Wednesday, November 23, 2011


This just in:  The NYT List of 100 Notable Books for 2011 is  available online!  I haven't had a chance to really study it yet, but as expected, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell made the cut.  Several of the books on my TBR list are listed, including A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles, Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, and This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman.  Looks like I'll be reading a lot of good books in the weeks and months to come!

I also think I will add some of the listed books to my TBR list after reading their reviews again.  I am interested in 11/22/63 by Stephen King after seeing it made the list.  I haven't read a Stephen King book in years, and sort of thought I was over him.  Maybe this one will renew my interest.  Another one that I will add is London Train by Tessa Hadley.  And finally, I will add Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn.  Moby Duck is the story of a person who is studying how garbage floats through the ocean by following a shipment of rubber ducks that actually fell overboard in 1992.

Can't wait to read!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Except for These 5 Things . . .

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman is the story of two sisters and their male friends and boyfriends.  The sisters are Emily, who is the twenty-something owner of a enterprise in the late 1990s, and Jessamine, who is younger, and struggling to finish school and/or find herself.  The men in their lives include "tree savers" Noah and Leon, young business executives Jonathan and Orion, a couple of rabbis, a book store owner, and their father.

Here are 5 things that I don't like about this book:

1.  It begins on page 1 with the simile "Like money, the rain came in a rush . . ."  Really?  Is that an appropriate simile?  I don't think that it is most people's experience that money comes in a rush or is like rain.  I think Goodman's idea here was to set the tone, by telling us that for some of the characters in this book money would fall from the sky like rain, but the simile came too early, and too obviously.

2.  At the beginning of the second chapter, George, the book store owner, is referred to without obvious sarcasm as being "old money, a Microsoft millionaire".  Now mind you, the story begins in the late 1990s.  I really don't think that someone who made their millions from Microsoft could be considered "old money" even now, a decade later. 

3.  Emily owns a business specializing in online data storage, and her boyfriend, Jonathan, owns a company focused on online security.  It is December 31, 1999.  They go to a New Year's Eve party together.  The phrase "Y2K" is nowhere in the book.  Now I know "Y2K" turned out to be a whole lot of nothing, but would the CEOs of an online data storage company and an internet security company really have been at a New Year's Eve party free from concern?  Shouldn't we at least have heard about them frantically planning for Y2K in the months leading up to the big night? 

4.  We are expected to believe that a person could not possibly win an admittedly complicated custody battle for less than $500,000 in attorney fees, and then that $1,000,000 is sufficient.  Really?

5.  Toward the end of the book, there is a relationship reveal that just doesn't work.  I don't want to give it away, but I would suggest that the reveal would be more believable and more interesting if the rabbis had known about it all along, and not told the others about it.

However, I don't hate the book as a whole.  The Cookbook Collector is a complicated story, and Goodman did her research in very specific areas including rare, old cookbooks and redwoods.  She tells the story of the boom and bust through Emily and Jonathan's examples, and her vocabulary from the era brings back memories of a more optimistic time.  There are a ton of well developed characters, but also some who are just place holders.

All told, if you stumble upon this book when you are looking for something good to pass the time, it is worth the read. 

Next up on CD:  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Still Reading:  As Always, Julia by Julia Child

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back to the War

When I started reading Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, I felt like I had read that story before.  Not in the sense that I had actually picked up that book and read it, but in the sense that I have read so many stories of the civilians of World War II, that I was wondering if I was getting a little burnt out on them. 

TWSU  is divided into two parts, with one story set in Germany from 1939-1945, and the other set in Minnesota from 1993-1997.  At first, the German story had echos of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, with a German girl hiding a Jewish man who was even named Max in both stories.  The more modern story started off in practically the same way as Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, with the death of the father, the mother who wouldn't talk to her daughter, the mother's decline in health, and even a university study relating to the mother's war years.  However, TWSU could not have stolen it's story from these other two, since it was published years before either of them.

My interest was piqued when I understood the angle of the university study, which Trudy, the daughter of the German mother, Anna, was conducting.  Trudy was born in Germany during the war, and then grew up to be a university professor teaching German studies.  Her project focused on how German civilians could live with themselves after the war.  Obviously, this is a thinly veiled accusation of her mother, but Trudy learns more than she anticipated. 

A comparison that I didn't expect to make is that Anna's predicament during the war was really not so unlike Ma's situation in Room by Emma Donoghue.  A Nazi officer falls in love with Anna, and provides her with food and supplies not available to other civilians.  However, Anna doesn't have any choice in the relationship and must do as he wishes.  The children in the stories, Jack in Room and Trudy in TWSU, both think of their mother's captor as a person who brings them gifts, like Santa Claus.  Jack refers to the kidnapper as "Old Nick" in reference to "Old St. Nick", and Trudy refers to Horst as "St. Nikolaus".   A significant difference between Anna and Ma is that if Ma had managed to escape, the neighbors would have helped her.  Anna's neighbors see her as an enemy deserving of their scorn.

All told, once I was able to spot the differences that made this story unique, I didn't want to put TWSU down.  And I am certainly not done with my "Civilians of World War II" genre.

Next Up:  As Always, Julia:  the letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Julia Child

Still Listening to:  The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

Friday, November 11, 2011


Tonight I went to my library's semi-annual used book sale, and scored some new-to-me books for my nightstand.  While I was hoping for some Murakamis, that was not to be.  Instead, I came home with some interesting finds. 

I'm most intrigued by The Savage Detectives  by Roberto Bolano.  I was really only interested in this one because I am trying to work my way up to reading 2666 by the same author.  But, when I got home, I found random stuff crammed inside the pages, including a bus ticket from Paris, a currency exchange receipt from a Spanish speaking country, and a Chilean currency exchange chart.  I'm curious whether I got this book from a person with sloppy habits, a person who wants to brag that he's been where the story is set, or a person who is trying to provide me with useful information that will assist in my understanding of the book.  My guess is the second, but I'm interested anyway.

Next, I found another book by Sarah Waters.  This one is called Fingersmith.  I loved The Little Stranger, and have blogged about it often.  At the last book sale, I bought Tipping the Velvet by Waters.  However, I still haven't gotten around to reading TTV.  I think my expectation of a lesbian love story is scaring me off.  Maybe Fingersmith will be a better transition for me to Waters' earlier works.

Then, I got My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk.  I really liked Museum of Innocence by this author, even though I wouldn't call it one of my favorites, and I can't even say why I liked it as much as I did.  My Name is Red has great reviews, and I am excited to read it too.

I also picked up The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pulitzer and which Amazon constantly recommends to me, Lit by Mary Karr, which has fallen on to and off of my TBR list a few times, and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon.  I tend to either love or hate memoirs, so I think that is why I have put off reading Lit for so long.  The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has a sticker in it indicating that it is From the Library of Edward Sullivan, and is also embossed as being from The Library of EJS, E J Sullivan, III.  Apparently, he didn't want to lose it.

There are several "novel challenges" that will begin on January 1, 2012, including 2 that I have found so far that challenge the participant to read as many books as possible that the reader already owns.  I plan to pick a challenge, and then, after Christmas, post a list of the books that I have, and that I hope to read in 2012.  The pressure is on for me to clean out my nightstand now, before I have to tell you everything that I have kept hidden inside.

Sorry, I had to stop blogging for a moment, in order to observe 11:11 on 11/11/11.  According to my daughter, during that minute (and at the same minute 12 hours earlier) we could wish for whatever we wanted, and our wishes will come true as long as we don't tell them.  How could I not wish for her to keep wishing?  She didn't have school today, and by a gift of fate I was with her for both wishes.  Yes, she is 11, and yes, we have discussed that she will also be 22 at 2:22 on 2/22/22, but my guess is that won't be quite as good.  No comments about how I shouldn't allow my 11 year old to be awake this late - it's a special occasion, right?

Still reading: Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Still Listening to:  The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Friends Book Report - 3

Tonight the Friends Book Group (or a portion thereof) met to discuss The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  There were only 3 of us there!  I guess people weren't excited about reading this book.  Of the three of us, two thought the book was so-so, and the third really liked it. 

We all agreed that although the book was all about Hadley Hemingway, it was really a very shallow portrayal of her.  We would have liked to have known more about Hadley herself, and what made her so attractive to Ernest Hemingway, and her many friends in Paris.  Several topics, such as Ernest's depression, were mentioned in passing, but not really shown to the reader.  The many suicides in Hadley's family and Ernest's family were not mentioned until the end of the book. Knowing more about their shared history of family tragedy earlier in the story may have helped explain the Hemingways' relationship and its many complications.

Although it doesn't directly relate to her time in Paris, a little during-book-group-Googling told us that Hadley and Ernest's grandchildren are Mariel and Margaux Hemingway.  It seems like this might be something that Hadley would have bragged about, or at least hinted at.

All told, we found the story interesting, but wanted more.

Next up:  State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Still Reading:  Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Still Listening to:  The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman.  I am really not liking this book, but don't really have time to get to the library to get another.  I'm on disc 3 now, and I'm having a hard time looking forward to another 10 discs.  Either it will pick up and I'll be back raving about it, or it will drive me crazy enough to give up on it, in which case I will be sure to tell you why.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Safe Keeping

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a sweet but predictable story about a boy who befriends an American born Japanese girl, growing up in Seattle during World War II.  The twist that makes this story interesting is that the boy, Henry, is Chinese, and that the difference matters in the 1940s.  In 2011, people who are not part of the Asian community frequently refer to people of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese descent all as being "Asian", or if the speaker is over 60, as being "Oriental".  In the 1940s, whether a person was Japanese or Chinese made a huge difference, even when both people were actually born in the US.  The Chinese were our friends, and the Japanese were our enemies.

The story in Hotel alternates between the war years of the 1940s, and 1986, when the belongings of several Japanese families were found in the basement of an old hotel.  In 1986, Henry is still living in Seattle, but now he has an adult son.  At the beginning, the relationship between Henry and his son, Marty, is much like the relationship between the Major and his son in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.  Like the Major, Henry has recently lost his wife, and his relationship with his son has suffered.  Both sons are dating white American women, and judge their fathers harshly.  However, as Hotel progresses, the relationship evolves in unexpected ways.

The story of the Japanese internment was told by Henry, who was not "evacuated for his own safety" like the Japanese.  He struggles to understand how Americans are turning against each other, based solely on the countries of their grandparents' birth.  Another book that tells the story of the internment of the Japanese in America is When the Emperor Was Divine  by Julie Otsuka.  Emperor details the lives of various members of a Japanese American family, in a way that is more harsh, and probably more real than that in Hotel.

Next up on CD:  The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman.  I started listening to this one today, and am not impressed so far.  Hopefully the plot will thicken in the second and subsequent chapters.

Still Reading:  Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Beyond Me

Truth is . . . Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip by Lisa Robertson is way out of my league.  I'm a person who can enjoy a book of poetry now and again, but I really have no idea what I just read.  Robertson's poems are full philosophical references, science and proportion.  I am sure she is right, but I am not sure what she said.

Some lines that I liked:

Dirt is tired of giving.  We sigh at our expired
work, envious of the luck of our
parents.  We walk to the bar with stooped shoulders.

. . . .

You have to realize that a parallel materiality also spontaneously resists our will.
Place here the catalogue of hungers.
Call it the future.

from First Spontaneous Horizontal Restaurant

The woman in your midst may be kneeling or seated or may simply be drawn out of scale.

from Wooden Houses

I found this book on last year's NYT Notable Book List.  For the first time in recent memory, I have read all of the books that I added to my TBR list after reading the Notable Book List before the following year's Notable Book List came out!  The next list should be out by the end of the month, and I can't wait to see what is on it.

Magenta Soul Whip was heavy and hard.  I finished it last night, and immediately picked up Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum.   Compared to Magenta, Those Who Save Us  seemed light and childish.   Maybe I absorbed more from Robertson than I realized.

Next up:  Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Still Listening to:  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
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