Reading in Public: Librarything Readathon, Aug 22

What are you doing on Sunday, August 22? Nothing, you say? Ok, well then join in the Reading in Public event, hosted by LibraryThing! Sign up on the website with what book you'll be reading, and when, and then find a nice public spot to curl up with a book. With any luck, you can find a nice air-conditioned public spot to curl up, allowing you several hours to turn your own AC off, thereby reducing your monthly AC costs. See? It's even economical.

In honor of the day, LibraryThing t-shirts are also on sale for $9 (instead of the usual $15). The idea is to wear the shirts on Aug 22 to support the event. So hop to it - order a shirt, pick your book and let the world know what you're reading this August!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful week. Happy Hump Day - it's all downhill from here!

Book to Movie: Julie & Julia

I realize I am about a year behind the times on this, both in reading Julie Powell's book, Julie & Julia, and in watching the movie. I reviewed the book last September, well after the initial buzz had come and gone, in honor of my strict read-the-book-before-you-see-the-movie policy. And then I waited nearly a year to finally watch the movie...

Let me tell you, I am very sorry not to have seen it sooner. Nora Ephron, who produced and wrote the screenplay, did an excellent job of weaving together Julie Powell's story of her 524 recipes in 365 days and Julia Child's story of learning to cook. Making allowances for a few forced transitions between 1949 and 2002, the movie was well-done, well-written (a must for any book-to-movie adaptation) and, perhaps most importantly, well acted.

As when reading the book, I found myself identifying with Julie's strange neuroses and oddball breakdowns, her habit of speaking to figures that aren't there and can't hear you, and occasionally - ok, not so occasionally - cussing at the oven when whatever meal I'm attempting to prepare refuses to cooperate. In the end, I was left yearning for more - more Julie, more Julia, and more French food.

Bottom line: If you're like me and you haven't gotten around to seeing it yet, for whatever reason, make it a point to do so. Just make sure you have a bottle of decent wine on hand, as well as a plate or two of butter-rich food, because it will otherwise leave you wanting.

Welcome to Baltimore... or should I say "Bawl'mer"?

I am now an official resident of Maryland! I even bought a car. So long, NYC. Hello, suburbs and water and boats and driving to the grocery store.

In honor of my move, I naturally looked around for good MD-area blogs to follow... and HOW EXCITED WAS I to discover Reading Local: Baltimore, which is both a Baltimore blog AND a book blog? I'd encourage even non-Baltimorons to check it out, as they have some really interesting stuff going up.

I enjoyed one of their posts from last week, in which they excerpted a passage from Henry James on the consistently mis-pronounced nature of place names. Baltimore is one such name:

Can you think of any other places that suffer the same fate? New Orleans "N'awlins" comes to mind.

In other Baltimore-book news, Finny, by Baltimore-born author Justin Kramon, is now available. I'll be reviewing as soon as I get all my books back from storage - I didn't mean to pack that one! - but in the meantime, check out the buzz:

Baltimore and New York in Finny, by Justin Kramon (from Reading Local: Baltimore)
Book Review: FINNY by Justin Kramon (from The Book Lady's Blog)
New Releases for Summer (from the New York Times)

For the Frozen Sea (Quote of the Day)

"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us." Franz Kafka

With credit to Bibliophiliac, on whose blog I first saw this quote.

The Passage: A Sequel

Happy Friday! Happy Humidity! Happy HOP!

I can't believe summer is halfway gone; isn't that a scary thought? I'd like to politely ask Staples to stop pushing "Back-to-School" sales. I'm not even going back to school and that's scary to me.

While I'm requesting, I would like to ask that Justin Cronin hurry up and write the next two books in his trilogy, because I am DYING to read the sequel to The Passage.

I'm pretty patient when it comes to upcoming books. Ok, fine, I'm actually not actually patient when it comes to most anything, but I can usually get past this in the world of waiting for books because I know what follows will be worth the wait. But series books just do me in - I hate not knowing what comes next. I'm itching for the next book in the Wheel of Time series to come out - while taking my time with my re-read to get me through to the next release - and I'm dying for Justin Cronin to just hurry up and finish the second and third books in his trilogy. I waited until Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest was out to consider reading the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - this way I don't have to wait for the next release.

Anyone else like this? Patient for single-volume books, but itching for the next volume of a series/sequel/part of the trilogy?

Many thanks to Jennifer at Crazy for Books for hosting the Book Blogger Hop each Friday. Welcome to new visitors, and thanks for stopping by!

Book Review: The Whisperers by John Connolly (on Bookgasm)

My review of The Whisperers is up on Bookgasm this week. A rather lackluster mystery, unfortunately.

A New Approach to Reading Lists: Five Books Blog

Do you ever get sick of seeing reading lists of hundreds of be-all, end-all titles that everyone must read? There's 1001 book titles list floating around out there somewhere, not to mention all the bestseller lists at the end of each year, plus the classics lists, the subject lists, etc. But it can all get to be too much, making even the most avid of readers feel overwhelmed and under-read.

Not to worry: FiveBooks does it different. The FiveBooks motto is simple:
Become an instant expert: Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject. From Einstein to Keynes, Iraq to the Andes, Communism to Empire. Share in the knowledge and buy the books.
List-creators have so far included Sam Tanenhaus (the editor of the New York Times Book Review), Sophie King (novelist and creative writing professor), and Lev Grossman (novelist and columnist)

Why Books Matter

In her Sunday Salon article this weekend, Rebecca at The Book Lady's Blog posted a link to a spectacular New York Times article on the importance book: The Medium is the Medium.

In it, op-ed columnist David Brooks cites studies that suggests that books improve student test scores, while internet access actually leads to lower math and reading scores. The first study involved over 800 "disadvantaged" students (they never explain what qualifies someone as disadvantaged) 12 books to take home for the summer for three summers. These students subsequently had higher test scores, particularly on reading tests (surprise, surprise?).

My favorite take-away from the article, besides the fact that books trump the internet in the world of making us smarter - duh - was this passage:
But there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group.
The point, then, is less content than medium. By giving students the beginnings of a home library, they left the world of the undereducated and started to think of themselves as readers; students using the internet are not part of any seemingly elite book-ish culture, but rather part of something that people the world around can access.

What is more, readers (in all their stereotypes) are thought of as focused, dedicated people, powering through page after page, devouring book after book. The internet, in its mere existence, encourages readers to get distracted, click around, leave one site for another (why do you think one of the metrics measured on most websites is length of visit?).

I'll admit I'd never thought of this concept before, but Brooks' article set something off in me. What qualifies someone as a "book person"? At what point do we - and do those around us - start thinking of us as book people? Where do we draw the line between reading our books, our precious libraries, and the vast, unending world of the internet? And is the world of the "book person" really so far distant from that of the casual reader or non-reader?

Personally, I believe I was born into my bookworm self. My father's house is lined with bookshelves, quite literally on every spare inch of wall on the first floor and master bedroom. My mother's house is lined with bookshelves in nearly every room, not to mention the teetering stacks of mid-read or to-read or to-gift piles of books scattered across the house. She also works in a bookstore. I, too, have inherited this obsessive book collecting gene; when I packed for my move I had 5 boxes of books and only 4 boxes of clothing. And that doesn't include the books stored in both parent's houses, or the books from my fiancé's apartment.

But neither of my siblings seem to have inherited this same gene; my brother doesn't read (either books or the internet... he's a movie/boating/anti-technology kinda hippie) and my sister reads the internet (while simultaneously listening to techno, watching television and having 3 AIM conversations. And no, I'm not exaggerating here).

So maybe it is a matter of a change in perception, both of oneself and of how other perceive us. Once I was established as a bookworm, maybe I grew into that role, and expanded it, made it my own. In doing so, I have left behind the world of the non-reader - I can no longer fathom what these people think when entering a bookstore (I think: WANT); I can't imagine how their eyes must glaze over when I go on a book tangent; and furthermore, I can no longer understand seeing the world around me without in some way relating what I see and what I learn to what I've seen or want to see in a book.

Goodbye, New York: A Reading List

This is officially my last week as a New Yorker. My belongings are on a moving truck en route to Maryland, and my remaining furniture is being sold off, and I'm living out this week on a mattress with enough clothes and books to last me through the end of July.

How does it feel? Strange, foreign, but a little bit comforting. I love New York, and I always will, but it was just never "home" for me. At the same time, however, I'm already missing it, and the books on my mind today seem to reflect that:

New York Trilogy by Paul Auster - Gifted from my boss when he heard I'd never read Auster, I'm halfway through this and loving every minute of it. Auster has flipped the concept of the mystery novel on its head and truly captured the spirit of the city, at least thus far.

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin - This is truly one of my favorite books of all time. I mentioned last week in my Hop post on favorite authors that I appreciate Helprin's work because of the sheer beauty of his prose, his ability to turn new eyes to the world around him and change the way we see the everyday. Winter's Tale is the first Helprin book I read, and I maintain that it changed the way I look at - and think about - New York, morphing it from a stagnant city of cement into a living, breathing thing. Anyone that visits New York and doesn't think the city itself is alive is missing a vital part of what this city is.

The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming - I think this is only in my head because I've been following the construction of the 2nd Avenue Subway line in NY this week (all 33 blocks of it, which has taken over a century to build), and Flaming's novel follows a worker on the original New York subways. His story centers on an unknown magical power rooted in the subway systems, linked to time travel... while a bit far-fetched, the concept that the subways are some magical being isn't that foreign, as thinking about the vast conglomeration of tunnels and tracks and hidden hovels and all that under our feet is, in truth, quite magical. Read my review from earlier this year here.

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow - I read this as part of a book club on the recommendation of a good friend, and loved it. The history and setting of Doctorow's work speak to the thrum of the city, his language reflecting the people within it. I reviewed this a few months ago as well.

And last, but certainly not least - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and A History of Love by Nicole Krauss. For some reason, these books are permanently linked in my head. I read them back-to-back, and the two authors are married, but I don't know that that explains it. I even reviewed them in brief together last year. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a heartbreaking story of a boy struggling to understand his father's death in the World Trade Center; A History of Love is the story of a girl trying to understand the world and a man trying to find his lost love and lost novel.

Any books you'd recommend to cure any New York withdrawal symptoms experienced? And have you read Mark Helprin (ifnotgoreadMarkHelprinimmediatelynoreallstopeverythinggorightnow)?

One Does Not Love Breathing (Quote of the Day)

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." -Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird
Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. To celebrate, HarperCollins has a series of events going on, as well as a special edition of the book now available.

Many thanks to the Olive Reader blog, from whom I won my own copy of the anniversary edition.

Book Blogger Hop: My Favorite Authors

It's Friday, which means Book Blogger Hop (thanks to Crazy-For-Books for hosting).

Because the Hop posts are on Fridays, this also means I'm going to start moving my "Great Friday" (wherein I provide links and pictures of great book-related stuff, i.e. Great Bookmark Friday, Great Bookends Friday, Great Book Purses Friday, and today's Great Planter Friday) to another day.

But I digress. Welcome to any new visitors from the Hop, and to old visitors - thanks for stopping by! This week, hoppers are asked to talk about their favorite authors. Mine rotate on a weekly, if not daily, basis, so this is particularly difficult, but for now:

1) Gabriel Garcia Marquez - in part because his writing is beautiful, poetic, and poignant, and in part because the first book my now-fiance, then "just friend," lent me was Love in the Time of Cholera.

2) Mark Helprin - also because his writing is beautiful, poetic, and poignant, and because he manages to weave magic with the everyday and turn the world around us into an inspiring, awesome place, all with carefully chosen words.

3) Justin Cronin - because I just finished The Passage and I CANNOT STOP GUSHING OVER IT.

4) Mary Roach - because she always, always, always makes me laugh, regardless of subject matter. I reviewed Bonk a while back, if you'd like to see more of my thoughts on this.

Happy Almost Weekend!

Great Planter Friday

A few months ago, I posted a link to a a DIY guide to creating a planter out of a book. But what about a planter that looks like a bookshelf?

On her blog, gardener Valerie Easton recently posted some amazing pictures of bookshelf planters. Seriously, what a wonderful way to merge a love for books and a love for gardening. If/when I have a garden, expect something similar:

Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Let me begin by apologizing, because this will be less a review and more an all-out rave. After all, with the incredible collection of bloggers that have already covered The Passage, I'm not sure I have too much more to add, at least not anything too original. So what proceeds will be pure gushing, followed by some commentary on other reviews floating around out there.

Put simply, this book is astounding. It is glorious, brilliant, wonderful, a joy, a pleasure, a feat. The 800-page tome stemmed from Cronin's daughter's suggestion that he "write a book about a girl who saves the world." And, in a roundabout way, that's what this is: Amy, a six-year-old girl with virtually no ties to the world, is injected with an advanced form of a virus that makes her somewhat super-human. When the test subjects for the earlier form of the virus escape from a military compound, bringing down most of humanity with them, Amy is left utterly alone in a post-apocalyptic world in which "virals" roam the land, killing off the population and leaving the United States an empty shell of what it once was.

Worried that I said too much? Don't. That summary is about the first 50 pages. Maybe 100. So there's plenty more to come.

Cronin's imagination must be the size of the Milky Way; he has a stunning ability to look at the world around him - the war against terror, the existing highway system, our dependence on vehicles and foreign oil, the mass populations in cities, the power of the military - and see what could be. In this manner, The Passage is terrifyingly real; more than real, it is relevant.

Charles Taylor, reviewing the book on the B&N blog, argues that Cronin's book is a service: "He's working for the reader, he wants to immerse whoever picks up the book and, to quote from Stephen King's advance praise, to make the ordinary world disappear." To me, that's just what he did. My ordinary world was taken up by Cronin's prose, and now I want to sleep with the lights on. I'm afraid to walk home from the subway at night. Last night, after finishing the novel, my roommate and I heard a weird noise in the kitchen - and proceeded to huddle together to see what was moving out there. It was the cat. Yes, we were that freaked out.

Ron Charles, at The Washington Post, calls it "a macabre pleasure to see what a really talented novelist can do with these old Transylvanian tropes" - and he's not wrong. Sure, it's a "vampire novel." But to call it such is to lump it in with the world of Twilight, True Blood and even Dracula, and The Passage is So. Much. More. Than. That.

Blogger Rachel on Home Between the Pages called the book "totally uncategorizable." She hit the nail on the head. It offers, all in one lump 800-page clunker, a mystery, adventure, horror, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, post-apocalyptic, futuristic, romance, action, and so much more.

Not everyone loved it, though. Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea couldn't finish it, and Caitlin at Chaotic Compendiums found it disjointed and far too long. I would disagree (in case you couldn't already guess that) - yes, the book is long and a bit daunting, but it sweeps you up, carries you along in a forceful current of events that require attention and puzzling out and mulling over. And yes, the first half is beautifully done, with character and world development happening seamlessly, and by default, it gets more complicated after the world has been established and the plot takes over the wheel. And yes, the book is somewhat disjointed, in that it carries within it multiple stories, characters and over 100 years of history - but isn't that, to an extent, what an epic does?

Bottom line: I'm still just gushing. I found this worth the 3 lbs it added to my bag (for the two days it took me to finish), worth the 2 solid days of reading I gave it (I devoured it). Forgiving a few cliche cliffhanger chapter endings, the writing was strong and original. For the first in a trilogy, the book is startling satisfying - tying up enough loose ends to leave the reader content to re-trace the storyline and try to puzzle out what has happened - and yet enough questions go unanswered to provide a solid set-up for the next books in the trilogy. I am literally sitting on the edge of my seat thinking about the next two in the trilogy. Write faster, Mr. Cronin, write faster.

What about you? Thoughts? Have you read it? Will you read it? Are you put off by the hype (I was, but I'm glad I got over it), or the vampire element (don't be)?


Note: Thank you to Random House for sending me an ARC to review.

To-Read Lists, and Why I Can't Stand Them

I'm going to come right out and say it. I hate the concept of to-read list. I make lists for everything in my life: to-dos, to-buys, to-calls, etc. But to-read? To me, what I read is a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Ok, I have a to-be-read list, or a to-read list, or whatever you'd like to call it. Every booklover does. But to me, the list is an amorphous, imagined, ever-changing thing that grows and shrinks and bends and moves every time I read a new review or see a new booklist or want to learn more about a given author/subject/time period/writing style.

I've tried GoodReads for keeping track of Books I'd Like to Read, but if you ever look closely at it, it hasn't been updated in months. I've even tried keeping a wishlist of books I don't own yet but would like to, but that hasn't worked, either.

For me, my "to-read" pile is pure inspiration. I started to touch on this a few weeks ago when I discussed how book selections reflect our state of mind, but here I will elaborate: I read whatever suits my mood at any given time, on any given day. What I pick up is influenced by what I read prior, whether I'll be reading in spurts or in chunks of time, where I will be reading, who I will be with. The thought of reading through book 1, book 2, book 3 on a pre-written list makes me cringe; if I force myself to read a book because it is "next," there is a significant chance I will fail to appreciate the book just because the setting in which the book is read is just not right.

Take Matterhorn, for example. I picked this book up a few weeks ago and tried to start it, but I was traveling a lot that week, so reading in 5- and 10-page segments, and within the first chapter, I realized that this was just not the time or place for me to read this book. This doesn't mean I don't want to read it, or even that I won't - just that I haven't read it yet. Just as I wouldn't read Winter's Tale (one of my favorite books) in the summer, or War and Peace on the beach, I couldn't read Matterhorn that week.

Sure, when I receive review copies, I try to make a conscious effort to review them in a timely fashion, whether that be within a few weeks of receiving it, or on/around the pub date. It doesn't always happen, though - I'd rather read the book late and judge it fairly than force myself to read it and therefore dislike it by default.

There, now I've confessed. My non-existent to-read list is a chaotic collection of books crammed on shelves, under my dresser, in my closet, written on scraps of paper, recorded in my iPod, emailed to myself. When I stare at my shelves and nothing pops out, I turn to one of the many scribblings of book titles tucked around my life and find something new. When I stare at my shelves and a book calls my name, I'll even go so far as to put down my current read in favor of the one reaching out to me.

Anyone else? Do you plan your reading in advance, or let it come to you? Do you track what you want to read, what you want to receive/purchase/borrow, or just take books as they come in?

Life as a Book (Quote of the Day)

“I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense.” -Harold Kushner

Book Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Two book reviews in one week - not bad, right? The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane came to me from my librarian-in-training cousin, who is working to get her Masters in Library Science and already practicing her book recommendations. And clearly she's doing well, because this book rocked.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane smacks of anything but first novel, which it is for novelist Katherine Howe. Descended from Elizabeth Howe, who survived the Salem witch trials, and Elizabeth Proctor, who did not, Howe turns her expert pen to the subject of witches and magic in both colonial America and modern day. Focusing on the story of Connie, a PhD candidate at Harvard, Howe explores Connie's studies and her search for the perfect primary source, overlaying Connie's modern-day story with the background of Massachusetts witch-hunts in the 17th century.

The extensive research that must have gone into Howe's novel shines through, and readers cannot fail to appreciate this. From the Salem witch trials themselves to the history and culture of New England to colonial lifestyle, Howe is thorough and complete, weaving historical accuracy in with a well-fabricated and well-conceived storyline.

My only complaint would be a small inconsistency in the story, in which a mysterious illness is attributed to two separate and completely distinct causes - but I can't say more without giving away too much.

Bottom line: While not the be-all, end-all of best books I've read in 2010, Physick Book of Deliverance Dane succeeds because doesn't try to be more than it is: a well-paced, accurate historical novel. In the search for a book of solid distraction but with enough weight not to feel like a waste of precious reading hours, Howe will satisfy your every need. Thorough research coupled with a plot of intrigue, magic and deception makes a chunky, relevant page-turner, and if you're anything like me, you'll finish the novel wanting to find about more about the Salem witch trials and the culture that surrounded them.

Any recommendations for further reading?

Book Blogger Hop - Why I Started Blogging

If you're stopping by from the Book Blogger Hop (hosted ever-so-kindly by Jennifer at Crazy-For-Books), welcome! If you've been here before... thanks for coming back.

This week Jennifer posed a question to bloggers participating in the hop: Why did we start blogging? Mine's actually pretty simple - because I found myself sending links, writing reviews in emails, and generally sharing this info with my friends and family, and then I would track back through my emails to find an old summation to forward on... and I figured I was essentially doing all the legwork of blogging, but making it more difficult for both myself and for people asking for the information I was providing. So now it's here, all in one place, growing into a creature of it's own.

Oh, and my name is Kerry. Spelled like presidential candidate, or the county in Ireland.