31 December 2010

The Emperor of All Maladies

Because I'm a research assistant in hospital epidemiology, people usually assume my Master's degree is in something like health policy/administration or infectious diseases epidemiology.  It is neither (although my scores in ID epidemiology and hospital epidemiology got me my job).  My Master's is in epidemiology and I wrote my thesis in cancer epidemiology; specifically, descriptive and analytic epidemiology of intraocular melanoma among Iowa residents using the SEER Cancer data from 1973- 2000.  I didn't really choose that topic - it fell into my lap, more or less, as a thesis-ready project - but the history and epidemiology of cancer in general is fascinating so when I spied an advance copy of Siddhartha Mukherjee's new book, The Emperor of All Maladies, on the breakroom table at the store I absolutely had to read it.

Mukherjee is an oncologist and researcher at Columbia University and teaches at the medical school.  He stands on the front line, straddling the line between clinician (treating the patient) and researcher (finding new treatments) but he started writing The Emperor of All Maladies while in his fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.  Several of his patients make appearances in the book, most notably Carla, a new leukemic whose story begins and ends Mukherjee's history of cancer treatment.

Leukemia is the cancer that provided the puzzle that spurred pediatric pathologist Sidney Farber to start his cancer research in the 1940s.  Leukemia was first described - as we would recognize it today - by physician John Bennett in the mid-nineteenth century.  Prior to the advent of germ theory, cell theory, and an understanding of hematopoesis (the process by which blood cells are made and matured), Bennett concluded that a young male patient had died of a "suppuration of blood" - the patient's blood had spontaneously turned to pus without any known cause (p 13).  Today, we recognize that as the final stage of leukemia where the deranged overgrowth of immature white blood cells has completely squeezed out all the red blood cells from the patient's blood and bone marrow.  Soon other cases were described.  As advances in microscopy and pathology came along, physicians began to classify solid tumors (i.e. breast, colon, lung, etc.) and hematologic tumors (i.e. leukemia).  Mukherjee notes, by 1902 a new theory of cancer had emerged which focused on the hallmark of a cancer cell: uncontrolled cell growth (pathologic hyperplasia).  Cancers could now be classified according to the type of cell grown out of control, including cancers of the blood.

But it brought physicians no closer to creating a medical treatment for cancer.  Solid tumors near the surface of the body, like those of the breast or skin, could be removed by a surgeon, possibly effecting a "cure."  Radical surgery and even more-radical surgery pioneered by William Stewart Halsted in turn-of-the-century Baltimore theorized that the more tissue or "tumor" removed during an operation, the more likely the patient is to have long-term survival.  At one point, a very radical mastectomy included not only removal of the affected breast (breasts) but the pectoralis major and minor muscles of the chest, the lymph nodes under the armpit, above the collarbone, and under the sternum, and possibly a rib or two.  Women were left disfigured and potentially disabled (without the chest muscles it is difficult to use the arms normally and the lack of lymph nodes causes severe swelling).  The discovery of radiation led to the use of radiation therapy in conjuction with radical surgery (in some cases).  But there was still little to no hope for patients with non-solid cancers or metastatic tumors (new tumors that have invaded the body at a site distant from the original tumor) that could not be cut out of the body by the scalpel.

Which brings the reader back to Farber.  Childhood leukemia was a death sentence; children came to his hospital to die of leukemia, not be treated for it.  Pediatricians felt no need to push for treatment so Faber gathered up all the available research and information about the function of normal blood cells and started applying that knowledge to childhood leukemias.  His first treatment trial using folate was a disaster because no one knew, at that time, how cells actually grow and divide.  Farber's second trial using aminopterin, an anti-folate, had good initial responses but, sadly, the children relapsed within months and died.  More trials and new and different chemicals would come; Farber had started picking at the Gordian knot that was cancer and within a few decades the discoveries would come faster and faster.

This is the real meat of the book: the development of cancer research and cancer treatment, i.e. chemotherapy.  The current model for drug development - the multi-phase, randomly-assigned, placebo-controlled clinical trial - was never used initially to develop cancer treatment.  One therapy after another was tried on terminally ill patients to see if a remission could be elicited.  Only after some success were randomized trials initiated to measure response and relapse rates and it is only in the last thirty or forty years that the greatest strides in achieving and maintaining remission have been made.  Mukherjee follows the medical breakthroughs right into the twenty-first century with the advent of inhibitors like Gleevec and ruminates on the future of cancer treatment.

The Emperor of All Maladies is an extremely well-written and engaging book.  Mukherjee doesn't dumb-down the science to the point of boringness but neither does he make it so full of medical jargon and regurgitated research results that it becomes unreadable.  This is very much a book for the everyman, for the general reading public because every person on this planet will, in his or her lifetime, either be personally diagnosed with cancer or have a family member or close friend diagnosed with cancer.  It provides so much needed information about the history of this disease.  Even medical professionals will enjoy The Emperor of All Maladies and it is a book that medical professionals need to read; Mukherjee treats his patients and subject with respect and compassion.  Even with my background, well-versed in cancer epidemiology and well-read in medical and scientific history, I found new bits and pieces of cancer history, and reminders of how quickly researchers can get out-of-hand (although I did find the third or fourth definition of "metastasis" too much repetition).

The Emperor of All Maladies is a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Holiday 2010 selection.  I really do urge everyone to visit their favorite bookstore and read this book.

Dear FTC: I read the advance copy received in my store from the publisher.

30 December 2010

3 Mini-reviews: Ponder-ing Much About Flops

Due to the insanity of moving house during the holidays, meaning I have even less free time than normal (into the negative numbers, if such a thing is possible) and I have packed nearly everything I own, I'm going to compress three reviews into one post and save what's left of my sanity.

#1: The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty

Read as the December pick for Literature by Women at BNBC, this was the first Eudora Welty book for me.  Compared to last December's choice, The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor (masterful Southern Gothic but too much all at one time during the holidays), this is a chatty, gossipy family dramedy.  It's a short novel - nearly a novella - and Miss Enda Earle Ponder will tell you all about her dotty Uncle Daniel and the Ponder heart.

#2: Don't Know Much About History (audio) by Kenneth C. Davis

I was looking for a new audio book for my 10 minute commute every day (this is quite handy since network radio is the pits anymore these days and I can get about 20+ minutes of an audiobook listened to while driving) and thought I'd give one of the Don't Know Much About books a try.  I quite liked this one - I learned or re-remembered things from history class (such as the Alger Hiss trial which was one where the name was familiar but couldn't remember why).  I think I like this more because of the audio format - it was quite easy to digest - but I think I would have gotten bored while reading the book because of the repetition in format.  I also think that Davis was very balanced in his assessment of US History; I have read some reviews which called this a "liberal propaganda" piece, but I don't think there's anything conservative or liberal in reporting the facts as they are, particularly when the facts say the US government has behaved less than honorably at times.

#3: My Year of Flops by Nathan Rabin

Last year I read The Big Rewind and found Rabin's AV Club posts so I was eager to read My Year of Flops when it came out in book form.  My Year of Flops takes its name from Rabin's AV Club column and the nice thing, unlike other blog-inspired books, is that the book isn't a simple repetition of the MYoF blog.  Instead, Rabin curated his blog posts, grouping his favorites/best posts by theme, and added some "book only" Flops and interviews.  I especially enjoyed the interview with Roberto Benigni about Pinocchio, a movie I've had the misfortune of seeing (I saw the subtitled original Italian, not the dubbed-in-English-by-Breckin-Meyer one, so I'm sure it was better than the theatrical dubbed release but it was still creepy with a 50-year-old Italian man-child playing a bratty wooden puppet). Some of the movies are, yes, bad movies that result from spectacularly poor judgement on the part of directors/stars/studios/writers/producers (like The Conqueror, The Scarlet Letter, and Exit to Eden not to mention Waterworld) but some of the movies Rabin reviews are secretly quite enjoyable (The Rocketeer is one, and I'm surprised that it was considered a flop because my little brothers watched it all the time).  At the end, there is a very, very funny minute-by-minute review of Waterworld, agreeably one of the worst flops in cinematic history, aside from being a terrible movie on its own.  My Year of Flops was a great distraction from the mess of moving and I very much enjoyed Rabin's style.

27 December 2010

Orchid Thief Shawlette (and other knitted things)

Knitting has occurred in copious amounts at my house.  Knitted gifts galore.

First, there's the shawlette for my boss.

The Orchid Thief Shawlette by Ysolda Teague from Brave New Knits, knit from Malabrigo Sock in Primavera.  The boss has an enormous garden and is a knitter, too, so I think she'll love this.

Then a hat for one of the secretaries - she helps me out a TON throughout the year.

A water bottle/coffee mug cozy for my Secret Santa at the office.

And last, but certainly not least because it was the first one done but last given, is my little niece Alexis's Christmas Stocking.  All three girls' stockings were laid out by the fireplace on Christmas Eve and they looked so sweet together, just like ours did when I was little (it's the same pattern my Grandma used).

I'm still working on a sweater (for me), the DNA scarf (for whoever - maybe me), a pair of socks (half-done, for me), and a summer blouse (also, for me).  I need to knit faster!

25 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

May you enjoy the warmth and blessings of the season.

Or, if you're a cat, enjoy a new catnip Santa Mouse.

I still have a few reviews to finish and blogging/reading resolutions to think about...and a house to move!  What a crazy end to the year!

20 December 2010

The Mischief of the Mistletoe

Lauren Willig gave us a little surprise this year - not just one new Pink book but TWO.  The Betrayal of the Blood Lily debuted last January, and The Orchid Affair will drop on January 20, 2011, but Lauren has provided The Mischief of the Mistletoe, a little Christmastime spy mystery featuring the seemingly brainless Turnip Fitzhugh and new heroine Arabella Dempsey (if you'd like a peek at a Selwick Christmas check out Lauren's website for Ivy and Intrigue: A Very Selwick Christmas).  Arabella has recently arrived in Bath due to the rather hasty marriage of her middle-aged-plus (and rich) aunt/guardian to a much younger (and non-rich) man (who had apparently been courting Arabella, too).  Arabella is determined to make her own way as a teacher at a ladies' seminary in Bath but fate, in the guise of Turnip and a Christmas pudding, have other plans.

Lauren's books are a breath of fresh air for me.  Nice and fun. Happy endings.  Just what I needed this December since I'm about to pull my hair out with this whole selling-my-house mess that's going on. Turnip Fitzhugh gets a chance to be the hero for once, instead of the fop, although he's still Turnip (and always will be), and Arabella makes a nice heroine in the Letty sense (Letty's my favorite Willig heroine). Several characters from other Pink books make cameos - Mischief is set starting between Seduction of the Crimson Rose and Temptation of the Night Jasmine and ends with the Twelfth Night festivities at Girdings from Night Jasmine - so we meet up with the Vaughns, Pinchingdales, various characters' little sisters, Hen, Charlotte, the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale, and that pack of aristocratic idiots from Night Jasmine and Blood Lily who all ought to be in jail.

Oh, and there's Jane Austen, too.  Jane is Arabella's cousin (?, or maybe just dear friend) and she appears in all her sharp-witted glory.  Jane appears to be collecting characters and stories...what could she be doing with them, I wonder? 

17 December 2010

Gratuitous cat picture Friday!

Because I just downloaded more pictures from my camera!

 My Dante kitty.
My Chaucer kitty - who obviously is having his nap interrupted.
 Jeez, mom - go away.  I wants to sleeeeeeep.  I don't want tummy rubs.
But you can pet me!!  I wants tummy rubs!

Seriously, mom, I'm not kidding.  I just want to take a nap under the nice, warm electric blankie!  Put the camera away.

16 December 2010

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen! (PS: Free Sourcebooks ebooks today 12/16/10!)

In honor of Miss Jane Austen's 235th birthday (Many happy returns!) Sourcebooks is offering TEN Austen-inspired titles as free ebooks (my nook is currently busy downloading):

Eliza’s Daughter by Joan Aiken
The Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll
What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown
The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Ann Collins
The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview
Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange
Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan
Lydia Bennet’s Story by Jane Odiwe
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy by Abigail Reynolds

Sourcebooks is also offering free downloads of their illustrated editions of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield ParkNorthanger Abbey, and Emma.

Strike while the iron is hot!  I believe these titles are free for today ONLY so check your favorite ebook outlet.

I've been burned by Austen-world off-shoot novels before, so I never read any of these after my experience with Mr. Darcy's Daughters, etc., but I'm not turning up my nose at free books!  I'll have them on my nook and when the inclination strikes, I'll be ready!
I found out about the sale via Laurel Ann's Austenprose posting :)

15 December 2010


You have to love freedom, as much as it can be a pain in the tail some days.  Everyone is free to do pretty much whatever they want these days - be a boor, be an environmentalist, be a conservative, be an athlete, reject your parents' values, embrace your parents' values, have an affair, be a little off kilter.  This seems to be the underlying message of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom - you are free to be who you want, and you can allow your children to be who they want, but it may all not turn out the way you want it in the end.

Freedom has an interesting structure.  After an introductory section that introduces the Berglunds - Walter, Patty, Jessica, and Joey - the reader starts in on an autobiography of Patty Berglund "written at the suggestion of her therapist".  It's a good way to start changing perspective between the characters.  I almost started feeling sorry for Patty...almost (there is a specific incident that provokes empathy for her, but most of her personality is grating).  The perspective of Freedom doesn't shift as much as that of The Corrections but it does rotate so we get more sides to each character.

While I enjoyed reading Freedom, I think I like The Corrections a little better.  It felt snappier even though it still had the same change in perspective and moved back and forth in time.  Freedom is very relevant, though, and brings many current issues (terrorism, environmentalism, corporate greed, fraud, racism) to the fore.

I'm not going to write some long-winded paean to the genius that is Jonathan Franzen; it's not my schtick and whether or not he is a genius is something I really don't care about.  Freedom is a well-done book - as was The Corrections - and Franzen certainly has his own unique writing style.  He can create characters that you aren't supposed to like, that are tetchy, annoying, clingy, addicted, self-important, and make you see a situation from their perspective.  These are books to immerse yourself in rather than zip through at lightning speed.

14 December 2010

'Tis the Season: That's more like it

The season is heating up - customers, customers everywhere and nary a place to walk without running into/over someone.  All the phone lines are blinking angrily and everyone has "Just one question" which is best interperted as 100 questions and 10 minutes of time.

Elderly lady on the telephone: "I'm looking for Packing for Mars by Mark Twain."
Me: "Packing for Mars is by Mary Roach - it's a science book about space travel."
Elderly lady on the telephone: "Are you sure it's not by Mark Twain?"
Me [grrrrrr....]: "Yes, I'm sure.  In fact, I'm looking right at it."
Elderly lady on the telephone: "Oh....does Mark Twain have a new book about Mars?"
Me: "Uh, no.  Mark Twain's autobiography was recently published according to the tenets of his will."
Elderly lady on the telephone: "Oh...does he talk about Mars in that book?"
Me [holy crap]: "I'm not sure, I'm not that far into it but this is Mark Twain and I suppose he can talk about whatever he wants in his own autobiography." [pause] "Are you perhaps thinking about A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?  That one is about a man who travels back in time to Camelot."
Elderly lady on the telephone: "Is that one new?"

Graduate student-aged man: "I'm looking for a book but I don't know much about it so this could be hard.:
Me: "Shoot."
Graduate student-aged man: "The title is The Immortal Life of something something something..."
Me (and the two other booksellers at the desk with me, in unison):  "Henrietta Lacks"
So I fetched the book off the table and he asked: "So what is a hard question?"
Me: "A hard question is 'Do you have this book I saw six months ago? It's blue.' And it turns out the book they want is actually yellow and we haven't had a copy in the store in three years."
Graduate student-aged man: "People really ask you things like that??"
Me: "Yep.  All the time."
*fer shiz*

On Friday I was working with a customer in a wheelchair - it was so crowded it was easier for me to run around and bring everything to her than try and navigate all the people since no one seemed terribly interested in making way for her.  On my way back, I was stopped by a middle-aged man:
Him: "Hey, I have a question."
Me: "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm with a customer right now. [Gestures toward my customer] If you'll wait at the customer service desk a bookseller will be with you shortly." [The customer service desk is maybe 15 feet away across the aisle]
Him: "But it won't take long - that other person can wait."
Me: "I'm sorry but I don't think it would be polite of me to assume that." [And walked the last few feet to my customer who made a very loud fuss about how nice it was to have booksellers who give such wonderful personal service...the man had the good sense to look embarassed before slinking off to the customer service desk]

I was accosted by a teenage couple who proceeded to pick each others' teeth with their fingernails while I looked up a book for them.  I am not kidding.  I stared at them until they stopped then I handed them the bottle of hand sanitizer to use.  The epidemiologist in me was winning that one no matter what.

Last night, the manager did a final sweep of the store and then locked the doors at close - she announced on the PA that the doors were locked and what closing tasks each person was doing.  Turns out we almost locked a customer into our store.  I only found her because she scared the hell out of me - she just popped out of the gift section while I was gathering up some new titles for display and asked if I had a magnetic dart board. [We don't]  I pointed out that it was well after closing and that I'd be happy to see about ordering a magnetic dart board...I was gesturing toward the front doors and trying to call the manager at the same time.  We finally got the customer checked out but none of us could figure out how we missed her in the first place.  None of us had seen her come in and she didn't make a peep when the "Doors are locked" announcement was made - she was so "meh" about it.  I'm pretty sure I would squawk loudly were I locked in a store as a customer.

A few choice bon mots:
  • "I'm looking for a book in a series.  I don't know the name, or the author, or what it's about...where do you keep your series?" [sigh]
  • "Do you have something that would make my parents happy?" [Er....]
  • "Do you have books about that woman who says Brett Favre sent her naked pictures?" [said with waaay too much enthusiasm]
  • "You close at midnight, right?" [Hellz no]
  • "Can I print my paper on your computer?" [Guess who...it's finals week here]
  • "There's something unidentifiable on a shelf." [We couldn't determine if it was mud or a chewed wad of tobacco or poop or what....it was about eye-level on a shelf and none of us were willing to examine it closely.]

INCIDENTAL COMICS: Confessions of a Book Fiend

This. Is. Awesome.  Grant Snider has created a hysterical comic about book fiends.  It's so true.  Click through to see the comic - if you're a book blogger you will agree with the conclusion whole-heartedly.

As a bonus, Grant has posters of his comics available.  Methinks I will have to invest in one after I sort out my current moving/real estate messiness (no end in sight right now).

08 December 2010

'Tis the Season: It could be worse

Oddly enough, holiday season this year has had fewer incidents of customer craziness (at least for me, I have plenty to complain about when it comes to employees).

I've had a customer ask me what exit you take to get to Cedar Rapids from Iowa City. [There's no exit.  You get on I-80 and follow the signs for I-380 Northbound...it goes straight through the center of Cedar Rapids.]

I spent a good twenty minutes with a grandma who had absolutely zero idea what her grandchildren like at all.  The list she got from her daughter wasn't very informative, either, being full of errors and conflations.  I suggested gift cards; grandma decided to call her daughter again. [I still stand by the gift card idea.]

I had a customer ask me if all the millions of ebooks come preloaded on the e-reader. [Er, no.  I don't even want to think about how many gigabytes that would be.]

Another bookseller told me he had a customer who insisted the e-reader "made it's own Internet." [He swears he's not making that up.]

Someone asked if we sold paint...as in the kind you put on the wall. [Lowe's is across the highway.]

A coworker observed that Tuesday was "Little Old Lady with Very Long List" day - she said the LOLs always keep their VLLs on an old steno pad in their purse.  Next to the Kleenex.

I also had a very (very) bashful little boy who wanted to thank me for hosting his school's bookfair. [I personally didn't host it the store did, but he was so darn cute and shy.]

Once again, student fun!
  • I was asked if we had a "quiet study room".  She didn't seem to understand the sentence "No, we do not have a study area, we are a bookstore not a library." [I hear all three public libraries and all the University branch libraries have very lovely study carrells/rooms...I've made use of them from time to time.]
  • I keep getting the "But my paper is due tomorrow! Why don't you have my book??" line. [Nope, still don't care about your lack of time-management skills.]
  • Some idiot actually told me he doesn't like to go to the library and wanted to know what his options were for getting access to a rather expensive, and what seemed like, academic book. [I really wanted to say "Well, I guess you're shit-outta-luck" but I didn't since I was working.  What I really did was hop on the UI libraries site, pull up the catalog, and find the book he wanted...which is on reserve as a book for his course.  I suggested he start by making use of the reserve copy at the library.  I don't think that was the answer he was looking for.]

04 December 2010

BBC Reading List - more than 6?

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here (not sure where the "6 books" part of this originated, because I can't find it on the web and it's not The Big Read List, that's a different list). Bold those books you've read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read an excerpt. (Note to self: remember to tag people when this uploads on FB; also, I think I've done this before but can't find the original post)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
*36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
+88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
*98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

14 = the number I haven't read at all
10 = the number I haven't finished
76 = the number I have read
* = something tells me the BBC hasn't actually done this list since there are duplicates; if you've read all of Shakespeare you've read Hamlet and if you've read The Chronicles of Narnia you've read The Lion,, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
+ = the likelihood of me actually reading this book is "nil"

29 November 2010

Everything is Going to be Great

Earlier this year I read Click, which had a number of essays from young women about the moment they each realized their feminist ideas or what it is like to be a young feminist.  One of my favorite essays was from Rachel Shukert (fellow Midwesterner).  Well, one thing led to another and Rachel, who is awesome (!), offered me a copy of her new memoir Everything is Going to be Great.

See, see!!???!?! She signed it and there's a little flower drawing.  (As I said, totally cool and awesome surprise that I was going to have to add later when I unpacked the boxes.)

Everything is Going to be Great chronicles Rachel's opportunity to find herself and "see" Europe.  On arrival in Vienna as part of a performance group (it's an avant garde piece, and that's not an understatement), she finds that her passport hasn't been stamped allowing her to remain in the EU indefinitely.  So, after the play's run is finished she goes to stay with a friend in Amsterdam.  Because Europe will definitely be wonderful, and glamorous, and it will just make everything in her life fall into place.

And things spectacularly do not go according to plan.

Rachel and I are quite a bit alike in some ways - dark hair, dark eyes, parents who want you to be safe no matter what - but particularly in the way we can both invite the oddest things to happen.  Rachel undergoes some cringe-worthy situations: she starts dating an older Viennese man (and gets a surprise under the covers), she winds up at what turns out to be a very weird orgy while looking for an inexpensive dentist in Amsterdam, she works handing out fliers to convince people to attend low-brow comedy shows (including standing outside the Anne Frank house), she dates a guy in Amsterdam who, as it turns out, was stepping out on his girlfriend/fiancee (I've dated one of those losers).  Did I mention the play?  She has to wear a hat that looks like poop (as someone who does like theatre, I have to admit that the play made no sense to me).  Through all of this, Rachel maintains a wonderful sense of humor and optimism (even though it may not look like humor and optimism at the time).  She makes all of her side-steps and mistakes genuinely funny - there are hilarious asides, like the one where she invents a reason for why the Dutch really love Phil Collins.  There's even a cut-out "Rachel mask" so the reader, too, can have Rachel-like mis-adventures.

The book boils down to an all-too-human format: Rachel confronts her fears, her demons, her mistakes and learns from them so when her true European opportunity comes, she makes the most of the trip.  I was genuinely happy for her by the end of the book and that's not something that always happens for me when I read a memoir.  Everything is Going to be Great is an enjoyable, funny story about an aimless college graduate who finally realizes what she wants - and takes a roundabout way to get there (and I mean "aimless" in the nicest way possible).  Go.  Read.  Christmas is around the corner so you might think about adding this to a stocking or two.

Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the author.

28 November 2010

The Finkler Question

Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question was awarded the Man Booker Prize for 2010 (my money was on Emma Donoghue's Room, since that was the only shortlisted title I managed to read before the winner was announced).  I was going to read the winning book anyway but I got really interested when everyone said The Finkler Question was a "humourous" novel and it is rare when a humorous novel wins a major award.  I fired up the nook, downloaded, and started reading.

The Finkler Question is very comical at the beginning, if not funny "ha-ha" - the character of Julian Treslove is more like a caricature than a character.  He is morose (sort-of), a professional failure as an arts presenter at the BBC, tends to become hopelessly involved with women whose names begin with "J" and who leave him when they can't stand the moroseness anymore, and is obsessed with his friend, Sam Finkler, who is Jewish (also a pop culture philosopher and kind-of a jerk for most of the book).  In fact, Julian is so obsessed with Finkler and his Jewishness that he refers to anyone/anything that is Jewish as "Finklers"/"Finklerish", presumably because Sam Finkler is the first Jew he met.  Julian and Sam were roommates at school and one of their teachers was Libor Sevcik who has remained a good friend (incidentally, Libor is also Jewish).

The book opens with Julian getting mugged in front of a violin shop after having dinner with Libor and Sam, who are both recently widowed.  Julian then becomes obsessed with the idea that the mugger called him a "Jew" (it's unclear what the mugger actually said but, given Julian's obsession with Sam and "Finklers", there is a crazy sequence where Julian reasons through all the possibilities of what the mugger could have said, ending with "Jew"; everyone else thinks he's being irrational).  Many of Julian's scenes involve some moment of hilarity, usually with his line of reasoning, except that it seems socially awkward to laugh at them.  For instance, Julian thinks over his affair with Tyler, Sam's late wife, who, as a convert to Judaism, was more observant of religious practice than Sam; Julian thinks less about the fact that Tyler is a friend's wife, but more about the fact that she practices the Jewish faith.  Later, Julian quibbles over the act of circumcision with reasoning that seems farcical but, in reality, there are serious questions about the necessity of circumcision in the general population and whether it constitutes mutilation, diminishes sexual gratification, etc.  I wanted to laugh, because Julian sounded so silly, but it felt wrong to do so.

The Finkler Question surrounds the characters with politically-charged current events, particularly that of attitudes toward the state of Israel.  Sam joins a group of politically active Jews who oppose actions taken by the state of Israel; they eventually name themselves the ASHamed Jews, which is ridiculous-sounding (and then you realise that Sam only joined the group to keep his name out there as a pop culture philosopher).  A new museum of Jewish history in the UK is the target of anti-Semitic attitudes.  An old friend of Libor's asks for his help after her grandson is severely injured by a hate crime.  In between Julian's oddities there are serious issues to consider.

While I really enjoyed Jacobson's writing and the ideas he raised in the book, I felt the end was wanting.  It just petered out.  The strongest sections of the book occurred when Julian was wrestling with his obsession about Judaism and those who practice.  When the narrative moved away from that thread, the book wasn't nearly as interesting.  I really think this is because I, as the reader, and Julian are both in the same boat when it comes to the concept of Judaism: we are both outsiders looking in.  I know a little bit about Jewish religious observances but not a great deal about the whys and wheretofores of the religion.  While Julian and his goofy quibblings were funny, the larger questions of religion in The Finkler Question didn't strike me as laugh-out-loud.

19 November 2010


Vixen seemed like another run-of-the-mill, bland teen romance novel of the racier variety, with a 1920s Chicago society flapper setting overlaid, when I hit a glaring anachronism.

I'm not talking about why a Harvard graduate bothers with high school girls.

I'm talking about Lady Chatterley's Lover - a book not published until 1928 from a firm in Italy, then Knopf in a censored edition in the US in 1928. In one scene, Lorraine mentions her father's first edition of LCL but Vixen is set in 1922 (evidence: Gloria mentions the Volstead Act was passed in 1919 when she was 14, she is now 17 in the novel making the setting 1922). How does a book become valuable enough to collect 6 years before publication? Very, very glaring.

I have an advanced edition, so if this shows up in the final edition....in a book that already already strikes me as "unimpressive" it's an elementary mistake.  Consider, also, that this is a teen novel and it feels like an insult, like it's expected that a teen would recognize the title and overlook the anachronism through ignorance.

Definitely not a book I would recommend; too many "main" characters, too many secrets, too many backstories, not enough "meat".  Read F. Scott Fitzgerald instead.

Dear FTC: I received a copy of this novel as part of an advanced reading group.

17 November 2010

Read This Next (<--!!!!!!)

That's what I see next to every book on my shelf.  And in my NOOK. 

< --!!!!!!!  Read that book next!

And I have a lot of books.  It doesn't matter if I've read the book before.  I seem to want to read everything.  All at once (that's probably some sort of psychological condition right there; we can call it read-me-now syndrome).

Mediazombie talked me into reading Read This Next by making me read this part of the introduction:
In the pages of this book, you will learn about many other books, every one of which is cuningly designed to be read and give pleasure at the same time.  As you read them, your mind will be nourished and your spirit refreshed.  Your body will be flooded with endorphins and serotonin, causing your hair to become glossy and your skn clear and firm.  Friends will be impressed with the depth of your intellect.  Dates will fall in love with the glossiness of your hair. (We cannot rule out the possibility that dates will fall in love with the depth of your intellect, but don't hold your breath.) - p 13
Yup, I was hooked; I have great hair and I read tons so why not more reading for better hair? (joke)  I didn't really need another book to help me find more books to read - I tend to do a decent job all on my own - but I loved the authors' tone.  For example, when recommending The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek (a book I already have on my TBR thanks to Thursday Next):
[Svejk] sails cheerfully through the miseries of prison, asylums, and the front lines of World War I, while remaining the same incorrigible dog-stealing dunce of a genius he ever was.  The gallery of crooks, cowards, and villains who surround him are a pointedly unflattering mirror held up to the Czech society - or, really, to the silly, misbegotten human race. - p 216
Mittelmark and Newman give wittily biting summaries (like the above) and wonderfully good discussion questions for nearly 200 books.  Another approximately 300 books are mentioned as "read also" (I'm guessing on proportion, here) for 500 books "to read next."  Awesome.

The book has recommendations grouped losely by topic - love, memoir, politics, memoir, death, religion - and the recommendations are far reaching.  Classics, contemporary fiction, satire, both ends of the political spectrum, drama.  All are welcome.

This is a different kind of list so I hadn't read a large percentage of the books Mittelmark and Newman recommend - I just have to find the time to read several hundred new books!

14 November 2010

What I do when I'm not reading (or working)...

Reading has been hard as of late - whenever I sit down to read I fall alseep in about 2 seconds (the last several nights I've fallen asleep with the bedside lamp on, Pandora streaming through the Blu-Ray, my nook on my face, and the cats snuggled under my arm only to wake up when my alarm goes off and wonder what idiot left the TV and light on; I blame the cats for activating the "sleep" neuro-chemicals).  I do have two reviews to finish writing but I've been so busy with work and knitting I haven't had much time to write.

Speaking of knitting....

I finished the shawlette for my boss (shhhh.... she doesn't know that it's for her).  I have to get it blocked out - challenging because this is a curved piece so I don't have a straight edge to pin out first.  Edyie gave me some pointers so we'll see how it goes.

While I was in the yarn shop I was captured by yarn fumes.

Cashmere yarn fumes - they held me ransom until my debit card freed me.  Araucania Trauco Cashmere in a beautiful berry colorway.  It was on sale, not quite half off, and I can't wait to see what I can make from it.

Then I bought my Christmas present to myself because it also went on sale.  I've been salivating over D-SLR cameras for quite some time.  My little Canon point-and-shoot is nice to just take quick pictures/videos but it never quite satisfied for taking really nice shots; nothing came out looking quite like how I saw it.  I learned to take pictures using my Dad's 35mm camera with it's lenses and manual aperture/exposure settings so I wanted a more "professional" level camera.  I stopped in at Best Buy to see what early holiday deals they had and the Canon EOS Rebel XS/1000D I'd been looking at was ON SALE!  Merry Christmas!  I already tried it out on the shawlette and cashmere yarn, but I got the cats into the act....

and they weren't quite up to cooperating, choosing instead to come and "love" the camera lens (I felt like I was on Wild Kingdom with the animals ganging up on me).  They kept licking their noses when I clicked the shutter:

Dante finally let me take a nice profile picture of him. 

Isn't it nice?  No "lazar kitteh eyz" in sight.  All the pictures are wonderful and I just need to learn about all the bells and whistles on my new baby (I already figured out that if I fiddle with the "White Balance" I can take pictures that are blue - wicked!).  I plan on taking TONS of holiday pictures (this is also part of the plan, if I take the pictures then I don't have to be in any of them, hah).

09 November 2010

Book Blogger Holiday Swap!

Come one, come all, to the Book Blogger Holiday Swap!

It's like a great, big Secret Santa party - go to the Holiday Swap blog, fill in the Google Doc with the needed information, and wait for your giftee.  And then think about what fun things you'd like to surprise a fellow bookworm with for the holidays.....hee.

I love surprises!

07 November 2010

'Tis the Season: Already?


Exhibit #1:  Customer looking for a new book by Bruce Springsteen, of where there is none.  Customer huffs up to the desk some time later and slaps a book onto the counter, interrupting my conversation with another customer.  She wants to prove that I was lying.
Me: You asked me for Bruce Springsteen, ma'am, that book is by Rick Springfield.  If you had asked for Rick Springfield it would have made my job much easier.  If you'll excuse me, I am assisting this gentleman with his purchase.
Her:  Oh *little voice* sorry.
In a masterful twist, the customer had wanted to take the Rick Springfield book to the concert he was giving in Riverside so she could have it signed.  A friend of mine was at the meet-and-greet - Rick Springfield didn't sign a thing.  Karma's a bitch.

Exhibit #2:  Horrid child screaming in the aisle "I wanna PRINCESS BOOK!!!!!" 
Harried mother: "Santa doesn't bring presents for greedy children." 
Horrid child: "I don't care about Sanna, I wanna PRINCESS BOOK!!!!!" 
Hey lady, please take your child out; on the way, could I interest you in a lovely item called "Elf on the Shelf" - it will spy on your child and report to Santa, so we can make her neurotic as well as spoiled.

Exhibit #3:  Too many books that play some sort of Christmas song when you open them.  Add one child to start them all playing at the same time and watch the booksellers twitch.

And we still have students underfoot:
- a request for Owl Moon by Jane "Wollen" for a class project (how about Jane "YOLEN"?)
- I was asked for a "less hard" copy of A Wrinkle in Time....dude, CHILDREN IN GRADE SCHOOL are able to read that book, that's the target audience, you are IN COLLEGE (but I want to take that class if Madeline L'Engle is on the syllabus)

On the plus side, I got to spend an hour assisting a special ed teacher who works with disadvantaged teens; she bought lots of books and we had fun.

Surprises in my mailbox!

The mail carrier delivered two fun surprises this week.

On Friday a mostly-flat brown envelope arrived....

It's from Norton & Co (Twitter @NortonAnthology) - they sent some buttons out to those of us who tried to be the first to answer a trivia question.  I can't even remember what the prize for winning was and this is pretty darn cute.  I have it on my name tag at the store (and I do like footnotes).

On Saturday I had a large, puffy envelope from Minnesota - it was from Sharon (aka The Yarnista and @threeirishgirls) of Three Irish Girls!  Sharon makes beautiful custom, hand-dyed yarn in dazzling color combinations and I was recently lucky enough to win a skein of Sharon's McClellan Fingering (sock) yarn.  So pretty (Sharon surprised me by picking the colorway)! 


Sharon also included a Three Irish Girls tape measure (very handy), some very cute Susan Bates sock-shaped point protectors, and a lovely card.  Thank you, Sharon! 

Did I mention the name of the colorway?  Oh, I didn't?  Well, it's called "Brown Eyed Girl"...appropriate, yes?

Thanks again, Sharon, I love it!!!!

29 October 2010

Girls to the Front

The women of Riot Grrrl profiled in Sara Marcus's Girls to the Front are, on average, four to six years older than me.  They were starting college when I was finishing junior high; they were impossibly cool and avant garde compared to my middle-class Iowa background; they were fierce, and completely unafraid.  I knew about Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail (members of the band Bikini Kill) and other bands like Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile, and Huggy Bear.  I don't think I realized that the movement was Riot Grrrl until much later since I wasn't really part of that scene being on the younger side (hey, cut me some slack - at that point in time my favorite CDs were Janet Jackson and Mozart's Don Giovanni; I was a snobby tweener/teen).

Riot Grrrl was a different kind of movement, coalescing out of the underground grunge scene and built on the backs of the girls and women who really wanted to make a difference in women's lives.  To be respected for playing really great guitar, not just "good for a girl." To have control over their own bodies.  To be loved for themselves, not for their ability to fit the commercially acceptable beauty mold.  Many of the women were politically active and Riot Grrrl worked to put women's rights back into public discussion at a time of a conservative feminist backlash (Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, the first Gulf War, etc.).

What Sara Marcus does in Girls to the Front is to return the Riot Grrrls to their place in musical and political history.  Having once been involved in the movement herself, Marcus interviewed many of the original Riot Grrrls to give an accurate perspective of the movement from someone who understood it from the inside.  Mainstream press coverage of Riot Grrrl during the movement's heyday was patronizing and often glossed over the women's messages and abilities to focus instead on what the women looked like; the press objectified Riot Grrrl when Riot Grrrls didn't want to be objectified.  Marcus has created a compelling history that really fills in the gaps between the news and the reality much like the 'zines that helped spread the word about Riot Grrrl.

And I thank her for it.

I remember reading about it being "trendy" to be a Riot Grrrl in one of the teen/tween mags - it was a "look" like Nirvana was "grunge" (unfortunately, I had no idea where to acquire anything like a 'zine) - and there was no mention of political issues.  Maybe I would have been more interested in Riot Grrrl when I was younger if I had known more about the politics and less about what a "Riot Grrrl" looked like or sounded like.  Because there was no iconic Riot Grrrl - Riot Grrrl was created by women who didn't want to fit into the "conventional" mold and they came in all shapes and sizes.  I think I would have liked that.

Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.

21 October 2010

The Word Made Flesh

The Word Made Flesh is one of the those books that provides a few hours of happy browsing, flipping through pages, and admiring the art presented. 

This is a juxtaposition of the art of the a tattoo artist and the written word.  From a single semi-colon to full-color sleeves and backs, classic literature to poetry to children's books, the range of creativity shown is amazing.  To me, tattoos have always had that "rebellious" tag and that fits well with the written word.  Many of the tattoos seem to represent the idea that the "word" is permanent, that you can't erase words no matter what you do.

Along with the user-submitted photos, editors Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor included several essays from contributors.  Katherine Barthelme talks about her tattoo, "Born Dancin' ", an homage to her father's short story "The Baby".  Details for Shelley Jackson's SKIN project are included; SKIN feels almost like performance art, a moving book made up of participants each carrying one word on their bodies.  It's not just the readers who show off their ink, the authors get in on the act, too.  Jonathan Lethem shows off his tattoo inspired by Phillip K. Dick's Ubik.

I am actually quite envious of some of the work shown in the book; I think this would be a great book for those looking to get inspired. (Note: I do not have any tattoos.  Not only am I a big baby and wuss, I've never been able to make up my mind about what I would like to have permanently inked on my body.  I am far too mercurial some days.)

Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.

12 October 2010

Knitting 24/7 and Brave New Knits

Readathon reading took a left turn due to my being waaay too tired to concentrate and I decided to soldier on with two new knitting books.

Veronik Avery's new book Knitting 24/7: 30 Projects to Knit, Wear, and Enjoy, On the Go and Around the Clock has a variety of garments and accessories with clean lines.  They are each eye-catching in simplicity.  An ostrich plume-patterned stole is easily knitted up as a rectangle using a repeated lace pattern but it is truly a statement accessory.  A sturdy triangle shawl is designed for warmth and versatile functionality.  A cloche-like hat uses a fleur-de-lys Fair Isle pattern to catch the eye.  Many projects can easily be toted around while in-progress so you can either wear knitted items or work on knitted items 24/7.  Veronik's style is timeless so the beautiful yoked "Elemental Pullover" will go with everything in your closet for year.

Brave New Knits is the brainchild of Julie Turjoman, a collection of interviews and projects from knitters who got a major boost from the blogosphere.  Knitwear designers like Stephanie Japel, Jordana Paige, Grumperina, Jared Flood, Shannon Okey, Ysolda Teague, and Melissa Wehrle all share their path to knitwer design careers as well as a signature project designed for the book.  Their styles are all over the map - classic to funky, functional to delicate - and a variety of patterns to match.  The book is divided into garments - sweaters, jackets, blouses - and accessories - scarves, hats, socks, shawls.  I've already fixated on Melissa Wehrle's "Origami Shrug" for myself and Ysolda's "Orchid Thief Shawlette" as a present for someone (I might make one for myself, too, who knows).  Jared Flood photographed all the projects in Brave New Knits and that makes for a very pretty book to look at as you are inspired to go out and knit something and then blog about it.  Right.  Now.  I also did some Twitter/Ravelry/blog-stalking and added all the designer to my feeds and friends.

11 October 2010

A long-overdue update from the "sticks and string" front

 I've been so busy I completely forgot to post about my Icarus shawl - I finished it in July!

First, it got a sink bath in Eucalan.  You would not believe how long it took to do the bind-off, it just kept going and going, the neverending shawl edge.

Then rolled in a towel to get as much water out as possible.

Here it is, pinned out on the floor.  I did some local investigating and no one seemed to have knitter's blocks or interlocking foam blocks that didn't smell like a gasoline factory.  I made do with vacuuming the carpet extra-good and scowling at the cats since they were more-than-a-little interested in what I was doing with thread, pins, and that big blue thing I kept yelling at them for standing on.  Chaucer insisted on being in the picture so you can see how big Icarus is compared to little, old him.

I think I used about 120 T-pins between the top border and the edge points (I don't have blocking wires, either, *le sigh* ).

Icarus Shawl by Miriam Felton, Interweave Knits Summer 2006 and/or The Best of Interweave Knits: Our Favorite Designs from the First Ten Years.  Knit in Classic Elite Yarns Silky Alpaca Lace, 2.33 skeins.

I also bought a pretty shawl pin of copper to wear with Icarus at the AXS Kuebler Banquet in August (it was pretty, sorry no pictures to show, and Icarus unblocked itself in my luggage on the way back to Iowa; it's currently making-do as a pretty scarf until I get a chance to re-block)

 My next project was started at AXS Conclave in order to teach a fellow brother how to knit cables.  The pattern is June Oshiro's DNA Scarf (but only the DNA bit, I didn't want to knit the border cables).  I bought some beautiful Malabrigo Merino Worsted in Sotobosque to use.

 As you can see, I had a little trouble getting the yarn to wind up properly and spent several hours in ball-winder and swift limbo untangling all the crazy knots before I could get it into two pretty yarn cakes.

It's coming along nicely, albeit a bit slow because you cable on every right-side row at least twice in a very long repeat.  It's not very memorizable.
I also cast-on for Wendy Johnson's Waterfall Socks to use my gorgeous Mini Mochi yarn from Crystal Palace.  I think I borked the eyelet pattern already so I may need to rip back a few rows.  Boo.

And then I bought more yarn.  Why?  Ummm, I was in the yarn shop?

Three very pretty skeins of Manos del Uruguay, mint, berry, and pink.  I think they'll make a nice scarf together.
I am sure this is why I buy yarn all the time, it's for the colors.

Except, in this case, it was the soft luxury.  Plymouth Yarn Paca Tweed.  Alpaca.  I have no idea what I want to do with this yarn, I just had to have it.

I also recently (as in last night at dinner) casted on a new project (no pics yet) for my niece Alexis - her Christmas stocking.  I've become a better knitter in the several years since I made her older sisters' stockings so I should be able to get this done by Christmas.  I'm more experienced in intarsia colorwork and I can knit with both hands now so this should go faster (I refuse to give it to her for her second Christmas).

Knitting rules!  Knit on, knit on.