Tag Archives: literary fiction

Time Traveling with Tessa Hadley

bookcover

The Past involves four siblings: Harriet, Alice, Fran, and Roland. They all get together for a summer holiday in Kington. It’s possibly their last holiday together in Kington because they are thinking about selling the house, which belonged to their grandparents. Along for the ride are Fran’s two children, Ivy and Arthur; Roland’s new wife Pilar and his daughter, Molly; and Alice’s ex-boyfriend’s son, Kasim.

One chapter can feature viewpoints from every single character, which I thought was cool. Sometimes it can get annoying to read a novel with just one point of view. It was a refreshing change of pace. One other thing that I found interesting about Hadley’s writing is that she didn’t use quotation marks for dialogue, but instead used a dash. I had never seen this style of writing before. It threw me off at first, but the further along I got in the book the more that I adjusted to it.

The characters talked a lot about the past so it was fitting that about halfway through the book the time period switches from the present to the past. During this part of the book, readers get viewpoints from the grandparents, the children’s mother, and Harriet and Roland when they were children. At this point in the book, Alice is a baby & Fran wasn’t born yet. Readers get to see what life was like for the family before everything changed.

The big moment that changed the siblings’ lives is when their mother dies of cancer. Then years later the grandfather dies and the grandmother soon after. We also get introduced to the siblings’ father, whom the mother left because he had an affair. After the mother dies, the father goes off with another woman and the children never see him again. This part of the story helps readers to understand why the siblings are the way that they are as adults. I noticed some characteristics of each sibling in their mother.

The story then switches from the past back to the present and wraps up all of the mini story lines in the novel. Without giving anything away, I will say that the past and the present connect at the end of the novel…sort of. The ending left me with more questions than answers, which was annoying.

The Past is available in our catalog in the formats of print, book on CD, eBook and eAudio.

~Kayla

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Stacking ‘Em Up: Our Favorite Reads From 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a library blog in possession of a good staff must be in want of a best books post. Library workers are frequently their own best customers, passing titles back and forth with reckless abandon, buttonholing colleagues in stairwells to insist they check out the book that kept us up late swooning (or shivering). Nothing brings us more joy, however, than turning those efforts outward and sharing our favorites with you.

The Eleventh Stack team consumed a mountain of reading this year (probably taller than Richard, and he’s pretty tall). Here are some of the ones we enjoyed most.

Maria:

turncoatThe Turncoat by Donna Thorland

Though labeled historical fiction, this book has a passionate and sizzling romance at its heart, so I would call it historical romance as well. The first book in the Renegades of the Revolution series, I loved this dangerous romance set amid the intrigues of Revolutionary War Philadelphia. Quaker country-girl-turned-rebel-spy Kate Grey falls for British officer Peter Tremayne despite their opposing allegiances. I especially enjoyed its life meets fiction aspect as George Washington, John Andre, General Howe, and Peggy Shippen all make appearances here. I look forward to reading more in the series from this debut author. Thorland, who is also a filmmaker, made a fascinating book trailer; I think it would make a great movie.

detroit

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

My poor hometown. Native metro-Detroiter and award-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff writes a raw and thoroughly readable portrait of the Motor City’s state of emergency, from its abandoned neighborhoods, horrible city services, double-digit unemployment rates, and rampant crime to the die-hard residents who refuse to give up. A moving and frightening account of the decline of a great American city.

Melissa F.

I spent most of 2013 hanging out with some questionable, unreliable, but incredibly memorable characters from the Gilded Age.  You don’t get much more eyebrow-raising than Odalie from The Other Typist, Suzanne Rindell’s debut that has been described as “part Hitchcock, part Patricia Highsmith, and part Gatsby.” It’s a phenomenal, can’t-put-down read that I’ve been recommending all year long.  Also of note is The Virgin Cure , Ami McKay’s historical fiction story of a twelve year old orphan in 1870s New York that is based on the true story of one of her relatives.  

The OrchardistAnd then there was benevolent Talmadge from The Orchardist. I adored Amanda Coplin’s luminous debut novel with its grand, overlapping themes of morality and religion, of being one with the earth and the eternal struggle of good versus evil. It’s been compared to The Grapes of Wrath (this one is way better). Like Steinbeck, Amanda Coplin joins the list of authors who have given us a true American classic.

(Other highly recommended books in case the Gilded Age isn’t your thing: Tenth of December and In Persuasion Nation, both by George Saunders; Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan; Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys, The Bird Saviors, by William J. Cobb, When It Happens to You, by Molly Ringwald (yes, THAT Molly Ringwald!), Still Life with Oysters and Lemon and Dog Years by Mark Doty (listen to the audio version); Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon, and Songdogs, by Colum McCann.)

What can I say? In the words of Sinatra, it was a very good year.

JessBurial Rites, Hannah Kent

If you’ve had good experiences with Alice Hoffman and Geraldine Brooks (Kent even gives a shout out to Brooks as a mentor in her acknowledgements), then this is for you.

In rural Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir has been tried and accused of murder – and now must await execution in her home district. No prison means she’s forced upon a family who obviously wants nothing to do with her. Over the next months, Agnes is put to work on the farm. She slowly begins to open up about her messy past to a young priest, chosen for a long ago kindness, and to the wife of the household, who begins to see a Agnes as woman who has been worn down by a harsh life. Based on true story of one of the last two executions in Iceland, Kent deftly blends some amazing research with strong prose to weave a story about woman who was truly a victim of her circumstances.

SuzyTraveling Sprinkler, Nicholson Baker. Suzy really enjoyed this book a lot, but is not here to tell us about it because she is off riding her bike someplace not currently buried under several feet of snow. We are extremely jealous of very happy for Suzy, and hope she comes home soon to tell us more about the book.

Leigh Anne

Much to my surprise, the two books I’ve enjoyed most this year were both set during World War II. I’ve never been much of a war buff, but that’s a testament to how the power of good fiction can make you more interested in history. In this case, the novels were Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity.

Life After Life –the tale of an Englishwoman who keeps reincarnating as herself and trying to kill lifeafterlifeHitler–has cropped up on a number of best/notable lists this year, including the New York Times, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and I’ve already reviewed it earlier this year, so let me just say this: what an ending. When I read the last few sentences, and the light bulb over my head finally went on, I was amazed at how cleverly Atkinson had made her point: no matter how hard we strive as individuals, we can never act out of context. We always need other people to help us achieve our objectives, even if we are strong and clever.

verityCode Name Verity takes us behind enemy lines as Verity the spy and Maddie the pilot tell their stories in alternating sections. The crux of this novel–which I also reviewed earlier this year–is truth: who’s telling it, who’s hiding it, and how flexible it can be depending on how high the stakes are. For Maddie and Verity, the stakes are very high, indeed, and I loved that the book, while intended for a teen audience, didn’t shy away from the horrors of war…or deliver a tidy happy ending. If you want a great portrait of what it must have been like to be a teenager during WWII, pick up this novel….but be prepared to have All Of The Feelings. If you adore Wein as much as I do after you’re done, you’ll want to move on to her 2013 release, Rose Under Fire, in which pilot Rose Justice is captured and sent to the concentration camp Ravensbruck.

It was really hard to pick my favorites from what turned out to be an amazing run of excellent reading this year. Some other books I devoured include Letters From Skye (historical romance), Longbourn (historical fiction), and The Son (epic southwestern family saga). And now I must stop, before I blog your ear off…

bookcover Joelle 

I do love fantasy books! My favorites for this year were The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. Both of these books have already achieved positive critical acclaim, but I will add mine:

The Golem is created by a mysterious and mischievous Rabbi as a bride for a young man who is set to travel to New York from Poland. The Jinni had been trapped for centuries in a lamp which also made its way to New York City. They both try to fit in to society with their separate supernatural talents, but recognize each other as different right away. It is interesting to see these magical beings from two different cultures coming together. The author creates characters with unusual and distinctive personalities.

ocean Neil Gaiman is the master of creating fantasy worlds that do not follow any specific cultural tradition, yet are somehow universal. A man journeys back to his old home town, and is drawn to a place only half remembered. The reader is transported to the mind of a seven year old, a time in a person’s life when one is very vulnerable, and when one can accept magic as a matter of fact.
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Holly
Nestled behind the International Poetry Room on CLP-Main’s second floor, you’ll find one of my favorite places in the Library.  The Oversize Book Room is home to volume upon volume of giant, gorgeous books. These are books that are graphic-heavy, photo-heavy, and often really heavy in weight, and therefore they do not fit on our regular book shelves/make great impromptu weapons.  Fashion, art, landscape photography, crafts and home repair are some of the subjects that you can find here.   One day while helping a patron find another book in this section, I stumbled upon the splendid  Jack London, Photographer. This is my favorite book of 2013 because it exemplifies what I love most about the Library and the serendipity that lives here.  I had no idea that Jack London was a photographer, and a talented one at that!  This gem contains somewhat disparate, at least in terms of location, photo collections.  They are a fascinating  look at early 20th century history through the eyes of a classic author.  Chapters have titles like ” The People of the Abyss,”  which is a stark look at impoverished Londoners in 1902. Battlefields are a subject as well, such as  those of  the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 and the Mexican Revolution of 1914.  I loved this book because it was a rejuvenating break from my usual reading of text-heavy new fiction and new nonfiction.

Don

For me this was an unusual year, and my reading reflected all the strangeness. I found myself reading old (Kim by Rudyard Kipling), new (A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki), rereads (The Final Solution by Michael Chabon and The Fall by Albert Camus), pastiche (The Mandela of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu), Buddhist fiction (Buddha Da by Anne Donovan), science fiction (Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone by Ian MacDonald), and the truly, wonderfully bizarre (Duplex by Kathryn Davis).

Part of the unusual nature of all this is the fact that, thematically, there is a great deal these books have in common. There are all kinds of connections between them, come to think of it. And really, there is not a book listed above that you can go wrong with, but, since we are picking favorites, here we go…

My favorite book of the year turns out to be a tie between the first two listed: A Tale for the Time Being, and that hoary old chestnut, Kim. Both of these books surprised, in different ways. I was frankly stunned by how good Kim (and Rudyard Kipling) is. I’d always thought of Kipling as just another dead old white guy, with a penchant for British colonialism and simplistic stories, who might easily be ignored for, oh, 50-plus years or so. And was, by me.

It really is delightful to wake up every day and realize how very, very wrong you can be.

timebeing

Ozeki’s book is difficult to describe, so I’ll let the author speak for herself (from her website):

A Tale for the Time Being is a powerful story about the ways in which reading and writing connect two people who will never meet. Spanning the planet from Tokyo’s Electric Town to Desolation Sound, British Columbia, and connected by the great Pacific gyres, A Tale for the Time Being tells the story of a diary, washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, and the profound effect it has on the woman who discovers it.

Kim is part quest–for self and for meaning–, part old-fashioned adventure via the time-honored motif of the journey, and, consistently, a fine, penetrating story on what it means to be human.

Yes indeed, how very good it is to wake up each and every day.

Melissa M.

5In5Of course my favorite book this year was a cookbook, specifically Michael Symon’s 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners. I’ve watched this man on television so many times now that as I was reading the recipes I could hear them, inside my head, being read to me in his voice. Now, Michael does cheat the five ingredients rule a little because he uses items from his pantry that are not part of that total number. The first section of the book, after the introduction, is a list of what items should be in your pantry at all times. These include things like extra virgin olive oil, a variety of vinegars, pasta, canned beans, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and other spices. You probably already have most of those in your kitchen cupboards, so no worries there. The recipes are not complicated; most have only 3-4 steps. This is food you could cook on a weeknight and would want to eat. Plus, who wouldn’t love a cookbook with a chapter called “On a Stick”? Foods on a stick rule!

There you have it! Your turn. What were your favorite reads of 2013, whether new finds or old favorites?

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So Far, So Good!

2013 is half over already? How did that happen? Flipping through my reading notebook in an attempt to answer that question brought the past few months into sharp relief for me. “Oh yes, April, when this, that and that happened, and I was reading XYZ.” In some ways more private than a diary, and yet in other ways more revealing, a reading log can give you a pretty good snapshot of what was going on in your life, as well as make it easier to recall and share titles when you run into somebody who might also enjoy that story you liked.

thousand_lives

Spotted at LetterMidst

In the spirit of Amazon’s “best of 2013 so far” list, here’s my own tally of favorite titles this year, plus a few extra.

rulemurderJanuary: A Rule Against Murder / Louise Penny. The dead of winter is a wonderful time to wend your way through a mystery series, especially when the book you’re currently on is set in the middle of summer! The charming, courtly Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are on holiday, but murder finds them anyhow. Although this is the fourth in the series, it works beautifully as a stand-alone because of the “locked-room” quality of the plot (the victim, and all the murder suspects, are guests at the same resort with the Gamaches). It’s also a great introduction to the beautiful Canadian landscapes Penny paints; reading her descriptions makes me want to pack a suitcase and head for the wilds. Try it on for size, and then, if you like it, go back to the beginning with Still Life.

February: Code Name Verity / Elizabeth Wein. Chosen for her excellent command of German–she was reading it at verityUniversity before the war–Verity is a spy for the Allies, despite her tender years. Maddie, whose natural aptitude for flying earned her a spot in the air, is both her best friend and her pilot on a dangerous mission. But when the plane crashes and Verity is taken prisoner by the Gestapo, both the mission and the friendship are put to the ultimate tests of interrogation and torture. War stories don’t normally do much for me, but Wein spins a layered, gripping narrative that kept me up late to finish this book in one gulp. And surprise: it’s for teens, though grown-ups will definitely enjoy it as well.

yogabitchMarch: Yoga Bitch / Suzanne Morrison. This hilarious memoir mostly takes place during Morrison’s extended yoga retreat in Bali, a trip she took because she wanted to be more spiritual and peaceful like her teacher, Indra. Instead of inner peace, however, Morrison found all of the hang-ups and emotional problems she thought she’d left behind in Seattle right there on the mat waiting for her. Oh, and everybody else at the retreat keeps trying to convince her to drink pee (wait, what?). Let go of everything you think you know about yoga and laugh like hell as Morrison Figures It All Out (Sort Of).

April: Life After Life / Kate Atkinson. I know, I know: everybody loves this book and can’t stop talking about it. There are lifeafterlifereasons for that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right book for you. I tend to describe it to people as a mash-up between Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, and if you’re willing to go along with the premise that a person can live the same life over again until she gets it right (whatever that means), then you are going to eat this up like a jar of Nutella. Otherwise, you can move along. I loved this book so much I went out and bought it; it is the most perfect thing I’ve read all year.

messudMay: The Woman Upstairs / Claire Messud. Nora Eldridge is furious, and when you finally find out why, mere pages away from the end of the novel, your jaw will drop. However, to really appreciate the big reveal, you have to wend your way through Nora’s long, tortured story. Over forty and frustrated with her life–she wanted to be an artist and ended up as an art teacher instead–Nora struggles to recapture her lost dreams and not give in to self-pity, but it’s hard. A new friendship with Sirena, a practicing artist, appears at first to be the kind of boost Nora’s been looking for. However, as Nora comes to know Sirena and her family more closely, the green-eyed monster keeps rearing its ugly head. A powerful novel about learning to live for yourself, and not through other people. And the reveal really is worth it, I promise. Wow.

June: The Humanity Project / Jean Thompson. The Great Recession didn’t do anyone any favors, but for the characters in humanityThompson’s small California town, the situation is pretty dire. A man and his son are on the brink of losing their home. A troubled teen who survived a school shooting is meeting her father for the first time. A clinic nurse grows more cynical by the day as the noble ideals she tries to uphold seem like so much baloney in the face of non-stop human suffering. And then, a wealthy widow proposes a project that will change their lives in ways they don’t expect, possibly for the better…depending on how you define better. Readers who like realistic fiction will appreciate the snipped-from-the-headlines, they-could-be-us quality of Thompson’s characters, who quietly learn that the money they crave can fix their surface issues, but not what lies beneath.

Some runners-up worth noting:

The Next Time You See Me / Holly Goddard Jones. A tough-talking, blue-collar broad goes missing, and nobody in town really cares, except her married-into-the-middle-class sister. Also, middle school kids treat each other like crap.

The Dinner / Herman Koch. The most uncomfortable family dinner ever, held at a pricey restaurant in Amsterdam, reveals just how far one set of parents will go to protect their son.

Calling Me Home / Julie Kliber. An elderly woman asks her hairdresser to drive her from Texas to Ohio for a funeral. Warning: the ending is a weeper.

The Fault In Our Stars / John Green. There are not enough tissues in the whole world to wipe away the tears you will shed for two bright, sarcastic teens with cancer who, despite their odds, fall in love anyway. Read it regardless.

Your turn: which books really rocked your world in 2013? Is it too early for you to pick a favorite?

–Leigh Anne

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Thick As A Brick

Nothing says “summer reading” to me like a giant doorstop of a book that requires two hands to read and a huge tote bag to carry. This may not be the reading experience you want to have, and I can’t say I blame you: those suckers can get pretty heavy, which is why I’m always happy to help people find less hefty alternatives in our e-book collection. Nobody should have to throw out their back or shoulder to enjoy a book!

But, under the correct circumstances–a warm (yet breezy) day, a comfy shady spot, a refreshing cold beverage nearby–curling up with one of those text-monsters sends a definite signal: I am not at all kidding around about reading this giant book here; think twice before dragging me away from it, because I am enjoying myself immensely. It’s an incredibly pleasurable, self-indulgent reading experience, the kind I think everyone should treat themselves to from time to time.

bigbooks

Image spotted at LetterMidst

However, if you’re going to do this, you have to make sure you pick the right book. There’s nothing worse than lugging what one book blogger calls “chunksters” all the way home only to find yourself flailing with disappointment by page three. No matter what you’re in the mood for, though, there’s bound to be a “thick as a brick” pick for you to while away a cool summer night with. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

ozeki A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (422 pages). Ruth, an author suffering from writers’ block, finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. The contents? The diary of a Japanese teen called Nao. Despite her conviction that suicide is the only answer to her problems, Nao is determined to write down the story of her grandmother, a Buddhist nun, before checking out permanently. Fascinated by Nao’s tale, Ruth drops her own project to solve the literary mystery that has magically landed in her lap. A lovely, layered tale with a fair share of heartbreak, but also equal parts wonder and joy.

NOS4A2, Joe Hill (692 pages). Beat the summer sun with Hill’s bone-chilling novel about the madman of Christmasland, and the Hillone woman who’s managed to outsmart him. Victoria escaped the clutches of the preternatural Charlie Manx as a teen, but evil always comes back, and this time Victoria’s son is in danger. Can she find her way back to Christmasland and save her boy before it’s too late? A page-turner with a number of wickedly clever “Wait, what???” surprises.

AdichieAmericanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (477 pages). Ifemelu does, and does not, want to go home to Nigeria. A scholarship to an American college has opened doors for her, and her blog about racism in America has earned her a fellowship at Princeton. Still, Ifemelu can’t forget the country–and the man–she left behind, even though returning to both will prove difficult. A sweeping novel that travels back and forth in time, explores life on three continents, and pulls no punches in its examination of race and culture.

 The Eye of the World , Robert Jordan (670 pages). If you’ve been meaning to try out the epic fantasy genre, the long, lazy days of summer jordanare the perfect time. Also, now that the Wheel of Time series is finally complete, you have no excuse not to dive in. There’s an evil power seeking to hasten the end of the world (isn’t there always?), and it falls to three unremarkable boys from a small backwater village to take up the hero’s mantle and try to save the day. Jordan’s saga, which rambles over fourteen volumes, begins with The Eye of the World, in which we meet our heroes, a mysterious priestess, the knight who is bound to her honor, and the big bad who just wants to break things. Good fun for anyone relishing an old-school tale of fantasy adventure.

krantzMistral’s Daughter, Judith Krantz (531 pages). This is not a romance novel to be tossed aside lightly. This is a romance novel meant to be heaved across the room with great force at anyone who makes fun of you for reading romance novels. Krantz’s tale spans three generations in the life of passionate painter Julien Mistral, and the three women who mean the most to him: Maggy (his lover), Teddy (his best beloved), and Fauve (his daughter). From the bohemian arts circles of Paris in the 1920s up to the ritzy glitz of New York in the 1980s, Krantz spins a tale of passion, fashion, exotic locales, heartbreak, jealousy, deceit, art, and haute couture. It’s a delicious romp through the social circles of the wealthy and talented, with just enough sex and scandal to keep you hooked until the end. A classic masterpiece to discover–or rediscover–on a steamy summer night (or three!).

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, eds. (676 pages). Non-fiction and literature lovers cathertake note: Jewell and Stout’s volume is a treasure trove of living history. Cather, who wanted to be judged by her work and not her personal life, specifically stated in her will that her letters were not to be published. The editors went ahead and produced the volume anyway–presumably with permission from Cather’s literary executor!–on the grounds that enough time had passed to soften any objections Cather might have had to the letters being exposed. Arranged chronologically, the correspondence includes missives from Cather’s years living in Pittsburgh, as well as the only known letter from Cather to her partner, Edith Lewis. There are no scandals or secrets here, but the letters are rich with details of Cather’s ordinary life, filled with joy and love of nature and travel, and, of course, many thoughts on writing.

What say you, constant readers? Will you be giving the chunksters some love this summer? Or do you prefer to put in your weight training time at the gym? What’s the biggest book you’ve ever hauled around just for the love of it?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Jethro Tull

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Back to the Books

The other day a co-worker innocently asked me, “So, how’s that movie-watching project coming along?”

Er, yes. That.

The good news is that I’ve really appreciated the exposure to film as an art form, and I can enjoy cinema in a whole new way; I’m even going to the movies more often, which makes my film-loving friends and family happy. The bad news is, watching all those movies is starting to feel more like a homework assignment, or something I’m doing because it’s “good for me,” like eating more brussels sprouts.  And when something in my personal life stops being fun, I quit doing it.  I feel guilty about it, sure, but…I quit.

Luckily, my first love, books, has been right here waiting for me to come back.  Books knew this whole movie thing was just a phase, and welcomed me with open arms.  Books are very forgiving that way, and do not judge. More importantly, books take hold of my heart and my imagination in a way film simply can’t touch.

Bookfession 622 (tumblr)

From the Bookfessions tumblr

I’m sure I will, eventually, get around to watching more of the 1,001 movies, probably at a slower pace; for now, however, I have a huge, sumptuous pile of things to read.  Here are a few of the titles making me supremely happy these days.

The Year of the Gadfly, Jennifer Miller. A mesmerizing novel that asks, “Do we ever really leave high school?”  Iris, a troubled teen trying to make a fresh start, finds herself ensnared in her private prep school’s long, checkered history. Unfortunately, most of the adults who work at Mariana Prep are having the same problem. Iris’s story alternates with that of Lily, a former classmate of the current crop of Mariana “grownups,” and through her eyes we see how the scars you pick up in high school can sting, itch and burn instead of fade.  Iris’s dogged determination to succeed–to say nothing of her hero-worship for Edward R. Murrow–render her scrappy and sympathetic.  A definite to-read for anyone still haunted by their own high school traumas (and isn’t that just about everyone?).

Hand Me Down, Melanie Thorne. Being a teen is hard enough, but when you can’t depend on the adults in your life for Hand Me Downstability, any shot a  normal life can fly right out the window. Liz and Jamie are two sisters with few options.  Live with mom, who’s dating a paroled sex offender? Live with dad, who will probably drive you to school while drunk?  Live with the extremely religious aunt who’s constantly preaching at you, or the aunt whose husband doesn’t want you around? Thorne’s debut novel is a gritty catalog of misery, demonstrating how, when the adults can’t get it together, the kids’ struggle gets harder.  It’s painful to read at times, but Liz is a fighter, for herself and for Jamie, and her sincere desire for something better will keep you reading along with her while she struggles to get it.

FeedFeed, Mira Grant. Betting odds are still firmly against an actual zombie apocalypse, but that doesn’t keep Grant’s novel from being a delicious-exciting read.  Here’s the deal: the zombie apocalypse has happened (it’s complicated), and America has become a country of virus-checks and paranoia. It’s also become a country where bloggers are trusted more frequently than mainstream media, so when a presidential candidate hires a team of teen bloggers to cover his campaign, it’s really just a sign of the new normal. Or is it something more? Grant–a pen name for noted fantasist Seanan McGuire–has produced a world of fear, government conspiracy, paranoia, and good-old-fashioned zombie slashing, one that’s even scarier by dint of the fact that so much of her matieral is drawn from social attitudes and practices that are already de rigeur. A fun, scare-you-silly summer pick that you’ll flip through quickly, either from joy or terror.  First in the Newsflesh (hee) trilogy.

And The Heart Says Whatever, Emily Gould. A non-fic pic that reads like a novel, Whatever is Gould’s story of her late teens and early twenties, which she spent as a struggling writer in New York.   The former Gawker blogger dropped out of college in Ohio to take writing classes in NYC, worked at a lot of crappy jobs, and slept with a lot of different people, many of whom she didn’t really care for all that much. So far, so normal, except that Gould has the writing chops to infuse her story with something more than typical twentysomething angst. There’s a haunted quality to the fairly mundane stories she tells, a sense that all of her searching has hollowed her out somehow, made her less spoiled, less shallow. And yet, to reach that state of wisdom, she apparently had to behave in some incredibly spoiled, shallow ways, something those of us who survived our twenties occasionally forget. Reading Gould is like revisiting that stumble-fumbling time of your life when you didn’t know who you were or what you wanted, reliving the panic and frustration without actually having to feel those feelings up close again. If you’re still there, or if you’ve started muttering imprecations under your breath about “these kids today who don’t understand anything,” Whatever will serve as an empathy injection.

Judging from these titles, I seem to be preoccupied with teenage heroines struggling to survive; interesting. I should go back to the movie list and see if there are any films that revolve around this theme. That way I could have my bookish cake, and consume some more movies too.

Onward and upward!

Leigh Anne

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Books You Read, Books You Finish

I read a lot of books, but I don’t finish many.  A lifetime of reading has made me somewhat picky, and the feeling has only intensified with age:  if I’m not 150% pleased by a book, I return it and move on to the next one on my list.  It is, after all, a very long list, and life is, comparatively, rather short.  Who wants to waste time with a bad book?

The only time I question my choice is when I enter a “book drought” like the one I just survived.  About a month ago, at Wes‘s suggestion, I picked up Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, a fast-paced, sci-fi adventure about the quest to save the OASIS–a Facebook-like virtual world–from corporate domination by finding the easter egg its creator hid somewhere inside the game.  I loved it so much I ran around the library recommending it to everyone of the geek persuasion I could find, and if you are keen on 80s pop culture, gaming, computers, or the band Rush, I highly recommend it for reasons I can’t explain without spoiling the plot.  It’s also got short, action-packed chapters, quirky-lovable characters, and a story arc that cries out to filmed. 

The only problem was that I loved the book so much, everything I tried after that seemed…dull, by comparison.   I spent the next month dutifully reading the first chapters of many, many, many books, then returning them, dissatisfied.  This included the critically-acclaimed The Art of Fielding, which was recommended to me by Tony.  While it’s extremely well-written, and I would recommend it to anyone fond of baseball and highbrow literature, it simply didn’t thrill me the way it did Tony.  Interestingly enough, he tried Ready Player One on for size and didn’t like it, which serves as a good reminder that a) not every book is for everybody, and b) that’s perfectly okay.

However, the inherent “okayness” of the situation didn’t solve my book drought, and I was starting to get antsy.  Relief came from an unexpected quarter: Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers.  I put myself on the list for it because it was touted in several media sources as a hot new book, and while I’m somewhat skeptical of that sort of thing, I also have a professional obligation to keep up with popular fiction.  When my copy finally arrived, it sat on the floor in my kitchen for a while until, desperate for a good story and willing to look anywhere, I finally dived in.

Sweet, sweet relief.  Diffenbaugh had me from page one, when her prickly, misanthropic heroine, Victoria Jones, ages out of the foster care system.  Victoria’s struggle to build an independent adult life for herself is interwoven with flashbacks to her most important foster care placement.  Elizabeth, who teaches Victoria the “language of flowers,” seems all set to adopt the difficult, frightened child…but something goes awry, and Diffenbaugh’s masterful weaving of the flashback explanation through the contemporary storyline was suspenseful enough to keep me burning through the pages. Make no mistake:  this is a sad, difficult book, and if you are tender-hearted, and want your endings easy and sweet, you will probably not enjoy it.  Victoria, however, is well-worth getting to know, and if you can open your heart to her as she struggles to overcome years of abuse and disappointment, you will be well-rewarded at the final page.

So, to review:

1)  It’s okay not to finish a book.

2)  It’s okay not to like a book your friends like.

3) Reading droughts can be tough, but stick to your principles.

Your turn.  What are you reading these days, and what are you finishing?

–Leigh Anne

about to plunge into Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air, thanks to the cheerful efficiency of the interlibrary loan staff

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Curiosity/Satisfaction: Notes From A Reading Life

‘curiosity killed the cat.’ A very familiar proverb that seems to have been recorded only as far back as the early 1900s. Perhaps it derived somehow from the much older (late 16th century) care killed the cat, but there is no proof of this thus far.” — The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th ed.

I

I am a mediocre poet who lives in a city of very good poets, some of whom sit next to me at the reference desk on a regular basis.  Despite my inability to craft a suitable sonnet or a voluptuous villanelle, I find myself drawn again and again to the poetry section; if I cannot create this particular brand of magic, I can, at least, drown myself in it, hoping I will gain something from repeated dunks.  Gills, maybe.  A mermaid’s tail.

So, too, I devour David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless.  It’s a guidebook for the uninitiated, everybody who fears that s/he’s just not cool enough for poetry.  Orr’s essays soothe me, make me snicker; who knew the New York Times‘s poetry critic could be so darned frank and funny?  I want to give this book to everyone who has ever felt they weren’t smart enough to read or write poetry, so we can tear down our misconceptions and misgivings together, start all over again.

“As everyone knows, all the best poets eat at Taco Bell,” Orr assures me. I smile, and believe him.

II

Vampires are sooooo ’97 (by which, of course, I mean 1897).  It is, however, hot, and a little fluffy fiction would not be amiss.   I pick up By Blood We Live and fall into a plush, posh, well-written collection of short stories culled from masters of the horror genre.  Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are here, and rightly so.  There are, however, many new-to-me authors, such as Barbara Roden, Nancy Holder, Carrie Vaughn.  Gleefully I scribble authors and titles into my to-read notebook, marveling at how one good short story anthology can lead to hours of further entertainment and discovery.

III

Because I’m usually reading multiple books at once, serendipitous moments frequently pop up.  I learn, for example, that both Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City contain tiger symbolism.  One is telegraphed, the other covert; both are delightful surprises.  It is, however, Obreht’s interweave of medicine and magic, nested as it is in a narrative reminiscent of those cunning Russian dolls-within-dolls, that keeps my attention.  As much as I pity Lethem’s tiger, I have far less sympathy for his wealthy, indolent characters, and I cannot wait a few hundred pages for their redemption, no matter how well-written and charming they are.

I parcel out Obreht’s novel slowly, in paragraphs, to make it last longer.  The delicious suspense is killing me, but I do not want this book to end.  I will probably stay up late to finish it the night before it is due, imagining the impatient toe-tapping of everyone else on the waiting list.  “Relax,” I want to tell them.  “It’s worth it.  You’ll love this.”  Like a mother reassuring her children that the long night’s sleep before Santa will, most assuredly, be worth it in the morning.

IV

My best friend and I are getting pedicures; I have never had one, so I’m a little embarrassed about my feet.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that they are the ugliest feet ever seen in North America, so to hide my embarrassment over what I’m convinced will be inevitable ridicule and banishment from the spa, I turn to the table next to me, grab a random book and hide behind it, mortified.

Said book turns out to be I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks.  It’s a how-to-dress guide for those of us who could use a little help, fashion-wise, and  unlike other books in this oeuvre I’ve furtively glanced at, the author actually appears to be on my side.  Rather than foisting a list of dos and don’ts on the hapless reader, Brooks gently makes suggestions about how you can create your own signature look based on what makes you feel pretty.  My reservations about this whole girlie-girl thing lift somewhat.

As I flip through the pages, I read random tidbits to my more stylish friend, who listens indulgently.  “Look, minimalism is TOO a style,” I crow, pointing to pictures of the black-clad, no-nonsense Sofia Coppola.  An hour later, purple polish drying, I teeter home on flip-flops and verify that I can indeed check this book out of the library.  Haute couture, for the win.

V

Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction, they say, brought that cat back.  However, I am still sifting through the murky backwaters of the internet–and kicking up heaps of dust in print resources–trying to find a derivation for this phrase that will satisfy the librarian part of my brain.  This chunk of grey matter insists, despite our brave new content-creation world, that there are still certain standards for what is true in any given situation.  A bunch of people on the web saying something is true does not necessarily make it so.

[And yet, I have, as of right now, nothing better to go on, and precious little time to devote to what is currently a matter of interest to me and me alone.  Then again, if somebody should call the reference department tomorrow and want to know “the truth” about the origin of this phrase, I would have a reason to go on.  Hint hint.]

On a grander scale, curiosity is what brings us to the written word, and satisfaction is what brings us back. We read for all sorts of reasons: to lose ourselves, to learn new things, to kill boredom or its variants, which include “time in airports” and “waiting in line at the coffee shop.”  We read to satiate our hunger to know, even if it kills us, the things we do not know.  We come back, again and again, because the only thing knowledge truly kills is ignorance, and the satisfaction we feel–learning the facts, exploring the new subject, discovering the unfamiliar genre–is more than enough to counterbalance any pain that takes place during the process.

What are you curious about today?  What brings you back to the library, again and again?

–Leigh Anne

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