Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
First published in 1923; my copy published in 1972 by Vintage Books
Source: I bought this one for a college English class

Publisher's Summary:
Marian Forrester is the symbolic flower of the Old American West. She draws her strength from that solid foundation, bringing delight and beauty to her elderly husband, to the small town of Sweet Water where they live, to the prairie land itself, and to the young narrator of her story, Niel Herbert. All are bewitched by her brilliance and grace, and all are ultimately betrayed. For Marian longs for "life on any terms", and in fulfilling herself, she loses all she loved and all who loved her.  

My Thoughts:
Clearly I must have read this novella before. How it's possible to have forgotten it is a mystery to me. I'll just blame it on the fact that it's been thirty years since I last read it (never mind that I can vividly remember Heidi which I last read 40 years ago).

Last year the Omaha Bookworms read Cather's O' Pioneers and I rediscovered Cather but now with a much greater appreciation of her writing. After reading A Lost Lady I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to read another Cather novel. How is it possible that Cather wrote another novel that could live up to this one?

A Lost Lady is as much a coming-of-age story about Niel as it is about the downfall of Marian. Niel grows up in love with Mrs. Forrester, putting her on so high a pedestal it would be hard for anyone to not to fall. Of course, she does fall, much to the delight of so many in Sweet Water. For Niel, it is impossible for him to come to terms with the idea that she is not the woman he thought she was.
"Compared with her, other women were heavy and dull; even the pretty ones seemed lifeless, - and they had not that something in their glance that made one's blood tingle. And never elsewhere had he heard anything like her inviting , musical laugh, that was like the distant measures of dance music, heard through opening and shutting doors."
Despite the length of the book, Cather manages to capture the essence of her leading characters as well as the essence of the land on which they live, a land she herself loved. In A Lost Lady Cather makes the distinction between the people who settled the land because they loved and appreciated it and those who came later, who say it simply for its value.
"The freighters, after embarking in that sea of grass six hundred miles in width, lost all track of the days of the week and the month. One day was like another, and all were glorious; good hunting, plenty of antelope and buffalo, boundless sunny sky, boundless plains of waving grass. long fresh-water lagoons yellow with lagoon flowers, where the bison in their periodic migrations stopped to drink and bathe and wallow."
Cather makes readers understand why settlers stopped in a land where the wind could drive people crazy, where the winters were bitter and long, and where everyday could be a fight to stay alive. She helps me better understand my ancestors.

 I loved this story. I loved see how Cather revealed the truth about Marian and the way those around her circled her despite her flaws. I loved seeing how Cather echoed the fall of Marian with the decline of the Captain and the land he had so loved. She never hits you over the head with her message; it's all just done beautifully.  Cather really was brilliant; it's a shame she's not more widely known and read.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, co-edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout, was released on April 16, 2013. This first publication of the letters of one of America's most beloved writers, is an exciting and a significant literary event. Since Willa Cather's death in 1947, the executors of her estate have been bound by restrictions established in her will, including a ban on the publication of her letters. However, under the terms of the same will, these prohibitions expired upon the death of her family members. Now, nearly seven decades after Cather's death in 1947, an anthology of 566 of the roughly 3,000 letters that still exist is being published. - The Willa Cather Foundation

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Life: It Goes On - April 28

You'll notice this week's Sunday post has a new title and a new look. The Sunday Salon posts are intended to be post about books and reading, the "Lit" part of my title. But in the past few months, my Sunday posts have definitely come to be about the "Life" part of my title. Enter Robert Frost.

Since April is National Poetry month, I've been reading a lot of posts about poetry, including one about Robert Frost. Frost was an American poet best known for his realistic depictions of rural American life. He was both popular and critically respected, earning four Pulitzer prizes for poetry. He may be best known for these lines:
"Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I— I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

The Frost words that really struck me this week were these: "In three words I can sum up what I've learned about life: it goes on."  My family has been through so much in the past couple of years; it's been one thing after another. But this I have learned from all of it - life goes on. As soon as I saw these words, I knew what I wanted to do with my Sunday posts.Thanks to The Big Guy for the photo that made visualized it for me!

You'll also see a new piece for when I really do just want to talk about books. Thanks to Stephen King, it will be called "Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic."

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Paper Towns by John Green - I succumbed to peer pressure and picked this one up at the library sale a few weeks ago. I was surprised to find that I had not gotten this on CD but, instead on something called "Playaway" from Brilliance Audio. Essentially it's an MP3 player with the book loaded on it and nothing else can be added.

Watching: The televisions been on this past week but I can't say that I've paid much attention to any of it with the exception of The Voice and some of the NFL draft.

Reading: I finished Gone Girl in the wee hours of this morning; it made a great readathon book both for Dewey's and the Spring Into Horror readathon. I also got caught up with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and got about half way through listening to John Green's Paper Towns. I'm on a roll with good books right now!

Making: Enchiladas for dinner last night. With a vegetarian in the family, I've taken to making bean and cheese enchiladas and have had fun experimenting with those.

Planning: On getting annuals this week for my flower pots. This always takes so much longer than it should since I'm always looking for new flowers and combinations to try.

Grateful for: My family being mostly supportive of my reading yesterday. They just sort of roll their eyes at me. There, there, tut, tut - Mom's being silly about her books again.

Loving: The past few days have been glorious; we've eaten most of our meals outside.

Thinking: There is nothing nicer than a beautiful spring evening on the patio, listening to the birds, spending time with my family, enjoying a nice glass of wine and just relaxing.

Looking forward to: A new computer. Well, sort of. My son built a new computer for a friend and he's going to rebuild mine with the parts from the friend's old computer. Said parts being about eight years newer than anything in my current computer.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon

It's that time again - the spring edition of Dewey's Read-a-Thon! If you've been following me for long, you'll already know that there's no way I'm going to make it through 24 hours; I find I'm lucky if I can get in 12 hours of reading. Today it's going to be in the 70's - I'm going to be outside working in the lawn, cleaning out the garage,  and airing out the house so that number may be even lower. I'll still join in with 400 of my closest friends and give myself permission to read a much as I want. I'll stock up on snacks, grab a stack of books, and plot a strategy. I'll update my progress all in this one post.

Up first, I'm catching up on the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle with cinnamon rolls and coffee. Then I'm back to Gone Girl and I'll listen to John Green's Paper Towns while I work around the house.

Hours Spent Reading: 5.5
Hours Spent Cheerleading: 5
Pages Read: 356 + audio
Books Finished: 
Time Spent Listening To Books: 3.5 hours
Naps: 1 so far - I have got to learn to get more sleep the night before!

Hour 5 Update: As usual, I'm off to a slow start. My family seems to have needed to spend the entire morning in the family room with me making it hard to concentrate. I have pulled out Paper Towns while I'm getting some cleaning done and I did get caught up with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Hour 9 Update: Finding the reading is making me really tired so I've had to take a nap break and I stopped to eat lunch. I've done a few hours of cheerleading as well. Think I'll move to the kitchen table to read. I find that one I get into the book, I don't mind that it's not as comfortable and I don't get sleepy.

Hour 11 Update: I'm a cleaning machine this last hour or so and I've gotten well into Paper Towns which I'm enjoying a lot. I'm going to be switching back and forth between this and Gone Girl for the next few hours as I keep trying to get things done around the house before I settle into read for the night.

Hour 19 Update: Well, I think I'm about done for. This gal can't really stay up all night or I'll get nothing done tomorrow (today?!) and I have to much to do for that to happen. I'm almost done with Gone Girl so I may just have to finish that yet. I've enjoyed a lot of cheerleading since my last update and added a couple of new blogs to my reader. So fun to find readers in Canada (quite a few in Ontario), Sweden, The Netherlands and Hungary. This truly is an event that brings together readers world wide!

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Lunch With Thrity Umrigar - Sort Of

Well, I squee'd about it, I gushed about it, I exhorted you to join me at it. "It" would be lunch with Thrity Umrigar, author of The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, and, most recently, The World We Found. Right here in Omaha. I ordered my ticket as soon as I found out about the lunch, I rearranged my work schedule to be there on time, I drove there in a snowstorm. Guess who wasn't there? That's right. Thrity Umrigar.

Apparently, in Chicago, they decided they would let a little snow stop them and shut down their airports, preventing Umrigar from physically joining us. That didn't stop the staff at the College of St. Mary, the hosts of the luncheon. After our authentic Indian lunch, sitting in a room decorated in the colors of beautiful saris, Umrigar did join us after all, via Skype on a projector screen. As soon as she started talking, it almost didn't matter that she wasn't there.

She talked about how she'd been a writer as long as she could remember. When she was five or six, she wrote hate poems to her parent, venting her anger at things like not being allowed to have chocolate when she wanted some. She'd write the poems in her room then sneak them into her parents' room. For years she thought her parents were genius' because they always seemed to be able to figure out who had left the poems. You should know here that Umrigar is an only child.

When Umrigar decided to come to the U.S. to study, she wasn't sure which college she wanted to attend. Joan Baez (Banks of the Ohio) helped her make the decision to attend Ohio State and she has been there ever since. After college, she began working as a journalist but eventually decided that she would return to school to earn a PhD. It was during this time that she decided to write her first novel. She'll be the first to admit that she got extremely lucky when she found an agent without even looking; at a literary event an agent actually approached her and, based strictly on a question she'd asked the speaker, asked if she was working on something before that first novel was even finished.

Umrigar says that she writes about race, gender, class but mostly her books are about power - who has it, who doesn't. It's a theme she finds to be universal. "Writers," she said, "know that life is lived in the grey." That's something readers find again and again in her books as well.

Having been raised in an upper middle-class family, Umrigar admitted to sometimes wondering if she had the right to write about people who have lived far different lives, questioning whether she is making their lives look too easy, or perhaps even more difficult than they actually are. Perhaps that accounts for why her books are so good - she is always so aware that she wants to get it right.

Ms. Umrigar closed by telling the story of how her descendants came to India hundreds of years ago. Parsis, they were being chased out of what is now Iran. To convince the king that his people should be allowed to settle in this new land, while not speaking a word of each other's language, Umrigar's ancestor used sugar in milk to demonstrate how his people would blend into the land, disturbing no one and adding some sweetness to their lives. Umrigar challenged us to all live our lives with the idea that we should add some sweetness in our lives. I exceed that challenge to you. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Classics Club - Best Literary Hero and Heroine

Every month the folks over at The Classics Club ask their members to answer a question about reading and books. This is my first time to chime in. The question this month is:

Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?

I initially thought this would be easy; that is until I thought about all of the books I've read and realized I don't typically read books featuring what I thought of as heroes. I wondered "what exactly does "hero" mean?" According to Dictionary.com, a hero (excluding a sandwich or a mythological being) is:

1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal. 
3. the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc 

What? "Hero" could just be taken to mean the principal male character? I know that we often refer to a character in a book as the "hero of the story," but the simple fact of being the principal character hardly seems to qualify as being heroic.  On the other hand, taking away the "super hero" idea of a hero, you'll certainly find many more heroes in literature.

Gregory Peck and Brock Peters
Working from that perspective, but bearing in mind that I can't even begin to remember all of the heroes I've read about, I'd say Atticus Finch, of To Kill A Mockingbird (my review of the book) is the best literary hero.  A widower doing his best to raise his two young children, Atticus is a man with the courage to stand up for what he believes is right in a town where doing so puts his life at risk.

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.- Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

Julie Ghoulson as Mary Call Luther
As for the best heroine, I'm going back a long way, to a little known book, 1969's Where The Lilies Bloom. In this book by Bill and Vera Cleaver, fourteen-year-old Mary Call Luther is charged by her dying father to keep her family together after his death. Although she is not the oldest, Mary Call she must become the parent to her three siblings, helping them to survive winter in the Appalachian mountains without help from anyone. Using courage, intelligence, and a strong sense of loyalty to her family, Mary Call uses everything in her power to keep her promise.

Who are your literary heroes and heroines?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

National Poetry Month - Ted Kooser

At the Cancer Clinic

She is being helped toward the open door 
that leads to the examining rooms 
by two young women I take to be her sisters. 
Each bends to the weight of an arm 
and steps with the straight, tough bearing 
of courage. At what must seem to be 
a great distance, a nurse holds the door, 
smiling and calling encouragement. 
How patient she is in the crisp white sails 
of her clothes. The sick woman 
peers from under her funny knit cap 
to watch each foot swing scuffing forward 
and take its turn under her weight. 
There is no restlessness or impatience 
or anger anywhere in sight. Grace 
fills the clean mold of this moment 
and all the shuffling magazines grow still. 

- Ted Kooser, Pulitzer Prize winner, U.S. Poet Laureate

When Serena of Savvy Wit and Verse put out the call for April posts in honor of National Poetry Month, I immediately knew I wanted to talk about Ted Kooser. Born in Ames, Iowa, Kooser received his Bachelor's degree at Iowa State University but when he moved to Nebraska to earn his Master's degree from the University of Nebraska, he had found his home. Kooser has done Nebraska proud, both nationally (serving as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 - 2006) and in nurturing Nebraska talent. He has written twelve full volumes of poetry and won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2004 collection, Delights & Shadows.

One of the drawbacks of poetry for some people is that it's too hard to decipher what the poet is trying to say. Ted Kooser writes poetry that is approachable, understandable to all readers. When I read his poetry, it feels as though Kooser has plucked a moment of life up and written about it. This particular moment, At The Cancer Clinic, particularly speaks to me just now.

To learn more about Ted Kooser, his poetry, and his contributions to his work and his community, please visit his website.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
Published October 2008 by Penguin Group
Source: I bought this one & read it on my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
To this day, America views itself as a Puritan nation, but Sarah Vowell investigates what that means-and what it should mean. What she discovers is something far different from what their uptight shoebuckles- and-corn reputation might suggest-a highly literate, deeply principled, and surprisingly feisty people, whose story is filled with pamphlet feuds, witty courtroom dramas, and bloody vengeance.  

My Thoughts:
Sarah Vowell was suggested by one of the Omaha Bookworms a few months ago and I selected this particular book. I have heard Vowell speak on the radio several times and found her to be witty and smart and assumed I'd enjoy her writings. And I did...but it was a lot more work than I was expecting. Since I read it on my Nook (the first book I've finished on my Nook!), I made use of the highlighting and note taking capabilities extensively. In fact, I'm a little afraid to scan it back over again to see just how much of the book I thought was worth revisiting. Let's just say, I learned a tremendous amount about the founders of Boston, Rhode Island and Harvard University.

Vowell works to present a balanced view of the players in the book, who are mostly those who arrived on this continent on the ship Arbella in 1690. Looking into their writings, she manages to find both the good and the bad in all of those early settlers. Sarah Vowell is, however, an unabashedly liberal atheist and some readers may take issue with some of her witticisms and criticisms of contemporary politicians.

Throughout the book, Vowell keeps things moving along, blending the personal, religious, and political lives of her subjects into a book that introduces readers to an entirely different kind of Puritan than we are accustomed to reading about. By exploring these settlers and their times, Vowell makes something of a call to arms, for Americans to find what was right in those early notions and bring them forward to make our country the place that it might have been all along.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver
Published in paperback April 2013 by Harper Perennial
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
Edgar Kellogg has always yearned to be popular. When he leaves his lucrative law career for a foreign correspondent post in a Portuguese backwater with a homegrown terrorist movement, Edgar recognizes Barrington Saddler, the disappeared reporter he’s replacing, as the larger-than-life character he longs to emulate. Yet all is not as it appears. Os Soldados Ousados de Barba—”The Daring Soldiers of Barba” —have been blowing up the rest of the world for years in order to win independence for a province so dismal and backward that you couldn’t give the rathole away. So why, with Barrington vanished, do incidents claimed by the “SOB” suddenly dry up? A droll, playful novel, The New Republic addresses terrorism with a deft, tongue-in-cheek touch while also pressing a more intimate question: What makes particular people so magnetic, while the rest of us inspire a shrug?

My Thoughts:
Before I started blogging I read Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin. It's a brilliant piece of writing, incredibly tense, stunningly horrific. Shriver clearly meant for the book to provoke controversy, exploring as it does nature versus nurture, maternal instinct, inherent evil. Since that book, I've had high expectations for Shriver. Last June, unable to convince the Omaha Bookworms to tackle We Need To Talk About Kevin, I recommended we try So Much For That. If I were looking for another book that provokes controversy from Shriver, in that she succeeded. Unfortunately, it was the only point on which she succeeded with me. Even so, I couldn't write Shriver off.

After The New Republic, I may. In her defense, Shriver actually wrote this book fifteen years ago, perhaps before she had mastered her craft. On the other hand, she has said that very little was changed before the book was finally published. One would think that if she saw flaws in her work, for example that it's not nearly as witty as she intended it to be, she would have corrected them.

Shriver never seems to particularly care whether or not her readers care about the characters in her books. The New Republic is no exception. There's a reason Edgar longs to be popular, until he was in high school he was fat, morbidly obese in fact. He spends his high school years idolizing the school's Golden Boy. The problem is that even after he loses the weight, Edgar is still not popular and finds himself still desperately craving popularity and hating those who have it. And why is he not popular? Shriver wants her readers to ponder the question of what it is that makes people gravitate to certain individuals. But it's not just a matter of Edgar not having "it." Edgar is an ass. He is always looking to pick a fight, always defensive. And the pack of journalists he falls in with in Barba aren't much better, pretentious, nasty, and much less happy about being in Barba than Edgar is.

Edgar only goes from bad to worse once he gets to Barba. While living in the home Saddler has abandoned, Edgar discovers a way to try to live the life of his dreams but at a terrible price. Making him an even worse person. Great, just want I wanted to read about.

Shriver thought that the time was right for a book about terrorism. Pre-2011, she believed Americans weren't interested in a book about terrorism. Post-2011, she believed it was too soon for Americans to read a book that satirized terrorism. So here it is, coming out in paperback in April 2013, the month that terrorism once again strikes America. Even had that not happened, I'm not sure there is ever a time that satire and terrorism belong together in a book, not in this day and age.

As always with TLC Book Tours, don't just take my opinion for it about this book; check out the full book tour

Lionel Shriver’s novels include the National Book Award finalist So Much for That, the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World, and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. She lives in London and Brooklyn, New York.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Salon - April 21

It snowed here again this week (certainly nowhere near as much as some of you!) and it was cold and grey most of the week. Still, I'm hopeful that spring may get here eventually when I look around my yard.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Well, this is embarrassing - I was listening to M.C. Beaton's The Death of a Gentle Lady...until I realized, nearly to the end of disk one, that I have already listened to this one. Glad I only spent a couple of dollars on it! So I've switched to Stewart O'Nan's Songs for the Missing.

Watching: I was home sick on Monday when the Boston Marathon bombing took place and spent most of the rest of the week glued to coverage of that and the aftermath. There was a part of me that thought I needed to just turn the t.v. off, there was so little new to offer so much of the time. But I just couldn't.

Reading: I've added a couple of new things to the blog to show what I'm reading for book club, what I'm listening to, and what I've got on my nightstand. I always keep a book on my nightstand for the nights I crawl into bed only to realize that I've forgotten my book downstairs. Right now, that book is Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being A Wallflower which I pulled off the shelf after Trish raved about it.

Making: This week I made a delicious cherry pound cake and a very rich chocolate cake. I'm not much of a cake eater so this is kind of unusual for me.

Planning: On getting some painting done around here in the next month or so. We picked out paint for the family room yesterday and The Big Guy is starting on that today to get us started.

Grateful for: I don't need it yet, but next week our new air conditioner will be installed. We suffered through the end of last summer without one and I don't want to repeat that!

Loving: Watching my kids grow and mature. We enjoy them all so much.

Thinking: This may be the first year ever that I have read the Pulitzer Prize winner before it was even the Pulitzer Prize winner. Congratulations to The Orphan Master's Son and Adam Johnson! Interesting to choose a book about a North Korean with North Korea so much in the news lately.

Looking forward to: Book club this week - whether the gals read the book or not, we always have fun. Laugh therapy are its finest.

What are you grateful for this week?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
Published April 2008 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: I bought this one on audio at my local library sale

Publisher's Summary:
The unsolved murder of a farm family still haunts the white small town of Pluto, North Dakota, generations after the vengeance exacted and the distortions of fact transformed the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation.

Part Ojibwe, part white, Evelina Harp is an ambitious young girl prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina's grandfather, is a repository of family and tribal history with an all-too-intimate knowledge of the violent past. And Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who bears witness, understands the weight of historical injustice better than anyone. Through the distinct and winning voices of three unforgettable narrators, the collective stories of two interwoven communities ultimately come together to reveal a final wrenching truth.  

My Thoughts: 
Here's what I thought I was going to get: a story about the impact of these murders on these three people years after the murders occurred.

Here's what I got: a series of stories about the descendants of the people involved in these murders and their aftermath from many narrators. The characters in the stories are interconnected but in some stories only one character readers have previously met will appear, sometimes more. The problem was that I was not nearly as connected to some characters as I was to others and lost interest more than once as the stories of some of these characters seemed to drag on too long.

The book plays out as something of a jigsaw puzzle, gradually revealing how the lives of the descendants have interwoven over the decades, and I enjoyed watching this play out. I have read almost nothing about the experience of the Native American and Erdrich certainly made me think about the ways in which their lives were forever altered when Europeans decided to take their land. When asked about his past, Mooshum replies:

“What you are asking is how was it stolen? How has this great thievery become acceptable? How do we live right here beside you, knowing what we lost and how you took it?” 

The New York Times called this book, in 2008, masterful. Of course, that makes me feel like I missed something. Was something lost to me by listening to this one instead of reading it? I don't think so as far as the reading was concerned; the narration was fine. Perhaps in just not being able to fully immerse myself I lost something. Have you read this one? What did you think of it?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Rewind

This week the folks at The Broke and The Bookish are having us pick a topic we missed or one we'd like to revisit. Since I only recently starting doing Top Ten Tuesdays, there are a lot of topics I've missed, so many that I had a hard time choosing one. But since this winter is dragging on soooo long and I'm so eager for warm weather to arrive, I'm jumping ahead to summer and suggesting ten books to have in your beach bag.

1. The Last Beach Bungalow by Jennie Nash - Well, sure, it seems like a no-brainer from the title but this book is no light weight. Still it's a wonderful book to relax into and the characters will speak to you.

2.Eating Heaven by Jennie Shortridge - I swear this list is not entirely filled with books written by women named Jennie. But here's another work of women's fiction that gives readers just enough depth to make it well worth reading without ruining your beach mood.

3. The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson - NPR listeners will recognize Dickinson's name so you probably won't be surprised by how much you enjoy this memoir. Just be ready to get funny looks on the beach - you will find yourself laughing out loud.

4. Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon - This book falls somewhere between chick lit and women's fiction making it light enough to be fun but with enough to sink your teeth into.

5. Helen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan - Fun characters, Dolan's great sense of humor; you just might forget to flip over and tan the other side.

6.One For The Money by Janet Evanovich - If you haven't already started the Stephanie Plum books, and aren't already thinking Evanovich has played this series out, you'll enjoy getting to know the inept Plum and the crazy cast of characters that surround her.

7. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett - A short fun look at what would happen if the Queen of England suddenly discovered books. You could knock this one out in one afternoon.

8. On Folly Beach by Karen White - Well, really there are a number of books by White that would make great books to have in your beach bag. Here White blends the South, history and mystery wonderfully.

9. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - I haven't read this one yet, but I'm hearing great things about it and it sounds like just the kind of book you could spend the afternoon reading.

10. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson - I know, I know, another Jenny. Also, another book I haven't read. But you can't go wrong with a humor on the beach and with this one you could read a couple of entries then get up and actually enjoy the beach for a while before you read some more.

What books would you add to your beach bag?

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Book One Update

There are some authors who have long intimidated me (Pynchon, Joyce, Proust). Haruki Murakami was not on my list...until I started blogging and hearing so much about his books. So many people rave about them but at the same time the message has been very clear to me, "these books are very hard to understand." I just wasn't sure I wanted to make time for a book that was going to be that much work.

Then up pops Ti of Book Chatter with the idea for a readalong of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Ti LOVES Murakami which I take to mean that she also "gets" Murakami. Since I respect her opinions about books so much, and since I'm clearly still a teenaged-girl who can be swayed by peer pressure, I decide to join in.

After finishing Book One, 176 pages into the book, I'm more than pleasantly surprised. Murakami's writing style is clean, approachable, not in the least bit intimidating. Do I have any idea where this book is going? Can't say that I do, which is a good indication that I'm enjoying this book. Usually this far into a book, I want to have an idea where this road is leading. Am I picking up on all of the symbolism? I'm not sure, although I think I'm picking up on a lot more of it than I expected to.The story is certainly odd and would be off-putting to some readers (phone sex, prostitution, war) but I'm intrigued and quite enjoying the characters and the flow of the story.

Ti tweeted about an interview The Paris Review did with Murakami the other day which I highly recommend if you are at all interesting in reading Murakami. Understanding the man better and his writing process makes me feel a lot better about what I'm getting from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. 

Be warned: you may want to be at home while you read this one - Murakami talks a lot about food and beer!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Salon - April 14

The other night I had a friend tell me that "fiction is a luxury" he doesn't have time for. As a doctor, much of his reading is, of course, work related. For him, though, even the reading he does in his free time is all about learning so he sticks to nonfiction. I must say that I felt a bit sorry for him; he has never discovered how much there is to be learned from fiction and he doesn't allow himself to be lost in a book. What do you think - is fiction a luxury?

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: On Pandora, I've got a new station: Movie Soundtracks. I am LOVING it! I get to hear songs from Disney, songs that just scream out the movie they were in (Old Time Rock and Roll from "Risky Business," for example), songs from more recent movie musicals. Mostly, though, it's the songs that you've heard throughout the movie, including Gary Jules covering Tears for Fears' "Mad World" in "Donnie Darko." Love, love this song and this version. I'm finding lots of new songs to enjoy, too, which is half the fun.

As far as books go, I finished The Plague of Doves this week. If you remember my review of Anita Diamont's The Last Days of Dogtown, you'll have a good idea of the way I ended up feeling about this one.

Watching: This afternoon I'll be watching Defiant Requiem: Voices of Resistance on PBS. Here's the show description:

In the spring of 1944, a handpicked group of Nazi officers was treated to an unusual performance by inmates in a concentration camp. What appeared to be a soaring rendition of a choral masterpiece was intended as a subversive condemnation of the Nazis and a desperate message to the outside world. In the face of horrific living conditions, slave labor and the constant threat of deportation to Auschwitz, the Jewish inmates of Terezin concentration camp — artists, musicians, poets and writers — fought back with art and music. 

Watch Preview on PBS. See more from Defiant Requiem: Voices of Resistance.

There it is again - Terezin. A place I had never heard of until I read a book a few months ago. After I read that book, I did some research of Terezin. So when the commercial for this show started, I immediately recognized the setting. It's amazing to me that this place and time in history has now shown up three times in just a few months. Did I just miss it before?

Reading: I'll be finishing up Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates tomorrow for this month's book club meeting. My head is swimming from all I've learned! I'm hoping to get caught up with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle today. It's much less intimidating than I had anticipated, although I find myself really highlighting and taking notes in it, too, trying to make sure I'm catching things. I'll continue reading that this week and I'll also pick up Lionel Shriver's The New Republic for review next week.

Making: I'm making bread this weekend. I haven't made yeast bread in more than 20 years and then I wasn't too successful. But my friend assures me that this recipe is foolproof and I'm just the fool to test it. It's rising even as I type.

Planning: I have a project I'm working on right now but it's a secret so I can't tell you about it just yet.

Grateful for: Great friends - who made sitting in 36 degree temps at the ballpark on Friday night fun.

Loving: The sunshine I'm basking in as I type this. Nebraska typically has very sunny winters but this has been a particularly grey winter and spring, so far, as not been much better.

Thinking: Some of you are doing a lot better at this thing called life than I am. How do you keep all of those plates spinning with out any of them crashing to the floor?

Looking forward to: I am beyond excited to be going to see Thrity Umrigar on Thursday. If I didn't listen to my local NPR station, I would never even have known that this internationally best-selling author were coming to town which is a tremendous shame. Fortunately, I do. As soon as I got to work the morning I found out about it, I got online and reserved my spot at the luncheon she'll be speaking at. If you're in Omaha, let me know if you'll be there!

What are you loving this week?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday, er Thursday

This week the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish have asked us to share the top ten books we read before we were book bloggers. Since I've been blogging for almost four years and have read over 300 books in that time, there would certainly be some shakeups on this list. But here, in no particular order, are my top ten books from pre-May 2009.

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. No surprise here, I'm sure, since I'm forever telling you how much I love this book. In fact, I think it's time for a reread soon.

2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. My favorite non-classic book prior to blogging, by far and maybe the book that pushed me to reading more literary fiction than anything else.

3. Sophie's Choice by William Styron. This might be the first book I ever read because of the movie. And maybe the first time I really was aware that as great as a movie is, the book is almost certain to be better.

4. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. My favorite Austen; it stands in for her entire body of work.

5. Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow. Now this one I read first and then saw the movie. It may have been one of the first times I was aware that a movie after a book might not disappoint.

6. Little Women/Little Men by Louisa May Alcott. I got Little Women when I was eight so you'll have to forgive me if I'm more than willing to overlook the preachiness. I wanted to be Jo; I knew I was more like Beth.

7. Chesapeake by James Michener. Never in a million years could you have convinced me that I would love a book that opened with an scene of Canadian geese moving south in the spring before white men ever set foot on this continent. But that's exactly where Michener hooked me on this one.

8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Until I read this one with my son, I might have thought my opinion about this book was colored by the wonderful memories of my dad reading it to us when we were children. But this one stands up to reading as an adult; a brilliant commentary as well as wonderful story.

9. David Cooperfield by Charles Dickens. I'm sure this one had the same drawbacks I found in Bleak House, but I don't remember them. I just remembering loving the characters.

10. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Wharton is a master of writing detail into her books that you will not want to skim over; her descriptions of a dinner party tell the reader as much about society as they do about the meals.

That was a bit painful, I must say. I could easily make a list of top ten favorite childhood favorites, leaving me a couple more spots on this list and it still would be enough room for the books that I feel had the greatest impact on me as a reader pre-2009. Bloggers, what books would be on your list?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Giveaway - Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution

History fans, here's one for you! Viking is letting me give away one copy of Nathaniel Philbrick's latest book, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution. If you're part of the War Through The Generations challenge, this one is perfect for you.

"Boston in 1775 is an island city occupied by British troops after a series of incendiary incidents by patriots who range from sober citizens to thuggish vigilantes. After the Boston Tea Party, British and American soldiers and Massachusetts residents have warily maneuvered around each other until April 19, when violence finally erupts at Lexington and Concord. In June, however, with the city cut off from supplies by a British blockade and Patriot militia poised in siege, skirmishes give way to outright war in the Battle of Bunker Hill. It would be the bloodiest battle of the Revolution to come, and the point of no return for the rebellious colonists."

Philbrick is the author of National Book Award winner In The Heat of the Sea and Pulitzer Prize finalist Mayflower.  The film rights to Bunker Hill have already  been sold to Warner Bros. as a possible directing vehicle for Ben Affleck (Argo). Here's your chance to read the book before it becomes a film!

If you live in the U.S. and would like a chance to win a copy of this book, please leave me a comment with a way to get a hold of you and tell me one thing you know about the American Revolution. I'll announce the winner on April 23rd.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why I Love My Huskers

I told you yesterday that Saturday was the annual Red/White game for the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, the final scrimmage of spring practice. This year's game was about much more than seeing how the team has progressed over the spring, seeing the new talent, and getting fired up for the coming season.

Seven-year-old Jack Hoffman is battling a rare form of brain cancer. Last year the Huskers" star running back, Rex Burkhead, befriended young Jack and fans throughout Husker nation began sporting Team Jack t-shirts. But with Burkhead's graduation, it was possible that Jack's story might no longer be part of the Husker's story.

Jack Hoffman and Rex Burkhead
That's not how things work in Nebraska and not how things work with the Nebraska Athletics Department. I'm certainly not going to sit here and tell you that the focus is not on developing winning programs; of course it is, as are all athletic programs. But at Nebraska (and I'm sure we're not alone in this), there is a strong emphasis giving back to the community and developing compassion among the student-athletes. Rex Burkhead may be gone (although he was at the game Saturday) but Jack Hoffman is still a Cornhusker. Saturday Jack got to suit up and run for a touchdown. There was not a dry eye amongst the 60,000 fans in attendance Saturday.

 I just had to share. Please take just a minute and watch Jack's moment in the sun.

 As the lyrics of our fight song say, there is no place like Nebraska.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Salon - April 7

It's spring, it's spring - and we have football! I'm not sure how many other colleges are able to charge people to come watch the final spring practice of the football team but here we shell out $10 apiece to have a look at the new players, see our old favorites and start to get excited for football season.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I happened to catch "Guys and Dolls" on TCM the other day so I've been back on a musicals kick this week. A Twitter conversation about singing songs from musicals as lullabies only made me want to listen to them even more.

Also, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR. Smart and funny. Really I love the entire Saturday morning on my NPR station.
Watching: "Forget Paris" with Billy Crystal and Debra Winger. I can completely overlook this movie's flaws because there are just so many things in it that make me laugh out loud. Like the scene where Winger has a pigeon stuck to her head.

Reading: I downloaded two books to my Nook this week, finally. I've finally started The Windup Bird Chronicles and will be playing catchup with the readalong gang. I'm also starting The Wordy Shipmates for book club this month. I've been wanting to read both Murakami and Vowell for a while so this should be a great month.

Making: Progress on finding homes for all of the things we brought from The Big Guy's mom's apartment.

Planning: Family history scrapbooks for The Big Guy's siblings for Christmas. I can't wait to get started on these.

Grateful for: Vacuums. And brooms. And lint rollers. These cats of ours are dropping fur by the handful as the weather warms up. If they jump in your lap right now, when they get up, you look like you're wearing fur pants.

Loving: The hours of alone time I got this past week. You all know how much I love my family, but this girl needs her quiet time.

Thinking: A trip to Lowe's is on this week's agenda. I'm fired up to do some painting.

Looking forward to: Spring cleaning this week; this makes me ridiculously happy.

What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

We Interrupt This Book To Bring You Life

I swear to you, I lead a pretty dull life, especially compared to the life I led when my kids were young (or before I even had kids!). But lately I feel like life is conspiring to prevent me from reading.

As you all know by know, my family has spent the past few months dealing with the illness and loss of The Big Guy's mother. Between the time spent caring for her, the job of closing up her home, and the emotional toll all of this took, my reading has really taken a hit.

As I told you on Sunday, my sister and her family got to move into the home of their dreams this past week. I got to help them start moving in shortly after they got the keys to the house Thursday, and then my family (along with their parents and a lot of great friends) spent Saturday helping them. Exhausting work but so fun to be able to be part of their happiness.

Sunday we hosted my family for Easter dinner. My mom brought most of the food so that part was easy. We used the original Mama Shepp's china to help us feel a little bit like she was with us.

This week's been much more "normal" and I've been getting a lot more reading done. But I really do need to get back to finding homes for all of the things we've brought home from The Big Guy's mom's place. in addition to furniture, kitchen things for the kids for "some day," and mementos, we've also become the keepers of the Shepp family history.

I'm beginning to wonder - does all of this mean I really need to "get a life?!"

How do you work your reading around the rest of your life?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bloglovin' - Claiming My Blog

I'm still not sure which feed reader I'm going to switch to but, apparently, I've got to "claim" my blog on Bloglovin' one way or another. By post. Sounds like a great advertising scam to me but here you go:

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
Published March 2013 by Harper Perennial
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher & TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he’s found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit at the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge’s land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect them but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

My Thoughts: 
The Orchardist has been on my radar for some time, but, to be honest, I could only remember, when it was offered to me for review, that it had gotten great reviews. By the time it arrived in my hands, I had no recollection of what the book was about. This generally plays in a book's favor when I sit down to read a book; I usually don't even read the jacket cover.

It quickly became apparent, as I began reading The Orchardist, that there was going to be a tension to the book that I had not expected. I did something I rarely do; I read the publisher's summary. Sure enough, there it was. Ah, I thought, this will be a book that builds to that moment when the men with guns arrive in the orchard. But Coplin wasn't going to make it that easy for me; this is a book that journeys through time, quietly but with an underlying tension that pulls the story along.

The characters are damaged, fragile beings who struggle to deal with their pasts. Talmadge is a compassionate man, but his own grief makes it difficult for him to fully realize his own feelings; the girls are so damaged that they are unable to accept kindness for kindness' sake. My heart ached for each of them. Coplin writes of the way Talmadge tames nature, how the wranglers that come to his orchards tame horse, but it is clear that the people in this debut novel are not so easily controlled.

I was so impressed with Coplin's writing that I didn't even notice until I was nearly finished with the book that there are no quotation marks. What I did notice was her amazing skill in writing about emotion.
"He had pulled out of the grief, eventually - out from under the suffocating weight of it. Suffering had formed him, made him silent and deliberate, thoughtful: deep. Generous and kind and attentive, although he had been that before. Each thoughtful gesture hoping to extend back, far back, to reach his sister, to locate her somewhere."
I do feel that this is a book that will stay with me for some time as I consider these characters and what happened to them. It's a haunting novel.

For more opinions about The Orchardist, check out other reviews on the full tour. Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be on this tour.

Amanda Coplin was born in Wenatchee, Washington. She received her BA from the University of Oregon and MFA from the University of Minnesota. A recipient of residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the Omi International Arts Center at Ledig House in Ghent, New York, she lives in Portland, Oregon. Find out more at Amanda’s website and connect with her on Facebook.