Memorial Day Book Sale

I didn't need any new books, especially after last week, but since Half Price Books was have a 20% off Memorial Day Weekend Sale I knew I'd end up going and buying more books.

The goods:

The Wild Things, Dave Eggers: Eggers stuff is pretty great and this one sounds unlike anything of his that I've read. It's based on Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

The Shipping News, E. Anne Proulx: I've been on a Pulitzer kick lately and since I've never read any Proulx I'm thinking this will be a good place to start. The synopsis tells me it's a "vigorous, darkly comic, and at times magical portrait of the contemporary American family".

13, rue Therese, Elena Mauli Shapiro: I love finding new releases at Half Price Books because, well, I hate paying full price for a hardcover. I've read god things about Shapiro's debut.

The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster: Auster is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. We'll see if that's still the case after Brooklyn Follies. (I'm hoping it is.)

Total: $23.59, which is less than the price of one brand-new hardcover (money in the baaank!)

So there it is. I feel like I'm pretty well stocked for the next few months and I'm going to see if I can make it 60 days without buying any more books. Unless of course, there is another sale. They are just too hard to pass up.

Top Ten Reads for the Beach

This Memorial Day Weekend marked the official start of summer. It's perfect timing to list the Top Ten beach reads, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

1. Harry Potter Series (J.K. Rowling): I don't think I need to explain this one... perfect for the beach.

2. Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salmon Rushdie): A story about a storyteller; it's children's story told in the form of a novel and it's truly wonderful.

3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon): Told in a unique narrative voice, this one isn't super uplifting but it's certainly memorable.

4. Dream When You're Feeling Blue (Elizabeth Berg): I read this one in Barbados - light enough for the beach but still very interesting.

5. 84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff): A short and sweet little number that will leave you smiling.

6. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe): This book isn't light, but it's straight forward enough to make it a beach read.

7. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi): A graphic memoir is great for the beach, and this one is especially interesting.

8. The English Major (Jim Harrison): I read this one on a sailing trip (there were beaches involved) - it details the journey of a divorced old man and his road trip across the US.

9. The Book of Illusions (Paul Auster): I read this book in one day - it's smart and unputdownable.

10. Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen): Another directly told novel, this one follows Jacob Janikowski and the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.


How to Impress Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I find myself going back to this helpful list time and time again. If only Haruki Murakami was on it.

via BuzzFeed


Is it October yet?

Just last week I read Middlesex, the 2003 Pulitzer winner. I may be one of the last book bloggers to discover the magic that is Eugenides - he is truly amazing. Then I read about his latest work, The Marriage Plot, which will be released in October of this year. Then just yesterday The Millions released the opening lines of his latest novel and I don't think I've been this excited about a new release since I was 13 and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets came out. Really.

Via The Millions, the opening passage of The Marriage Plot:
To start with, look at all the books. There were her Edith Wharton novels, arranged not by title but date of publication; there was the complete Modern Library set of Henry James, a gift from her father on her twenty-first birthday; there were the dog-eared paperbacks assigned in her college courses, a lot of Dickens, a smidgen of Trollope, along with good helpings of Austen, George Eliot, and the redoubtable Bronte sisters. There were a whole lot of black-and-white New Directions paperbacks, mostly poetry by people like H.D. or Denise Levertov. There were the Colette novels she read on the sly. There was the first edition of Couples, belonging to her mother, which Madeleine had surreptitiously dipped into back in sixth grade and which she was using now to provide textual support in her English honors thesis on the marriage plot. There was, in short, this mid-sized but still portable library representing pretty much everything Madeleine had read in college, a collection of texts, seemingly chosen at random, whose focus slowly narrowed, like a personality test, a sophisticated one you couldn’t trick by anticipating the implications of its questions and finally got so lost in that your only recourse was to answer the simple truth. And then you waited for the result, hoping for “Artistic,” or “Passionate,” thinking you could live with “Sensitive,” secretly fearing “Narcissistic” and “Domestic,” but finally being presented with an outcome that cut both ways and made you feel different depending on the day, the hour, or the guy you happened to be dating: “Incurably Romantic.”


84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

"If you happen to pass 84, Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much."

I can't remember where I first heard about this book, but it seems to be making the rounds. It's a delightful little read that consists of a collection of letters between Helene Hanff and and Mark Doel, a book buyer for Marks & Co. in London. The letters span 20 years starting in 1949 and offer a glimpse into post-war England and a timeless love for books.
I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.
84, Charing Cross Road speaks to the love of books and the connections readers make with one other as a result. It's an account of bibliophilia at its finest. If you enjoy books about books, I highly recommended this charming little number. The fact that it's non-fiction and this correspondence actually took place makes it all the more worth while.

Publisher: Avon, 1970


Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides

I hadn't gotten old enough yet to realize that living sends a person not into the future but back into the past, to childhood and before birth, finally, to commune with the dead... In this life we grow backwards.

When I picked up this book I was expecting to read a narrative about a hermaphrodite. On the surface that is what I got, however it turned out to be much more than that. Middlesex is Eugenides' magnum opus, a grand narrative that weaves the story of three generations of Greek-Americans into an unforgeable piece of literature. The synopsis of this novel claims it is a "reinvention of the American epic" and I think that is an accurate description. The work as a whole felt organic and pieced together many working parts so perfectly that I was left in awe.

The novel is preoccupied with the idea splits and divides; within our identity, our desires, our families, our culture and our place in the world. Our narrator, Calliope (or Callie, and later Cal) is a personification of this divide and inhabits the vulnerable threshold of these boarders. Among other things, he is divided between mind and body, between reason and passion. As the title implies, Middlesex raises questions about gender identity and removes the preconceived notions that these gender distinctions are black and white. It examines the difference between gender and sex, and the extent to which these identities are socially molded verses genetically inherited. In what capacity do our genes dictate our destiny?
Parents are supposed to pass down physical traits to their children, but it's my belief that all sorts of other things get passed down to: motifs, scenarios, even fates.
Eugenides also highlights the theme of escape and the anonymity of recreation it allows. He explores this idea on many levels, from escaping one's homeland to escaping one's body and finally, escaping life (in death) and its implications:
Out in these streets people were embroiled in a thousand matters, money problems, love problems, school problems. People were falling in love, getting married, going to drug rehab, learning how to ice-skate, getting bifocals, studying for exams, trying on clothes, getting their hair cut, and getting born. And in some houses people were getting old and sick and were dying, leaving others to grieve. It was happening all the time, unnoticed, and it was the thing that really mattered.What really mattered in life, what give it weight, was death.
This is truly an amazing book. If you haven't already read it, I highly recommended you do so. I should also mention this would be a great choice for a book club, as I feel there is much to discuss. Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.

Publisher: Picador, 2002

New Books!

Thanks to the wonderful Half Price Books, I got all four books for just under $20. A steal I tell you, a steal.

From the bottom up:

Howards End, E. M. Forester: My last trip to Half Price Books prompted me to buy a lovely hardcover edition of Zadie Smith's On Beauty. I couldn't wait to read it until Greg from The New Dork Review of Books mentioned that it's even better with a working understanding of Howards End. Now I can't pick up On Beauty until I take Greg's advice because I just feel like I'd be missing out. (Thank you for the heads up, Greg!)

The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby: I haven't read any Nick Hornby. Ever. While I know this isn't typical Hornby, it sounded really neat. It's a collection of fourteen months of his essays from The Believer magazine described as "a hilarious and true account of one man's struggle with the monthly tide of the books he's bought and the books he's been meaning to read". If I can't relate to that, I don't know what I can relate to. Super excited for this one!

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff: I don't know what made me think this was a newer book published in the last few years, but it's not, as you can tell by the dated edition I bought (which I love!). Turns out it was first published in 1970 (my edition is from 1974) and must have gotten a recent makeover. I guess a book about book shops and book lovers never gets old.

The Unit, Ninni Holmqvist: I had this on my TBR a few years ago and then it disappeared. (I think I read a bad review of it and took it off.) Then it found its way into my hands and I decided all over again I had to read it; a dystopian novel that explores "a society in the throes of a system geared toward eliminating those who do not contribute by a conventional means".


I'm on Goodreads!

I'm not altogether sure how it works just yet, and I'm pretty sure I'm the last book blogger to join, but I'm there! How do you find me? I'm not quite sure of that yet either, but you could probably search for me under my username LiteraryMusings. (I think?) 

Since it's the largest social network of readers, I'm happy to finally be a part of it. 


In (More) Defense of Marginalia

In February I wrote a short defense of marginalia. To me, marginalia makes used books more interesting and borrowed books more personal (let me be clear I don't write in books I borrow - I am referring to my own books that I borrow out, or books I borrow from others who have written their own annotations). It marks ownership and reveals reader's nuances. It's also a way of connecting and responding to the author - alive or dead.

Recently I stumbled across an article in New York Times Magazine that made me quite happy: "What I Really Want Is Someone Rolling Around in the Text", in which Sam Anderson writes a longer, much more eloquent defense of marginalia,
This wasn’t exactly radical behavior — marking up books, I’m pretty sure, is one of the Seven Undying Cornerstones of Highly Effective College Studying. But it quickly began to feel, for me, like something more intense: a way to not just passively read but to fully enter a text, to collaborate with it, to mingle with an author on some kind of primary textual plane.
Then he touches on a ereader fantasy that I found quite interesting. With the advent of ereaders, we have a way of gathering the marginalia that is found written in physical books, most notably the best and most intelligent marginalia written by famous authors and literary critics, and offering the readers an option of viewing this marginalia on their ereader. In short, the ability to read notes from "history's most interesting book markers". He calls this a sort of "readerly utopia" and I couldn't agree more. Amazon has already got something in the works that will enable public note sharing on its Kindle, which may suggest Anderson's fantasy isn't so distant.

For those of you that abhor marginalia (I remember quite a few of you from my last defense) rest assured this feature wouldn't affect your reading experience. As Anderson explains,
I understand the objection, but in the world of e-books, marginalia would be purely value-added, appearing and disappearing at the touch of a button. It would be like the option of watching a film with the directors’ commentary — a nice bonus but also easy to ignore. And it would allow a whole new wave of readers to discover the pleasure of the words in the margins.
Now that people, that would give me reason enough to buy an ereader.

Top Ten Literary Jerks

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

1. Harry Angstrom (Rabbit series, John Updike): To be fair I've only read the first book in the series and I've still got the second sitting on my nightstand, but in book one Rabbit is the ultimate asshole.

2. Victor Ward (Glamorama, Bret Easton Ellis): Completely pretentious and removed from real life, Victor's motto is "the better you look the more you see." He is both a jerk and quite shallow.

3. Dexter (One Day, David Nicholls): Throughout the majority of the book, Dexter shows disregard for others feelings and only concerns himself with, well, himself.

4. Scrooge (A Christmas Carol, Dickens): Ok so he's not all bad, but for the first half of the novel he's a money-loving scumbag who treats everyone around him like crap.

5. Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter series, Rowling): It's not Draco's fault that he was raised by jerks, but anyone who calls Hermione a mudblood is not cool.

7. August (Water for Elepahnts, Gruen): Animal cruelty, even if it was during the depression on a traveling circus train, is not cool. Serious asshole. His actions carry on toward humans as well.

8. Holden Caufield (The Catcher and the Rye, Salinger): Holden Caufield needs to get off his high horse and stop acting like he knows everything. Serious jerk.

9. Inspector Javert (Les Miserables, Hugo): Javert's number one priority is to uphold the law, which means he doesn't show sympathies towards others, even good people.

10. Stanley (A Streetcar Named Desire, Williams): This gent happened to appear on my literary crush list as well (red flag). He is good looking, but also quite mean, beating his wife and raping her sister. Jerk.


Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

I've got to say this one was a bit of a let down. It was my first Tóibín and while I wasn't certain what to expect, I didn't expect such a huge emphasis on the love story that unfolds between our protagonist Ellis, a young Irish girl who moves to Brooklyn in hopes of making a better life for herself, and the Brooklyn native she meets, Tony. I was hoping to learn more about the immigrant experience in the 1950's with a particular focus of the Irish experience in New York, but unfortuantley that took a back burner to the romance.

This isn't to say that I didn't like the novel at all. I believe the way Tóibín constructed an undercurrent of Ellis' transformation and growth was both thoughtful and unique. I also liked that the ending wasn't one-dimensional and left room for thought, but overall the book seemed to be lacking. It was more plot driven than I prefer and lacked the nuances I have come to expect in modern literature. I think this would have been a better read for vacation. But I'm not going to give up on Tóibín yet. I hear The Master is quite different and I'd like to give that one a shot.

Publisher: Scribner, 2009


Top Ten Recommended Books

Book recommendations are a tricky thing, and the people who recommended these titles to me got it right:

1. Fanny and Zooey (Salinger)/ recommended by my friend Ben @TyrusBooks: I didn't like The Catcher in the Rye and neither did he. But he recommended this lesser-known Salinger and I happened to love it.

2. The Yellow Wallpaper (Perkins Gilman)/ recommended by a college English professor: I can't remember what work we were studying I do remember my professor suggesting The Yellow Wallpaper as a complementary text. It was fantastic.

3. Norwegian Wood (Murakami)/recommend by Ben at Dead End Follies: This is a recent read and this book is still glowing in my mind. Best recommendation of the year so far.

4. The Shadow of the Wind (Ruiz Zafon)/recommended by my friend Nicholas: This was pre-book blogging and I hadn't heard any of the hype surrounding this novel. Nicholas told me it was one of his favorites and it quickly became one of mine as well.

5. Dreams from my Father (Obama)/ recommended by my friend Vanessa: I may have picked this one up on my own, but I picked it up after V told me to buy it while we were at our University Bookstore and it was fantastic. She also recently recommended Patti Smith's Just Kids, but I haven't gotten it yet.

6. Persepolis (Satrapi)/ recommended by a college English professor: The same professor that I mentioned above, she clearly knows whats up. She recommended this a few years before the movie came out.

7. The Dud Avocado (Dundy)/ recommended by a college friend: This is a classic example of something I wouldn't have picked up on my own, but loved to pieces.

8. How I Became A Famous Novelist (Hely)/ recommended by Jackie at Farmlane Books: Another recent read that is fresh in my mind, I can't say I would have picked this one up on my own. It's not the type of book I am normally drawn to, but I really liked it a lot.

9. Blankets (Thompson)/ recommended by Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot: I'm not huge into graphic novels, but after I read Nymeth's review I picked this one up and read it in one sitting.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish


How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

"If you could write a book and act like you meant it, the reward was country estates and supple college girls."

A few weeks ago I read a review for this book over at Farmlane Books. When Jackie said she recommended this novel to "anyone with an interest in the publishing industry" I knew I had to read it, and I'm so happy I did. This is the funniest novel I've read in a long time and like Jackie said, if you keep up with the publishing industry I highly recommend you read this book.

Without giving too much away, How I Became A Famous Novelist is a satire of the publishing industry and exposes its hypocrisies, lampooning the majority of today's best-selling authors. If you're well-versed in the New York Times bestselling authors, you'll be able to pick up on the fact that Hely's fictional authors have real-life counterparts (I'm looking at you Dan Brown and you too, James Patterson, and the team of 30 ghost writers you employ).

This book made me consider the publishing industry in a new light. Of course like any industry, it's goal is to make money and this book exposes the cost of that motivation in a thoughtful way. It critiques the current state of popular fiction in America and how it came to be.
Since when has anybody wanted to hear the truth? People hate the truth. It's literally their least favorite thing in the entire universe. People will believe thousands of different lies in succession rather than confront a single scintilla of truth... People don't trot down to Barnes & Noble to pay $24.95 for the truth.
I really can't reccomend this book enough. It was laugh out loud funny, and I never say that. While the overall tone of the book is cynical, it ends in a hopeful note, which in turn makes me hopeful that the industry I love so dearly isn't as dire as it may seem.

Publisher: Black Cat, 2009


Reading in Review: April

Books read: 7

Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola (1867)
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (1999)
How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely (2009)

Favorite April read: Norwegian Wood

Authors of color read: 42%

Non-fiction read: 0%

Non-American authors read: 57%

Books read that are older than me: 28%

Compared to last month I did a much better job incorporating non-American authors into my reading diet. I'm going to try and keep this trend up the best I can. (I made a goal last month to keep this number over 50% - let's see if I can do the same for May.) I had a slow start to the month, and then I participated in Dewey's 24-hour read-a-thon and got right back on the horse. I also completed two more books for the Back to the Classics Challenge, which leaves me with three to go.

I just finished Steve Hely's How I Became a Famous Novelist this morning and my review will be up by tomorrow. I just want to say if Norwegian Wood had not been so amazing, Hely's novel would have been my favorite of the month.

photo via weheartit.