She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

I have this rule about abandoning books. I don't allow myself to abandon them until I read at least 150 pages. At this point, I am usually invested in the novel or it proves itself to be better than I first surmised. After 200 pages or so, I dumped this book. Nothing against Wally Lamb, his writing was just fine - it was the story that was lacking.I'm not against depressing books. What I am against is what felt like one big cliche. If you're going to write about someone's big fat depressing life, at least make it worthwhile and interesting to read about, multidimensional even.

That's what I get for reading an Oprah's Book Club pick. I almost made it all year without abandoning a book.

Publisher: Pocket, 1998


A Year in Reading: 2010

As far as reading years go, 2010 was a great one for me. I discovered many new authors and began regularly reviewing every book I read. I wanted to break down my reading statistically to learn about my reading trends: how many authors or color did I read? How many "new to me" authors did I read? How many books did I read that are older than I am? Below are the results. To read about specific titles, check out my post 2010: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Books read in 2010:

Pages read in 2010:

Percentage of male authors read:

Percentage of authors of color read:

Percentage of US authors read:

Percentage of European authors read:

Percentage of South American authors read:
4.7% (remaining 12.3 percent are Canadian - mostly Atwood - and Asian Pacific)

Percentage of non-fiction read:

Percentage of "new to me" authors:

Percentage of classics read (not including modern classics):

Percentage of books read that are older than me (published prior to 1985):

After reviewing these stats, I have created a few goals for 2011. I am going to try to read more worldly authors, so my percentage of US authors read is less than 62%. I would also like to read more authors of color and more classics (both modern and old school), which is kind of perfect since I am participating in the classics challenge. I should also try to bump my non-fiction up to at least 20%.

Image via weheartit.


Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

I bought this book after Sarah Shun-lien Bynum was named one of the top 20 Under 40 authors by The New Yorker. But, prior to purchasing it, I added it to my TBR after J. Franz told me to read it. Yep, sometimes I'm just that susceptible to the subtle yet incredibly transparent world of book marketing. But, however I came about it I'm glad I did because this book is delightful.

This is a book that examines the business of growing up: the hesitation, the uncertainty, the awkwardness and the idea that the growing up doesn't stop even after you are labeled an adult. Ms. Hempel Chronicles also explores the complications of adulthood and a longing to return to a simpler time - that of one's childhood. The overall tone is positive, which is a refreshing departure from what I have been reading lately. Bynum has a gift for relating peculiar moments and youthful realizations in a humorous and pleasant way.
How bizarre. That person, and the person she was now? They wouldn't even be friends.
Ms. Hempel Chronicles is structured in eight stories that alternate between Ms. Hempel's own childhood and the stories from her classroom as an English teacher in her mid 20's. The stories each relate and connect to one another to unravel the curious tendencies and peculiar situations of one's youth. Bynum also depicts the unpredictable moments that are associated with teaching middle school, as well as the astuteness and composure that is necessary to hold down such a job.

If you are looking for a read that isn't too heavy, but is still smart and entertaining, I'd recommended this.

Publisher: Mariner Books, 2008


The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

I read my first Auster only a few weeks ago and decided he was fantastic; I love when a writer can combine a captivating page-turner with beautiful writing and truths I can relate to. My second of his novels- The New York Trilogy - did not disappoint. Once again I was delighted and disturbed with the world Auster offered me - a combination that appeals to me.
Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them, someone once said. In the same way, perhaps, experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them.
From what I understand, The New York Trilogy is Paul Auster's signature work. As the title suggests, the book is a set of three, loosely-interconnected novels that each take place in New York City: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room. Each tome is similar in theme - each of the story's main characters act as detectives searching for understanding.The set of novels offers a non-linear structure that adds to the dimension of intrigue and quite frankly, it works. With the exception of the second tome, I found myself wanting more and had difficulty putting it down. Auster manages to explore the idea of identity, change, language and life experiences in an authentic way.
In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of flukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.
This is a book that is best read slowly, to take it in as it was meant to be taken in. Sentence, paragraphs and stories interweave and connect to reveal a very post-modern novel that is full of existentialism and the metaphysical. After reading two Paul Auster novels I can understand why readers complain that he reuses ideas in older books to writer new ones. There were many similarities between The New York Trilogy and The Book of Illusions, namely in character and content. I still think Auster is great, but I am going to give myself a break before I read more of him. I don't want to overdo it and decide my captivating author has become banal.

Publisher: Faber First, 1987


"The Dinner Party" by Joshua Ferris

I loved Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to and End and after I tweeted about his sexiness (seriously), Beth from Bookworm Meets Bookworm told me to read his short story, "The Dinner Party," via The New Yorker. I did and it's official - Joshua Ferris is awesome.

"The Dinner Party" explores the repetitiveness of domesticity and the restlessness that is often associated with it. It also questions to what point is a friendship, or relationship, worth keeping after one has grown out of it or changed. Are the superficial routines of the dinner party worth it? At what point do we stop pretending?
They come in,” he said, “we take their coats. Everyone talks in a big hurry as if we didn't have four long hours ahead of us. We self-medicate with alcohol. A lot of things are discussed, different issues. Everyone laughs a lot, but later no one can say what exactly was so witty."
The dialogue is hilarious. Ferris is spot-on with his portrayal of the everyday-bickering of a domestic couple. I almost wished this short story was longer. All-in-all, Ferris has yet to disappoint me, which is why I can't wait to pick up his latest, The Unnamed.

Image via The New Yorker.


Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings Me

Santa won't bring me books because I didn't ask him for books. Well, I did ask him for one book specifically. But besides that, I didn't ask Santa for books because book shopping is one of my favorite things. I'd rather go to the bookstore myself than trouble Santa. However, if Santa is reading this and really wants to bring me books, these are the ones I would ask for:

1. 1001 Books To Read Before You Die: This is the one book I did ask Santa to bring me.

2. Kapitoil - Teddy Wayne: I've had this on my TBR ever since I read my first review of it, but I don't want to pay the price for hardcover.

3. Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything For American Women - Rebecca Traister: Ever since I saw this title on this list, I've had it on my TBR.

4. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami: On the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list that I have moved to the top since Ben told me it was one of his favorites that he has read from the list.

5. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro: The Avid Reader named it as her favorite book of 2010 and we have such similar reading tastes, I think I'm bound to love it.

6. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath - Sylvia Plath: This has been on my TBR for awhile and I'm having difficulty finding in at Half Price Books, probably because I'm looking in the wrong sections.

7. Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safron Foer: Santa, I would like the paperback edition of this novel that doesn't picture Elijah Wood on the cover. Thanks!

8. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorn: I want to read this for my classics challenge, and Santa, a nice fancy edition would be delightful!

9. Room - Emma Donoghue: I Santa could get an advanced copy of the paperback edition that would be fabulous. Or maybe his elves could fashion something...

10. Great House - Nichole Krauss: After reading Man Walks Into A Room I've been looking forward to Krauss' latest.

Thanks to The Broke and The Bookish for hosting Top Ten Tuesday!
Image via WeHeartIt.


Daisy Miller by Henry James

This is my third Henry James this year. I started with Washington Square, which I loved, then read The Turn of the Screw around Halloween, and liked it quite a bit. Here is the thing about Henry James. I feel like the more I think about his work after I've finished reading it, the more I want to talk about it. There are always two sides to consider, two readings to argue, which I feel is one of the reasons Henry James has remained such a beloved writer.

Daisy Miller follows a young, beautiful girl as she travels through Europe with her mother and younger brother. I use the word "girl" for a reason. Daisy is what the French would call a typical American - she is audacious and has no regard for cultural conventions. She lives her day-to-day life in terms of Daisy and no one else. However, James central character isn't one-dimensional, and he never makes it certain whether or not we were meant to reject Daisy for her said audacity, or praise her for her originality. Daisy's family comes from new money and she is familiar with the society in the states. When she arrives in Europe she tells a young man and fellow-country man whom she meets in Geneva,
There isn't any society [in Geneva]; or, if there is, I don't know where it keeps itself. Do you? I suppose there is some society somewhere, but I haven't seen anything of it. I'm very fond of society, and I have always had a great deal of it.
Of course Daisy comes to find there is society, just not the type she is used to. Throughout each social gathering we watch as Daisy is scrutinized for her lack of regard and looked down upon for her unconventional behavior. Right after I finished this novella I thought Daisy - what a stupid girl. Then I thought further, and asked myself if Henry James was suggesting that we shouldn't punish young, care-free, impetuous girls; girls who act out of turn and don't follow the ridged social conventions. (After all, throughout the novel Daisy is self-aware and understands her actions are out of the norm. She is even a self-proclaimed flirt.) Or are girls better off acting polite and following suit? Was Daisy as innocent as she led on to be, or did she simply have bad manners? These unanswered questions are one of the reasons I enjoyed this read so much and exactly why I love Henry James.

Publisher: Penguin Classics, 1878


Bookish Gifts I Would Love to Receive For Christmas

I don't like it when people buy me actual books for Christmas unless they are 100% certain it is something I want to read. I'm pretty picky. However, bookish gifts are the best.

Flower reading lamps:

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die Book
Any bookish t-shrit from Out of Print Clothing

A fun new bookcase

A to Z bookends


The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I've been on a bit of a Margaret Atwood kick lately. After each handful of books I read by other authors, I start craving some Margaret Atwood. She always delivers with a unique and engrossing novel. For every Atwood novel I've read this year, I feel like I've gotten to know a new side of the author.

The Year of the Flood is Atwood's followup to Oryx and Crake, which I loved. Like Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood takes place in a world that is nothing like the one we know, but is so realistic and deeply complex that you can't help but be sucked into it. We are brought back to the same world Atwood portrayed in Oryx and Crake, but offered a refreshingly new perspective. I don't think I can explain this world that would make much sense, but it includes The Gardeners as led by Adam One, Painballers who are excruciatingly punished for their bad behavior, the corrupt and tyrannical CorpSeCorps, and Ren and Toby, two women who have survived the "waterless flood" and are the alternating narrators of the novel. While Oryx and Crake focused more on why the world became a disease ridden planet and its players, The Year of the Flood examines the everyday life of the humans trying to survive in this world.

I read Oryx and Crake back in August and while that wasn't too long ago, the story wasn't fresh in my head. I found myself wishing I had read it right before The Year of the Flood because at first I felt a little lost. I kept questioning my reading comprehension and finally just went with it. About half-way through the novel different elements started to piece together and the story became quite compelling.

They Year of the Flood speaks to the all-to-familiar complications of modern day technology, genetic engineering, consumerism and authoritarian corporations. In an author's note in the back of the book, Atwood writes, "The Year of the Flood is fiction, but the general tenancies and many of the details are alarmingly close to fact." For me, this is one of the reasons this story, and the dystopians Margaret Atwood creates, are so mind-blowing. These stories seem so far removed from today's world at a glance, but upon further reflection they could very well turn into our reality.

Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2009

A note on this edition: I found this UK edition at Half Price Books and loved the cover. Lately I have been thinking I like UK cover art more than it's US counterpart. Or, as Jackie from FarmLaneBooks suggested, maybe we just want what we can't have.


Top Ten Books I'm Most Excited to Read in 2011

My TBR pile has been growing in the last few weeks, mostly because I have been out doing more shopping than usual for Christmas. Or maybe my book-buying habit has reached new heights. Either way, these are the books I'm most excited to pick up and read in 2011:

1. The Night Bookmobile (Audry Niffenegger): I haven't been able to track this book down yet, but once I do I'm going to jump right in. I read the first few chapters online and so far it's a great story.

2. Middlesex (Jeffery Eugenides): I've heard great things about this Pulitzer Prize winner and I've been saving it for my classics challenge that starts in January.

3. Everything is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer): I loved Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and named it as my favorite book read in 2010. I'm so excited to read more Safran Foer.

4. Room (Emma Donoghue): I saw this on many favorites of 2010 lists, but am waiting for the paperback edition.

5. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers): I've had this on my TBR pile for awhile. I know it's going to make me really sad so I'm waiting to pick it up, but I'm also excited because Dave Eggers is pretty great.

6. More Margaret Atwood: I've been on a roll with Atwood lately and she is quickly becoming my favorite author. I'm excited to continue. In 2011 I hope to tackle The Blind Assassin, Alias Grace and Cat's Eye.

7. The Unnamed (Joshua Ferris): I really liked Then We Came to the End and look forward to Ferris' second work.

8. The Old Man and the Sea (Earnest Hemmingway): Another Pulitzer I'm saving for my classics challenge.

9. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz): I picked up this book this weekend and can't believe I haven't read it sooner.

10. Freedom (Jonathan Franzen): Once this baby becomes a paperback, I am going to succumb to the hype.

Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish for hosting Top Ten Tuesday. Image via Things She Loves.


Yet Another Challenge

So far I've only signed up for one 2011 challenge (The Classics Challenge) because I'm not a huge challenge girl. Until I stumbled across the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die Challenge, hosted by Pub Writes:

The challenge is simple – read some books from the list! If you don’t own the actual book, you can find a simple list online. For the most basic, check out the Listology list. There are spreadsheets outs there that you can look at too that are more complex.


High Schoo Diplomal: 5 books from the list
Bachelor’s Degree: 6-10 books from the list
Master’s Degree: 11-15 books from the list:
PHd: 16+

I am going get ambitious and aim for the PHd level, 16+. I'm pretty confident I can complete it. I counted, and from list I have already read 60:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
The Book of Illusions – Paul Auster
Austerlitz – W.G. Sebald
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Disgrace – J.M. Coetzee
Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangarembga
Beloved – Toni Morrison
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
White Noise – Don DeLillo
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon
Franny and Zooey – J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Rabbit, Run – John Updike
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Passing – Nella Larsen
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Awakening – Kate Chopin
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
Daniel Deronda – George Eliot
Around the World in Eighty Days – Jules Verne
Middlemarch – George Eliot
The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
Les Misérables – Victor Hugo
Silas Marner – George Eliot
The Mill on the Floss – George Eliot
Adam Bede – George Eliot
Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lonely – Harriet Beecher Stowe
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
The Pit and the Pendulum – Edgar Allan Poe
Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
Pamela – Samuel Richardson
Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
Love in Excess – Eliza Haywood

Ok so that leaves me with 940 titles to choose from. I am more than confident that I can find 16 or more titles I want to read from a list of 940. I already own some of them as well, so this should be fun.


Man Walks Into A Room by Nicole Krauss

Nicole Krauss is a fantastic writer. Her latest novel, Great House, has been on many "best of 2010" lists and was a finalist for the National Book Award. I read, and loved, The History of Love earlier this year. So, when I found her first, lesser-known novel, Man Walks Into A Room and Half Price Books, I knew I wanted to read it before I picked up Great House and once again, Nicole Krauss did not disappoint. Krauss' prose is some of the most eloquent I have ever read. Even if the story weren't all that interesting I would still read it, because her writing is so beautiful. But the story happened to be captivating as well.

Man Walks Into A Room explores the mind of a man who has lost 24 years of his memory. The only memories he holds are from his childhood, which offers a fascinating perspective from this lead character, Samson. A man who is free from his memories - a freedom the average person will never experience.
Although he was slowly beginning to understand the situation, he felt less as if he had forgotten time than as if time had forgotten him. That he'd fallen asleep in one life and somehow passed into this one along the axis of a consistent heartbeat, so that some memory of where he came from, of who he was, had stayed with him.
Krauss speaks to the mind's daydreams and everyday pleasures, as well as it's confusion and uncertainty. She explores human relationships in an honest way by examining true empathy and the familiar, sometimes silly habits we develop with each other - habits that connect us to one person alone, habits that are unique to a single relationship. She highlights the importance of childhood in the development of one's adult identity, and explores what it is that makes us human and what it means to experience love.
And yet, what else does it mean to be loved, Samson wondered, than to be understood?
After finishing this book, I like Krauss even more. The ideas in this book blew me away. She is an intelligent and creative writer that I will continue to recommend to readers. I look forward to Great House.

Publisher: Anchor Books, 2002


St. Nick Knows I Like Books

I can say St. Nick brought me books, or I can tell you I went to Half Price Books and treated myself. Either way, I'm really excited about the goods:

The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood: I loved Oryx and Crake and this is her follow-up. I also managed to find the UK edition, which has an awesome cover.

Rabbit Redux, John Updike: Part two of the Rabbit series. I liked part one (Rabbit, Run) but wanted to give myself a break before I revisited Harry Angstrom. I'm ready now.

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster: I recently discovered how much I like Auster after The Book of Illusions and Ben from Dead End Follies told me The New York Trilogy is a must. I'm super excited about this one.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath: I've never read any Plath and want to change that immediately. I was hoping to find her unabridged journals, but The Bell Jar will work in the meantime.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thorton Wilder: This is a book I've had on my TBR list forever. It sounds really interesting and I think I'll read it for part of my classics challenge. 

The Old Man and the Sea, Earnest Hemingway: I loved The Sun Also Rises and since Hemingway won the Pulitzer in 1953 with The Old Man and the Sea, I don't think I'll be disappointed. Again, I'm going to read this one for the classics challenge. 

Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris: A collection of essays that has gotten great reviews. This will be my first Sedaris. 


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrorws

I know I'm in the minority with my sentiments on this book, but I didn't like it. I'm not sure if it's because I was expecting too much after reading many rave reviews, or because it just didn't work. I think it's a mix of both. The novel takes place after WWII and details how the residents of Guernsey Island dealt with the German occupation. They eventually formed what they called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The novel is written in a series of letters and documents between the residents of Guernsey and a journalist in London.

For me, the epistolary format seemed contrived and the vivacious tone wasn't realistic. As far as WWII novels go, the characters were quite upbeat and cheery compared to most. Overall, I found the novel flat. If I didn't have such high expectations for this novel, I may have liked it better. I was expecting something profound and was left with a novel that would have worked better as a light vacation read.

Publisher: Dial Press, 2008


2010: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Jamie at The Perpetual Page-Turner has created an end of 2010 survey to reflect on this years best and worst reads. I've read a lot of books this year, so this will be fun.

1. Best book of 2010? Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

2. Worst book of 2010? The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho. This might be the most overrated book ever.

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010? The Secret of Lost Things, Sheridan Hay

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2010? Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood. This book blew me away.

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2010? Zeitoun, Dave Eggers. Utterly heartbreaking and incredibly eye-opening.

6. Best series you discovered in 2010? Rabbit series, John Updike

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2010? Francoise Sagan, Jonathan Safran Foer, Paul Auster, Henry James

8. Most hilarious read of 2010? Then We Came to The End, Joshua Ferris

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2010? The Book of Illusions, Paul Auster

10. Book you most anticipated in 2010? One Day, David Nicholls

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2010? The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood, Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

12. Most memorable character in 2010? Tie: Leo Gurkey from The History of Love and Oskar Shell from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

13. Most beautifully written book in 2010? Bel Canto, Ann Patchett

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2010? Zeitoun, Dave Eggers

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2010 to finally read? Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte


Literary Besties

Best friends can be fictional too! If I could go inside of a book and pick out any character to be friends with, it would consist of the list below.

1. Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series - Rowling): Book nerd who isn't afraid of much and can help you out with the perfect incantation whenever you are in a pinch!

2. Sally Jay Gorce (The Dud Avocado - Dundy): Sally is tough, funny and has an unrestrained sense of adventure. She is constantly failing at love, so of course we'd always have a lot to talk about.

3. Janie Mae Crawford (Their Eyes Were Watching God - Hurston): Curious and confident, and never settling for anything less that what she deserves, I think I could learn a lot of Janie.

4. Renée Michelle (The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Barbery): I'd love to have tea with her and talk books and philosophy.

5. Cécile (Bonjour Tristesse - Sagan): Drive fancy cars and lay out on the beach all day - I'm in.

6. Oskar Shell (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Foer): Always eager to learn new things and go wherever the day takes him, Oskar is one of the funniest characters I have read.

7. Jake Barnes (The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway): Constantly having fun at endless parties, but exuding intelligence and stability, I think Jake and I would have a ton of fun.

8. Luna Lovegood (The Harry Potter Series - Rowling): Luna has a great outlook on life and isn't afraid to stay true to herself. There is a lot to be said about people like that.

9. Mma Ramostwse (The Number One Ladies Detective Agency Series - Smith): Incredibly wise and down-to-earth, while not afraid to kick some ass, I think I'd get along great with Mma Ramostwse. Not to mention she owns her own detective agency. It would be fun to help her out.

10. Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre - Brontë): I feel like this is a character I could talk with intelligently for hours. Not to mention that she was completely ahead of her time with gender equality... my kind of girl.

Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish for hosting Top Ten Tuesday!


I'm sorry, did I just see you smell that book?

Rory is one of those characters who:

a. I wish wasn't fictional so I could be friends with her and
b. reminds me that dorky can be cool too


The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster

I've heard great things about Paul Auster but didn't pick up one of his novels until earlier this week. It was another one of those instances when I wasn't sure what I wanted to read next so I began to read a page or two from books sitting on my TBR pile; 45 pages later I realized I had chosen Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions.

This book follows David Zimmer, a man coping with the recent loss of his wife and two sons. He is incredibly depressed and relying heavily on alcohol to numb his pain when late one night he sees a television show that details the history of the silent movie industry. One clip that is shown, written and directed by Hector Mann, makes David laugh. He realizes this is he first time he has laughed in nearly two years, and makes up his mind to find out more about Hector Mann. What follows is a story that becomes increasingly complex, a dark suspense full of intrigue, sex and corruption. 

Auster writes in a way that is fluent and engrossing. From beginning to end I was fascinated with both the story and the way Auster's words worked to communicate that story. In addition, Paul Auster relates the power and point of silent films in a way that gives meaning to the medium that I had never considered:
Most silent comedies hardly even bothered to tell stories. They were like poems, like the renderings of dreams, like some intricate choreography of the spirit, and because they were dead, hey probably spoke more deeply to us now than they had to the audiences of their time. We watched them across great chasms of forgetfulness, and they very things that separated them from us were i fact what made them so arresting: their muteness, their absence of color, their fitful, speeded-up rhythms. They stood between us and the film, and therefore we no longer had to pretend that we were looking at the real world. The lat screen was the world, and it existed in two dimensions. The third dimension was in our head.
In these ways, literature acts almost as silent films do, allowing the reader to add his or her own dimension with their imagination. These meditations, combined with Auster's incredible ability to understand the human mind at it's darkest moments, make this a book well worth reading. This is a novel about pain and mortality, sin and redemption, about art and the artistic muse, and explores the role of the artist capturing something that is greater than himself. I look forward to reading more Paul Auster.  

Publisher: Picador, 2002


Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

I'm typically not one for historical non-fiction. At all. However the title of this book caught my eye and it turned out to be worth the read. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich offers interesting vignettes that detail women in history who were "well-behaved" and therefore overlooked.

Cotton Mather called them "the hidden ones." They never preached or sat in a deacon's bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven't been. Well-behaved women seldom make history.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's argues the women who didn't try to make history but did were the women who changed the face of female possibilites and feminism. Ulrich's goal was to uncover these well-behaved women's history and tell it. This book is well-researched and included clever anecdotes that make the book accessible - even to readers like me who don't often read historical non-fiction. My favorite section was the one entitled "Slaves in the Attic" and detailed the lesser known stories of Harriet Tubman, Harriet Powell and Harriet Jacobs; women who all contributed to 19th century feminism in their own unique way. 

Harriet Tubman, 1869 woodcut

While I did enjoy the book enough, I wouldn't say it was great. I found some sections dull repetitive. The overall message was inspiring, but the delivery lacked a certain punch. As I've mentioned, I haven't read much historical non-fiction that covers women in history, but I can't help but think there is a better book out there on the subject. 

Publisher: Vintage, 2007


Fragmentary Girl

“I am still so naïve; I know pretty much what I like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who I am. A passionate, fragmentary girl, maybe?”
-Sylvia Plath


The Missing Statues - Simon Van Booy

I've been interested in reading Simon Van Booy's collection of short stories The Secret Lives of People In Love ever since it was compared to Miranda July's Nobody Belongs Here More Than You, which is my all-time favorite collection of short stories. But, before I acquired the book I stumbled upon Van Booy's short story "The Missing Statues" via Fifty-Two Stories. (Read it here for free.)

This is a whimsical story, told in a tone that reminded me of a fairy tale, in which Van Booy captures the feeling of what it's like to be a child. There isn't a specific message van Booy relates in the story, except perhaps to highlight the importance of stories themselves:
"That sounds nice, and I like stories very much," the priest said. "They help me understand myself better."
Overall "The Missing Statues" is a nice story, but I'm not sure I'll be running out to get The Secret Lives of People In Love. Then again, he did win The Frank O'Connor Award for his collection Love Begins In Winter, so I probably shouldn't judge his writing on this one short story.


One Day - David Nicholls

I try to avoid books about relationships. Let me be more specific; of course every book involves relationships of some kind. I try to avoid those that center on romantic relationships. But every now and then, I read reviews about a book that I just need to read. One Day was one of those books. Don't get me wrong, some of my favorite books are those that examine love and it's complications, misconceptions and inevitable disappointments. But, I think about these ideas more often than not in real life, I'd rather not dwell on them while reading.

That being said, in my experience, books that I relate to are often the ones that captivate me most. David Nicholl's One Day is no different. He structures his novel in a very unique way; every chapter details the relationship of Emma and Dexter on the same day (July 15th) each year, beginning in 1988 and continuing each year for the next 20 years. A lot can change over a year and with each chapter, Dexter and Emma's relationship becomes more complicated and confused than the previous year, as many relationships do.

This is a book about who you want to be and the person you inevitably become. This is a book about timing and examines the hopes we have and the reality that ensues. Nicholls explores themes of fate and the the power of one moment, or one day, to change everything. The premise and structure may seem trite (cf The Time Traveler's Wife) but I promise you, Nicholls delivers in a unique and fulfilling way.

This is a lovely and bittersweet read that is all at once captivating and honest. It's not life changing, but certainly makes you think about what is and what could be - at least if you are the type succumb to the reverie of what it's like to be young and in love, ambitious and unsure.
Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.
Publisher: Vintage, 2009


Back to the Classics Challenge

Hosted by Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much, this challenge spans from January until June 2011 and will push me to read more classic literature! I try to be good and mix it up by throwing in classics here and there, and I'm thinking this challenge will ensure that I keep it up. I've been on a contemporary kick lately so this should help me out.

So, there are 8 goals to complete:

1. A banned book
2. A book with a wartime setting (any war)
3. A Pulitzer Prize (fiction) winner or runner up
4. A Children's/Young Adult Classic
5. 19th century classic
6. 20th century classic
7. A book you think should be considered a 21st century classic
8. Re-read a book from your high school/college classes

I'm really excited about challenge. I was dreading the children's/YA goal until I remembered Hans Christian Anderson and Lewis Carol. If you are interested go sign up on Sarah's blog.


A mind is like a parachute...

image via thingssheloves

A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it's not open. 
-Frank Zappa

National Book Award Winner Announced Tonight

Big news kids! Tonight the National Book Award winner will be announced and four of the five nominees are women:

Nicole Krauss, Great House
Lionel Shriver, So Much For That
Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel
Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America
Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule

Hopefully this shuts Jodi Picoult up for awhile. NPR books and I are on it:

NPR Books
Yeah! RT @: Lots of women on that list. Take note @ RT @ 2010 National Book Award Nominees


Top Ten Villains, Criminals and Degenerates

Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

1. Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter Series - Rowling): "The most powerful dark wizard to ever live!" Voldemort put his soul in seven horcruxes to attain immortality and gain ultimate power. That will make my list any day.

2. Richard III (Richard III - Shakespeare): Richard is who I believe to be the ugliest of all Shakespearean men - both in appearance and character. Richard's only motivation is power and he is prepared to take down anyone who stands in his path.

3. Humbert Humbert (Lolita - Nabokov): Arguably the most cunning characters of all-time, Humbert Humbert is the lowest of the low.

4. Rabbit (Rabbit, Run - Updike): Not a villain or criminal, but certainly a degenerate. Rabbit's inability to find satisfaction in life brings a lot of pain to many people in his life.

5. Stanley Kowalski (A Streetcar Names Desire - Williams): One of the ultimate bad boys of literature, Stanley's uncontrollably rage and violence sends his wife's sister into a mental institution after raping her. Sesh.

6. Patrick Bateman (American Psyco - Easton Ellis): The scariest kind of criminal; a serial killer with a mask of sanity.

7. Long John Silver (Treasure Island - Louis Stevenson): A one-legged pirate determined to take the treasure for himself, this is a degenerate I love to hate.

8. Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye - Salinger): A degenerate I absolutely hate, Holden is the ultimate hypocrite and, to be honest, seems quite contrived. He's the real "phony"!

9. Miss Trunchbull (Matilda - Dahl): I was seriously afraid of Miss Trunchbull as a kid. Ugly, mean and abusive, Miss Trunchbull still gives me the creeps.

10. Napoleon (Animal Farm - Orwell): In my mind, the character who represents everything that is wrong with dictatorships.