Book Review: The Lover's Dictionary, by David Levithan

dictionary, n.

A compilation of words and their meanings. In the case of The Lover's Dictionary, an alphabetical organization of words centered on one rocky relationship, its ups and downs and in betweens. An assortment of recognitions and observations about all the little details of love, from the things that annoy to the things that destroy to the things that bring it all back together again.

re-readable, adj.

The kind of book you read through to the very end and flip back to the beginning again without pause; description of a book flagged with dog-ears and underlines and passages to revisit. The kind of language you know will resonate with you at various points in your own life, whether in love or out of it. Words you know you cannot stand to only read once.


The Lover's Dictionary | David Levithan | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | Hardcover | 224 pages | Buy from an independent near you

PBS = Remix Masters (Whodathunkit!?)

While not strictly book related, these are just too good not to share. Someone at PBS deserves a big honkin' bonus for dreaming these puppies up:

There's a Bob Ross one, too, but embed is disabled. Watch it on PBS digital studios YouTube channel.

Book Review (in Brief): For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

I read this book months ago, and am far too much in love with it to actually try to write anything elegant or eloquent enough to do it justice. And so, in a mere 150 words, here's why you should read this book:

Though Hemingway can be intimidating, he’s one of those classic authors that should not be missed. True, his male characters are domineering and his female characters often lack the punch we’ve come to expect from modern writers, but if you can accept these truths, his works drive home the realities of everyday life, of love, of war, and of the search for oneself. For Whom the Bell Tolls, often considered one of his greatest works, is no exception. The novel tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, and his fast-paced romance with the young Maria. Hemingway’s stark prose serves only to highlight the horrors of war, and the gruesome realities of human nature; For Whom the Bell Tolls requires a strong stomach, a bit of patience and a box of tissues, but it is one of the finest war novels every written.

Oh, and also, this puts me one step closer to completing my 26 by 26 list.


For Whom the Bell Tolls | Ernest Hemingway | Scribner | 1940 | 480 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Just Backed it: BookRiot's START HERE

Unless you live under a very very large rock, you'd be hard-pressed to have missed the very very big splash BookRiot has made in the book community since its founding (in 2011?). I almost typed "book blogging" community, but it seems to me that BookRiot is a lot more than that--thanks in large part to the plethora of smart, witty book bloggers making regular contributions.

Which is why it's no surprise that BookRiot is making a move into the world of publishing, setting out to launch START HERE into the great, wide, bookish world.

The book, when printed, will offer up 25 "Reading Pathways" (check out the existing Reading Pathway posts for Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Margaret Atwood for an example); each will introduce a famous writer and provide a recommended pathway for reading his or her work.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

I don't often put Kickstarter campaigns up in this little blogosphere, but this one seemed to good not to pass on. Back it today for your chance to own a copy early on (plus some other awesome prizes), and to be part of sharing book recommendations with the great, wide, bookish world yourself.

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Dear Friend,

I just finished this incredible book - maybe you've heard of it? It's called The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In case you don't know it, it's a wonderful book about a high school kid named Charlie trying to figure out how to fit in and make friends and "participate." He's really always been more of a watcher -- a wallflower, if you will -- than a participant, but then he makes a few friends and his whole world opens up.

I really wish this was a book I'd read in high school, because as much as I loved it now (and that was a lot), I think it would be have been even more poignant when I was younger. Charlie learns all these great things about friends and relationships and sex and drinking and drugs and cigarettes and being true to himself that are important now, even with high school nearly a decade behind me, but would have been even more important then.

I don't know if you know about Charlie, but he's the kind of kid that sometimes makes you want to cry because he can be so naive, so pure, so simple, and so kind all at once. But this can also be his greatest downfall, because sometimes he gets lost in the process, and you just want to shout, "Charlie! Wake up! Don't you see what's happening here?"

Of course you can't, because it's just a book. But is anything really "just a book," after all? I don't think Charlie would think so, and I don't think so, either.

Love always,

P.S. Incidentally, if you do decide to read this one, the audio is great. Charlie becomes very real when he reads his letters to you, in a way he might not if only written.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower | Stephen Chbosky, nar. Johnny Heller | Recorded Books | 6 hours, 22 min |  Buy from an independent near you

Hemingway Was a Lousy Spy

I've been on a bit of a Hemingway kick lately, and let me tell you, once you start looking, the man is everyfreakingwhere. Just today, the International Spy Museum popped up on my Facebook feed with this Foreign Policy article about Hemingway's lousy spy career.

It's not surprising that Hemingway was gung-ho to be a spy; the man was all about physical exercise, masculinity, proving oneself, long stretches on the open water. It is surprising, though, how bad he was at it; according to the article, he only ever spotted one - count 'em, one - German submarine, and it turned around and left.

Even if he was a lousy spy, we can at least thank his passion for secret missions for one thing: his spy connections eventually got him in to Spain during the Civil War, which provided research for For Whom the Bell Tolls. He may not have given the governments he knew much information, but he gave us one of the greatest war novels of all time. Not a bad trade, in my opinion.

Pseudo-Review: A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

Hailed as the greatest American novel to come out of World War I, A Farewell to Arms is a close parallel to Hemingway's own experiences as an ambulance driver during the Italian campaigns in the war. Though it is, at heart, a war book -- it is impossible to write about Italy in those years without writing about war -- it is also a love story, a stampeding romance between Henry, a young American ambulance driver and Catherine, a British nurse. 

Let me just get this out here up front before continuing: yes, Henry is a bit of an ass, albeit an incredibly masculine and crafty one, and Catherine is a bit snivelly and dotes on Henry for reasons not quite explicable and generally has little character to call her own. It's not news that Hemingway treated his female characters like crap, so let's put it aside, shall we?

The book is divided into five parts; I won't summarize them all here for fear of ruining the story, but suffice it to say that the parts alternate between Henry and Catherine's affair (wooing, falling in love, taking to bed) and Henry's experiences at the front. In the end, I'm not sure which proves more devastating: the horrors of war depicted in the explosions and treachery and general chaos of battles and retreats, or the laborious relationship between two seemingly doomed souls. 

As with his other works, Hemingway's ability to capture a time and a place in such excruciating detail make it impossible to leave the world he has depicted, and his descriptions of the physicality of battle and surgery and love and flight are as captivating as his accounts of events themselves. It's not uplifting, but it is mesmerizing and tantalizing all the same; the striking combination of love and war and fight and flight and masculinity and even, yes, the occasional joke proves a fascinating, heartwrenching, terrible, wonderful story. 


Note: There's a new edition of the classic out from Scribner this summer that includes all 39 of Hemingway's alternate endings. Apparently the ending was just as difficult to write as it was to read.


A Farewell to Arms | Ernest Hemingway | Scribner | Paperback | 9780684801469 | 336 pages | July 1995 (Originally published 1929) | Buy from an independent near you

Recap: 24 in 48

This weekend, I participated in Rachel from a home between page's 24 in 48 hour Readathon, the goal being 24 hours of reading time in a 48-hour window. I didn't make it to 24, but I did hit 20, which is the most time I've ever spent reading in one weekend. So I call it a great success!

Our #24in48 Reading Lair
I recapped my first day of reading pretty regularly, but on day 2, computer troubles kept me off of Blogger and on Twitter only. So here's a recap of my readathon activity overall:

Hours Read: 20 (10 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday)

Pages Read: 1,102 + 2.5 hours of audio books

Books Read:
  • The Warded Man by Peter Brett (audio)
  • *The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • *The Lover's Dictionary by Dave Levithan
  • *Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (audio)
I decided to donate 5 cents per page read to FirstBook, a non-profit organization that aims to provide books to children in need; in total, I'll be donating $61.35 (I counted each hour of audio as 50 pages, for lack of a better method).

Who else had a fabulous reading weekend??


*Read in full this weekend.

It's Readathon Time! #24in48

It's here! It's finally here! The 24 in 48 readathon! I have a stack of books to choose from, a librarian cousin for reading companionship, and a host of foodstuffs planned/prepared/etc. For every page I read, I will be donating 5 cents to a literacy charity to be determined (I'm thinking FirstBook, but need to do a bit more research before confirming).

My computer's broken, which means I'll mostly be updating via Twitter on my phone. You can also follow #24in48 for all participants on Twitter. When I do post updates, I'll just do so to this post.

Just Startin' Out (9:23 AM):
Books read:
Food consumed: Nothing but water, but there are cheesy grits cooking and plans for a Smores pie later in the day.

Midday (1:15 PM)
Books read:
  • Completed A Farewell to Arms
Hours read in readathon: 5
Pages read: 210 + 1 hour of audio

Evening (6:00 PM)
Books read:

  • Completed The Lover's Dictionary
  • 50 pages of Oryx and Crake
  • 75 pages of The Hobbit
Hours read in readathon: 8
Pages read: 545 + 1 hour audio

We've officially opened happy hour, and librarian cousin companion is napping with the puppy on the couch for a bit. I'll be making lemon squares shortly, and then we're headed out to dinner... But I'm hoping to get at least another hour or two of reading in before we leave.

Goodnight (12:12 AM)
Books read:
  • Another 75 pages of The Hobbit

Hours read: 10
Pages read: 620 + 1 hour audio

I had hoped to get more hours in but a few hours without power drove me to a longer dinner at a local pub... and a few beers with dinner means I'm reading slowly and sleepily. So onward to tomorrow!

Indie Thursday: A Jaunt to Politics and Prose

Last weekend, I found myself down in DC for lunch with my best friend and partner in crime... when lunch hour didn't provide us with enough time to gab away all our cares and concerns, we headed over to Politics and Prose for some browsing and a cup of coffee. I'd never been to the shop before (a bit of a miracle, since apparently I drive right by it every time I head to visit my friend in the neighborhood), and I'm in book luuurrrrrve. 

Books Purchased:
The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer (a retelling, by Peter Ackroyd)
The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
Day for Night by Frederick Reiken (I've read this one already, but lost my copy and wanted to own it)

This time around, I managed to keep my purchases to the remainder shelves downstairs, but with all the amazing displays and featured titles in the main stacks upstairs, I'm not sure I'll be able to do that a second time around....

Politics and Prose has a pretty impressive list of author events, and though I missed Amor Towles (Rules of Civility) there at the beginning of this month, I'm hoping to make it to a reading/signing soon!

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Indie Thursday, a weekly Twitter event that celebrates Indie bookstores on - you guessed it - Thursdays. The event was started by Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves last year to help readers everywhere truly embrace their local, independent bookstores. To participate, simply tweet about a recent purchase at your indie bookstore using the hashtag #indiethursday. Oh, and also follow @IndieThursday on le Twitter.

In the Archives

There's something at once thrilling and terrifying about maintaining this little blog corner; the idea that what I write actually gets read by real people (sometimes) is both wonderful and awful all at once. Though I generally stay pretty close to books and book reviews, there have been posts in the past that give insight into me as both a reader and an individual. This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish, asks participating bloggers to highlight just these types of posts. Here are seven (I ran out after that) of mine, in no particular order:

My 26-by-26 list (July 2011): Last summer, I challenged myself to complete 26 tasks before my 26th birthday. The list ranges from simple (bake an apple pie from hand-picked apples) to complicated (fly an airplane); with 15 months left, I'm making progress.

Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes (May 2012): Another Top Ten Tuesday post, and what says more about a bookworm than her selection of favorite book quotes?

Book Review: How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran (July 2012): One of the first books I ever read that made me want to stand on a chair and shout, "I am a feminist!"

Missing Out on BEA (June 2012): For the second year in a row, I was unable to attend BEA. Though I love what I do, the internet buzz about all of the events and panels and meetups each year really puts me in an I-miss-publishing kind of funk.

The Age-Old Battle: Making Time to Read (March 2012): My response? You don't "make time" to read any more than one "makes time" to watch television. It's part of my daily life, and it just happens.

To My Best Friend (October 2011): My one-year wedding anniversary. I love that man.

and my personal favorite...

Inheriting My Reading Nook: A Saga of an Armchair (October 2011): The story of my grandmother's armchair, and how it left the family, came back, and became my own.

The Problems of Proximity

I have six bookcases in my living room. Plus a grandfather clock with shelves that hold vintage copies of my favorite titles, and a few first editions (James Michener's Chesapeake, for one). Plus stacks of books on my windowsill in the staircase, and a bookshelf  in my bedroom.

Oh, and one in the office. And some teetering piles of books on the floor under the living room window.

So basically, they're everywhere. When I watch television (rarely, but more so in these weeks of the Olympics), I see my Irish history and literature books on the left, and I constantly remind myself that I want to read At Swim Two Birds sooner than later. And to the right are the classics, with that daunting copy of War and Peace staring at me, calling, "only 15 more months!"

I have one main bookcase dedicated to modern fiction, with mass market paperbacks (mostly fantasy) at the top, and then general fiction below, alpha by author:

As I scroll through my list of books read in 2012, I'm realizing more and more that I've started to continually draw books from the most visible shelves: those by the television that I see from the couch, and those at eye-level when I browse the other bookcases.

Of the fiction titles I've selected from my shelves to read this year, over 75% were written by authors that fall before M in the alphabet. Michael Chabon, Neil Gaiman, Chang-Rae Lee, Chris Cleave. Exactly none fall after S.

I consider myself a fairly well-rounded reader; I am not completely bound to books I already own. I've read a handful of newly-purchased-and-never-even-made-it-to-the-shelf books this year, and several non-fiction titles (which are organized by subject on my shelves, not author name). But when I put review commitments aside and just browse my shelves for my next read, I find that proximity plays as much a part in that decision as the book itself. The ones I see most clearly are the ones I read most often.

Does this happen to anyone else? Are there certain books you see more often - because of their height on the shelf, or perhaps a long-time resting spot on the nightstand - that you find you are more likely to select as your next read? Or do you plan your next reads more deliberately than my turn-and-point-and-read system?

Preliminary Reading List for #24in48

This weekend, I'll be participating in Rachel from a home between pages' 24 in 48 Readathon, and I can't wait. Here's the stack of books I'm considering for the weekend - I already know it's too many, but I wanted to at least get my options narrowed down to a shorter list than my entire book collection:

Fantasy Titles:
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

26 by 26 / Classics:
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
(I may add Hemingway's Short Stories to this list)

Biographies / Memoirs:
My Life in France by Julia Child
Cicero by Anthony Everett

Short Story Collections:
The Woman with the Bouquet by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt
Dubliners by James Joyce

Literary Fiction:
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Attwood
Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy
(adding The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan here)

Young Adult:
Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by J.K. Rowling (my first re-read since high school!)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Non-Fiction (not pictured)
Getting Things Done by David Allen
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (I've been 50 pages into this one for weeks)

My biggest fear is that I've selected too many heavy/difficult works... but then I also feel like days with large chunks of reading time are the best for tackling these, and I always have Harry Potter to break it up a bit. Experienced readathon-ers, what do you think?

Indie Thursday: Moar Hemingway!

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Indie Thursday - a weekly Twitter event that celebrates Indie bookstores on - you guessed it - Thursdays. The event was started by Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves last year to help readers everywhere truly embrace their local, independent bookstores. To participate, simply tweet about a recent purchase at your indie bookstore using the hashtag #indiethursday. Oh, and also follow @IndieThursday on le Twitter.

Today, I ducked over to The Annapolis Bookstore for a quick lunch-time jaunt and stumbled into this lovely collection of Hemingway's short stories. I'm about halfway through A Farewell to Arms as I write this, which will be the fourth book I've read in my ever-more-doomed-sounding attempt to read everything Hemingway has written before my 26th birthday -- looks like these short stories may be my fifth.

End of Summer Fun! Books as Bathing Suits

As you pack for those end-of-summer beach trips, make sure you're reading in style. In perfect matching style, that is. Matchbook is pairing up book covers with bathing suits. There's a whole collection, but here are a few of my favorites: