Porch_Reader (Amy) Reads in 2012 - Part 2
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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Theologian Howard Thurman in The Gifts of Imperfection
Welcome to my second thread for 2012! I love hearing from you or just knowing that you are out there lurking. I had a great reading start to 2012, and I’m hoping that I can keep it up through the spring.
First quarter summary:
Read Aloud: 4
Every Last One
Every Thing On It
We Wanted to Be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers' Workshop
The Christmas Genie
*Oryx and Crake
*Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us
*Salvage the Bones
This is Where I Leave You
*The Upright Piano Player
The Lost Hero
Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally
Roscoe Riley Rules #3: Don't Swap Your Dog for a Sweater
*Running the Rift
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
*Here Lies Linc
An Unexpected Twist
*The Sisters Brothers
The Throne of Fire (The Kane Chronicles, Book Two)
The World according to Humphrey
*The Sense of an Ending
*The Last Werewolf
*The Checklist Manifesto
Murder in the Marais
The Big Dance: The Story of the NCAA Basketball Tournament
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
*When She Woke
One of my goals was to read more books by some of my favorite authors and by new-to-me authors. Here are my original lists, along with the books I have read for each.
John Irving - A Widow for One Year - June 11, 2012; The Hotel NewHampshire - July 19, 2012
John Green - Looking for Alaska - April 30, 2012; The Fault in Our Stars - July 7, 2012
Bonnie Campbell - Q Road - May 31, 2012
Shel Silverstein – Every Thing On It – January 1, 2012
Gary D. Schmidt - Okay for Now - August 29, 2012
I’d also like to read some authors whose books I've never read, including:
Margaret Atwood - Oryx and Crake - January 6, 2012
Mario Vargas Llosa - Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter - February 16, 2012
J.D. Salinger - The Catcher in the Rye - April 10, 2012
Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending - March 3, 2012
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Daphne Du Maurier
Lan Samantha Chang
Ernest J Gaines
Laurie Halse Anderson
Luis Alberto Urrea - The Hummingbird's Daughter - April 6, 2012
Carol Shields - The Stone Diaries - August 9, 2012
Paul Auster - Sunset Park - August 11, 2012
I’d love to add more names to this list. Feel free to suggest your own favorite authors.
I love the Howard Thurman quote! Amen. My congrats on the new thread, too, Amy. Looks like you're having a nice variety of reading.
Great quote and spacious new thread! Oh, and a nice quarterly summary as well.
I agree with ronincats, great quote! I am adding it to my "cool quotes" file.
Keep up the great reading!
Hi Amy, love your lists up top. Is your JD Salinger one Catcher in the Rye? I read that recently, loved it. And if your Gabriel Garcia Marquez book will be One Hundred Years of Solitude, I have that one to knock off before the end of the year too *promises self not to brush it aside for a shiny new one*
Thanks, everyone, for checking in! It's nice to have some company on my new thread.
#12 - Megan - Yes, my J. D. Salinger will be Catcher in the Rye. It is on my shelf, so I should get to it soon. It looks like it will be a quick read. I'm glad to hear that you loved it! I'm not sure which Marquez book I'll read. One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera have both been recommended to me. I don't have either of them, so I may see which I can pick up at the used store. The shiny new books get me too. Despite the fact that my shelves are bursting, the books that I don't own always seem to call most loudly!
#13 - Reba - Richard Russo - great idea! I've read several, but not all, of his books, and I really like him. I'll add him to my favorite authors list. I just saw that he has a new book coming out in June - Interventions. It is a novella and three short stories. Each is individually bound and paired with a full color print of a painting done by his daughter. It sounds lovely!
Hi Amy, what an uplifting quote to start off your new thread. I like the idea of having an author wish list. It's good to see you're making progress on it. I'll be watching for the new release by Russo. I didn't know that his daughter was an artist. I learn something new on LT almost every day!
Hi Amy, I like a lot of the same authors as you do and you reminded me that I have two bonnie Jo Campbell books on my shelf. Have you ever read any of Kate Grenville's books? She's one of my favorites.
I'll be on the lookout for Russo's new one -- I've only read two of his (Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs) but I loved them both. The pairing with paintings done by his daughter sounds great.
#16 - Thanks, Donna! I didn't know that Russo's daughter was an artist either, until I went to see which of his books I haven't read and saw the new release. His plan is to celebrate the printed book by creating a beautiful product. I'm excited to see how it turns out!
#17 - Bonnie - Great suggestion! I put one of Kate Grenville's books on my TBR after seeing it on your thread. I'll add her to my new-to-me author list.
#18 - Reba - Empire Falls is one of my favorites. I also really liked Straight Man.
Book #34: Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake - Anna Quindlen - Finished April 4, 2012
Category: early reviewer
Anna Quindlen captures real life experiences in a way that makes me feel like she is writing about my life, while articulating my thoughts so much more clearly than I could myself. In this colllection of essays, she invites us inside her life, sharing the joys and struggles of marriage and family, love and loss. Whether writing about details of everyday life or a pivotal moment like her mother's death, her insights had me alternately nodding in agreement and shedding a tear. Reading Anna Quindlen's essays is like sitting down for a visit with a wise friend. The combination of essays collected in this book fits nicely into a portrait of Quindlen's life. The final chapter is enticingly titled, "To Be Continued. . ." I can only hope so.
Book #35: I Think I Love You - Allison Pearson - Finished April 5, 2012
We first meet Petra when she is thirteen. This is an awkward time in her life. She struggles to fit in with friends and to survive life with her strict mother. But, by far, most important part of her life is her undying devotion to David Cassidy. She and her friend Sharon devour the David Cassidy fan magazines, but little does she know that the monthly letters from David and even the Ulimate David Cassidy Quiz are written by Bill, a writer whose perspective is innerwoven with that of Petra's.
Part two of the book fast forwards 25 years. Petra is a responsible adult who works as a music therapist and is mourning the loss of her mother and the break-up of her marriage. While cleaning out her mother's things, she discovers a secret that puts her and Sharon in touch with both Bill and her teen idol David Cassidy. The somewhat improbable ending is nonetheless satisfying.
I wasn't quite sure what to think of the first half of this book. Petra's mom is stereotypically harsh. While Pearson captures the inner life of a thirteen-year-old girl quite nicely, the David obsession gets a bit tiresome. But the story comes together in the second half. The adult Petra is likeable (although not so likeable as her friend Sharon, who is absolutely a hoot), and her response to being pulled onto memory lane is believable. This isn't great literature, but it is a fun engaging story. It also worked quite well on audio.
I Think I Love You sounds surprisingly appealing. It doesn't sound like something that I would normally pick up on my own, but your review makes it sound pretty good! That's one of the best things about LT - finding books you otherwise never would have read. Thanks.
Just put Straight Man on my Kindle -- can't wait to start it. In buying it I was also reminded I've read That Old Cape Magic by Russo -- it was good but I preferred the other two.
#22 - Dejah - I Think I Love You was a book that I passed up several times. I liked I Don't Know How She Does It, Pearson's earlier book, because it was about the juggling act of a working mom, something that I can identify with. But I wasn't sure how much I'd identify with the 13-year-old teen idol stage - I didn't really go through that. But since I was able to listen on audio, I thought I'd give it a try. It was a fun listen. Not earthshaking - but I like lighter books for audio.
#23 - Reba - Can't wait to see how you like Straight Man!
Book #36: The Hummingbird's Daughter - Luis Alberto Urrea - Finished April 6, 2012
I saw Luis Alberto Urrea read from his new book, Queen of America a couple of weeks ago. If you ever have the opportunity to see him read, do it! He is amazing. Queen of America is the sequel to The Hummingbird's Daughter. Both books are about Urrea's distant relative Teresita, who became the Saint of Cabora in the late 1800's. So, Urrea began the reading by telling stories about his family. Then he had memorized the part of his book that he was going to read, so it was more like a performance than a reading. It was impossible not to want to know more about Teresita and her relatives after that.
I bought Queen of America at the reading and had it signed. But even though Urrea said that The Hummingbird's Daughter and Queen of America could each stand alone, I decided that I wanted to read them in order. So I started with The Hummingbird's Daughter.
I was pulled into Teresita's story from page one. As the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy rancher, Teresita grew up learning from the ranch's medicine woman. As Civil War brewed in Mexico, it became clear that Teresita had special powers, and soon she was revered as a saint. The conflict on the ranch and in Mexican society is the backdrop for Teresita's story, and as with good historical fiction, Teresita's story makes the historical context come to life. The variety of characters on the ranch are complex, distinct, and permit no stereotypes. I felt as though I was hearing Teresita's whole story from the lips of a gifted storyteller.
Book #37: The Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger - Finished April 10, 2012
Category: new-to-me author, classic
How is it possible that I've never read this book? Reading this book was like crawling in the head of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield. We meet Holden as he is being kicked out of another boarding school. To postpone telling his parents, he spends a few days on his own in New York City. Holden is a unique kid, with a distinctive voice. Although I had a hard time believing that Holden was able to get away with some of the things he pulls off in NYC, I was willing to roll with it because Holden himself was so believable. I had to read the book in small chunks because I became so emotionally involved with him.
Glad you liked it! It is very realistic isnt it. I think he got away with so much in NYC as in those you had to have balls to impersonate an adult! (as it were)
Other than this, I dont recognise any of your other reads!
I read Catcher in high school and don't remember a thing about it -- probably should go back and re-read.
Glad you got around to that classic; it really is misunderstood because of it's sorta urban legend status among those who really haven't read it.
HinAmy, I read and loved The Hummingbird's Daughter a few years ago. Looks like I need to read the sequel now.
You also remind me that I need to read and review Lots of Candles so I can look at the current ER selections. One of the rules I made for myself is no ER request until I read the one at the top of my TBR stack. It looks like a good one!
#29 - Megan - I agree! I thought Salinger really captured the inner life of a 16-year-old boy - at least what I think the inner life of a 16-year-old boy is like.
#30 - Reba - One of the things that I wondered while reading Catcher in the Rye was how I would have reacted to it if I had read it in high school. I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as much as I did at 40.
#31 - Hi Jenn! I definitely think that you should check out The Hummingbird's Daughter. I loved that one. And I do have to admit that there were times that being inside Holden's head was difficult.
#32 - Mac - I really had no idea what The Catcher in the Rye was about before I read it. I knew Holden Caulfield was the main character, but I had no idea why it was considered such a great book. I'm glad I read it too.
#33 - Hi Donna! - I'm reading a few other books to cleanse my palette before I move onto Queen of America, but I'm really looking forward to it. And that's a good rule about ER books. I have one more to catch up on. I got Behind the Dream, which is the story behind Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech.
I had kind of a blah week at work last week. One of my research papers got rejected from the journal I submitted it to (not unusual, but still disappointing), and I tried to analyze some data that is just not cooperating. So, on Friday afternoon, I decided to turn the week around with a trip to my favorite used bookstore - The Haunted Bookshop. I took my list of authors I want to read (see post #4) and ended up buying Middlesex and The Idea of Perfection. A big thanks to Bonnie for recommending Kate Grenville. The Idea of Perfection looks like a good one!
So sorry about your paper. Academia is a tough world sometimes.
High school was a long time ago for me so I don't remember exactly what my reaction to Catcher was but the fact that I don't remember anything about it says a lot. I don't really think I understood it very well, but I was 15 or 16 myself at the time.
Sorry about the research paper rejection, Amy. I remember that stress when I was still thinking I would pursue the academic route. Hopefully you got some good feedback for a possible resubmit?
I have Kate Grenville on my stack, too: The Secret River.
eta: by the way, I may borrow your idea of making a list of authors you want to read and keeping track of what you read and when --- another good use of the LT thread!
Thanks, Reba and Ellen! I just started reanalyzing the data today and think that I may have a new angle that we can explore when we revise the research paper. At least the reviewers were very nice this time. A reviewer on my last paper commented, "Obviously, the authors are just trying to make something out of a bad research design." Thank goodness for thick skin!
#35 - Reba - It does say something that you don't remember anything about The Catcher in the Rye. I'm not sure it would have affected me as much in HS as it did now.
#36 - Ellen - Feel free to borrow the author list idea. I was having trouble keeping up with my TBR list and wanted to read some new authors this year. So far, it is working out pretty well. I'll have to look for The Secret River. My used bookstore had several books by Kate Grenville.
*Happily waving back at Stasia!* What a smile you brought to my face, my friend. Hope all is well with you and your family!
Book #38: Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman - Finished April 16, 2012
Category: Booker shortlist
Harrison Opuku is an 11-year-old boy who has moved with his mother and older sister from Ghana to the housing projects of London. It is through his eyes that we learn what life there is like – from the joy of a new pair of binoculars or bo-styles trainers to the terror of knife-wielding gangs and even a murder. Harrison is an engaging narrator. Life in the housing projects is foreign to him, so he provides a fresh look at things that others might take for granted. His turns of phrase – including “Advise yourself!” and “dope-fine” – give him a distinctive voice. However, as the mother of an 11-year-old boy, I recognized his apprehension at having his first girlfriend and his joy on the last day of school – experiences that my own son has as well, although in a much different environment.
However, about three-quarters of the way through this book, I began to tire of Harrison’s voice. His tendency to treat the dangers of the projects as if they were a game dulled my sense of horror at what Harrison faced every day. Perhaps the device of an 11-year-old narrator in such a serious situation was interesting, but unsustainable, I thought. And then I came to the ending. I won’t spoil it here, but I will go so far to say that it wasn’t until the ending that I appreciated what Kelman had done. By telling the story through Harrison’s eyes, he created a dissonance – violence seen through innocent eyes – that was more powerful than the unvarnished violence that an adult might describe.
#39: Doing just fine here. I hope you and your boys are doing fine too!
....dulled my sense of horror at what Harrison faced every day. Yikes, that sounds sad.
I hate to think that someone coming from the slums of Ghana to the suburbs of London may have placed themselves in a worse situation. Presumably the move was designed to improve life.
#41 - Stasia - We are doing great! Soccer and baseball season are underway, and the boys are in their element.
#42 - Jenn - I'll be interested to hear what you think of Pigeon English. It is the kind of book that I wanted to talk about after I read it.
#43 - I thought Pigeon English was quite sad, Megan, maybe even sadder because of Harrison's generally upbeat attitude. I really felt for his mother who had to work a lot to support the family, leaving Harrison and his sister to fend for themselves.
Book #39: Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation - Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly - Finished April 18, 2012
Category: early reviewer, leadership
Clarence B. Jones was an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. He helped to write the speech that Dr. King was to deliver at the March on Washington, and he was on the dais when King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. This book isn't a comprehensive history of the forces that shaped the speech or the events that occurred on that momentous day. Instead, Jones provides a first-person account of his role in the events. And because of his proximity to Dr. King, Jones's perspective is intimate and interesting. Jones provides insight into the challenges involved in organizing the March and mediating the conflicts between the groups involved. He shares how the speech was shaped by a circle of advisors meeting in the hotel lobby the night before the March. And perhaps most powerfully, he shares his experience of hearing King begin the speech with words that Jones himself had crafted and then go off-text when Mahalia Jackson shouted from the audience, "Tell them about the dream, Dr. King."
It must have been hard for Jones to write about his role in the events of August 28, 1963 without seeming immodest, but for the most part, he avoids self-congratulations and instead shines the light on his friend Martin. I learned much that I didn't know about that historical day and the unparalleled "I Have a Dream" speech. And when I turned the last page, I found myself wanting to read more about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Highly recommended for those who enjoy seeing history come to life.
#45: Highly recommended for those who enjoy seeing history come to life.
Well, that would be me! I will have to look for the book. Thanks for the recommendation, Amy.
#46 - Stasia - I thought this might be one that you would like. Didn't you read quite a few books about the Civil Rights Movement not long ago? If there were any that you particularly enjoyed, I'd love the recommendations.
Yes, I have been dipping my toes into Civil Rights reading. It depends on how far back into the Civil Rights movement you want to go because the movement really started before the term was used. One of my favorite reads was The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois, written well before the movement was a movement. He so eloquently expresses the state of blacks at that time. Arc of Justice is another good book that, although not explicitly dealing with the Civil Rights movement, does show the situation that many blacks found themselves in: between a rock and a hard place. Christopher Paul Curtis' book The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 is a good young adult book set in the Civil Rights era. Hellhound on His Trail is about the manhunt for Martin Luther King's killer.
Is that enough to start? I have read biographies of several of people involved with the Civil Rights movement too. There is also Taylor Branch's excellent trilogy, Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan's Edge, which I have started but have been unable to complete as of yet.
That's a great list, Stasia! I've been thinking about tackling the Taylor Branch trilogy. Maybe this summer. One of the things that I learned from Behind a Dream is that W.E.B. DuBois died on the day of the March on Washington. Clarence Jones found out and passed a note to Dr King so that it could be announced. He really was one of the early voices of the movement.
If I might pipe up with another Civil Rights book suggestion, I greatly enjoyed Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation. It's a great (nonfiction) look at the whole long history that led up to the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed school segregation. Lots of history that I was completely unaware of, including a tiny part played by the University of Iowa College of Law.
#50 - Thanks, Julia! Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation sounds like a great book, especially with the U of Iowa mention.
Book #40: Gregor the Overlander - Suzanne Collins - Finished April 21, 2012
Category: series, audio, juvenile
I heard this book mentioned on Books on the Nightstand as a good one to listen to on audio, so I picked it up at the library. I thought it would be a nice diversion on my drives to work, but I was only a chapter or two in when I realized that Gregor was more than just a nice diversion. This is an excellent quest story. When Gregor and his little sister Boots fall down a chute in their laundry room, they find themselves in an underground world filled with crawlers (roaches), spinners (spiders), flyers (bats), and humans. Gregor soon comes to suspect that his dad, who has been missing for months, may have met a similar fate. It is up to Gregor to lead a quest to find his father and save the underlanders from the crafty rats. The plot is quick. Gregor is an unlikely hero who grows into his role. Boots adds a lovely comic element. (She is only two and is able to win over the other questers.) And Collins has created an interesting world in the underland. This is the first in a five-book series. I'm hoping to get my kids interested in listening to this one.
Book #41: The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - Finished April 21, 2012
Category: series, YA
It is possible that I am the last person to read this book. I avoided it because I wasn't sure that I wanted to read a book in which teenagers are made to fight to the death. Then I avoided it because of all the hype. But a good friend of mine, who is perhaps the next-to-the-last person to read this book, recently read it and loaned her copy to me so that we could talk about it. So, I thought I'd read at least a chapter or two. And then I was hooked.
I can understand why this book is so popular. It is fast-paced, with action and romance. The characters are either very likeable or downright evil. There are a few plot twists (although they are somewhat transparent). And as in all good dystopian fiction, Collins walks a thin line between the fantastic ("that could never happen") and the possible ("that's just a step or two beyond where we are now"). While The Hunger Games won't be mistaken for great literature, it has gotten people excited about reading. Perhaps it will be a gateway to Margaret Atwood or Cormac McCarthy for some people. And that's OK by me.
So glad you enjoyed Gregor the Overlander! I really adore the characters in that one. I recommend the rest of the books, but will say that the plots aren't HUGELY varied as they all follow the same quest- type format. But there are some wonderful moment and lessons in them. And I greatly appreciate that, in all her work, Collins never shies away from showing the pain and loss children experience when "grown-ups" are in the business of war, oppression, and conquest. Can't wait to see how you like the others.
Just a word of warning--after the first book, the Gregor books plot line just keeps going, no natural stopping points, so have the next one available at all times.
Just finished re-reading The Catcher in the Rye. I still can't relate to it. Crawling into the head of a teenager is definitely an interesting perspective, I just can't imagine any 16-year-old guy I've ever known being like that. He seems amazingly immature on the one hand and gets away with surprising things on the other.
Behind the Dream sounds very worthwhile - I may give it a shot when I get back in a non-fiction reading mode. I'm afraid I've wallowing in fiction, lately, especially rereads.
The Hunger Games won't be mistaken for great literature LOL! Yes, indeed, I have to agree, but it was fun. I'll have to see the movie when it's out on dvd.
I have fond, if somewhat disturbing memories of Catcher in the Rye - I think part of the impression it made on me was because I went to boarding school myself. It may be time to reread it.
Hi everyone! Thanks for keeping my thread company this week. This has been a crazy week for me, but just two more weeks until the semester is completely over!
#54 - Leah - I loved the characters in Gregor the Overlander too. I think that will carry me through some similar plots. I can be pretty patient with plot if I like hanging out with the characters.
#55 - Thanks for the advice, Roni. I got the audio for #2 and #3 in the series at the library last week, but it sounds like I'd better get #4 and #5 ready too.
#56 - Thanks, Julia! I would love to borrow Root and Branch. I'd better get through the end of the semester first - just one more week of classes and then finals week. I'll give you a call once I've got a little more reading time.
#57 - He seems amazingly immature on the one hand and gets away with surprising things on the other. That's a good observation, Reba. I think that is some of the challenge of the teenaged years. You get a driver's license and a lot more freedom, but the maturity isn't always quite there.
#58 - Dejah - Behind the Dream would be a good jump back into non-fiction. It is a fairly quick read. I'll be interested to hear what you think of Catcher in the Rye if you re-read it. I can imagine that the boarding school parts would be even more impactful if you'd been to boarding school yourself.
Book #42: Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo - Finished April 28, 2012
Category: narrative non-fiction
From November 2007 through March 2011, Katherine Boo immersed herself in life in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai in the shadow of an international airport and luxurious hotels. It is this contrast between an India that is an integral part of the global economy and an India in which a single room provides shelter for large families that helps us understand what Annawadi is like. By focusing on a few representative residents of Annawadi - Abdul, a teenager who is trying to earn a better life for his family by recycling garbage; Asha, a woman who is trying to make the political system work to her advantage; Kalu, a scrap-metal thief - Boo brings the settlement to life. There are no stereotypes here - just the details that come from over three years of in-depth reporting. Boo brings light to a story that might otherwise have remained hidden behind an advertisement for Italian floor tiles that promised a beautiful forever, something that the residents of Annawadi hope and strive for as well.
>60: That's one of those books I'm afraid to read because of how emotional I'm sure it will be, but that I feel I really need to read to better understand the world.
Well, Amy, you're not the last to read The Hunger Games because I have not yet read it -- and have no plans to do so. On the other hand, your review of Pigeon English resonated for me quite well; I read it last year and had a similar experience. It had an emotional punch that snuck up on me because Harrison's voice was so naively upbeat.
I have The Souls of Black Folk on my TBR pile. Maybe we could do a GR at some point.
#61 - Faith - Behind the Beautiful Forevers was a very emotional book, but it had moments of hope in it too. I'm glad that it is getting so much attention. It is definitely an important book.
#62 - Ellen - Harrison is still in my head, and I think that he'll be there for a while. I'll be interested to see what Kelman writes next. Also, I'd love to do a group read of The Souls of Black Folk sometime - maybe this summer? It seems like a book that would be good to be able to discuss while reading it.
#63 - I agree that it would be good to have discussion opportunity. I would be interested in doing a GR in the summer (perhaps August?).
Book #43: Population: 485 - Michael Perry - Finished April 29, 2012
Category: book club
We are reading Population: 485 for my real-life book club this month. In it, Michael Perry shares his unique perspective on the small Wisconsin town in which he lives. After being away for a number of years, he returned to his hometown and joined the fire department. As volunteer firefighter and first responder, he is called to help neighbors who he has known for years and even family members. While the book as a whole is a bit disconnected, there are passages that are beautifully written about his experiences as a firefighter and about the experience of living in a small town. I grew up in a town of just over 300 and currently live in a town of just over 2000, and I was impressed at Perry's ability to capture the experience of small town life.
#64 - Ellen - August sounds good to me. I'll make myself a note to check back in with you then!
Hi Amy, nice review of Beautiful Forevers. I have that one lined up to read...soon. I think I saw a preview of that way of life in "Slumdog Millionaire."
You've done something I haven't experienced -- lived in a small town. My husband says I would hate it. What does he know? We've only been married 43 years! Maybe I should just read your last book and call it good.
#67 - Donna - I haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire yet. I'll have to put that on my Netflix list. And I agree with your husband that small towns have their drawbacks, but there is a lot that I love about living in a small town - although having a big town nearby is a must.
Book #44: Looking for Alaska - John Green - Finished April 30, 2012
I discovered John Green last year. Both Paper Towns and Will Grayson, Will Grayson were among my favorite books of 2011. Green writes teenagers with honesty and empathy. He's funny and wise and insightful. He's one of my favorite YA authors.
Looking for Alaska is Green's debut novel, and I suspect that it is more than a little autobiographical. Miles Halter attends a boarding school in Alabama and is fascinated by famous last words, just like John Green. And perhaps because of these similarities, Miles jumps off the page. His experiences at boarding school - making friends, falling in love, and seeking a Great Perhaps (a concept from the last words of Francois Rabelais) - are believable and layered. Sweetness and sadness, tears and laughter, combine in a way that is sentimental but not sappy. Although I think that Green's later novels are slightly more polished, this one is raw and fresh, like Miles and his friends. I was sad when it ended, but like Quentin Jacobsen (from Paper Towns) and Will Grayson (both of them), Miles Halter and his friends will stick with me for a while.
Books Read = 11
Fiction = 7
Non-fiction = 4
Poetry = 0
Read-aloud = 0
Off-the-shelf = 4
Group reads = 1
Best Fiction of the Month: The Hummingbird's Daughter
Other Great Fiction: Pigeon English, Looking for Alaska
Best Nonfiction: Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Other Great Nonfiction: Behind the Dream; Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
Nice review of Looking for Alaska, Amy! That's one of his I haven't read yet, and now I will.
Thanks, Anita and Joe! My book club is going to read The Fault in Our Stars for July, so I'm looking forward to reading another John Green book then!
Today was the library book sale in Coralville, Iowa, which is near where I live. I managed to fill my two tote bags with some good books. Here's my haul:
The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka
Wait Till Next Year - Doris Kearns Goodwin
That Old Cape Magic - Richard Russo
Niagara Falls All Over Again - Elizabeth McCracken
Death Comes to Pemberley - P. D. James
Unless - Carol Shields
The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields
Tinkers - Paul Harding
The Farming of Bones - Edwidge Danticat
To Siberia - Per Petterson
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
Netherland - Joseph O'Neill
Emily, Alone - Stewart O'Nan
The Empty Family - Colm Toibin
I also got three that I've read before (from the library), but that I thought my mom would like:
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson
A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
Book #45: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating - Elisabeth Tova Bailey - Finished May 3, 2012
I read about this book on the blog ReadAllDay, and the topic intrigued me. A woman who is bedridden with a serious illness watches a snail living in a plant by her bedside. After seeing several good reviews on your threads, I picked it up at the library.
Bailey has written a slow, gentle book. She writes only briefly about the illness that makes turning from one side to the other a chore. More time is spent on her observations of the snail who shares her days and nights, and her research about snails in general. The slow pace of the snail matches her energy levels and becomes the focus of her attention. The book made me count my blessing while also making me feel the need to slow down of my own accord so that I don't miss the sound of a wild snail eating.
I loved "the snail book", Amy and I'm so glad you enjoyed it as well. As for your book sale haul, you got some good ones! Several I've read and loved, and several that are on my wishlist. Well done!
You've been reading some great books, Amy, and your library haul was excellent!
#76 and #77 - Thanks, Julia and Dejah! I love a good library book sale!
Book #46: Open City - Teju Cole - Finished May 6, 2012
Category: TBR list
This book is hard to review. It's hard to summarize. And I'm not even sure if I would recommend that you read it, although I am glad that I read it, and I appreciate the skill with which Cole writes. This book made several "best of 2011" lists, and it did quite well in the Powell/Morning News Tournament of Books, but even those who like it seem to have a hard time describing exactly why they liked it. On the surface, it is a book about Julius, a Nigerian immigrant who is doing his psychiatry residency in New York City. Julius walks the streets of New York and reflects. Occasionally, he interacts with someone else, but not often. Mostly this is a book about Julius's inner life, and what a complex inner life it is. Julius reflects on identity, on what it means to be different, on what it means to belong and to feel isolated. In the end, he arrives at few answers. But, despite the extreme differences between my life and Julius's, I felt a sense of affinity with him.
Still I wonder how much I will retain from this book. I suspect that I may remember what the reading experience felt like more than I'll remember any specific details. This book is multi-layered. I'm sure that there is much that I missed. For that reason, I think it would be a good book to read with a group. I think that it is one of those rare books that I'll read again someday.
Hi there - enjoying your reviews. I wanted to share this with you - http://lauren-gillespie.blogspot.com/2012/04/why-hunger-games.html - it's my friend's blog post on why reading The Hunger Games is important. I thought it was an interesting point of view.
Thanks for sharing that, Jenn! I really appreciated Lauren's perspective about The Hunger Games. I know that when I read the book, I thought a lot more about our society's perspective on violence and about what a slippery slope obsession with celebrity can become. I also enjoyed learning a little more about what influenced Collins as she wrote the book.
Book #47: The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity - Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer - Finished May 8, 2012
I don't read a lot of management books from cover-to-cover. I skim or read summaries. Many of them are somewhat repetitive or are based on weak evidence. But The Progress Principle is one of the best management books I've read lately. Amabile and Kramer asked 238 people on 26 project teams to complete daily surveys in which they rated their motivations, emotions, and perceptions and shared an event that happened that day. Based on analysis of this huge data set, Amabile and Kramer share some key findings, including the progress principle - making progress on meaningful work has the biggest positive impact on moods, motivation, and perceptions. Using stories from the teams they studied, they discuss how managers can support progress and uplift the people doing the work. They also provide some tips about how you can boost your motivation and mood by tracking your progress daily. Not only did I learn a lot from this book that I will share in my classes, but it also made me think about what I can do to make my work more motivating and enjoyable. It is rare to find a management book that is both evidence-based and highly readable, but The Progress Principle succeeds at both.
Great haul from the library sale!
I love coming home with a bag of books and stacking and re-stacking them :)
Back to the land of internet access :-) Love book sales!! I notice you got a Russo. I've read That Old Cape Magic and enjoyed it (though it's not my favorite). Looks like you've got a lovely stack there for reading on the porch this summer :-)
Hi Megan and Reba! I was pretty pleased with my library book sale stack. I sent three home with my mom when she visited on Friday, along with her Mother's Day present - Ivan Doig's McCaskill Trilogy. I definitely have plenty of reading for the summer!
Book #48: The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom - Finished May 10, 2012
Category: historical fiction, off-the-shelf
I was completely drawn into The Kitchen House. Grissom tells the story of Lavinia, an young girl from Ireland who is bought by a plantation owner and assigned to help his slaves in the kitchen house on his plantation. Lavinia is recently orphaned, but she soon finds a new family with Mama Mae, Papa George, their children, and Belle, who becomes like a mother to Lavinia. Grissom provides a nuanced view of what life is like for Lavinia, Mama Mae and her family, and the wife and children of the plantation owner. While the book is primarily written from two perspectives, Lavinia's and Belle's, Grissom shares the perspective of a number of other characters as well. The plot moves quickly, especially as Lavinia gets older and her role on the plantation shifts. The ending had me quickly turning pages until the climactic ending. This is an excellent example of historical fiction at its best.
Book #49: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt - Beth Hoffman - Finished May 13, 2012
Category: fiction, off-the-shelf
CeeCee Honeycutt is 12 years old, and she is completely embarassed by her mom, Camille. Camille wears pageant dresses around town and relives her days as 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. CeeCee's father travels for work and doesn't quite know how to handle Camille anyway, so CeeCee is left to deal with the situation. But when a tragedy occurs, Great Aunt Tootie and her cook Oletta take CeeCee to Savannah and give her the kind of love and support that her mentally ill mother just couldn't provide. Throughout her first summer in Savannah, CeeCee meets a cast of interesting neighbors and gradually comes to terms with her anger, guilt, and feelings of loss.
For the most part, I found this to be a light and enjoyable read despite the serious beginning. CeeCee is likeable, and I was happy to see her find a safe haven. There are some funny parts, like when the flamboyant next-door neighbor Miz Goodpepper comments, "I find all men to be very much like wearing high-heeled shoes - I love how pretty they make me feel, but by the end of the night I can't wait to get rid of them." However, some of the problems that CeeCee faces are tied up too quickly and a bit improbably. Hoffman introduces some difficult issues, like mental illness and discrimination, but doesn't fully explore them in all of their complexity.
But I have to admit that sometimes a light read and a happy ending, even an improbable one, are just what I need. Shortly after I started this book, I found out that my grandma had fallen and broken her hip. I spent a lot of time this weekend waiting to hear from my mom and trying to give her advice and support. This book held my attention and provided a nice distraction between calls.
Sorry to hear about your grandmother. I hope she is able to make a good recovery.
Book #49 just went onto the pile.
Best wishes for your Grandma. Broken hips are just no fun at all.
Thanks, everyone! My grandma is doing some better. She is back in her assisted living facility. She is able to get additional care in the same facility, so we are grateful that we don't have to move her.
Book #50 - The Homecoming of Samuel Lake - Jenny Wingfield - Finished May 18, 2012
Category: Early Reviewer
This book begins with a focus on the Moses family. In fact, we find out in the first sentence that John Moses, the family's patriarch, has died, leaving behind his wife Calla, his kids, and a combined grocery store/bar referred to as Moses Never Closes.
But as the book's title reveals, a large part of the story concerns Samuel Lake, husband of John's daughter Willadee and a pastor who has recently found himself without a pulpit. Samuel struggles to maintain the belief that God has a plan for him and his family, especially as the family is witness to the pure evil of the Moses' neighbor, Ras Ballenger. Ras abuses animals, his wife, and his children, and deserves the label of devil incarnate. As the adults in this story struggle with how to deal with Ras, it is an 11-year-old girl, Swan Lake, whose voice and heart ring loudest and clearest. When things seem to be at their darkest, Swan provides a much-needed balance to Ras's evil and a perspective that even the grown-ups in her life can learn from.
With a fast-paced plot and compelling characters, Wingfield kept me turning pages. But this is more than just a good story. Wingfield addresses difficult issues that many of us struggle with and does so in a way that is honest and real. This book is in my top 5 reads of the year so far.
This is one that we presently have in our leased books that I hope to get around to reading before we send it back. Of course, it may be one we end up keeping permanently and adding to our collection. A lot will depend on what else has a higher priority for retention.
My TBR stack is getting out control but your review of The Homecomingof Samuel Lake is so good I'm tempted...
I know it was up a way on the thread, but I absolutely adored The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. She did an incredible job of making a slow-paced, plodding story of a bed-ridden individual absolutely riveting... but also so peaceful and tranquil at the same time. Simply lovely.
I hope your Grandma is on the mend. And thank goodness for books that can hold one's attention through life's more challenging moments....
#94 - Lori - That must be tough deciding what to keep and what to let go, but I love the idea of having leased books. I'm on the library board of my small library, and we do a lot of inter-library loans, but only based on patron requests.
#95 - Reba - Add it! My TBR has taken several hits on your thread lately, so it's only fair that I contribute to your out-of-control TBR. :)
#96 - Faith - Well put! The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating was so well written. I put off reading it because I wasn't sure I'd love the subject, but she had me enthralled in the first few pages.
#97 - Thanks, Ellen! We are thankful that she is able to stay in her assisted living facility. She's having delusions, but they are mostly happy ones. She thought she went to an embroidery party in the country a few nights ago. When her husband was diagnosed with a Parkinson's-related disease almost 20 years ago, I gave her the Mitford series by Jan Karon to pass the time in hospital waiting rooms., so we have a long history of finding escape and comfort in books.
Book #51: Prep - Curtis Sittenfeld - Finished May 25, 2012
Prep tells the story of the four years that Lee Fiora spends at Ault, a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts. Lee is from South Bend, IN. Her father sells mattresses, and her mom is a bookkeeper. And because of this, she has some trouble adjusting to the privileged world of Ault and to the other students, many of whom come from families that she believe to be much different than her own. Sittenfeld captures Lee's adolescent insecurities perfectly. As I listened to the story, I felt uncomfortable at times, reminded of my own adolescent insecurities, which still rear their ugly heads at time. Since this is Sittenfeld's first book, I wondered how many of the experiences are at least semi-autobiographical. How else could one write a character that is so spot on?
However, the book felt a little long and repetitive to me (although I always wonder how much that is impacted by listening to a book on audio, which means it stretches over several weeks). The book is comprised of a few specific episodes from each of Lee's four years at Ault. While Lee makes some progress in finding her place at Ault, in some ways her insecurities are as strong in her senior year as they were in her freshman year. I kept expecting more growth from Lee. The book is told as a reflection by an adult Lee, so although we learn little about Lee as an adult, we do get the sense that she has become more comfortable in her own skin since boarding school.
Done :-) Now just to find time to actually sit down and read it.
#100 - Reba - I think if I stopped putting books on my TBR list today, I might be able to get through it in 10 years or so. But since everyone keeps reading such tempting books, I don't think I'll ever catch up!
Book #52: The Orphan Master's Son - Adam Johnson - Finished May 27, 2012
Category: book club
I know little about life in North Korea, so I was intrigued by descriptions of The Orphan Master's Son, which takes us inside this mysterious country. Pak Jun Do is the orphan master's son of the title, but he gradually grows closer to the center of the North Korean regime and the Dear Leader himself. The story itself is filled with twists and turns that made the 443 pages fly by, but it is Johnson's ability to make us understand what life is like in North Korea that made this such a fascinating book. While the atrocities committed by the North Korean government and the suffering of its citizens might certainly be viewed as pure evil, Johnson captures the struggles faced by those who are manipulated by the government and the varied ways in which the citizens react to the state's messages that it is the greatest nation in the world. The story of the orphan master's son carries the truths that Johnson wants to convey in a way that surpasses even the most compelling non-fiction. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about North Korea.
Book #53: The Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka - Finished May 29, 2012
This slim volume is a gem. In a few short chapters, Otsuka captures the experiences of Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s. Rather than illustrating this experience through the eyes of a few characters, the book is written in the first person plural. Here are the first few lines:
"On the boat we were mostly virgins. We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall. Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves."
In this way, we learn intimate details of the lives led by these "picture brides," women who came to America to meet their husbands. Despite the use of the first person plural, Otsuka conveys that the lives led by these women and their reactions to a new country were quite distinct. However, when World War II began, the Japanese immigrants were not treated as distinct people at all. Instead, they were sent away from their homes based on their collective identity, their Japanese heritage. With few words, but much emotion, Otsuka captures this experience as well. I expect that this book will stick with me because of its distinct style and sharp insights. Highly recommended!
It sounds wonderful ... I feel another Kindle buy coming on :-)
#104 - Reba - The Buddha in the Attic is one that I think I'll read again someday. The writing is just beautiful! Hope you are doing well.
Book #54: Q Road - Bonnie Jo Campbell - Finished May 31, 2012
Category: favorite authors
Campbell's Once Upon a River was one of my favorite books of 2011. When I heard her read from it, she mentioned that the main character, Margo Crane, played a small role in one of her earlier books, Q Road. Q Road was written in 2002, but I'm hoping that fans of Once Upon a River and American Salvage will seek out this earlier book.
Q Road takes place over the course of one day, October 9, 1999, with some flashbacks to round out the story. Rachel Crane, Margo's daughter, has recently married George Harland, who is many years her senior. George is trying to make a living on his family farm in rural Michigan, while farmland around him is being turned into subdivisions with prefab houses. But George still finds it in his heart to allow Sally, an alcoholic whose husband recently left her, and her son David to live rent-free on his land. Their stories intertwine with the stories of Steve and Nicole, Elaine, April May, and other residents of Q Road. Campbell has no problem keeping the threads of the story pulled taut in a way that propels the reader forward. The result is a portrait of life in rural Michigan and a meditation on the difficulties of being your own person while sharing your life with others.
This book placed Bonnie Jo Campbell solidly on my list of favorite authors, and I still haven't read American Salvage yet.
Nice review of The Buddha in the Attic, Reba. Thumb from me. I've been thinking of reading it, and this gives me a clearer picture of what it's about.
Thanks, Joe! I had read Otsuka's When the Emperor was Divine a year or so ago, and it is a more typical story of the fate of one Japanese-American family during World War II. It was beautifully written as well, but The Buddha in the Attic, with its first-person plural perspective, is just so different than anything else that I've read. It is definitely worth a read!
Books Read = 10
Fiction = 8
Non-fiction = 2
Poetry = 0
Read-aloud = 0 (My kids have been doing their own reading lately, but I'm hoping to convince them to let me read them at least one or two books this summer.)
Off-the-shelf = 6
Group reads = 1
Best Fiction of the Month: The Kitchen House, Q Road, The Orphan Master's Son (All so good, and so different, that I just can't choose one!)
Other Great Fiction: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, The Buddha in the Attic (Either of these would have been on the "best" list in another month. May was a good month for fiction!)
Best Nonfiction: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
I'm working on a Pulitzer right now ... Buddha is up next :-)
The Kindle Daily Deal the other day was The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating the other day so I snapped it up but couldn't remember who recommended it. Looks like it was you Amy. Now I can't wait to get to it.
I read and loved American Salvage but haven't gotten to Q Road or Once Upon a River even though I own both books. What's wrong with me?
#110 - Reba - Buddha will be a quick read. Hope you like it!
#111 - Bonnie - I bought The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating when it was the Kindle Daily Deal too. I had checked it out from the library and might want to read it again sometime. And I know exactly what you mean about having books on your shelf that you think you'll like, but just haven't gotten to yet. I am trying to read my way through a few of those this summer!
Book #55: Home - Toni Morrison - Finished June 2, 2012
Frank Money is a veteran of the Korean War. He arrives back in the US with the horrors of war fresh in his mind and is confronted by the prejudices faced by African Americans. It is against both of these demons that he struggles as he attempts to find his place. Although the story is told from an omniscient third-person perspective, short chapters told from Frank's first-person perspective are interspersed throughout the book. This technique, along with Morrison's ability to concisely convey emotions, results in a stark and compelling psychological and sociological study.
In contrast to a trend toward lengthy books that might benefit from editing, each word in Home serves a purpose and carries its weight. These sentences alone, describing Frank's hometown of Lotus, are worth the "price of admission":
"It was so bright, brighter than he remembered. The sun, having sucked away the blue from the sky, loitered there in a white heaven, menacing Lotus, torturing its landscape, but failing, failing, constantly failing to silence it: children still laughed, ran, shouted their games; women sang in their backyards while pinning wet sheets on clotheslines; occasionally a soprano was joined by a neighboring alto or a tenor just passing by. "Take me to the water. Take me to the water. Take me to the water. To be baptized."
Amy, you have been doing some great summer reading. I can't wait to get the new Morrison book. My, it is scanty. I'm glad she didn't waste any words!
I too grabbed A Wild Snail Eating from the Kindle Daily Deal. I hope I don't forget it's on the iPad. I think I'll make a list of the few titles I've downloaded and put it...somewhere. I know! I'll put it in my notebook with the lists of books I've read as I refer to it often. Sorry for thinking aloud on your thread. That's what happens when you get to a certain age. ;-)
Toni Morrison really is good, isn't she? Great review too. Home is going on the list.
Just finished The Buddha in the Attic -- loved it. Thanks so much for your good review which led me to read it.
Hi Amy, The Buddha in the Attic appeals to me from your recent reads, will check the library for it.....much to the chagrin of my bookshelved ones...
Oooh Amy - some wonderfully diverse and interesting reads/reviews. I have The Buddha in the Attic in my 'next to be read' pile - looking forward to it even more after your review. Hope all is well with you and yours.
#114 - Donna - I know what you mean about having to keep track of what I've bought for my Kindle. Without having that physical TBR stack to fall over, I sometimes forget what I have waiting for me on my Kindle.
#115-116 - Reba - Toni Morrison is amazing, and after finishing this book, I realized that I've only read two others of hers - Beloved and A Mercy. I'd like to read some of her others soon. And I'm so glad you loved The Buddha in the Attic. It is beautifully written, isn't it?
#117 . . . much to the chagrin of my bookshelved ones. . . I think my bookshelved ones feel much the same way, Megan. They wait so patiently, only to have more books stacked on top of them.
#118 - Hi Prue! It's good to "see" you. I hope you enjoy The Buddha in the Attic!
Book #56: Skellig - David Almond - Finished June 6, 2012
Category: audio, YA
I have Linda/Whisper1 to thank for bringing David Almond to my attention. This beautifully-written book tells the story of Michael, a boy who tries to continue with his daily life of going to school and playing futbol while becoming increasingly worried about his sick baby sister. Two characters help David through this difficult time. Mina, a home-schooled girl who lives next door, introduces Michael to William Blake and to her own thoughtful way of viewing the world. While Mina is a bit mysterious to Michael, as all girls are to boys of this age, Skellig goes beyond mysterious to defy easy description. We learn more about Skellig along with Michael and Mina as his role in their lives becomes clearer. This is a book about possibilities and miracles, about the role of friendships in getting us through tough times. It is tenderly written. The audio that I listened to is read by the author and is extremely well done.
#121 - The Bluest Eye is one that I was thinking about trying. Your comment tips the scales!
Book #57: A Widow for One Year - John Irving - Finished June 11, 2012
Category: favorite authors, off the shelf
This is the third of John Irving's books that I've read. (The others are A Prayer for Owen Meany and Last Night in Twisted River.) And I am now more convinced than ever that I should read everything that this man has written. His stories often explore subject matter that I might not usually gravitate toward. For example, a large section of A Widow for One Year describes an affair between a high school boy and a woman old enough to be his mom. Another section brings us face-to-face with prostitutes in Amsterdam. But no matter the surface-level subject matter, Irving's real topic is the interplay between relationships and loss, and he explores this topic deeply.
A Widow for One Year tells a sweeping story that begins in 1958, as Eddie O'Hare becomes Ted Cole's writer's assistant and Marion Cole's lover. Eddie is witness to a difficult time in the Coles' life, as they continue to mourn the death of their two sons while trying to raise four-year-old Ruth. The events of that summer continue to reverberate 32 years later when Ruth's writing career brings her and Eddie together again. This span of time gives the book the sweeping feel of an epic, although Irving also gives us a close-up look at days and moments in the characters' lives. The narrative is complex, but in the hands of a master like Irving, this is a gift rather than a complication.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Irving's story is laced with humor, and at times, it feels like he is playing with the reader. For example, after I had spent 200 pages wondering if aspiring writer Eddie O'Hare was a semi-autobiographical character, Ruth Cole delivers a diatribe about how good authors make everything up. I felt like Irving had been in my head.
And then there are the chapter titles. There is a short essay at the end of the book in which Irving discusses the chapter titles and first lines, which are the only thing he re-reads after publishing a book. I noticed the clever chapter titles when reading. It's hard not to appreciate titles like, "Why Panic at Ten O'Clock in the Morning?" and "Better than Being with a Prostitute in Paris." But I think I would have paid more attention to the first lines if I'd read the essay first (although since it has spoilers, it probably should be saved until the end). They really do set the tone for various parts of the novel.
I could go on and on about more aspects of this book that deserve noticing, but suffice it to say that reading A Widow for One Year is truly enjoyable experience. Each reader will likely take something different from the book because Irving has left so many treasures for us to find. Enjoy!
#123 - It was, Megan! I'm looking forward to reading more by David Almond.
I'm a HUGE Irving fan yet I've never read A Prayer for Owen Meany (shocking, I know) and I didn't particularly love Last Night in Twisted River. Those being your experiences of him, I'm glad that you kept on reading and enjoyed A Widow for One Year. It's one of my favorites and the first of his books that I read. As you said, Irving deals with a lot of dark, twisted stuff in his novels, especially sexual relationships and dysfunctions, but it's how he uses that subject matter to reveal his characters' innermost failings and triumphs that makes his stories magical. I just LOVE them.
For example, after I had spent 200 pages wondering if aspiring writer Eddie O'Hare was a semi-autobiographical character, Ruth Cole delivers a diatribe about how good authors make everything up. I felt like Irving had been in my head.
As you keep reading his books, you will come across sooooo many moments and characters that you think MUST be John in disguise. It's because he has themes that he uses a lot (wrestling, bears, boys who go to elite prep schools, Prague/Amsterdam/New England, etc) and then you start realizing they are things are that connected with John personally (he is in the wrestling hall of fame, he went to one of those elite prep school, he lived in those places, etc). But, like you, I think it's a bit of writing what you know and a lot of creating this blurry line between fiction and memoir that John does so well... and it throws you as a reader a bit. It's like reading someone's diary. And I think it's just brilliant.
There are a couple of the early books I've still not read, but I can GREATLY recommend The Hotel New Hampshire which is pretty close to being my favorite book ever, The World According to Garp, and Until I Find You.
Delurking to say thanks for posting your great review of A Widow for One Year. I plan/hope/expect to get to that one later this year and had some trepidation as I am new to Irving's works. Happy to learn this appears to be one I will probably enjoy!
#126 - Leah - Thanks so much for the info on Irving. Maybe The Hotel New Hampshire will be my next Irving read. "Close to being my favorite book ever" is quite a recommendation.
#127 - Lori - Irving definitely has a style of his own, but it is one that works for me. I'll be interested to see what you think of A Widow for One Year!
For all of you John Irving fans out there, Nancy Pearl interviewed him on her podcast, Book Lust. Here's the link:
John Irving Interview
Book #58: The Family Fang - Kevin Wilson - Finished June 18, 2012
Category: TBR list
For Caleb and Camille Fang, art is not paintings nor sculptures nor theater. Instead, the Fang's art is deeply disturbing to those who see it, drawing the audience in to be a part of the scene. The Fang's children, Annie and Buster (known to the world as Child A and Child B), grow up as a part of these escapades. For example, Annie and Buster pretend to be untalented child musicians who are heckled by strangers (actually, their parents) to see how the crowd will react. In fact, that is one of the milder of the Fang's performances. Descriptions of these performances are interspersed with the actual story, which takes place after Annie and Buster have grown up and are leading (unsurprisingly) somewhat dysfunctional adult lives. But it is when Annie, an actress, and Buster, a writer, decide to go home to deals with their problems that the real problems begin.
I loved this book. It's quirky plot paired with very real emotions worked for me. Wilson takes time to create multi-layered characters before introducing the turning point of the plot. As a result, Annie and Buster's reactions to a somewhat unlikely event felt very real. My one complaint was that the ending felt a bit abrupt, but despite that, I still found this to be a highly satisfying read.
#129 Ha! I love that the description of that says almost exactly what I said previously! "Best-selling novelist John Irving discusses the subjects (bears, wrestling, gender identity) that have found their way into each one of his 13 books"
Thanks for sharing that, it was a great watch.
#131 - Leah - I thought the same thing when I pulled the podcast up. That's what I love about LT. I always get incisive comments about whatever I'm reading without having to wait for a podcast to be made. :)
Well, now i just had to go and order Hotel New Hampshire from BD, as I have never read any John Irving and just feel that I should!
Prue, I hope you love it. Be prepared for a twisted ride, but it's just soooooo wonderful! I will say that that book has one of the VERY BEST chapter endings I've EVER read- hopefully you'll know it when you read it.
ETA: With all this talk of Hotel New Hampshire, I'm feeling the overwhelming desire to reread it. Anyone interested in a group read?
I got to read me some John Irving, I remember loving A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Im sure I read others of his ages ago.
GR for Hotel New Hampshire.....you have my interest so long as its not this month.... :)
A Group Read of The Hotel New Hampshire sounds great! I always feel like I want to talk about Irving's books after I read them. Plus, I have a feeling that Leah's enthusiasm for this book may be contagious!
Yeah, I could totally gush. But now I'm all nervous that people won't love it as much as I hope they will. Can't imagine what an author must feel when people discuss their work.
I know exactly what you mean, Leah! I'm always nervous to recommend a book that I really like to someone else - especially if it is one that is a little outside the mainstream.
Book #59 - The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011 - Edited by Dave Eggers - Finished June 20, 2012
I bought several of the Best American series when they were on sale as a Kindle Daily Deal. This one includes both short stories and non-fiction. Several of the non-fiction pieces were excellent. "Game of Her Life" tells the story of a girl who lives in the largest of eight slums in Kampala, Uganda, in terrible conditions. But Robert Katende, who works for an NGO, teaches her and other children to play chess, sees her promise, and takes her to the Chess Olympiad in Russia. In "The Suicide Catcher" we meet a man who tries to stop suicide attempts on the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge in China. "For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question" sheds light on the horrific violence faced by the ethnic group known as the Karen in Burma, while "An Oral History of Adama Bah" and "What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?" tell the stories of two girls living in the US who face struggles of their own. All of these pieces are well written, conveying truths through stories as the best narrative non-fiction does.
The short stories in this volume are a little more uneven, although there were several that were quirky and interesting. Neil Gaiman’s story, “Orange,” topped the list for me. It is described as the “third subject’s responses to investigator’s written questionnaire” and consists of a list of numbered responses to questions that are not revealed. It’s up to the reader to try to figure out what happened.
I enjoyed reading these a few at a time, when I needed a break from my "main" book, or when I was travelling with my Kindle. I'm glad to have other volumes from the Best American series (including the Best American Short Stories, the Best American Science and Nature Writing, and the Best American Essays) waiting for me on my Kindle.
I love it when I read such enthusiasm about a favorite author. I've loved most of Irving's books. A Prayer for Owen Meany is in my all-time favorite books and, yes, A Widow for One Year and Hotel New Hampshire are excellent as well.
I hope you're having a great summer, Amy. Enjoy those lazy days of reading...if you are lucky enough to have some!
We cross-posted! I wanted to add that I think collections of essays and/or stories are a good use of an e-reader. I find that when I'm traveling, I enjoy shorter bits of reading while in airports or unwinding from the day's activities.
I started a planning thread for our possible group read. It's here if you want to check it out and leave feedback.
#140 - Hi Donna! I am having a great summer, although my time for reading seems to be in short supply. My boys are just finishing baseball season. Ben's team won 5th place in the state tournament yesterday, and Matt's team has their last game tomorrow night. After that, a few more free evenings should mean a little more time for reading!
We are getting ready to head to Lake Michigan for the 4th of July, so I'll be starting another book from the Best American series while traveling. I agree that stories and essays on the e-reader are perfect for traveling. I love that I can read on my iPad after we've turned out the hotel lights at night!
#141 - Excellent! Thanks so much, Leah! I just popped over there to visit.
Book #60: Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life - Margaret Moore and Paul Hammerness - Finished June 22, 2012
I like to read books about getting organized. Even if I don't get a lot of new ideas, they often get me motivated again. But this book was different. Written by a brain researcher and a professional coach, each chapter combines principles learned from neuroscience with practical advice about how to take advantage of the way that your brain works to feel less frenzied and more organized. Although the two halves of each chapter often felt a bit disconnected, I got something from both perspectives and would have been frustrated by a book that provided the science without the practical advice or vice versa.
One of the best chapters warned against multitasking, but recognized that often we are interrupted in the middle of a task. The authors discussed the importance of cognitive flexibility and provided tips about how to shift from one task to another successfully. Perhaps it's because I've been working from home a couple of days a week with both kids home on summer break, but this is advice that I'm sure I will use.
Other chapters were a little lighter on practical advice, but I also found the brain science interesting. As the mom of two little league baseball players, I was fascinated by the section on all that the brain has to do to check a swing.
I love reading about how the brain works -- fascinating stuff.
I think it is fascinating too, Reba. I was at one of my kid's baseball games last week, and I shared my new knowledge about all the things that go on in the brain to check a swing. Not everybody found it interesting, but several people did!
Book #61: After the Workshop - John McNally - Finished June 26, 2012
The Iowa Writers' Workshop has one of the most prestigious MFA programs in the country. Many famous authors - John Irving, Jane Hamilton, Flannery O'Connor, Kurt Vonnegut, and many more - have attended or taught at the Workshop. But what happens to the graduates who aren't so successful. John McNally's novel explores the path taken by one fictional graduate, Jack Hercules Sheahan. Sheahan publishes a story in the New Yorker while a student, but halfway through his novel, his writing flounders. To make ends meet, he takes a job as a media escort for authors visiting Iowa City.
McNally writes with a dry humor that I quite enjoyed. The story is grounded in reality (McNally himself is an Iowa Writers' Workshop grad and a former media escort), so the reader is left wondering just how many liberties McNally has taken as he pokes fun at MFA programs, writers, the publishing industry, and even Iowa City itself. I especially enjoyed this book because I teach at the University of Iowa, so I could nod knowing as McNally poked fun at Iowa winters and at the bars and other Iowa City institutions that feature prominently in the story. A quick witty read!
Hi Amy! I haven't been by in awhile.
I have added The Buddha in the Attic to my list as well as Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life. Mostly because I want to be able to tell someone all your brain has to do to check a swing. :) Also because my brain feels very disorganized this summer. The previous sentences are even disorganized...
Hi Jenn! It's good to hear from you. I know what you mean about your brain feeling disorganized this summer. Mine does too - I think it has something to do with having the kids home from school. We just got back from a beach vacation, so I'm trying to get the sand out of our luggage!
Book #62: Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins - Finished June 30, 2012
Category: YA, series
After borrowing The Hunger Games from a friend, I was engaged enough to buy the series for myself. I liked the 2nd book in the series almost as much as the first. I already cared about Katniss, Peeta, and the others, so it was easy to get pulled back into their lives. This book had the same fast-paced plot, which kept me turning pages (even while I was on vacation). Some of the plot twists felt a bit unlikely, and a large number of loose ends were tied up in a single paragraph at the end of the book, but it was still an enjoyable read. Collins managed to keep things fresh, and I'm looking forward to the third book in this series.
We just got back from a nice vacation along the beaches of Lake Michigan yesterday. The water temperature of 73 degrees (Fahrenheit) was perfect on these hot days. We saw some beautiful fireworks over Lake Michigan on July 3, and the kids had a blast swimming and digging and just being kids.
So, I'm finally getting around to my June summary, and may do a summary of the first half of 2012 if I have the energy left.
Books Read = 8
Fiction = 6
Non-fiction = 1
Anthology (essays and short stories) = 1
Read-aloud = 0
Off-the-shelf = 2
Group reads = 0
Best Fiction of the Month: A Widow for One Year
Other Great Fiction: Home, The Family Fang
I spent a lot of evenings watching my kids play baseball in June, so my reading time was cut a little short. Even so, I was sorry to see their baseball seasons end. They love playing baseball!
First Half of the Year Summary
Books Read = 62
Fiction = 42
Non-fiction = 14
Poetry/Anthology = 2
Read-aloud = 4 (My kids have been doing a lot more reading to themselves. I miss reading to them, but we still have good conversations about what they are reading, and they are still excited about reading, so I'm trying to roll with it.)
Off-the-shelf = 29 (almost half of what I've read this year; still not making a dent!)
Pages Read = 15986
Best Fiction of the Year (So Far):
Oryx and Crake
Salvage the Bones
Running the Rift
The Sisters Brothers
The Sense of an Ending
The Hummingbird's Daughter
The Kitchen House
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake
The Orphan Master's Son
A Widow for One Year
The Family Fang
Best Non-fiction of the Year (So Far):
Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us
lots of candles, plenty of cake
Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that That Transformed a Nation
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
Best YA of the Year (So Far):
The Lost Hero
Here Lies Linc
The Hunger Games
Looking for Alaska
Book #63: The Fault in Our Stars - John Green - Finished July 7, 2012
Category: book club, YA
About two-thirds of the way through The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel, a teenager who is dying of cancer, and her boyfriend Augustus, who she met at a cancer support group, are telling Hazel’s mom a story about something sad that happened to them. Hazel observes, “We made the story funny. You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.” But in The Fault in Our Stars, John Green isn’t limited by false dichotomies. The story he tells is sad and funny, hopeful and desperate, painfully sad yet filled with joy. But above all, it is an honest, unflinching story that, despite its subject matter, is much more about life and love than about death. In fact, my favorite quote from the book describes Hazel falling in love with Augustus: “As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
I’m a huge John Green fan, but this may be his best book. So much of what I liked about Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska is present in this book too – humor, thoughtfulness, beautiful writing. Green continues to write teenagers from inside their heads, not as an adult looking in, in a way that utterly respects the characters that he has created. But in this book, he does all of that while taking on the excruciatingly difficult subject of kids dying of cancer. I cried during each of the last 13 chapters of this book, yet I turned the last page feeling lucky to have known these characters.
Glad you loved TFiOS too, Amy. I've read it twice this year and it was utterly amazing both times. Happy to see it's found another fan. :)
Amy, your time on the beach sounds like a perfect way to commemorate the end of baseball season. I finally got to see my oldest granddaughter play shortstop last month. Hot and dusty but a fun evening. I need to check the library hold list to see where I stand in the long line for the John Green book.
I just started reading Truman if you're still interested in it. I think it may have been two years ago that we talked about it. I just set up a group read page today. So far it's only me, tloeffler (Terri), and drneutron (Jim) in the small group.
#153 - Micky - TFIOS is definitely a book that I can see reading again. What a beautiful book!
#154 - Donna - I've been meaning to read Truman for a long time. It is one of the books that I always remember seeing on my grandpa's shelf (although he was primarily a Lincoln buff). I'm not sure if I'll move through it as quickly as you and Terri, but I'm going to at least get started and follow the discussion!
I've read everything McCullough has written and loved them all...Truman being one of the best.
Book #64: Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury - Finished July 9, 2012
Category: group read, classic
I'd been wanting to read something by Ray Bradbury since he passed away, so I was excited to have the opportunity to join the group read of Something Wicked This Way Comes this weekend. I read this book in high school, but I didn't remember too much about it except for the spooky atmosphere. That's what struck me this time as well. Bradbury is a master of creating a spooky atmosphere with just a few words. And throughout this book, the spookiness just keeps building and building. Early in the book, the atmosphere reminded me of The Night Circus, but later it was more like a Stephen King novel.
I was also fascinated by how Bradbury used both short and long sentences to build atmosphere. For example, the first two paragraphs of Chapter 16:
"A bad thing happened at sunset.
To me, those short breathless sentences convey uneasiness or terror. But the long winding sentences and longer paragraphs are where Bradbury really has the chance to paint a picture. For example, I love this description of Mr. Dark:
"This second man was tall as a lamp post. His pale face, lunar pockmarks denting it, cast light on those who stood below. His vest was the color of fresh blood. His eyebrows, his hair, his suit were licorice black, and the sun-yellow gem which stared from the tie pin thrust in his cravat was the same unblinking shade and bright crystal as his eyes. But in this instant, swiftly, and with utter clearness, it was the suit which fascinated Will. For it seemed woven of boar-bramble, clock-spring hair, bristle, and a sort of ever-trembling, ever-glistening, dark hemp. The suit caught light and stirred like a bed of black tweed-thorns, interminably itching, covering the man's long body with motion so it seemed he should excruciate, cry out, and tear the clothes free. Yet here he stood, moon-calm, inhabiting his itch-weed suit and watching Jim's mouth with his yellow eyes. He never looked once at Will."
If you haven't read this book, you should. You'll be in the hands of a master.
I enjoy McCullough's writing so much his books never seem long -- but they do tend to take a lot of shelf space :-)
I had never read Bradbury until the group read of Dandelion Wine a couple of weeks ago. I loved it. Just read that Farewell Summer is a sequel so have put that one on my TBR list. Now Something Wicked This Way Comes. Wow!
#159 - Reba - I read Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes in high school, but had forgotten how much I liked him. Now I have Fahrenheit 451 on my nightstand.
Book #65: The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness - Finished July 10, 2012
Category: Kindle, YA, series
Several of you have read Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy, and although reviews have been mixed, the premise sounded interesting. So when there was a good deal on them for Kindle, I snapped them up. I finished Catching Fire on vacation, and decided that another fast-paced action-packed story was just the ticket for evenings in the hotel room, so I started The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in the Chaos Walking trilogy. I took a break for a couple of group reads, but had no difficulty getting back into the story.
I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that this book takes place in New World, where Todd Hewitt has grown up in a community in which there are only men, and they can all hear each other's thoughts. But just as he is about to become a man (at the age of 13), he learns that much of what he believes about life in New World is wrong. The truth is gradually revealed as he tries to escape from some particularly unsavory members of the community and find a way to do what is right.
I enjoyed this book and will definitely read the next in the series (especially given the cliffhanger ending). Todd is a flawed but likeable protagonist, although he is overshadowed by his dog Manchee, who adds a lot to the story. The pace was somewhat frenetic at times, which left me wanting to read some Marilynne Robinson for contrast. However, the themes in the story were engaging enough to help me overlook this.
>161 I couldn't handle the future version of English used in that book so I had to ditch it. But I'm glad you liked it, Amy.
I just finished the Chaos Walking trilogy, Amy, and it sounds like we had similar reactions at least to the first book. I really appreciated how complex all the main characters seemed; the message reinforced over and over again was that no one is wholly good or wholly evil, and that decisions can never be black and white. A good message for a YA series, I thought.
I've been meaning to get my hands on this series from my library but they always have the second or the last book in the trilogy so I'm just biding my time until the first book shows up. I could just put it on hold...but then ALL the other books I have checked out currently would feel neglected...
#162 - I know what you mean, Micky! The alternative spellings were a bit distracting.
#163 - That's a good point, Julia! Todd certainly had moments in the first book when he made bad choices, but that's true for all of us. I liked that the focus was on getting back on the right track again. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.
#164 - Valerie - I have that trouble when I'm at used book stores or book sales. Sometimes I'll buy the 2nd or 3rd in a series, thinking that I'll find the first one eventually, but it usually doesn't happen. I'm cracking up at the thought of your current library books being neglected. I have several that are feeling that way right now!
This weekend is the Iowa City Book Festival. There were readings by several good authors today - Donald Ray Pollock, Robert Goolrick, and Ridley Pearson to name a few. But today was also the day that my 11-year-old son came home from a week at Boy Scout camp. I missed him so much! (This was his first week-long camp.) So, I didn't want to be gone for long. However, early in the afternoon, he was looking a little tired (and a little tired of the intense attention from Mom), so I went to hear Laura Moriarty read from The Chaperone.
It was fascinating to hear Laura talk about why she chose to focus on the chaperone who accompanied Louise Brooks (who later became a silent film star) to NYC in 1922. Writing about their relationship allowed Laura to explore the generation gap and the vastly different social norms of Louise and her chaperone Cora. She talked about all the research that she did, and how topics such as orphan trains and race relations are integrated into the story. I can't wait to read the book!
Book #66: The Hotel New Hampshire - John Irving - Finished July 19, 2012
Category: group read, favorite authors
I read this for the Group Read that leahbird organized after we were discussing John Irving earlier this summer. She said that this is "pretty close to being her favorite book ever," and I have to admit that it didn't disappoint. Thanks, Leah!
The Hotel New Hampshire tells the story of the Berry family. In the first chapter, we learn one of the family legends - the story of how Win Berry met Mary Bates when they were working at a resort hotel in Maine. The first sentence of the book carries a lot of the weight of this chapter, introducing the Berry kids (who are really the focus of this book) and letting us know that this book, like Irving’s others, will be filled with unusual characters and surprising events:
“The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born – we weren’t even conceived: not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lilly and Egg.”
That deceptively simple sentence makes me heart break as I re-read it after finishing the book because in the next 400 pages Irving has made me care deeply about this family (and even about the bear). As they grow up in a series of hotels, life is difficult for the Berry kids. But the tragedies that happen are no match for the strength of the Berry family and their friends (including my favorites Junior Jones and Susie the Bear). The Berry kids are equipped to deal with tragedy by the wise words of their father and his father Coach Bob (aka, Iowa Bob):
“The way the world worked was not cause for some sort of blanket cynicism or sophomoric despair; according to my father and Iowa Bob, the way the world worked – which was badly – was just a strong incentive to live purposefully, and to be determined about living well” (p. 149).
It has to be said – there are some events in this book that would sound bizarre and unbelievable if I described them here outside the context of the story, but as I lost myself in the story, they seemed to fit. As our narrator John observes, “to each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread, we were just a family.” And that is what The Hotel New Hampshire is all about. Irving hasn’t written a story; he has written a family – one that is eccentric to be sure, but one that brings the idea of family to life.
Hi Amy! Great review of Something Wicked this way Comes. I haven't read any Ray Bradbury for a long time. I think you've inspired me to pick something up. I really like Farenheit 451. I wish everyone had to read it in school.
Hooray for Boy Scout camp! My son and his troop went to Moab this year. He had a great time. We only had one hiccup - he got left at the Pizza Hut in Moab and called me to get his scout leader's cell number. It could have been worse, right? It was noon, he was in a Pizza Hut. They got back to him about 5 minutes later anyway. He is working on his Eagle project, so we might be nearly done with camps. Maybe he'll go on High Adventure next year. I am really excited about his Eagle project. He is proposing to build a Little Free Library at a local bus transit center and do a book drive and coordinate with the local library volunteer dept. to keep it stocked. Convincing the transportation people it's a good idea is the next thing. :)
...hm, I think I might have read Hotel New Hampshire a hundred years ago, as your review rings a lot of bells. I liked it too, but need to read it again to make sure.
#167 by porch_reader> I'm so glad you responded to it the way I did. It just resonates somewhere deep inside of me each time I pick it up. And I can literally pick it up at any chapter and start reading and never feel lost because the Berry family has nestled itself in my gut. I try to live life with the same resolve and dedication this perfectly flawed family cultivates so effortlessly.
Hotel new Hampshire sounds wonderful. I think I'm definitely going to have to read it.
#168 - Jenn - That's a terrific Eagle project! I hope that he's able to convince the transportation people to go for it. I love the Little Free Libraries!
#169 - Thanks, Joe! I usually have 2 or 3 books going at once, and although the pairings are usually by chance, I do think that they influence how much I like each book. Right now, I'm interspersing a little of the Hunger Games series with McCullough's biography on Truman!
#170 - Megan - The Hotel New Hampshire is definitely a book that I'll re-read, although I think that some elements, like State O' Maine the bear and Sorrow the flatulent dog, will stick with me.
#171 - Well said, Leah! The Berry family is certainly a special one!
#172 - Reba - I highly recommend it. I'm going to continue to work my way through Irving's backlist. He's been pretty prolific, so it is going to take me a while.
Amy, what an interesting pairing of Truman with The Hunger Games. I have been reading too much NF so my new companion to Truman is Palace Walk. Have a great Sunday!
#174 - Donna - I've been reading good things about Palace Walk all over LT. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on it. I'm still enjoying Truman. I got to the part where he became President last night. I loved his mother's quote about how she couldn't be too happy because FDR had died, but she knew Harry would do well.
Book #67: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking - Susan Cain - Finished July 20, 2012
Susan Cain suggests that many of us have an Extraversion bias - we favor those who speak up, who make a persuasive argument, and who are charismatic. I'm guilty of this. In college classes, student who contribute to class discussions win my favor, and I'm sometimes surprised to find that the highest scores on tests or case analysis are earned by those who rarely speak up. I sign our family up to be ushers at church not only because I think it is important to welcome newcomers, but also because I want my kids to learn to shake hands and say hello to friends and strangers alike. Extraversion is associated with leadership, and this world needs leaders.
However, Cain seamlessly integrates a wide range of research evidence to support the idea that Introverts have valuable qualities as well. Thoughtful and empathetic, introverts may have advantages when it comes to creativity, decision-making, and many other valuable contributions. Schools and organizations should be cautious about forcing Introverts to work in open-space environments or large groups that are not a good match for their natural strengths.
Whether you are a manager or a parent or an Introvert yourself, Quiet provides excellent tips for creating situations in which you or others will be succesful. Cain makes a large body of research accessible and pulls the implications from it. My one complaint is that she uses a very broad umbrella to classify Introverted and Extraverted tendencies. She explains this in a note at the end of the book. She does not use the research definitions of Extravert and Introvert, but instead draws from their cultural meanings. Because of this, Introverts are classifed by a broad range of characteristics (thoughtful, empathetic, low on reward sensitivity) that may or may not actually co-occur. If you are familiar with personality research, this may cause some confusion. However, most readers will appreciate Cain's straight-forward insights.
Book #68: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane - Suzanne Collins - Finished July 23, 2012
Category: series, audio
This is Book #2 in The Underland Chronicles. Gregor and his sister Boots return to the Underland and once again embark on another quest. Like in the first book, there are allies and foes, danger and heroics. Gregor continues to learn more about himself and grow throughout his experiences in the underland. And there are more than a few loose ends that make me want to read the next book in the series soon.
I listened to this book on audio, and it was very well done. If you are looking for a good book for a car trip that will appeal to kids and adults alike, this is a series that I highly recommend.
Book #69: Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins - Finished July 23, 2012
Category: series, YA
The final installment in the Hunger Games trilogy. Since I read the other two, I had to read this one just to find out what happened. For me, the third book wasn't quite as good as the first two. Katniss is without a strong ally through much of this book, and I missed the balance that Peeta and even Haymitch provided to her character in the first two books. However, there is definitely enough suspense to keep the pages turning, and I have to say that I liked the ending - not too neatly tied up, but satisfying and consistent with the rest of the story.
Hey Amy! I just finished reading Mockingjay this month as well. I have to say I completely agree with you on the review. The third book would not be my favourite book of the series, but overall it was a pretty good trilogy!
#179 - I agree, Valerie! I thought the trilogy as a whole was quite good, and I'd developed enough of a connection with the characters by book 3 that I was willing to keep reading until the end.
Book #70: The Island - Elin Hilderbrand - Finished July 29, 2012
A friend loaned me this book. It's a light summer read. Two sisters, their mother, and their aunt spend time together on an island off Nantucket. They bring their relationship problems with them. One gets involved with the caretaker of the cabin. They fight, they talk. The ending wraps up most of the loose ends. Nothing deep, but easy to get through. It was a nice balance to McCullough's biography of Truman, which I'm also reading right now.
I read The Island last summer and I fully agree with you...a pleasant summer read.
Hi Reba! Sometimes a light read is just what I need - especially in the summer. I saw on your thread that you made it to Chautauqua. Hope you have a wonderful time!
184: "And I'm over halfway through McCullough's biography of Truman.". That should count as another book read, Amy! It really increased my page count for July.
Thank you...we are having a great time. This is our 4 th full day and so far we've seen two symphony concerts, one brass ensemble, one string quartet, one opera and several interesting lectures. Weather is beautiful. What more could we possibly ask for?
#188 - wow, Reba! That sounds amazing. Hope your days continue to be packed with such interesting things!
I'm at a conference in Boston for a few days. My schedule is packed, but I had a 2 hour break today and walked to Brattle Book Shop to check out the used books. I have to fly home, so I had to be a bit choosy, but I walked away with
My Son's Story by Nadine Gordimer
Sunset Park by Paul Auster
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden
The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness by Edward M. Hallowell
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
Sounds like you did pretty well, congratulations. Hope the conference is stimulating and that this record-breaking heat we're having in western New Yoek doesn't make it to Boston until you leave.
Finally back home from my conference and starting to get caught up. It was an excellent conference. My schedule was packed, but I did have time to eat several good meals! For us Iowans, fresh seafood is quite a treat. And although I hate to fly, I did enjoy the reading time. Here's what I finished. . .
Book #71: The Chaperone - Laura Moriarty - Finished August 5, 2012
Category: new fiction
I saw Laura Moriarty read from The Chaperone at the Iowa City Book Festival earlier this summer. I think I enjoyed this book even more because I knew a little about how the story developed. The book tells the story of Cora Carlisle, a wife and mother in her mid-thirties who accompanies 15-year-old Louise Brooks to New York in the summer of 1922. The chaperone is mentioned in only a single sentence in Brooks' autobiography, which motivated Moriarty to create her story. Initially, Cora appears to us much as she appears to Louise - an uptight woman who abides by outdated social conventions. But we soon learn that she is much more complicated than we expect. Her summer in New York and her struggles with Louise allow Cora to reconsider some of her life choices and in many ways, to start anew. It is those experiences that allows Cora to reflect back near the end of the book, "This life is mine because of good luck. And because I reached out and took it."
Well-written, fascinating characters, and a glimpse of history. I thoroughly enjoyed this one!
Book #72: The Stone Diaries - Carol Shields - Finished August 7, 2012
I've read good things about this book on many of your threads, and it did not disappoint. This book traces the life of Daisy Stone Goodwill from birth to death, and in doing so, it celebrates the events that build a life - the happy and the tragic, the mundane and the breathtaking. It is written from multiple points of view, with one chapter told entirely through letters. Daisy is a strong focal character, but many of the supporting characters (Aunt Clarentine, Beans and Fraidy, Daisy's niece Victoria) are winning as well. It is hard to do this book justice in a short description, but if you have doubts, try the first chapter. The writing drew me in from the very start.
Book #73: Stardust - Neil Gaiman - Finished August 9, 2012
Category: audio, fiction
I listened to this on my drives back and forth to work. It is a fairy tale, pure and simple and magical. A boy, from the land of Wall, crosses the wall one day to find a falling star for a girl he thinks he loves. But in the land of Faerie, the boy learns about his unexpected past and the possibilities that can be found outside the wall.
I am way behind again, Amy. I am glad you liked the list of Civil Rights books recommendations though (all the way back at post 49). Let me know if you need more :)
Book #74: Sunset Park - Paul Auster - Finished August 10, 2012
Category: fiction new-to-me author
This was one of my Brattle Book Shop purchases in Boston, and I started reading it on the plane ride home. It drew me in immediately. We begin in the financially troubled times of 2008 with Miles Heller. In his 20s, he lives in Florida and trashes out foreclosed houses. Tragic events in his past have caused him to flee his NYC home and avoid his parents. His only joy comes from his relationship with a girl he met in the park, but then he has to hit the road again and leave her behind. He ends up back in NYC, in an abandoned house in Sunset Park, and there the perspective shifts. We see events through the eyes of Miles' friends in Sunset Park and through the eyes of his parents. Despite the shifting perspective, a consistent mood permeates this book. The financial difficulties are matched by difficulties in the characters personal lives. Their lack of a permanent home is matched by a similar tenuousness in their identities. They are desparately searching for something or someone to connect with - a dissertation, a girlfriend, art, old typewriters. But just when they begin to figure things out, their foundation shifts again.
Despite its dark tone, I thought this book was very well written. It has a bit of plot, but mostly it creates the feeling of searching for an identity, a purpose, and then dealing with the roadblocks in your way. It is heartbreaking in places and hopeful in others, but it always feels honest.
Just stopping by to see what you've been up to. A few more days and the kids are back to school and we'll have a real schedule again. Must say, I'm looking forward to it, even though it means more time running around in the afternoons. Stardust sounds fun.
#198: Sunset Park sounds very good. I have yet to read any of Paul Auster's books. I will have to see if my local library has that one.
Stardust is one of the rare cases where I prefer the film to the book, but I'm glad you enjoyed it, Amy.
Thumbs up for your excellent review of Sunset Park. The book is now on my tbr pile.
Between a quick end-of-summer road trip and getting ready for classes to start on Monday, I'm way behind on threads. I'm hoping for some time this weekend to catch up.
#199 - Hi Jenn! I'm ready for the kids to start school too. As it gets closer, they get antsy. We might as well dive in!
#200 - Stasia - Sunset Park was my first Auster. I'm definitely going to be looking for more of his books.
#201 & #203 - OK, you've convinced me! I'll have to get the Stardust movie soon.
#202 - Hi Linda! Glad I can add to your TBR!
Book #75: The Dog Stars - Peter Heller - Finished August 19, 2012
Hig is among the 1% of the population that has survived a deadly flu. To survive in this post-apocalypic world, he lives at an airport with Bangley, a man with an arsenal of weapons and no qualms about using them. Hig contributes to the partnership by scouting the area for intruders in his small plane and providing food by fishing, hunting, and gardening. But the magnitude of loss that Hig has experienced leaves him longing for connection that is increasingly difficult to find.
Although this book has been compared to The Road, I found it to be much more about the psychological challenges in a post-apocalyptic world than about the terrors in the outside world. Yes, there are confrontations with bad guys, shoot-outs, and grenades, but the book is most compelling when we are inside Hig's head, feeling his losses and wondering where he finds the strength to continue to hope. Heller's experience in writing for magazines like Outside also comes through in his beautiful descriptions of the fading natural landscapes. I'm fairly new to post-apocalyptic literature, but from my viewpoint, The Dog Stars broadens the field, shedding new light on what might come after.
It sounds like it's worth reading. I found The Road so thought provoking but also very challenging to read. I like want you said about the additional perspective here of the psychological challenges of the survivor.
The Road was challenging for me to read too, Reba. I remember reading it in 15 or 20 pages increments, and there are some images that still stick in my head. The Dog Stars is much less direct about the awful things that are happening in the post-apocalyptic world. Hig is reticent to use violence, although he sees its necessity, and since the book is told from his perspective, the violence is downplayed.
Because of that, I wonder if it will stick with me. I doubt that it will garner the buzz that The Road did. Valerie, I'll be interested to hear what you think of it when you get to it. It is a much different take on the post-apocalyptic world than The Road, although Hig's loneliness is no less heart-breaking.
I just took it back to the WB library yesterday, Julia! Maybe it's still there.
Ooh, good to know! I'll stop by tomorrow after work and look for it.
#211 - Hope you get it Julia! Our librarian Nick had his eye on it too!
Book #76: Truman - David McCullough - Finished August 20, 2012
Category: biography, group read
Near the end of Truman's presidency, Winston Churchill came to visit and remarked, "THe last time you and I sat across the conference table was at Potsdam, Mr. President. I must confess sir, I held you in very low regard then. I loathed your taking the place of Franklin Roosevelt." He paused. "I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you more than any other man, have saved Western civilization."
Churchill wasn't alone in his doubts about Harry Truman. A common man from Independence, Missouri, Truman became President at a key historical moment in the midst of World War II. In the first few months as President, he made the decision to drop atomic bombs in Japan and negotiated an end to the war with Churchill and Stalin at Potsdam. Truman also dealt with labor unrest at home, the rise of the Cold War, the Korean War, and more. McCullough covers these events in just the right amount of detail, and each detail is chosen carefully. While the length of the book may seem daunting, the story never drags. This is a beautiful portrait of an intriguing period of history, and it made me want to read more about many of the supporting players (Churchill, Stalin, Bess Truman, McCarthy, Eisenhower, MacArthur, etc.).
Besides describing a fascinating slice of history, McCullough also provides us with insight into Truman the man. As a Missourian by birth, I recognized Truman's honesty and plainspokenness. People knew where they stood with Truman. But at the same time, Truman was anything but a simple man. As McCullough concludes, "The homely attributes, the Missouri wit, the warmth of his friendship, the genuineness of Harry Truman, however, appealing, were outweighed by the larger qualities that made him a figure of world stature, both a great and good man, and a great American president." But McCullough doesn't avoid Truman's faults - his connections with the Pendergast bosses, his unquestioned loyalty to those from back home, and his occasional temper. What we get in this biography is a complete picture of the man and the times in which he led.
I'm so glad that Donna and Terri nudged me into reading this book. Even though they've been finished for a few weeks, I loved sharing insights about the book with them. What a great book for #75!
Congrats on reaching 75! I need to step on the gas...I'm lagging I fear. I so agree with you on Truman; I thought it was a great book.
Your 75th book turned out to be a real winner, Amy. I am looking forward to reading that one myself. Congratulations on reaching the milestone.
Congrats! I'm in the middle of Truman now. McCullough is a very good writer!
Thanks, Reba, Julia, Micky, Roni, and Jim! 75 is a nice accomplishment, and I've read so many really good books this year too, so that's something to celebrate.
The last couple of days have been sad ones for me. My grandmother passed away yesterday morning. She was 93 and lived a good full life. Recently, her health and memory had been failing, so in many ways her passing was a blessing, but it still left a hole in my heart.
I mention her here because she was a reader - a lifelong reader. She grew up just blocks from the public library in Louisiana, Missouri (which was MY public library growing up too). Back then, you could only check out one book at a time, so sometimes she would check one out in the morning, read it, and be back by late afternoon for another. She was the oldest and would rock her younger brothers and sister in their cradle with a book in one hand. She loved The Five Little Peppers and a series about twins from different countries.
Shortly after she married my grandpa, he bought her a book as a present. She couldn't believe that he'd spent good money for a book when you could get them for free at the library. But she ended up enjoying it quite a lot anyway, and he continued to buy them for her. When she moved to assisted living, Mom and I found a book on her shelves titled The Miracle of the Bells with this inscription inside:
"To the only woman I shall ever dream of. The dearest thing in my life. My wife. 1/7/47"
We both cherish that one.
When I was little, my grandma and my mom would share books. When they had finished with them, they'd pass them on to my great-grandma and my grandma's sister Sue. To this day, I divide the price of a book by the potential number of people with whom I might be able to share it.
Once I was an adult, I'd buy books for my grandma - Fannie Flagg, Jan Karon, Ann B. Ross. I was always on the lookout for book that she would find "appropriate" and enjoyable. Some of those books are my comfort reads, and I bet I'll go back to one or two of them over the next few months.
I'm a reader for many reasons, but my grandma was a big part of it. I've been full of good memories of her over the past two days - food memories, holiday memories, celebration memories - but the book memories are some of the best.
Amy, I'm sorry about your grandmother. Thanks for sharing your lovely memories of her. It sounds like she was a lovely person. You're lucky to have had her so long.
Sorry for your loss, but those are beautiful memories you have. It's always such a wonderful thing when you carry a part of those people with you in a habit or trait that you share, it seems to make their memory that much more present.
Your grandmother sounds like a wonderful woman, Amy. I know you'll miss her very much, but she won't ever be really gone as long as you have such warm memories of her.
I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother. She sounds a lot like my grandmother who is 95 and struggling. I have her copy of A Girl of the Limberlost, published in the 1930's. She and my mother and my aunts all trade books around too.
It's so good to have the kind of memories you have about someone. I hope you write them down for your kids.
Amy, I am so sorry about your grandmother. What wonderful memories you have of her. I love the story about her two trips to the library - in one day. I'm glad she passed her love of reading down to you.
I'm glad you had such a special book for your 75th. I'm closing in on that number and will look for something significant to read. Thank you for that stellar review of Truman. I enjoyed sharing the experience with you.
Thanks, Reba, Leah, Julia, Jenn, and Donna! I appreciate so much having people to share these memories with. I've had lots of memories floating through my head over the past few days, but writing them down really brings them together and makes me realize how lucky I was to have my grandma in my life for 40 years. I went back home yesterday to help my mom with some details, and we'll go back next weekend for the memorial service. I'll bet there will be lots of good memories shared there too.
What a lovely memorial to your grandmother, Amy! I'm sorry for your loss, but so happy you have such wonderful memories.
That is such a lovely set of memories you have of your grandmother... I'm so sorry to hear of her passing. May your memories bring you comfort and peace...
Thanks, Roni and Tina! We had my grandma's memorial service yesterday, and it was wonderful to hear everyone's memories of her. She was loved by so many.
Book #77: The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh - Finished August 27, 2012
Category: Early Reviewer
I got this as an Early Reviewer selection, although it is already out in paperback. Victoria Jones is a product of the foster care system, and when she turns 18, she has few people to turn to. She lives in a park for a while, surrounded by the one thing that she understands best - flowers. But when she realizes that the park is not the safe haven that she hoped, she is hired by Renata, a florist who recognizes her gift. As she shares her knowledge of the language of flowers with others, she reflects back on the woman who taught her this mysterious language - Elizabeth. Elizabeth was Victoria's last hope for a real family, but something went terribly wrong. As Victoria's story unfolds in the present, we also learn more about her past, until the two stories come together to show the difficulty of nurturing love without roots.
This is a lovely debut novel. I cared for Victoria, even though I was often frustrated with her. Her actions made me realize how much we are affected by our early experiences. The characters who surrounded her - Renata, Elizabeth, Grant - reflected my feeling of love and frustration. Although some of the event seemed a bit too coincidental, Diffenbaugh carefully laid the groundwork that took us to the story's end. A very enjoyable read.
Book #78: Okay for Now - Gary D. Schmidt - Finished August 29, 2012
Category: favorite authors, audio, YA
Gary D. Schmidt is a master. I fell in love with his ability to capture the voice of middle school boys in The Wednesday Wars, a recommendation from Linda/Whisper. With Okay for Now, he has once again put me inside the head of a middle school boy, Doug Swieteck, and made me care intensely for him. Doug is somewhat irreverent. He addresses the reader directly, often peppering his stories with "I'm not lying" and "if you were paying attention, you'd know. . ." Doug's life is not easy. Although Doug tries to hide it from us and from everyone else, his father is not a nice man. Doug's oldest brother is in Vietnam, and his other brother Christopher lives to torment Doug. Added to that, as Doug starts a new school, his "so-called PE teacher" seems to be out to get him too.
But Doug is resourceful, and despite it seeming that the cards are stacked against him, he does have a few people on his side. Some of the tenderest scenes involve his interactions with his mother. He clearly loves making her smile. Doug also meets a kindly librarian who helps him learn to draw birds like Audubon. Lil Spicer, who Doug is initially suspicious of, quickly becomes Doug's friend. And a number of people in the small town of Marysville are also drawn to Doug's charms.
I realized that this book was a masterpiece as I tracked my emotional highs and lows throughout. Because I listened to it on audio, I was forced to break it up into small chunks to match my commutes to and from work. On days when something bad was happening to Doug, my heart ached for him, and this feeling often lasted throughout the day. But when something good happened, and Schmidt was kind enough to sprinkle these events liberally through the book, my heart soared. The events and characters are beautifully woven together to create a book that is a coming-of-age story peppered with humor and sorrow, celebration and regret, and a large measure of hopefulness even in the face of a difficult situation.
You are doing really well with the books off the shelf. I only have 8 for the year *hangs head*
Thanks, Roni! The only "problem" is that I've had good luck at several book sales this year, so I seem to be losing more ground than I am gaining. Oh, well - there are worse problems to have!
This topic was continued by Porch_Reader (Amy) Reads in 2012 - Part 3.
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