Archive for the 'Books' Category

Summer Reading List

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Inspired by the reading lists at The Algonquin Books Blog, (via The Morning News) I am updating my summer reading plan. Remember how I wrote I was going to do a summer reading project, going through Lizzie Skurnick’s book Shelf Discovery, and reading a bunch of the books she mentioned in it?

Yeah, that’s not going to happen. For good reason, though. I continue to read in preparation for the book group I started, on fiction with themes of myth and religion. Our June book was Louise Erdrich’s Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (I look forward to the day I no longer have to type that title all the time). It made me want to go back to Love Medicine and read everything she’s written, though I’m not going to right now.

The July book is American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which coincides nicely with its 10th anniversary (will I be able to resist buying the 10th anniversary edition, as I already own a signed HC and a MMPB?) and the recent announcement that it’s getting the HBO treatment. Related reading I hope to do along with American Gods is the sequel, Anansi Boys, and Douglas Adams’ Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, which my husband says is very like it. (Does that mean reading Dirk Gently again?) Possibly also D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths.

The August book is Mrs. Dalloway, and I picked up a copy of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, so I hope to make it through that. Related reading with be Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, I hope.

Right now I’m re-reading Warren Ellis’ Planetary, that ended last year. I didn’t want to read the final issue until I re-read from the beginning, so here I am. I also plan to do this with the crime series 100 Bullets. And I mentioned recently that I’m interested in going back to the beginning of Carla Speed McNeil’s series Finder and re-reading up to the present.

So I’ve got an ambitious reading list, though the only Musts are American Gods and Mrs. Dalloway.

I am trying not to attend to the voice inside my head that says she wants to re-read Game of Thrones. There will be plenty of time for that. If I’m smart, I’ll wait till he finishes the series (no jokes or snarking allowed), see how folks like the ending, then decide whether to give it a go.

What do you hope to read this summer?

Artistic Envelopes

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Via Bookmoot, a collection of at The Guardian of envelopes by children’s book illustrators to their publisher. I especially love the Satoshi Kitamura ones, as he’s a favorite of mine. This is an image based on his UFO Diary:


Summer Reading Project Idea!

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

An idea for this year’s summer reading project came to me yesterday. Last summer was the Baroque Cycle, the year before was Infinite Summer.

This year I want to read Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, and re-read the books featured in each of the 10 chapters. I’d do a chapter a week, and will read as many of the books in each chapter as I can/want to. (I won’t, for example, be re-reading Clan of the Cave Bear, though Flowers in the Attic might be entertaining in an ohmygawd way that Clan is too earnest for.)

For example, Chapter 1 focuses on Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, and Harriet the Spy, with Farmer Boy, Danny the Champion of the World, Ludell, and the Great Brain covered briefly. I LOVE the idea of re-reading at least those first four books.

Anyone else think this sounds like loads of fun? For anyone who has older daughters, it might be like one long mother/daughter book group.

A concern: Shelf Discovery is very heavy on Judy Blume, who I do not remember THAT fondly. Where is the William Sleator, House of Stairs? Also, where is Amityville Horror, Amanda/Miranda and Lace for that final chapter on reading stuff we shouldn’t have been? It might be fun to reference titles like these from our individual reading histories that relate but aren’t included.

Book Bender(s)

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Good thing I decided I wasn’t going to make any more silly vows about not buying or borrowing books before I read the ones at home, right?


From Half-Price Books, St. Louis Park. I went in looking for Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I left with these:

Count Zero by William Gibson. Reading the Bigend trilogy made me want to go back and read everything by Gibson.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I chose this for my book group on fiction with religious and mythic themes. I have a signed HC of this, so I wanted a beater copy to re-read. )(There’s a 10th anniversary HC out this June. Ten years? I remember going to Dreamhaven to hear him read from this.)

Farmer Boy and Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Because I’m brainstorming a new summer reading project of Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery and all the books she references in it (yeah, it’s about 70, so what?), one of which is Farmer Boy. I meant to get Little _House_ on the Prairie, since we already have Little House in the Big Woods, but got “Town” instead. Ah, well, guess I’ll just have to go shopping again. Heh.

Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself and It’s Not the End of the World by Judy Blume. Both are referenced in Shelf Discovery.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. His follow-up to American Gods.

Kaaterskill Falls by Allegra Goodman. Recommended to me ages ago by my friend Rock Hack. I really enjoyed the recent interview with Goodman at Bookslut, especially this:

Really good fiction operates on you more like a slow poison — in a good way. It enters your bloodstream and changes the way that you look at the world without your realizing it.

God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam. Because I _loved_ Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat, and The People on Privilege Hill.

But that is not all, oh no, that is not all!


On Rue Tatin
by Susan Hermann Loomis. From my mother, since my dad and sisters just returned from vacation in Normandy.

Super Natural Every Day
by Heidi Swanson. Because I like her site, 101 Cookbooks, and her other book, Super Natural Cooking.

Continuing with the wretched excess, here’s what I have out from the library:


Riddley Walker
by Russell Hoban. Which I’m reading now because a friend said her friend recommended it over The Road. It’s future slang is difficult to wade through, but I’m loving the main character, and will persevere. I think it will pay off.

The Death of Adam
by Marilynne Robinson. I wanted to read this in the wake of Gilead. Many challenging essays on a variety of literary and religious topics, I’m reading one at a time between other books. Many are a defense of Calvin and Puritanism.

Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood. Research in the wake of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms ed. by Kathryn VanSpanckeren and Jan Garden Castro, and Margaret Atwood: A Biography by Natalie Cooke. Ditto above.

Younger Next Year for Women by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge. Recommended by a friend in book group. Premise is that sitting tells your body to decay, moving keeps it young and strong.

The Yoga Body Diet by Kristen Schultz Dollard and Dr. John Douillard. Recommended in Yoga Journal, it sounded like a good, albeit pop-y, intro to Ayurveda. I thought I was Pitta, but am Vata instead. I’m so not a Kapha.

Oh, did you think that was all? Bwah, ha ha!


The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell. Marilynne Robinson says the Puritans weren’t so bad. Margaret Atwood says they were intolerant and wanted a theocracy. Who to believe? I’m going to re-read Vowell, who I think falls more on the Robinson side of the debate.

Unwritten volume 3. An ongoing series about a Harry Potter-ish character that plays fast and loose with many layers of fiction.

Fables volume 15: Rose Red. Another of the ongoing comic-book series I read in collections, since I tend to forget things when I read them in monthly installments.

And with that, gentle readers, I am going off to nurse my wrist. WAY too many links in this one.

Favorite Things!

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Or, what I did instead of writing and napping.

Shopped at Barnes & Noble Galleria (but didn’t buy anything.)

Shopped at Half Price Books in St. Louis Park (um, did buy some stuff; book stack photo to come)

Lunch of mushroom stroganoff with tofu drizzled with Sriracha sauce at Noodles and Co.

Double of Clusterfluff (Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Caramel Cluster Pieces, Peanut Butter & Marshmallow Swirls) and Chocolate Therapy (Chocolate ice cream with chocolate cookies and swirls of chocolate pudding) at Ben & Jerry’s, plus they were having a 3-fer sale:


It’s not the hubby who’s going to get chubby around here, it’s me.

“Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing” by Margaret Atwood

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing was recommended in Valerie Martin’s Introduction to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which I recently re-read. This is not Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, a friendly, funny self-deprecating book for writers. This is an erudite, dry-humored, cerebral book on writing. It was challenging (in a good way) but not necessarily enjoyable, if you know what I mean. The six chapters are taken from a series of lectures Atwood did at the University of Cambridge. They concern (but are hardly limited to) questions of who is a writer, the difference (if there is one) between a writer and her work, the difference between writing for art or money, whether writers “should” write morally improving tales, who is the audience, and finally, what is the relation between writing and the fear of mortality.

The two chapters Martin recommends are the one on duplicity:

(after a gruesome question that ends the previous paragraph.) Now, what disembodied hand or invisible monster just wrote that cold-blooded comment? Surely it wasn’t me; I am a nice, cosy sort of person, a bit absent-minded, a dab hand at cookies, beloved by domestic animals, and a knitter of sweaters with arms that are too long. (35)

And the final one on negotiating with the dead:

But dead people persist in the minds of the living. There have been very few human societies in which the dead are thought to vanish completely once they are dead. (159)

Martin doesn’t spell out why she thinks these chapters are particularly relevant to The Handmaid’s Tale. I’d speculate that the chapter on duplicity grew out of the reaction to Handmaid’s Tale, and how much speculation there must have been as to Atwood’s own politics and feminist sensibilities and biases. And the final chapter, about negotiating with the dead, is relevant to the analysis of the final chapter of Handmaid’s Tale, SPOILER

in which future academics analyze the past narrative artifact the reader just read.

The (or is it An?) Unsettling Ending of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Since this post is obviously going to have spoilers for the book, I’ll start off with a story. My friend RG was a student at Swarthmore College when Margaret Atwood visited. After Atwood’s talk, my friend went up to her and asked, knees knocking to be in the presence of one of the great writers of our time, “Ms. Atwood, what happened at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale? I didn’t think it was clear.” Ms. Atwood replied, (frostily? kindly?, looking over the edges of her spectacles? I’m not sure) “What do _you_ think happened, dear?” in what was obviously a rhetorical question, or an oblique answer phrased as a question. My friend felt both dejected at the lack of clarity and embarrassed at still not “getting it.”

I’ve come to believe that ambiguous, “lady or the tiger” type endings are a sign of respect the author gives the reader. They’re certainly a hallmark of the Atwood novels I’ve read: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace. Yet their frustrating opacity often serves the opposite purpose of complimenting a reader on her capacity to draw her own conclusions. Instead it enrages many readers, who feel cheated that they don’t get a definitive ending. (This is a frequent criticism I’ve heard about Tana French’s In the Woods, which I re-read recently.)

The final section of The Handmaid’s Tale is titled “Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale.” It’s the supposed transcipt of a future symposium of the history of Gilead, the republic the previous narrative was set in. On my recent re-reading, I found its most unsettling aspect the almost throw-away remarks that things in Gilead got much worse for women and liberty in general after the events described in the narrative. But that was before I read Valerie Martin’s helpful Introduction* to the Everyman’s Library edition.

Martin suggests further reading, and recommends among them a collection of critical essays Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms ed. Kathryn VanSpanckeren and Jan Garden Castro. Two essays deal specifically with The Handmaid’s Tale, “Nature and Nurture in Dystopia” (to recap: they’re reversed) and “Future Tense: Making History in The Handmaid’s Tale” by Arnold E. Davidson. After reading Martin’s gloss on Davidson, then the essay itself, I felt naive for having felt unsettled by one thing only in that last section.

The historical notes with which The Handmaid’s Tale ends provide comic relief from the grotesque text of Gilead. Yet in crucial ways the epilogue is the most pessimistic part of the book. Even with the lesson of Gilead readily at hand, the intellectuals of 2195 seem to be preparing the way for Gilead again. In this projection of past, present, and future, the academic community is shown to have a role, not simply an “academic” role (passive, accommodating) but an active one in recreating the values of the future.

I highly recommend seeking out Anderson’s essay after you finish reading The Handmaid’s Tale for a thorough, provocative, and disturbing close reading of the last segment of the book.

*I really wish that the material so often put before a text was put after it. I don’t want an analysis or context _before_ I read. While it’s my preference, I know I’m not alone, and I doubt I’m in the minority. I also think acknowledgements before the book rather than after are pretentious and obnoxious. Brief dedication, yes. Lengthy name dropping? Ugh.

On Margaret Atwood and “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

From Nathalie Cooke’s Margaret Atwood: A Biography

Atwood started writing The Handmaid’s Tale in spring of 1984 while living in West Berlin and finished it later that year. It was published in 1985 to critical acclaim and would go on to be short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize. While she wrote it, her husband said to her, “You’re going to get in trouble for this one.” Though she was well known in Canada previously as both a poet and novelist, this brought her a larger, international, mainstream audience. Her American publisher ordered a second printing before the first was even released.

She claims the original idea came from a dinner-party conversation about the dangers of religious fundamentalism. “No one thinks about what it would be like to actually act it out,” she or someone else said. Then she said, “I think I’ll write about that.”

In 1983 she began to compile a scrapbook about “the religious right wing, no-cash credit-card systems, on the low birth rate and prisons in Iran.” While the setting for the book is Cambridge and Boston Massachusetts, Atwood had traveled to Iran and Afghanistan, and the repressive rules for women she encountered there were also part of the inspiration for the near-future dystopia of Gilead.

Cooke quotes Atwood’s argument that The Handmaid’s Tale is not science fiction:

Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that. That isn’t this book at all. The Handmaid’s Tale is speculative fiction in the genre of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid’s Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now. (277)

(Interestingly, this rejection of the SF genre is one speculative fiction, sci-fi and fantasy writers and readers would likely both agree and take issue with. They’d likely agree it was speculative fiction, but take issue with her separatism, since most works grouped in the sci-fi and fantasy genres can be better described as speculative fiction.)

In spite of this protest, The Handmaid’s Tale won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction in 1987.

Book Stack

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Can we all get together and agree to stop vowing to stop buying books? It’s what we _do_, people! I’ve fallen off the wagon so many times that I’ve learned the pleasure of walking. So I’m going to buy books. In moderation. Whatever that means.


The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo. To read as a possible selection for the book group I started on fiction with themes of myth and religion.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich. Ditto the above. (Extra points for local authors!)

Enter Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. A collection of the very first Jeeves stories, which aren’t usually anthologized because Bertie wasn’t even necessarily Bertie Wooster yet. Had to have. Love Jeeves.

Cakewalk by Kate Moses. Because I gave my, previous copy to my sister for her birthday, and NEED to have that chocolate chip cookie recipe at hand.

Diana Wynne Jones 1934 - 2011

Monday, March 28th, 2011

English fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones passed away March 26 after a long bout of cancer. I feel fortunate to have read her work, which I owe to my dear friend Thalia. I met English Thalia in Philadelphia in the mid-90s, and in the back and forth of new friends who are also book geeks, she lent me The Lives of Christopher Chant, and told me about how she’d read that instead of studying for one of her critical final exams. I devoured that, then quickly sought out Jones’ other work, which was easy to do. DWJ was a prolific writer over several decades, and so popular in England that most of her books were not only still in print, but also available in American editions. Neil Gaiman has said her books were an influence, and J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series has many similarities to it.

Her intelligent and beautifully written fantasies are of seminal importance for their bridging of the gap between “traditional” children’s fantasy, as written by CS Lewis or E Nesbit, and the more politically and socially aware children’s literature of the modern period,

Reading her obituary in the Guardian, I am amazed at authors whose lives she crossed: Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien. And her work now stands deservedly alongside theirs on bookshelves in homes, libraries and bookstores across the world.

If you haven’t yet read Diana Wynne Jones, you are missing wonderful things. I particularly recommend Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant (in that order), Howl’s Moving Castle, and Deep Secret.

Two Beloved Books about Eggs

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Two of my favorite books to read to my sons are about eggs. One is a classic, Bread and Jam for Frances:

It was breakfast time,
and everyone was at the table.
Father was eating his egg.
Mother was eating her egg.
Gloria was sitting in a high chair and eating her egg, too.
Frances was eating bread and jam.
“What a lovely egg!” said Father.

Frances the badger does not like eggs, or most other foods. She asks for bread and jam instead. But when she begins to receive bread and jam at every meal, Frances learns the perils of getting what you want. This book has so many things: charming pictures by Lillian Hoban, an amusing, yet gently instructive tale by her then-husband Russell Hoban, several songs about jam, and (as Kate Moses pointed out in her touching memoir Cakewalk) a story about food and its role in a happy family. My mom read this to us when my sisters and I were girls, and she made up tunes to go to the songs, just as I’ve done for my sons.

The second book was given to us by my sister Ruthie some years ago. It’s the deceptively simple Two Eggs, Please written by Sarah Weeks and illustrated by Doreen Cronin, the illustrator of the Click, Clack Moo books. It’s 2 a.m. in a downtown diner. A brown bear is in the kitchen, a red fox is out front. One by one, customers trickle in; they include a taxi-driving rhino, an upright-bass playing mouse whose band has probably just finished a set when the bar closed, a construction worker ram, and a homeless alligator and his pet snake. What do they all want? Two eggs, please. (And the “please” is pleasingly repeated.) They each get a nice, big cup of coffee but the egg orders are all different. The chef is shown breaking two eggs, one brown, one white, and both the same on the inside. The simple, timeless message told with charming pictures and few words moves me every time, and I only hope its deeper message is planted and growing inside my boys, even as they enjoy the simplistic portrayal of a late night diner counter.

I eat the same breakfast every morning: a cherry pomegranate toaster pastry and a cappuccino. About two hours later, I’m finally hungry for something more substantial, and that’s when I usually cook an egg. As often as we can, we get our eggs from one of Guppy’s preschool teachers, whose grandmother keeps chickens out in the country. Check out this yolk: half as high as a golf ball, and yellow-orange like a hot sun. These are eggs from happy chickens.

Frying egg

And from another recent morning, one of Guppy’s and my favorite second breakfasts: a bacon/cheese scramble alongside toast with a great deal of butter (hat tip, Mercy Watson books):

2nd brekkie: scramble

Note that I’m eating the heels of the bread, as the three other people in this family refuse to. Am I eating their leavings, or fortifying myself with the part of the bread that has the most nutrients?

The Book vs. the _Idea_ of a Book

Friday, March 4th, 2011

At The Morning News, Victor LaValle’s “Scribble,” on books as objects, with a good story about getting turned down by a woman:

I shut the book. “Can I borrow this?”

She smiled and put her hand on my shoulder–so nice!–and said, “No.”

I almost dropped the book. It bobbled between my hands so she grabbed it from me and slipped it back onto the shelf, right where it had been before.

More Books

Friday, March 4th, 2011


As I mentioned in my last post, having multiple books groups as the Tournament of Books approaches does not help me curb my predilection for book buying.

The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison, as I’ve not read it, and this edition has a new essay by the author.

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, winner of last year’s Man Booker prize, a contestant in the ToB, and literature about religion.

What I Do After I Visit the Dentist

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

After the Dentist

I have been going to the same dentist office for 12 years. The previous dentist retired, and a new one bought his practice. They know our family, and can even say which son’s teeth seem like which parent’s. Best of all, right downstairs is one of the best Half Price Books in the area. (I worked there 12 years ago, which is why I started seeing that dentist.)

No trip is complete without a stop before or after to the bookstore. This stack of four was me restraining myself.The combination of The Morning News Tournament of Books, plus the new book group I’ve started, in which we’re reading fiction with themes of religion and mythology, hits me right in my vulnerable, compulsive book-buying spot. These I’m considering for the book group:

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller, Jr.
Lamb by Christopher Moore
Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood

After the bookstore, I go to Rustica bakery for an excellent coffee drink (macchiato nowadays) and their bittersweet chocolate cookies. Post-bookstore Rustica is one of my very happiest places.

Food in Books

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Depending on how the author writes, I can either loathe the mention of food in books, or be so enamored of it that I get hungry and promptly want what’s being described.

Two series in which the many food references didn’t work for me were in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, beginning serialization on HBO this month with A Game of Thrones. In the Larsson books, I lost count of how many sandwiches, cups of coffee, and frozen Billy’s pizza were consumed. None of them sounded appetizing. Only dull and repetitive.

Ditto the food in the Song of Fire and Ice books. The food, along with what characters were wearing, was described so many times, and in such unnecessary detail, that I gave up partway through the third book, and am now afraid to pick up the series again as many fans fear Martin is going to die before he finishes the fifth book, which isn’t even the last in the series. And while the food, sauces and serving styles were repeated ad nauseum, vegetables are pretty much nowhere, something I noticed after reading Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasy Books. Meat: yes! Fruit: sometimes. Vegetables or salad? No way.

Two recent books had me salivating, though. Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books, especially The Likeness, mentioned so many types of biscuits (cookies) so often that I now have both ginger lemon and chocolate cream in the house. Hollis Henry’s description of broasted potatoes from William Gibson’s Spook Country made me long for them. Hubertus Bigend in Zero History recommends The Full English breakfast a few times, so I ate baked beans with my eggs and toast all last week and am considering whether I want to go to Anchor Fish and Chips for the Full Whack. (Yes, you can get a Full Irish in Minneapolis!)

What food in what recent books has made you hungry, or horrified?

On New Translations

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I recently finished reading the newest translation of Madame Bovary. A Julian Barnes article on translation made me wonder at the recent hype, and this piece on translated works at articulated the question that had been nagging at me:

We have been imbibing “Bovary,’’ “Zhivago,’’ “War and Peace,’’ and a host of other classics quite peaceably for decades. Is it possible that the lust for lucre, rather than the luster of literary merit, drives this rush to push new/old product onto the shelves?

Certainly the “new!” aspect of it makes it seem more desirable, and gets more press. But I’m now suspicious, and wondering if I haven’t been duped. Link from Blog of a Bookslut.

Comparing Editions of “Far from the Madding Crowd”

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

I recently read Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Because the text of the editions vary, and because I wanted to read more about the book, I borrowed two other editions from the library and picked up yet another used. I thought it might be useful to share the pros and cons I found of each edition. Keep in mind I’m not a formal scholar, but an auto-didactic home reader; these are impressions of the whole book, not rigorous reviews.

The New York Public Library collector’s edition Far from the Madding Crowd is a lovely small hardcover with a dust jacket. Included are all illustrations by Helen Paterson from the original serial publication, as well as photos of Hardy and hand-written pieces by him and Virginia Woolf, whose father, Leslie Stephen, was Hardy’s editor. It has a well-written introduction but does not specify which edition this volume was based on, or who wrote the introduction and the notes, such as this cranky one on Michael Millgate’s 1971 Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist:

Still the single best study of Hardy’s fiction, written with clarity and grace, back in those ancient days, well before postmodernism began to motor through “the text,” which one Hardy deconstructor has rather alarmingly described as “a fissured, riven, deranged, unstable linguistic terrain.”

If this edition had notes, foot- or end-, I would have appreciated it. There are many archaic, rustic terms and Biblical and mythical references. I wished for more information, so read the notes from other editions.

The Norton Critical Edition Far from the Madding Crowd has a brief forward, followed by the novel with footnotes. After the novel are nearly 200 pages of background and criticism. I appreciated reading excerpts from several authors about many aspects of the book, but wished for a more edited selection. As an object, the book has no charm in form or feel. It felt like something I would only buy if I had to.

The Modern Library Far from the Madding Crowd is a trade paperback with a good but brief introduction by Margaret Drabble. Notes are at the end, by chapter and a reading group guide is included. Reasonably priced, this would be a good selection for a book group.

The Penguin Classics Far From the Madding Crowd has a very different text from the other three, which were based on later editions of the novel that had been much edited by Hardy. The Penguin edition contains a version of the original manuscript prior to its being edited (some would say, censored) and published as a serial; note the capital F in From in the Penguin title (me, rolling my eyes.) The Penguin is a substantively different edition than what most readers are familiar with–ones edited by Hardy later in life. I compared one of the key chapters (42). While there was much edited out in the other editions, I felt the later version was more suspenseful and less mawkish than the original. It has endnotes and a glossary, as well as a good introduction, but this seems for scholars and completists more than the average reader.

An interesting oops: I reserved a copy of Far from the Madding Crowd from the Oxford Bookworms series, hoping it would be a student version of the Oxford World Classics series, which I like. Instead, it’s an illustrated re-telling, probably intended for kids who don’t want to read the actual book.

I have not seen a copy from my favorite series, the Oxford World Classics Far from the Madding Crowd, but suspect this would be like the Modern Library edition–a good edition, introduction and set of notes.

There is a well-regarded film version, Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) starring Julie Christie, and a Masterpiece Theater Far from the Madding Crowd (1998).

Sad Bookshelf

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

This bookshelf is sad because everyone (except me!) has an e-reader:

Sad bookshelf

Books and Bars: John Jodzio and “If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home”

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Last night, Twin Cities book group Books and Bars held its first event at the Aster Cafe, a discussion of John Jodzio’s short-story collection If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home, published by local Replacement Press. Previously held on 2nd Tuesdays at the Bryant Lake Bowl, Books and Bars is trying for twice a month meetings, with 4th Tuesdays at the Aster. It was a warm spot on a blustery night, and the food and service are both good, plus beer and cheese were at happy hour prices.

First was a discussion. Folks mostly said positive things, though whether this was because Jodzio’s mother and in laws were there, I’m not sure. Some felt the stories ended too soon, others, like me, appreciated their light touch, empathy, and lurking hopefulness, so often missing in current short stories, often intent on portraits of misery.

After the discussion, Jodzio arrived and read three stories he’s been working on. If you have a chance to see him live, do so. He’s funny and a good reader of his own work. He also, as in his stories, knows the benefit of keeping things short.

I look forward to reading the stories again to see what details might surface, and this collection inspired me to reconsider my slight aversion to short stories, and give them a second chance, particularly ones by Amy Hempel, Denis Johnson, and Lorrie Moore.

If you’re a Twin City dweller, consider checking out Books and Bars if you haven’t. Upcoming selections are:

Date: Tuesday, November 9th

Book: To Kill a Mockingbird / Author: Harper Lee

Location: Bryant-Lake Bowl / Doors: 6:00 pm / Discussion: 7:00 pm


Date: Tuesday, November 23rd

Books: The Hunger Games Trilogy: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay / Author: Suzanne Collins

Location: Aster Cafe / Doors: 6:00 pm / Discussion: 7:00 pm

Call Aster Cafe for table reservations: 612-379-3138


Date: Tuesday, December 14th

Book: Await Your Reply / Author: Dan Chaon

Location: Bryant-Lake Bowl / Doors: 6:00 pm / Discussion: 7:00 pm

Jonathan Tropper on “This is Where I Leave You”

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

I got there early for the the Books and Bars Skype chat with Jonathan Tropper, author of this week’s selection This is Where I Leave You. What follows contain spoilers, so read only if you’ve already read the book.

Unsurprisingly, Tropper (pronounced TROPE-er) has a dry sense of humor, though it’s not quite as dark in person as it is in his book, which chronicles a 30-something man, Judd Foxman. Judd’s wife cheated and left him, he lost his job because of it, and his father died and requested the family gather for a week to sit shiva. Wacky hijinks ensue.

Early drafts of the novel only had Judd’s wife leaving. Tropper been writing about the family and realized he liked the characters, and needed to invent a reason for them to exist. Once Tropper realized he wanted to spotlight the family the idea of shiva occurred to him. In one day, he converted Judd’s family to Judaism and killed their father. That was a pretty productive writing day for him, he said.

Existence was the question Tropper started with. If you take a guy who lives in the suburbs who doesn’t have a wife or a job, does he exist? Eventually, though, the novel became about a series of departures: Judd’s wife, father and job all leave him stranded, and he has to figure out where to go from there.

Tropper confirmed one place Judd doesn’t go: back to his ex-wife Jen. Many B & B attendees hoped they’d get back together, but Tropper pointed to the scene in which Judd gets out of bed with her as a defining moment for the character. Will he end up with Penny, then, others wondered. Only after he makes a lot of bad decisions and screws up a lot, said Tropper.

Another common question was “Do men REALLY think like they do in the book?” i.e., with women as sexual objects and opportunities for infidelity. Tropper’s response was, “of all the men I know…yes.” He said it was important to him to write about marriage and infidelity, as well as about situational morality. Were some infidelities more understandable than others? (Yes, most readers agreed.) He hazarded the infidelity rate at 50% (equating it to the divorce rate, probably) and said two of the Foxman siblings were unfaithul, two weren’t. Yet by another accounting, there wasn’t one faithful relationship of all those included. In spite of the male protagonist and the rampant infidelity, Tropper says most of the novel’s readers have been women, and he’s gotten very few angry emails about his characters being sexist.

Further, he noted, whatever the Foxman clan may be, they aren’t dysfunctional, which came as a surprise to this reader. He elaborated by noting there had been no type of abuse in the family. They were simply bad at communicating, and forced into the unnatural group experience of sitting shiva. What family would succeed in that circumstance? He thought them typical, though I think this is a stretch.

Tropper is working now on the screenplay for a movie adaptation. He’s worked on many projects, but says none have yet come to the screen, so he’s cautiously optimistic. He said Greg Berlanti (of Brothers and Sisters and the recently very badly reviewed Life As We Know It) is involved, and the idea of Paul Rudd (!) as Judd has been mentioned.