Miss Representation, and a Vacation

For those in the Annapolis / DC / Baltimore / VA area, there's an amazing event going on tonight at the Annapolis Bookstore -- a screening of the film Miss Representation, and a discussion afterwards. Description from ABS' event listing:
Like drawing back a curtain to let bright light stream in, Miss Representation uncovers a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media's limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average
Worth checking out if you are around!

I'm headed off on some international travels, so the blog will be quiet next week (although it's been pretty quiet all month, if I'm honest with myself). Thanks to all for the great reading recommendations for my trip -- I owe some reviews when I'm back!

On Giving: World Book Night

On Monday, I participated as a giver for World Book Night, giving away copies of Little Bee to perfect strangers. I'm not going to lie, I was completely panicked at the outset of my mission. What had I been thinking, agreeing to distribute books to strangers? Why did I think this was a good idea? I hate strangers. I hate talking to strangers, approaching strangers, and certainly interrupting strangers' otherwise normal Monday evenings. I could have - and probably should have - come up with some more clever, a sign that said "Free books!", a trip to a place full of people I know (the office lunchroom could have worked)... but I didn't. 

And so I found myself on Monday evening with 20 copies of a perfectly lovely, perfectly delightful book, and despite my nerves, was determined to give them all away. And I did. I started at a gas station, catching people while they waited for their tanks to fill. Then I moved onto the grocery store (I needed milk), and gave my last few copies to the staff of a smoothie shop. I was, in hindsight, somewhat foolish to be so nervous. Once people realized I wasn't actually selling anything (by the end, I had a pitch that had some key phrases in it: "free book," "no hitch," "not selling anything," "all yours," "love of reading"), most were extremely grateful to be receiving a free book.

I had one woman -- and only one -- give me a flat-out "No," and four who turned me down only because they'd already read the book (one of these even turned around and helped me convince yet another woman that it was a fantastic story, and that she should read it, especially because it was free). 

Will I do it again, if I have the opportunity? Absolutely. I'll be more prepared next time around -- both because I have a better idea of what to expect, and because I won't leave myself with no plan again -- and hopefully find people even more excited to receive a free book. And in the meantime, I feel good that I got to be a part of something so much larger than myself and my 20 books, an event that really helped spread literature around the world. And I'll sleep easier after seeing how many people were excited about free reading material -- perhaps the book isn't really dying, after all.

Book Review: Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

Tonight is World Book Night, and I'll be distributing copies of Little Bee in Annapolis, Maryland. 

The description on the back of Little Bee states simply, "We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this..."

But then it also makes a big ask of its readers, especially when one is also a reviewer: "Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds."

And no matter how pompous this book description may be, I think they are on to something. Because at a glance, Little Bee appears to be a straightforward story about two women who meet one day by happenstance, and who meet again two years later. But in fact, it is much more complex than that. It is a story about choices and decisions, about life and death, about love and family, about fear, about belonging, about escape, about loyalty. It is a story about how our lives are never as independent as we imagine they are; like George Bailey, we are not always aware of how much of an impact we actually have on those around us--or on those far away.

Little Bee is intense and weighty, a book that lasts long past its end. Which is not to say that it is sad, but then, it is also not hopeful. It simply is, and that's enough for it. As the blurb says, the magic is in its unfolding--and the unfolding is something Chris Cleave handles with great care, teasing just enough detail to keep the story moving without ever giving too much away.

But it works. Somehow, despite the occasional critics that claim otherwise, it works. It comes together, and it means something, and that something, I feel, is a something that can change for each individual reader, and that something is why I chose this book to give away for World Book Night tonight. Of course, I didn't quite think through the details of promoting a book to stranger without giving away the story, even a little bit. Luckily I think fast when I'm talking. I hope.


Thoughts from other bookworms:
Beth Fish Reads
The Book Lady's Blog
Man of la Book


Little Bee | Chris Cleave | Simon & Schuster | $14.00 Trade Paper | 304 pgs | February 2010 | 9781416589648 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Springtime in Paris

This column has been edited, based on a column that originally ran in the April 17th, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission. Get bi-weekly doses of readerly goodness in your inbox by registering here, if you haven't already!

Oh, Springtime in Paris. The mere words evoke images of dainty blooms, meandering paths covered in dappled shade, the delicate lines of Parisian architecture. For those looking for a little bit of France but not quite ready to relocate to the City of Light (I did that for a semester, and it's no small undertaking), try living through the experiences of those who have already been to visit--and lived to write about it. Paris has long been recognized as a center of literary activity, after all, drawing authors and poets from all over the world.

Ernest Hemingway's classic memoir of his time in Paris, A Moveable Feast, brings to life the literary world of 1920s Paris. This was a city full of literary characters we still know and cherish, from James Joyce to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway knew them all. His accounts of his earliest years as a writer are at once captivating and inspiring, and it is near impossible not to fall in love with the city we see through his eyes.

Of course, not everyone loves Paris the way Hemingway loved Paris. A Year in the Merde*, Stephen Clarke's comic account of his one year in Paris, takes on the less glamorous sides of Parisian life, or at least those that appear less glamorous to a British ex-pat living in the city somewhat against his will. After a few months of work in the famed city of light and long vacations, Clarke finds himself desperate to assimilate, struggling to understand why he is incapable of getting anything done and hard-pressed to explain his love life to anyone--including himself.

As a side note, I picked up a copy of A Year in the Merde while studying in Paris for a semester. Like Clarke, I had a bit of a hard time stomaching the city at times,* and his book really struck a chord with me. When I emailed him to thank him for his story, he wrote back with a spectacular, if somewhat cynical, tidbit on life in France: "Like uranium and tobacco smoke, prolonged exposure to France can cause lasting damage."

And then there are those who are not Hemingway or Clarke, who love Paris and hate it at the same time, who long to be nowhere else, and yet anywhere else. This is the case for Amy Thomas, a sweet freak and longtime Francophile, who eagerly accepts an opportunity to relocate to Paris for work. There, she explores the city through its patisseries and spends her time contemplating where she truly belongs. Thomas's story in Paris, My Sweet is inspiring in her quest to redefine her life for herself--and of course, will leave readers longing for a quick dash into a Parisian bakery.

* I actually ended up loving Paris, it just took more settling in than I had originally anticipated.

Help! Best Books for Travel?

Ok, all. I know I've been scarce lately, and I owe my little corner of the blog world a little attention, and about a dozen reviews. But before I get to that, I want to ask for your help. I'm travelling to Italy for a week next month and am looking for book recommendations. What to take along?

I have The Once and Future King (mass market paperback) pulled out as I figure it has a lot of pages packed into a small package; plus, I've been meaning to read it forever. This will be the only paper book I bring along*, as I need something to read during take-offs and landings and other non-electronic times, but I have limited suitcase space (read: I'm a chronic overpacker).

I figure I'll go in for the 2nd and 3rd books of the Hunger Games trilogy for some fast-paced plane reading.

But then I feel like I should be reading Italyesque books. Or travelogues. Or wistful romantic literature. Or books about the Renaissance, or train travel, or Europe, or the finer foods of Tuscany.



*Except for the Tuscany travel guide that Thomas from My Porch sent my way when I last posted about traveling to Italy months ago, which was really thoughtful and nice and much appreciated, and which is just further proof that book bloggers are awesome.

President Obama Is a Book Nerd...

... and it's kind of the greatest thing ever. Check out Buzzfeed's images of Mr. President getting really, really into his reading of Where the Wild Things Are.

Sorry I've been scarce lately, but I'm still here, and I have a stockpile of reviews to catch up on... stay tuned.