Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wednesdays with David: Fortunately, Unfortunately

Happy Wednesday, intrepid readers! I hope you are having a lovely week. Here's David's favorite library book at the moment.

The book: Fortunately, Unfortunately
Author/Illustrator: Michael Foreman
Publisher: Anderson Press USA
Suggested Age Range: 4 - 8

Fortunately, Unfortunately is a book made in heaven for little boys. It features everything they love - aliens, pirates and dinosaurs - all in one adventure. It probably could have done with a garbage truck or train thrown in for good measure, but I digress. When I spotted the cover of this book, I knew we had to read it. 
The hero of our tale is named Milo. His mother asks him to go to Granny's house (of course!) to return her umbrella which she left behind. On his way, he gets caught in a rainstorm and accidentally walks off of a cliff. And so the adventures begin! 
This book has a repetitive structure that kids will pick up easily. Each fortunate event is followed by an unfortunate one, hence the title. The thing I loved best was noticing the subtle details Mr. Foreman puts into his illustrations. It wasn't until the third reading that I realized that Milo's granny (yes, he gets there eventually!) is wearing roller skates under her dress and apron.

Thoughts from David: "I like it because there are dinosaurs there...and pirates! I like pirates." Case in point. 

Happy Reading! 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: The God of Small Things

Technically, this should be a review for The Tiger's Wife. However, I am having a strangely difficult time writing the review for that book. In the meantime, here's a review for The God of Small Things, which I also finished reading recently.

The God of Small Things
By Arundhati Roy
Random House 1997

I read The God of Small Things as a part of an online book club at Goodreads. You do know about Goodreads, right? If not, check it out here and look me up there! Moving right along...

When Rahel hears that her twin brother Estha has returned home, she leaves America to go back to Ayemenem, India. She is desperate to reconnect with her twin, her best friend, the only one who truly understands her. Rahel’s return back to their childhood home brings back a lifetime of painful memories that she had tried to distance herself from. She cannot help but remember the summer that their lives changed forever – the summer that their cousin Sophie Mol came to visit.

I had trouble getting through this book. While I think Ms. Roy can write very beautifully, this book is just too overwhelming. Each page you turn is filled with pain, inflicted by society, by circumstance, by the people who claim to love their victims. It’s very hard to take, especially as there is no change. This is not a book where one terrible event leads to a change in the lives of those it touches. Rather in this book, the terrible event in question only mires the characters deeper in the hell in which they live and never are able to escape.

I believe that this is an intentional choice on the author’s part and reflective of Indian culture. The caste system does terrible things to those who are enslaved by it but, even so, their personal conflicts are never worthy in the face of the problems of an evolving nation. “He didn’t know that in some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation. That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent. Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered, the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. It was never important enough.  In the country that she came from, poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace, Worse Things kept happening.”

Perhaps because of this, I had a difficult time relating to the characters. Some of it may have been cultural, but the adult were so busy hurting each other (and the children!) that it was difficult to really feel compassion for their pain. I almost stopped reading in the moment when the twins’ mother tells them that when they are careless with their words, it makes people love them a little less. The poor children are certainly victims in their circumstances, but they are so wrapped up in being twins, that one feels as if they are living in their own world.

Ms. Roy gives her readers an intense look into the complexities of being a twin and living in a culture where you are not valued. There’s no levity to offset the pain that the characters are constantly experiencing, which makes it a very difficult book to read and, perhaps, an even harder book to enjoy. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's Monday and the sun is out...

Happy Monday, everyone! I am happy to report that everyone is safe and sound post-Irene, and our house was unscathed as well. We did lose power for 26 hours and camped out in the downstairs hallway in case the threatened tornado touched down.The storm also afforded me the opportunity to do some reading by candlelight on Sunday night, before we got our power back at midnight. Onto the books!

This past week I read:

The Tiger's Wife
By Tea Obreht

The God of Small Things
By Arundhati Roy

This week on the blog:
David and I reviewed Watermelon Day, I reviewed The Hours by Michael Cunningham, and I wrote about how lovely Anne Lamott is and how fluffy reading is sometimes very necessary.

Coming Up This Week:
Wednesdays with David and reviews of The Tiger's Wife and The God of Small Things

Reading this Week:

Pigeon English
By Stephen Kelman

The Boy in the Suitcase (ARC)
By Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

How did Irene treat you? What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review: The Hours

The Hours
By Michael Cunningham
Picador 2000

The Hours by Michael Cunningham is the most beautiful book I have read in a long time. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to devour this in one sitting, or read just one chapter a day and savor the lovely writing. The words that come to mind are actually rich and delicious. I don’t love using those words because then I feel like I should write about cake, but in this case they are the right ones.

This novel is about the lives of three women – the esteemed writer Virginia Woolf as she begins writing Mrs. Dalloway; Laura Brown, a California housewife in 1949; and Clarissa Vaughan, a book editor living in New York City at the end of the twentieth century. Each woman deals with questions of desire, wondering if they really want the life they live or if there could be something better if they just take the leap.

“It is impossible not to imagine that other future, that rejected future, as taking place in Italy or France, among big sunny rooms and gardens; as being full of infidelities and great battles; as a vast and enduring romance laid over friendship so searing and profound it would accompany them to the grave and possibly even beyond. She could, she thinks, have entered another world. She could have had a life as potent and dangerous as literature itself.”

Mr. Cunningham is an excellent writer. As someone who loves the writing of Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway in particular, I felt that he evoked the style of her writing without being confined by it. Clarissa is even lovingly called ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ by her best friend Richard. Of course, her first chapter opens with her setting out to buy flowers for a party. This novel is so complimentary to Woolf’s that if you haven’t read either, I would advise you to read that and then read The Hours immediately afterwards.

The Hours is decidedly a book for people who love books. A love for and solace from literature is found in the narrative of all three women. Virginia clings to her writing as her savior from the demons that taunt her. Laura finds reading Mrs. Dalloway infinitely more appealing than going through the motions of her everyday life, such as caring for her husband, child, and home. She finds every moment of possible reading time, beginning first thing in the morning “as if reading were the singular and obvious first task of the day, the only viable way to negotiate the transit from sleep to obligation.” Clarissa is a book editor who searches for the one book that holds the emotional weight of a cherished memory.

Cunningham masterfully captures the fear of wanting more, while realizing there may be nothing else after all. His characters are so wonderfully intricate, and the relationships each deep and meaningful – husband and wife, lovers, parents and children – each one feels exquisitely joyous and painful.  Leonard Woolf thinks of his wife Virginia, “He is still, at times, astonished by her. She may be the most intelligent woman in England, he thinks. Her books may be read for centuries. He believes this more ardently than does anyone else. And she is his wife.”

I am inspired to go reread Mrs. Dalloway and collect the other books of Michael Cunningham. Those Pulitzer people knew what they were doing when they awarded this book. This is one of my new favorite novels and I actually took a few days off from reading after this one – I just needed to sit with this book for a few days. 

Friends, we're bracing for a visit from Irene here in NJ. Please stay safe and if you're far away from the storm, your prayers for those of us battening down the hatches would be greatly appreciated. See you on Monday. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Snippets: Anne Lamott

I feel as if I've found a fairy godmother.
Like many people who love reading, I like to imagine from time to time that I could also be a writer (if that actually happens, I will be sure to let you know.) I had heard many times about a book called Bird by Bird.

I grabbed it from my library and spent a week or so reading a short chapter or two each day. It always left a smile on my face. This is a book full of advice about writing, but it's so much more than that. It's a book about making art and living fully and really seeing what is happening in the world around you.
Anne Lamott is extremely funny, endlessly insightful, and a beautiful writer. Her advice is honest, but so encouraging. With every word, you feel that she believes in you without ever having met you. I would love to have her sit on my shoulder like the little angel of old cartoons. She could encourage me and once in a while tell me an outrageous joke. I have added everything she's written to my TBR list. If you haven't read anything by Ms. Lamott, get to it - she will encourage your heart and make you laugh...out loud - you know, the really loud laugh that causes your husband to come in from the other room to see what is so funny.
Thank goodness for Anne Lamott and her genuine, kind, beautiful writing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesdays with David: Watermelon Day

The book: Watermelon Day
Author: Kathi Appelt
Illustrator: Dale Gottlieb
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. 1996
Suggested Age: 4-8 years old
Source: Library! 

I wasn't really sure David was going to like this book. I had to do a little convincing to get him to sit and listen the first time. But now? He checks to make sure I haven't taken it back to the library when he wasn't paying attention. This is a lovely story of a little girl named Jesse who spots a large watermelon growing in their patch.  Her pappy tells her that when it gets bigger, they will have a "watermelon day," where her cousins will come over and they will have a family party. This book is about the summer of waiting for the perfect day for the perfect watermelon. It would be a great story if you are planting some flowers or veggies with your little one. They can wait along with Jesse for the big day when their hard work pays off. 

Thoughts from David: "“I like when the watermelon grows because it’s fun to have watermelon. I like watermelon – I ate some today. “
“I love when all of this happens (pointing to the party with the family) and when she has a watermelon face, and when the doggy tries to get it, that’s fun too."

Happy Reading from David!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Snippets: Fluffy Books

I don't always want or need to write you a whole review. Sometimes I just want to talk about a book for a minute or two. So, I introduce you to the first Book Snippet.

Sometimes you just need to read something...fluffy. I used to hate this word - my dad would use it when asking why I preferred The Babysitter's Club to something more solid, preferably a classic. This past week, I had finished the amazing, but very heavy The Hours (Review coming later this week!). Then I started reading The Tiger's Wife, which is also dark. I just needed something easy - you know, girl solves mystery, girl juggles two boys, girl bakes cheesecake. I found my fix with this book:

It's the first book I have read by this author, but it's not the first in the series. To be quite honest, I picked it because I like cheesecake...and did I mention that these books have recipes? Sure, it's a little hard to believe that Hannah, the protagonist, can keep two such wonderful men waiting indefinitely for her to choose between them and it's a little hard to keep track of all of the delightful small town residents. But I wasn't looking to have my life changed, just for a quick read with a happy ending. 
So I'm off to dream of cheesecake.Yum. In the meantime friends, what is your favorite fluffy read?

Monday, August 22, 2011

It's Monday...

This week I have not done as much reading as I would have liked, due to a sick little guy and you know, life. Anyway, here's what's been happening at Literary Lindsey.

This week, I finished:

Cherry Cheesecake Murder by Joanne Fluke

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I'm almost done with:
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Posts from this past week:

Books Coming Up:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman 

What are you reading this week, friends? 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1: The Complete and Authoritative EditionI would like to take a moment to note that, despite the fact that I have been plugging away at this book since January, I am actually a very fast reader. The problem is that Volume 1 is a hefty 700 plus pages, including a very thorough index and lengthy explanatory notes. It just does not fit in the purse so easily. And so it has remained next to my bed for the past seven months, waiting patiently for a few spare moments before sleep.

That being said, I did enjoy my time with Samuel. Mark Twain is one of my favorite writers. You have to love that he foresaw that people would be excited to read his biography 100 years after his death. He does not write in the typical fashion - here I was born, here was my childhood, etc. Instead, he dictates things as remembers them and includes letters, newspaper articles and journal entries within the pages. This format would not work for a lot of writers, but in this case we readers are thankful that he doesn’t “mind excursioning around in an autobiography – there is plenty of room. I don’t mind it so long as I get the things right at last, when they are important.” As in his fictional writing, Twin is delightful in his memoirs.  

He manages to be both hysterically funny and concisely perceptive in the same story. One of my favorites is this one from his childhood:
“‘Here is a boy seven years old who can’t chaw tobacco.’
By the looks and comments which this produced, I realized that I was a degraded object; I was cruelly ashamed of myself. I determined to reform. But I only made myself sick. I was not able to learn to chew tobacco. I learned to smoke fairly well, but that did not conciliate anybody, and I remained a poor thing, and characterless. I longed to be respected, but I never was able to rise. Children have but little charity for each other’s defects.”

This book gives a wonderful dose of the wry, sarcastic Twain that we love from his other writing. It is so much fun to read his take on the people and events of his day. He holds nothing back because he knows that everyone will be gone by the time this is published. It’s also lovely to see his day to day relations with his family. A portion of the book revolves around the biography his daughter Susy wrote before her early death. His love for her is apparent in every one of these pages, even as he indicates that her regard for him may be much higher than his actions deserve. 

I look forward to reading Volume II (does anyone know when that is expected?), but my back will probably not appreciate lugging it around any more than its predecessor. 

Do you have a favorite Twain book/story? Tell me about it in the comments! 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review: Cleopatra

Cleopatra: A Life 
By Stacy Schiff
Little, Brown, and Co. 2010

Stacy Schiff is a very gifted biographer. She turns everything you thought you knew about Cleopatra on its head. Cleopatra’s seductive nature, her stunning beauty, and that infamous snake may all turn out to be creations of the Romans who couldn’t uphold the image of a brilliant, powerful, female ruler.

In her first chapter, Ms. Schiff writes “I have not attempted to fill in the blanks, though on occasion I have corralled the possibilities. What looks merely probable here remains merely probable – though opinions differ radically even on the probabilities. The irreconcilable remains unreconciled. Mostly I have restored context.” I appreciate this in a biography. I think that, often, biographers use conjecture as fact. While the author here will provide options, she is not afraid to conclude that we just do not know what happened or why something occurred the way that it did.

While this is a biography of Cleopatra, Schiff also examines the men who affected her life – Caesar, Antony, and Cicero. Some of the best moments in the book occur when examining the relationship between the Egyptian queen and the Roman dignitaries. Cleopatra’s relationships with Caesar and Antony are carefully scrutinized. The idea of a teenager seducing two men who were known womanizers seems suspect at best. Schiff has the insight to examine all angles of the relationships – romantic and political. Cleopatra seems to have stirred nothing but frustration and disgust in Cicero. One imagines that, if he lived today, he might have a talk show on a news station where he could lambaste everyone he did not like.  “Cicero liked to believe himself wealthy. He prided himself on his books. He needed no further reason to dislike Cleopatra: intelligent women who had better libraries than he did offended him on three counts.”

One of the most interesting sections was the one concerning her death. It is part of our ingrained ‘knowledge’ that Antony and Cleopatra died together, from a snake bite. We’ve seen this depicted by Shaw, Shakespeare, and that infamous movie. However, Schiff’s research reveals that they died separately. She also indicates that Cleopatra is much too educated and resourceful to die by snakebite, which would result in painful, drawn-out suffering.

Cleopatra presents the reader with a comprehensive picture of the infamous queen. She is neither hero nor villain; rather she is a woman who was a smart and able ruler. She is a woman who loved; certainly her children and her people, if not her two lovers. Schiff is able to look past modern culture’s perception of Cleopatra as Elizabeth Taylor, she of the kohled eyes and alluring gaze, who tumbles gracefully out of a carpet to seduce the much older Caesar. “Cleopatra unsettles more as sage than as seductress; it is less threatening to believe her fatally attractive than fatally intelligent,” she writes. Instead, she presents us with a real woman, with flaws and faults, who reigned over Egypt more intelligently than many of her male predecessors. Ms. Schiff has written an excellent study of a woman who rose above the societal rules of her time to become a ruler who will live in the annals of history forever. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesdays with David

We read a lot in my house. I am reading and blogging about books. My husband reads for his classes as he pursues his master's degree. Our little guy...well, he looks at a lot of books and we spend a lot of time reading to him. Hey, he comes by it naturally, right?
So every Wednesday, the little fellow and I will talk about a book that we enjoyed together.

The book: I Can Do It Myself!
Author: Diane Adams
Illustrator: Nancy Hayashi
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers 2009
Suggested Age: 4-8 years old
Source: Our lovely local library

Oh parents, you know how this story is going to go when the first line is "Emily Pearl is a very big girl." We've all heard it and we've all said it in our valiant attempts to make our children act somewhere near their age. This is a really adorable book. Emily wants to do everything by herself (of course!) and attempts things such as pouring her juice, feeding her pets, and washing her face; all with varying degrees of success. When Emily's mother attempts to intervene, she is told "I can do it myself!" The book ends at bedtime when Emily admits that even though she can do it, sometimes it is nice to have a mommy who takes care of her. This is a sweet story for any preschooler who is struggling with just how much independence they want and the illustrations are charming.

Thoughts from David: "It’s good cuz I love it. I love the cat and the silly things that Emily does.”

Until next week, happy reading from Lindsey and this little guy:

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's Monday, what are you reading?

So I am trying a new thing here on the blog - this is from Book Journeys. I tell you what I'm reading, what's coming up, etc. Let's see how it goes!

I just finished:
The Hours by Michael Cunningham

This week, I will be reading:
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Book reviews coming your way:
The Hours
Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1

That's it for now, lovely readers. Happy Monday! 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Review: The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking has been on my radar for a while. When I happened to spot it out of the corner of my eye on a trip to the library, I grabbed it and added it to the pile.
I have mixed feelings about this one. Ms. Didion is a great writer and I found myself bargaining to just read another chapter or two. That being said, I felt like I was intruding on something very personal. This book deals with the year after the sudden death of her husband, a year in which she spends a majority of her time at the bedside of her only daughter who remains in a coma. 
While reading this book, I felt like I was looking out my car window at an accident on the side of the road. My instinct was to look away, and yet I was intrigued. We are used to reading about moments of crisis, a time of grief, but to read an entire book about the mourning process is tough to take.
Didion is surprised to find that mourning is often unemotional – there are not fits of weeping or crazy decisions. She seems rational to the people around her, but she imagines ways in which her husband could come back to her. Like any writer or lover of words, she turns to books. She studies medical textbooks and journals to discover exactly what happened when her beloved husband left her and what kept her daughter alive. She reads passages about life and death and love from books that she loves, books she has written herself, and books written by her husband, looking for the right words for her grief.
“I know why we try to keep the dead alive; we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us,” she writes. “I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead. Let them become the photograph on the table. Let them become the name on the trust accounts. Let go of them in the water. Knowing this does not make it any easier to let go of him in the water.”
I will look out for another book by Ms. Didion, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was witnessing something that was not mine to see. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Devil in the White City

Once in a while, a nonfiction book gets as much buzz as its fictional counterparts. Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City became a national bestseller and won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. These accolades are well-deserved. Larson masterfully weaves the overarching history of Chicago as it fights for respect alongside the dedicated dreamers and craftsmen attempting the seemingly impossible task of designing and building The World’s Fair in just a few short years.
The stakes for our characters couldn’t be higher. Everything that could possibly go wrong with the planning and construction of the fair does go wrong. People die, supplies don’t come in, nothing is completed on schedule and the Chicago cold and rain fights them every step of the way. Architects Daniel Burnham and John Root are selected to oversee the construction of ‘The White City,’ as the fair becomes known. Not only are their reputations on the line, but they must represent their city in the shadow of New York City and the site of the previous fair, Paris.
“Among Chicago’s leading citizens there was always a deep fear of being second class. No one topped Chicago in terms of business drive and acumen, but within the city’s upper echelons there was a veiled anxiety that the city in its commercial advance may indeed have failed to cultivate the finer traits of man and woman…With its gorgeous classical buildings packed with art, its clean water and electric lights, and its overstaffed police department, the exposition was Chicago’s conscience, the city it wanted to become.”
The novel switches between Burnham and the Fair and the more sinister story of H.H. Holmes, a man who murdered at least nine people during the same time period. This part of the story is creepy and enthralling. It’s like the part of the horror movie where you scream at the people onscreen not to go into the basement. You know that Holmes is going to murder the na├»ve women he lures into his hotel, but they do not. It really opens your eyes to the differences and similarities between law enforcement and justice in the past and the present. Disappearances of people who were undesirable or marginal were largely ignored. This section reads like a very taut murder mystery. The fact that it is true only makes it more horrific.
While this book is mostly about men, there are some amazing snippets about women. The best one involves a female architect (the only one involved with the fair!) who spends years designing a building only to be run out by a committee of women with their own ideas about decoration. She is quietly escorted to a sanatorium to deal with her mental breakdown.
Mr. Larson writes history really well – he understands the tension between the individual and the collective history and reflects them in his writing. I wish students who say they hate history could read books like this. History is alive and fascinating and dare I say, even funny! The wit is dry but oh so wonderful.
“Chastened by criticism of the stupefying length of October’s Dedication Day ceremony, the fair’s officers had kept the Opening Day program short and pledged to honor the timetable at all costs. First came a blessing, given by a blind chaplain to an audience made deaf by size and distance. Next came a poetic ode to Columbus that was as long and difficult to endure as the admiral’s voyage itself: “Then from the Pinta’s foretop fell a cry, a trumpet song, ‘Light ho! Light ho! Light!’ “
That kind of thing.”
The Devil in the White City is a great read. “After all, this was a world’s fair, and fairs should be fun.” History should be fun too – and it can be, in the right hands. Get thee to a bookstore pronto and see for yourself. 

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Random House 2003

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Help

I don’t like to follow the trends. If everyone tells me a book or movie is amazing, I usually want nothing to do with it. Case in point – I just read the Harry Potter books this year. I know, I know, they were great. 
I heard about how wonderful The Help is, from multiple people. I finally gave in and I am glad that I did. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Check out my review here.