On My Radar: Beach Reading

I don't know about other bookworms, but this particular one reads seasonally. I don't believe in reading winter-laden, snow-drifty books in July, or vampire novels in April, or beach-based stories in December. There is a time and a place for every book, and they must match.

And this weekend unofficially kicks off summer, which means I'm officially lusting after new summer reads. Here's what I have my eye on for the beach this year - some old, some new, but all on my radar. Some are probably "summer" reads only in my own little head, but so be it. What am I missing? What are you reading this summer?

Audiobook Review: An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

At first glance, Steve Martin's latest novel, An Object of Beauty, is a portrait of one Ms. Lacey Yeager, an up-and-coming art dealer in New York City. Our narrator, Daniel Franks, tells us that he is writing down her story only to remove it from his head; the book begins,

"I am tired, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yeager, yet I worry that unless I write her story down, and see it bound and tidy on my bookshelf, I will be unable to ever write about anything else." (p. 3)

Lacey is captivating, enthralling, ensnaring, and yet, at the same time, she is elusive and secretive and mysterious. Daniel, like so many others, is caught in orbit around her, brought close when needed but never allowed more than fleeting access to her true self. She manipulates unsparingly, both people and events, bending plotlines to her will. She seeks drama. She insists on being needed and not needing. She is always the center of attention, continuing to draw people in while simultaneously pushing them away.

Which is not to say that she is unlikable. Quite the opposite, in fact. Perhaps she has the same effect on readers (or listeners) as she does on those around her. Or perhaps Martin is telling us something, in showing us that we, like others, want her to succeed despite her shortcomings. Or maybe it is that they are not shortcomings at all, but characteristics we can recognize in ourselves. After all, isn't that what makes a strong character?

Bottom line: Upon closer inspection, or perhaps closer reflection, it becomes clear that Lacey's story is much bigger than herself; it is a story of New York, of art, and of the constant overlapping and intertwining of the two. Overall, Martin has presented us with a powerful and meaningful story of a person, a place, and an industry, all in one go. It is a story that lingers long after it ends, with threads of ideas and philosophies persisting past the final pages - a story of the very best sort.

A note on the audio: The audio production of An Object of Beauty is excellent. Though not narrated by Steve Martin, the narrator often sounds like him. It's a nice touch. The print edition, however, includes images of the paintings and installations being discussed throughout the story, which definitely adds something to the reading experience (though the audio stands perfectly fine without them).


Thoughts from other bookworms:
She Is Too Fond of Books


More from Steve Martin:
Born Standing Up
The Pleasure of My Company


Many thanks to the Anne Arundel County Public Library for providing both the audiobook and hardcover editions of this book for review. My apologies for needing to renew twice before actually getting around to reviewing.

Books Are Not Made for Furniture (Quote of the Day)

Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house. - Henry Ward Beecher

Book Love for Your Fridge (or Other Magnetic Surface)

Bottlecap booklover magnets from PendantLicious, $6.95 on Etsy

Oh Magic Hour (Quote of the Day)

"Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words!" -A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Entomology of a Bookworm

In short, no, my blog's title is not a mistake. Yes, I know that entomology is the study of bugs, and etymology is the study of words. And yes, I know that people often mix the two up. And no, I will not be posting about bugs, worms, butterflies, creepy crawlers, spiders, ants, dragonflies, slugs, snails, or any other icky multi-legged things.

It's entomology (as in study of the bug) of a bookworm (as in the slang term for someone who reads a lot of books).

It's a study of a self-proclaimed (as in I announced myself) bookworm (still the slang term for someone who reads a lot of books), devouring (a metaphor for reading really quickly) the world (as in all of it) of the published (both in p-books and e-books) word (you know what words are, right?).

And here I thought I was so clever, really.

Ok, snark over. Lots of love to all of my bookworm-y readers, and sincere apologies for all the disappointed entomologists that stumble into this page.

Audiobook Review: How I Paid for College by Marc Acito

Props to the author/agent/editor/publisher of How I Paid for College for coming up with a subtitle that really encapsulates the entire novel in one breath: "A novel of sex, theft, friendship and musical theater." That's really what it is. No, really.

When Edward finds himself screwed by a new stepmother, overbearing businessman father and no way to pay for his lifelong dream of attending acting school with the best young actors of America, he turns to his friends for support. His friends from his lifelong love of musical theater. Who happen to have a flair for the dramatic, so what?

And they may or may not try some not-so-legal methods of obtaining money for Edward's college tuition. And being a male high school senior, Edward may or may not - ok, definitely may - think about sex a lot. And being narrated by Edward, How I Paid for College may include a lot of Edward's thoughts about sex (and sexuality). And being narrated by Edward, it also may include a lot of references to musicals and a lot of disdain for his parents and a lot of "oh-my-god-I-have-the-worst-life-ever-of-any-talented-young-actor-ever."

It's actually a completely accurate (sometimes shockingly so) account of what I think a tuition-starved, desperate, neglected talented young high-school age singer and actor might think, and that is what makes Acito's novel a success. Though it may be overbearing at times (I'll admit to wanting to just slap Edward more than once), it is overbearing in an authentic, I-totally-know-high-schoolers-who-act-like-that kind of way. And though audio may include clips of Edward breaking into song, it's authentic in that musical-theater-nuts-totally-do-that-all-the-time kind of way.

Bottom line (and some notes on the audio): It took me some time to warm up to the narrator's voice, but a few CDs in, he was a convincing Edward, carrying on about the joys of entering senior year and the difficulties of parents who just don't understand. Though Edward is obnoxious, he is also understandable. How I Paid for College is a coming-of-age novel that truly follows Edward come of age and grow into himself; as he comes to understand himself, we come to understand him, too.

The audio is well done, with aforementioned musical clips minor enough so as to be entertaining instead of distracting.


Many thanks to the Anne Arundel County Public Library for providing a review copy of this title, as well as so many other wonderful audio books. You rock.

Read Forever

Barnes & Noble launched their new Read Forever ad campaign at the end of April, with TV spots and print ads emphasizing the notion of reading forever. According to a New York Times article on the campaign, the ads feature a hopeful message: "Reading is changing, but it’s not going away."

The article also posits that the lack of images of any Barnes & Noble stores in the ads is an accurate reflection of the current transition in the publishing marketplace: brick-and-mortar foot traffic is down, online purchases are up.

And Barnes & Noble wants the Nook (specifically, the Nook Color) to take a cut of those online purchases. Hence, the campaign. Duh.

To this marketer's mind, Barnes & Noble had two main challenges to overcome in the marketplace. First, the resistance to e-books and e-readers that has been displayed by many tried-and-true bookworms (like yours truly). Second, the simple fact that the Kindle beat them to it, and "Kindle" has, to many, become synonymous with "e-reader," just as we've abandoned "self-adhesive bandage" (too many words) in favor of "Band-Aid" (the first of its kind, you kn0w).

And to this bookworm's mind, the campaign hits it out of the park on both accounts. It hits the emotional nail on its proverbial head. By focusing on books instead of readers, the ads succeed in not driving e-book hesistants away at first glance; by scattering the Nook among images of people reading real, old-fashioned p-books, the ads successfully (I think) position the Nook as just one among many ways to read.

In short, it celebrates the act of reading rather than the way in which we choose to do it. What better way to celebrate a new way to read the books we already cherish?

It's Monday

“Don’t mess with anybody on a Monday. It’s a bad, bad day.” - Louise Fitzhugh (with thanks to Real Simple's Daily Quote)

That's the kind of day/week/month it's been. More posts (hopefully) this week than last.

In the meantime, Happy Reading.


The Author Write to Himself (Quote of the Day)

"[He] had once told me that a story is a letter the author writes to himself, to tell himself things he would be unable to discover otherwise." -Shadow of the Wind, p. 444

Book Review: Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House by Meghan Daum

You know the kind of book you buy for its title, knowing nothing about it but that it speaks to you? That is what Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House is to me. I pre-ordered it last summer, while I was avidly apartment-hunting, job-hunting, and wedding-planning, and found myself in that position of total life upset where I just wanted that one perfect thing to cling to as my source of stability.

But that's just a long, rambling way of saying that Meghan Daum's title spoke to me.

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House is Daum's funny, witty, and brutally honest tale of her own quest to locate, purchase, settle in, decorate and perfect a home. She calls it the "imperfect life lived among imperfect homes," and she is spot-on in that. From New York City to a farm in Nebraska to a loft in LA, through the housing crash and back again, Daum covers every apartment, house, and sofa she lived in from the day her parents moved her from Austin, TX to a house in NJ until her current dwelling (I won't give it away, even though her jacket bio does).

Remember when you played house as a kid? One person would be the Mom, one the Dad, and the rest the kids. (Unless you got stuck playing the dog, which was the crappy role.) Daum's been playing her whole life: playing at being a New Yorker with a certified New York grunge apartment; playing at being a Nebraska farmer; playing at being a traveling writer (oh wait, she did that one for real); playing at being a homeowner. Her current house is the background to all of this, and her current house is never enough. She has permanent house-envy, coupled with a permanent idea that perfection lies just one house away; she puts all her pennies in the bank of house perfection, with none to spare in matters outside the home:
"I don't think it's a stretch to say that our lack of enthusiasm for ourselves had a lot to do with our perpetual curiosity about what possibilities for happiness might lie at the destination point of a moving van." (13)
She grows, like we all do, and becomes an adult, like we all (unfortunately and/or somewhat) do. She longs to be content in her life, and therefore her house (or maybe her house, and therefore her life), acknowledging how big this really is:
"One of the many tragedies of college life is that it's almost developmentally impossible to have the wisdom to understand that contentment, which implies some sort of sustenance over time, can be an infinitely taller order of happiness, which is often inherently fleeting. It's also unfortunate that your average college student lacks the presence of mind to tell someone to f*** off when he spouts such bong-hit-fueld twaddle about the meaning of passion."
Daum's writing at times reminded me of Chelsea Handle, though not as crass. Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House (which, though I love the title, makes for a really long link, people) is a frank, honest monologue (it's not a conversation because it's one-sided). Daum writes with a sense with a humor born of bluntness, and a sense of philosophy born of Elle Decor. Anyone who's ever moved, decorated, furniture-shopped, browsed house listings, or had green eyes for the house down the street will be able to relate to Daum's near-obsessive behavior. And anyone who's anyone will find something here to laugh about, and something here to think about, and really, what more could one ask of a book about house shopping?

On Studying the Objects We Love

Last week, I posted about how reviewing has changed my reading habits. I wonder now, after reading reactions to the post, if this isn't the case for anyone who treads too deeply into the waters of studying the thing they love most. Greg of The New Dork Review of Books commented that he once fancied himself a sports writer, but found that writing about the thing he loved ruined it. Jay of Bookrastination mentioned in an email that working in publishing, and therefore working with and on books, changes the way he views them.

And then I started listening to Steve Martin's latest novel, An Object of Beauty, and stumbled into this little gem: "When Lacey began these computations, her toe crossed ground from which it is difficult to return: she started converting objects of beauty into objects of value." (p. 16)

Unlike Greg's sports writing, I don't find that writing about books has ruined them for me. Blogging and reviewing has only strengthened my position as a bookworm. Just as how I read has changed, my valuation of a book has changed. Not for better or for worse, but it has changed. Where as once I read for pleasure, for education, for distraction, now I read also for writing. Books are objects of value, objects to be studied, analyzed, and discussed. They are objects of decoration (see my article on furnishing my home with bookshelves). They are objects of lust. They are objects of temptation, objects of beauty, objects of wonder. They are, in their own way, objects of value.


Stay tuned for a review of An Object of Beauty this week.