Archive for the 'Books' Category

Author Libraries

Monday, September 20th, 2010

At the Boston Globe, (HT The Morning News), “Lost Libraries,” the strange, sad fate of many authors’ libraries:

Most people might imagine that authors’ libraries matter–that scholars and readers should care what books authors read, what they thought about them, what they scribbled in the margins. But far more libraries get dispersed than saved.

Start Your Engines: 15 Books/Days/Blogs

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

My attempt to read 15 books in 15 days and review them in 15 blog posts begins tomorrow, since you may have had to spend today wrangling with your taxes. How serious am I about this? I turned down a friend’s offer of Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Tomorrow, Friday April 16, 2010: read a book

Saturday, April 17, 2010: blog about it, then come here to the entry for the day and post your link in the comments.

Lather, rinse, repeat for the next 15 days, finishing last book on 4/30, blogging about it on 5/1.

Baroque Summer

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Reposting with its own entry:

I want to read Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle this summer. Quicksilver, The Confusion and System of the World are about 900 pages each.

With an average of 20 pages a day, we could get through the first two. With thirty pages a day, we’d get through them all from June to August. But 30 pp a day plus other reading is a big commitment, I know.

I had a great time reading Infinite Jest with a group last summer, and enjoyed the accomplishment of tackling such a big project. But that was only 74 pp a week plus footnotes, not 210, so it’s a big difference, though my husband G. Grod assures me the BC is a much faster read than IJ (unsurprising, right?)

What do you think?

15 Books in 15 Days for 15 Blogs

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Reposting with its own entry:

In honor of the woman profiled in the New York Times last year, who read a book a day for a year and blogged each one, I propose reading a book a day from your shelf starting Friday, April 16 (the day after US taxes are due, so you should have a little more time plus be in a frugal mindset) till April 30, 2010 and blogging a review, however brief, the next day, starting Saturday, the 17th.

I would post my entries the night before, so you could link each day starting the 17th in the comments, through May 1, 2010.

Does this sound good to anyone?

I’m afraid coming up with a logo, spreading the word far and wide, and setting up a group on a site like Good Reads is just too much for me, now, though I’m happy to take advice or help on these from more seasoned book challenge folks.

Upcoming Reading; Care to Join Me?

Friday, April 9th, 2010

So here’s what’s been rattling around in my head:

For now:

15 books, 15 days, 15 blogs
: In honor of the woman profiled in the New York Times last year, who read a book a day for a year and blogged each one, I propose reading a book a day from your shelf starting April 16 (the day after US taxes are due, so you should have a little more time plus be in a frugal mindset) till April 30, 2010 and blogging a review, however brief, the next day.

I would post my entries the night before, so you could link each day starting the 17th in the comments, through May 1, 2010.

Does this sound good to anyone?

I’m afraid coming up with a logo, spreading the word far and wide, and setting up a group on a site like Good Reads is just too much for me, now, though I’m happy to take advice or help on these from more seasoned book challenge folks. I know this is last minute, but that’s me–always running on the ragged edge of disaster. OK, perhaps that’s an exaggeration.

For later:

Call me crazy, but I had a blast last summer reading Infinite Jest, and was thinking of doing something similar: reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, or at least the first two, Quicksilver and The Confusion. They’re each about 900 pages, but so was Cryptonomicon and I loved that and read it at a brisk pace.

Anyone else interested in a Baroque Summer? I’ll probably do it in any case, but it would be way more fun (as Infinite Summer was) with a gang.

2010 Tournament of Books is here!

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

At The Morning News, they’ve published the short list of 16 novels for the literary March Madness Tournament of books.

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood
The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker
Fever Chart, by Bill Cotter
Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, by Apostolos Doxiadis
The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Big Machine, by Victor Lavalle
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore
Miles from Nowhere, by Nami Mun
That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo
Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower
Lowboy, by John Wray

The long list had some puzzling exclusions, like Jeff in Venice; Death in Vanasi, and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, both of which were on my to-read list from last year. The jump from long to short has me puzzled as well. I’m disappointed these didn’t make the cut: Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon, Trouble, Kate Christensen, The Believers, Zoe Heller, Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem, The City & The City, China Mieville, Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips, This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper, and The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters. All these sounded promising to me when they came out last year.

Further, I’m stymied by the inclusion of these: Fever Chart, Bill Cotter, The Book of Night Women, Marlon James, Miles from Nowhere, Nami Mun, and Burnt Shadows, Kamila Shamsie. These, over the ones in the previous paragraph?

Finally, I’m not thrilled to see either Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs or Russo’s That Old Cape Magic. Neither are supposed to be the writer at the top of her/his game, so I can’t get excited to read them.

That said, I AM excited to try and read as many as I can of these, all of which I’ve heard good things about: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Big Machine by Victor Lavalle, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (also a selection of Books and Bars), Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (which lit friends Amy R and Kate F both liked), The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower, and Lowboy by John Wray.

I’m off to put some books in my queue at the library. Who’s going to be joining the fray?

Happy 2010!

Monday, January 4th, 2010

A good book, a cup of coffee, a manageable to-do list, and Stella D’oro breakfast treats, courtesy of my kind mother-in-law, since I can’t find them anywhere out here.

New Year's Day 2010

Book Review by Paula Fox

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

At The New York Review of Books, author Paula Fox, on moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn:

The evening of the day we moved in, I made a quick supper. We sat at a table surrounded by stacked cartons that evoked in me a memory of Stonehenge, a cardboard one. The atmosphere at our table was a mix of hilarity and malaise. The neighborhood and the house felt alien. We had moved into a foreign city, a feeling shared by some of our friends in Manhattan in those years, and indeed still.

The piece is ostensibly a review of a reissue of a book by a former neighbor and friend of hers, L.J. Davis. Instead, it’s a beautifully written mini-memoir that happens to discuss the book. (Link from The Morning News)

I was stunned by the power of Fox’s writing when, as an adult, I read her Newbery Award winning Slave Dancer. Monkey Island and One-Eyed Cat were good, too. I have a few of her books on my to-read shelf, including her memoir.

Did you know she’s the biological grandmother of Courtney Love?

Off the Wagon

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

3yo Guppy and I had some time to kill before his dentist appointment this morning. I know I always say I need to read more of what I’ve got rather than buying new or used, but these fairly flew off the shelves at me, crying, “Take me home! Home!”

So I did.

Little Black Book of Stories
by A.S. Byatt
The Unpossessed by Tess Schesinger, which I saw reviewed in Vogue years ago, and wanted ever since
Expletives Deleted and Nights at the Circus (look at the gorgeous covers!) by Angela Carter
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, which I recently realized I didn’t own, and thus promptly corrected.

Twin Cities Book Festival

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Tomorrow is Rain Taxi’s Twin Cities Book Festival. Authors include literary heavyweights like Robert Olen Butler, Nicholson Baker, and Lorrie Moore as well as local treasures like Alison McGhee, John Coy and Zander Cannon.

It’s from 10 to 5 at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. It’s a great event. Go, go, go!

No More Book-Buy Bemoaning

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Regular readers know, I have a LOT of unread books. I write about them often. I read them less often. I fret and make vows, then break them, and fret some more after the book-buy buzz has worn off. I don’t think I’m alone. A reader suggested recently that I made a from-the-shelves challenge. I got inspired, so here are two related shelf challenges for the new year.

Who’s with me? Ideas? Suggestions? If you think these sound good, spread the word to the book-blogging community, and I’ll firm up details to launch at the new year.

2010 Balance the Books Challenge

I buy and borrow new books more often than I read books on my shelf. Often, the newly purchased books gather dust, and become old books. Next year, in 2010, I want to balance my reading. For the year, I’d like to read a third new books, a third borrowed books, and a third books from my shelf, whether first or re-reads.

I hope to get a color chart to track the progress with red/yellow/blue for each category. My ideal is to read as many shelf books as I borrow or buy new. I’ll do a post on or about the end of each month so readers can post progress reports.

Clear The Shelves Challenge (2010 and Beyond!)

In an effort to chip away at the nearly 200 books I own but haven’t read (and want to!), I challenge other readers to read at least 25 books a year that have been on your shelf for over a year. I’ll do quarterly posts for readers to post progress reports. At the end of the year, we could chip in for a gift certificate for the reader with the most shelf books read.

A Matching Set

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

When I got my first solo apartment, in the Art Museum area of Philly in 1991, my father bought a bookcase for me and finished it in a cherry stain to match the rest of my furniture. When I moved again in 1994, I told him I needed another bookcase. Not wanting to go through the PITA of finishing another one, he bought the same bookcase, already finished.

Or so he thought. It arrived, and the wrong case was in the box. It was unfinished. As I’m hardly handy, and only sporadically compulsive and perfectionistic, I let it be.

Flash forward fifteen years. My boys have outgrown our beloved stroller of countless miles, the Mountain Buggy Urban Double. I barter with a woodworker, in exchange for finishing the bookcase and two other pieces. Finally, after a decade and a half, I have a truly matching set of bookcases. They’re lovely. And full.

Old bookcase

Newly finished matching bookcase

Favorite Book from Childhood: “The Practical Princess”

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Inspired by the question posed by The Morning News about favorite books of childhood, and because I was too overwhelmed to send them my response, I dug through my kids’ shelves to unearth my copy of The Practical Princess by Jay Williams (better known as an author of the Danny Dunn series for children), illustrated by Friso Henstra.

This certainly was one of my favorite books as a girl, and is the one I choose as an adult because it’s entertaining and clever for all ages. Published in 1969, it’s now out of print. The princess of the title is a formidable heroine, and the main reason this book has endured in my affection:

Princess Bedelia was as lovely as the moon shining upon a lake full of waterlilies. She was as graceful as a cat leaping. And she was also extremely practical.

When she was born, three fairies had come to her cradle to give her gifts as was usual in that country. The first fairy had given her beauty. The second had given her grace. But the third, who was a wise old creature, had said, “I give her common sense.”

“I don’t think much of that gift,” said King Ludwig, raising his eyebrows. “What good is common sense to a princess? All she needs is charm.”

Nevertheless, when Bedelia was eighteen years old, something happened which made the king change his mind.

A dragon moved into the neighborhood.

Of course the dragon demands the princess as his due. How Bedelia responds to this dilemma is both laugh-out-loud funny and smart. When she is subsequently confronted with an unpleasant suitor, she also brings her wits and sense of humor to bear with excellent results.

The Practical Princess does a lot of things, and does them well. It turns fairy-tale tropes on their head, like the princess-demanding dragon, the ugly suitor, the difficult tasks, the suitor’s attempt to take what he cannot have, and a princely rescue. A more recent book, Princess Smarty-Pants, tried to do these same things, to worse effect, I thought. Bedelia is extremely likable, and an excellent role model for young girls, far superior to those namby-pamby Disney ones, who make me glad I have two boys and don’t have to fight against their encroaching influence. Also unlike those Disney damsels, Bedelia is not skinny with a Barbie-like bod. She wears a smashing orange empire-waist dress with pink boots, and could actually be pear shaped! Hensta’s illustrations are distinctive, a mixture of 60’s mod and cross-hatched detail, with brilliant colors that glow forty years on.

Keep an eye out for this treasure in library collections and used bookstores, especially if you suspect that the Disney-ification of the princess trope is as insidious as I think it is. I feel thrilled and fortunate to still have my childhood copy to share with my boys.

The To-Be-Read (TBR) “Pile”

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Inspired by this post at The Happy Accident (link from the inimitable Camille at Book Moot), I gathered my to-be-read (TBR) books in one place.

TBR shelves

I organized them,* then borrowed the books from my husband G.Grod’s TBR shelf (yes, he has just one shelf) that I want to read too:

G and My shared TBR books

I counted: 151. Then I bought another graphic novel: 152. Then I remembered the Austen, Bronte, O’Brian and Shakespeare shelves downstairs: 183 (includes the 21 Aubrey/Maturin books), then I remembered the books I have on reserve at the library: 186.

I could read a book every other day and still not finish in a year. In reality, I read about 2 books a week; these alone would take me almost 2 years. Given future purchases/borrowings of graphic novels, new releases, and new recommendations, I estimate if I knuckle down, I could read what I have in three years.

Let’s say 3 years plus. Books, you are hereby on notice. I’m going to dust you off and read you by the end of 2012.

Hear that sound? It’s the books, laughing.

A few amusing books from the shelf:

A.S. Byatt’s Still Life, the sequel to Virgin in the Garden, which I read in 1997.

Iris Murdoch’s A Word Child, recommended to me by someone I no longer like.

Lonesome Dove, recommended to me by by JJ, a former co-worker and friend with whom I’ve fallen out of touch.

Ditto for Startide Rising and Zod Wallop, recommended to me by former co-worker CC whose cred is high with me because he recommended A Game of Thrones to me, and the Miles Vorkosigan novels, both of which I loved, albeit over a decade ago.

Children of God, the sequel to Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, which I’m afraid to read in case it’s as emotionally wrenching as its predecessor.

And the most embarrassing entry: Getting Things Done by David Allen. Bookmark is at page 10.

Getting Things Done, not getting read

And now I’ll get back to a recently purchased book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that I rationalized buying because it was for two book groups. Must stop buying books.

*in a manner that probably only makes sense to me (big books alpha by author, except Beowulf, which is by title, then mass market paperbacks (MMPB) alpha by author, and the rest of the big books by author, then graphic novels by size. The ones on top of the white bookcase are borrowed from G’s TBR shelf for illustrative purposes.

A Copy of My Own

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

After I saw Julie & Julia, I vaguely recalled seeing the spine of Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking on my mom’s shelf. I called to ask if she still had it. Bien sur, she had it in the basement, and sent it to me. It seems to be from the 1961 printing, and is in great condition. The only recipe that shows evidence of being cooked is the Caneton Roti, or Roast Duckling; this does not look like a well-used cookbook. G. Grod and I have already confirmed the correct way to hold a chef’s knife (I’d done it incorrectly). I hope to give some of these recipes a try. Not, however, those involving aspic.

Old Books; New Covers!

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

From Design Sponge: Last fall, Penguin Classics released a series of ten classics exclusive to Waterstone’s in the UK with covers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

penguin classics series 1

In November of this year in the US, Penguin Classics will release eight classics from that first set (not Madame Bovary or Crime and Punishment).

Great Expectations

Sense & Sensibility


Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Pride & Prejudice

Jane Eyre

Picture of Dorian Gray

Wuthering Heights

According to Design Sponge, volumes from the first set will be available at Anthropologie and urban Outfitters; I’ve linked above to the volumes at (search for Coralie Bickford-Smith + Penguin Classics.)

In the UK, a second exclusive series for Waterstone’s will be available this October.

penguin classics 2 set

No word yet on when (if?) the second set’ll arrive stateside.

As I was researching this, I found a striking set of Penguin Classics with covers by fashion illustrator Ruben Toledo:

Ruben Toledo pride and prejudciePride and Prejudice

Ruben Toledo Scarlet LetterThe Scarlet Letter

Ruben Toledo Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights

For the even more striking front AND back covers see Stylehive.

Penguin also has its series of “graphic classics” with covers by comic-book artists. Their focus on design continues to provide a variety of books-as-covetable-objects.

(I spent loads of time researching them and putting this together because I had a hunch you’d appreciate the images and links; was I correct?)

Hemingway’s “Moveable Feast” as Moving Target

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

This month Scribner is releasing a “restored edition” of one of Ernest Hemingway’s most popular books, A Moveable Feast.

The reason I read for the revision was that the book as we know it it had been cobbled together by Hemingway’s fourth and last wife Mary in the aftermath of his suicide, and that what she included, and did not include, reflected her desires, rather than those of the author.

The story, unsurprisingly, is more complex. The revision was commissioned by a grandson of Hemingway’s from his second marriage. He felt his grandmother, for whom Hemingway left his first wife, Hadley, got a bad rap from the book. So not only is he doing to Moveable Feast what he criticized Mary for doing, he’s got a vested interest, as well.

An op-ed from Hemingway’s friend and publisher A.E. Hotchner adds another wrinkle.

I wonder–what’s more important–what is “true”, or that A Moveable Feast as it was is a lovely, wonderful book.

“The Woman’s Book of Yoga & Health” by Linda Sparrowe

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

The entire title is a bit unwieldy: The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health: A Lifelong Guide to Wellness by Linda Sparrowe with yoga sequences by Patricia Walden. I call it The Purple Book for short, and I refer to it so frequently I have never lent it out. I’ve even considered dissecting it so I could take certain sections with me on vacations or breaks instead of toting the entire nearly 3-pound book. Thus far, though, it’s intact, and it’s gone with me on short weekends and long family trips. If you are a woman with even a passing interest in yoga–even if you’ve never tried it before–I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

It begins with three series: Essential, Energizing, and Restorative. Sparrowe recommends practicing at least three times a week, and fitting the practice to your needs alternating essential with energizing or restorative if you’re injured or run down. The subsequent chapters offer further specific information, health advice and yoga sequences for a comprehensive array of issues: menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, back injuries, headaches, depression, and more. Yoga sequences are illustrated by clear photos and detailed descriptions, along with benefits and cautions.

This book is a terrific reference, and I’ve learned a great deal about yoga from using it, even though I’ve never read it cover to cover. I can always find at least one yoga pose to suit my circumstances, and usually have to restrain myself from doing more. I can almost always fit in three yoga poses a day, even at my busiest and most harried. What I like best about it, though, is its practical approach. At core, it recommends eating, resting and exercising in moderation.

No matter how often you do yoga, you can’t hope to prevent or heal your health problems without making other lifestyle changes. If you practice yoga, but continue to eat poorly, get very little sleep, or stay in abusive or stressful relationships (in either your personal or work life), chances are you’ll continue to get sick.

While it’s the kind of advice that seems so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated (and many medical doctors don’t), Sparrowe does it in a reminding manner, not a nagging one. I’ve had this book since it was published, nearly seven years ago. Not many books have that kind of staying power, especially ones that can be reductively classed as self-help. This one, I’ve found, is a keeper.

Growing Our (Anti) Library

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

From Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan, about Umberto Eco’s home library:

Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight read-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.*

My friend Jack, who blogs at Knowledge Volt, sent me the link, from Matthew Cornell, in response to my guilt over book-buying binges. In keeping with the antilibrary, my trips last week to Half Price Books and Barnes and Noble in St. Louis Park:

May 2009 new books

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Oxford World Classics mini HC edition)

Terminator 2

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
(spiffy vintage-look Penguin cover)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Laura by Vera Caspary

China Mountain Zhang (gave our copy away years ago)

Curly Girl
by Lorraine Massey (my own copy, since the one I have is from the library)

For the kids:

kids book stack may 2009

Starting School by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Three Scooby Doo easy readers

The Firefighters Busy Day
by Richard Scarry

Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells

Sammy the Seal
by Syd Hoff

It’s My Birthday
by Helen Oxenbury

Anatole and the Cat
by Eve Titus

I put the books on top of our built-in buffet, near the ceiling. My 5yo son Drake was so eager to get his hands on them that I barely got that photo taken before he started climbing, and dismantled the display:

Drake Climing, I Drake Climbing, II

Here’s 3yo Guppy, who can’t yet read, asleep on Sammy the Seal. Perhaps any book they can’t yet read themselves is part of the boys’ antilibrary.

Guppy with

Comics for Kids, Again!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Alan Moore and Frank Miller have done laudable things for the comics world, but I suspect that their dark work in the 80’s (Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke) helped scuttle comics as reading material for kids. Darker and with adult themes, comics of the 80’s and beyond earned a wider audience and widespread critical acclaim. But comics also seemed to lose their roots as the coveted items from the grocery store bought with allowance money. Yes, Archie and the Ducks were still out there, but the plethora of superhero comics and popular adaptations that I remember as a kid all but disappeared.

I’ve been pleased to see more young reader and all ages books on the shelves of the comic shop. Yesterday I was happily surprised to see three titles from imprint Boom! Kids comics, all for young children. My two sons, 3yo Guppy and 5yo Drake, were thrilled, and have been carrying them around ever since. We got Cars, The Incredibles, and The Muppet Show. More titles are coming and all with be ongoing. And clearly demand is out there; the titles sold out immediately to retailers, though they can still be found in stores.

Additionally, Toon Books has put out some wonderful hardcover comic books for kids. By request, I read Luke on the Loose, by kid favorite Harry Bliss (of Diary of a Spider, Worm and Fly) and Stinky by Eleanor Davis, umpteen times last week.

If you and your child are looking to expand horizons, check out some of these new titles and books. The mainstream media spent much of the last three decades being shocked that comics aren’t just for kids anymore; they missed that comics often weren’t for kids anymore. Perhaps a true all-ages revolution has begun.