29 April 2010

Bookspotting: April 29, 2010

Grave Peril
A Wolf at the Table
Kiss Me While I Sleep
Three DIs (The Daily Iowan, the big story was about $11 million found to be missing from the UIHC billing...oops)

And what was I readingRunaway by Alice Munro for Literature by Women (I also played a game of Sudoku)

28 April 2010

Reading With Oprah

I recently finished Reading With Oprah: The Book Club That Changed America by Kathleen Rooney. Rooney evaluated Oprah’s Book Club in terms of the cultural impact of the club as well as the various criticisms of the OBC. The discussion of “high-“vs. “low-brow” culture was very interesting as well as the definition of “truthiness” as it pertains to the James Frey debacle. Rooney included extensive quotes and opinions from many of the OBC selected authors - she sent a questionnaire asking about the authors' personal feelings about the OBC and the inclusion of their work on the show (even Jonathan Franzen responded).

Say what you want about Oprah’s Book Club but it did get hundreds of thousands, millions, maybe, of people to read a work of fiction. Even people who professed to not have read anything after high school graduation went out and bought Fall on Your Knees or The Poisonwood Bible or Sula and many other titles, one after the other. The 63 selections are mostly wonderful works of literary fiction and I’ve read twelve of the selections myself.

But not because I follow the OBC. Or watch "The Oprah Winfrey Show". In truth I am far from Oprah’s target audience. My mother never watched daytime television so I never picked up the habit; I’m never home during the afternoon and don’t feel the need to tape anything during the day to watch once I drag myself back home at night. Instead, I read (in this way I am more like Oprah herself, who claims to read in the evenings rather than watch television). The OBC phenomenon never struck me as particularly interesting because why the heck would I let someone whose opinion I couldn’t really care for (and a television personality to boot, no thank you) tell me what to read? I’d have to watch the show then, right? Even in the second reincarnation of the club when an online component made participation easier I still wasn’t interested. I’d already read East of Eden and just didn’t want to look like one of the many little media-controlled sheep buying and toting around their paperbacks with the little Oprah sticker; it’s a little too “Josie and the Pussycats” for me. I actually spent an hour with a hairdryer removing the Oprah sticker from The Road because I was so disappointed that ALL the books came with the sticker when the novel released in paperback; I wanted to read McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel because it won the Pulitzer, not because a TV show I don’t watch said it was good.

Oprah has become the guru for so many people but Oprah’s opinion simply doesn’t matter to me; the opinions that matter to me are those of my friends and fellow booksellers, people I know and see every day in real life. Oprah’s not my book guru – my book guru is my friend Kat (who also happens to be the merchandise manager at my store). Kat has amazing taste and is the most well-read person I know. She’s on a mission to read all the New York Review of Books Classics titles – she suggested a group of us read their new Pinocchio – and introduced me to Special Topics in Calamity Physics. She loves literary fiction (as do I) and I can always count on her to find me a new, wonderful, and quirky book to read. She is also the one who found the Rooney book…and then persuaded me to buy it when I expressed interest in reading it.

So, who’s your book guru?

Current book-in-progress: Runaway by Alice Munro
Current knitted item: fuzzy blue top-down sweater
Current movie obsession: You've Got Mail
Current iTunes loop: The Five Browns

26 April 2010

Lisbeth Salander is not "gamine"

Pretty sure my allergy-medicated, bordering-on-sinus-infection head almost exploded today when AAKnopf tweeted that Carey Mulligan has signed on for David Fincher's English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  As Lisbeth Salander.

Don't believe me?  Here's the link to the Times Online article.

Number one, why must we have an English/American adaptation of a perfectly good Swedish film?  And you can't claim that it doesn't appeal when we haven't even been given a chance to see it (distributors, I'm looking at you - you all suck).  The history of American adaptations of foreign language films lends itself to looking upon this endeavor with a gimlet eye.

Number two, Carey Mulligan is gamine.  Gamine does not equal Goth, bi-sexual, anorexic, genius computer hacker.  I understand she's trying to break out of her given character rut, and she is talented, but this really does not make me interested in this movie especially since I'm not interested in this adaptation to start with.

Totally, I think this just ruined my Monday.

24 April 2010

My nook just got better!

The software update (version 1.3) downloaded yesterday and it made my favorite little toy even better. There are games! Sudoku! And a basic web browser - now I can use any wifi hotspot, even those with proxy settings. Oh, and I can write short blog posts and update Goodreads. I still read books and mags on it, too - you didn't think I would stop doing that, did you?!

22 April 2010

A Bookshelf of Our Own

I picked up A Bookshelf of Our Own by Deborah Felder from the Women's History Month display at my store. 

I read it.

And I'm not terribly impressed by it - I've been working on this review for two weeks and that's all I find I have to say about it.  While I did like the inclusion of books like The Shawl, The Beauty Myth, The Woman Warrior, and Women, Race, and Class the rest of the book was fairly predictable as to selection.  The biographical sketches also left a bit to be desired.  In the chapter on My Antonia Felder writes of Willa Cather:
Completely absorbed in her work, Cather remained single despite opportunities for marriage (p 91).
Huh?  I've read enough Cather biography to know that Cather would have never, ever married because she was most likely asexual or a lesbian, the jury's still out on the exact orientation, so the line about having opportunities for marriage is just bizarre (the Felder bioketch also fails to mention Cather's long-time partner, Edith Lewis).  In the chapter on Beloved, the award of the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 is noted but not Morrison's Nobel Prize, awarded in 1993; considering all the biosketches cover events occuring after publication of the work under consideration it is a huge oversight.

I'm pretty "meh" about this one.

20 April 2010

Bookspotting: April 20, 2010

44 Scotland St by Alexander McCall Smith
Two nooks
Three newspapers
Copy of Redbook (looked old)
House Rules by Jodi Picoult
One kindle
Hand-held video game whatever (Nintendo DS? I dunno)

What was I reading? The New Yorker (I'm a few issues behind)

19 April 2010

The September Issue

One of us (not naming names) forgot to bring the motion picture adaptation of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People to bookclub so we subbed in The September Issue on instant Netflix.

The September Issue is a documentary about the assembly of the massive 2007 Vogue fall-fashion issue.  I remember that issue - it looked like a telephone book.  This is a pretty documentary about fashion insiders, most notably Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and while it is interesting to see some of the behind the scenes I don't think this documentary goes deep enough under the skin.

They don't go into the cost of the issue, or how they decided upon Sienna Miller as the cover shoot (I would have picked someone else), or why Wintour makes the editorial decisions she does.  Case in point, Grace Coddington put together a beautiful shoot with a twenties-in-Paris vibe, all the clothing ensembles were fabulous, the photographs were gorgeous, and a session with five models in Galliano gowns turned out an amazing shot; but Wintour cut the numbers of shots used down to (I think) five or six.  I don't get it and Coddington didn't quite get it, either.

Wintour looks a bit like a Stepford Wife; for some reason I was expecting someone more flamboyant (although Andre Leon Tally is flamboyant enough for the entire editorial team).

Fun to watch, but I don't think I'll be buying the DVD.

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

Toby Young's first memoir, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a little bit Love, Actually, a little Bridget Jones's Diary, and a little bit American Psycho, with a dash of The Jerk.

It was funny and pithy (at times) - I did start to feel sorry for the guy.  He was so completely out of his depth in Manhattan's Vanity Fair office that he wore jeans and a t-shirt to the office when told it is "casual".  And sent a strippergram for a friend's birthday...but it happened to be "Take Your Daughters to Work Day", too...and just generally had some bad luck.  Methinks off-the-wall, sarcastic, un-superhot dudes generally don't fare well as self-referential, boot-licking celebrity magazines.

Best chapter in the book:  when Toby and his office mate start speaking dude-slang about trying to get the office nitwit into bed.  Hysterical.

What did bother me was the final chapter where Toby makes a blanket statement about how meritocracy in the United States is complete bollocks because it doesn't work.  I know his dad wrote The Rise of the Meritocracy (and coined the term) but Toby's reference for the US is New York society/celebrity and Hollywood.  Not a good litmus test for the other 85% of the country, aka the "fly-over states" as put in the book.  Here's a meritocracy story for you:  my father is the son of a self-employed auto mechanic and volunteer fire chief and my mother is the eldest child of a self-employeed businessman who built his business from scratch.  None of my grandparents went to college but both my parents did.  My father is a very respected system safety engineer and my mother is a parish administrator.  I have one advanced degree and am going back to school for another while my brothers are both college-educated (as are my sisters-in-law) and they are all gainfully employed.  If meritocracy doesn't work, as Young seems to think, the lot of us would've been stuck in rural Illinois either in jail (because that's what happens when you're a no-hoper) or working at the Handimart.  We all got where we were because of hard work, opportunity, and the ability to network successfully.

18 April 2010

The Age of Wonder

I kept seeing Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science on all sorts of best-of and nominations lists, winning the Royal Society Prize for Science Books (yes, that Royal Society).  Then the book won the General Nonfiction Award from the National Book Critics Circle.

So I downloaded to my nook and started reading.

The Age of Wonder chronicles the intersection of art and science in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain (primarily Britain, there's a little continental Europe in there).  This is the period when scientific progress just takes off, the discoveries in chemistry, physics, zoology, and astronomy come so fast.  The Romantic movement in art and literature also rises in this period, eschewing rational and realist ideals for sensibility and the sublime in nature and emotion.

Holmes covers approximately one hundred years of scientific history and his book is such fun to read. I had no idea that so many revered scientists - Herschel, Davy, Banks - wrote elegant poetry and prose and so many of the literati - Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron - were deeply interested in progress in "natural philosophy."  We don't foster polymaths anymore so it's easy to forget multi-talented individuals exist.  Holmes also brings a forgotten contributor, Caroline Herschel, to the forefront; Caroline, sister of Sir William Herschel, tirelessly performed work that was essential in mapping comets and deep stars in an age when women's contributions to science were miniscule.  There's a chapter on the ballooning craze that swept Europe after the discovery of the properties of gasses.  There's a chapter on vivisection and vitalism that inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  It is all so fascinating, the way all the pieces interconnect.

Although a "history of science" book, Holmes doesn't dwell on the scientific explanations and instead concentrates on the development of the scientific process and the way science fed the inspiration of the poet.  I feel like there is an assumption that the reader of this book will do his or her own background reading if necessary and that is so refreshing in a scientific book - I can enjoy it without getting side-tracked by explanations I don't need.  I really loved reading The Age of Wonder.

15 April 2010

The socks are knitted!

In an effort to reduce the number of started projects in my Ravelry queue I'm trying really, really hard to finish what I've got started. 


Ann Budd's "Punctuated Rib Socks" from the pattern book Knitting Socks with Handpainted Yarn edited by Carol Sulcoski and knitted using Mountain Colors Bearfoot in colorway Red Willow.

And, yes, they are toe-up socks.

Sorry for the goofy angles.  (Do you know how hard it is to take pictures upside down?  I had to model the socks on my feet to get the pictures.  Head. Rush.)

Now to finish another project...how about the V-neck sweater?

14 April 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Why, yes, I like the electric blankie!

Oh, Chaucer - just for you since I woke up with your favorite toy laying on my pillow...and I know it was not there when I went to sleep.

13 April 2010

Wendy Knits!

Fer shizz, Wendy Johnson is my new favorite human/knitter/cat lover.

Aside from being monumentally dense and/or unobservant I can't figure out why I haven't been stalking Wendy like I stalk Stephanie.

Wendy has two books full of patterns for toe-up socks the first being Socks from the Toe Up.  I love toe-up socks - cuff-down socks make me hyperventilate.  The directions are easy to follow and she has loads of tips and tricks for toe-up socks.

And all her sock patterns are gorgeous.  There are three pairs of socks I want to knit out of Toe-Up Socks for Everybody.  I can't stop drooling.

Wendy also has a waterfall socks pattern for Mini Mochi sock yarn on Ravelry that I also drool all over (conveniently I have some Mini Mochi in my stash).

(Wendy's first book Wendy Knits is no longer available new it seems - boo for me)

BUT Wendy blogs at Wendy Knits - hooray!  Wendy also lets her kitty Lucy chime in from time to time, too.

12 April 2010

Sales of Wuthering Heights are up!

Thanks to Bella's comparison of the co-dependent Bella/Edward death-dance to the Heathcliff/Catherine co-dependent Yorkshire moor grudgematch sales of Emily Bronte's only novel are skyrocketing according to The Telegraph.

Apparently sales have quadrupled in the last year.  Who'da thunk?  I don't mind.  Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite novels so if one book character inspires teens to read another book (especially one I think is fantastic) I don't have a problem with that.

I do have a problem with the Twilight tie-in marketing

This edition is not annotated (it also has some asinine relationship quiz or something in the back).  As much as the cover art says "Buy me if you like Twilight" there are no notes to explain Joseph's ramblings or the nineteenth-century vocabulary or to help with the plot-within-a-plot multiple point-of-view first person narration.  The cover says that Wuthering Heights is written at the same reading level as Twilight.

It's not.

I was a pretty advanced reader as a child and read Wuthering Heights for the first time in my early teens without too many problems (the first edition I read may also have been abridged because on a re-read I realized I didn't remember much religious grumbling).  Some teens don't read at an advanced level.  I've had tweens and teens come back to me, with this edition, complaining that they have no idea what is going on in Wuthering  Heights - the language is hard for them to understand.  I'm usually able to keep them from hating the book by giving them a leg-up summary and the Sparknotes website to help with the ramblier aspects of language and plot.

I really do like how HarperCollins is introducing readers to great literature - the other tie-ins include Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice - but I think these editions do young readers a disservice.  They need the extra information to make the leap from Twilight to the 1800s and beyond.  I regularly point readers to Barnes and Noble, Penguin, Oxford, or Norton editions of Wuthering Heights because I think those editions will help younger readers (and older, too, if they don't regularly read non-21st century books) through the rough bits; they may not have slick red and black covers but the additional information is a definite plus.

09 April 2010

A Jury of Her Peers

I really (really) got excited about Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers when it was published last year.  We had a (somewhat) heated discussion about the necessity of creating a canon or history of American women's literature, how inclusive should that be, do you make a value judgement about quality, etc., when making a book like A Jury of Her Peers.  Showalter had already done the same for British women's literature in A Literature of Their Own (which I haven't read) so I wanted to see how one could trace a thread through history from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx.

For the most part, Showalter succeeds in showing how women in American history have built upon their experiences and those of the previous generation to persevere and produce great writing.  One thing I really liked was as women's experience and influence became more diverse (different races, immigration, politics, feminism, lesbianism, etc) the groupings became more diverse.  The twentieth century chapters were more interesting to me because I knew who all the authors were (regardless of whether I had read any of their work) as opposed to pre-twentieth century authors where I only recognized authors whose work I read previously, i.e. Alcott, Gilman, Stowe, etc.  It is also interesting (also quite irritating) to read the responses of male editors and authors to women's writing; it is very demeaning at times and I really have to take my hat off to the many women who wouldn't take "no" for an answer when it would have been fashionable to do so.

I do wish Showalter had included excerpts from authors' work much like a Norton Anthology does.  This would have been very helpful when reading about authors whose work has been "lost" so to speak.  There are a number of nineteenth century authors profiled - women like Rose Terry Cook or Mary Wilkins Freeman - whose books just aren't readily available anymore whether out of print or available only in academic press.  Without the excerpts to compare and contrast those chapters of less well-known names just morph into a litany of female authors whose work is no longer read because they are either less talented, less stubborn, or less lucky than a Louisa May Alcott or Harriet Beecher Stowe.

While I'm talking about Showalter's book I have to put in a plug for the title source: Susan Glaspell's short story A Jury of Her Peers which takes its inspiration from the 1900 Hossack murder trial (Glaspell used the same inspiration for her play Trifles).  Glaspell was born in Davenport, Iowa, - just down the road from me (holla!) - and covered the Hossack trial for the Des Moines paper.  In the story, Mrs. Wright is arrested on suspicion of murdering her husband with a noose; the men and women of the town look at the Wright's home and come to very different conclusions about what the Wright's home life was like.  It's very well-written story and ought to be taught with Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper.

07 April 2010

What Are Intellectuals Good For?

This will be a shorter-than-normal post because I just don't have that much to say about What Are Intellectuals Good For?

Which is a shame because it really probably is a good book if you are well-versed in political philosophy, particularly left-leaning politics.  Of which I am not - I'm not well-versed in any politics.  The book is made up of essays and book reviews Scialabba wrote over a number of years and published in different magazines and journals.  My lack of political acumen is compounded by having read very little of the authors' work under review in Scialabba's essays.  Most of the arguement goes right over my head so I don't feel like I can give an accurate opinion of the book beyond "It was OK."

Scialabba writes very well and I wish I had a better background understanding of his subject(s) because I really wanted to like this book.  It was hard to come by a copy so I am a little disappointed (I think more with myself than anything) - I still don't know what intellectuals are good for except, perhaps, for thinking.

06 April 2010

Vote for the "Lost" Booker!

The Man Booker Prize is awarding a special prize for novels that were "lost" in the shuffle when the Booker Prize rules changed in 1971.  That year the award went from a retrospective award to one given to novels published during that year - many novels published in 1970 became ineligible for the award or were never submitted for consideration.

A panel of judges created a shortlist of six books from the many novels were lost to consideration and the public will vote to determine the winner.  The six novels are:

The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden (this seems to be the only title not currently available in the US)
Troubles by J G Farrell
The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard
Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault
The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark
The Vivisector by Patrick White
The reading public will determine the winner - cast your vote for the winning "Lost" Booker Winner here before April 23!  The winner will be announced on May 19.

I definitely won't get all six novels read before the deadline but I do have Troubles and I'm going to read as much of that one as I can (also I totally want The Vivisector because the cover art is awesome).

03 April 2010

I have been knitting!

Which explains why I'm so far behind in posting!  And reading!

First of all, I have a new baby niece - Alexis - and she deserves a pretty cardie.

This is the Classic Yoked Cardigan by Erika Knight.  I had to use Ella Rae Lace Merino (100% extra fine merino) yarn to get the right gauge (i.e. not very big).  It's a lovely blue-green-lavender-off-white that creates a pretty variegated fabric when knitted in stockinette on US2 and US3 needles.  The only major drawback is that there's no dye lot on the skeins - it's a hand-dyed yarn so no two skeins come out looking exactly alike.  Even though I color matched as close as I possibly could the second skein had a little more green as an overall color than the first skein which was a little more blue.  So the right sleeve is slightly different than the rest of the sweater...boo...but Alexis is a baby and she'll look cute anyway.

Alexis's older sisters turned four in March...and they needed a pretty knitted garment apiece.  Ana and Livy are getting to be big girls so I made them each a ribbon-trimmed shrug in a very drapey bamboo yarn from Sirdar (Sirdar Snuggly Baby Bamboo, 80% bamboo/20%wool).  The bamboo lends this yarn a lovely shimmer and the pattern from Claire Montgomery's Easy Kids Knits is very easy to knit.  It only took about a week each to get the shrugs done before the girls' birthday party.  The hardest part was getting the ribbon to lay flat while threading it through the eyelets!

The shrugs do fit - Ana modelled one for Grandpa so he could see what it was but she didn't wear it long enough for me to grab the camera (I was burping Alexis so I didn't have a free hand).

Now that I have the girls' knitting finished I can work on other things...like socks!!  I have a whole drawer of sock yarn....and I have a sweater to finish for me...and a shrug....

Did I mention that I'm afflicted with knitting start-itis?

02 April 2010

April is National Poetry Month!

In honor of National Poetry Month I purchased two new volumes of poetry.  Penguin Classics just released new editions of Jorge Luis Borges's poetry.

 Poems of the Night is a collection of poems about night and darkness, dreams and nightmare.  Borges lost his eyesight late in 1955 but these poems are drawn from the entire span of his career.  Included is the luminous "Poem of the Gifts" - a poem composed when Borges was named director of the Argentine National Library after his sight had gone.

The Sonnets is the volume I am most excited to read.  This volume is the first time all of Borges's sonnets appear together in one volume.  Sonnets are my favorite poetic forms and they come in different kinds.

Both of these volumes are parallel-text editions - the original Spanish is on the left page and the English translation is on the right page; I don't speak Spanish but, thanks to a lot of voice training, I can pronounce it and sometimes you just have to read something aloud in its original language.  The are many translators associated with these poems - including WS Merwin and John Updike - so these will be fun to read.

I also have to bust out my Shel Silverstein for Poetry Month - "I cannot go to school today!"

01 April 2010

Books I will never finish

Three moves is as good as a house fire or so they say.  I've accumulated a verging-on-the-insane number of books since I last moved almost 7 years ago.  I'm planning to move again (hopefully soon) so I would rather purge as I pack instead of moving the whole she-bang and purging as I unpack.  Mom would kill me for my lack of common sense if I did the latter.

I've got a few books lurking around the collection that are partially read....and they've remained partially read for what is probably several years.  I think it is high time I acknowedged the reality that I will never get around to finishing those books because everytime I look at them I sigh.

So those books really need to go in the donation box because I have too many books.

DNF #1:  The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
I can't get past the first chapter.  Doesn't grab my attention plot-wise and for whatever reason I find the writing lackluster.

DNF #2: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid
This is a short novel so you'd think this would be a slam-dunk for me...but no.  I made it to about page 40 and I can't take any more from the narrator.  I think the concept of the novel is intriguing but I just don't want to read anymore and I've been trying to finish this for about 4 years.  So I'm done fighting.  Out it goes.

DNF #3:  Travels in West Africa by Mary Kingsley
Travel memoir!  For Literature by Women!  And I couldn't finish.  It wasn't the most successful choice for the group.  As courageous as Mary Kingsley was, to go exploring on her own in West Africa in the 19th century, I just couldn't get into her writing.  And Victorians are usually my favorite.

DNF #4:  The Spirit of the Place by Samuel Shem (advance copy)
I got an advance of this for the old Literary Ventures Fund group at BNBC...what ever happened to the LVF people?  Hope they are well since they were pretty cool people.  Anyway, I can't get past chapter one on the Shem, a shame since his other novels are pretty good.

I realize this post is dated for April Fool's Day - wish I actually was fooling about having to DNF books.  *sigh*