Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 11/28/2014

I should be reading my casebooks exclusively, with finals on Dec. 8 and 10. But I also have book clubs Dec. 7 and 14! I'm reading "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon in print for DC book club and just started "Belzhar" by Meg Woltizer in audio.

Some links to kick off your weekend:
  • The Ferguson library stayed open to support the community this week when many other community resources shut down. Book Riot collects ways to support them.
  • The Guardian profiles National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson, whose victory was unfortunately "marred by a racist gaffe."
  • For something a little different, Vulture profiles an NYC institution" the Strand Book Store.
  • William Shatner is kickstarting a book [via The Guardian].
  • A copy of Shakespeare's first folio in excellent condition was found in a small French library.
  • A good friend said this is what she imagines my home will eventually look like. A girl can dream!
  • published two lists that added titles to my TBR: great standalone fantasy novels and exceptional books of 2014.
  • Finally, Audible is having a big sale - over 300 titles are priced at $4.95, some lower if you have the Kindle version through Whispersync. Best of all, it's NOT members-exclusive. I picked up "Bitter Seeds" by Ian Tregillis and Daniel Abraham's "The Dragon's Path."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed

Confession: Ever since Oprah named "Wild" to her book club, I  avoided the book like the plague. A book about a women finding herself while escaping her problems by hiking through California? Didn't sound like my cup of tea. I tend to prefer my heart-wrenching reads to be fictional. I was so. completely. wrong.

Luckily, an NYC book cub member & dear friend picked it for our end-of-the-year read. I will read whatever my book clubs pick, regardless of personal interest, so I checked out the audiobook from NYPL and was eventually blown away.

The book started out rough. As Strayed laid the groundwork for how she ended up hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (at a particularly low point in her life, she found a guidebook and decided to give it a go) and set out on her trek, there were plenty of opportunities for eyerolls. And I hit all of them. She never packed all her equipment and tried to lift her fully-packed backpack before she left? Eyeroll. She didn't know how to work many pieces of her equipment? Eyeroll. She didn't even know why she brought certain pieces of equipment? Eyeroll. She never serioisly considered there might be ice in the mountains she intended to hike? Eyeroll. I thought that at best, her lack of preparation was foolish and short-sighted. At worst, she is endangering others who might be inspired by writing an entire book about how she went in unprepared and turned out just fine.

Yet as I continued to listen-read, Strayed took more ownership of her mistakes. She never claims that what she did was a good idea, and clearly points out where she went wrong and what she should have done instead. While everything works out just fine in the beginning of her hike, she frankly writes of her dangerous encounters with wild animals, losing the trail, and encountering potentially-predatory men as a woman hiking entirely alone. She does not sugarcoat her experience, and her recounting is all the stronger for it.

Strayed had a rough upbringing, her mother passed away, and her marriage fell apart. She takes responsibility for the problems that were of her own making, while embracing those that weren't as part of what shaped her nonetheless. She intersperses these stories of her pre-trail life with her experience hiking the trail. What emerges is an honest discussion of one woman's experience. She isn't looking for sympathy, but empathy. She is willing to share her story in case it may help others who feel similarly set adrift amid their own personal struggles - and maybe they won't have to lose toenails hiking the PCT in the process.

Verdict: Affirmed. This book is so much better than I gave it credit for. I should've known better than to doubt Oprah - she hasn't led me wrong on a book pick yet.

"Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed, published by Vintage Books on March 20, 2012

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 11/21/2014

I've been listening to "The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases" by Michael Capuzzo, narrated by Adam Grupper. I'm still working through "The Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2014" on ebook, and about to start "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" by Michael Chabon for DC book club.

Literary Links:

  • Jonathan Franzen announced a new book to be released September of 2015.
  • EW names 50 books every kid should read.
  • Elon Musk's book recommendations.
  • Kirkus listed their best fiction books of the year this week - I added a bunch to my TBR list.
  • Ursula K. LeGuin gave a fantastic acceptance speech at the National Book Awards this week - transcript here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Tender is the Night" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald is having a moment. Maybe it's on the way out now, with the release & eventual fizzling of "The Great Gatsby" movie last year, but tales of the jazz were still interesting enough to my DC book club that I was able to entice them to read "Tender is the Night" for our October pick. Besides, to my memory, I have never read a book with a protagonist sharing my name, and that sounded interesting.

First, it's weird reading about someone with your name who is not a whole lot like you. Nicole & Dick Diver are an enigmatic power couple - an invitation to their house is basically a fast pass to the cool kid's table. Rosemary Hoyt, a young actress vacationing with her mother in the French Riviera, is invited into their world, and eagerly tries to make her way into Dick's heart. Underneath the glamour is a whole big mess of interpersonal drama and mental health issues that made for a deeply engaging, if unevenly paced, novel.

The pacing was slow at first - a point F. Scott recognized when providing advertising suggestions to his publisher - but picks up toward the end of the first part and doesn't slow down. Like "Gatsby," "Tender is the Night" is full of beautiful prose, even for a character-and-plot reader like myself. It shares broad themes with "Gatsby," as well: marriages in flux, class struggle, and disillusionment. Though longer, and admittedly less of a tight read, "Tender is the Night" felt more personal than I remember "Gatsby" being.

I read the edition with the cover at the top of this post, and the accompanying introduction from Charles Scribner III was what every introduction should be. It avoided spoilers, providing only a history of the novel itself. Knowing that F. Scott spent nine years writing it while his wife, Zelda, was in and out of mental institutions affected how I understood the book. Maybe it was the introduction setting me up for it, but I can see where F. Scott poured his experience and his complicated love for his wife into this novel. I've added Zelda's only novel, "Save Me the Waltz," to my TBR after it was mentioned in the introduction as a counter-perspective to F. Scott's view of their marriage presented here.

F. Scott's portrait of the Divers' marriage is beautifully written, capturing the complexity, intensity, and adoration between these troubled characters. I think I'll re-visit this novel periodically, and look forward to learning more about Zelda, F. Scott, and their story and history beyond Jazz Age legends.

Verdict: Affirmed, for fans of the jazz age, marital dramas, and beautiful writing. And obviously, any fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 11/14/2014

Just finished "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed on audio this morning, so I'll have to pick something new for my train ride home this weekend. Still working on the NPH autobiography in print, and "The Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2014" in ebook.

Literary links:

  • Amazon and Hachette have reached an agreement.
  • The Guardian reports on a letter campaign by authors to support persecuted writers around the world.
  • A debate rose across the bookternet this week after the Atlantic published a piece imploring readers to "Finish That Book!" A Book Riot contributor replied "Reading is Not a Chore." Which group do you agree with?
  • Penguin Random House announced National Readathon Day, which will take place Jan. 24 from noon to 4pm and raise money for the National Book Foundation. What a wonderful idea!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi's memoir on her time teaching English literature courses while she lived in Iran is a heartfelt introduction to modern life in a country about which few Americans know a great deal. That being said, as both a lover of literature and a student of Persian (Farsi) for four years, I expected a bit more from this much-beloved novel.

The memoir opens as Nafisi recounts the underground literature course she taught in her home with seven young women. The first part gives the reader glimpses of these women's various personalities, and a sense for how they came together. Peppered throughout the narrative are descriptions and analyses of Nabokov's "Lolita," with stories of its reception in Nafisi's classes and connections to her life and those of her students. It's an interesting approach, but one that felt a bit thrown-together. The passages didn't flow in and out of the narrative as well as I would have liked, so the transitions felt abrupt and jarring at times.

The memoir then goes back in time, with two passages in more-or-less linear chronology. The first, on the revolution and the cultural aftermath is interspersed with "The Great Gatsby," and the third, on the Iran-Iraq War discusses Henry James. Perhaps because it is the work with which I am the most familiar, I felt the Gatsby section to be the strongest, with smoother transitions, clear metaphors and analogies, and anecdotes to which I could more easily relate. In contrast, as someone who knows very little about Henry James, the literary passages and analogies in that section fell flat. They often distracted from the more interesting descriptions of life in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War, without adding to my understanding of the everyday experiences of a Tehrani during that time.

The final section returns to the underground book group, interspersed with analogies to Jane Austen's novels, primarily "Pride and Prejudice." I have not read any of her work, though I intend to at some point, so this section left me skimming the literary passages as I tried to avoid spoilers while still grasping the larger point of the analogy. Admittedly, this is a less-than-ideal reading strategy, and any dislike for this part is my own fault.

Nafisi's carefully-constructed portraits of her students and acquaintances make this book worth the read. Her descriptions of students supporting the regime are fair, indicating an impressive empathy for those with whom she disagrees. Nafisi demonstrates a strong command of language, and my Kindle edition is filled with highlighted passages that I am excited to discuss.

Verdict: Affirmed, for book lovers eager to learn more about Iran shortly pre- and post-revolution. However, you'll have a much greater appreciation for the literary analogies if you read the reference literary works prior to this.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Reads & Links - 11/7/2014

I cleaned out my "Currently Reading" in Goodreads yesterday - finally accepted that I'd have to start "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" and "Cuckoo's Calling" over again if I want to finish it. Instead, I am moving through some great library books - "Bad Feminist" by Roxane Gay on audio, "Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography" in print, and still working on "The Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2014." Unfortunately, I have a big paper due Sunday, so I'm not sure how much reading I'll actually be able to do this weekend!

Bookish links to kick off your weekend:
  • The Guardian writes about the lives & livelihoods of booksellers in South Sudan.
  • Good news for fans (unlike me) of Jeff VanderMeer's "Annihilation" - you're getting a movie!
  • If you've been waiting for the legal-go-ahead to sell your Sherlock Holmes fan fiction, SCOTUS has got you covered.
  • The Atlantic covers the recent success of women writing SciFi & gives some background on their historical rise and fall. [via Book Riot]
  • Thanks Matt for sharing this page of first editions with authors' annotations that will be auctioned off on Dec. 2.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"Under the Egg" by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Theodora’s grandfather dies suddenly, and with his last words he tells her to look “under the egg” for a treasure. Left to look after her eccentric mother in their dilapidated town house in Manhattan, Theo could really use that treasure to make ends meet. Her grandfather’s instructions set her off on a mystery involving lost works of art and her grandfather’s personal history.

Theo is a charming, astute protagonist whose seriousness is balanced by her new friend Bhodi, the daughter of two celebrities in the entertainment industry who must constantly hide from the paparazzi.  Theo’s eccentric, reclusive mother bent on solving a math equation, their shrill tea-saleswoman neighbor, and a neighborhood full of intriguing neighbors round out the cast. Fitzgerald avoids reducing any of these characters to mere caricatures, instead providing each with a back story and depth.

“Under the Egg” is “The Goldfinch” for middle grade readers, with a hint of “The Da Vinci Code.” Not being a parent, I’m not sure what would-be censors will make of a couple discussions of paintings with bare breasts & a brief mention of breast feeding, but I hope it won’t stop too many parents from handing this one to their kids. It’s a thoroughly entertaining mystery, and it definitely peaked my interest in lost works of art.

Verdict: Affirmed for fans of art history, mysteries, or solid middle-grade fiction.

Under the Egg” by Laura Max Fitzgerald, published by Dial Books for Young Readers on March 18, 2014.