only had time to read three of the books I brought with me, but jettisoned 2 -- one because I'd read it, the other because I read about 50 pages and it wasn't doing anything for me. Now if only an airport would go ahead and open up a "take one, leave one" lending shelf. I realize the security issues inherent in this set-up, and the newsstands wouldn't like the competition, but it sure would come in handy.

(This strategy comes care of my maternal unit, who has probably left hundreds of books in hotel rooms on previous family vacations. It used to drive me nuts, but I see the appeal in it on the way back home.)

I have some hardcover review material to tote along on Trip No. 2, but once that's finished:
  • John Fante, ASK THE DUST (from Part I)
  • John O'Hara, APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA (from Part I)
  • Stephanie Elizondo Griest, AROUND THE BLOC -- a memoir of an American's experiences in various Communist countries.
  • Galt Niederhoffer, A TAXONOMY OF BARNACLES. I saw Niederhoffer's second book out in the wild and loved its faux-destroyed cover. I nearly bought it, and then I remembered how I had found her debut at the Strand, gotten faked out on the price, later mooched it but never read it. A dysfunctional family story? For Thanksgiving? Oh, do go on.
And again I remind myself: There are stores in California.

Stuck at your desk over Thanksgiving? Itching for something long-winded with a surfeit of parentheses? Never fear, WORMBOOK will be magically publishing all weekend in my absence.

25 November 2008


Earlier this year I was accused of not judging a book by its cover. I had reviewed a book which, in the advance review copy I had, sported a plain sort of maroon jacket. When it hit the stands, though, it was graced with one of the most common pictorial cliches in chick lit, a close-up of feet in fancy shoes. I was castigated online for overpraising this book because, clearly, any book with a cover like that can't be that good by definition.

I bring this up because, well, the Internet is a funny place filled with people who have, to paraphrase Margo Channing, so many opinions. But I judged LOVE IN THE TIME OF TAFFETA, and it came back to haunt me. I was attracted to this book by, as I said, its punny title and also because it looked like a sort of '50s career-girl novel. Why, just check out that winsome-looking lass over there! Add a description about a plucky girl named Iley who takes a part-time job as a photographer's assistant and I had placed this book in my mind very securely. It was going to be a hidden treasure! You all would thank me for bringing it to your attention.

I didn't like LOVE IN THE TIME OF TAFFETA, but I might have if I hadn't set myself up for a certain kind of book. Iley, who loves photography but can't get any attention for her art (let alone make a living from it), is having what could be called a career crisis: Despite being a take-no-bullshit tomboy, she's taken a job photographing proms and weddings in season, where she accidentally sleeps with her married boss... several times. This makes her happy, but her art is suffering.

The plot becomes more about she can find Happiness (certainly with the capital H), because it just won't do to be bitter and cynical in this world, than the art versus commerce struggle it sets up, which happens to wrap up in a big bow when she does find said Happiness. There's also an odd puritanical strain to it finale that left a bad taste in my mouth, although I'm certainly not going to advocate sleeping with someone else's husband as a path to self-discovery. What I'm saying is, you might like this book now that I've dampened your expectations, but it wasn't for me.

Image via a great blog about dresses, A Dress A Day.

22 November 2008

Reading on the Road: San Francisco, CA Part I

In the few times I've visited the Bay Area I have yet to get a grip on San Francisco as a whole city. That's not its fault; I just haven't had time to walk through it and piece the different areas I know together. Get the full tourist experience, I'm saying. In any case, I probably won't have any better idea once I've returned from my two (2) trips to the greater Bay Area that are coming up, but there's always hope.

In my efforts to carry back as little as possible, for Trip No. 1 I've picked mostly paperbacks which I wouldn't necessarily have to bring back with me:
  • John Fante, ASK THE DUST. I can't for the life of me remember where I read about this Depression-era novel about a writer, but I popped it on my Bookmooch wish list and eventually was rewarded.
  • Eugenie Olson, LOVE IN THE TIME OF TAFFETA. I love punny titles; also books that look like chick lit but are supposedly much more. (I'll be the judge of that, she crowed.)
  • John O'Hara, APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA -- part of my long-mothballed Modern Library project.
  • Sandra Jean Scofield, OCCASIONS OF SIN, a memoir of growing up Catholic in 1950s West Texas.
  • William Conescu, BEING WRITTEN. This one I actually can't leave behind because I got it from the library, but this metafictional debut caught my eye and I'm looking forward to digging into it.
Will my light luggage strategy prevail, or will I end up breaking down on the way back and buying the much buzzed Roberto Bolaño novel because I have nothing to read? (As if that would be so bad...) Part II shall reveal all.

20 November 2008

The squeaky wheel can't be ignored

Apparently National Book Award jurists didn't mind Peter Matthiessen's SHADOW COUNTRY was a three-volume collection, or else it was so good they were willing to overlook any possible controversy surrounding it taking home the National Book Award for fiction. Which it did.

In Matthiessen's defense (though I haven't read SHADOW COUNTRY), the Modern Library counts several multi-volume series as one entry, including John Dos Passos' USA trilogy (3 books), Lawrence Durrell's THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET (4) and -- and this is really a bit much -- Anthony Powell's A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME, clocking in at 1012 volumes [see correction below]. I read the first one about 5 years ago, but the idea of going forth to the others was just unbearable.

Annette Gordon-Reed's THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO won the nonfiction prize, which I didn't predict either. I had planned to go to the awards but didn't end up arranging for it; ah well, there's always next year.

Shakespeare Wrote For Money

...is the title of the new Nick Hornby collection of essays about reading, his third and final collection from the magazine "The Believer." "Stuff I've Been Reading," Hornby's now-defunct column, was my favorite part of "The Believer," but at least we have THE POLYSYLLABIC SPREE, HOUSEKEEPING VERSUS THE DIRT and now SHAKESPEARE WROTE FOR MONEY which I have just preordered. Read Sarah Vowell's introduction to the book at McSweeney's.

I just saw Sarah Vowell read, but I'm going to see her again next month at the New School's "State By State" reading along with Jonathan Franzen and Alexander Payne. Hopefully I will have finished STATE BY STATE by then, although I already know it's one of those books I want to linger over.

19 November 2008

Talk of the Town tonight! For real this time.

Tune in to hear my conversation with Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of THE FLEXITARIAN DIET, tonight on "Talk of the Town with Parker Sunshine." But if you sneak over to ParkerSunshine.com/bookworm and check the sidebar, you can download it THIS. INSTANT.

My review of the book will go up later today on the site, should you prefer a text-based analysis (or not have headphones within reach).

7PM EDT (4PM PDT, 2PM Anna Time because Hawaii has no Daylight Savings Time)
WEBR for D.C./Virginia/ Maryland locals (available through your TV)
Everyone else: Tune in here!

Behind the times: My shame and the Publishers Weekly 2008 best-of list.

I can't believe PW put out their list and forgot to tell me!

I did slightly better than last year: I read 2 of their fiction picks (NETHERLAND and, thanks to Marjorie, A PLAGUE OF DOVES), versus 1 in 2007 and 2 of their nonfiction picks (OUTLIERS [which may I say is a bit unfair of them to do since the book only came out today] and THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE) compared to none on last year's list. I attribute this not to any kind of tidal shift in the book industry, but rather that because of my reviewing I probably read more books published this year than I read books published in 2007 last year.

None of the books I reviewed for PW made it, which doesn't surprise me because of the category of books I read for them -- a particular subgenre that does not appear as its own heading on this list.*

For comparison's sake, though, I've read 2 of the top 10 Amazon.com 2008 Editors' Picks (THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE appears on both lists), but 9 out of the top 100.

Last year: PW's New Year's Eve.

*Do I sound vague? Very well then I sound vague, I am large, I contain multitudes.

18 November 2008

Unbookening update

(Really more for my benefit than yours. Carry on.)

I've been a Bookmooching fiend this month -- and it's awesome. I'm nowhere near my Aunt Trish's mooch ratio (she's given 2.63 books for each book received -- me, a measly 1.56 books) but I've given away 10 books and I expect the trend to continue. As of today, I have the same amount of books out as in, which isn't bad. I attribute this to a half hour's sorting and searching this weekend where I pulled some things I wasn't looking forward to reading right away which, thus, could be given away without me really missing them.

It's funny because I don't have a particular numeric goal in mind as far as books to give away, but I do have a goal in mind: I want all my books in my apartment to fit into my two (huge) bookshelves. They used to; they don't now. I remember one year my parents decided I could only have 100 books in my room, and once we started counting... there were way more than that. Needless to say they never carried through with the crackdown, which makes it sort of odd that I'm doing the same thing to myself. Still, I don't have room for another bookshelf unless I colonize the hallway, and I'd rather not colonize the hallway.

Last 5 books I gave away on Bookmooch:
  1. David Gilbert, THE NORMALS -- Read 10 pages, wasn't drawn in.
  2. FRUGAL INDULGENTS -- because what's more frugal than getting a free book?
  3. Chris Bohjalian, SKELETONS AT THE FEAST -- I've heard great things about this book, but I'm not going to get to it any time soon. Since I haven't read any of his other books, I can wait to read this one.
  4. Danny Wallace, YES MAN -- A book I'm covering for EDGE New York which cheered me greatly but which I can't see myself really wanting to read again. (Though I am sorely tempted to see its film adaptation, which will probably be a cheesefest with extra cheese.)
  5. Robert Lanham, FOOD COURT DRUIDS, CHEROHONKEES AND OTHER CREATURES UNIQUE TO THE REPUBLIC -- I loved Lanham's subway story, but this book was more like an encyclopedia of types (i.e. Lieberals, people afraid to admit they are trending conservative, or Hexpatriates, Americans who act foreign but never bother to leave the country). It was fun for one read but I didn't feel the need to hold onto it.
Check out my Bookmooch profile here.

17 November 2008

Not blogging every day is the new blogging every day

So I'm officially a NaBloPoMo dropout. It's okay, I'm over it. Just trying to keep body and soul together here.

I actually did a fair amount of reading but I'm still digesting it, so I will redirect you to Gawker on TWILIGHT: "J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series managed a similar level of innocence and never seemed as repressively anti-sex, but it wasn't a love story about two super-hot weird teens."

14 November 2008

Inside The Golden Notebook

Been putting off getting into Nobel Prize Winner Doris Lessing? (I have!) No more excuses: Read along with seven women at The Golden Notebook Project, where the entire novel is online and glossed by the participants' comments. Among them I would particularly like to single out Naomi Alderman, whose novel DISOBEDIENCE I really liked, and Lenelle Moïse whose incredible show I caught last summer at the Culture Project.

They've already started blogging about their progress, so get to it!

Source: The Olive Reader

13 November 2008

Book club: Notes for next time.

I survived my first book club pick. I'm pretty happy at how it turned out, although I could've done better -- the discussion lagged a little bit and I take responsibility for that. Here's what I want to do differently next time:
  • Arrive with more questions. Procrastination got the best of me and I had 7 or 8, but we could have used a lot more. (And it's neither here nor there, but I found the provided [SPOILERRIFIC] reader's guide questions to be incredibly lame in that they all boiled down to, "How do you feel?")
  • Focus on asking better follow-ups for people who are speaking. I was determined not to be the kind of book group leader who interrupts people when they're mid-sentence, but I think I forgot sometimes that I was steering.
  • Read about the critical opinion to the book, not so I could parrot those points but so they could inspire some discussion. I personally like to know what other critics are saying about what I'm reading (although if I'm reviewing something, I'll hold off until after I turn my piece in to see what the consensus is).
Anyway, the consensus was that THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD is worth reading, if you were interested. Next month: Sarah Vowell's THE WORDY SHIPMATES, which wasn't even my idea but is going to be awesome.

12 November 2008

It wasn't your imagination...

My "Talk of the Town" piece on Dawn Jackson Blatner DIDN'T run tonight, as I announced earlier today. There was a late-stage technical issue -- nothing major.

It will air next week, Nov. 19. Sorry everyone!

Talk of the Town Today!

What kind of -tarian are you?
Tune in to hear my conversation with Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of THE FLEXITARIAN DIET, tonight!
Afterwards, surf over to my page on ParkerSunshine.com and read my review.

7PM EDT (4PM PDT, 2PM Anna Time because Hawaii has no Daylight Savings Time)
WEBR for D.C./Virginia/ Maryland locals (available through your TV)
Everyone else: Tune in here!

This month's book was provided by the folks at McGraw Hill, to whom I reached out after reading about the book on an unaffiliated site and thinking it would be an interesting topic for "Talk of the Town." They gave me the book, no strings attached, and connected me with Ms. Jackson Blatner, so thanks, guys! And that's how your sausage gets made.

11 November 2008

5 Titles For Academic Papers On The President-Elect's Favorite Book

"His favourite book is Moby-Dick by Herman Melville"
-Telegraph, "Barack Obama: The 50 facts you might not know"

1. QUEEQUEG DECIDES TO LIVE: Canoe-Shaped Coffins And The Resurrection Of The Democratic Party
2. STARBUCK'S LOYALTY: The Packaging Of The Postmodern Candidate And The Cost Of Party Allegiance
3. THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE: Racial Constructions And Perceived Difference In Melville And The 2008 Election
4. CAPTAIN AHAB'S MISSING LIMB: The Youth Vote And Popular Opinion Gives Pollsters No Leg To Stand On
5. CALL ME HUSSEIN: Sociological Questions Arising From Given Names For Whalers And Senators

Elsewhere: New Yorker editor David Remnick recommends some books for the President-Elect.

MOBY-DICK, previously:
Great Books? Well, some of them are just OK.
Summer reading inspiration?

10 November 2008

Pressure's on!

I joined my current book club about six months ago. I don't usually write about book club but this is a special case -- this is the first month I've gotten to pick the book. So I assume if they were going to kick me out, they would have done so before letting me steer the thing.

Typically, we all take turns picking the book in however way we like. One member came with three choices and had us give input on those before she made her final choice. Another, far more bolder than I, came in with a book she loved (Janet Frame's SCENTED GARDENS FOR THE BLIND) and we talked about that.

I picked a book I've been meaning to read for a while ever since I heard the author interviewed on NPR, and which my friend Katy (who isn't in the club) told me was one of the best books she read last year, Lionel Shriver's THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD. I got it from Bookmooch a while ago and had been putting it off, and I figured this would force me to finally read it. (And so it was!)

I've finished the book, which I liked but didn't love, and wondering at my wisdom of picking something I hadn't read when I made the choice last month. There's plenty to discuss in there, but what if there weren't? We've never had a book about which there was nothing to discuss, but certainly some books are richer in that kind of material than others. Then again, it seems kind of silly to screen books specifically for a book club. (My mom tends to grouse that her club's picks ought to be screened; they pick at the beginning of September for the next year, and she tends to get crabby after 3 or 4 books she didn't like.)

And then there was this conversation I had with Katy when I told her that I had picked the book on her recommendation:
"Oh," she said.
"It's just... No one else I recommended it to liked it."
"They all were like, 'Why am I reading about this woman's midlife crisis?'"
Yep. I wonder if the tea shop we usually meet in will let me carry in a fifth.

POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD widget via HarperCollins.com.

09 November 2008

Impressionists paint women reading

I couldn't really think of a creative way to incorporate these into the design of my blog, but I liked them so much I thought I would save them for a separate post.
It looks like Renee Zellweger, but it's actually a Renoir.

I've never heard of this painter before (Fragonard) but I have to admire the woman's posture while sitting in that squishy armchair. And the sleeves!
I sit like this a lot when I'm reading, although my hair is not awesome like this.

07 November 2008

Chemical Ambition

The first chapter of John Niven's KILL YOUR FRIENDS details a painful meeting (more painful because it's so ordinary) in the life of Steven Stelfox, record-company employee. Steven likes porn, looking great and Schadenfreude. Steven does not like his job, his friends, his coworkers or, so it would appear, any kind of music whatsoever. Working in A&R does that to a person, apparently.

If there's anything Steven truly loves, besides himself, it's cocaine, but he comes down from his high long enough to realize he wants the job up for grabs in his department, and his best office politicking alone isn't going to get him there. This isn't the point at which Steven and I parted ways with how we saw the world -- that happened much earlier -- but it is where KILL YOUR FRIENDS goes from exquisitely foul to actually diabolical.

The world described within this book and the man describing it are so completely debauched that a lot of readers may be put off before the plot kicks in, and not just because Steven takes his sense of entitlement to a scary new level: There is literally nothing redeeming about this guy. Yet I still wanted to follow him into the depths of this world because, to reference TRAINSPOTTING (a book this has been compared to, although I've never read it), Steven doesn't choose what he does because he's particularly happy: He chooses his own survival in order to screw other people.

It's the diametric opposite of an A&R memoir I reviewed earlier this year by Dan Kennedy. Kennedy, like Niven, worked in the music business, but his book is shaded by this kind of creepy naivete about what he does, so he can affect horror when one of his artists gets a song placed in a major commercial campaign (I believe it was Jewel he was speaking of), or be forced to cut loose bands he loves and replace them with the next fly-by-night pop sensation. The absence of self-awareness in his account of it made me somehow suspicious. Granted, Niven is working in fiction, which gives him a lot more leeway, but Steven's illusions are much more cynical: He believes he deserves that promotion and finds the discovery that he has to work for it distasteful. He signs on a Spice Girls-type girl group, Songbirds, with whom he abhors working, for the sole reason that he can make lots of money off of them and prove he's a hitmaker.

His opinion of coworkers who believe themselves to be indie tastemakers is similarly low, and since the book takes place in the mid-'90s, an era current music executives undoubtedly reflect on wistfully, he proves himself thoroughly rotted to the core once again. Maybe it's just because I'm a cynic, but I preferred the depravity on offer here, even when it was most offensive, to its shiny alternative.

NB: I got this book for free from the good folks at Harper Perennial. Thanks, guys!

06 November 2008

RIP Michael Crichton

The author of JURASSIC PARK, CONGO, SPHERE (my personal favorite) and many other books died amid the voting excitement on Tuesday, his family announced.

I think Crichton's books were the first literary "fad" I ever picked up on. I wanted to read them because other people at school were reading them; I thought they were "cool" and I needed all the cool points I could get at that stage. (Another middle-school literary fad I can remember: Richard Preston's THE HOT ZONE -- similar to some of Crichton's books, but true.) I think they caught on because they were so cliffhanger-friendly, but also carried the tag of "adult" books,

Crichton came under fire last year for introducing a very unflattering portrayal of someone who had criticized him into his book NEXT, but I'll always remember late nights under the covers trying to figure out what the gorillas were up to. So what literary fads have you noticed recently around you? Here's what I've got:
  • Picking up TWILIGHT just to see what the fuss is about (I'm speaking of adults here) and racing through the Meyer series
  • Tana French -- her name seems to be popping up everywhere I look.
  • Microbooks rushed into print like STUFF WHITE PEOPLE LIKE (blog born 2008, book published mid-2008) and BARACK OBAMA IS YOUR NEW BICYCLE. As fast as a reprint, but more topical (although maybe more people will read ...IS YOUR NEW BICYCLE now, to see what other things Barack Obama is).

05 November 2008

And by the way

With the new president comes a slightly different look for Wormbook. (Actually, it's a complete coincidence; I remember I had tried to update my template weeks ago but put it off and decided to do so today.)

I'm still using one of the classic Blogger templates, but if you see something that's super broken, won't you let me know? So far my only known issue is I seem to have lost my delightful Goodreads widget.

Incidentally in searching for new photos I have discovered there is a demand for scantily clad women with books as props. Search "woman reading" (though not at work!) and you'll see what I mean. I was thinking something a wee bit more decorous; this Picasso is saucy enough.

What I'm reading today

I probably should have read it earlier in order to be a more informed voter, but it's not too late.

04 November 2008

Talk of the Town Tuesday: Try Something New

My next book review for "Talk of the Town with Parker Sunshine" will go live next Wednesday, November 12th -- but you won't hear it when you tune in.

Instead, Parker will be airing an interview I'm doing with Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of THE FLEXITARIAN DIET. My review of the book will go live on parkersunshine.com after the show.

I've done long-form interviews before, but never specifically for radio, so I am excited and nervous! This isn't a forever format change, but we got the opportunity for the interview and jumped on it.

In any case, I encourage you to tune in on Nov. 12th, even though I won't be live on air that night. We will also be making the full-length interview available for you to listen to after the show has aired.

Since the polls are already open in New York State...

This Election Day, enjoy this nonpartisan adorable message:

03 November 2008

Discover the bookstore that isn't!

I'm a Time Out NY subscriber, but it's hard not to mock their article on why you should use the New York Public Library. All the points they make are great -- they even tout the online request system I've crowed about -- but calling it "the cheapest bookstore" just reminds me of this FAILblog item. Still, the library is a great resource... if only hipsters could figure it out by themselves.

(I was holding my breath waiting for TONY to name-check my personal "coolest branch," but they didn't.)

02 November 2008

All Souls

Before Michael Patrick MacDonald even knew the dangers of his own neighborhood, he was a living testament to them: He was given the names of his brother, Patrick Michael, who died of pneumonia when he was just a few weeks old because he was turned away at the hospital. Michael went on to lose 3 more brothers, and after a fourth was tried for his best friend's murder on incomplete and outright false evidence, MacDonald stopped running away from the neighborhood and decided to stay and fight for it.

Despite its vivid depictions of violence, MacDonald's memoir ALL SOULS is really the story of the decline and fall of South Boston. When Michael's mother Helen moved into the Southie projects with her 9 children, she had no illusions about the roach-infested, overheated and overcrowded apartment she was getting, paid for (like most of them) by welfare benefits. But Southie was known as a place where people looked out for each other -- until Boston busing efforts created violent opposition and a new strain of racism directed at nearby neighborhoods like Roxbury.

Too young to understand the epithets thrown around, Michael thought the protests were exciting; as an adult, though, he can see the irreparable damage they did both to the kids who dropped out rather than be bused and the neighborhood's reputation in the city. (He doesn't defend the racism that drove these protests, though.) After the attacks on other neighborhoods, drugs took over thanks to Whitey Bulger, a local gang leader who virtually ruled the neighborhood with his network of thugs, local ne'er-do-wells and corrupt cops.

Helen tried to raise her kids to "get out," but they fell prey to the local siren calls: Frankie escaped jail time by joining the Marines and then making a living as a boxer, only to be lured in by cocaine; Kevin started dealing before he turned 13 but couldn't give it up even after his daughter was born, and Kathy went from a disco lover doing a little angel dust into a coma. The author himself spent his teen years alternately hiding in the downtown punk scene and trying to protect his two little brothers from stray bullets and crazed addicts.

It's rare to read a memoir like this in which a clear villain is singled out, and compared to THE CORNER MacDonald's explanation is pretty simplistic: Whitey sold out the neighborhood for profit, taking advantage of its unrest, and abandoned it in shambles when it suited him.* At the same time, he doesn't zero in on the drugs themselves, only their effects on families like his. Sometimes it seems as though the power to "get out" is so close, but the urge for self-destruction -- or destruction at the hands of your neighbors -- is closer. The death of Michael's brother Davey is extremely acute even though it has nothing to do with Whitey. The question you're left asking is, why didn't anyone try to save Southie?

*Whitey, a partial inspiration for the Showtime program "Brotherhood," is currently on the lam after escaping in 1994 when he heard the FBI would be making arrests around Christmas. Have you seen him?

01 November 2008

Unbookening Month 9: The Great Library Meltdown

3 books gotten on Bookmooch
9 books checked out of the library
10 books received for review
Bought 4 books (including, Elizabeth, my very own copy of TOO TOO SOLID FLESH to review)
= 30 books in.

3 books given away on BookMooch
17 books returned to the library
Gave 7 books away
= 27 books out.

Hey, it's all right: I forecast November will be a big month for giving books away, as I stay in a bit more and try to save money for holiday fun.

The other books I bought, by the way, were Michelle Goodman's THE ANTI 9-TO-5 GUIDE and her follow-up, MY SO-CALLED FREELANCE LIFE as well as STATE BY STATE.

Books read in October 2008
139. Louis de Bernieres, A PARTISAN'S DAUGHTER
140. Torsten Krol, CALLISTO

142. Julia Glass, I SEE YOU EVERYWHERE
143. Jim Bannister, ADDICTIONARY

144. Heather Armstrong (ed.), THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT MY DAD (IN THERAPY)
145. Twyla Tharp, THE CREATIVE HABIT
146. Kera Bolonik and Jennifer Griffin, FRUGAL INDULGENTS
147. Laura Lippman, HARDLY KNEW HER

149. Leslie Bennetts, THE FEMININE MISTAKE
150. Peter Gosselin, HIGH WIRE
151. Janice Erlbaum, GIRLBOMB

153. Michael Patrick MacDonald, ALL SOULS
154. John Niven, KILL YOUR FRIENDS
155. Shawna Yang Ryan, LOCKE 1928