Friday, September 30, 2011

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice And Men by John Steinbeck
112 pages
Originally published in 1937, republished in 1993 by Penguin Group
Source: bought it

Of Mice And Men is the story of an unlikely friendship between two men, migrant workers who endlessly dream of a better life. George Milton and Lennie Small have traveled from job to job, always hoping to be able to earn enough money to buy a small piece of land.

George, wise and patient, dreams of being able to live off of the land, to work only for himself. Lennie, large, strong and mentally slow, dreams only of being able to care and pet a hutch of rabbits.
Lennie is a hard worker, but because of his slowness, his tendency to overly love things, and his reaction when he becomes frightened, the pair are constantly having to move on before they can get the money together to make their dream come true.

In Of Mice and Men, George and Lennie are starting work at a new place with high hopes once again. George does everything he can to try to keep things calm but there is trouble brewing at this ranch. A lonely, lovely wife and her very jealous husband, who also happens to be the boss, make George nervous from the beginning...with good reason.

Banned Books Week crept up on me stealthily, on all-fours and I couldn't figure out how I was going to squeeze in one more book in order to rebel against those who want to tell us what we can and cannot read. Then last Monday I was in that store I hate to shop in and there sat this little bit of banned wonder. I'm not sure why, but I've never read Of Mice and Men before, never even watched one of the movie versions. In the end, once again I found myself wondering why I had waited so long to read something that so many have spoken so highly of for so long.

When I was pulling up the publication information for this book, I saw this in a review:
"I was not very impressed by this book. The story was simple, the characters sympathetic and, but for a few exceptions, well drawn out, and the final twist of events was emotionaly impactive [sic]. But that's about all I can say that's good about this book."
Really? "The characters were sympathetic, the story was well drawn out and the final twist was emotionaly impactive" [sic]--and that's not enough to make a book good? No? Well, that's definitely not all I can say that's good about this book.

In only 112 pages, Steinbeck manages to craft a marvelously touching friendship, surround his lead characters with a fully drawn supporting cast, and build a feeling of tension all while creating a landscaping and settings that come to life.
"A far rush of wind sounded and a gust drove through the tops of the trees like a wave. The sycamore leaves turned up their silver sides, the brown, dry leaves on the ground scudded a few feet. And row on row of tiny wind waves flowed up the pool's green surface."
The reviewer I quoted above had a problem with the fact that most of the ambiance of the book comes at the beginning of each chapter after which Steinbeck focuses on the story itself. I hadn't even realized that was the case until I read this review; I was so taken with the both the descriptions of the settings and the story of the men on that ranch. It didn't matter to me than one took precedence over another at any one time.In researching this book, I found that Steinbeck had intentionally done this to make the book something that could be read as a novella or as a play. Which may account for why this book came alive for me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
338 pages
Published March 2011 by George Weidenfeld & Nicholson
Source: bought it

In an unnamed Balkan country, Natalia and her best friend Zora, young doctors, are heading to an orphanage when Natalia learns of the mysterious death of her beloved grandfather. The mystery isn't so much that he died (Natalia has known for some time that he had cancer) but why he died where he died. As Natalia tries to make sense of what her grandfather was doing, she turns to the stories he told her as she was growing up when they made their weekly trips to visit the tigers at the zoo, stories of the deathless man. With mysteries surrounding her (who are the people digging in the vineyard behind the home she and Zora are staying in?), Natalia begins to piece together the greatest story of her grandfather's life, the story of the tiger's wife.
"Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories: the story of the tiger's wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life...One, which I learned after his death, is the story of how my grandfather became a man; the other, which he told to me, is of how he became a child again."
Obreht picked me right up out of my family room and dropped me into that unknown Balkans country; I could envision myself in the car as Natalia drove along the coast in search of the town where her grandfather died, I felt a bit of panic imagining myself in the isolated valley where Natalia's grandfather grew up. I was particularly enchanted by the stories of the deathless man and the tiger's wife and eagerly read on to learn more about these characters and how they tied in to Natalia's grandfather. I was equally interested in the story of Natalia, a girl who grew up living in a country first on the cusp of war, then at war but in a way that doesn't directly affect her and then, finally, when war came to her city. Through all of this, Obreht contemplates death at all ages.
"But children die how they have been living - in hope. They don't know what's happening so they expect nothing, they don't ask you to hold their hand - but you end up needing them to hold yours. With children, you're on your own."
The story introduces a tremendous number of characters, giving the readers the back story for many of them. This gives the reader a well-rounded vision of the characters but it can become confusing. I can't imagine reading this book over a long period of time without taking notes to keep track of everything.

The Tiger's Wife was the Omaha Bookworms' September selection. Usually we try to read the Pulitzer Prize winner, but after one of our members read (and hated) Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad, we opted to go with the Orange Prize winner instead. We usually try to time our reads so that those who use the library have plenty of advance time to secure a copy and those who buy the books can get it in paperback. Unfortunately, we made our decision too late to get library copies for some people and the book which is only available in hardcover until November which meant that most of our members either didn't get to the book at all or had only managed to get to part of it by the time we met. Those of us who had read the book enjoyed talking about it but it's pretty hard to talk about a book when so many people are still planning to finish it!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Salon - September 25

Wait! Can this really be the last Sunday of September already? Goodness, I've all but lost the past few months! Of course, it shouldn't surprise me - fall did officially kick off this week although I've felt like it was fall since the first kick off of the football season.

My reading schedule for the fall is looking very clear - only a couple of reviews that are scheduled and I've already read my book club selection for October. I've got the food theme going on in October but I'm also going to be using the rest of the fall to work on books for challenges. I've got a couple I'm working on right now, The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge and This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust for the War Through The Generations Reading Challenge.

Anyone else enjoy listening to Kurt Anderson's "Studio 360?" If you haven't yet discovered it, I heartily recommend seeking it out on your local public radio station. This week Anderson interviewed Lev Grossman about making the switch from literary fiction to magic-based fiction. I was unfamiliar with Grossman's work prior to The Magicians so it was interesting to hear him talk about how hard it was to begin writing in that genre. A few weeks ago, Anderson interviewed Jonathon Franzen as Freedom was getting ready to come out in paperback and Philippe Petit, whose tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center, was the centerpiece of Colum McCann's Let The Great World Spin.

Other books that I've been hearing about on the radio this week that have really piqued my interest are Susan Orlean's Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend, Michael Lewis' Moneyball, and Life Itself by Roger Ebert. What new books have you added to your wish list this week?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kamala Nair And The Story Behind "The Girl In The Garden"

When Kamala Nair approached me about reading and reviewing her debut novel, The Girl In The Garden, I was immediately interested based on two things: the book is mostly set in India and Nair's publisher calls the book a "dark grown up fairy tale." You know now much I love fairy tales!

But what really convinced me to make the time for this book was the story that Nair included in her pitch. One of my favorite things about talking with authors is learning about the inspiration behind the book and Nair's is as interesting as most books.

The story behind the novel:

"The idea for The Girl in the Garden came to me one night in the winter of 2004, during a trip to India. I had just completed my first term as a graduate student in the Creative Writing program at Trinity College Dublin and had flown to Kerala, along with my parents, to visit relatives.

As a child, I loved the novel The Secret Garden. Leaving behind the modern comforts of the West to enter the old-fashioned, culturally confusing world of my father’s village, full of strange new discoveries, I often felt like Mary at Misselthwaite Manor. The verdant jungles, wild and untended, were the perfect place for a curious child to uncover buried secrets.

We were staying in the rambling farmhouse where my father grew up and one evening after sunset, a group of us headed to the village temple. Unlike the bustling city where my mother’s family lived, my father’s childhood home seemed untouched by time. We had only a few flashlights to guide us through the dirt roads, which were surrounded by forests and blanketed in an impenetrable darkness.

Only able to see the few inches of ground directly in front of my feet, the rest of my senses were heightened, alive to the sounds and scents of deep India.

Like Rakhee, I slipped off my sandals when we arrived at the temple and winced at the sharp stones underfoot, while my family walked about with relative ease. The temple idols were bathed in the glow of flickering torches, while bells rang and sticks of incense burned. One of my cousins grabbed my hand, pulling me away from the swarm of worshippers and guiding me toward the remnants of a stone wall, with a vast green field just beyond, and an ancient-looking well at its center.

“People say that well is haunted by a yekshi,” whispered my cousin with a smirk, “A ghost.” She was in her late teens, too old to believe in such things, as was I, and while I knew that she was pointing it out more as a curiosity than as something to be feared, the moment was nonetheless arresting. I began to imagine that we were not two sensible adults standing at the edge of that wall, but children, still imbued with the innocence to believe in a world where ghosts and enchanted wells could exist.

I lay in bed that night, thinking about the field and the well, and I imagined into the picture a tree with branches covered in red flowers. I dreamed of two little girls huddling under the tree and the petals of the flowers showering down around them. I knew I wanted to write about that image, so I began to think about who those little girls were, how they got there, and why they were huddled under the tree.

The stirrings of a story growing in my mind caused me to see India in a new way. The village, the paddy fields, the Ayurvedic hospital that my grandfather had founded — they all became characters, as well as the house. My grandfather had built it shortly after he married my grandmother, and gradually expanded it to accommodate the nine children that would eventually be born within its walls. It always seemed to be a thriving center of life and activity, and even in my early visits there, I remembered cousins, uncles, and aunts flowing in and out, and my grandmother, the queen of the house, sweeping through the halls.

My grandmother had recently passed away, and this was the first time we had returned without her. Her absence was palpable. The house seemed to have degenerated. I noticed small changes—door hinges that creaked, treasured photographs destroyed by age and heat, peeling paint. Most of the farm animals had been sold and their stalls stood empty and overgrown with vines.

Thus began Rakhee’s journey."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Girl In The Garden by Kamala Nair

The Girl In The Garden by Kamala Nair
320 pages
Published June 2011 by Grand Central Publishing

As her wedding day draws near, Rakhee Singh leaves her fiance a long letter and her engagement ring and makes her way to India to come to terms with something she has been keeping secret from her fiance, something that has been causing Rakhee pain since the summer when she was ten years old.

That summer Rakhee's mother began receiving mysterious letters from India, letters that seemed to affect her parents' relationship, letters that seem to have convinced her mother not to take the pills that made her a happier person. As isolated and alone as Rakhee feels in small town Minnesota, she is not at all happy when her mother announces that the two of them will be traveling to India for the summer.

Once they arrived in India, however, Rakhee became completely absorbed in life in the small village where her mother's family has lived for generations. In Malanad, Rakhee's family, the Varmas are highly respected and live in the biggest house. Rakhee immediately noticed, however, that everything in the house appeared to be a little shabby and the hospital that her family owns was being operated by a man, Dev, Rakhee instinctively disliked.

The longer Rakhee was in Malanad, the more questions she had. What was  going on with the hospital and what hold did Dev have over the family? Who was the "old family friend," Prem, who seems to be the only person who could make Rakhee's mother happy? Why did the family seem to blame Rakhee's mother for their problems?  But most importantly, what is the secret of the forest behind the family's home? The cousins had been told that a rakshasi (a she-demon) lived and that only adults were allowed to go into the forest to make offerings. But Rakhee did not believe in things like she-demons and when she saw her mother and aunt go into the forest late one night she became determined to discover the truth for herself. When she did, everything changed.

Is it possible that there just is not a book set in India that I will not like? Once again, I have found myself utterly engrossed by a book set in this country. Library Journal calls The Girl In The Garden a cross between Francis Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. Nair has clearly drawn inspiration from both but she has certainly crafted a work that is utterly her own (**tomorrow the story of the inspiration for this novel**).
"They were washing the clothes in the river, roughly and efficiently, then standing and slapping them dry on rocks. Each time they brought a piece of cloth down upon the rock it made a resilient thwack. It was almost a dance; the women in their stained, monochromatic saris, their prematurely graying hair pulled back into frazzled buns, crouching, washing, standing and beating, the rhythm of their movements imbued with a surprising grace."
India comes alive in Nair's hands; while I was reading, I completely forgot my own surroundings. Book clubs would find much to talk about with this book; the many ways Nair explores love alone would make for a lively discussion. Family relationships, guilt, shame, responsibility...all included as well.

Thrity Umrigar, author of The Space Between Us, calls The Girl In The Garden "an impressive debut." It certainly is.

Monday, September 19, 2011

me again by Keith Cronin

me again by Keith Cronin
322 pages
Published August 2011 by Gale Cengage Learning
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

"I was born on a Tuesday morning. It was a difficult birth, because I was thirty-four years old."

Six years after slipping into a coma following a stroke, Jonathon Hooper miraculously wakes up. His body is atrophied and he can't remember much of anything or anyone from his past. Not the girlfriend who breaks up with him the first time she visits him, not the brother who seems to take a little too much pleasure in watching Jonathon suffer, not the parents who are so eager to have him remember his past. Not wanting to hurt anyone, though, Jonathon immediately decides it's best to let them think that even though he can't remember his previous life, he can remember them.

The only person who really seems to understand what Jonathon goes through in the next few months is Rebecca, a beautiful young woman who has also suffered a stroke and goes through rehabilitation in the same facility Jonathon starts out in. Neither Rebecca or Jonathon is the person they were before their strokes. In Jonathon's case, this soon proves to be a good thing; he was not a good person. But for Rebecca, it means that she is no longer than wife she once was, which puts a tremendous strain on her marriage.

Jonathon's mother works very hard to bring his memory back, pulling out photo album after photo album and having people his life stop by to visit. All of this seems to be moot until one afternoon Jonathon rounds a corner in the house to find the first familiar face he has seen. Once the door to memories has opened, it is only a matter of time before some of Jonathon's past comes back to him.

I can't recall my immediate thoughts when presented me again for review, but I'm quite sure that curiosity was the deciding factor in me agreeing to review this book because the words "stroke," "coma," and "humor" all appeared in the email. I had to see how Cronin could possibly make a book about stroke recovery humorous. Once again, an author has proved to me that a serious subject can be handled in a light way without making light of the subject. As soon as the staff in the hospital which has been housing Jonathon becomes aware he has awakened:

"Other voices joined in, overlapping each other in conversation, and the name Jesus came up repeatedly.

I formed my first conscious thought: I must be Jesus."
 Ah, irreverence. This book and I are going to get along. Because, seriously, what would you think if you were Jonathon in this situation? And so the story goes; Cronin writes in a way that assured me that he knew what he was talking about when he described the experience of waking up from a coma, recovering from a stroke, and dealing with the aftermath of what the stroke has done. But doing it all with a sense of humor and irony.
" "Did you like that sherbet?"
"No, not particularly."
"Me neither." She leaned forward, her voice growing more insistent. "Now imagine everybody telling you that you used to just love orange sherbet. And that it's really important that you start loving it again."

"That's what my life is like right now. I don't like orange sherbet, but I used to. And now everybody want s me to like it again, and tells me that if I don't, I'm not the person I used to be. And not the kind of person they want to be with.""

There is a side story about that Cronin uses to demonstrate what a terrible person Jonathon used to be that Cronin uses in the end to solve a plot problem. This particular part of the book really didn't work for me. I did, however, think the way Cronin dealt with the relationship between Jonathon and his father was wonderfully real. Perhaps everything wrapped up a bit too neatly for my tastes but I liked the last line as much as I liked the first line.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, view the full tour schedule. To learn more about Keith Cronin, visit him online at his website,, or on Facebook.

**Well, this is embarrassing! Even though I had the book right in front of me as I wrote this review, I repeatedly referred to the author as "Kevin" instead of "Keith." I blame a flashback to my years listening to REO Speedwagen. No wonder I couldn't find Cronin on Twitter!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Saying Goodbye To A Friend

The act of reading a book is almost always a solitary experience. But, if you're lucky, you'll find a group of people who like to talk about books with. If you're even luckier, who'll find friends in that very same group. A lot of people scoff at book clubs. Some believe they are nothing more than an excuse to drink wine and gossip once a month. Some believe that the people in them take the books much too seriously and don't have any fun at all. I'm sure there are clubs that are like this.

Three years ago a friend invited me to join her book club. I love getting the chance to read books I might not otherwise read; I love having the chance to talk about the books with other people who have read them. Do we drink wine? Oh, yeah, we like our wine! Do we spend a lot of time talking about things other than books? Well, yes, as a matter of fact, we do. Which is how the Omaha Bookworms went from a diverse group of women to a circle of friends. Over the past year or so, we've had to say goodbye to a number of our friends as they have moved away from us. Today, though, five of us joined more than a hundred other people to say a final goodbye to one of our friends.

E was diagnosed four years ago with Stage 4 Inflammatory Breast Cancer. At the time she was told that, because she was young and in such great health otherwise, she had six months to two years left. That wasn't good enough for E. She began doing research. Already a healthy eater and advocate of organic foods, E amped it up. She found new methods of treatment, including an alternative to using scans which utilize radiation. E was a fierce competitor in every way so she would have fought Cancer with every ounce of her being no matter what. But E is the mother of three young girls, three girls with whom she was determined to spend more time.

I met E a little more than a year after she was first diagnosed with IBC. Her hair was just growing back from the first rounds of treatment, a beautiful curly steel grey. I didn't know then, though, who E was and what she was going through. Only after that first night did I find out. I couldn't believe it because I have never seen a healthier looking person. This past winter, E was able to join the Omaha Bookworms when we met to discuss her choice of book, Jane Gooddall's Harvest for Hope: A Guide To Mindful Eating and despite what she had been through in the past six months, she remained one of the healthiest looking women I have ever seen.

E was one of the fiercest, most courageous people I have ever met. Her spirit touched so many lives and she was an inspiration to all who knew her. E's favorite quote was "Attitude is Everything" and she had the most amazing attitude. Last year E said of her previous two years:
"Every minute of life is amazing when you didn’t think it was going to be there.    Actually every minute in life is amazing.  Sometimes we just don’t see it that way.  Miracles are everywhere."
In the past year, E has been writing a blog. If you are interested in learning more about what E learned about living with and treating Inflammatory Breast Cancer, I encourage you to visit Rolling On The Edge Of Life.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Skipping A Beat by Sarah Pekkanen

Skipping A Beat by Sarah Pekkanen
352 pages
Published February 2011 by Washington Square Press
Source: the author!

Michael and Julia seemed to have it all, the big house, the fancy cars, the bottomless bank account. From the time she and Michael first met in high school, they had been inseparable; Julia had assumed things would always be that way, even after the product Michael developed and the company he built took off. She was wrong.

"Now, when I mentally trace the trajectory of our relationship--and I've had plenty of time to do it, lots of silent evenings alone in our home--I realize there wasn't a sharp breaking point or single furious argument that set us on our current path."

Unhappy has she has become, Julia has learned to accept that this is the way life will be. Until the day Michael has a heart attack at work.

"Four minutes and eight seconds. That's how long my husband, Michael Dunhill was dead.

 Four minutes and eight seconds. That how long it took for my husband to become a complete stranger to me."

When Michael is brought back to life, he is no longer the man driven to make more and more money, the man who used his money to belittle his own father and brothers, the man who was willing to overlook his own morals to save his company. Suddenly he wants to give it all away--the house, the cars, all of the money. There's nothing Julia can do about it, thanks to a prenuptial agreement that she convinced Michael to sign (because of her father's gambling problem). Michael wants to make things right and to rekindle the love that he and Julia have lost over the years.
"It was as if the old Michael had been replaced by a totally different man, one who wouldn't listen to reason. Everything that had driven him forward in life, all the goals he'd nurtured for decades, had somehow been erased the moment his heart stopped beating."
Now Sarah has to confront some terrible truths about herself. She has grown to enjoy the advantages that all of that money has given her and Michael isn't entirely to blame for what their marriage had become. When Michael asks Sarah to give him three weeks before she decides whether or not she'll leave him, she only agrees because she thinks she might yet be able to talk him out of giving everything away.

When I got an email from Sarah Pekkanen a couple of months ago, asking if I'd be interested in reviewing one of her books, I think she could probably hear the squee in my voice in my email response. I'd been looking forward to reading Skipping A Beat since I read Jen's review of it in February (Devourer of Books). Jen said "Books don’t often make me cry, other than the end of the 5th and 6th Harry Potter books. Skipping a Beat, though, made me sob. For 25 pages straight."

I must say I didn't sob. I didn't even cry. But I did become quite attached to Julia. I completely related to the way she felt, coming from the background she did, among the wealthy crowd in Washington D.C. As Pekkanen described Julia's discomfort, I imagined that it was exactly the way I would feel in the same situation. To be honest, I understood how upset Julia was with the idea of giving up all of the luxuries she had grown used to. She may have been able to recognize that she didn't really need such a large house that didn't even reflect her own tastes, but she certainly didn't want to give up those heated bathroom floors and the ability to shop where she wanted and when. So, although I didn't cry, Pekkanen made the breath catch in my throat and a feeling of sadness overcame me in the part of the book where I imagine Jen began sobbing.

There were parts of the book that felt somewhat forced for me and some of the plot devices felt too familiar. But there's no denying that Pekkanen knows how to craft characters that feel real, how to develop relationships, and how to tug at your heartstrings. I finally understand why so many readers love Pekkanen's books so much and I'm certain that I'll be reading more of her work.

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your story with me!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BBAW - How Do You Do Community?

Today's topic for BBAW is "How Do You Do Community?" This was a huge question for me when I first started. How do I become a part of this group of people who appear to be having so much fun? Fortunately, I had two people who gave me all kinds of wonderful tips, Mari of Bookworm With a View and Lisa of Books On The Brain.

The number one thing both of them told me was comment, comment, comment. I was game for that but one problem was finding new blogs to comment on, a way to expand the blogs I might want to visit on a regular basis. Enter blog rolls and comments already left on the blog. Any time I found a blog I liked, I figured there was a good chance I might like some of the blogs on their blog rolls or the blogs of the other people that comment there. Sure enough, my own blog roll continued to expand.

Lisa also recommended I look into challenges, memes and weekly posting topics. Clearly I've gotten a little carried away with the challenges but it has allowed me a way to meet a lot of other bloggers as did the memes. I wouldn't recommend doing them too often, but it is often easier for someone to interact with you through comments on a meme post than it is to interact on a book review. I tried the weekly things (like Mailbox Monday) but I've never really been able to stick with any one. It does, however, offer a great way to find new bloggers and make new friends.

One of my favorite ways to build community is to participate in the big blog events (like BBAW and Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon) and smaller events (such as any one of the smaller readathons or the blog hops). It's a great way to meet new people and find new blogs that interest me. I'm already looking forward to the fall edition of Dewey's Readathon. And when is that next Bloggiesta coming up?

I've been largely AWOL for the past few months from the blogging community. But this week is convincing me that I need to make more time for blogging. It does a body good!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BBAW - Getting To Know You

Day two of Book Blogger Appreciation Week is all about shining the light on our fellow bloggers. For me, this meant getting a chance to know Erin, of Erin Reads, better. I'm already a huge fan of Erin's blog. She writes wonderful reviews and has a couple of things that are unique to her blog that are very cool. Please take a few minutes to get to know Erin and then head on over to her blog to see how great it is for yourself.

1. You have two unique features on Erin Reads: Reading Buddies and Classics Reclamation Project. Can you tell my readers a bit about each of them?
Both projects grew out of personal reading goals I really wanted to emphasize: reading with other people and reading more classics.

Reading Buddies grew out of my desire to read and discuss books with other people while tackling my ever-growing TBR list. Eight months in, it has taken two forms. Each month, I read a poll-selected book very informally with anyone who is interested. I post about each book twice, and participants are free to comment, post, and read whenever and however often they wish. I've also done some even less formal reads, where participants have discussed a book via email or on Goodreads without any concrete timeline. I love formal readalongs, but they tend to stress me out, so my goal with Reading Buddies was to create a relaxed environment in which to read together. I love knowing other people are reading the same thing I am but without the pressure of having to reach a certain point by a specific day, and reading with other people is such a rewarding experience.

The Classics Reclamation Project is my personal project to read more classics. Prior to 2010, when I started the project, the last time I had voluntarily read a classic was in high school. Being forced to read books for school left me with the feeling that such books were difficult and unenjoyable, and I spent a good ten years avoiding them. As I got into book blogging, though, I began to see more and more bloggers posting about good experiences they had with various classics, and I started to think that maybe I should give those books another chance. I started out always making sure I had a classic going, sharing my thoughts in a weekly post about whichever classic I was reading at the moment. At this point, I am no longer posting weekly, but I continue to make a conscious effort to include classics in my reading diet. It's working -- I'm much less frightened of classics than I used to be, have worked them into my regular reading diet, and have even enjoyed a few!

My Projects page ( has more information on both.

2. I see that one of your goals is to read books by Indian authors. Do you have any favorites?
That particular goal is new this year, so I haven't actually read enough books by any one author to choose favorites! I have encountered some excellent novels in pursuit of this goal, though. (I should note that I've included authors of Indian descent as well as Indian authors.) One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was my favorite book from last year. I also enjoyed The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri and Half Life by Roopa Farooki. I've been trying to read books set in India but not necessarily by Indian authors as well, and my favorite thus far has been E.M. Forster's The Hill of Devi, an account of his time spent in India during British rule. I have several others on my shelf that I hope to read soon: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (the current Reading Buddies selection), A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, to name just a few.

3. Do you have any literary crushes?
Only one, and that is Po in Kristin Cashore's magnificent young adult novel Graceling! I also have a bit of a voice crush on Humphrey Bower, an audiobook narrator with a glorious Australian accent.

4. What's your favorite part about blogging?
Definitely the community. I turned to blogging in earnest after moving away from my job at an independent bookstore last year, and it has taken the place of talking books with coworkers and customers. I love turning on my computer and instantly being able to read and write about books alongside so many kindred spirits I've never even met in person. My fellow bloggers and readers are overwhelmingly diverse, supportive, positive, and accepting, more so than any other community I've encountered, and they make book blogging an amazingly rewarding experience.

5. Like most bloggers, I see you've been a reader since you were little. What is the first book you remember reading that really stuck with you and why do you think it had such an impact?
I am notoriously bad at recalling early childhood memories, so this is an especially hard question! The first book I can honestly say I remember reading is probably Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. It's the first literary world I recall being completely swept up in, its characters and places so real and so fascinating to me, and I think that experience of losing myself in a book stuck with me. I don't necessarily read to escape, but I do love books that draw me in with the realness of their worlds.

Erin used to work in an independent book store. When she quite working there, she really missed talking books with other book lovers; blogging has allowed her to find another group of people to do that with. Her interest in Indian authors stems from the fact that her husband is Indian. She has recently returned from India; be sure to check out her post with pictures from that trip. What fun!

Thanks, Erin! I'm looking forward to having time to join you in Reading Buddies soon!

Just My Type: a book about fonts by Simon Garfield

Just My Type: a book about fonts by Simon Garfield
356 pages
Published September 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

The front of Just My Type says that it is an international bestseller. Really? Don't get me wrong, I liked this book a lot. But I had no idea there were that many people that were interested in fonts. But then, until I read Just My Type, I had no idea that people actually had jobs creating fonts. Don't laugh. I know someone has to create them. It just never occurred to me that someone could actually make a living creating new fonts, let alone become well known (well, relatively speaking).

In Just My Type, Simon Garfield introduces readers to the creators of many of the most well known font creators, including both their personal and professional backgrounds. My favorite part of meeting these people was learning about their personal lives. Eric Gill, creator of Gill Sans? Kind of a creepy guy. John Baskerville, creator of the, oddly enough, Baskerville font? Before she married John, she was married to a man name Eaves who deserted her with five children. She was Baskerville's live-in housekeeper before she became so much more. But until Mr. Eaves died, she wasn't able to marry Baskerville. It was kind of a scandal at the time.

Garfield also gives the history of most fonts. The earliest fonts are over 500 years old but most of the fonts we use on a regular basis are no more than 100 years old, with many of them being under 50 years old. Of course, the advent of the personal computer and the development of word processors has really sparked a surge in the development of fonts.

How aware are you of fonts? I didn't really think I was, except when I'm choosing one for my own works. But after reading Just My Type I think you are more likely to be aware of the font if the wrong one has been used. You wouldn't want your physician to be using Comic Sans, for example, on his or her materials. It doesn't really say "I'm serious and you can trust  me." You are likely to notice a change in font whenever a product makes a design change. The next time you see that your favorite product has changed the packaging, see if you notice the change in font.

You probably need to be something of a word or print junkie to really love Just My Type, but using a bit of humor, plenty of personal stories, and examples readers can really relate to, Garfield has crafted a book that will appeal to a wide audience.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For more opinions, visit the other sites on the tour.

Simon Garfield is the author of twelve acclaimed books of nonfiction. He lives in London and St. Ives, Cornwall, and currently has a soft spot for Requiem Fine Roman and HT Gelateria. For more information about Simon and his work, visit his website at  Connect with Simon on Twitter.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - Community

Today marks the kickoff of the fourth annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week. For those of you who don't blog, particularly for those of you who don't blog about books, this week might go one of two ways for you. Perhaps you'll largely skip over most of the posts from your favorite bloggers. But maybe, just maybe, a little bug will bite you. You'll start to think "Wow, this is so much more than just writing about books. These people really have fun with this. Maybe I should give it a try." You'll be right. Blogging is about so much more than writing book reviews and we really are having fun. A huge part of the reason that blogging is so much fun is because of the wonderful sense of community that book bloggers have.

When I started blogging in May of 2009, I had no idea who might actually read my little blog. I hoped that my family might, I suspected that some of my book club friends might, and I was fairly sure that some of my friends from Goodreads would. But would anyone else every see my work? Imagine my surprise, on my second post (and I hadn't even written a book review yet), when I got an email notice that Mel of The Reading Life had left a comment on my blog. Someone I didn't even know and had never communicated with before had actually read something I had posted. My confidence soared.

One sentence, one little acknowledgement that I had written something that was interesting enough to respond to - sometimes that is all it takes to change a person's life. Mel did that for me. If that bug should just happen to bite you this week, if you should decide that maybe you'd like to jump in and join this community, know that there are people out here who will be more than happy to leave you that one sentence, who will become your first follower, who will be more than happy to mentor you along the way. Let us know you've joined us and this community will reach out and wrap its arms around you.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant

Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant
243 pages
Published July 2010 by Norton, W.W. & Company, Inc.
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

An apology upfront to TLC Book Tours; this review was supposed to have been posted on Wednesday, September 7th. I've had limited access to a computer this week and did not get it done.

Three main characters, three story arcs, are the driving force of Joan Leegant's latest novel.

Yona Stern is a woman who had a falling out with her sister a decade ago. In an effort to try to make amends, Yona travels to Israel, out to one of the settlements where her sister, Dena, lives with her five children and militant husband. The Ben-Tzions are amongst the group of Israelis who believe that their country to should not concede any land to the Palestinians, a group which looks down at the U.S. and European efforts to try to make peace in the Middle East. The past decade has seen Yona punishing herself for her what she did to her sister and she is desperate to be able to stop.

Mark Greenglass is the son of two non-practicing Jews who has lost his way, once again. After a long period of abusing drugs with the woman he loved, years ago Greenglass found himself swept into a deep love of the Jewish faith. It saved him then, and he's been able to make quite a name for himself as a teacher and lecturer, but now he is having a crisis of faith. What is it that God has in mind of him? Will he be able to leave New York and go back to the life he has been living in Jerusalem?

Aaron Blinder is the son of a writer who has become famous for writing fictionalized accounts of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. His mother died of cancer and Aaron and his father have found themselves unable to relate to one another every since. Now Aaron has traveled to Israel and connected an ultra-militant group of Israelis bent on driving the Palestinians out of the land they believe belongs to the Jews. As part of this group, Aaron hopes to be able to tell a new story about the Jews, one his father could never hope to be a part of.

Three characters, three story arcs. All will converge when Aaron makes his move to make a name for himself.

Leegant's writing is beautiful; the country of Israel came alive for me as I was reading the book. The subject matter was utterly new to me, not being of the Jewish faith and not being familiar with the extremist movement in Israel, and this both worked for and against the book as I read. I'm always eager to learn something new in my reading but sometimes I felt like only someone of the Jewish faith could truly relate to this story. There was a lot going on in this book, a lot of characters to keep track of, and some of the characters lost some of their appeal to me along the way. It felt a bit like they got watered down in all that was going on. So it was a bit of an effort to get through the book. But when Leegant brought all of the story lines together, the book pulled me in and I had to keep reading to see how politics might affect these characters lives in ways that I would never have thought possible. Might an innocent bystander really get caught up in a crime and be convicted of being a part of the plot?

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour and, once again, opening my eyes to a part of life of which I was woefully unaware!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fall Feasting

For some reason as fall arrives every year, it seems that we are prone to start thinking more about "comfort" foods, the kinds of things that will help us put on that extra weight we used to need to help survive the cold winters. Sure we don't need it any more but our bodies just don't seem to have evolved far enough to figure that out yet.

Maybe that's why I suddenly found myself accepting not one but two new books about food for review. Sensing a theme (I'm quick that way), I realized that I have several other food related books waiting patiently on my shelves. So, while the rest of you are reading the scary books that are more commonly read this time of year, I'll be devoting the next few weeks to books about or featuring food. On the agenda:

Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kat Finn
Four Kitchens by Lauren Shockey
Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
My Life In France by Julia Childs
Table of Contents by Judy Gelman & Vicki Levy Krupp
Sugar Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

With my other commitments, that should get me through the fall. But if you've got another book I absolutely must read that is food-related, please let me know what it is and why you love it!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Winner of "Safe From The Sea!"

Congratulations to Teri, winner of a copy of Peter Geye's Safe From The Sea! Teri has a beautiful blog, Quinceberry, that primarily explores her artistic side but also give the reader a great idea of what it's like to live in New York City.

Enjoy the book, Teri!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Coming Soon To A Bookstore Near You! And A Giveaway!

In April I read and reviewed Peter Geye's debut novel Safe From The Sea (my review here). At that time I said:
"I thought perhaps if I waited some time after finishing this book to write this review, I could be more objective. I thought wrong. Weeks after finishing this book, the first word that pops into my mind to describe this book is "brilliant.""
Five months later, I still stand by that assessment. So I'm happy to be able to tell you that if you haven't already read it, on September 6th Unbridled Books will be releasing Safe From The Sea in trade paperback. And if you haven't already read it, run, do not walk, to your local bookstore.  Because this is what happened to me when I read this book:
"I rarely cry when reading a book; I can't remember the last book that brought me to tears. This one did...twice. That despite my knowing well before the book was done what was going to happen."
To celebrate the book's paperback release, Unbridled is letting me giveaway a hardcover copy of the book to one lucky reader. To enter, just leave a comment with a way to contact you. Winner will be drawn on September 6th; U.S. residents only.