A List of Mid-Year Favorites

So it's about half-way through 2011 (!!!) and when Beth from Bookworm Meets Bookworm posted her mid-year favorites, I decided I wanted to play along. The first half of the year has been pretty consistent reading wise. I've maintained at least a book a week, sometimes even two. I've read a total of 35 books since January 1, 2011, and among those, these are my favorite six titles:

1. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (1987): One of my favorite bloggers, Ben from Dead End Follies, recommended this one and assured me I would love it. Well, he was right and it still remains my favorite book read so far this year. Norwegian Wood is a book about memory and the memory of love, and how it stays with us even when the one we love is gone. High-five, Ben. Fantastic read.

2. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003): Simply put, I adored this book. The Namesake examines the immigration experience of a Bengali family with a focus on the second generation. It speaks to the psychological disjucture and cultural displacement that is associated with belonging to two very different cultures.

3. Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides (2002): This is a truly amazing book. Middlesex is a novel that is preoccupied with splits and divides; within our identity, our desires, our family, our culture and our place in the world. Beth from Bookworm Meets Bookworm recommended this one - I'm really thankful that all of my favorite book bloggers have great taste in books. (No doubt part of the reason they are my favorite.)

4. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood (1988): Margaret Atwood is one of my top three favorite authors. In Cat's Eye, I read a whole new side of Atwood's and enjoyed every minute of it. Cat's Eye is about growing up and going back home. Per usual, Atwood includes elements of social and feminist comment in her work, exploring the idea of adulthood and questioning whether one can ever truly grow up.

5. How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely (2009): I don't think I have ever laughed so much reading a book than I have while reading this one. A satire of the publishing industry, Hely's novel exposes its hypocrisies, lampooning the majority of today's best-selling authors.

6. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010): Since it won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this book has been talked about quite a bit. Egan connected a multitude of characters over a span on 50 years and explores themes of time and memory, the self-destruction and the disappointments that inevitably ensue as we age, and the redemption and second chances we get to take, if we're lucky. A beautify complicated novel that is not confusing in the least.

Honorable Mentions:


Passing by Nella Larson

"I've often wondered why more coloured girls never 'passed' over. It's such a frightfully easy thing to do. If one's the type, all that's needed is a little nerve."

I reread this one to finish up the Back to the Classics Challenge to fulfill a reread from high school or college. I first read this in my AP English class (I can't remember which year) and didn't remember much about it except that I liked it.

Nella Larson was an author of the Harlem Renaissance. In her second novel, Passing, we meet Irene and her childhood friend Clare. While Irene embraces her African American heritage, Clare, a fair-skinned and elegant black woman, is married to a white man who is unaware of her ethnicity; she is "passing" for a white woman. When the two women meet again years later they each face their black cultural consciousness in very different ways. The consequences of Clare's "passing" proves to be more complex than she first thought and eventually prompts Irene to reconsider her own ideas about race.
She was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race! The thing that bound and suffocated her... Irebe Redfield wished, for the first time in her life, that she had not been born a negro. For the first time she suffered and rebelled because she was unable to disregard the burden of race. It was, she cried silently, enough to suffer as a woman, and individual, on one's own account, without having to suffer for the race as well.
Through the dual figures of Clare and Irene, Passing examines the complexities and intricacies of racial identity in the Harlem Renaissance. It also explores women's sexuality and how it's repression is related to racial repression. Larson conveys the ideas of pretentiousness and the false authenticity associated with Clare's misleading identity to satirize the ambitions of the African-American bourgeoisie in 1920's New York.

One of my favorite things about this novel is that Larson leaves much of the story open-ended. We are not left with a definitive conclusion, and there are many ways of interpreting the underlying issues of the novel. It's a shorter novel, but it packs a punch.

Publisher: Penguin Classics, 1929


Top Ten Bookish Websites, Apps and Organizations

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this weeks Top Ten Tuesday lists websites, apps and organizations that aren't book blogs.

1. The Guardian books: Book news, reviews and interviews - The Guardian book section is awesome because it covers a diverse group of authors and book news. The blog is also a very worthwhile read.

2. Publishers Weekly: International news website for all things in the book industry.

3. The Millions: An online magazine that covers books, art and culture. I love their variety of book lists and reviews.

4. Paris Review: One of my favorite things about the Paris Review is that every author interview they've ever published is available online. The Kurt Vonnegut interview circa 1977 is especially worth a read.

5. Bookshelf Porn: I love a good bookshelf and this site is literally like porn for book lovers.

6. Goodreads: I like Goodreads because it helps me keep track of what I read in an organized way (by date, page number, publication year, etc.). I don't use it too much to interact with other readers - I mostly tweet for that kind of stuff.

7. Book Cover Archive: I'm a big fan of cover art. This site is an archive of book designs that are awesome.

8. wurdle: I've had this one on my iPhone for awhile - basically you create as many words as you can in a certain amount of time. The bigger the word, the higher the score.

9. Sporcle: "Mentally stimulating diversions," Sporlce is a site of quizzes that cover many different topics. My favorite is the literature and language sections.

10. Flashlight Worthy Books: Not all these recommendations can be trusted (I learned that the hard way) but there are many lists that have introduced me to noteworthy books.


Back to the Classics Challenge Complete!

Hosted by Sarah from Sarah Reads Too Much, the Back to the Classics Challenge began in January and ends June 30th. (Sarah later pushing the end date back to December 31st, but I wanted to try and stick to the original date.)

8 goals to complete:

1. A banned book
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence (1928)

2. A book with a wartime setting (any war)
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

3. A Pulitzer Prize (fiction) winner or runner up
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)

4. A Children's/Young Adult Classic
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)

5. 19th century classic
Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola (1867)

6. 20th century classic
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (1927)

7. A book you think should be considered a 21st century classic
Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides (2002)

8. Re-read a book from your high school/college classes
Passing by Nella Larson (1929)
*review coming soon

Done, done and done! Cheers to a summer of reading whatever my little heart desires.

image via Booklover


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I never read Little Women when I was a girl. I decided to pick it up for a YA classic of the back to the classics challenge, hosted by Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much. I was excited to finally get around to reading this much-loved classic. Well, I feel kind of bad about this, because I know this is a favorite among many, but I didn't like it. Usually the faster I read a book, the more I like it. This one took me 20 days, which is quite long for me. Mostly, the book bored me.

Little Women is the classic story of idealized 19th century family life that examines a girl's growth and progress into womanhood. I wish I would have read this as a young girl, because I think I would have been able to relate to it more. Instead, I found it dull. I never felt invested in the story; rather than take an emotional journey with the characters, I felt like I was simply reading about it, disconnected.

Publisher: Barnes and Noble Classics, 1868


Top Ten Sexiest Male Authors

I decided to mix it up for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. There are many reasons I love being a book blogger - mostly because I have "met" so many great people who share my love for books. But rather than get sentimental about that, I thought it would be fun to give you all a little eye-candy and highlight the best looking authors.


Ernest Hemingway/ William Faulkner

Jack Kerouac/ Joshua Ferris

Galway Kinnell/ Paul Auster

Sebastian Junger/ Langston Hughes

Frederic Beigbeder/ John Irving


Kurt Vonnegut on The Shapes of Stories

In an effort to keep it light this on this lovely Saturday morning, here is a humorous KV video - a short lecture on the shapes of stories. Enjoy.


The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

The Brooklyn Follies and I spent four glorious days together. I wish it would have lasted longer, but it had to end sometime. This is one of those books that took me in from the start. Paul Auster has this gift that makes me wish I could abandon all of my commitments and simply sit outside and read his books for days on end.

Brooklyn has long been known for the possibility of second chances since immigrants began flocking to New York in the late 1800's. It seems that this is a timeless curiosity, as Auster implies the borough still has this special hold on it's inhabitants. But here is the thing about The Brooklyn Follies, it's not a book I can summarize in a way that will draw you in unless I give the good parts away. So, you'll have to settle for the generalization that this novel is gracefully strange and compelling, so full of human truths, you can't help but connect with it.
When you've lived as long as I have, you tend to think you've heard everything, that there's nothing left that can shock you anymore. You grow a little complacent about your so-called knowledge of the world, and then, every once in a while, something comes along that jolts you out of your smug cocoon of superiority, that reminds you all over again that you don't understand the first thing about life.
Of the Auster I've read, this is my favorite. If you enjoy an interesting and suspenseful story with a deeper meaning behind it, you will certainly enjoy this book. If you identify with themes of redemption, second chances, and the power of human connections, then read this. There are also wonderful bookish details embedded throughout that I can't imagine any bibliophile would be disappointed with this novel.
She had the story, and when a person is lucky enough to live inside a story, to live inside an imaginary world, the pains of this world disappear. For as long as the story goes on, reality no longer exists.
Publisher: Picador, 2006


My TBR and why I don't need to buy books until August

After I went to the Memorial Day book sale at Half Price Books I decided I was going to try and go 60 days without buying any books. Lately I have been buying them faster than I can read them. While I know many of you have massive TBR piles of hundreds and hundreds of books (something I can't fathom) mine is growing a little too tall for comfort. I want to widdle away at my TBR for the next couple of weeks.

It's only been 16 days since I decided to wait 60, and I already have the urge to go book shopping. In an effort to stifle that urge, I'm hoping you can tell me what books you've read that are sitting on my TBR pile that you especially enjoyed.


Favorite Awww Moments in Books

Favorite awww moments in books: the best of the bittersweet moments in literature. Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and he Bookish. *Warning: contains some serious spoilers*

1. When Henry walks into Clare's room after she has grown old waiting for him to return in Audry Niffennegger's The Time Traveler's Wife

2. When the birds fly by Mr. Blacks window right after he fixes his hearing aid and Oscar narrates, "We looked at each other. Then out of nowhere, a flock of birds flew by the window, extremely fast and incredibly close. Maybe twenty of them. Maybe more. But they also seemed like just one bird, because somehow they all knew…" via Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

3. When Gogol goes back to the hat store and buys the velvet hat for Moushumi - "He would give it to her on her birthday, in spite of the fact that he had no idea when her birthday is." - in Jumpa Lahiri's The Namesake.

4. When Newland Archer walks away from Ellen's apartment in Paris in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.

5. When Toru tells Naoko "I have a million things to talk to you about. All I want in this world is you. I want to see you and talk. I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning." in Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood

6. From Neil Gaimen's American Gods: "'Love you, babes,' said Shadow. 'Love you, puppy,' said Laura. Shadow put down the phone. When they got married Laura told Shadow that she wanted a puppy, but their landlord had pointed out they weren’t allowed pets under the terms of their lease. 'Hey,' Shadow had said, 'I’ll be your puppy. What do you want me to do? Chew your slippers? Piss on the kitchen floor? Lick your nose? Sniff your crotch? I bet there’s nothing a puppy can do I can’t do!' And he picked her up as if she weighed nothing at all and began to lick her nose while she giggled and shrieked, and then he carried her to the bed." <3

7. When Alma finally meets Leo Gursky in Nicole Krauss' The History of Love

8. When Charlie Bucket unwraps the golden ticket and runs home in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

9. When Christopher finds his mother's letters in Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

10. When Rosie kills August in Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants


The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

In The Unit, Holmqvist introduces us to a world in which "dispensables" - single women over the age of 50 and single men over the age of 60 without children and without jobs in progressive industries - are escorted out of their home and brought to The Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material where they are subjected to pharmaceutical tests and forced to donate organs, first kidneys, skin and eventually a final donation. Because these dispensable citizens are no longer contributing to society in a conventional way, their organs are harvested and given to more productive members of society.
Anyway: those who safeguard growth and democracy and welfare, they're not the ones who own my life. And life is capital. A capital that is to be fairly divided among the people in a way that promotes reproduction and growth, welfare and democracy. I am only a steward, taking care of my vital organs.
Interesting premise; poor execution. Holmqvist didn't built her world in a believable way. Overall I felt it lacked depth; there wasn't enough for me to be invested in the characters or the premise and much of the novel felt contrived. I also had some issues with the believability of certain events near the end of the book. I'm normally a fan of dystopians, but compared to the works of Atwood and Orwell, Holmqvist didn't measure up.

However, it wasn't a total flop. The book made me think about the way we treat our non-conventional citizens and it explores the power of female friendships and the human will to survive. I'd say the novel is only semi-interesting and while it did provoke me to think outside of the box, these moments were so few and far between that overall it was disappointing. If you're looking to read a dystopian done right, I'd suggest you skip this one and try The Handmaid's Tale or Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood.

Publisher: Other , 2006


Jen Campbell and the weird things customers say in bookshops

I stumbled across this gem yesterday and wanted to bring it to your attention.

Jen Campbell from this is not the six word novel works a bookshop in London and began posting weird things customers say in bookshops, a series of strange conversations she has had while working at the bookstore.

If you haven't already read these, I highly suggest you head over to her blog and check them out. I guarantee a laugh from it. Among my favorites:

Customer: Do you have any books on the dark arts?
Me: ...No.
Customer: Do you have any idea where I could find some?
Me: Why don't you try Knockturn Alley?
Customer: Where's that?
Me: Oh, the centre of London.
Customer: Thanks, I'll keep my eyes peeled for it.


Customer: Do you have a copy of Jane Eyre?
Me: Actually, I just sold that this morning, sorry!
Customer: Oh. Have you read it?
Me: Yep, it's one of my favourite books.
Customer: Oh great *sits down beside me*, could you tell me all about it? I have to write an essay on it by tomorrow.


Old Man: Hi do you have books on sex?
Me: I think we have a couple, yes.
Old Man: Excellent; I've had a hip replacement, and I wasn't sure how long I had to wait, you see.
Me: Right.
Old Man: I bet you could look it up on that computer there, though couldn't you?
Me: ... I suppose I could, if I needed to.
Old Man: Excellent thing, the internet.


There are loads more over at Jen's blog. Please go read them. They are priceless.

You can also follow her on twitter.



The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

So this is supposed to be about the how, the when, and the why, and what of reading - about the way that, when reading is going well, one book leads to another and to another, a paper trail of theme and meaning; and how, when it's going badly, when books don't stick or take; when your mood and the mood of the book are fighting like cats, you'd rather do anything but attempt the next paragraph, or reread the last one for the tenth time.
The Polysyllabic Spree is an account of the books Nick Hornby buys and reads over the course of a year. It's made up of a collection of essays he wrote for The Believer in which he chornicles his literary andventures month by month. Even though Nick Hornby reads some serious stuff, he doesn't take it too seriously in this column. He writes about books in a way that makes me:

a. happy I'm an avid reader
b. want to read more books
c. wish he never ended this column

The Polysyllabic Spree is hilarious as well as dignified. He writes about books and the act of reading with such heart and humor. I can't help but think the majority of bibliophiles are quite similar because this book is me; someone who struggles to keep up with their reading appetite, continuously buying books faster than she can read them. This is also Nick Hornby. Nick Hornby and I are the same person (not really at all - he's far more interesting and funny than I'll ever be).
Books are, lets face it, better than everything else. If we played Cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best of any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time... Even if you love movies and music as much as you do books, it's still, in any given four week period, way, way more likey you'll find a great book you haven't read than a great movie you haven't seen, or a great album you haven't heard.
There are so many bookish truths in this collection of essays I could offer you 25 passages that are equal parts awesomeness, but instead I'm just going to tell you to read this book. It's that good. Just be prepared for your TBR list to grow.

Publisher: Believer Books, 2004


A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

"Time's a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?"

Since it won the Pulizter, A Visit from the Goon Squad has been discussed and reviewed quite a bit around the blogosphere. Instead of recapping the 13 chapters (all of which could stand alone) and their non-linear structure, I want to talk about why I think this book is so special. Jennifer Egan has created a unique masterpiece that is unlike anything I've read in quite some time.

Egan has connected a multitude of memorable characters over a span of 50 years in a storyline that explores time and memory, the self-destruction and disappointments that inevitably ensue as we age and the redemption and second chances that we take, if we're lucky. These themes may seem hackneyed, but the narrative structure in which she writes them are altogether unique. It's a beautifully complicated novel, but not confusing in the least.

A Visit From the Goon Squad uses the idea of music and the music industry to convey these themes. Egan connects the relationship of music and life, highlighting their connection of time, to suggest life's tumultuous instances, the disorder and the starts and stops, the "pauses" and restarts, all work to create our reality, whether its the one we've planned for or not. Egan suggests its the disorder that ends up organizing our lives.
The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn't really over, so you're relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and That. Time. The. End. Is. For. Real.
Again, this device may seem trite, but she executes it in a way that is completely inimitable. The entire novel is so delicately weaved, connecting ideas that, to me, are incredibly relevant; the overall effect is quite refreshing. If this is how the future of fiction reads, I couldn't be more excited.

Publisher: Anchor Books, 2010


Reading in Review: May

May was a little slow in the reading department, probably because real life got in the way. But that didn't hold me back too much, as I finished four novels, two of which were Pulitzers.

Books read: 4

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
84, Charing Road by Helene Hanff
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (review coming soon)

Favorite May read: Middlesex

Normally I break down the stats of my monthly reading, but since it was a slower month I'll just say my May reading was largely American authors (save Tóibín) and not very diverse (all were white). I'm going to work on diversifying my June reading.

In a related not, I've got 30 days to finish the Classics Challenge, in which I have two books (of eight) left to read; Little Women (to satisfy the YA Classic) and a reread from college or high school, TBD. I'm confident I can finish on time, although I bought a slew or books in May that I am dying to open.   
photo via BookLover