Telegraph Avenue Readalong: Part V

This post is the wrap-up post in the Telegraph Avenue pre-publication readalong hosted by As the Crowe Flies (and Reads). For my thoughts on the earlier parts of the book, see my response to Part I, Part II and Parts III and IV. For others' thoughts on Part V, check out As the Crowe Flies (and Reads) main readalong post for this week.

A sigh of relief. Because Chabon did not end this novel nearly as abruptly as he started it, and I'm not sure I could have stood it if he had done so.

Spoilers Go Leor! If you haven't read the book, I'd recommend stopping here. No, really.
And a second sigh of relief, to see Archy step up to the plate. To make decisions about his life, and about his children's lives, and about his wife. To own up and be the man he always could have been, but could not have become under the shadow of his own father. Finally, Archy has moved beyond the world of flings and moving blankets, "symbolizing nomadism, impermanence, the need to coat [himself] against the damage of transit." After all, he is no longer transitional. He has staked his claim, and--at least to our eyes--intends to make good on it.

When I wrote about Parts IV, I wrote that I felt it was a chapter of growth; a chapter in which each character really became his or her true self. If that is the case (and not all readalongers agreed), then Part V is a chapter of redemption. Here, we see the stuck-in-the-throat apologies make their way into the real world; Gwen apologizes, Archy apologizes, and even Nat, in his own way, apologizes. Titus moves past Julie, but they both recognize each other and admit a kind of sorrow over the end of their friendship.

Finally, each of these characters seems to be able to move past what they want to see in the others; Chabon writes that Archy had been unable "to see the real Luther, only the Luther required by his anger", but in a way, I think that is true of everyone here. Nat sees Aviva in a different light, Titus and Julie's relationship changes, Gwen takes Archy back under different circumstances than when she left him in the first place.

"A person tended to see herself as a streetlamp on a misty night, at the center of a sphere of radiance, but that was a trick of the light, an illusion of centrality in a general fog." I love this line, for so many various reasons, and I feel that the only way any of these characters can truly find it in themselves to apologize--and perhaps more importantly, to forgive--is to abandon this particular worldview, opting instead to see themselves as one part of a giant web of interconnected characters.

That is the world Chabon has drawn--a world of interconnected characters fixated on a central place in time and geography--and that is the world his characters must embrace. Isn't that what he's getting at at the very end, when Archy goes by to visit the new card store occupying the once-barber-shop, once-Brokeland records location on Telegraph Avenue? Everything is connected; and just as Archy and Titus and the baby form a trio of generations, in a way, so too do places build on one another:

"The merchandise was not the thing, and neither, for that matter, was the nostalgia. It was all about the neighborhood, that space where common sorrow could be drowned in common passion as the talk grew ever more scholarly and wild... See how they put the world together, next time around."

On Reading Along... Before Publication
I haven't participated in a lot of readalongs (I tend to balk at reading schedules), but I really enjoyed the forced schedule of this particular book, and making myself take a step back between each part to savor what had happened and occurred and to review my underlines and dogears and circled words (I circle new vocabulary when I read, and there was a lot of it here!). I even liked reading along before publication--it was great to see other readalongers' reactions, despite the initial uncertainty about how to proceed with spoilers in each section. And I have to admit, if I hadn't committed to reading the whole book, I might well have put this one down after Part I. Now that I finished it, I can just say that I'm incredibly glad I read on.
Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing advance copies of this title for readalong participants.
Telegraph Avenue | Michael Chabon | Hardcover | 480 page | September 2012 | Pre-order from The Odyssey Bookshop or an independent near you

My First Readathon! (#24in48)

Rachel at a home between pages is hosting a weekend-long readathon in August, which I think will be the perfect push for a little added summer reading in my world. I've fallen behind in my three books for the Victorian Celebration (which will be over by the readathon, but better late than never, right?), and I'm also low on genre fiction and classics for my year-long reading goal of balance.

And so I signed up to participate in Rachel's 24 in 48 readathon. The goal is to read for 24 hours over the course of a 48-hour period - a perfect compromise for me, as I can't ever manage to clear my calendar completely for a weekend. Case in point: my husband is running his first 10K that Saturday evening, and I think I owe it to him to stand by and cheer him on, yes?

I've never participated in a readathon before (like I said, I have a hard time clearing my calendar), but I've roped my librarian cousin in to this one. She'll be joining me in Maryland with her own stack of summer reads.

Sign up to join the readathon, and follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #24in48.

And tell me: What should I expect? What should I prepare? What kinds of books should I look to, and which ones should I avoid?

I Got Fancy, What?

For those of you who follow in Google Reader, via email, or via some other RSS mechanism that I don't fully understand, hop on over to the blog today to check out my redesign! I set out with the intent of migrating over to WordPress, but between paying for remapping my custom domain and arguing with the WordPress themes, I actually think I'm happier staying where I am for now.

If anyone has migrated and has any tips, I'm open to suggestions. I couldn't even find a theme that would allow me to change colors/fonts without upgrading to Pro -- I quickly lost interest/patience/knowledge/etc.

Post-Vacation Blues

I've just returned from a fandabulous (but altogether too short) vacation to the US Virgin Islands - St. John in particular. I spent four days boating, snorkeling (turns out I still hate snorkeling and tend to panic underwater), jumping off a pirate ship, eating fish and chips, island hopping, drinking rum drinks and basking in the sunshine. In return, I am sunburnt, congested, overtired, and have several hundred unread emails in my various inboxes.

Turtle Bay, St. John, USVI

But I don't mind a single one of those things, not really. A little aloe, a little Sudafed, and a few hours of the delete key, and I'll be good as new. No, what I find hardest about returning to the everyday after vacation is the sheer familiarity of it all. It is actually having to blow-dry your hair and pick out an outfit that doesn't involve flip-flops or a cover-up, and remembering to pack a lunch, and getting in the car and shifting in to autopilot and driving along that familiar, oh-so-familiar route to get to work.

For the first time in a long time, I did not listen to my book in the car today (I'm halfway through Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe on audio). Instead, I let my mind wander, hoping to think of something new or see something different on my standard drive to work. I've always considered my commute to be a chance to squeeze extra reading minutes out of each day, but today, for the first time, I started to wonder if it isn't just a way to keep my brain on autopilot and avoid seeing what's around me. Of course, I quickly remembered that my commute offers very little in the way of interesting sites--or sights.

I'm treating myself to a day on my dad's pier on the Severn River this weekend, book in lap and beer in hand--a little pseudo-vacation to cure my vacation withdrawal symptoms. But I sure as hell won't have this view to keep me company:

Hawksnest Bay, St. John, USVI

Telegraph Avenue: Parts III and IV

This post is part of the Telegraph Avenue pre-publication readalong, hosted by As the Crowe Flies (and Reads). For more information about the book, the readalong, and to find others' thoughts on the reading so far, visit the As the Crow Flies (and Reads) main readalong post for this week.

Part III: A Bird of Wide Experience
Part III, whoa, one breathless, 11-page sentence, an all-encompassing sweep of a bird's wing, a bird's flight, a bird's journey, tying together every character whose name we can't remember into one grand gesture of farewell, or perhaps of hello, starting with the beautiful sentence, "If sorrow is the consequence of pattern spoiled then the bird was grieving," which begs the question--is sorrow really the consequence of pattern spoiled?

Part IV: Return to Forever (warning: this is all kinds of spoiler-y)
If Part I was all set-up, and Part II was the place where it all really began, and Part III was a one-sentence reminder of everything that was and everything that was bound to happen, the Part IV is where it all unfolds. Here, Archy and Titus finally-finally!-interact, moving past their "equally infinite silence, nothing between them at all but three feet of sofa" of Part III. And when they finally do interact? Really, nothing. Titus idolizes his father, yearns for his father--but in fact, they have nothing in common.

But at least Titus still has Julie, and they set off on their wild adventures of youth, "armed merely with subtle weapons of loneliness," leaving behind them, "like a trail of dead, the disappointment in their tenure at the School of Turtle." (Reminder: Archy's nickname is Turtle. This is important to remember, here.)

And Titus and Julie find Luther and Valletta, and find themselves on the cusp of even more disappointment, until Archy intercedes on no one in particular's behalf, and then Archy and Nat have it out, and Archy and Gwen have it out--or rather, Gwen puts Archy out--but in doing so, Gwen comes into her own...

It's a tangle to try to even begin to summarize, but to me, Part IV is a chapter of growth, in which we get the unique experience of watching these complex, amazing characters become their true selves. Here is Julie, recognizing his own sexuality. And Titus, messing with his. Here is Archy, casting himself off from normal life, forming a little island of a man in grieving, frozen between the present and the future and uncertain of how to move. And then there is Nat, coming to terms--or at least recognizing--his son's growth, while simultaneously watching his own life fall apart. And then, lordy lord, there is Gwen, the most bangin', kick-ass, fly woman a reader could ever hope to root for, and she. Is. Smokin'.

Part IV, I felt, is also where Telegraph Avenue really comes to life, expressed equally in Gwen's hatred of the area, of the who Bay Area in general, "with its irresolute and timid weather, the tendency of its skies in any season to bleed gray, the way it had arranged its hills and vista like a diva setting up chairs around her to ensure the admiration of visitors," as it is in Titus' discovery of the AT-AT land of truck storage, and Nat's desire to be the musical oasis in an area of destitution between one place and another.

So, to sum up: Everyone has grown up, plans have been laid--and now it is up to Part V to see it all through, to find out what happens as these characters tumble back down the steep side of plot structure and into what I can only hope is some kind of conclusion. (My not-so-secret fear is that Chabon will end the novel as abruptly as he started it, really). I feel like we are on the cusp of some great event, or perhaps just on the other side of it (the it then being Cochise's funeral), and I'm looking forward to what comes next.


Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing advance copies of this title for readalong participants.
Telegraph Avenue | Michael Chabon | Hardcover | 480 page | September 2012 | Pre-order from The Odyssey Bookshop or an independent near you

Getting it Wrong

We all know that authors responding to reviews -- especially negative reviews -- can be a dangerous thing. But what if the review is just... wrong? What if the reviewer messed up?

That's exactly what happened in the New York Times review of Patrick Somerville's latest novel, This Bright River, titled "Unmoored and Meandering: Two Twigs Swirl in the Eddies of Lifes' Stream." The title just about sums up the review; in short, the reviewer didn't like it. At some point, the adjective "soggy" is used--and adjective I'm still struggling to figure out how to apply to writing.

But this is not merely a question of a good review versus a bad review--this is a question about a right review versus a wrong review. Because, it seems, the reviewer for the New York Times got it wrong.

Apparently, the opening sequence of the book leaves the answer to the question, "Who got hit on the head?" a little ambiguous. The New York Times reviewer filled in the blanks... incorrectly. And then reviewed the book. And hated it. But what if she had figured it out correctly? What if she hadn't missed that one crucial distinction between one character and the other?

We all know how one thing can spiral a book into a land of dislike: a particularly unbelievable character; a shoddy timeline of events; the world's most awkward dialogue. Often, as a reader, I have a hard time re-immersing myself in a story when I have been abruptly pulled out by some piece of poor writing. But what if, as in the case of The Bright River, it isn't actually poor writing--it's just my own oversight?

I have to admit, this is one of my biggest fears when writing about books. What if I get it wrong? What if I misinterpret what the author meant? What if I read into something that isn't there, or fail to grasp some key element?

There are those that would argue that a book should stand on its own, apart from author intent; it shouldn't matter what the author meant, only what the author said. I agree with that, but I'm not talking about mere interpretation. I'm talking about instances of confusing two characters, as in the New York Times review, or the possibility of glossing over or simply forgetting some detail that is crucial to the ultimate success of a story. That strikes me as outside the author's control--but fully within the reviewer's.

For the record, the New York Times did eventually print a correction; Somerville wrote about the entire experience in this Salon piece. And to be honest, I'll bet Somerville is getting more interest in his book because of the flub than negative interest because of the poor review. Bad reviews happen all the time; mistaken reviews, we're led to believe, are less common. Or are they?

Telegraph Avenue Readalong: Church of Vinyl

This post is part of the Telegraph Avenue pre-publication readalong, hosted by As the Crowe Flies (and Reads). For more information about the book, the readalong, and to find others' thoughts on the reading so far, visit the As the Crow Flies (and Reads) main readalong post for this week.

Part II has me hooked, line and sinker*. After reading everyone's posts last week, I approached Part II very differently than the first part of the book--notably, I did some research. I read about Telegraph Avenue, which is a real place in California, and made myself a glossary of characters for ease of reference (the mere act of writing them all down helped to sort them out, too). I read more slowly, in longer chunks (I read Part II in two long sittings), and took the time to re-read and appreciate Chabon's often stunning, mind-blowingly glorious sentences, often about the most mundane of subjects:
"At 9:45 A.M. the first batch of chicken parts sank, to the sound of applause, into the pig fat. The fat set about its great work, coaxing that beautiful Maillard reaction out of the seasoned flour, the smell of golden brownness mingling with the warm, dense, bay-leafy, somehow bodily funk of the beans, and with the summertime sourness of the greens like the memory of with Keds stained at the toes with fresh-cut grass. Nat stepped through the time portal that reached within the ring of seasoned iron. Riding the kitchen time machine."
It is the beauty of these wonderfully crafted sentences, I think, that ultimately carries Chabon's story--he uses words in the most precise and careful way to illuminate what is most important. Here, it is the power of food to bring back a memory, and not just a specific memory, but an entire bank of memories, of a time, and a place, and a person, and a feeling. His descriptions elevate the food beyond food and into the realm of the surreal; Nat's fried chicken is not just a meal, but an invitation.

Similarly, Gwen's emotions flow through Chabon's words, her sorrow, her apologies, her bulk, her weight, her burdens, all standing proud and tall:
"'I'm sorry,' Gwen said again, and this time it was not an expression of regret for the things she had said or done but rather the opposite: Her apology was, as apologies so often are, fighting words. She was sorry only that she was not sorry at all." 
The simplicity of the statement is overwhelming; though Nat sees apologies as "a miracle of language. Cost you nothing and returned so richly," to Gwen, they are an impossibility. Nat is a white man, and can make mistakes and apologize for them; Gwen is a black woman, and cannot afford to make mistakes--nor apologize where no mistake was made.

Telegraph Avenue is proving to be a successful novel, thus far; Chabon has brought together the meta-issues of race, poverty, death and family into a cohesive, solid novel that is clipping along at a steady pace, now that I've figured out everyone's nicknames.

Also, hooray for Chabon's humor finally shining through for me:
"Pausing at the top of a fold-down stair for a display of freestyle looming, brother looked like a celebrity golfer or as if perhaps he had recently eaten a celebrity golfer." 
Spoilers (and What I'm Looking Forward to Next)
I was saddened to read of Cochise's sudden death, and surprised to find the unexpected Senator Obama on the pages (not sure I completely loved that, to be honest); I'm excited to move on to Parts III and IV and watch the story fully develop; to see Archy and Titus finally interact; to fit Luther Stallings into the puzzle of Dogpile Thang; to reassemble the broken pieces of Archy and Nat's friendship.

*I'm not sure one actually can modify the "hook, line and sinker" saying to "hooked, line and sinker" like I did just there.

Further reading:
Telegraph Avenue: Dream of Cream
Telegraph Avenue: The Cast (A Glossary of Characters) Why Vinyl Sounds Better than CD, or Not.


Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing advance copies of this title for readalong participants.
Telegraph Avenue | Michael Chabon | Hardcover | 480 page | September 2012 | Pre-order from The Odyssey Bookshop or an independent near you

Book Review: How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

Caitlin Moran is not shy about being a woman--and a feminist one at that--though, as she recounts in How to Be a Woman, it has taken her some years to get to that point. Because, she argues, we live in a society of uncomfortable underwear and skinny models and people unwilling to talk about abortions; a world in which men have done everything important for 100,000 years of human history and women are still figuring out how to break into that world; a culture, at least in most of the Western world, in which women are encouraged to participate and contribute, but not without giving up their roles as mothers, housekeepers, wives, and support staff. And really, who has time to be well-dressed and career-minded while still changing diapers and wiping dried food off the counters?

Moran gets at all of this through the lens of her own life as a woman (or as someone trying to figure out how to be one). She does not shy away from any subject: growing up in a poor family; her insecurity in her own body and her struggles to lose weight; her experience in an emotionally abusive relationship with a wanna-be rock star. She even recounts the emotional--and physical--trials of childbearing, from from her first pregnancy and the seeming impossibility of actually birthing a human, to the smooth-sailing birth of her second child, to her decision to abort her third child early in pregnancy. She is candid, honest, and raw--and she is funny. Her stories are humorous, and awesome, and slightly reminiscent of Tina Fey's Bossypants. 

But what really won me over here was the feminist argument--not the menses-eating, bra-burning*, man-hating kind of feminist, but the kind of feminist comfortable speaking out for herself--and her fellow women.
"What I am going to urge to say 'I am a feminist.' For preference, I would like you to stand on a chair and shout, 'I am a feminist!'--but this is simply because I believe everything is more exciting if you stand on a chair to do it.
It really is important that you say these words out loud...Say it. SAY IT! SAY IT NOW! Because if you can't, you're basically bending over, saying, 'Kick my arse and take my vote, please, patriarchy.' 
And do not think you shouldn't be standing on that chair, shouting...if you are a boy. A male feminist is one of the most glorious end-products of evolution."
Feminism is not evil. It is not deadly. And it is not optional:
"When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist--and only 42 percent of British women--I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladis? What part of "liberation for women" is not for you? 
...These days, however, I am much calmer--since I realized that it's technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn't be allowed to have a debate on a woman's place in society."
The woman of the 21st century, rising up after the second or third or twentieth wave of Feminism-with-a-capital-F has passed, is capable of far more than her historical counterparts; quite frankly, if women in 1912 were to see what life was like in 2012, they'd likely pee themselves (and then they'd have to do more laundry). Lucky for us, as Moran points out, "Whatever we want the future to be like, no one's going to have to die for it."

So what do we want the future to be like? Well, that's up to us, isn't it? How to Be a Woman doesn't have the answer to that question, but it asks the questions we need to start asking to get thinking--and to start doing. It's not a how-to guide, really, but a clever, witty look at what it is to be a woman today--and whether or not that's really what we want it to be. And in a summer full of rape joke discussions, films about abortions, and celebrities encouraging young girls to be comfortable as themselves, it's an incredibly relevant, important thing to start considering. 

How to Be a Woman goes on sale tomorrow -- look for it!

*While not defining strident feminism as the burning of bras, Moran does admit that sometimes, after 18+ hours of wearing a particularly uncomfortable chest-lifting device, burning starts to sound pretty damn enticing. She's not wrong.


Thoughts from other bookworms:
The New York Times
Charlotte Higgins with The Guardian


You might also like:
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson


Note: I received a copy of this title for review from the publisher.
How to Be a Woman | Caitlin Moran | Harper Perennial | Paperback | 320 pages | July 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: Gun Dealers' Daughter, by Gina Apostol

This review originally ran in the Friday, July 13, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

Gina Apostol's Gun Dealers' Daughter, a stunning novel of the Marcos-era Philippines, is a story of politics and passion, of insurrection and rebellion, of growing up and the consequences of childhood naïvete. When Soleded Soliman (Sol) leaves home for university in Manila, she finds herself swept up in the Communist fervor on campus. But, as the daughter of prominent gun dealers, she is a part of what is being rebelled against. Then again, perhaps all that matters is her crush on Jed, the ringleader of the pack, and perhaps she is really nothing but a useful fool in the rebellion.

"Words are all we have to save us," her doctors tell her years later, "but at the same time, they are not enough to make us whole." This proves to be the paradox of Sol's life, as she tells her story in a desperate attempt to find out who she was--and therefore, who she is--but in doing so, only rediscovers how little she understands. Her telling and retelling and editing and tweaking of her own history feels disjointed in the opening chapters, but ultimately proves to be one of the most successful aspects of Apostol's creation; the technique invites readers into the very core of Sol's experiences, accompanying her on her journey of self-understanding--and, perhaps more importantly, self-acceptance. In the end, Sol is left with as many questions as she has answers, but readers are treated to a captivating look into this period of Philippine history and the gripping story of one girl's struggles to find her place in the world.


Thoughts from other bookworms:


Gun Dealers' Daughter | Gina Apostol | W. W. Norton & Company | Hardcover | July 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Telegraph Avenue: The Cast

After reading everyone's readalong posts on Part I of Telegraph Avenue earlier this week (if you'd like to explore, you can find them all linked at As the Crowe Flies' main readalong post), I discovered I wasn't the only one who was having a hard time keeping all the characters (and nicknames!) straight. So before diving in to my read of Part II, I went back through Part I and made myself a glossary. If any other readalong readers are interested, here's what I have (and please, tell me if I've noted anything incorrectly!):

Note: This glossary contains spoilers of events contained in Part I. 

Archy Stallings: Co-owner of Brokeland Records with Nat Jaffe. Son of Luther Stallings, husband of Gwen Shanks. Father (from afar) of Titus Joyner, following a long-ago romance with Jamila Joyner. Cheated on Gwen with Elsabet Getachew. Sometimes called "Turtle."

Aviva Roth-Jaffe: Wife of Nat Jaffe. Midwife, business partner of Gwen Shanks. Mother of Julius Jaffe.

Chandler Flowers: Local councilman, Brokeland regular. Uncle to many. Nickname "Chan." Friends with Luther Stallings from the 70s, once shot a man in a club with Luther as the getaway driver.

Cochise Jones: Musician, Brokeland regular. One-time recording artist/song-writer. Owner of Fifty-Eight, the parrot. Father figure to Archy. Neighbor of Titus' aunt (Mrs. Wiggins).

Elsabet Getachew: Waitress at Ethiopian restaurant with whom Archy has had a recent affair.

Garnet Singletary: Archy and Nat's landlord at Brokeland Records. Father of Aisha, grandfather of Rolando English. Nickname "King of Bling."

Garth Newgrange: Partner of Lydia Frankenthaler, nervous father-to-be during at-home birth.

Gibson Goode: Football player-turned-businessman. Opening a Dogpile Thang mega-record shop in close proximity to Brokeland Records.

Gwen Shanks: Wife of Archy Stallings. Midwife, business partner of Aviva Roth-Jaffe. Pregnant with her first child.

Fifty-Eight: Grey parrot belonging to Cochise Jones, won in a bet from Marcus Stubbs.

Jamila Joyner: One-time romance of Archy Stallings, 14 years ago. Got pregnant, moved to Texas to live with her mother. Recently passed away.

Julius Jaffe: Son of Nat Jaffe and Aviva Roth-Jaffe. Nickname "Julie." Movie-lover. In love with Titus.

Luther Stallings: (Absentee) father of Archy Stallings. One-time B-list actor, martial arts expert. Partner (on- and off-screen) with Valletta Moore. Recovering drug addict, alcoholic.

Lydia Frankenthaler: Pregnant woman, customer of Gwen and Aviva. Rushed to hospital during home birth.

Moby Oberstein: White lawyer who consistently "talks black." Works in the same building as Gwen and Aviva. Regular customer at Brokeland.

Mr. Nostalgia: Card collector/dealer.

Nat Jaffe: Co-owner of Brokeland Records with Archy Stallings. Husband of Aviva Roth-Jaffe. Father of Julius Jaffe.

Popcorn Hughes: Shot by Chan Flowers (in the 70s).

Rolando English: Infant son of Aisha, grandson of Garnet Singletary. Borrowed by Archy as a "practice" baby.

S.S. Mirchandani: Owner of liquor and convenience store near Brokeland Records. Regular Brokeland customer and proponent of adding a cafe to the record shop.

Titus Joyner: Son of Jamila Joyner and Archy Stallings. 14 years old. Returned to California to live with his aunt after his mother's death. Currently living with the Jaffes, having befriend Julie at a movie class.

Valletta Moore: One-time B-list actress. Partner (on- and off-screen) of Luther Stallings.

Walter Bankwell: Nephew of Chan Flowers, kindergarten friend of Archy Stallings. Recently hired in a good position at Dogpile Thang.

Famous Wheel of Time Quotes... from the future

For those of you who, like me, just can't wait for a sneak peek of Brandon Sanderson's A Memory of Light (the final book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series), check out this blog post on about readers' favorite WoT quotes. Around about comment 112, readers start contributing their own favorite quotes from the yet-to-be-released A Memory of Light... and they are awesome. Which only re-affirms my belief that WoT readers are the shizz, of course.

Some personal favorites:

Comment 116 (from Amir):
"Well, Lews Therin had grown so powerful, he wanted to retire. So he told me his secret: 'I am not the Dragon,' he said. 'My name is Ryan. I inherited this title from the previous Dragon, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from was not the real Dragon, either. His name was Cummerbund. The real Dragon has been retired fifteen years and living like a king in Patagonia.' Then he explained the name was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear. You see, no one would surrender to the Dread Warlord Al'Thor. So we sailed ashore, took on an entirely new crew and he stayed aboard for awhile as first mate, all the time calling me the Dragon. Once the crew believed, he left the ship and I have been the Dragon ever since. Except, now that we're together, I shall retire and hand the name over to someone else. Is everything clear to you?"-- Rand Al'Thor, AMoL, Chapter 21, "Leavetakings"

Comment 127 (from SaidinsDragon):
"With the One Power comes great responsibility," -- Uncle Tam to Rand, AMoL, Chapter 3, "Tangled Webs"

January 2013 is just around the corner... 

Telegraph Avenue Readalong: Dream of Cream

So. Telegraph Avenue. The latest and greatest novel from Michael Chabon centers on a white family and a black family, owners of a used vinyl shop located on the quintessential Telegraph Avenue. Except that it was not quintessential enough for me to immediately know what it was, so I went a-Wikipediaing. Turns out it is a well-known street in Oakland, California, notable as a "home to many restaurants, bookstores, and clothing shops, along with street vendors occupying its wide sidewalks." Apparently, it also "attracts a diverse audience of visitors, including college students, tourists, artists, street punks, eccentrics, and the homeless."

That's helpful to know, really, going into this book, as Telegraph Avenue functions as much as a character as it does a setting. And I love that in a book. Authors that can make places as important as people are awesome. 

And yet this book and I have had some fits and starts. I read the first two pages (the dedication and the epigraph) and was all I LOVE YOU MICHAEL CHABON. If you're curious, this is the dedication:

To Ayelet, from the drop of the needle to the innermost groove.

And this is the epigraph:

Call me Ishmael. --Ishmael Reed, probably. 

Then I read the next 20-or-so pages (ok, maybe more like 60) and was all I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING OR WHO ANY OF THESE PEOPLE ARE.

And then I stopped thinking in all caps and thought, ok, you're a smart person, you can figure this out. And I did. And once I started reading in longer chunks (this is not a book to be read in 10-page incremements), it started coming together a bit more for me.

At this point, I'm at the end of Part I (right on time for the readalong, too, go me!), and I think I like it. I think. I'm not wildly in love with all of the characters, but I feel that that statement desperately requires a "...yet." at the end of it, and therefore am not too worried. I do love Gwen Shanks, the rockin' midwife with a fierce attitude, and Julie Jaffe, son of the white owner of the record shop. I'm still not sure I know who everyone is, or how all of the characters/names/nicknames fit together. For a book about race, I'm pretty consistently confused as to who is black and who is white--but maybe that's intentional. I'm definitely not sure I know what is taking place in 2004 and what is a flashback to the 70s--but again, I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Like so many other parts of this book (the characters, the time period, the setting, the plot), my own reaction to the book so far confuses me. Part I of Telegraph Avenue netted out to a bit of a flop; at 124 pages long, it felt like a whole lotta set-up and very little payoff. But by the end of Part I, I was ready to dive right in to Part II... so that must be a good thing, in some way. I'll be posting about Part II next week, so we shall see.

If I've piqued your interest with my scatter-brained reaction to the first part of this book and you'd like to preorder a copy for yourself, you can do so at The Odyssey Bookshop or find it at an independent bookstore near you. If I've piqued your interest and you'd like some further opinions of this book, you can find other readalonger's reactions at As the Crow Flies.


Further reading for Part I:
5 Questions for Michael Chabon (via Audra at Unabridged Chick)
Telegraph Avenue on Wikipedia
Michael Chabon on his "hometown" in The Atlantic

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

This book is one of my three Victorian novels read for A Victorian Celebration, hosted by A Literary Odyssey. I am woefully behind in my reading already and haven't even selected my next two reads, let alone read them. I'm thinking probably The Warden by Anthony Trollope, and... maybe some Dickens.

The Picture of Dorian Gray has long lived on the periphery of my reading consciousness. I knew enough to know it was a novel about a painting, but not enough to stop confusing it with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. When I drew it off the shelf for A Victorian Challenge, I was startled to learn that this was the only novel written by Oscar Wilde. And that it was short (my Penguin paperback edition weighed in at a mere 256 pages, and they were small pages). And that it was fascinating.

Wilde's deft pen brings Dorian Gray to life in ink, just as, I suppose, Basil Hallward's brush brings Dorian Gray on canvas. But while Hallward's portrait captured the beautiful innocence of the young Gray, Wilde's novel captures the self-centered, narcissistic soul of Gray--a soul hidden from the world. For when Gray wishes that he can stay young and beautiful forever, while his painting bears the brunt of all the age and wrongness in his life, his wish is, mysteriously, granted.

While Gray lives a life of duplicitous dealings and slow ruination, his face remains untouched by the scars of the years, of his guilt, of his buried selfishness. All the while, his painting sits buried in an attic at the top of his house, changing with each flippant action taken by its subject.

Terrifyingly, Gray's company continues to accept him as his is, despite the havoc he wreaks around himself; the disgraced ladies are sent away, and shamed gentlemen disinherited, as polite society morphs itself around Gray and his perpetually lovely face. Gray never takes responsibility for his own actions--nor is he asked to. He is under the eternal influence of others, and of his own obsession with himself. He is a puppet in a mass charade, and anything that stands in his way and in the way of aestheticism overall is simply set aside.

Wilde's only novel is so excellently crafted that it left me wishing he had written more in his lifetime. The Picture of Dorian Gray reveals Wilde's ability to peel back the layers of society, and of individual action, to reveal the truth that lies hidden beneath appearances. Most notably, and controversially, Wilde questions the importance of appearances at all, when what lies behind them is of little value and even less importance.


Thoughts from other bookworms (and Celebration participants, at that!)
Fanda Classiclit
Literary Stars
Haphazard Hollingsworth


The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde | Penguin | Paperback | February 2007 (originally published 1890) | Buy from an independent near you (Penguin Clothbound Edition)

Book Review: The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, by Elizabeth Speller

This review originally ran in the Tuesday, July 3 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

In 1911, five-year-old Kitty Easton disappeared from her bed without a trace. Years later, archeologist and amateur detective Laurence Bartram is invited to the family manor to study the unusual Victorian church on the grounds; there, he finds the Easton family unable to escape the shadow of the girl's disappearance, and the Wiltshire country town unable to forget the many deaths of their beloved soldiers. When a kitchen maid goes missing and a woman's body is discovered in the church, Bartram finds himself drawn into the family secrets, the town's gossip and the forgotten places of the Easton Deadall manor.

At its surface, Elizabeth Speller's The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton is a mystery novel centered on the disappearance of a little girl, but Speller expertly peels back the story's layers to reveal a rich tapestry of English country life in the years following the First World War, bringing forth themes of loss, blame and politics. Her characters reveal the long-lasting impact of the war on civilian and soldier alike, while bringing to life the era's complex relationships between town and manor, upstairs and downstairs, young and old. Speller's descriptions of the manor house itself, and the decorations of the church, are similarly rife with historical detail. The Strange Case of Kitty Easton proves a delightfully layered, intricate novel of kidnapping, murder and architecture--a brilliant reimagining of the classic manor-house mystery of British literature.


Thoughts from other bookworms:


The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton | Elizabeth Speller | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | Hardcover | June 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Summertime, and the Reading is Plentiful

This column originally ran in the June 26, 2012 edition of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission. If you haven't already, sign up here for a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

You'd be hard-pressed to find any two people who define a beach read in the same way. Is it a book about warm weather and beaches? Or a book set during the summer months? A light, easy read, or is summer the time to tackle a heavy, literary tome?

For those looking to take the beach to the beach, there is no shortage of reading material about sandy shores. J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine is a novel of family and friendship, the story of three generations of Kelleher women as they descend on the family cottage one summer. Its unhurried, thoughtful pace is perfect for lazy days and long summer nights, while the steady unveiling of family secrets is bound to keep readers riveted through whatever beach distractions may present themselves. George Howe Colt takes on a similar subject--the recurring family vacation to a favorite summer spot--in The Big House, part love letter to the past and part history of the American summer home, told through the history of his family's own summer house on Cape Cod.

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach's much-acclaimed 2011 novel, takes on one of summer's greatest pastimes--baseball. Henry Skrimshader, a young prodigy of a shortstop, is recruited to play baseball for Westish College, where his life quickly becomes intertwined with the lives of four others. Harbach's stunning debut weaves together the narratives of each of these characters seamlessly, building a novel that is as much about baseball as it is about human relationships, love and loyalty.

Justin Cronin's The Passage bears scant resemblance to other vampire novels on the scene today; Cronin's "vampires" are the result of a virus let loose in the U.S., and the consequences are deadly. The plot is relentless, breakneck and, even though it's an 800+ page novel, the ending comes before you know it. With the next volume in the Passage trilogy coming this fall, now's the perfect time to pick up--or revisit--Cronin's nightmarish future.

A Pre-Publication Readalong!? Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon

You read that right -- a pre-publication readalong of Michael Chabon's newest novel, Telegraph Avenue, hosted by As the Crowe Flies (and Reads).

I'll be honest, I don't often participate in readalongs. Despite their appeal, I've come to recognize that my reading habits don't generally lend themselves to others' reading schedules. I read sporadically, five minutes here and five hours there, and I am a total book polygamist (I think I have eight books in progress at the moment). But because of the small group nature of this particular readalong, I thought it seemed like a good fit--plus I was intrigued by the pre-publication nature of this project. What is it like to write weekly about a book that hasn't been published yet? We'll see!

All that being said, I actually know very little about Telegraph Avenue, beside the fact that it was written by Michael Chabon. In the interest of going into this book as I would any other (that is, without researching it first), I plan to keep it that way. But here's what I do know:

- I fell in love with Michael Chabon's writing when I read Summerland years ago. I fell even more in love with it when I read Kavalier and Clay. I fell a little bit out of love when I picked up Gentlemen of the Road (which I don't think I ever finished). I haven't read Chabon's other works.

- I take Telegraph Avenue (though not the same one, as apparently the book is set in California) to get to the airport from my house.

- The cover is baller. The book is 480 pages long, and will be released on September 11, 2012.

I'll be posting Tuesday of each week through the end of July. Along the way, if you're interested in pre-ordering a copy for yourself, find one at an independent bookstore near you. Or order from Odyssey Bookshop today!

Time Flies When You're Reading Books

Egads! It's JULY!? When did this happen?

It seems the first half of the year snuck out under cover of darkness (literally, I haven't had power since Friday, so it's been a rather dark--and hot--three days), and now I'm diving in to the second half of the year. In order to keep myself accountable, here's a recap of where I stand on my goals to-date:

I challenged myself to read a more balanced selection of titles this year, spreading my reading across literary fiction, genre fiction, non-fiction and classics. To date, I have read 55 books in 2012 (20 of which were assignments for Shelf Awareness): 17 literary fiction, 13 genre fiction, 18 nonfiction and 7 classics. Ten are unfinished (eight in progress!, and 2 DNFs). Clearly, I need to up my reading of the classics.

Twenty-four of these 55 titles were written by female authors--not too bad, but not quite as balanced as I'd have hoped. Forty-one of the 55 were published in 2010 or later.

Seventeen were 400 pages or more. I've read a total of 17,786 pages, averaging 9 days per book completed.

Classics Challenge
To date, I've fulfilled 4 of the 9 categories for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I still have to read: a 19th-century classic, a classic play, a translated classic, a classic award winner, and a classic set in a country I will not visit in my lifetime. Recommendations accepted.

A Victorian Celebration!
To help with my goal of reading more classics, I also signed up to participate in A Victorian Celebration, hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey, pledging to read three Victorian titles in the months of June and July. I've read one so far--two more to go in July. 

26 by 26
On my 26 by 26 list, I set a goal of reading War and Peace and all of Hemingway's works before my 26th birthday. I've read 3 Hemingway titles to date, and none of War and Peace. Plus I'm thinking I should ease into Tolstoy with Anna Karenina first, so I need to get cracking.