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Detailmuse ... 999 Challenge

999 Challenge

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Edited: Dec 31, 2009, 10:51am Top

999 Challenge: Read 9 books in each of 9 categories in 2009

My list of finished books (plus ratings and links to reviews) follows. Category worksheets are in the next nine messages (see the books in library format here). "#" denotes a title from my TBR shelves.

(See last year's 888 Challenge here.)

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman (****) (See review)
Direct Red by Gabriel Weston (****) (See review)
Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper (****) (See review)
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (*****)
Lucky Girl by Mei-Ling Hopgood (***) See review)
Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen (***) (See review)
Stitches by David Small (*****)
The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us by Patti Davis (****) (See review)
The Mighty Queens of Freeville# by Amy Dickinson (***) (See review)

Child of My Heart# by Alice McDermott (****)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet# by Jamie Ford (****) (See review)
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (*****) (See review)
Ravens by George Dawes Green (****) (See review)
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead (****)
The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano (****) (See review)
The Long Fall by Walter Mosley (***) (See review)
The School of Essential Ingredients# by Erica Bauermeister (*****) (See review)
The Visibles by Sara Shepard (***) (See review)

Reading Globally
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (****)
A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve (****) (See review)
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (***)
Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (***) (See review)
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (****) (See review)
Off the Tourist Trail ed. by Dorling Kindersley (*****) (See review)
Small Kingdoms by Anastasia Hobbet (****) (See review)
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan (****) (See review)
The Spare Room by Helen Garner (*****) (See review)

Banned/Challenged/Taboo-Topic Books
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell (*****) (See review)
Cut by Patricia McCormick (****)
Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson (*****) (See review)
Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham (***) (See review)
My Little Red Book ed. by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff (****) (See review)
The Blue Notebook by James Levine (****) (See review)
The Call of the Wild by Jack London (****)
The Color Purple# by Alice Walker (****)
The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne (****) (See review)

Laughing Out Loud
Border Songs by Jim Lynch (*****) (See review)
I Did It His Way by Johnny Hart (****) (See review)
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen (***) (See review)
New Tricks by David Rosenfelt (***) (See review)
Notes From the Underwire by Quinn Cummings (*****) (See review)
On the Money: The Economy in Cartoons ed. by Robert Mankoff (*****) (See review)
Really, You've Done Enough# by Sarah Walker (***) (See review)
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman (****) (See review)
The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes# (*****) (See review)

Looooong Books
A Fortunate Age# by Joanna Smith Rakoff (***) (See review)
American Wife# by Curtis Sittenfeld (****)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (*****) (See review)
Half of a Yellow Sun# by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (*****)
Inkheart# by Cornelia Funke (***)
Middlesex# by Jeffrey Eugenides (*****)
Something Happened# by Joseph Heller (****) (See review)
The Help# by Kathryn Stockett (*****) (See review)
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (****)

Artist Dates
ABC3D by Marion Bataille (****)
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics# by Ina Garten (*****)
Bellevue Literary Review (Fall 2009) ed. by Danielle Ofri (****)
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life# by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (*****) (See review)
Fodor's Italy 2009# (*****) (See review)
Lonely Planet Bluelist 2008# (****) (See review)
Martha Stewart's Cupcakes ed. by Martha Stewart Living (****)
Momofuku by David Chang (*****) (See review)
The Other Side by Istvan Banyai (***) (See review)

Conquering Fear by Harold Kushner (****) (See review)
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (****) (See review)
How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman (****)
In Cheap We Trust by Lauren Weber (****) (See review)
Listening to Prozac# by Peter D. Kramer (****)
Methland by Nick Reding (****) (See review)
Summer World by Bernd Heinrich (****) (See review)
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success# by Deepak Chopra (***)
You Were Always Mom's Favorite! by Deborah Tannen (***) (See review)

Wild Card
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville (***) (See review)
Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline (****) (See review)
Change the World for Ten Bucks: Small Actions x Lots of People = Big Change (**) (See review)
Freaky Monday by Mary Rodgers and Heather Hach (***) (See review)
How Not to Look Old by Charla Krupp (***)
Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley (****)
The Miles Between by Mary Pearson (****) (See review)
The Truth About Middle Managers by Paul Osterman (**) (See review)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****) (See review)

Notable Off-Challenge Reads
Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals by Christopher Payne (*****) (See review)
Drive by Daniel Pink (****) (See review)
Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman (****)
Thin Places by Mary DeMuth (****) (See review)

Edited: Dec 21, 2009, 8:59am Top

Bad Mother (about motherhood) by Ayelet Waldman (****)
Direct Red (surgical training) by Gabriel Weston (****)
Homer's Odyssey (cat) by Gwen Cooper (****)
Kitchen Confidential (restaurant cheffing) by Anthony Bourdain (*****)
Lucky Girl (international adoption) by Mei-Ling Hopgood (***)
Spiced (restaurant cooking) by Dalia Jurgensen (***)
Stitches (childhood illness/neglect) by David Small (*****)
The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us (daughterhood) by Patti Davis (****)
The Mighty Queens of Freeville# (family) by Amy Dickinson (***)

Edited: Aug 9, 2009, 3:19pm Top

Child of My Heart# by Alice McDermott (****)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet# by Jamie Ford (****)
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (*****)
Ravens by George Dawes Green (****)
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead (****)
The Girl She Used to Be by David Cristofano (****)
The Long Fall by Walter Mosley (***)
The School of Essential Ingredients# by Erica Bauermeister (*****)
The Visibles by Sara Shepard (***)

Edited: Dec 21, 2009, 8:56am Top

Reading Globally
84, Charing Cross Road (set in England and USA) by Helene Hanff (****)
A Change in Altitude (Kenya) by Anita Shreve (****)
Coraline (England) by Neil Gaiman (***)
Gourmet Rhapsody (England) by Muriel Barbery (***)
Into the Beautiful North (Mexico and USA) by Luis Alberto Urrea (****)
Off the Tourist Trail (global travel) ed. by Dorling Kindersley (*****)
Small Kingdoms (Kuwait) by Anastasia Hobbet (****)
The Day the Falls Stood Still (Canada) by Cathy Marie Buchanan (****)
The Spare Room (Australia) by Helen Garner (*****)

Edited: Dec 21, 2009, 9:06am Top

Banned/Challenged/Taboo-Topic Books (take a look at BannedBooksLibrary for 1000+ titles)
And Tango Makes Three (about gay parenthood) by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell (*****)
Cut (self injury) by Patricia McCormick (****)
Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation (reproduction) by Olivia Judson (*****)
Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti (teen dating/sex) by Chad Eastham (***)
My Little Red Book (menstruation) ed. by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff (****)
The Blue Notebook (sexual slavery) by James Levine (****)
The Call of the Wild (??) by Jack London (****)
The Color Purple# (sexual content) by Alice Walker (****)
The Last Bridge (incest) by Teri Coyne (****)

Edited: Sep 25, 2009, 8:45pm Top

Laughing Out Loud
Border Songs by Jim Lynch (*****)
I Did It His Way by Johnny Hart (****)
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen (***)
New Tricks by David Rosenfelt (***)
Notes From the Underwire by Quinn Cummings (*****)
On the Money: The Economy in Cartoons ed. by Robert Mankoff/The New Yorker (*****)
Really, You've Done Enough# by Sarah Walker (***)
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman (****)
The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes# (*****)

Edited: Dec 30, 2009, 11:33pm Top

Looooong Books (>400 pages*)
A Fortunate Age# by Joanna Smith Rakoff (416pp) (***)
American Wife# by Curtis Sittenfeld (576pp) (****)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (560pp) (*****)
Half of a Yellow Sun# by Chimamanda Adichie (433pp) (****)
Inkheart# by Cornelia Funke (534pp) (***)
Middlesex# by Jeffrey Eugenides (544pp) (*****)
Something Happened# by Joseph Heller (569pp) (****)
The Help# by Kathryn Stockett (464pp) (*****)
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (442pp) (****)

*I changed my criterion for "long" here from 500pp to 400pp ... wanted to create a little wiggle room in other categories by clearing a couple titles out of them and into here.

Edited: Nov 21, 2009, 2:03pm Top

Artist Dates*
ABC3D by Marion Bataille (****)
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics# by Ina Garten (*****)
Bellevue Literary Review (Fall 2009) ed. by Danielle Ofri (****)
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life# by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (****)
Fodor's Italy 2009# (*****)
Lonely Planet Bluelist 2008# (****)
Martha Stewart's Cupcakes ed. by Martha Stewart Living (*****)
Momofuku by David Chang (*****)
The Other Side by Istvan Banyai (***)

*Julia Cameron's (The Artist's Way) creative companion to Morning Pages (which empty the cluttered mind), Artist Dates are solitary playtimes intended to refill the mind with inspiring imagery and energy. My muse is eager to play.

Edited: Oct 24, 2009, 1:21pm Top

Conquering Fear by Harold Kushner (****)
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (****)
How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman (****)
In Cheap We Trust by Lauren Weber (****)
Listening to Prozac# by Peter D. Kramer (****)
Methland by Nick Reding (****)
Summer World by Bernd Heinrich (****)
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success# by Deepak Chopra (****)
You Were Always Mom's Favorite! by Deborah Tannen (***)

Edited: Nov 11, 2009, 4:07pm Top

Wild Cards
Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville (***)
Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline (****)
Change the World for Ten Bucks: Small Actions x Lots of People = Big Change (**)
Freaky Monday by Mary Rodgers and Heather Hach (***)
How Not to Look Old by Charla Krupp (***)
Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley (****)
The Miles Between by Mary Pearson (****)
The Truth About Middle Managers by Paul Osterman (**)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****)

Yay for wild cards!

Nov 23, 2008, 11:30pm Top

I loved Heart of Darkness, but I know not everyone agrees with me there. I thought it was great. I really like Joseph Conrad.

Nov 25, 2008, 10:37am Top

I have Heart of Darkness on my list as well - good to see a recommendation from cmbohn!

For your Laughing Out Loud category (great category by the way), I would suggest Christopher Moore's Lamb. It's the only book in my LibraryThing catalog tagged LOL (so far!).

Edited: Nov 25, 2008, 11:19am Top

>11 cmbohn:, 12
good to hear this! I bought Heart of Darkness after finally reading The Poisonwood Bible this year. And I've been eyeing Lamb* since I read Moore's A Dirty Job, you tipped me into buying.

*eta: and oh, so close; it almost fit into my long-book category!

Nov 25, 2008, 3:08pm Top

May I suggest you consider
Granny Brand, Paul Brand's mother, a spunky long-lived lady who ministered in India
A Foreign Devil in China on Nelson Bell by Polluck, my favorite biographer, or
Evidence not seen, autobiographical and gripping

for one of your biography slots? Oh, I forgot I have one more that I just love, Scars and Stripes, by Capt Red McDaniel, Vietnam POW.

I've had the privilege of Mrs Rose & Capt McDaniel -- truly remarkable folks.

Nov 25, 2008, 4:50pm Top

I keep recommending Gods Behaving Badly and The Year of Living Biblically to people looking for funny books. Gods Behaving Badly is about modern day Greek gods in London.. and The Year of Living Biblically is about a guy who is as Jewish as Olive Garden is Italian food trying to follow the Bible as closely as possible for a year.

Nov 25, 2008, 6:03pm Top

oooo....I had year of living biblically on my tbr list, but now you've tempted me with gods behaving badly. Thank goodness I have room in my to be discovered in 2009 category...and you're close enough to 2009 that I can sneak it in.

Dec 4, 2008, 8:47am Top

suslyn, Shannon, tutu -- thanks for the suggestions! I've been thinking lately of my college Greek mythology class (fun!), so Gods Behaving Badly seems especially good timing.

Dec 4, 2008, 9:51am Top

Good luck with Heart of Darkness. I hope you are one of those who love it and Conrad! Left me confused. Hadn't a clue what it was about.

Dec 4, 2008, 10:29am Top

I have a couple suggestions of books that made me laugh outloud.

Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging which is a YA diary format book by Louise Rennison and The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore.

(sorry about the Rennison touchstones, they don't seem to want to work.)

Jan 1, 2009, 10:22am Top

Thanks, Jenson! I added Rennison's book to my worksheets in Word. The Year of Living Biblically, too.

Actually, I moved almost all of the 999 books that I don't yet own to those worksheets -- I needed a bigger sense of some breathing room in the lists posted here :)

Then I gathered all the 999 books I do own onto a separate bookshelf. So now I feel organized but still energized by all the other possibilities.

Jan 1, 2009, 7:29pm Top

I ought to do that too, but mine are scattered all over the house. Of course, that way, no matter where I am, there's a book I need to read.

Jan 4, 2009, 8:16pm Top

What a thrill! -- to begin the year with a 5-star read: The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister -- a lush debut novel, almost magical realism, about the teacher and students in a cooking class. Review forthcoming.

Jan 4, 2009, 8:39pm Top

Also finished a library copy of How Not to Look Old by Charla Krupp (***) -- tips about hair/makeup/accessories/fashion to connote "young and hip" vs "old lady." A departure from my usual reading, but fun and somewhat useful.

Jan 5, 2009, 3:12pm Top

Good on you for tackling Heart of Darkness! I had to read it three times for three different undergrad courses, and now I shudder every time I think of having to read it again. It just didn't work for me, but I wish you the best.

Also have to agree with the rec for Gods Behaving Badly: a great fun book that made me want to read up on mythology (I ended up just perusing Wikipedia).

Happy reading!

Jan 5, 2009, 5:33pm Top

Looking forward to the review of The School of Essential Ingredients. I have a category for Fiction - Strange and Magical. I love Joanne Harris, Laura Esquivel and Jana Kolpen and titles like Rosewater and Soda Bread. This sounds perfect for me.

Edited: Jan 16, 2009, 10:13am Top

>25 tracyfox: tracy, I loved it, review here. Without conscious planning, I read Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (*****) at the same time, what a complementary* pair of books!

eta: *and by that I mean both were lush and paired well ... for every beautiful image The Barefoot Contessa showed in pictures, The School evoked one in words; and honestly, they sometimes overlapped!

Jan 16, 2009, 10:20am Top

Book 4: The Mighty Queens of Freeville (***) -- a memoir by Amy (advice columnist "Ask Amy") Dickinson. Meh, review here.

Book 5: The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes (*****) -- parody and satire aimed at books, characters, writers; it's smart-funny throughout, review here.

Jan 18, 2009, 8:46pm Top

Book 6: Really, You've Done Enough by Sarah Walker (***) -- the subtitle (“A Parents’ Guide to Stop Parenting Their Adult Child who Still Needs Their Money but Not Their Advice”) infers that over-accomodating parents are the intended reader; but I think it's the twentysomething children who will chuckle more at this content. It has some funny (and spot-on) observations, but is too wandering and waaay too author-centric.

Book 7: A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff (***) -- for B&N’s FirstLook discussion this month; an exploration of the lives of a group of college friends as they pursue early adulthood in late-90s/early-2000s New York City. It alternates between extreme close-up, slow-motion character studies and sweeping passages of time. Very interesting (in an intellectual, sociology-study sort of way) but less emotionally engaging. The author states it’s an homage to Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which I’m now compelled to take a look at.

Fascinating ... here's another incidence of reading two books in tandem that really paired well.

Jan 18, 2009, 10:12pm Top

Chuckle! It's like you've suggested a perfect book for each of my two sons. :-) I'm going down to B&N tonight to read Really, You've Done Enough as I'm dealing with this transition--and not doing a very good job at it.

Jan 20, 2009, 1:34pm Top

Book 8: Finished Lonely Planet Bluelist 2008, a terrific armchair-travel book. (And for me, only armchair-travel -- its destinations are mostly high-adventure (think Papua New Guinea), and its recommendation for such areas as "Pakistan's mountainous northern region" are ridiculous.) Still, its smooth heavy pages, outstanding photography, and special sections on Islamic travel and themed travel (35 categories including friendliest countries; endangered places; mythical places; jail-cell hotels; strange museums; etc) are lush and inspiring.

Jan 20, 2009, 1:51pm Top

Well, I've tried just posting the name of the book when I finish, and I've tried waiting to post until I've written a review so that I can link to it -- and neither works very well, too minimalist on the one hand, too long a wait on the other! So I think I'm going to try posting the title, my rating, and a few comments. Then when I assemble the comments into a review, I'll add a link in the list in Message #1 at the top here.

Jan 27, 2009, 9:08pm Top

Finished Sink Reflections (****), Marla Cilley’s (the FlyLady) organizational approach to housekeeping. Primarily helpful to people in CHAOS (“Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome” -- because the house is too messy!), her “baby steps” method of breaking down de-cluttering and cleaning into do-able tasks is applicable to homemakers across the board.

Many of the ideas are familiar, but the FlyLady’s enthusiasm makes them fresh. Of the new-to-me ideas, I especially like her “zone” approach to deeper cleaning: divide the house into five zones and then allocate each of the five weeks (some will be partial weeks) every calendar month to a particular zone. True, the entire house isn’t cleaned every week; maybe not everything in a zone gets attended to even every month. But it’s more often (and less exhausting) than an annual spring cleaning.

Jan 31, 2009, 1:47pm Top

Book 10: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (****) -- the story of Seattle grade-school friends Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe in the aftermath of Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor and the internment of Japanese-Americans.

The story does a good job exploring 1940s America's Chinese and Japanese cultures and inter-racial/ethnic tensions (Chinese/Japanese/Black/Caucasian), but the tight focus from Henry's point of view restricted some of the emotionality and historical perspective I was hoping for.

Feb 5, 2009, 6:16pm Top

Book 11: aaaaaaahhhh, I've been on an armchair vacation to Italy -- north to south ... food, wine, culture, history, nature and recreation -- via the Fodor's Italy 2009 guidebook (*****) ... (review here).

Feb 7, 2009, 3:33pm Top

Book 12: 84, Charing Cross Road (****), a collection of letters written over a 20-year period between a spirited New York City writer and a proper English bookseller. It's nonfiction, but its post-WWII English setting, epistolary style, and references to books and writers reminded me of last year's novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I've seen it all over LT Talk, but bell7 finally prompted me to take a closer look -- thanks!

Feb 7, 2009, 9:28pm Top

I loved the movie of 84 Charing Cross Road, but I've never read the book.

And I think I will have to look for Sink Reflections. I am a very disorganized cleaner.

Feb 9, 2009, 9:56am Top

>36 cmbohn: oooh nice! I just put the DVD on hold at my library.

Re Sink Reflections, take a look at the author's website (she's called the FlyLady) -- it gives a lot of the same info. For me though, the site was too noisy (visually) and I liked getting all the info at once in the quick-read book.

Feb 9, 2009, 10:16am Top

>35 detailmuse:, glad you enjoyed it! I'm hoping to read the sequel The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street for my "books about books" category this year (and if it's not about books as much as the first, I can always shift it into the more general "nonfiction").

>36 cmbohn: and 37, I may have to watch the movie now too...

Feb 10, 2009, 6:41pm Top

I've modified two categories.

1) Most writers know about Morning Pages (from The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron) -- three pages of handwritten, stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing every morning, intended to clear the mental clutter.

But fewer writers acknowledge Cameron’s twin creative tool, Artist Dates -- solitary playtimes intended to refill the mind with inspiring imagery and energy. Because my muse needs a jump-start, I've changed my On Writing and Creativity category to Artist Dates. Books are somewhat unusual Artist Dates, and I'm experimenting to discover what makes one vs not one. In the process, I've tagged some of my possibilities.

2) And in consideration of My Little Red Book, an anthology of essays about first menstrual periods, I've expanded my Banned/Challenged to also include books about taboo topics.

Feb 10, 2009, 8:59pm Top

I love the idea of an Artist Date category ... I think I do this unconsciously. I love to dip into cookbooks from faraway places (Jeffrey Alford), gardens of the past (Bev Nichols), field guides and travel books of all sorts. If you fill up your wildcard category, you could always move Italy to the Artist Date category.

I'm about halfway through Winter World by Bernd Heinrich now. I didn't know there was a companion Summer World in the works. I am not totally enraptured with Winter World, but loved Mind of the Raven. I'll be looking forward to your impressions.

Feb 16, 2009, 10:43am Top

>tracyfox -- I'm on the fence about Italy as Artist Date -- there were fewer photos to capture my subconscious and more nuts-and-bolts info that kept engaging my intellect :( But it did make my imagination feel sparkly ... and still does when I think about it!

I am loving having Summer World out on my desk, waiting to be read. Its cover and inside drawings are delightful. I see you loved The Omnivore's Dilemma (as did I), have you read his The Botany of Desire? -- it's also one I leave out, just to see the cover.

Edited: Mar 17, 2009, 4:20pm Top

Book 13: My Little Red Book (****) is a collection of 90+ short essays about first menstrual periods between 1916 and 2007, written by women with age perspectives ranging from early teenager now to over 100. There is some variety in geography, culture and experience, but overall I was disappointed by how much the same and mostly ordinary the selected experiences were. It’s an ambitious project, though, with a hugely supportive tone -- and all the more well done considering that the editor, who’s had an interest in the topic for years, is just 18 years old. Review here.

Book 14: I finally got to Listening to Prozac (****), the 1993 exploration of an experienced psychiatrist’s surprises while treating patients in the early days of Prozac. Dense and provocative, it’s not about Prozac as wonder drug for depression, but rather the discoveries Prozac prompted about the biology of mood, personality, self-esteem and temperament -- that every aspect of who we are is on a continuum, determined by our state of neurons and neurotransmitters and thus able to be manipulated chemically. It's also about the ethics when these manipulations are made not to ease psychic pathology but to create a more socially desirable personality, a la "cosmetic psychology."

Yay, I've now finished at least one book in each category!

eta: link to review

Feb 17, 2009, 4:33am Top

Re: Listening to Prozac, gotta read that! I've never been in the position to take medication but know both kids and adults who do--both as a teacher and a friend. It's amazing how much scientists are finding out--almost on a daily basis--how biologically/chemically driven our emotions and behaviors are. I would highly recommend ScienceDaily for anyone who is interested in science breakthroughs, but doesn't want to read through all the technical language and description of methods and data in the original research articles.

Feb 17, 2009, 7:15am Top

Detailmuse - Thanks for your review - I've had Listening to Prozac on my shelf for a long time, and I think I'll move it up on the pile.

Bonniebooks - ScienceDaily looks like a good website - thanks.

Feb 18, 2009, 10:21am Top

I'm a big fan of Pollan ... actually first discovered him through Second Nature and then went on to read Botany of Desire and Omnivore's Dilemma. I haven't been drawn to In Defense of Food, it seems like a rehash of earlier themes. Have you read it?

The cover of Summer World is really gorgeous. Strange that it has spring ephemerals on the cover. How did you come to have a copy already? On Amazon, it's still on preorder.

Feb 18, 2009, 3:30pm Top

>43 bonniebooks:, 44 Scientific American has a great little weekday podcast, 60-second Science.

>45 tracyfox: I'm conflicted about In Defense of Food -- it had an outstanding, important takeaway ("nutritionism") but didn't have book-length content (my review here). One of the most memorable sentences is about processed foods, something like: "The best way to extend the shelf life of a food is to remove its nutrients." !!!

I snagged an arc of Summer World; I hope I like it because then all of Heinrich's works open up to me :)

Feb 23, 2009, 12:07pm Top

>cmbohn, bell7
I just watched the movie of 84, Charing Cross Road and enjoyed it. I'd wondered how they'd turn an epistolary story into film, and was a little disappointed that it was mostly by voice-over as the characters typed or read the letters. I wonder how today's directors would approach it?

**SPOILERS if you haven't read the book/seen the film. I thought Anthony Hopkins portrayed a Frank who was definitely interested in Helene romantically, whereas I thought his heart, though conflicted, stayed true to his wife in the book. I was also surprised by Anne Bancroft's interpretation of Helene -- kooky and clutzy -- whereas I'd read her with a Katharine Hepburn regal-feistiness in mind. But when Mel Brooks was the producer, I guess Anne Bancroft was the star :)

Edited: Mar 2, 2009, 4:40pm Top

Book 15: It’s coincidental (or not!) that I recently blogged a quote by Flannery O’Connor that good stories can’t be summarized … and now I’m having real trouble coming up with a few sentences to post here about Abraham Verghese’s terrific debut novel, Cutting for Stone (*****).

The first hundred pages are riveting, the next 400 are sprawling and fascinating -- explorations of family, loyalty, immigration, 1960-70s Ethiopia, and the practice of medicine and surgery -- then the ending is a bit quick and tidy. Around 100 pages of the story take place in New York, which adds a terrific perspective of Ethiopia in relief (contrast). The novel has driven me to Ethiopia in the encyclopedia, and it's made me want to read everything else by Verghese, especially My Own Country, his memoir about treating patients in Tennessee in the early days of AIDS.

eta: See review here. For an extended description (no spoilers) see Message 144 in LT’s Reading Globally Africa Theme Read.

Feb 23, 2009, 10:12pm Top

Now I want to see the movie again too!

Feb 24, 2009, 7:52am Top

>49 cmbohn: and a young(er) Judi Dench plays Frank's wife. I kept thinking, I know her, I know her ... Definitely some big names in that movie.

Edited: Mar 3, 2009, 9:25am Top

Book 16: Sag Harbor (****), Colson Whitehead's "autobiographical fourth novel" about a 15-year-old's coming of age in 1985 on Long Island -- grandson of the first generation of African-American professionals from New York City who summered there. My arc is from Barnes & Noble's First Look program; the book will be released in late April.

It's enlightening, tragic, nostalgic and funny. Whitehead is better at figurative language than any writer I've encountered; if I listed favorite passages here, they'd tally in the hundreds. Seriously.

eta: bah, no touchstone; added a link

Mar 3, 2009, 3:01pm Top

I hate it when I want to ignore the 25+ books I've already bought this year and go buy another one (i.e., Cutting for Stone) I just have to read! ;-)

Edited: Mar 30, 2009, 6:40pm Top

hoo boy, I just finished one even better: The Help by Kathryn Stockett (*****). Narrated by two black domestics (the household "help") and a young white aspiring journalist in 1962 Mississippi, it's about class, race, family, friendship -- and is wonderfully suspenseful in parts. Best book I've read this year and one of the best ever -- I'm usually happy enough to glance over at my current book and let it be until I have time to get back to it, but this one pulled at me the whole way through! Review here.

eta link to review

Mar 8, 2009, 4:37pm Top

I've wanted to try something by Neil Gaiman, so when I learned that Coraline involves a "mirror universe" premise (love that premise!), I bit.

I'm not a sci-fi/fantasy/horror buff though, and thought it was only okay (***); it'll probably be my only Gaiman. It had such a simple-minded tone, so different from the middle-grade books I've liked, with all sorts of convenient and coincidental occurrences, and it was all in the head -- no emotion or engagement other than maybe a little fear.

It is visual, though, and maybe I'll see the film to see if a musical score can draw the tension and emotion I feel is mostly absent from the book.

Mar 8, 2009, 5:27pm Top

>53 detailmuse: Well! :-) It's a darn good thing that I didn't buy Cutting for Stone yesterday! (Gonna wait until it comes out in paper.) Is The Help in hardbound as well?

Mar 9, 2009, 9:31am Top

>bonniebooks -- only hardcover, both came out last month I think. And they're both big books, which I'm really not liking anymore in hardcover.

A note -- Cutting for Stone has quite a bit about the practice of medicine and surgery -- almost to the point of it being a workplace novel (my favorite kind of setting!) -- which was all the better for me but your mileage may vary.

Mar 9, 2009, 2:23pm Top

No problem for me; I used to be a medical assistant for a cardiologist and gastroenterologist, then later ran an office for urologist. Plus, I love reading about all the current brain research and all those insider books written by doctors, so this book is right up my alley. :-)

Mar 9, 2009, 7:41pm Top

>54 detailmuse:: I read Coraline last year and felt the same as you, but I didn't know how to put it into words. I liked it all right, but I had heard so many wonderful things that I thought I'd be blown away. I did like the idea and description of bravery which I think works well for kids to understand (when I interned in an elementary school library all the fifth graders were crazy about this book). Haven't seen the movie yet because the previews look different than what I remember from the book.

Mar 11, 2009, 8:30am Top

>57 bonniebooks: urologist
oh then you'll love the step-by-step vasectomy! (no spoiler)

>58 celiafrances: I was surprised to see Gaiman's American Gods taking a hit on another thread, for reasons of detachment also, I think. I agree with you about bravery -- good for adults too: that it's not the absence of fear but rather perseverance despite being afraid.

Edited: Mar 11, 2009, 9:12am Top

Book 19: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (**** at least). It's such an original concept for a memoir that I've put it in my Artist Dates category: take the curious and meaningful moments of your life, assign a keyword to each, and organize them alphabetically by keyword, encyclopedia-style. What results is a collection of clever, insightful, and sweet observations, for example this (very short) one:

I love any kind of cream sauce. My mother hates cream sauce but craved it when she was pregnant with me.

Gets your imagination going, yes? :)

I love originality -- whether it's a unique premise/concept, or cover/font/format design, or (most often) in the point of view/narration. Even have a tag for it, and am always looking for more.

Mar 11, 2009, 9:20am Top

The encyclopedia does sound original ... I hope I can find a copy to peruse at the library or bookstore. The way you've explained it makes me think about organizing tidbits from my travel journals, birding notes or even teenage diaries to share with my family or even just for my own enjoyment. Thanks for posting detailmuse!

Mar 22, 2009, 7:50pm Top

>61 tracyfox: I had exactly the same thought, tracy, and it sounds like so much fun!

She's written a bunch of other books, mostly children's picture books, and I'm going to sit myself in the library one day and read them all :)

Mar 22, 2009, 10:17pm Top

I love originality -- whether it's a unique premise/concept, or cover/font/format design, or (most often) in the point of view/narration. Even have a tag for it, and am always looking for more.

Yes! And now I've got to go look at the books you've listed under this tag!

Edited: Mar 28, 2009, 5:50pm Top

Book 20: Walter Mosley is one of my favorite authors -- specifically for his characters -- and I was glad to see he's begun a new series (per Publisher's Weekly, he's planned it through 10 books). The first book, The Long Fall (***), meets my hopes for great Mosley characters, but imo the story suffers because way too many of them are front-loaded instead of letting them emerge organically. Review here.

Book 21: And in my pursuit of creative/ original/ artistic works, I forgot that there are lovely, simple stories like Alice McDermott's 2002 Child of My Heart (****) -- about a 15-year-old who babysits her young cousin, and a neighbor's toddler, and numerous pets during a summer on Long Island -- which I absolutely gobbled up.

eta a simple summary of book#21 ... don't read the LT reviews unless you're okay with spoilers :(

Apr 3, 2009, 6:21pm Top

Book 22: David Cristofano's debut, The Girl She Used to Be -- the story of a young woman who tires of the boredom, the loneliness, and the denial of self that are all part of being a federally protected mob witness ... and math! It's part gentle reflection, part rollicking good fun with a bunch of terrific twists. I keep a separate spreadsheet to document when I start and finish books, and I devoured this one so fast that I forgot to enter it until a couple days after I'd finished! Review here.

Apr 6, 2009, 8:41pm Top

Book 23: ABC3D by Marion Bataille took literally two minutes to read -- and that was going slowly, savoring each page. But it's so fun and original that it deserves a place here in my Artist Date category.

It's the alphabet -- done pop-up style in red, white, and black ... and one mirror. Bataille's designs are clever, though I was disappointed that he uses only about 12 design concepts and repeats several of them over different letters. But what he does in an extraordinary way here is to surprise the reader with similarities among letters (E/F, sure; but wait till you get to O/P/Q/R) -- and within letters (there are mini-me's in G and M). He makes me want to learn about typography and alphabet history. Right now.

See a video of the book here. It shows the entire book (in 1:20) but imo in no way "spoils" it. I watched the video and immediately put the book on hold at my library. And I still may buy it!

Apr 6, 2009, 11:04pm Top

That sounds really interesting!

Apr 7, 2009, 7:38am Top

That video was really a great start to my day. Thanks for sharing it. Loved the O/P/Q/R as well as the mirrored V/W. It's nowhere near as clever, but the recent documentary Helvetica (available on Netflix) does a good job of introducing typography design for a general audience.

Apr 7, 2009, 8:22pm Top

>68 tracyfox: I liked that DVD. I hadn't known about it until I followed a link to the quiz, What Font Are You? (I am Helvetica :( bor-ing ... I want to be Comic Sans!)

Edited: Apr 7, 2009, 10:52pm Top

I'm sure my life would be considered Helvetica boring by most everyone else, but I type/create everything in comic sans, so...who am I really?

Apr 9, 2009, 9:35am Top

Thanks, detailmuse, that was fun! I was Times New Roman -- I was honestly relieved to get a serif! It's sad when you're emotionally invested in fonts, but sans serifs are just missing something...

Apr 9, 2009, 3:49pm Top

Loved seeing the video of ABC3D. Makes me want to go out and buy it, but then I wouldn't want to share it with my students (pop-up books are so easily torn), so I guess I'll just have to wait until I have an excuse to buy it for a little one. You've given me the idea of creating a "books to look at" list just for children's books, though, so I won't forget about them either.

Edited: Apr 28, 2009, 11:13am Top

Book 24: Dalia Jurgensen documents a dozen years as restaurant line cook and pastry chef in her kitchen memoir, Spiced (***). Her humility and excitement about participating in the world of professional cooking is endearing and feels real throughout. Through competent writing and a straightforward linear chronology, she provides a fine primer to the kitchens that diners don’t see -- introducing concepts like “mise en place” (having all ingredients for a workstation at hand and ready to use) and the “family dinner” (the meal staff shares before the restaurant gets busy), and conveying how wild, stressful, and yet choreographed such places are.

Overall, the tone felt somewhat flat, more a narrative resume than an emotional or insightful memoir. The food passages read like recipes, without the sense detail of aromas and flavors, textures and visuals. (Despite a starring role in her repertoire, I couldn’t figure out a tarte Tatin until I looked it up myself.) Yet by the end of the book, I’d gained nuts-and-bolts takeaways and an appreciation that has forever altered my dining experience (for the better) and seeded me with a desire to pursue other books in the genre.

edited to incorporate my review

Apr 14, 2009, 4:47pm Top

Hmmm, I just saw that book and passed it up in favor of another I know nothing about. I do like restaurant memoirs (it's an entire sub-genre!) though. Have you read Heat or my personal favorite, Julie & Julia?

Apr 16, 2009, 8:09am Top

>74 RidgewayGirl:, weirdly, I've spent precious reading time on two "meh" restaurant memoirs (Spiced and Service Included). Definitely need to read Heat and something by Bourdain. I've looked at Julie and Julia, glad to hear your rave.

Apr 16, 2009, 9:00am Top

Book 25: Summer World (****) is a 230-page walk in the Maine woods with professor and naturalist Bernd Heinrich.

It's a stroll, really, with lingering stops to observe the behavior of birds, insects, and foliage. I loved Heinrich's gentle, observational tone and his wonder and whimsy in the selection of species and field experiments. On the other hand, I wanted more science fact and perhaps a stronger narrative thread ... and some mammals!

Indexing and a bibliography support further exploration, and the illustrations are lovely even in my arc ... I look forward to visiting the bookstore and seeing what must be a beautiful published volume.

Apr 20, 2009, 10:01am Top

Book 26: Almost 40 years after Freaky Friday's mother/daughter switch, Mary Rodgers (with Heather Hach, who wrote the screenplay for the 2003 remake of the film) follows up with the student/teacher switch, Freaky Monday.

It's comical in spots but completely non-subtle. Not my cuppa either in my tweens or now; review here.

Apr 21, 2009, 4:00pm Top

She did one years ago about a father/son switch too, but it wasn't as good as the original.

Apr 23, 2009, 8:38pm Top

>78 cmbohn: seriously, she's about wrung that premise dry! :)

Apr 23, 2009, 8:56pm Top

Book 27: well, I remedied #75 above -- finally read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and loved it! (*****)

Though published in 2000, I only heard of it a few years ago and then avoided it -- I wasn’t interested in the exploits of an alcohol/heroin/coke/sex-addicted egotist and wasn’t interested in having my restaurant experiences ruined.

But IMO it had relatively little sensational stuff, and I found Bourdain interesting and likeable. His “A Day in the Life” chapter absolutely exhausted me -- sent me to bed where I slept a full eight; and then by the time I finished the remaining few pages of the chapter in the morning, I was exhausted again!

I have the “updated edition,” appended with a 2006 Afterword where Bourdain writes about the industry's response to the book and updates some of the people he profiled. It’s a tribute to his storytelling that I could recall, with minimal prompting, every person and incident he'd mentioned in the book ... he'd made them all so memorable.

Apr 24, 2009, 7:24pm Top

I have this on my shelf and you make me want to go and start it tonight. Have you read Heat by Bill Buford?

Apr 25, 2009, 10:37am Top

>81 RidgewayGirl: I have it TBR -- bought Heat and Kitchen Confidential at the same time, a week or so ago. Almost started it the moment I finished Kitchen Confidential, but decided its gentler tone deserved a little space and quiet before jumping in. Looking forward to it!

Apr 28, 2009, 11:08am Top

(edited msg 73 to incorporate my review of the restaurant-kitchen memoir, Spiced.)

Book 28: Change the World for Ten Bucks (**) has a great premise: that small actions, done by lots of people, result in big changes. I’d somehow expected each of its 50 ideas for action to relate to the environment, so was surprised and pleased to find that many related instead to improving human connections. And since most involve no cost whatsoever, the title’s reference to ten bucks must refer merely to the cover price of the book.

Inside however, most of the actions are already extremely well-known and even repetitive: avoid plastic shopping bags; use CFL bulbs; unplug electronics; recycle (various products); conserve (various resources). That said, I did find a few new favorites: spend time with someone of a different generation; learn first-aid; smile :). The book seems so geared to young families and young teens that when I read Action #8 (“Take a bath with someone you love”), I expected a family bath -- but, in a startling discord, instead found drawings of a couple in numerous positions of foreplay and copulation.

A very quick read with few new takeaways -- at most, borrow this one from the library.

Apr 28, 2009, 2:18pm Top

I took a fledgling bonnie-run :) to my area’s best independent bookstore and came away with Australian Helen Garner’s novella, The Spare Room (*****).

Having spent my career in Western medicine, and having a friend whose dedication to alternative asthma treatments is proving risky, the book’s premise interested me: a woman, Helen, takes into her spare room an out-of-town friend, Nicola, who has traveled to Melbourne to participate in a 3-week alternative-medicine treatment for cancer.

The book opens as Helen prepares the spare room, positioning the bed to capture healing energy; making it with fresh, pretty linens; considering every detail from the perspective of what might be positive for Nicola. Helen’s research has previously spared Nicola from an expensive treatment scam, and she suspects this therapy is another fraud. But what she doesn’t suspect is how sick Nicola is when she arrives, and in how much denial about her prognosis.

(No SPOILERS coming, but stop if you don’t like to know much about a book before you read it.) There will be very little sleep; those fresh linens will be changed dozens and dozens of times; and Helen will try to maintain a grip as she encounters a multitude of crazymaking people. It is at once a gentle, beautifully written story and, as Alice Sebold blurbs on the front cover, “a brutal novel.” Because caregiving -- even for three weeks -- is brutal, brutal work.

Apr 29, 2009, 1:55pm Top

**Gasping in delight** You linked me?! I'm honored, truly. And really interested in reading The Spare Room. Having survived breast cancer over 25 years ago, I have a lot of respect for the different ways that people choose to fight cancer, as well as how they choose to live and die, but I don't think I could not say something if a friend or close relative was depending on "treatment" that wasn't backed up by valid and reliable research. Especially if that treatment is being touted by someone whose opinions have increased "power" to persuade vulnerable listeners (e.g., medical practioners, religious or political leaders, educators). That's a real "hot button" for me.

Edited: Apr 30, 2009, 11:28pm Top

I'm so glad for your health!!

The healthcare issue is hot for me too and getting hotter, Western medicine is nearly politically incorrect these days. And it's enormously frustrating to see what confidence there still is, be eroded by mistakes, inefficiencies, and escalating cost. Andrew Weil is coming out with a book this fall about how to overhaul the healthcare system, I'll be interested in reading his perspective.

edited to tone it down

May 4, 2009, 8:16pm Top

Book 30: Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman (****).

Waldman once watched a woman struggle to style her young daughter’s hair during a bumpy ride on a train. When the train lurched and the girl stumbled, the woman yanked her hair and hissed, “Stand still!” Which prompted Waldman to judge her a “bad mother” and lean toward her to warn, “Lady, we’re all watching you.”

That was before Waldman had her own four children -- and before readers of her 2005 New York Times essay (wherein she wrote that she loved her husband more than she loved her children) judged her a Bad Mother. She writes: “In my grandmother’s day there were good mothers, neglectful mothers, and occasionally great mothers. Today we have only Bad Mothers.” And in this eminently readable memoir-in-essays, she relates the numerous aspects of herself that she judges bad-mother material -- among them her feminism, sexuality, jealousies, unpopularity, abortion, mood, and the imperfect genes she’s passed on to her children.

The book is not a research-quoting, sociological summary of the current status of motherhood. Rather, it is Waldman’s personal experience in marriage and family -- lessons learned as a daughter and applied as a woman, mother, wife. Though she offers few solutions other than mindfulness (when dealing with her own family) and open-mindedness (when dealing with others'), the book is a place for recognition and comfort. The pages fly -- the voice engaging and the content prompting thought and feeling. I both nodded and shook my head at her words, in approximately equal proportion ... and am still pondering some subtle contradictions that reveal Waldman -- and the topic -- to be all the more complex.

May 4, 2009, 9:27pm Top

All sorts of memories came flooding back while reading your reviews, plus thoughts about how expectations about parenting have changed over the decades. Thanks for the review! This is definitely a book I want to read.

May 8, 2009, 12:39pm Top

>88 bonniebooks: I must be in a Mother's Day theme, now I'm reading Patti Davis's The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us, a collection of short profiles on celebrity women and their mothers. The voice is very gentle but leans toward sad; most of the mothers are deceased. But, considering that the celebrities are of a certain age (mostly over 50), there's a lot of awareness and introspection now, even if the relationships were troubled at one time.

May 8, 2009, 12:46pm Top

Book 31: The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne (****) -- an EarlyReviewer title due out in late July.

Alexandra (“Cat”) Rucker fled her Ohio town as a teenager and only returns now, ten years later, for a funeral after her mother's suicide. Though estranged, she wishes she could have asked her mother about her last moments: “I don’t need her to say she saw me. I want to know she saw something. That she felt something. And that it felt like freedom. And then, if I could, I would ask her what that felt like.”

Because Cat hasn't known freedom -- not during a childhood of paternal abuse, not in her alcoholic adulthood. Yet her wish does get a cryptic answer of sorts via her mother’s suicide note: “Cat, He isn’t who you think he is.” There are many complicated “he’s” in Cat’s life that her mother could be referring to, each of whom is slowly introduced and effectively revealed in present time and through flashbacks.

Coyne’s confident writing makes this short debut a very good read. The chapters mostly alternate between the period around the funeral and flashbacks to Cat as a teenager -- though the particulars of present and past are so similar (in terms of mood, setting, character set, events) that it took a couple extra beats at the beginning of each chapter to figure out where the story was. I was bumped by Cat's rough lifestyle and harsh dialogue, which I couldn't reconcile with the gentle internal voice of her first-person narration. And I’ve never read a book where the main character cries so often! A bit more length might have fleshed out the secondary characters as well as the events leading to the ending. Still, it’s a page-turner … a real immersion, and I will watch for Coyne's next novel.

May 8, 2009, 12:55pm Top

Book 32, in my Artist Date category: The Other Side by Istvan Banyai (****) is a short, picture book-ish collection of drawings that show twists of perspective. On the most basic level, it’s a twist of camera perspective -- the same thing as seen from above vs below, front vs back, or inside vs outside (for example, a boy looking out the window from the world that is his messy bedroom vs the exterior of his apartment building, showing his window as just one of many).

On other levels, there are narrative twists, where the reader is surprised when what s/he assumes to be true is not, or where elements from early drawings show up in later ones. My favorite pair of drawings involves an urban setting where, among other twists, a mother and child descend from the sidewalk down into the Eastside/Uptown subway, having passed a poster offering a reward for a missing monster … and then emerge from the stairs of the Westside/Downtown subway -- and there’s the monster, walking among everyone!

And then I sense other, more subtle levels, which I gnash my teeth that I’m missing!! :( Silly as it sounds (and difficult, since it’s out of print), this would be a good book to read for a group discussion.

I was happy to learn that Banyai is a New Yorker contributor, and do remember some of his magazine covers and his “spots” -- those teeny drawings that break up the magazine’s solid pages of text and often build a whimsical little narrative of their own.

Okay, I can’t resist: here’s more of his work.

May 8, 2009, 2:32pm Top

>89 detailmuse:, Your book reminds me of a book that I've read more than once. It's called Mother's Talking (Frances Wells Burck, 1986) and it includes all these very intense, very personal stories that reflect real lives, including all the excitement, fear, doubt, pride, satisfaction, boredom, love, sadness, happiness and tragedies that mothers can experience. I still cry when I read some of these stories.

May 12, 2009, 9:38pm Top

A little catching up:

Book 33: Patti Davis's The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us (****), a collection of short profiles of two dozen prominent women* (mostly writers and actresses, mostly over age 50) about their mothers (and often their grandmothers). Proof that no matter how they seem on the surface, people’s lives and relationships are full and complicated underneath.
*in addition to Patti Davis: Rosanna Arquette, Candice Bergen, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee, Melissa Gilbert, Whoopi Goldberg, Marg Helgenberger, Mariel Hemingway, Alice Hoffman, Angelica Huston, Lorna Luft, Julianna Margulies, Mary Kay Place, Anna Quindlen, Anne Rice, Cokie Roberts, Carolyn See, Kathy Smith, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, Lily Tomlin, Faye Wattleton, Marianne Williamson, Carnie Wilson

Book 34: The Family Man (****) is light and witty, pure Elinor Lipman. This one is set in Manhattan and is about a middle-aged gay man who reconnects with the step-daughter he lost decades before when he and his ex-wife divorced after a brief marriage. A happy (sugary, even) story AND a vicarious little getaway to NYC.

Book 35: I finally read Deepak Chopra’s 1994 The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (****) which is a good primer (or refresher) to Gary Zukav’s The Seat of the Soul, and eminently more readable than Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. With lots of spiritual (Buddhist) inspiration in just 111 pages, I’m planning to re-read this quarterly for awhile and am eager to see what appeals to me then vs now.

May 27, 2009, 8:54am Top

Book 36: The Visibles by Sara Shepard (***) opens in 1992 when a teacher tells Summer Davis’s high school biology class that DNA irrevocably controls every aspect of a person’s life -- that it effectively tethers children to their parents forever. That’s a reassuring concept for Summer, whose mother abandoned the family just days before. So reassuring, in fact (and later so unsettling), that it prompts Summer to persevere through serious family problems toward a career in genetics research.

The narrative is well written, particularly the transitions into flashbacks which are among the smoothest I’ve read. An intriguing sense of mystery is developed, especially about family secrets, and kept me reading for their reveal. Yet, despite plotlines of abandonment and mental illness, there’s a lack of dramatic tension and a lack of characters I cared about. A number of things felt not-quite-believable, including Summer’s pursuit of genetics -- each mention of it felt like a label and bumped me, there having been nothing in her first-person narration to organically evoke the manner of a scientist. In the end, an interesting but emotionally neutral read.

May 27, 2009, 9:09am Top

Book 37: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (*****) is a novel of New York City, told via ten short stories that are linked through shared characters and a connection to Philippe Petit’s 1974 real-life tightrope walk between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

The novel's structure requires the reader to invest in a story and its characters and then seemingly begin anew with the next story. Yet soon the stories begin to interconnect, and the possibility of encountering early, beloved characters in subsequent stories -- from different perspectives and with new and satisfying revelations -- creates a strong narrative pull. McCann’s fine writing develops tension, too: one story recounts Petit’s wire-walk exclusively through dialogue (a phone conversation); though I knew the history and thus the outcome, still the storytelling was riveting.

These are some of the most substantial characters and stories I’ve encountered; I ache to revisit them, including NYC itself. Though McCann never mentions 9/11, he evokes it obliquely in passages set in 2006 -- my favorite is a now-perfect metaphor, one that didn't exist before that day: “She had the bluest eyes, they looked like small drops of September sky.”

Also highly recommended as a companion: the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary film, “Man on Wire.”

May 27, 2009, 12:44pm Top

Let the Great World Spin sounds really good even though the narrator's voice is so important to me and I don't always like when it changes in a novel. In the case of short stories, though, I think the interconnections and multiple perspectives would add a complexity that I would find more engaging too.

May 28, 2009, 12:04pm Top

Nice review of what sounds like a fascinating book. I have Man on a Wire on my neflix queue. The book isn't in the Peoria area library system ... but it does tempt me. Interconnected short stories and novels with multiple narrative threads are among my favorites.

May 28, 2009, 8:47pm Top

>bonnie, tracy
oops should have mentioned that it's an Early Reviewer arc, due out June 23. Till then, watch Man on Wire (also in a book version, I think), it's un-be-leeeeeve-able.

Jun 2, 2009, 1:12pm Top

Book 38: I Did It His Way, a collection of religion-themed strips from Johnny Hart's long-running "BC" comic.

As a group, the strips are clever (often punnish), curious, and philosophical. Bits of Hart's biography are also included, as well as backstory about a few of the strips, plus his final strip. There are Sunday and daily comics, most in color, all printed on smooth, silky paper. A nice gift book for religious Christians.

Jun 2, 2009, 1:26pm Top

Book 39: Border Songs by Jim Lynch (*****)

Brandon Vanderkool’s colleagues on the US Border Patrol rightly call him a “s--- magnet.” A newbie agent on a 30-mile sector between Washington and British Columbia (where the international border is sometimes a mere ditch between neighbors’ yards), Brandon is freakishly tall, dyslexic and probably autistic, an avid birder and artist -- with eyes that are “really, really wide open (…) it’s like he expects something to happen at every moment, no matter where he is or what he’s doing.”

And happen it does -- from stumbling upon trucks full of illegal immigrants while searching for solitude, to finding contraband where he’s birding -- all to the reader’s amazement and amusement, but to Brandon’s utter dismay since his disabilities make the paperwork and notoriety a nightmare. But when he happens upon a stolen car with a Middle-Eastern driver, a trunkful of explosives, and a map to Seattle’s Needle, everything changes: the Feds descend, the Patrol gathers reinforcements, and local social and political stresses heat to a boil.

Still, it’s a comic boil, made deeper by subplots involving a terrific set of secondary characters and eclectic townspeople. A thoughtful, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining read.

Jun 13, 2009, 5:39pm Top

(Reviews forthcoming for all of these; I’ll edit to post links.)

Book 40: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea (***) -- when bandits increasingly target 19-year-old Nayeli’s dying Mexican village, she organizes a quest to the US to round up some virile men to bring back to defend -- and re-populate :) -- the town. The novel began beautifully comic and magical, turned skeletal and outline-ish, and ended too quickly and easily.

Book 41 (yay! I’m past the halfway point!): Lucky Girl by Mei-Ling Hopgood (***) -- a Chinese girl, adopted in infancy by a suburban-Detroit couple, establishes an international relationship with her birth parents and sisters; the writing and structure was sometimes clumsy and more like journalism than an emotional/insightful memoir.

Book 42: The Blue Notebook by James Levine (****) -- the fictional journal of a child prostitute (sex slave) in Mumbai, India. Very well written … an important topic … but brutally sexual and violent, disturbing, sickening. I persevered to finish but am regretting it.

All I can say is I need a break with something light and wonderful, then am eager to jump into the Middlesex group read.

Jun 14, 2009, 9:49am Top

And there has been so many good ones in this first half! (Darn you, and your persuasive reviews!) I hate that I have to wait so long for some of them to come out in paperback.

Jun 14, 2009, 11:31am Top

You prompted me to determine my favorites from the first half. The top 3 are in rank order; the rest are listed in a way that looks pretty to me :) The full list plus ratings and links to reviews is continually updated in Message 1.

The Help
Cutting for Stone
Let the Great World Spin

The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes
The School of Essential Ingredients
The Girl She Used to Be
Kitchen Confidential
The Spare Room
Border Songs

Edited: Jun 14, 2009, 11:37am Top

I've been sneaking down to my neighborhood Barnes & Noble to read a few chapters at a time of Help. If I get dragged out of there, I'm naming names!

Edited to add: Do you think my son would like Let the Great World Spin just because he lives in NYC? Oh, and he's a reader! He often doesn't like the coming-of-age books that I'm a sucker for.

Jun 14, 2009, 11:50am Top

Name me! And make a scene. All publicity (for this terrific book) is good, yes?!

Jun 14, 2009, 12:03pm Top

oops, I left the room and then replied without refreshing to see your edit. I don't recall anything coming-of-age-ish in Let the Great World Spin (except maybe NYC itself, in hindsight). Irish brothers; mothers whose sons died in Vietnam; prostitutes; early tech geeks; Manhattan; The Bronx; and more that I'll leave you to discover. I think it appeals to women and men.

Jun 28, 2009, 11:55am Top

I've been foundering since I finished The Blue Notebook more than 2 weeks ago. I'm drawn to deep and difficult books ... but my tolerance for explicit violence and sex is low, and those were combined in horrific ways in that novel.

So, I finally sought my go-to source for positivity: Martha Stewart! I read a few recent issues of her magazine, which is unfailingly beautiful and optimistic. Then I bought Book 43 and placed it in my Artist Date category: Martha Stewart's Cupcakes (*****) -- a 350-page sensory immersion in creativity and cheer. Heck, I've even marked a bunch of recipes to try.

Now I'm halfway through Middlesex and am enjoying the 999 group read. Also have high hopes for my latest ER snag, Methland. But I'm slogging my way through the interesting premise/terrible writing in former FDA Commissioner David Kessler's The End of Overeating (I can't believe it has a 4.5 rating on amazon).

Jun 28, 2009, 12:22pm Top

LOL! Methland? Not exactly moving away from the "deep and difficult" but I guess the ER people know you well, huh? ;-) Martha Stewart does know how to make beautiful books and is a good alternative "fix" for you I'm thinking. ;-) I read them, too, even though baking is my bugaboo since I hardly ever follow a recipe after the first time and exacting measuring is not my thing.

Jun 28, 2009, 12:37pm Top

> LOL! Methland?
I laughed too. But the subtitle ("The death and life of an American small town") sounds optimistic (I hope, I hope)

exacting measuring is not my thing
I'm originally a pharmacist so (sigh) recipes are right up my alley

Jul 5, 2009, 4:29pm Top

I'm originally a pharmacist so (sigh) recipes are right up my alley

I gave my best friend a cookbook that explained the chemical process of cooking in great detail. Can't remember the title, but it was well-reviewed. Do you have that book?

Jul 5, 2009, 6:25pm Top

Maybe: What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained? -- the chemistry and physics of cooking, I liked it. If that's not it and you think of the name, I'd love to know!

Jul 15, 2009, 4:40pm Top

Book 44: I finally read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (****), thanks to the peer pressure of a group read :) Really liked it, especially the Detroit history and the exploration of gender; but found it less compelling than I'd expected. Still, I'm now eager to read The Virgin Suicides. I made Middlesex the first "degree" in my 6 Degrees of Separation mini-challenge.

Book 45: The Truth About Middle Managers by Paul Osterman (**) :( review here.

Book 46: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****) The epigraph, a quote by Albert Einstein, is prophetic: “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious” -- because on the very next page, the novel opens with a Wow! that plunges readers into an intriguing story, the mysteriousness of which is indeed a beautiful experience.

It’s the story of Miranda’s year in sixth grade -- of being suddenly on the outs with Sal (a boy who’s been her best friend since birth); of navigating new friendships, new social classes, a homeless guy on the corner, and possibly a new step-father; of helping her mother prepare to be a game-show contestant. Into this mix comes a series of mysterious notes that intrigue Miranda, and freak her out a little bit -- not only because they come out of nowhere and from who-knows-whom, but also because they predict the future. Also in the mix are references to Einstein, to science (a teacher named Mr. Tompkins?) and to science fiction (Miranda re-reads A Wrinkle in Time), all of which add layers to the mystery of the notes.

The world Stead creates in this novel -- a reflective tween’s point of view, her friendships and rivalries, her family life and the retro (late ‘70s) Manhattan setting -- are reminiscent of Louise Fitzhugh’s beloved classic, Harriet the Spy. And the mystery aspect positively begs a re-read to examine exactly how Stead stitched it.

Jul 16, 2009, 9:01am Top

I will have to check that out. Now that my daughter is reading those books, I'm always on the look out for more, and am reading them too. Have you read Millicent Min, Girl Genius?

Jul 16, 2009, 8:39pm Top

>113 RidgewayGirl: no, but now it's in my wishlist!

When You Reach Me just came out this week but I'm seeing it praised everywhere, almost everyone rating it even higher than me. Hope she likes it!

Jul 17, 2009, 1:50pm Top

Border Songs, When You Reach Me---your thread is one of those that make me want to be somewhere else than where I am (talking about my world tour). When the time comes I hope I'll remember these.

Jul 17, 2009, 11:18pm Top

I just added When You Reach Me to my TBR list.

Jul 19, 2009, 8:50pm Top

>115 eairo:, 116
bonjour! and hello!

eairo -- can't wait to see what books you select when you -- if you ever :)) -- get to the USA. My wishlist is full of recommendations from you that I can't locate here!!

Edited: Jul 21, 2009, 10:19am Top

Border Songs sounds really good for several reasons. I have a son who is dyslexic, I live in Washington and it's about border tensions between my state and Canada, but also I find it fascinating how people are so worried about illegal aliens and drugs coming across the Mexico-USA border, but don't seem to care nearly as much about it happening across our northern border.

Oops! Had to edit our "norther" border!

Jul 21, 2009, 9:33am Top

For anyone interested -- I received two ARCs of Anita Shreve's upcoming novel, A Change in Altitude, and put the extra up on Member Giveaways, request by Aug 3.

Jul 22, 2009, 8:38pm Top

Book 47: Direct Red by Gabriel Weston (****) (due out Aug 11) -- an eminently readable collection of stories drawn from Gabriel Weston's experiences while training and working as a surgeon in the UK.

The opening page finds her near collapse from exhaustion (and tedium) while in her seventh hour of assisting on an OR case. Desperate to not admit vulnerability in front of her colleagues, she resorts to a private mantra -- recalling the names of tissue stains that fascinated her back in medical school: Methylene blue, Acridine orange, Malachite green, Tyrian purple … Direct red. This list rouses her back to clarity in the OR and launches her series of stories set at other precipices of vulnerability, represented by theme-based chapters: Speed, Sex, Death, Voices, Beauty, Hierarchy, Territory, Emergencies, Ambition, Help, Children, Appearances, Changes, and Home.

The book's description likens Weston to Atul Gawande (Complications, Better), but while they both write patient-centered stories of medicine and surgery, their content and styles differ markedly. Gawande is a master essayist, using the clinical case as a jumping-off point for deep explorations of the science, history and ethics of practice. Weston is a compelling storyteller whose patient-doctor vignettes are full of tension, emotion and keen observation.

Despite having spent my career in healthcare, the book surprised and informed me, and I devoured it in a day.

Jul 29, 2009, 6:18pm Top

Wow, both Direct Red and When You Reach Me sound like fascinating reads. How nice to have two good ones in a row!

Aug 1, 2009, 1:03pm Top

>121 nmhale: nmhale :) and my chain of good luck continues!...

Book 48: Nick Reding became aware of methamphetamine abuse in 1999 while researching a magazine article about ranching in tiny Gooding, Idaho. From then on, every rural American town he visited seemed overrun with meth, while every major city seemed unaware even of its existence. He found few media mentions of the problem, and couldn’t contribute his own -- editors weren’t interested in his ideas for a book or magazine article. But when Reding found the epidemic near his hometown of St. Louis in 2004, in an area where he’d hunted ducks during so many autumns of his childhood, the problem became personal and he could no longer bear for it to be ignored.

The result is Methland, and it’s indeed a personal story. It’s not Reding’s story (although there are memoir-ish/family-history aspects to some passages), but rather the story of tiny Oelwein, Iowa and its residents, standing as a named example of thousands more meth-devastated small towns across the American Midwest.

Because Reding believes “…meth has always been less an agent of change and more a symptom of it,” he explores the epidemiology of methamphetamine abuse as a “socio-cultural cancer” by involving key participants -- Oelwein’s doctor, mayor, chief of police, county prosecutor, and meth addicts and dealers -- to document the economic, political, and social forces that conspired to nearly destroy the town and, more recently, perhaps redeem it.

This approach allows a fascinating story to develop -- a page-turner, even; conversationally written yet startling and disturbing -- that reminded me of a looser, lighter version of Michael Pollan’s rise of industrial farming (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and Randy Shilts’s epidemiology of AIDS (And the Band Played On).

Aug 1, 2009, 1:10pm Top

Book 49: Ravens by George Dawes Green (****)

Romeo was driving down from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the baffling twilight, going too fast, when a raccoon or possum ran in front of the car. The impact was disturbingly gentle. No thud -- just a soft unzipping, beneath the chassis.

So opens Ravens, the premise of which I knew going in: Romeo and Shaw, on a drive to Florida from their tech-support jobs in Ohio, decide to stop en route and co-opt half of a huge lottery prize from the winners. But what surprised me was that the opening paragraph concludes by painting the villains likeable (Still, it tore at Romeo’s heart. He braked and pulled over.) and, further down the page, playful. And what hooked me were the next few pages, where I developed an intriguing dislike for the good guys -- the lottery-winning Boatwright family.

The novel’s strength is its ability to hold me in that incongruence. It also held me in a state of suspended disbelief -- after all, who would believe that the winners of $318 million would acquiesce when a couple strangers announce they’re taking half? Yet every time I wondered about the believability of characters’ actions, George Dawes Green showed me their motivations and brought me back in. It’s a fun, comic novel (not all of it dark comedy), populated by an entertaining ensemble of small-town-Georgia characters; subplots and twists that are well earned; and suspense that is more compelling (inquisitive; page-turning) than scary. Recommended!

Aug 1, 2009, 1:59pm Top

Great reviews, detailmuse, I've added both to my wishlist.

Aug 2, 2009, 6:31pm Top

Methland sounds very interesting. I loved both Omnivore's Dilemma and And the Band Played On, and have heard some interesting bits about meth in small towns (we have the same problem in Canada too, as well as an abundance of grow-ops). On the list it goes! Thanks.

Edited: Aug 2, 2009, 8:33pm Top

Excellent review of Methland, detailmuse. I've gotten a bit selfish/lazy in my 'old age' (sometimes I just don't want to read the bad news) and wasn't going to read this book, but you made me change my mind. Thumbed you!

Aug 2, 2009, 8:52pm Top

I'd like to be reading Methland in a group with all of you and listen to the number of times someone called out, "No WAY!" (Sad, not silly.)

And Bonnie, good to "see" you, I was about to come out personally with an air-conditioner to see if you needed reviving from the heat :)

Edited: Aug 3, 2009, 10:54am Top

LOL! You're welcome anytime, with or without the air-conditioner. :-) I've been down in Portland which was even hotter--especially the night spent on my son's couch in a living room which was on the south side of a concrete and glass apt. with no window to open. Now I know what it's like to be a baked potato!

Edited to add: Which reminds me, that cookbook I mentioned earlier was Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed.

Aug 9, 2009, 4:42pm Top

thanks bonnie -- I took a look at a library copy and it's definitely a book to spend time with. In the past, I remember being curious why butter had to be kept cold for pastry, why eggs are added one-at-a-time, etc., and this book is that kind of info ... on steroids :) A great fit for my brain though not my cooking temperament!!

Edited: Aug 18, 2009, 11:21am Top

Book 50: I loved little Quinn Cummings in the '70s film, The Goodbye Girl, and now that we've grown closer in age (!) I devour her woman-next-door blog, The QC Report. And I'd been looking forward for a year to the release of her book of essays, Notes From the Underwire (*****).

She writes hilariously about her roles as woman, mother, homeowner, and a few essays about Hollywood will satisfy those fans. But there are touching pieces too -- when she’s 14 and her mother is diagnosed with lymphoma; when she’s 18 and the early days of AIDS have already claimed a quarter of the men in her neighborhood, prompting her to volunteer on a national support hotline. I found myself thinking that David Sedaris's essays have nothing on Quinn's. I always want more, and am glad I have a portion of her blog's archives still ahead of me.

Edited: Aug 18, 2009, 11:13am Top

Book 51: August 1 was Herman Melville's birthday and I celebrated by reading my first Melville, his shorter-than-a-novella, longer-than-a-short-story -- a novelette? -- Bartleby the Scrivener (***).

Bartleby is hired to make hand-written copies of documents in a Wall Street law office in 1850s New York City. Early on, he declines his boss's assignment to proofread colleagues' copies by declaring, "I would prefer not to." Before long, he also prefers not to write his own copies, or leave the office, or even eat. Events follow to the logical extreme (which is way, way beyond his being fired), and the boss's (the narrator) dealings with Bartleby is interesting psychology.

I love any story set in a workplace, and while this one was only long enough and developed enough to earn 3 stars, I'm glad to have read it -- if only to have earned the right to quote Bartleby's catch phrase :) I also think it would deepen upon repeated readings -- critics assign all sorts of themes to it (capitalism, materialism, employment practices, mental depression) which would make for a good group discussion.

It's available as its own little book, or bound with other Melville stories, or online here.

Aug 18, 2009, 11:32am Top

Book 52: New Tricks by David Rosenfelt (***)

Wealthy pharmaceutical scientist Walter Timmerman has been murdered, and when part-time attorney Andy Carpenter is summoned by the judge on the case, he assumes he’s been pegged for a pro-bono defense of the accused. Instead, the judge assigns Andy to represent Timmerman’s show-quality Bernese mountain dog (Bertrand II, aka: “Waggy”), in a custody fight between the deceased’s second wife and his adult son. When that widow is murdered soon thereafter, Andy finds himself housing the dog and defending the new accused -- the son -- in the now double-murder case.

I came to this book new to the author and primed to enjoy the dog-oriented Andy Carpenter series. I came away somewhat disappointed. What opens as an ultra-light, fun read is made tedious by Andy’s endless mental mulling of the case, much of which occurs to the reader before it does to Andy. Perhaps the series characters were developed well in earlier installments, but here they are stick figures. The murders seem routine, while a far more interesting aspect (the motive) is under-researched and under-developed. And the dogs … where are the dogs? Alas, they're mostly background, gnawing on bones or accompanying Andy on walks where he mulls more facts and loops them past the reader again.

Rosenfelt's dialogue is good and many scenes are witty; I wonder if I would have enjoyed this book more if I’d read the earlier installments? Thus I strongly recommend that readers new to the series begin with a book other than New Tricks.

Aug 18, 2009, 5:54pm Top

QC is hilarious! Thanks for turning me on to her blog.

Aug 20, 2009, 5:24am Top

re #131: I see you've finally found a slot for Bartleby---I think we talked a bit about it last year.

How about Bartleby and Co sometime? It is funny in a different way. I think I found a couple of very interesting authors in it who now/still wait their turn in my TBR list---ones who once wrote but later on preferred not to.

Aug 20, 2009, 9:06am Top

yes we did! you're my go-to source for clever/curious, but I'd forgotten about Bartleby and Co. Just popped it into a half-full amazon order, thankyouverymuch.

It's funny, there's something subliminal (or maybe universal) in Bartleby ... it must have been marinating in the couple of weeks between when I read it and when I wrote my comments, because it had already grown deeper in just the re-thinking, not even a re-reading.

Aug 20, 2009, 11:11am Top

Book 53: Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper (****) tells how a tiny, blind, Homeric kitten and his twentysomething human companion both pick themselves up from difficult beginnings and gain confidence and independence.

It’s a sweet and interesting memoir, chronologically structured, though with a voice that edges toward controlling -- demanding that we love Homer, rather than letting us ... which I did anyway :) A resident of lower Manhattan, Cooper’s experiences on 9/11 and the early days afterward are gripping. She writes dialogue particularly well, and "animal dialogue" even better, making me eager to read more from her, especially fiction.

Edited: Aug 20, 2009, 11:29am Top

Book 54: Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (***) (Barbery wrote this novella before The Elegance of the Hedgehog (which I still have TBR), but it hasn't been published in the US until now, following the success of Hedgehog.)

“I am going to die and there is a flavor that has been teasing my taste buds and my heart and I simply cannot recall it.”

So mourns renowned (and reviled) French food critic Pierre Arthens, who’s on his literal deathbed and desperate for a final taste of a food that he can’t recall except to know that it changed his life. He proceeds into a series of ruminations that take him back through the most important food experiences of his life -- and in the process reveal his arrogance and unlikeability -- each memory alternating with ultra-short, eulogy-like reminiscences by more than a dozen of his relatives, acquaintances, and pet :)

The narrative structure brings to mind the numerous points of view in Anita Shreve’s Testimony, although this narrative does not benefit from the forward movement of an underlying story as Shreve's did. Indeed, it took me days to finish this short novella, and I learned to not put it aside when I was in Monsieur Arthens’ point of view because I’d dread picking it up again. Thankfully, the other narrators add a lively, interesting and sympathetic balance. In the end, I’m happy to have persevered and finished, because in the final pages Monsieur Arthens’ food descriptions finally move from intellectual to sensual, prompting me to compile tasting goals of my own!

eta: link to Gourmet Rhapsody

Edited: Aug 27, 2009, 12:59pm Top

Book 55: I listened to the audio version of How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman (****) and although I don't take in information as well by ear as by eye, this one kept me interested during much of a 10-hour road trip.

Not sure who the audience is for this book -- the content seems too complex for most patients (although the underlying takeaways are important) and too basic for most physicians (though maybe a good reminder for mid-career docs). Nonetheless, I enjoyed playing detective and trying to solve each problem/identify each diagnosis before it was revealed :)

Aug 27, 2009, 1:06pm Top

Book 56: You Were Always Mom's Favorite! by Deborah Tannen (***)

I enjoyed You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation and know of Tannen’s other books, so was interested to see that she has sliced her study of conversation yet another way here -- along sisterly lines.

It’s an interesting slice since, as Tannen writes, “A sister is like yourself in a different movie, a movie that stars you in a different life.” She posits that these lives revolve around a subset of sibling rivalry where sisters connect and compete in attempts to align themselves for parental love. She supports that not through strictly scientific data but rather social anecdotes -- examples pulled from literature, pop culture, and her own interviews. It’s notable that I’ve recently read two other books that incorporate “everyman” quotes; they were clumsy in insertion and vacuous in content and frankly spoiled the works. But here, Tannen knows when to summarize someone’s comments and when to roll seamlessly into a spot-on and memorable quote.

A couple quibbles. First, contrary to the subtitle (Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives), this book is not much about conversation. Instead, it's primarily about psychology and exploring the underlying family roles and dynamics that sometimes bubble up into verbal and nonverbal communications.

Second, Tannen leaves no stone unturned, no shade of gray unexamined. At one point, she refers to the 17 single-spaced pages of research notes she'd accumulated for one topic; I think she included every one of them in this book -- first via a complete, fully formed example, then appended with a summarizing paragraph. The wordiness and repetition grew tedious, and tolerable in doses of at most a chapter at a time. I actually think an audio version would be a better fit for Tannen’s smooth, conversational (!) style, and where the repetition might feel reinforcing rather than frustrating.

Edited: Aug 27, 2009, 1:54pm Top

audio version would be a better fit for Tannen’s smooth, conversational (!) style, and where the repetition might feel reinforcing rather than frustrating.

That's a good point. I've read her other books too. She seemed to veer off too much to the personal in her book about mother-daughter relationships as well.

I love this topic of the different conversational "rules" that each of us have in our heads. Have you seen the video tapes of little boys and girls in conversation with each other--and then how that compares to men and women's conversations? F-A-S-C-I-N-A-T-I-N-G!

Edited: Aug 30, 2009, 7:00pm Top

detailmuse, interesting comments about You Were Always Mom's Favorite; I'll have to add that to the TBR pile.

Re: 139 and 140 bonniebooks - I've read a couple of Dr. Tannen's books and am currently reading You Just Don't Understand. I agree that her style would work well in audio format - I listened to Talking from 9 to 5 and don't really remember any sort of irritating repetitiousness that I'm noticing in the book I'm reading now. I really enjoy the anecdotal nature of her examples, however, because they remind me of actual conversations I've had with my brother or guy friends or (in You're Wearing That?) my mother more than quantitative scientific studies would.

Edited to fix my spelling/touchstone. :-)

Aug 30, 2009, 12:52pm Top

I might be ready for audio of You're Wearing That? by my next road trip to ... my mom's :)

bonnie, do you have a keyword (author, researcher) for these?

Sep 1, 2009, 4:16pm Top

Book 57: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen (***) (to be published in October)

Rhoda Janzen hasn’t spent extended time with her Mennonite family in 25 years. But when her husband leaves their 15-year-marriage and she’s injured in a car accident, she trades the costly sabbatical she’d planned from her midwestern college in favor of a few months back home on the west coast.

Janzen (a very likeable narrator) weaves childhood memories with anecdotes from those months spent visiting her parents (both of whom I loved: Dad is “the Mennonite equivalent of the Pope”; Mom is a pragmatic nurse and eternal optimist); her family and friends; and the Mennonite culture. But deep into the book, the story that finally emerges is her recovery (of self and roots) from her mentally ill husband and their failed marriage.

As a memoir, it’s wildly uneven. Some passages, even some words, are laugh-out-loud funny. Others seem self-indulgent -- more amusing to the author than a reader -- and continue too long and at the expense of more-relevant material. The writing is likened to poetry, but I can see that only in its lack of transitions rather than in language or sense evocation. I often wondered “Where are we?” and “When is this happening?”

I suspect this book exists due to the pressure to produce something tangible from a sabbatical -- and what’s more relevant for a teacher of English and creative writing to produce than a book? It’s a terrific concept and draft; it's an okay published work.

Sep 1, 2009, 5:03pm Top

Detailmuse . . . that one sounds interesting (just love that wishlist button!). Is this book set in Canada or the US?

Sep 1, 2009, 8:32pm Top

>144 Nickelini: -- the US; mostly California and Oregon, a bit in Michigan and Chicago. But really there's little sense of setting except for the Mennonite missions "on the Chaco" in South America; the author feared them as a child and relates them humorously here :) Some of the her ancestors immigrated from Russia through Canada (Saskatoon, I think), so it's also referenced a little bit.

Sep 1, 2009, 9:02pm Top

Well, now I'll really have to read this one. I think I've only met one Mennonite from the US. But my father's mother immigrated to Saskatchewan through Oregon, and I have distant relatives down there somewhere. This is definitely sounding like a must-read once it's published.

Edited: Sep 2, 2009, 9:56pm Top

>142 detailmuse:, They were videotapes that Deborah Tannen used on her book tours to demonstrate how consistently males are different from females in their conversational styles. The little boys were facing ahead, and just "one-upping" each other. It was all about the competition, who was going to come out on top--and same with the men. They weren't really listening to each other--or not in the way that you and I as women would call listening, because they kept changing the subject to say how they were better, or had something better. (There's a reason some things are called "boy toys".) The little girls were facing each other and really listening and responding to what each other was saying. Their goal was connecting with what each other said and felt, and building their relationship. And, again, the women were doing the same thing. It was a riot!

Sep 12, 2009, 11:45am Top

drat, nothing posted on youtube, her website, etc. But really, I can see it exactly from your description :) and have seen it in real life, practically every day, yes?!

Sep 14, 2009, 1:36pm Top

Book 58: A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve (****)

Shreve returns to Africa (after 2001’s The Last Time They Met) to explore how a woman’s passivity and growing strength affect her young marriage.

Set during Carter’s presidency in the late 1970s, a 28-year-old Boston newspaper photographer, Margaret, accompanies her husband, Patrick, to Nairobi for research in his fellowship in equatorial medicine. Soon thereafter and with little notice, Patrick announces he’s committed them both to climb Mt. Kenya with a group of friends. Though the climb involves technical mountaineering skills, Margaret complies without protest or negotiation. Instead, she scrambles to get ready and then we watch the group’s ascent and witness a terrible accident.

I loved the opening section, where Shreve evokes a real physicality of the climb; it made me eager to re-read Michael Crichton's similarly evocative essay, "Kilimanjaro" (from his collection, Travels). The accident causes aftershocks and adjustments in their marriage, which are explored in an interesting but slower-going middle, and things grow dramatic again toward the end.

This novel feels especially true-to-Shreve; readers who’ve developed a stable like or dislike for her works will feel similarly toward this one.

Sep 14, 2009, 2:52pm Top

Book 59: In Cheap We Trust by Lauren Weber

Cheap is the new black.

Actually, Lauren Weber’s words are “Cheap is the new green,” in her hopeful nod to ecology as the prompt that might finally make frugality sexy in America. Because nothing else has much tempered its persistent unpopularity and negative connotations with miserliness, self-denial and unworthiness.

To be clear, it’s primarily frugality and thrift that Weber explores here (as in the economical use of resources … living simply and mindfully, without waste), and cheapness (as in consuming inexpensively) to a lesser degree. In a journalist’s voice, she writes about the history of thrift and spending from the Puritans and Quakers to Emerson and Thoreau; from wartime rationing to the expanded postwar industrial capacity that spurred consumerism; from the origin of savings banks, through the growth and decline of home economics, to the Depression and today's financial crisis.

She also explores economics, sociology and a number of competing tensions. For example, is it good citizenship to demonstrate personal responsibility through personal savings, or better to support the national (even global) economy by spending? If you do spend, should it be on “productive” (essential) goods with their long-term economic benefit and not on “consumptive” (luxury) goods? Do your personal savings from ultra-inexpensive imported goods outweigh their high political and environmental costs? And what about advertising, forced obsolescence, ego gratification and keeping up with the Joneses?

Readers with any level of interest in frugality will find themselves repeating the WWII mantra, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” and will see themselves described in this book -- somewhere along Weber’s continuum from Dumpster-diving freegans to folks who simply believe that less is more.

Sep 15, 2009, 3:37pm Top

Book 60: Stitches by David Small (*****)

It's only this year that I've finally gotten interested in a graphic novel -- from bell7's thread, I've added Maus to my wishlist.

So how wild is it that my second-ever "bonnie run" :) ended up with me buying my first-ever graphic novel (graphic memoir, actually) ... AT FULL PRICE from an independent bookstore?! Small is an award-winning children's book illustrator, and Stitches is his story of childhood illness in the home of abusive and neglectful parents. It's extremely accessible -- spacious drawings and very few words, not nearly the density of e.g. Maus.

It's the best book money I've spent in a long time; I've already reread many sections and recommended it to so many people. One of my Wow! books of 2009.

Sep 15, 2009, 4:30pm Top

On your recommendation, I took a look at it and enjoyed what I "read" but by that time, I already had my arms full and, even with birthday money in hand, I decided I better save it for my next "bonnie run." There is such power and poignancy in those pictures, isn't there?

Sep 15, 2009, 7:51pm Top

oh yes! I love when he completely stops the action and then freeze-frames the reader through a pivotal moment.

It reads so quickly, another reason I can't believe I'm happy to have spent the $$ :)

P.S. "birthday money" ... happy (belated?!) birthday, bonnie!!

Sep 16, 2009, 3:32am Top

Hola MJ. Catching up on your thread, I noticed that you, a former pharmacist, got Methland as an ER book and I, a current pharmacist, also got Methland as an ER book. I wonder how the algorithm picked that out. lol I've also added some books to my TBR from your reviews.

Sep 16, 2009, 8:12am Top

>153 detailmuse:: Thanks! I'm notorious for holding on to gift certificates for years, but the birthday money burns a hole through my pocket pretty fast. Going back to the book store on Friday even though I haven't finished the books I got last Friday. In Cheap We Trust sounds interesting, though usually the first few chapters are only worth reading in books like that. I notice you didn't star it and can't quite tell from your summary what you think. Is it worth buying?

Sep 16, 2009, 8:49am Top

>151 detailmuse: - I've seen so much praise of Stitches lately that I really must check it out. Requesting from the library now...

Looking forward to seeing what you think of Maus; from the sound of it, it's quite different from Stitches, but it's very powerful in its own way.

Sep 16, 2009, 4:14pm Top

chrine, too funny! Now you've made me want to browse your library to puzzle it out! :)

bonnie -- I'm still wavering ... 4 vs 4.5 stars for In Cheap We Trust. It's definitely a book about buying less, not buying cheaply. (For an exploration of discount shopping, I've heard about Ellen Ruppel Shell's Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. But I won't be reading that, since I'm soooo not a shopper.) I'm definitely frugal, so In Cheap We Trust is preaching to the choir in me. And I'm an MBA who's married to a finance/econ guy, so I knew most of the economics she presented. She's very readable but not fabulously readable. However, the chapter on home economics (titled: "What Use Can a Woman Have For Arithmetic?") made me want to read a whole book on that topic. Take a look, it's one you might want to skim.

bell7, definitely looking forward to Maus. I'll be watching for your comments about Stitches.

Sep 16, 2009, 4:21pm Top

Book 61: Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline (***)

Why can’t people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing.

These sentences from the novel’s epigraph are prophetic of its premise: What if, in a duo of married couples, the spouses are paired up wrong? Can they still have what (who) they want?

Alison grew up best friends with Claire in a small Southern town. She met her husband through Claire and Claire's husband; they all relocated to the New York City area, and although Alison has sensed a distance in the relationships, she doesn’t realize that it’s because her husband and Claire are having an affair. When Claire’s debut novel -- a fictional account of their childhood -- is released with a book-launch party, it’s with mixed feelings that Allison drives into the City to attend. A couple of martinis ease her discomfort there, but they also dull her reactions on the drive home and contribute to a fatal car accident. Emotional aftershocks force the foursome to wake up to what they have -- and what they want -- in their friendships and marriages.

It's a very quiet story, ethereal even, told largely through interior rumination and backstory. Its narrative structure is interesting: one linear storyline (told through an alternating focus on the four main characters) moves forward from the time of the accident; another, reverse-chronology “backstory”-line (reminiscent of Seinfeld’s “backward” episode, minus the comedy) traces their relationships back a dozen years. It works -- what begins as a collection of angry, whiny characters -- so unsympathetic that I nearly abandoned the book -- evolves with understanding into semi-sympathetic men and women whose stories I wanted to follow to a resolution.

Sep 21, 2009, 1:52pm Top

Book 62: The premise of my latest Early Reviewer snag, Off the Tourist Trail, is ambitious: narrow the planet’s must-see attractions to the hundred crème-de-la-crème; delineate what makes them so fabulous and acknowledge their drawbacks (usually crowds and commercialization); and then offer worthy alternatives. Oh -- and accompany it with mind-blowingly stunning photography.

The result? A coffee-table book presented with Dorling Kindersley’s trademark lush sensuality -- smooth, heavy pages; vibrant colors; pleasing layout -- that is beyond successful. To be clear, the book is less an actual travel guide and more a guide for expanding one’s worldview. Yes, uber-travelers might happily substitute one continent’s beach or festival for another’s, half a world away. But historical sites and natural wonders seem much less interchangeable, and the takeaway from this book is an awareness that even unique prototypes actually do have similars (Lascaux isn’t the only example of prehistoric rock art; Pompeii isn’t the only preserved ruins; Route 66 isn’t even the best driving trip).

My only caution is to Bill Bryson fans, drawn by the prominent attachment of his name to the book. Be forewarned -- his unbelievably short, repetitive, and vacuous Foreword frankly disrespects both the book and the reader.

Otherwise, highly recommended!

Sep 21, 2009, 3:47pm Top

Book 63: And Tango Makes Three (*****) is the true story of a pair of male chinstrap penguins who nest an adopted fertile egg and raise a daughter (named Tango) in New York City’s Central Park Zoo.

The picture book's text and illustrations combine to develop a poignant story where Roy and Silo, amid a zoo-full of nesting penguin couples, look forlornly at their empty nest and, later, at a rock that refuses to hatch. But when a zookeeper replaces the rock with an abandoned egg from a pair who laid two, the story builds into a happy and inclusive example of diversity.

(In real life, of course, there’s an afterword about the pair.)

Sep 21, 2009, 6:54pm Top

And Tango Makes Three sounds so charming. I've heard the story. Is this a children's book or for adults? I really want to read Off the Tourist Trail though I haven't seen any of the top 100 sites and am just as interested to see what he chose for this category.

Sep 21, 2009, 7:50pm Top

> hi bonnie
And Tango Makes Three is a children's picture book. It's for my Banned/Challenged/Taboo-topic category -- was published in 2005 and then was the #1 most-challenged book in 2006, 2007, and 2008. I figure anything that controversial deserves a full slot in my challenge despite its diminutive length! :)

btw, if the "he" you refer to re: Off the Tourist Trail is Bill Bryson, forget it. He makes no contribution to the book other than a foreword with so little content he could have tweeted it. :((

Sep 21, 2009, 9:53pm Top

Oh, I see that Off the Tourist Trail is edited and published by DK with no single author. Didn't recognize the name right away even though I have lots of children's books published by them.

Sep 23, 2009, 7:35pm Top

Book 64: The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan (****) is a love story set in Niagara Falls, Ontario in the early days of hydro-electric power.

Seventeen-year-old Bess Heath is a contemplative daughter of privilege until her father loses his high-level job at the Niagara Power Company and the family loses its class status in the community. Her father turns to whiskey; her older sister turns to despair when her well-to-do fiancé breaks their engagement; and her mother turns to dressmaking to support the family. Unable to afford her final year in boarding school, Bess apprentices as a seamstress under her mother and takes increasing notice of Tom Cole, a riverman whose sixth sense and respect for the Niagara enable him to make life-saving rescues from the river … and, more often, to retrieve remains.

Historical aspects of WWI-era domestic life, and the natural aspects of the Niagara Falls area, make for interesting reading. But the novel has little forward momentum other than a tender love story, and would have benefited if its underlying storyline -- an exploration of the tensions between preserving nature (the river and falls) - vs - promoting technological advances (siphoning water for hydro-electric power) -- had been more fully developed.

Still, Buchanan’s writing successfully carries this novel, and it reminds me very much (in style, voice, pace and story) of Marianne Wiggins’s Evidence of Things Unseen -- a love story set in Tennessee in the early days of atomic power. I recommended each book to fans of the other.

Edited: Oct 7, 2009, 4:35pm Top

Book 65: Cut by Patricia McCormick (****), a YA novel about a 15-year-old girl in a residential treatment program for self-injury. Very good plotting and sympathetic characters; fair exploration of self-injury. I wanted more/deeper, but would probably need to pursue nonfiction or an adult title since this one is already on the most-frequently-banned/challenged lists.

Book 66: On the Money: The Economy in Cartoons (*****). Wry look at money -- business and personal -- through a coffee-table collection of New Yorker cartoons from 1925 to today. Excellent Foreword by Malcolm Gladwell. See review.

eta: link to review

Sep 26, 2009, 4:02pm Top

I’m feeling good with just 15 books to go!

My list of finished books is in Message 1 above, and here’s my plan for the rest:


Category complete!

Reading Globally
Pride and Prejudice

Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation
The Bluest Eye
The Call of the Wild
The Color Purple

Laughing Out Loud
Category complete!

Long Books (I modified this to be >400pp)
American Wife
Half of a Yellow Sun
The Charm School
(maybe Inkheart and/or Something Happened and/or The Pillars of the Earth)

Artist Dates


Wild Cards

Most of the books specified above are very, very tired -- they’ve survived many rounds of “layoffs” when their cohorts from my original lists were subbed out in favor of others :(( I'm looking forward to them, especially the immersion in long books.

TBAs are likely to be filled by some upcoming arcs:
Change by Design by Tim Brown
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham
Momofuku by David Chang
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Edited: Oct 7, 2009, 10:54am Top

Book 67: I finally read The Call of the Wild by Jack London (****) and really liked the story of Buck, the family dog on a California estate, who discovers his wild-wolf self after he's stolen and sold to pull sleds during the 1900s Klondike gold rush in Canada's Yukon Territory. It's in my banned/challenged category; I'm not sure why except maybe for some n-words. I think if I was grade-school age, and if I'd read the text rather than listened to audio, I'd love this book.

Oct 7, 2009, 10:55am Top

Book 68: Conquering Fear (****)
In his 12th book, Rabbi Harold Kushner offers a place of comfort and hope amid the deepening worries of life in this 21st century.

Through chapters organized around change, divorce and unemployment, natural disasters and terrorism/war, and infirmity and death, Kushner acknowledges our fear (“Something terrible is likely to happen”) but refutes our implied helplessness (“Something terrible is likely to happen and there is nothing {I} can do about it”). Thus, while he doesn’t diminish the reality that events will likely cause us pain, he does help us to discard the hobbling layer of suffering (our emotional response to pain): “Fear, accepted and embraced, is no longer fear but at most a realistic concern with some future event.” His own wisdom is supplemented with stories from his family, congregants and colleagues, plus examples from popular fiction, nonfiction and the Bible (I wish he had included a bibliography).

Conquering Fear offers comfort more so than a checklist, and a gathering peace and confidence more so than revelation. Its focus on faith, spirituality and personal strength -- and not specifically religion -- makes it widely accessible.

Oct 9, 2009, 12:05pm Top

Book 69: I was fresh from Deborah Tannen's writings when I was offered an arc of Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham ... was interested to read about teen communications and didn't notice the book is published by Thomas Nelson, so I got a significantly more conservative book than is my taste. 3.5 stars


Chad Eastham opens this Christian-teen guide to the opposite sex with a pair of metaphors that Bill and Pam Farrel made famous in their adult relationship seminars: Guys are Waffles (they compartmentalize the various aspects of their lives into separate boxes and deal with one aspect at a time), Girls are Spaghetti (they weave all aspects of their lives together and are excellent multitaskers).

It’s a guide for early- to mid-teenagers, presented in a fun, friendly voice with content that’s immediately applicable to that age group while also laying groundwork for the later-teen years: opposite-sex friendships, communication (including body language), conflict resolution, dating and sex. The approach is supportive (promoting self-respect: “Guys are there to appreciate and affirm your significance, not create it”) and conservative (recommending that sex be delayed until marriage and even that dating be delayed until one is ready to get married).

A note: although the book purports to be about both genders, it’s mostly about guys. Written in a guy-centric perspective, Eastham describes guys and then mostly describes girls as not-guys; there are few glimpses from a girl-centered perspective. Thus, its best audience is probably guys who want a grounding and confirmation of their normalcy, and girls who want to better understand guys.

Oct 9, 2009, 12:17pm Top

Yes, I've gotten a few books where I was a chapter in and wondering what was different before I realized that it was "Christian" fiction. So now I remember to check the publisher. I've nothing against the genre, but tend to prefer not to read it, just as I generally avoid books about the paranormal. Although I might be tempted by a book about an evangelical Baptist vampire. Seriously, there is a niche that needs to be filled.

Oct 9, 2009, 1:53pm Top

!! And Anne Rice could fill it!

Oct 9, 2009, 4:19pm Top

Oh, snap.

Edited: Oct 24, 2009, 6:37pm Top

ahhhh, I've been on vacation for two weeks and kept so busy I only read two books! One was Jonathan Safran Foer's upcoming treatise against Eating Animals, which was ok (3 1/2 stars) ... not nearly as good an exploration of the industrial food supply as Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma or Grescoe's Bottomfeeder, and with very little of the cleverness I'd expected after loving his novels. Review forthcoming.

Also read the most recent issue of the Bellevue Literary Review, a semi-annual collection of stories, essays and poems published by NYU's Department of Medicine. Not all of the entries appealed to me, but the ones that did, WOW! I love this journal and it's in my Artist Dates category here because these medical/illness-related characters, settings, and situations inspire me to write down my own career and life stories.

edited to link directly to BLR's website

Oct 24, 2009, 8:19pm Top

I saw Pollan on Charlie Rose the other night. Good thing I don't eat meat very much--and I'm never going to eat another hamburger! I probably don't need to read his book, but I'll buy it anyway just to support his message.

Oct 26, 2009, 7:58pm Top

bonnie, Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma is beautifully written, literary even. He traces the origins of four meals: a fast-food meal; a typical meal (meaning meat from today's farm, which has converted to "industrial" methods of production); a meal from a "pastoral" farm (what used to be the typical family farm of our childhoods); and a meal gathered personally through wild hunting. He writes in great depth, with an epidemiological approach involving politics and economics, about the migration from pastoral to industrial farming and it is revelatory. Definitely in my top-10 nonfiction of all time.

Oct 26, 2009, 8:23pm Top

Book 72: I finally finished The Color Purple by Alice Walker, which I've been reading since early July! I'd decided to keep a book in my purse to take wherever I might encounter a line/a wait, and chose this because it's one of my few mass-market pbs. Plus, the epistolary style makes it easy to pick up/put down. I struggle to give it 4 stars. When I wondered if the sporadic reading was making me enjoy it less, I pulled it out of my purse and then it got even less enjoyable to read!

I liked the early pages well enough, loved them even, but was frustrated when Walker basically stopped the story to give the reader a history lesson (Nettie's letters). That reminded me of The Poisonwood Bible, which I also loved until Kingsolver essentially abandoned the story and preached to the reader for a hundred pages.

But now I'm off to the library for the DVD; I've resisted watching the movie a hundred times on TV because I wanted to read the book first :)

Oct 26, 2009, 8:45pm Top

I don't remember what I thought about The Color Purple but I'm so with you on The Poisonwood Bible. Plus, it was so obvious that each member of the family in that book stood for a group, or a stereotype. All her books can get preachy, but that one was the absolute worst!

Oct 26, 2009, 8:54pm Top

I had mixed feelings about The Color Purple too, although unlike you, I did get to read it fairly quickly. (I always find I enjoy a book more when I can focus as much as possible on it and stay in that world, rather than flip in and out) (did that sound like a lecture? Sorry if it did--I just meant to share a tip that I find useful). Anyway, yes, I know what you mean about the tangent she went off on and how it reminded you of the Poisonwood Bible. I think Walker wrote another book about that character and her world (?) (Off to look up the title . . . ah, it's Possessing the Secret of Joy).

Anyway, I hope you like the DVD. I watched it years after it came out, but years before I read the book. I thought it was very well done, and I was also shocked at how well Oprah acted in it. But I must see it again to see if I still think that. Please let us know what you think of the movie (I don't think I've ever looked at Danny Glover the same way after I saw it).

Nov 1, 2009, 9:26am Top

I watched the movie of The Color Purple yesterday and liked it ... visually beautiful, emotionally intense. A little different from the book (SPOILERS ahead) with the omission of the lesbian storyline and little emphasis on Africa.

Knowing Oprah's history, I see why the story resonates so much for her; she did a remarkable job but maybe over-acted it a bit? It's timely that one of her favorite things in the Nov. issue of her magazine is a page of purple watches ("I don't have to tell you how I feel about the color purple").

Was weird to see the film (from 1985) begin by "...introducing Whoopi Goldberg." :) She's now one of a handful of people who have won an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy. And Danny Glover? Ack, he just has to smile and I forgive him :( I think it did shed light into abusers having themselves been abused.

Nov 1, 2009, 10:38am Top

With just 9 books and 2 months to go, I'm eager to finish this challenge! But that's offset by the fact that 5 of the 9 books are in my long-books category; they speak in deep-bass voices and tell my eagerness to settle down and settle in.

Which is what I'm doing with Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife, and am really enjoying it. Others tbr in the category are Half of a Yellow Sun (merely long-ish, and should be terrific); Something Happened (I loved Catch 22 but it was not an easy read); The Charm School (DeMille is one of my favorite authors but I'm 100 pages into this and still not hooked); and Pillars of the Earth which I plan on loving and so am tempted to make it my first read in 2010. I could swap it for Inkheart.

P.S. Bonnie -- in another category, P&P is still in the line-up :)

Edited: Nov 1, 2009, 1:11pm Top

Pride and Prejudice?! Aaaah, time for another reread! ;-) I've got Inkheart on the table next to me. We could read it together. I've got to get some motivation to start reading it or take it back to the library so someone else can--it's so easy to get greedy when requesting books online.

Edited to change "bet" to "get." Why don't I notice those things the first time around?

Nov 1, 2009, 12:36pm Top

I could do Inkheart next! I think it's for middle-graders so should be fast, although I admit to starting it once, years ago, and putting it aside. Reading together will be great!

Nov 1, 2009, 12:42pm Top

I just watched the movie last night. Both my husband and I enjoyed Inkheart although some of the critics were a bit harsh. I'm thinking I might give the book another try some time.

Nov 1, 2009, 1:17pm Top

>182 detailmuse:: I'll keep it then. Tell me when you're getting started. :-) Join in J.M.

Nov 1, 2009, 7:51pm Top

bonnie and any others interested -- maybe Tuesday or Wednesday for Inkheart? The pages of American Wife are flying and I'll just need a day or overnight to reboot my brain for a new story.

Nov 15, 2009, 2:12pm Top

Book 73: I was interested in Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife (****) (a fictional bio/memoir of Laura Bush) in order to explore a wife's reactions to a husband who is widely unpopular and disrespected. The question in Sittenfeld's novel is a little different: to what extent is the woman herself (whose political views differ from her husband's) responsible for the actions of her husband -- woulda/coulda/shoulda she have influenced him more? The book is 550 pages of mostly interior monologue, but it's a real page-turner! I especially liked reading about the private lives of rich people. In the end, I think Sittenfeld answered my question (what it's like to be partnered to such a man) but not her own (is a wife complicit in the actions of her husband).

Book 74: The Miles Between by Mary Pearson (****) is about a 17-year-old who's been through numerous boarding schools since she was seven. Her #1 rule is "Don't get attached," but through a series of coincidences she takes a leap and goes on a day-long road trip with three other students from the school. Over the day, a secret is slowly revealed. I've come to realize that I like stories about this age (ie coming-of-age) much more than I like stories written for this age group (YA). But I love coincidences and I thought a story about them would balance the YA aspect. It was a quick, light read, but the writer was heavy-handed -- pointing out every coincidence, wrapping up the end of the story too much -- and a little misleading.

Nov 15, 2009, 2:41pm Top

Book 75: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (***). Contrasted with the 550-page American Wife, this 530-page children's book was the slowest trudging ever! I simply couldn't get into the story. Ha! "get into" -- is ironic because this is a story about a man who can read characters out of a story into the real world, and read real people into a story.

It's fantasy (which I never read), and I thought it was set centuries ago in European "villages" ... until cellphones were mentioned in the final pages, ?? There was surprisingly little imagination or plot variety or character development. But I've had it since 2004 and am sooo grateful to bonniebooks for agreeing to read with me, otherwise I wouldn't have persisted ... and I needed this for my long-books category :)

An interesting aspect: I read the first 150 pages from a book and had the recurring thought that it would be such a different (better) experience if I were reading aloud to kids/being read aloud to. So while on a road trip, I switched to an audio version; though read fabulously by Lynn Redgrave, I still was never even 10% engaged. Which is wild, considering how interesting the premises are: readers and characters interacting; the writer's role and responsibility in creating characters...

Nov 15, 2009, 5:44pm Top

I so agree, MJ. This may have been fantasy, but there was no magic in this story!

Nov 19, 2009, 3:29pm Top

187 & 188: Seems that you have read one book off my TBR-list. I've always thought that Inkheart would be most interesting read, for the same reasons you mention above. Well, I guess not.

Nov 19, 2009, 4:53pm Top

I just finished Inkheart and while my reaction isn't as negative as yours it wasn't as good as I had hoped. I ended up preferring the movie!

Nov 20, 2009, 12:32pm Top

When it comes to the topic of gender,
Mother Nature’s been having some fun.
Take nothing for granted! Remember,
You won’t find any rules -- not a one!

And not just regarding gender (where, by the way, there are more than two) -- Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation (*****) shows that species are coloring outside the lines in every aspect of sex, including seduction; mating; fertilization; monogamy and promiscuity; nesting and child-rearing ... and proving that anything that leads to propagation of the species (and explaining why it does) is fair game for an evolutionary adaptation.

In an advice-column Q&A, fretful letters are submitted by anthropomorphized insects, fish, reptiles, birds and mammals, and answers are provided by Dr. Tatiana (aka evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson) in a voice that’s an amusing cross between Dr. Ruth with Miss Manners. An assertion that damselflies have evolved “some of the fanciest penises around” caught my attention early on, and nature’s inventiveness just got more interesting from there. The content is surprisingly substantive and the light style keeps it terrifically accessible.

Nov 20, 2009, 1:05pm Top

I had this book on my wishlist earlier this year, but deleted it because I didn't have a "rec by..." tag for it. Now I can add it back. Great review, MJ! You've made it sound equally entertaining and educational.

Nov 20, 2009, 3:57pm Top

Only a few books to go and you'll be done with the 999!

Nov 21, 2009, 9:14am Top


Nov 21, 2009, 1:57pm Top

Book 77: I came to Momofuku (*****) as a relatively beginning cook (despite my middle age) and an intermediate foodie, and suspected that the recipes from David Chang’s acclaimed group of NYC restaurants would be over my head. I was right -- as they will be for all but the most adventurous and experienced cooks. But recipes aren’t the only aspect to this book -- it’s also a memoir of Chang’s path from happy noodle-eater/unhappy office-worker through cooking school and apprenticeships to award-winning chef and restaurateur.

In fact, straightforward recipes are fairly rare in this book. Rather, they’re tutorials -- each step is a paragraph about process and technique, and I’m already a better cook (and restaurant patron) just for having read them. The book itself is trademark Clarkson-Potter (think Barefoot Contessa and Martha Stewart books) -- smooth, heavy pages filled with full-color photographs of food, the restaurants, diners and staff -- many of which evoke a sense of motion and hectic energy. That energy is reinforced by Chang’s conversational text, including profanity (which feels seamless and never gratuitous) and absolute gems of instruction. For example, for a pan-roasted rib eye (a do-able recipe), Chang advises to “Season the steak liberally with salt -- like you’d salt a sidewalk in New York in the winter,” and, after cooking, to “Let the steak rest. Just leave it the hell alone”; about removing the fat from pigskin in the process of making pork rinds (not a do-able recipe): “Scrape gently but with determination.”

Highly recommended for highly motivated -- and armchair -- cooks.

Nov 29, 2009, 2:57pm Top

Book 78: I’ve been drawn for months to the ‘60s bestseller, Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (****), so I finally picked it up for my long-books category. It’s very retro, and reading it alongside current releases felt much the same as watching an old movie compared to today’s films -- highly melodramatic on the surface, very little developed underneath. But I liked it!

The “dolls” of the title are prescription drugs (amphetamines and barbiturates) and the story is about three New York friends (a model, a singer, an actress) whose lives over 20 years (1945-65) include a reliance on the pills. The novel is an interesting look at the entertainment industry and the old studio system -- and honestly, things haven’t changed. There are passages about early forms of rehab, and a passage that stood out now but probably wouldn’t have in the ‘60s involved a “sleep cure,” where celebrities were basically rendered unconscious for a week of rest. It was freakishly predictive of Michael Jackson and makes it certain that there’s a lot more self-destructive behavior among today’s celebrities than we'd ever suspect.

Dec 12, 2009, 9:17am Top

A few off-challenge reads:

The Artist's Way Every Day by Julia Cameron (*****) -- I'd felt creatively flat and had recently returned to the wellspring -- Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and its twin practices of Morning Pages and Artist Dates. So I was interested to see that Cameron has sliced her material in a new and accessible way in this collection of daily excerpts about the creative process. Might there be magic in her tiny inspirations, ingested every day?

I opened the book to that day's entry, November 14: "So often in a creative career, the magic that is required is quite simply the courage to go on. Singers must sing their scales. Actors must learn their monologues. Writers like myself must spend time at the keys. We would like a break in the weather. We would like a break, period, but the breaks, if they come, will not come today. Today is about keeping on."

Bingo! Great for anyone who's in creative pursuit.


In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink argued that America’s need for left-brain (logical, linear) skills has largely been replaced by automation (software) -- just as physical skills were replaced by machinery in the industrial revolution -- and he described what right-brain (creative, empathic) thinking adds that makes it critical to today’s business success. Now in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (****; due out Dec 29), Pink tackles how to motivate these creative workers (hint: think intrinsic empowerment, not extrinsic rewards and punishments).

His first 130+ pages rate 5 stars; they’re filled with highlighter-worthy content that’s developed logically and presented simply. But they're followed by a 70-page “toolkit” for applying the principles that, while helpful and interesting, is laid out with huge fonts and lots of white space and feels frankly padded and dumbed-down. Still, it's recommended reading for anyone involved in motivating people in the workplace, school or home.


Thin Places (****; due out Feb 1) is a spiritual memoir -- Mary DeMuth's exploration of her childhood rapes and losses and their ramifications in adolescence and adulthood ... and her realization that while she didn't find Jesus until age 15, He has always been with her.

She relates what she calls the “thin places” of her life -- moments of God's presence that nearly erase the distinction between spiritual and physical. Looking back, she finds thin places long before she knew God; looking ahead, she strives to recognize and appreciate them now as they occur. She organizes her experiences as a series of vignettes around incidents and themes -- some heartbreaking; a few veering toward testimony; all empathic and inspiring. Reading them created thin places of my own :)

Dec 12, 2009, 12:10pm Top

With three books to go (1 in my Reading Globally category and 2 in Long Books), I got a little freaked when I found myself setting aside two long books at about page 100 in each -- especially surprising since both are by favorite authors (Chimamanda Adichie and Nelson DeMille). AND I'm finding last month's LTER win (Small Kingdoms) slow-going. Needless to say, I've been relieved to thoroughly enjoy some other reads in the meantime.

Anyway, I was surprised by how much Small Kingdoms reminded me of Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun that I'd put aside -- so, since I need to finish it and post an LTER review, I think I will then return to Adichie and see how much of a pair these two books end up being.

And I've been longing to read the '60s office satire Something Happened, but hesitated to do it under a time crunch since Heller's books can test a reader's patience and tenacity. But in a cool coincidence, my LTER win this month is the workplace-based The Pursuit of Other Interests -- and so I think I will pair these, too!

Dec 12, 2009, 12:30pm Top

You've inspired me to go look for my copy of The Artist's Way and start again. If I can't get going, maybe I'll give The Artist's Way Everyday to myself for Christmas. :-) And I always enjoy Pinker's books, so thanks for reminding me to look for those at the library.

Sounds like you've got a good plan for finishing up your challenge. Good luck!

Dec 12, 2009, 6:50pm Top

Thin Places sounds good - and I like the title.

Dec 20, 2009, 2:10pm Top

>200 cmbohn: Isn't it a perfect metaphor? I think it's going to stay with me forever.

Edited: Dec 21, 2009, 3:43pm Top

Book #79: Small Kingdoms by Anastasia Hobbet (****) -- an LTER book, good writing, a terrific glimpse of mid-1990s Kuwait (under constant threat of a repeat invasion by Saddam Hussein); but it's mostly interconnected vignettes, very little storyline until two-thirds through the book. See review.

Speaking of very little storyline, I'm 200 pages into Heller's "Nothing Happened" (oops, I mean Something Happened; I'm sure that joke has been done one million times re: this book). It's pure Heller -- wandering dark satire, rings very true, this time about 1960s work and family -- sometimes amusing but without the laugh-out-loud humor that got me through Catch-22. I'm suspecting what might be coming, though, and I hope it does, because it'll be huge, emotionally. No hints please! :)

Just two partial (already started) books to go! That's the pep talk I'm giving myself :) and ignoring the fact that it's still nearly 700pp to go...

edited to link to review

Edited: Dec 20, 2009, 3:11pm Top

Oh -- and two off-challenge reads that I liked:

Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman -- I heard about this via the off-Broadway play by the Ephron sisters. The small, illustrated book is the author's (very brief) remembrances of key outfits (most from the 1940s, '50s and '60s) of her life, her friends, her family. Not a substantive memoir, yet a great "artist date" -- definitely inspires me to write some memories related to clothing in my own life.


And I came to Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals having interpreted “closed” figuratively (i.e. private; inaccessible to the general public). But Christopher Payne intends the word literally here, in this photographic tour of state psychiatric hospitals that have ceased operation and fallen into ruin.

In an introductory essay, neurologist Oliver Sacks discusses asylums as the castle-like sanctuaries they began as in the late 1800s, rather than the wretched places of confinement most grew to be by the mid-1900s. Photographer Christopher Payne laments similarly in his essay: “Sadly, few Americans realize that these institutions were once monuments to civic pride, built with noble intentions by leading architects and physicians who envisioned the asylums as places of refuge, therapy, and healing.”

Those essays are followed by nearly 200 full-page photographs (black and white, color) showing the decayed remains of numerous hospitals in dozens of states -- their architecture, grounds, interiors, equipment, and patients’ personal effects. Payne returns in an Afterword to describe how this book came to be, and how it felt, over weeks, to watch the demolition of one state hospital that held ties to his childhood.

My only quibbles were that I was confused by frequent blank pages (as though photographs had been removed at the last minute), and I longed for an index. Otherwise, this is a lovely, albeit melancholy, book, and a moving homage to state hospitals.

Dec 28, 2009, 10:05am Top

Book 80: Something Happened by Joseph Heller (****). It took a long time to read this book and it'll take much longer to sift its style and subtext and my reactions.

It's Freudian psychoanalysis, isn't it, that requires the patient to speak his every thought aloud to the psychiatrist, literally for months or years of sessions, until the central issue is discovered? This novel reads like a transcript of such sessions, where it's the mid-1960s and forty-ish Bob Slocum relates his anxieties about his middle-manager office job; his mother, father, siblings; his wife; his current, former, and potential lovers; his increasingly independent teenage daughter; his very sensitive pre-teen son; and his mentally disabled pre-school son. I'm the youngest in a family from that time, and the generalities (if not the specifics) felt very true. They feel true to today, too.

In Catch-22, Heller balanced the horrors of war with laugh-out-loud hilarity. Those extremes aren't present in this novel; instead, the general anxiety and melancholy are balanced only with mild smiles. Here, the polarity is the narrative focus -- 569 pages recounting absolute minutiae, contrasted with the merest paragraph that summarizes a terrible event. And when that event is voiced, as in psychoanalysis, the rest is wrapped up in short order.

One must be in the mood for Heller. I liked this book and, though I never planned to read beyond Catch-22 and Something Happened, I'm now interested in more by him. Someday. Right now, I'm interested in continuing to explore this novel through other sources and readers.

Dec 28, 2009, 10:07am Top

You're almost done!

Dec 28, 2009, 10:55am Top

oh I needed that cheer, thanks Victoria!

Dec 28, 2009, 7:14pm Top

Some great books on here!

Dec 30, 2009, 11:30pm Top

I finished!!

Book 81: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (****) follows twin sisters and their friends, colleagues, and servants during Biafra's secession from Nigeria during the late-1960s civil war. Terrific historical fiction. In my Catholic grade school at that time, I remember learning about the children starving in Biafra -- and when I looked into Biafra's history while reading this novel, I discovered that Catholic Relief Services was one of the few organizations to get food into the area.

I think I'm at 89 books for the year, so I may try to find one tiny something to read tomorrow to bring me to a round 90. But officially, I'm done!

Dec 31, 2009, 7:37am Top

Yay! Well done!

Dec 31, 2009, 7:58am Top

>209 VictoriaPL: *hug* to a great cheerleader :)

Dec 31, 2009, 8:00am Top

aw, thanks!

Edited: Dec 31, 2009, 9:53am Top

My Best of Each Category
Biography/Memoir: Stitches by David Small
Fiction: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Reading Globally: Off the Tourist Trail ed. by Dorling Kindersley
Banned/Challenged/Taboo-topic: Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson
Laughing out Loud: The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes ed. by McSweeney’s
Long Books: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Artist Dates: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Nonfiction: Listening to Prozac by Peter D. Kramer
Wild Card: Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley

My Top 10 Overall (in alphabetical order)
Border Songs by Jim Lynch
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Stitches by David Small
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes ed. by McSweeney’s
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Looking forward to seeing you and your books in 2010! I’ve planned a writing project so will be reading a bit less -- I invite you to follow my main reading thread over at Club Read 2010.

I’m also planning to start a thread in the Books off the Shelf challenge, and I’m eager to return to my languishing threads in the 6 Degrees of Separation and Fifty States Fiction groups.

Dec 31, 2009, 11:51am Top

Congrats on finishing! and thanks for the 'best of' post. I always love reading those.

Dec 31, 2009, 3:03pm Top


I also enjoyed your best list, and was especially pleased to see The Help in your top 10. I know nothing about it, but got it for Christmas, so will be reading it soon.

Dec 31, 2009, 4:05pm Top

Me too says Congratulations!

And I am really anxious to get to hear the Border Songs. I think your thread is the first place I heard of the book.

Jan 1, 2010, 4:25pm Top

Thanks everyone! Cindy, I'm amazed at how you get around to all the threads in this group! ivyd, based on how you've rated books we share, I think you'll love The Help. And eairo, I'm more excited for your global reading tour to arrive in the USA than you are! -- can't wait to see the interesting books you'll pick, none of which will have translation/availability issues :) I suppose you might not get here till 2011??

Jan 30, 2010, 1:01pm Top

#216 - Oops, I somehow didn't "see" this message ... you're right, at the pace I'm traveling it will take at least another year to get to the USA. But I have a plan, and I'm on my way.

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