Wednesday, April 30, 2008
The story of how this book came to be is almost better than the book itself. Lilly Koppel, a twenty-something writer for the New York Times found a red leather diary in an old steamer trunk in front of her building one afternoon. Having decided it was time to finally clear out the basement, the building management put a bunch of trunks and other items out at the curb to be thrown away. Many of the items had been languishing in the basement for over 70 years. Seeing this mountain of old trunks, Lily's curiosity got the better of her, and she literally went dumpster diving. She came away with the diary, a vintage coat, a telegram and a few other odds and ends. As soon as she opened the diary and began reading, she was hooked. Lily read the diary and was fascinated by the young Florence Wolfson who had written the diary from 1929 to 1934. Florence had written an entry in the diary every day for five years from the ages of 14 to 19. Once again her curiosity wouldn't let her rest, and Lilly began to do some research on some of the people and places in the diary. Through a chance meeting, she teamed up with a private investigator who later found Florence Wolfson Howitt. Lilly contacted and met Florence who is now in her 90s and splits her time between Connecticut and Florida. Florence is thrilled to have her diary back and loves reading about the young girl she once was.
Lilly begins visiting Florence on a regular basis and develops a friendship with Florence. She also interviews many of Florence's family and friends, as well. With Florence's permission and the help of the interviews, Lilly turns the diary into the book, The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal. It would be an understatement of monumental proportion to say that this book is interesting. I was amazed at how 'modern' Florence was as a teen in the early 30s. She lived life to the fullest. She wanted to experience everything that life had to offer. She loved writing, drawing, painting and photography. She was also very emotional and enjoyed multiple relationships with both men and women. At times, Florence seems fearless, and at other times she seems like a frightened little girl. In many ways, Florence was ahead of her time, and she felt that she didn't really fit in anywhere.
As I said earlier, I love the premise behind this book. I love the way the project began. I loved reading about Florence and New York of the early 1930s. I loved discovering this unique woman who flouted convention and didn't want to marry a man and settle down simply because that's what society said she should do. My one complaint about the book is the fact that the writing sometimes felt disjointed. Koppel used the diary entries and filled in with background information she received from Florence and others. This led to choppiness and a writing style that didn't really flow that well sometimes. However, this is just a small quibble. This is a fascinating look into a time that has long since been lost. My only regret is that Florence didn't become a writer herself.
Monday, April 28, 2008
"Four “obsessive” years in the making, this poetic exploration of the Human Genome encompasses 1000 pages – over four Sequences - of poems and poetic reflections interwoven with short extracts from interviews, academic papers, science websites, newspaper reports, poetry and books. Ranging from the mapping of the Genome and examination of the essence of its chemical ‘letters’, to the surrounding ethical issues and practical developments, the project also explores the Human Genome’s relation to areas such as religion, medicine, science, ecology and poetry. To reflect its interwoven ‘genomic’ nature, the project is presented here online as a ‘living’ work, inviting suggestions, ideas or extracts that might be further woven into the ‘genome’ of the project in the future."
I haven't had time to really look at the site as much as I would like to, but it looks fascinating. I don't normally think of someone artistic being interested in science. However, it appears that Ms. Ferguson has incorporated the two in a very unique way. I'll definitely be spending some time reading these poems over the next few days. Don't you just love the illustration from the site?
"It seems that as soon as society relinquished witchcraft as the crime for which to punish an overtly liberated woman, it settled on madness as the reason to incarcerate her. As Appignanesi observes, “Patients could well find themselves the victims of a doctor’s prejudice about what kind of behavior constituted sanity: this could all too easily work against women who didn’t conform to the time’s norms of sexual behavior or living habits.”
So in the span of a couple weeks, I've read a poetry collection, a debut novel and read a review of a nonfiction book that all deal with women and mental illness in one form or another. That's one of the reasons that I love reading -- you just never know where books will take you.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Friday, April 25, 2008
All you have to do is:
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.
The book that just happens to be the closest to me is the one I just reviewed, Love over Scotland, by Alexander McCall Smith. The sixth, seventh, and eighth sentences on page 123 are as follows:
"But I won't get you a cup, Bertie, as we don't want you wanting to rush off to the little boys' room for a tinkle in the middle of the audition, do we? Bertie felt his heart stop with embarrassment. It was bad enough for his mother to say such things in any circumstances, but for her to say it here, in the middle of the Queen's Hall, with the eyes of the world upon him, was horror itself."
I'm not going to tag anyone right now, but if you haven't done this one (which I hadn't) please consider yourself tagged. Thanks, Margaret.
McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and was educated there and in Scotland. He became a law professor in Scotland, and it was in this role that he first returned to Africa to work in Botswana, where he helped to set up a new law school at the University of Botswana. For many years he was Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, and has been a visiting professor at a number of other universities elsewhere, including ones in Italy and the United States. He is now a Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh.
In addition to his university work, McCall Smith was for four years the vice-chairman of the Human Genetics Commission of the UK, the chairman of the British Medical Journal Ethics Committee, and a member of the International Bioethics Commission of UNESCO. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including The Crime Writers' Association Dagger in the Library Award; the United Kingdom's Author of The Year Award in 2004 and Sweden's Martin Beck award. In 2007 he was made a CBE for his services to literature in the Queen's New Year Honors List.
Alexander McCall Smith currently lives in Edinburgh with his wife Elizabeth (an Edinburgh doctor), and their two daughters Lucy and Emily. His hobbies include playing wind instruments, and he is the co-founder of an amateur orchestra called "The Really Terrible Orchestra" in which he plays the bassoon and his wife plays the horn.O.K., finally let me tell you a little about the book I just finished, Love Over Scotland. This is the third installment of the 44 Scotland series, which began as a serial in The Scotsman newspaper. This book continues to look at the lives of the main characters of 44 Scotland Street. There's Domenica MacDonald, an anthropologist who has just left for the Malacca Straits to study modern-day pirates. Then, there's Irene and Stuart Pollock and their precocious six-year old Bertie. In addition, there's Pat, Matthew, and Angus Lordie, along with his dog, Cyril. Smith follows the everyday lives of these characters and gives us a glimpse into the life of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. I have to admit that I wasn't as thrilled with this book as the first two in the series, but it was still really good. If you haven't yet discovered this author, please give him a try. He has much to offer no matter what you're in the mood for.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I'm a very moody reader. That's one of the reasons I've had trouble in the past completing reading challenges. I have every intention of reading the books on my list when I'm supposed to read them, but when the time comes I may not be in the right mood. So, I guess it's not really surprising that my reading moods tend to shift with the seasons, as well. I do find that I read more books with exotic settings during the summer months. I love summer and want to revel in it. In the winter months, I like to read books set in snow-covered places with roaring fires and lots of hot chocolate. However, I don't necessarily read 'light' (in tone or volume) books during the summer or while on vacation. In fact, I love to take a big book with me that I can enjoy for the entire vacation -- something I've been wanting to read and haven't had the time or energy to devote to. I love having something I'm really looking forward to reading when I go on vacation because my idea of a vacation is laying on a beach with a good book in one hand and a margarita in the other.
I don't know how many of you have been following this controversy, but I've just heard bits and pieces around the blogging world. Nabokov had left instructions for his last manuscript to be burned upon his death. For years, his son had been trying to decide whether to follow his father's wishes or to publish the manuscript. After much debate, it looks like he's decided to publish it after all. I guess I can see both sides of this debate, but I think I would have had to respect my father's wishes -- well sort of. I don't think I could have burned the manuscript, but I wouldn't publish it either. I would have kept it in the family. Of course, I know after my death, someone could still decide to publish it. So, I don't guess there are any easy answers. But, I do know that there are many who will be anxious to check it out as soon as this book hits the store shelves.
Friday, April 18, 2008
I finished Angela Young's debut novel Speaking of Love last night, which is about a week too late to participate in the discussion over at the Cornflower Book Group. But, I'm glad I read it, anyway. I'll go back and look at the discussion about the book later. Angela Young's book has made the rounds of the blogging world and was actually in the running for the 2008 Spread the Word: Books to Talk About award. There were over 100 books voted on as part of the UK World Book Day celebration, and Speaking of Love made the Top Ten, which is pretty impressive. There's good reason that the book made it that far, and I know we have more to look forward to from Angela Young.
The book is told from the points of view of the three main characters -- Iris, Vivie, and Matthew. Normally, it's pretty rare for me to really enjoy a book told from multiple viewpoints. Inevitably, I'll love the voice of one of the characters and never really like the others. I'll find myself skimming quickly through those portions of the book to get back to the character that I actually care something about. In this case, Angela Young manages to fully flesh out all three characters. I came to care about all three and wanted to know how each of them felt. I never found myself hurrying through one character's chapter to get to the next. In fact, I don't think the book would have worked nearly as well having been told from only one point of view. That being said, I do think the first part of the book starts slowly. The author gives us tiny glimpses into the lives of each of the characters without filling in any of the details. At first, this was a little frustrating for me. I wanted to know NOW! Yes, I know I have a problem with patience. However, the author did a masterful job of giving the reader just the right amount of information. As the book continues, the pace seems to quicken as you begin to put the pieces together. By the third section of the book, the chapters even become shorter, which adds to the sense of building anticipation. It's hard to imagine when you start this book how everything will come together in the end. But, Young does an amazing job of tying up the loose ends and bringing the story together in an honest, realistic way.
O.K., now for the story, which is a little harder to describe without giving away too much. As I said, the three main characters are Iris, Vivie and Matthew. Iris is Vivie's mother, and Matthew is Vivie's childhood friend. There's a complicated set of circumstances, which all come together nicely in the end. However, it's a wee bit rough getting there. Iris loses her mother at an early age, and her father refuses to let her talk about her or mourn for her. Iris finds comfort in her books and the stories that her mother had told her. Iris becomes estranged from her father after meeting a poet and moving in with him. They have a child together -- Vivie. Circumstances begin to repeat themselves and Vivie becomes estranged from Iris. Matthew grew up next door to Vivie and is her best friend. He fell in love with her, but never tells her and she marries someone else. The book is about the power of love and how devastating it can be when the words, "I love you" are never spoken. The power of words and storytelling are also major themes in the book. Iris is a storyteller just as her mother was before her. Vivie's father, Kit, is a poet. Vivie works in a public relations firm writing copy for advertisements. The author separates the four sections of the book with a story that somehow relates to the book. The book also deals with another very serious subject, schizophrenia. The author delves into how mental illness affects the friends and family members of the person with the disease.
I really didn't want this one to end. Like I said earlier, it was a little slow to start with, but the author does this purposefully to build the tension and set the stage for what's to come. It wouldn't have been as powerful had she simply told the story in a straightforward manner. Instead she gives the reader pieces of the puzzle, small at first, to piece together. The more you read, the bigger the pieces get and the more you begin to understand the characters and the choices that they make. This one is highly recommended, and be on the look out because you will hear more from Angela Young.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
O.K., I'm finally going to post a review -- well sort of. It's been so long since I actually read Coraline that I'm afraid I may not be able to do it justice. I didn't take notes or mark passages as I usually do, so I'm pretty much going to just tell you briefly what it's about and give you my feelings about it.
Coraline is a children's book according to Gaiman, but it didn't really feel like a children's book. Of course, good children's books should simply be well-written and tell a good story just like novels written for adults. This one fits the bill nicely. This was my first introduction to Neil Gaiman after having heard rave reviews of his work all over the blogging world. He didn't disappoint. I will definitely be reading more of his work in the future.
The edition I read has some nice supplementary material in the back, including an author interview, some biographical information, and his reasons for writing this particular book. He began writing it for one of his daughters over ten years ago. He says, "I started to write a story about a girl named Coraline. I thought that the story would be five or ten pages long. The story itself had other plans." He goes on to say, It was a story, I learned when people began to read it, that children experienced as an adventure, but which gave adults nightmares. It's the strangest book I've written, it took the longest time to write, and it's the book I'm proudest of."
Coraline moves with her family into a large, older home that has been divided into individual flats. The residents of the other flats are a little on the eccentric side to say the least. There's the man upstairs who lives with a group of mice who play instruments and talk to him. Then there are the elderly sisters who used to be in the theater and who can read fortunes in tea leaves. But, for Coraline, the most intriguing aspect of her new flat is the locked door that opens onto a brick wall. Her mother explains to her that it's simply due to the reconstruction. However, Coraline senses something is not as it seems. One day, when her parents are out, she gets the key for the locked door and literally opens a door into another world -- an alternate world. On the other side of the door, there is a flat that looks exactly like her flat, but better. In fact everything seems similar but better in this new world, including her parents. Coraline's room is prettier in this new world and is filled with toys and books that seem to be alive. But, things change quickly and it's obvious that her new parents don't exactly have her best interests at heart. As Coraline explores, things begin to deteriorate quickly, and she fears that she'll never get back to her real life in her real home with her real parents. In fact, she eventually discovers that she may be banished to live behind a mirror forever.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was creepy and fun all at the same time. The edition that I read also has some wonderful black and white drawings that are quite scary. It's a short book that can be read quickly, and I highly recommend it. I can't wait for some more Neil Gaiman. Many of you are experts on him, so what do you think? Where should I go next?
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I did actually get some reading done, as well. I finished Coraline by Neil Gaiman and Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey, which is a short poetry collection in honor of National Poetry Month. I am reading Speaking of Love by Angela Carter, which was discussed at the April Cornflower Book Group, but I didn't get it finished in time. However, I'm enjoying it, and will review all three of these in the next several days.
The new job is going great. I'm back at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College as the Coordinator of Library Services for North Campus. This is where I started my library career while I was working on my MLIS. Yesterday was exciting but a little overwhelming, as well. There's a good deal to do to get myself oriented and organized. My main responsibilities will be reference, instruction and collection development. I'll also be doing some supervision, which is new for me. That's the part I'm a little anxious about because I don't like conflict and want everyone to get along. Hopefully, I'll get settled into a routine soon and will be back to posting regularly.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Between forest and field, a threshold
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
- Total number of books for the month: 7
- Total number of books for 2008: 24
- Total number of pages: 1989
- Total number of pages for 2008: 7,183
- Number of fiction: 6
- Number of nonfiction: 0
- Poetry: 1
- YA Literature: 1
- Reading challenge books: 3
- Book club/discussion group books: 1
- Arcs: 0
- Books reviewed: 7 (links are to the original reviews)
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Book of Lost Things by John ConnollyNative Guard by Natasha Trethewey
I've never been a great reader of poetry. I'm not sure exactly why. I think it has something to do with the fact that in school, we were forced to read awful poems that nobody could understand. I understand that in poetry the author must use symbolism to get a message across. After all, poems are stories told in relatively few words. But, for me they have to tell a story of sorts. The language must be beautiful and clear. I've just recently read a book that may just change my mind regarding poetry. It's the selection for my book club this month and is entitled Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey. From the blurb on the back of the book, "Through elegiac verse that honors her mothers and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South -- where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey's resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history." Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for this work.
As the blurb on the book says, the poems in the first part of the book are about Trethewey's mother and the abuse that the author witnessed as a child. Here's an example from the first part of the book.
After Your Death
First, I emptied the closets of your clothes,
threw out the bowl of fruit, bruised
from your touch, left empty the jars
you bought for preserves. The next morning,
birds rustled the fruit trees, and later
when I twisted a ripe fig loose from its stem,
I found it half eaten, the other side
already rotting, or -- like another I plucked
and split open -- being taken from the inside:
a swarm of insects hollowing it. I'm too late,
again, another space emptied by loss.
Tomorrow, the bowl I have yet to fill.
For me, this really captures life after the death of a loved one. You notice all the little things. You notice the fact that life goes on even though for you it has stopped momentarily. The sun still shines; the birds still sing. You have errands to do. But, it's not the same. It'll never be the same again.
My next choice in honor of Poetry Month is Transformations by Anne Sexton. This is also a part of a couple of reading challenges -- The Year of Reading Dangerously and Once Upon a Time II. If you're a poetry novice like me, you may want to stretch your wings a little and try some poetry this month. You can subscribe to receive a poem a day during the month by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'subscribe.' The Academy of American Poets does something similar. Check it out at www.poets.org.
This book is part of the Canongate Myths Series in which contemporary authors were asked to retell a particular myth in a new way. From the preface, "Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives -- they explore our desires, our fears, our longings, and provide narratives that remind us what it means to be human." Alexander McCall Smith took the myth of Angus who is a part of the Celtic mythology of Ireland and Scotland and re-imagined him. He tells the story of Angus in a series of short stories going back and forth between the earliest days of Angus to the present day.
Angus is a relatively benevolent god who visits people in their dreams and reveals to them their true love. Everyone who sees Angus loves him. " And as they slept, Angus went round the room, stopping here and there, leaving a dream with this one and that one, generous in his dispensing."
The story entitled, "I Dream of You", tells the story of how Angus finds his own true love. Just as he does for others, his true love comes to him in a dream. This beautiful woman continues to come to him in his dreams, but he can't convince her to stay with him. He refuses to eat or drink and does nothing but sit and think about this woman. Until finally, his father, Dagda, was convinced to send people to seek out this girl before Angus dies from love sickness. They find the girl and take Angus to her village but refuse to let him see her right away. He must first consult her father who initially refuses to allow Angus to take her away. Dagda intervenes once again, and Angus is allowed to have her if she agrees. However, it turns out that she spends a year as a woman and a year as a swan. When Angus approaches, he immediately spots the most beautiful swan on the lake and knows that it's Caer. "Angus stood upon the shore. He stretched out his arms, and they were wings, great swan-wings, white to the pinions; he became a swan. She saw him, turning her neck as swans will do, and he flew to her. Then together they rose above the waters of the lake and circled its shore several times. The sound of their beating wings was the sound of a heartbeat, the sound of blood in the veins, the very sound of life; and they rose, and flew away to the north, to be together, lovers as swans, as man and woman. Angus, giver of dreams and love, now the recipient of both."
I've already ordered another title from the Canongate Myths Series entitled Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. This is a retelling of the myth of Odysseus from the viewpoint of Penelope and her maids.
About King of Lies From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Hart's stunning debut, an exceptionally deep and complex mystery thriller, compares favorably to the best of Scott Turow. Jackson Workman Pickens, whom most people call "Work," is a struggling North Carolina criminal defense attorney. Work has wrestled with inner demons for most of his life, especially after the death of his mother and the disappearance of his wealthy father, Ezra Pickens, a highly successful lawyer who took him into his practice. Trapped in a loveless marriage and haunted by poor emotional choices and his sister's psychological trauma, Work finds himself under suspicion when his father's corpse surfaces more than a year after Ezra was last seen alive. Work's quest for the truth behind his father's demise opens old wounds and forces him to face the consequences of his own decisions. Few readers will be able to resist devouring this tour-de-force in one or two sittings—or clamoring for more John Hart.
About Down River From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Hart surpasses his bestselling debut, The King of Lies (2006), with his richly atmospheric second novel, which offers a tighter plot, more adroit pacing and less angst. Five years earlier, Adam Chase was arrested for murder, largely on the basis of his stepmother's sworn testimony against him. He was acquitted, but nearly everyone, including his father, still thinks he did it, and Adam's deep bitterness has kept him away from home ever since. Now, at the request of a childhood friend, he's back in Salisbury, N.C., where all the old demons still reside and new troubles await. The almost Shakespearean snarl of family ties is complicated by a very modern struggle between economic progress and love for the land, between haves and have-nots. Throughout, Hart expertly weaves his main theme: that by their freedom of choice, humans are capable of betrayal but also of forgiveness and redemption. This book should settle once and for all the question of whether thrillers and mysteries can also be literature.
Hart is currently working on his third book, and the movie rights for the first novel have been sold.