To My Best Friend

One year ago today, I put on the most fabulous dress of my life and walked down the aisle to look into the eyes of my best friend and say "I do." We piled books on tables under bunches of blue flowers and ate rockfish covered in crab meat and danced until our feet hurt and drank champagne until we were giggly with exhaustion. We've spent a year building a life together, and a home, and quite the collection of books. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I love you, darling. Happy Anniversary, and here's to many more.

A New Reading Nook

Last week, I posted about my grandmother's chair and the crazy, bizarre, meant-to-be-path that it took to get to my living room. This week, the chair came back to me again, reborn this time as a piece that not only matches my living room (which, surprisingly, does not contain anything pink) and almost looks like a piece out of the Pottery Barn catalog:

Before: Pink and Ugly and Very Cozy

After: Khaki and Pretty and Still Very Cozy

I'm looking for many more years spent curled up here with a book. Thanks, Grandma. Love you.

Audiobook Review: North River, by Pete Hamill

I made my first foray into Pete Hamill's work nearly ten years ago (a number that makes me feel old, as young as I am), when I picked up Forever at a local bookstore. I knew nothing about it at the time, beyond the fact that it had a striking cover and was set in New York - a city that I was moving to just months later. I did not know that Hamill is known for writing love letters to his home city into each of his novels, or that Forever would take me through Manhattan's history, from the Dutch to September 11. I certainly did not know that ten years later, it would still be a book that resonated with me.

But that is why we read, is it not? To find the gems that call to us from their bookstore shelves? To find the perfect cover with the perfect subject for this perfect moment? It's all about timing.

Perhaps the timing issue is why it has taken me nearly ten years to return to Pete Hamill, despite my infatuation with Forever. Now that I have spent more than a year away from the city that I called home for all of my college and post-grad years, I find myself returning to the literature of New York -- of which there is no scarce amount. Hamill's North River is just such a novel, this time taking readers (or listeners, as the case may be) back to the grips of the Great Depression in New York.

Dr. James Delaney is our compassionate and kindly and downright likeable protagonist, spending his days caring for the sick of Manhattan's West Village--regardless of their ability to pay him for his services. At home, however, he is both lonely and alone, left by both his wife, who disappeared over two years earlier, and his daughter, who ran off to Mexico with her exotic husband and infant son. When that grandson, now three years old, shows up on his doorstep one snowy night, Delaney's world shifts -- he is no longer alone, he is no longer the center of his own universe, and he must once again learn to show compassion, and even love, to those close to him as well as to his neighbors.

It is this subtle shift in Delaney's character that makes North River as compelling as it is. As Delaney faces down mob bosses, toddler's tantrums and the haunting memories of his own past, the hard core he has built up in himself begins to melt, replaced by a new kind of core, this time built on a new definition of family. These subtleties are perfectly captured by Henry Strozier's smooth and understated narrative, which is at once plodding and mesmerizing. Though North River is not told in the first person, Strozier's narration is perfectly representative of Delaney's even-keeled temperament, his thawing, and his deep-seated compassion for those around him, regardless of the costs to himself.

And as with all of Hamill's novels, North River could not exist without its setting. Delaney interacts with New York as though she was a character herself, and Hamill captures the intricate details of a New York that he knows and loves in a time period in which he can only imagine. Hamill's is the story of the winter winds whipping from the East River into the tenement buildings of SoHo, and the tale of the small but quaint houses that still decorate the twisting, turning streets of the West Village. It is the story of struggling immigrants in 1930s Manhattan, of brothels and whores, of mobs and gangsters and boozing and all of the dangers and thrills and wonders of a city like New York. Those looking for historical fiction will be satisified; those looking for a tale of families and what it is to be loved will be pleased; and those with any interest in the history of New York will be thrilled.


You might also like:
Forever by Pete Hamill
Tabloid City by Pete Hamill
Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon


Many thanks to the Anne Arundel County Public Library for (as always) having such an excellent collection of audiobooks for my perusal and reading pleasure.

Do you Goodreads?

After a few months hibernating from the interwebs, I'm back with a gusto. And suddenly I find that all these sites I thought I knew... well, turns out I don't know them so well after all. Maybe I wasn't paying attention. Or maybe every bookish site I know decided to launch and/or redesign itself in the weeks I was hibernating. Even Blogger looks different now than it did before (which is a good thing, Googs!).

So now Goodreads, which I have always loved, is more dynamic than ever. Suddenly I am seeing regular updates of what my friends are reading. And Goodreads is making recommendations for me based on books I've read (because that's just what I needed - more books to read). And I can see my bookish stats. I've rated 158 books so far, and I'm currently reading 6 (6! I hadn't realized I was multitasking so badly).

So, do you Goodreads? If so, have I just been missing all of this for years, or is this new? Are we friends?

Inheriting My Reading Spot: A Saga of an Armchair

Once upon a time, my dad's cat ran away. The cat had a tendency to do this and not return for days and days, so we trekked through the neighborhood with flashlights in hand, making absurd mewing noises and shaking bags of treats.

When this did not turn up one Very Sly and Sneaky Cat That I Thought Deserved to Spend the Night Out in the Cold, we checked our neighbors' houses. At one of these houses, a bundle of items for Purple Heart stood perched on the stoop, awaiting the next-day arrival of the truck. Amidst this bundle was buried one Very Ugly and Very Pink but Very Cozy Looking Armchair.

This wasn't just any armchair. This was my grandmother's armchair. Why, you ask, were my neighbors donating a family heirloom to the Purple Heart? In the smallest of small world stories, it turns out they had purchased it from a Goodwill nearly 20 miles away, intending to have it recovered in not-so-ugly fabric. When the re-upholstery proved to be too expensive, it sat in their basement. When no one bought it at their yard sale, it was destined for Purple Heart.

And how did it end up at Goodwill in the first place? My Very Helpful Uncle donated it, along with the rest of my grandmother's furniture, after she died. Little did he know that the chair, no matter how very ugly and very pink it was, was well-loved. My grandmother had sat in the overstuffed armchair everyday for as long as I could remember - first when she lived with us, then when she moved with my dad when my parents split up, and then when she moved in with my uncle later on. It was her center, her spot, her comfort zone. It gave her a wingback to lean on while she cried through Days of Our Lives, and it held her in its comfy cushions while she read romance novels plastered with Fabio covers.

It broke my heart when we lost that chair. Luckily, though, the chair never lost us.

Three families, two houses, and several NYC apartments later, the chair has returned to its rightful home in my living room. It has become my rock, my nook, my reading center. And until a week ago, it was still Very Pink and Very Ugly (though also Very Cozy):

Now it has left again, this time for a stint in a reupholstery shop. The chair will now be Very Khaki Colored and Very Plain and Still Very Cozy. It will always be my grandmother's chair, but in recovering it, it will continue in its journey to become my chair, too. The upcoming chairless weeks will be a trial. I'm not sure where to rest my feet when settling in with a new book. My library books have no cushion creases in which to lose themselves. My reading lamp shines on an empty corner. But when the chair returns to me, as I know it always will, I will curl into its oversized arms, open a book on my lap, and read with thoughts of my grandmother to keep me company.

Book Review: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind has been called the best next read for fans of Game of Thrones*; a Harry Potter for grown-ups; this generation's Lord of the Rings; and the default go-to when an avid fantasy reader finishes (or rather, runs out of) Wheel of Time books to read.

I get it. We can't read modern fantasy novels without comparing them to the lates and greats of our childhood (or adult) reading. Tolkien owns the world of sorcery. Harry Potter owns the world of magical universities. But why must every new(-ish) fantasy novel be the "new" this or the "new" that? Why can't these novels stand on their own, amidst their predecessors, their betters, and their lessers, as novels of other genres do? Am I just imagining that this affliction strikes at my precious fantasy novels more viciously than in other genres?

Ultimately, though, I believe calling The Name of the Wind "the next Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter for grown-ups" only serves to set the book up for failure, because it is neither of those things. It is its own novel, an excellent addition to the fantasy genre, and a downright good book. Plus, it's full of tavern brawls and bawdy songs and clever schemes and awesome legendary evildoers. So there.

The Name of the Wind is the first book of The Kingkiller Chronicle, a trilogy in which the legendary Kvothe the Bloodless recalls his story for a traveling scribe. The book is long, coming in at 650+ pages, and the story takes enough twists and turns that it would only do it a disservice to try to capture the plot for you. Suffice it to say that Kvothe, orphaned son of two traveling troupe-members, finds himself alone in a world that he no longer understands, a world in which he owns nothing more than the clothes on his back and the knowledge that the stuff of childhood tales is walking the streets.

The lonely young boy struggles with poverty, homelessness, hunger, but a thirst for knowledge keeps him moving forward. In his journey to understand where mythology ends and history begins, Kvothe churns up secrets long left dormant, making a few fast friends and a more than a few staunch enemies along the way. He also turns himself into a legend. No big deal for a teenager.

Rothfuss was smart to construct this novel as he has, with Kvothe narrating his own tale. The structure allows for present-day interludes within the narration of the past, and in these, Rothfuss reveals crucial details well before their occurrence in the storyline. The heightened drama only adds to Kvothe's re-telling, as the novel is as much a discovery of a new story as it is a means of filling in the blanks, understanding how the Kvothe of the story becomes the Kvothe of the storytelling.

Both Rothfuss and Kvothe show a profound love of stories and storytelling, in its many forms, and The Name of the Wind is the first of three novels that raise storytelling to a new height, with expertly crafted characters and the comprehensive world-building that is crucial to successful fantasy. While I won't sit here and compare the book to any other work of fantasy, I will say this: if you enjoy a good story and a solid adventure and a little myth and and a lot of magic, you'll enjoy this. But if you try to tell me Kvothe is the "new Harry Potter", expect to have a book thrown at your head.


Thoughts from other bookworms:

books i done read
Capricious Reader


The sequel to Name of the Wind is now out in hardcover and e-book: The Wise Man's Fear.

Let the Rioting Begin!

I'm in love. I'm in love with a website. A new, collaborative website with a mind to collecting bookish news, stories, reviews, features, and articles. In short, a site in which the greatest minds of the book blogging world come together and do just what us bookish types do when you put us all together -- talk about books.

Book Riot officially launched yesterday (Happy Belated Birthday, Book Riot!) and is already booming with activity (both in articles and in comments). I can particularly recommend Greg's review of A Visit from the Goon Squad and the pitting of book blogger Rachel (a home between the pages) against the Amazon algorithm for a book recommendation.

Get rioting today -- check out, or follow Book Riot on Twitter. Just don't be surprised when you find yourself sucked in to one witty, engaging article after the next. It's a veritable rabbithole of bookish goodies. Enjoy!

Pseudo-Review: A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway has always had a sort of magnetic force around him; he is an author that any literate person has heard of, and if you weren't required to read The Old Man and the Sea in school, consider yourself in the minority. Interestingly, I've found (through nothing more quantifiable than anecdotal research) that he is one of the few authors that people can actually recognize in a photo - and not just a photo on the dust jacket of one of his books. Known as much for his drinking habits as his lasting influence on modern literature, Hemingway is an icon of our time. And beyond the assigned reading of The Old Man and the Sea in middle school, he is an icon with which I am sadly unfamiliar.

In order to remedy this, I included on my list of 26 things to accomplish before my 26th birthday a challenge to read all of Hemingway's works -- from well-known fictions to treatise on bullfighting and everything in between. I began with A Moveable Feast, a collection of vignettes in which Hemingway writes of his time as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920s. The stories combine to provide a profile what it was to be young and in love and hungry and happy in a foreign country. Hemingway recalls his encounters with other ex-pat writers of the time, his romance with Shakespeare and Co (the greatest bookstore of all time), and his touch-and-go relationship with his writing.

As an introduction to Hemingway, A Moveable Feast is an easy-to-digest glimpse as much into Hemingway's writing as into his life and experiences. It is a love song to a Paris we wish we could have experienced ourselves; a remembrance of his fellow writers, back when the times were good; and his nod to an important, formative, romantic period in his life. It is, in short, excellent.

What Is Important to You?

Earlier this summer, I had a meet-and-greet type meeting with a new client, and on the way to the lunch, the CEO of my company warned me that this particular client contact liked to ask difficult questions on first meetings. The question she told me to be prepared to answer: What's important to you?

The question never came up at the meeting, but it also never really left the back corner of my mind where nagging, unanswered questions reside. How would I answer that? There are obvious answers, of course. My husband is important to me. My family. My friends. But these are givens, in my mind. If my husband was not important to me, he would not be my husband. And though the same can't truly be said of family, I don't think family is the kind of answer this question was meant to extract. Perhaps, because of the way I was raised, I can't imagine not listing family and friends at the top of the important-to-me list. And that's probably not fair, and not a valid assumption to make about others, but for the sake of argument, let's leave off significant others, family members, and friends.

What, then, is important to me?

The first thing that came to mind, naturally, was books. Reading them, sharing them, talking about them, collecting them. Smelling them, holding them, writing in them. Publishing them, editing them, thinking about them, analyzing them. Ensuring that they continue as a form of both education and entertainment well into the future, in whatever form they may take.

But then, I thought, what about the other things I do? I work in advertising, and try to stay on top of trends in marketing and communications. I am learning to cook - that is, to cook without panicking, pouting, and generally being dissatisfied with everything that comes out of my kitchen. I am also learning to sail (slowly, because I am apparently incapable of thinking in three dimensions). I recently flew an airplane, part of my 26 by 26 list, and that list is also important to me.

At the risk of sounding like a walking cliché, then, I would amend my gut-reaction statement from books to learning. Books, after all, are a natural extension of my innate curiosity. I read books to learn, to see things differently, or to understand inspiration. I obsessively look for better ways to organize myself, my life, and my to-do list in order to give myself time to do the life-expanding kinds of activities in which I want to spend the majority of my time. I want to learn to cook in order to be able to better understand and appreciate food. I made my list of 26 things in order to push myself to expand my horizons.

I've spent the summer reorganizing, resituating, and rethinking, and I'm diving into the fall with a re-ordered set of priorities, a set in which family and friends come first, my list of activities comes next, and work and organizing and household chores are (hopefully) structured in a way that support the priorities, rather than impede upon them. It's an ongoing experiment, and I am learning to adapt. I am young enough to think that I can find my path already, but also young enough to recognize that my answer to the question of what is important to me will continue to evolve.

Perhaps it's part of growing up. Perhaps there is a book or twenty that can help me answer the question.