Monday, January 15, 2018

Tournament of Books - 2018 short list

Here are the 18 books that made it to the short list this year, and here's the link to the official article at the Morning Post.

I would like to read the six I've noted, but will definitely read at least March Madness!

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker - plan to read
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim
The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid - a likely winner, so I plan to read

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich- definitely will read
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders - a likely winner, so I will try again to read
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Eganm - definitely will read
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - would like to read
Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward -would like to read
So Much Blue by Percival Everett
Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash
White Tears by Hari Kunzru

This is such a great way to help me choose current titles to read. I'm rarely at a loss as to what to read when it comes to classics, but there is just so much contemporary fiction that I appreciate the help in navigating my way to the best books.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Farewell to Arms

There are a lot of pretty cheesy covers for this book out there. I picked the one I  liked the best!

Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929, is his second major novel, preceded by The Sun Also Rises (1926). The Hemingway I've read in the past have all been from his later years--The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and Across the River and Into the Trees, plus a number of short stories. I liked Farewell to Arms the best so far.

Yes, the style is easy to parody--everything is fine, grand, or splendid, and the word "very" shows up least once per page--but I found the character and story of Frederic Henry to be compelling.

Set in during WWI (1917/1918), I found the descriptions of the Italian and Swiss countryside to be particularly interesting, and the war scenes with Henry, a lieutenant in the Italian army, serving as an ambulance driver, were incredibly rich in detail.

If I had read the book as a teen or young adult, I would have focused on the love story between Henry and Catherine Barkley, and would have found myself skimming the war scenes. Now, especially since I am trying to understand the mechanics of the early 20th century, I avidly read the war scenes but found my mind wandering a bit as the lovers ("Darling" is another overused word) engaged in endless boring dialogue about drinking, making love, and getting married...someday.

Having read this book, I'm interested in finding a good bio on Hemingway.

Since I'm going on a family vacation to Paris and the Dordogne region this summer, I'm also planning to read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast this spring. And, I would also like to read The Sun Also Rises and reread For Whom the Bell Tolls, plus I have a copy of The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain that I want to read as well.

Visiting Dry Tortuga NP is on my travel wish list for sometime soon, and that would enable me to visit Hemingway's house on Key West. Sounds like I might be setting myself up for a mini-course on Hemingway.

First book in the Back to the Classics 2018 challenge done!

Monday, January 08, 2018

Last Chronicle of Barset

Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset has the distinction of being my last book of 2017 and my first book of 2018. Weighing in at 861 pages, I started reading it on Nov 18 and managed to finish it in 7 weeks with the holidays and holiday reading thrown in there for good measure.

As you might have guessed by the title, this is the last of 6 novels in the Barsetshire series, and I have to say that I was sad to say goodbye to the villagers, squires, clerics, lawyers, wives, and servants that I've come to know and love since I started on the series with The Warden, back in November of 2010. I think when I reread the series--and believe me, I will!--I will endeavor to do it in less than 7 years!

I also found that I enjoyed the books more as I progressed through the series. I know that book 2, Barchester Towers, is considered to be the crown jewel of the series, but it was not my favorite. Perhaps being more familiar with the characters and their lives with each book helped, but I really think book 6 is the best. Such a rich collection of characters--I think Josiah Crawley and Lily Dale are two of the most frustrating, and fascinating, characters ever developed. Their obstinacy is maddening, and yet I could definitely see the world from their point of view. They couldn't be more different--one is a dour killjoy and the other is a warm and witty woman, but they defy social convention and will not bend to make their road easier.

I couldn't help wishing that Trollope had written a 7th book in the series in which he married off Jane Crawley to Johnny Eames. Maybe there's some Trollope fan fiction out there that finally gives Johnny a wife--if ever a man should be married, he is it.

I found myself mentally picturing Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey (as played by Hugh Bonneville) for Archdeacon Grantley--I find it not at all strange and very amusing that Julian Fellowes borrowed the name Crawley from Trollope's Barchester series and gave it to the lords of the manor! And Mrs. Grantley's ways of handling the Archdeacon are definitely aligned with Cora's.

Finally, I think that one of the reasons I liked this final book so much is the mystery around how Mr. Crawley got the cheque in the first place. I think that more than the other novel, this one had a super strong plot line off of which the other branches could comfortably hang. It was a perfectly constructed novel, and immensely satisfying to read.

I would absolutely love it if the BBC did a TV series of the entire Barchester series. There is a version from 1982, but it only goes through the first 2 books.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Wrapping Up Xmas Reading

I had a fun December reading a variety of holiday-themed books.

I finished up Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, an anthology of stories set in the NYC bookshop, and edited by bookshop owner Otto Penzler. I ended up giving it 3 stars on GoodReads--anthologies are tough because they are usually a mixed bag, with some good stories, some so-so stories, and one that I found simply unreadable. Tastes vary, but overall I enjoyed the book.  Lots of the stories involved rare or unpublished manuscripts by popular authors, nefarious agents, and criminals disguised as Santa. The creepiest by far, but also the most creative, was "The 74th Tale" by Jonathan Santlofer--it involves a down-and-outer who reads Poe and takes the stories to heart.

I ended up not finishing A Very French Christmas - another anthology, and one I was sure I would love but the stories were fairly ho-hum. Not magical, not heart-warming, but rather dull. I gave up when I hit a patch of anti-Semitic authors (the bios of the authors at the back proved helpful) and their rants did nothing to put me in the Christmas spirit. I'm really hoping that these aren't actually considered the best and most beloved French Christmas stories.

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg was superb.

I'm enjoying listening to the Winter series by Elin Hilderbrand. I really liked Winter Street, the first book, and then went right into Winter Stroll, book 2. I'm picking up book 3, Winter Storms, from the library the afternoon. It's about the extended Quinn family who live on Nantucket and own a B&B on the island. Setting is marvelous and characters/plot are interesting. If Hallmark doesn't make this into a series, then I am seriously underestimating them!

'Tis the season for reading--hope you are enjoying the seasonal fare!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Redbird Christmas

I have really come to enjoy reading a set of holiday books in December to get me in the Christmas spirit and provide a nice change of pace.

After rereading Fannie Flagg's marvelous Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe this summer, I searched for other books she had written and discovered A Redbird Christmas, which I promptly put on my December must-read list.

I ended up listening to the author read her work and found it to be an utterly delightful experience. Flagg has a lovely soft southern drawl that is perfect for the small town Alabama setting. The story itself was sweet, touching, and unexpected. I felt a few times that Flagg had written herself into a corner and was impressed with how she wriggled out and salvaged her plot.

Here's the Amazon synopsis:
Oswald T. Campbell, aged fifty-two, down-and-out in a Chicago winter, is given only months to live unless he moves South. He finds himself in the small town of Lost River, Alabama, where the residents are friendly if feud-prone and eccentric to a fault. One of them, Roy, keeps a red cardinal, a once wounded bird called Jack. Patsy, a sad, sweet little kid with a crippled leg, from the trailer park up in the woods, takes to dropping by the store - and falls in love with Jack. Flagg takes us on an emotional roller-coaster ride through the lives and hearts of an engaging crew of misfits, fixers and ordinary good-hearted folk, set against the vivid natural backdrop of a mellow Alabama winter, along the riverside where birds and fish abound. Her enchanting story culminates at Christmastide with surprises and a magical 'redbird' moment.
I loved the characters--especially sisters Frances and Mildred, but also Betty Kitchen, Oswald's landlady in Lost River, and lovely, sad Roy, who owns the local store. As a bird-watcher, I especially liked the cardinal (aka redbird) Jack, whose plight is central to the plot and theme of friendships that defy all odds. And, of course, I loved that Oswald was able to find purpose in his life once he started learning about the world around him, including all those birds of Alabama.

Definitely a life-affirming, warm, wonderful story for the holidays.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge - 2018

After skipping challenges in 2017 so that I could focus on Reading Northumberland, I decided to do a couple in 2018.

My favorite is the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.

Here's my line up for 2018--honestly, I don't think I will get all 12 read, but we'll see. The last thing I want to feel is pressure to read something that I don't feel like reading!

A 19th century classic – Can You Forgive Her – Anthony Trollope and/or Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens (I plan to read them both)
A 20th century classic – A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
A classic by a woman authorCustom of the Country – Edith Wharton
A classic in translation.  The Paradise – Emil Zola
A children's classic. Little Town on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction.  The Man in the Queue – Josephine Tey
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. Roughing It – Mark Twain
A classic with a single-word title.  Villette – by Charlotte Bronte (or Shirley)
A classic with a color in the title.  The Black Arrow – Robert Louis Stevenson 

A classic by an author that's new to you.  A Diary from Dixie – Mary Chestnut
A classic that scares you. 
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
Re-read a favorite classic. Persuasion - Jane Austen

Except for Can You Forgive Her and The Black Arrow, all are currently on my shelves.

A few are from the Classics Club Challenge, and a couple are ones that I've had on the shelf for awhile now.

Friday, December 15, 2017

My Life in Books - 2017

Adam at Roof Beam Reader did a meme that made me smile, so I copied it and did my own version, based on books read in 2017.

I love this time of year--looking back and planning ahead!

  • In high school I was: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Laurie R. King) (actually my parents had bees at the time, so this is not totally fabricated!)
  • People might be surprised (by): Dragon Teeth (Michael Crichton)
  • I will never be: A Marked Man (Barbara Hamilton)
  • My fantasy job is: A Walk Along the Wall (Hunter Davies)
  • At the end of a long day I need: Home Cooking (Laurie Colwin)
  • I hate it when: Leaving Everything Most Loved (Jacqueline Winspear)
  • Wish I had: News of the World (Paulette Giles)
  • My family reunions are: Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi)
  • At a party you’d find me with: The Brontes (Juliet Barker)
  • I’ve never been to: The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)
  • A happy day includes: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (Fannie Flagg)
  • Motto I live by: Yes Please (Amy Poehler)
  • On my bucket list is: Journey to Munich (Jacqueline Winspear)
  • In my next life, I want to have: Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome)

Feel free to play along and provide a link to your list or provide it in the comments.

Happy holidays and happy reading!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder

The book progresses chronologically, discussing the forests, lakes, rivers, prairies, weather, crops, natural vegetation, and animal life that Laura and Almanzo encountered as their families moved around the country. The author suggests reading each book along with its chapter, but since I know the books pretty much by heart, I didn't feel the need to slow down my reading of it by doing so. Although now I definitely am eager to reread another LH book, probably Little Town on the Prairie, before year end.

I did read the book somewhat slowly, just a chapter a night, to savor it and let it seep into my psyche and take root along with the rest of my LH core knowledge.

The book renewed my admiration for LIW as a writer because McDowell basically confirmed all the details that Laura provided in the books. For example, when Laura talks about the trees in Little House in the Big Woods, there are different trees surrounding Pa and Ma's house than those surrounding Pa's parents' house when they go to the sugaring-off dance. That's because the forest itself is different between the two regions.

Here's an excerpt:
...Pa loved the woods. He had the true hunter's love for wild places, and he instilled that love in his daughters. Their part of Wisconsin was the northern edge of the broadleaf forest, dominated by oaks and hickories. Oaks get a prominent place in Little House in the Big Woods, with two in front of the log cabin providing a play space for Laura and May, complete with tree swing. Hickory chips are Ma and Pa's preference for smoking meat. Black cherry and walnut trees, and the shrubby hazel, Wisconsin natives all, make appearances in the novel.
North and east of Pepin, the mix of trees changed to the boreal forest that sweeps far into Canada. Here the conifers--pine, tamarack, and spruce--go to the front of the class, along with birch, beech and maple. So when the Ingallses drove north to Grandpa Ingalls's farm for maple sugaring in late winter, their journey followed the actual distribution of tree species in the woods.
In addition to the chronological structure of the book, McDowell also uses a gardening theme to track the chronology, which makes for a satisfying way to reflect on Laura's personal life journey.

Clearing the Land: The Wisconsin Woods
Preparing the Soil: A New York Farm
Harrowing: The Prairie of Kansas, Indian Territory
Making a Better Garden: Creekside in Minnesota and Iowa
Ripening: The Dakota Prairie
Reaping: Settled Farm and Settled Town
Threshing: From Great Plains to Ozark Ridge
Saving Seed: Rocky Ridge Farm
Putting Food By: The Rock House and the Farmhouse

In addition, the book is gorgeously illustrated with maps, photographs, water colors, and some of my favorite images from the various editions of the LH books.

McDowell provides good biographical info on the Ingalls and Wilder families but the book is less concerned with providing every fact or theory about the family members and their struggles than it is with using their story to convey what America was like when they lived and worked on the land during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

It is a lovely book--rich, warm, interesting, and immensely satisfying.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko is one of the few books I read this year that was released this year, and it's on the Tournament of Books 2018 long list and I'm sure it will make to the short list.

I enjoyed it immensely. For starters, it is quite different from just about everything else I've read this year, and that in itself is refreshing.

Here is the Amazon blurb:
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to her job at a nail salon—and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her. With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left mystified and bereft. Eventually adopted by a pair of well-meaning white professors, Deming is moved from the Bronx to a small town upstate and renamed Daniel Wilkinson. But far from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his adoptive parents’ desire that he assimilate with his memories of his mother and the community he left behind. 
Told from the perspective of both Daniel—as he grows into a directionless young man—and Polly, Ko’s novel gives us one of fiction’s most singular mothers. Loving and selfish, determined and frightened, Polly is forced to make one heartwrenching choice after another. 
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid examination of borders and belonging. It’s a moving story of how a boy comes into his own when everything he loves is taken away, and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of the past. 
I found the story fascinating and feel that I have a much better understanding of the stresses that immigrants face. Even those who enter the U.S. legally face enormous emotional, cultural, and physical hurdles that are difficult for me to comprehend and appreciate.

I liked Deming/Daniel so much, even when he was making bad choices, doubting himself and his talents, and looking for trouble. Surviving as he did is a testament to his strength of character despite his own misgivings.  Interestingly, I didn't like Polly, his mother, much until we got to the part of the book where she was allowed her own voice. Again, there is a lot about Polly that is unlikable, but at her core she is truly admirable--strong and fierce. A true survivor.

The only part that didn't quite work for me was the portrayals of Daniel's adoptive parents. They were just too cliched white yuppies who were clueless about the enormity of the role they assumed. I felt that Ko neither understood nor wanted to understand them and so left them as distinctly two-dimensional and bland characters in what was otherwise a rich and savory story.

I also absolutely love the synesthesia part of Daniel--he sees color as he hears sounds, especially music, and this helps him develop as a musician. I am fascinated by the concept of synesthesia and don't encounter it much in literature.

Finally, it ends well. There is resolution to the main stories of Deming/Daniel and Polly, but not finality. It is a realistic ending, and doesn't veer off the cliff as sometimes happens in novels. As a debut novel, The Leavers is remarkable in the tightness of structure, authenticity of voice, and cohesion of themes.

Excellent book that I highly recommend.