Fabulous Bookends from Another Fabulous Etsy Seller

28 March 2012

I rarely, if ever, use bookends. Not because I don't love them, but because my shelves are full from one end to the other, and therefore there is no room for bookends. But one day, I will have more shelves... and so need more bookends, and I will definitely be revisiting Knob Creek Metal Arts' Etsy shop for my purchases:


(Nerd Bookends, $39.99)

(Novel Bookends, $39.99)

(Raven Bookends, $39.99)

Browse all of Knob Creek Metal Arts bookends, or their entire store (they also have fun keyhooks, leash hooks, personalized bar signs, etc.) Enjoy!

Book Review: A Century of Wisdom, by Caroline Stoessinger

27 March 2012

Originally published in the March 27, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.. Receive bi-weekly Shelf Awareness for Readers in your inbox by registering here.

Born in 1903, Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest living Holocaust survivor--indeed, one of the oldest women in the world. She has lived through two World Wars, one concentration camp and the death of her son. Through all of this, or perhaps despite all of this, she remains a devoted pianist and an eternal optimist, believing wholly in the power of music and laughter to bring us through the most difficult of times.

With A Century of Wisdom, Caroline Stoessinger presents a catalogue of this amazing woman's philosophy, explaining Alice's banishment of the words "if only" from her vocabulary, her uncanny ability to turn disappointment into generosity and her vigilant guard against prejudice and hate within herself. Placed in the context of Alice's life experiences, from her time in Theresienstadt to her relocation to Israel, and eventually to England, these sentiments read like miniature lessons in how to be happy despite seemingly overwhelming odds. "Only when we are so very old do we realize the beauty of life," Alice muses; while this may be true, A Century of Wisdom could be seen as an attempt to impart this wisdom to those much younger than herself.

Despite the many sad stories in Alice's life, here is a message of hopefulness and happiness contained within her experiences. Alice has touched hundreds, if not thousands of lives with her music, her compassion and her character. With A Century of Wisdom, her words will continue to inspire readers for years to come.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
The Teaching Studio
Kirkus Reviews

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A Century of Wisdom | Caroline Stoessinger | Spiegel & Grau | 9780062004796 | $23.00 Hardcover | 256 pages | March 2012 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Any Book... Is Good For Him

25 March 2012

"Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him."  -Maya Angelou

Book Review: Island of Vice, by Richard Zacks

21 March 2012

Originally published in the February 21, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.  Receive Shelf Awareness  in your inbox  by registering here.


There is no shortage of reading material on Theodore Roosevelt, but the majority of it glosses over his short but trying time as Police Commissioner in New York City. Historians who do address this difficult time tend to draw primarily on Roosevelt's own memoirs of the period, in which he portrays himself successfully cleaning up the city. In fact, as Richard Zacks (The Pirate Hunter) reveals in Island of Vice, Roosevelt's two-year term as police commissioner was a failure.

Zacks's coverage of this little-studied period of Roosevelt's career is lengthy but captivating, revealing the underbelly of 1890s Manhattan--the alcohol, the prostitution and the gambling--along with the systemic police corruption that allowed it all to flourish. Roosevelt's prudish, almost Puritanical efforts created an atmosphere that Zacks depicts as a vicious game of whack-a-mole; for every instance of vice suppressed, three new ones seem to have appeared.

The end result of Roosevelt's "doomed quest" was a Manhattan as steeped in sin as it was before his time there, and a deep rift between him and Republican leadership. In a bizarre twist of events, it was this intolerance that pushed Roosevelt into the vice presidency, a position Zacks notes was meant to keep him out of trouble more than give him power. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
Washington Post
Booklust

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You might also like:
The Alienist by Caleb Carr
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

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Island of Vice | Richard Zacks | Doubleday | $27.95 hardcover | 448 pgs | March 2012 | 9780385519724 | Buy from an independent near you

Understanding vs. Interpretation

18 March 2012

There is an Irish saying that means, roughly, "What one person writes, another can never truly understand. Others can only interpret."

I stumbled across this the other day as I did some research for some St. Patrick's Day writing, and it really made me pause. As an avid reader, and an almost equally avid reviewer, I spend hours of my life each week trying to understand what others have written. Trying to see what is on the page, and why and how it is there.

In hindsight, I believe this is why I find author interviews and author biographies as fascinating as I do. After listening to an interview with Mark Helprin included at the end of the audio version of Freddy and Fredericka, I suddenly realized that the Mark Helprin I had concocted in my head was actually nothing like the Mark Helprin of real life. And knowing that changed my understanding of his writing, somehow. His claims that he does not, in fact, write--or even like!--magical realism made me pause, as I have always considered both Freddy and Fredericka and Winter's Tale to be books of magical realism at its very finest.

And upon reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, a history of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I found that my annual re-read of the classic Christmas story was changed, not necessarily for better or for worse, but changed nonetheless.

Part of me loves this change, feeling as though I am coming closer and closer to understanding what the book was intended to be, rather than what I have made it for myself. But the other part of me, perhaps a larger part, believes that I am losing something in this act of understanding, as I have lost the ability to define for myself what I want to take away from my latest read.

At the end of the day, I think the old proverb may be on to something; do we, as readers, really ever know what the author has written, or can we only know our interpretation of it?

I wonder what you all think: Is it important to know the author, or the history of a book, in order to come closer to understanding the books true meaning, or does it not matter--should the book stand on its own, open to the individual interpretation of its readers?

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While you're here, enter to win a copy of Frank Delaney's Ireland. Simply leave a comment here to enter.

St. Patrick's Day Reading List

17 March 2012

This post is based on a column originally published in the March 16th issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already get this bi-weekly dose of bookish goodness in your inbox, sign up here to fix that.

It's St. Patrick's Day! I know that means you're all readying yourselves for the inevitable onslaught of green beer, soda bread and corned beef. There's more to this holiday than food coloring, however; why not celebrate by taking a deeper dive into Irish literature?


One of the most well-known works of Irish literature, of course, is Joyce's daunting Ulysses. While those who have read this in its entirety should surely be commended, those looking for a more approachable way to encounter Joyce might consider Dubliners, a collection of Joyce's short stories originally published in 1914. Each of the 15 stories gives readers a glimpse into Dublin as both a city and as a collection of people, ranging from a simple tale of two young boys playing hooky from school to a more complex story about the nature of life and death.

Frank Delaney's Ireland is a rich novel of storytelling and narration, in which Ronan, a nine-year-old boy, is captivated by the stories told by a traveling storyteller. After the storyteller leaves, Ronan vows to find him once again, traveling Ireland by foot on search of his mentor, becoming entranced by Irish myth and culture along the way. Delaney's novel is complex and inviting, weaving together well-known stories of Irish folklore with the story of Ronan and his family; the result is as much a celebration of Ireland as it is of storytelling itself.

On an Irish Island by Robert Kanigel, takes a close look at the history of the Blasket Islands, known in theearly 20th century for its community and for the unadulterated Irish language still spoken there. But as more and more visitors came to experience this linguistic rarity themselves (the Irish language was in steep decline throughout most of the 20th century), the self-contained community of the Blasket Islands began to erode, culminating in a government-ordered evacuation of the islands in 1953. Kanigel's work is well-researched and thoughtful, asking critical questions on the nature of linguistics, cause and effect, and the preservation of culture.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! (rough pronunciation: bahn-ach-tee na faw-leh paw-dreg oh-riv) Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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While you're here, enter to win a copy of Frank Delaney's Ireland. Simply leave a comment here to enter. 

Irish Language, Irish Studies, Irish Books, and a Giveaway

16 March 2012

Despite my incredibly Irish-sounding name, I am not, in fact, Irish. Except by marriage. That hasn't stopped me from falling in love with Irish everything, of course; I even took Gaelic as my language requirement in college, and sang in the Irish Folk Group. (NYU, by the way, has an amazeballs Irish Studies program, in which you get to go to class in this gorgeous building, which is on this gorgeous street, and in between classes, you can sip this kick-your-ass Irish tea and sing some pretty baller Irish tunes.)

Sadly, I've forgotten much of my Irish, but I know enough to wish you all a Happy St. Patrick's Day:

Beannachtai na Feile Padraig Oraibh! 
(Rough pronunciation: bahn-ach-tee nah feh-leh paw-drigg oh-riv)

To celebrate my love of my adopted country, I'm giving away a copy of Frank Delaney's Ireland. Simply leave a comment to enter. Extra entries for following, and for tweeting, Facebooking, or otherwise telling everyone you know about it. You know, the usual. US & Canada only -- sorry, international folks. I'll pick a winner on Tuesday, 3/18.


And if you're looking for a new Irish saying for your celebrations tomorrow evening, try this:

Ta me are meisce! 
(Rough pronunciation: tah may are mesh-keh!) 
Translation: I am very drunk!

Book Review: When I Was a Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson

14 March 2012

Originally published in the February 21, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness Pro. Reprinted here with permission. Receive Shelf Awareness Pro in your inbox daily by registering here.

Though most well-known for her fiction (including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead), Marilynne Robinson is also an accomplished essayist. When I Was a Child I Read Books is her fourth collection of essays, carrying forward themes for which she is consistently recognized: faith, culture, patriotism and self-identity. In exploring these ideas--and her ideals--Robinson leaves no subject untouched, from the role of science in explaining our origins to the practical worship of capitalism in the 21st century, from our treatment of the poor to the intertwined nature of religious identity and American patriotism.

With "The Fate of Ideas: Moses," Robinson examines the laws of Moses as presented in the Old Testament, which she calls "a brilliant economics based in religious ethic marked by... an anxious solicitude for the well-being of the needy and the vulnerable." She laments the loss of the spirit of these laws, positing we have come to value property and possession over assisting the impoverished.

In the title essay, Robinson uses her own experience as a child reader to parallel our one-time lust for exploration and adventure in the American West. She goes on to reckon with the loss of individualism, or perhaps the loss of the celebration of individualism, and our seeming complacency with the status quo. "Everything, for all purposes, still remains to be done," she presses. We need, in short, a modern version of the American West to spur our imaginations, to motivate us to once again embrace the spirit of the individual.

Other essays explore subjects equally important, and some just as mundane, all with a critical, questioning eye that is both impassioned and thought-provoking. Throughout, Robinson approaches these topics through the lens of her own faith and beliefs, but the lessons ultimately transcend any one religion and instead encompass our very definition of our selves, as individuals, as Americans, as readers, as members of a faith--or not, as the case may be. It is this transcendence that makes When I Was a Child I Read Books as relevant for non-religious readers as for the observant, as important for Jewish readers as Protestants. Robinson's essays are thoughtfully passionate, forceful, clear-eyed and concise. As individual pieces, they inspire a new consideration of particular issues; as a whole, they force readers to reconsider who they are--and, perhaps more importantly, why they are.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
Kirkus Reviews

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You might also like:
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Home, by Marilynne Robinson

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When I Was a Child I Read Books | Marilynne Robinson | Farrar, Straus & Giraux | 9780374298784 | $24.00 Hardcover | 224 pages | February 2012 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Audiobook Review: Bossypants, by Tina Fey

12 March 2012

Oh, Tina Fey, how I love you and your hairy arms and your ability to write -- and talk -- about anything and everything and nothing all at once, and to make it meaningful and witty and also hilarious. Your takes on honeymooning, gay boyfriends, breastfeeding, and making your way as a woman in a male-dominated industry are ah-freaking-mazing, and I am ashamed that it has taken me so long to finally pick up and read (ahem, listen to you read to me) Bossypants.

I was sad to see this one end. Really, I was. I devoured the six-or-so hour audiobook, narrated by Tina Fey herself, in a matter of days, popping discs into my Walkman (yeah, I went out and bought one of those for precisely this purpose) while walking the dog, doing the dishes, you name it. Bossypants is a laugh-out-loud, tear-inducing, witty look at the things that matter to a lot of women, but that a lot of women are too chicken to talk about: getting your period (note: it doesn't actually look like the blue laundry detergent that they use to demonstrate in TV commercials, much to Fey's confusion), breastfeeding (and how some moms are those crazy ladies who do nothing but insist to everyone and anyone that breast milk is better than formula), what it is to be a working mother, to be a woman in a male-dominated industry, to stake your claim on the world, on your world, on your workplace, whatever.

Bossypants taught me that it is ok to do whatever I want, and I don't have to care if you fucking like it (with props to Amy Poehler on that one), that it is ok to laugh at things that make me uncomfortable, like unibrows and questions about my reproduction plans (which are none of your goddamn business, thank you very much), and that sometimes, even Tina Fey and Oprah over-extend themselves, just like the rest of us.

Seriously, I can't say enough good things about this book. It's not going to go down in the history books as the greatest memoir of all time, but it will go down in the annals of this year as one of the funniest six hours I've had to date.

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”

P.S. Every single review out there says to go to the audiobook for this one. Let me just add to the din and clamor voices: Check out the audio for this one. Tina Fey rocks it.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:

Desktop Retreat
The Boston Bibliophile
books i done read

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You might also like:
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns, by Mindy Kaling
If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won't), by Betty White
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris

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Bossypants | Tina Fey, nar. Tina Fey | Hachette Audio | 9781609419691 | $29.98 Audio CD | 5 hr, 35 min | April 2011 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

Book Review: Home, by Marilynne Robinson

10 March 2012

In her most recent novel, Home, Marilynne Robinson returns to the small town of Gilead and to some of the characters introduced in her Pulitzer-Prize winning novel of the same name. Now, however, she is addressing age-old questions about the nature of home that have become more and more relevant in recent times: What does it mean to come home? As a child? As an adult? What is home?

It is 1957, and thirty-eight year old Glory Boughton's relationship has fallen apart. With nowhere else to go, she returns home to Gilead to care for her dying father, abandoning her position as a teacher to do so. Without her marriage and without her job, she wonders to herself, what is left? What is she? What role does she have beyond caretaking, and what role does that leave her when her father dies?

Glory is a woman who defines herself through words and books; the daughter of a Reverend, these words are often from the Bible, but also come from poetry and novels. In reflecting on her time as a teacher, she muses,
"Why do we have to read poetry? ... Read it and you'll know why. And if you still don't know, read it again. And again. Some of them took the things she said to heart, as she had done once when they were said to her. She was helping them assume their humanity. People have always made poetry, she told them. Trust that it will matter to you."
Glory is not the only Boughton child to return home, however; her estranged brother, Jack, has sent a letter to her father that he will soon be coming home as well. Like Glory, Jack has nowhere left to go; unlike Gloria, Jack is the cast-off of the family, the perennial trouble-maker, the only Boughton child not to make an appearance at his mother's funeral, the only Boughton child over which their father prays on a daily basis, the lost son that has broken his father's dying heart on too many occasions to count.

With this odd trio of family members, Robinson explores the place of home in our lives, and the importance of family, and of acceptance, and of self-acceptance.  Glory muses that the three learn to treat "one another's deceptions like truth," but in fact it seems at though this is their downfall. Glory is unable to see herself as anything but her father's caretaker, and so feels infringed upon when Jack offers to help. Jack is unable to see himself as anything but a constant disappointment to those he loves, and so he continues to disappoint. Their father aims to pretend that he forgives Jack, and so is able to understand him:
"There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, [he] used to say. You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding."
But at heart, he has not truly forgiven Jack for the hundreds of small heartbreaks over the years, the dozens of large ones, and so he is incapable of understanding his son, now a grown man with whom he wishes so dearly to make amends.

There is a reason that Robinson's works have been nominated for, and received, as many awards as they have. Gilead, the precursor to Home, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, and was chosen as the NBCC winner in 2004. Home won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2009. Robinson's skill lies in her ability to invent the most mundane of characters, who live the most ordinary lives, but whose experiences force readers to ponder the bigger questions of life.

Though Home offers multiple definitions of "home," Robinson in no way sets out to define the word for us in the end. It is the act of questioning, her words seem to imply, that teach us the most, rather than the answering itself.
"In destitution, even of feeling or purpose, a human being is more hauntingly human and vulnerable to kindnesses because there is the sense that things should be otherwise, and then the thought of what is wanting and what alleviation would be, and how the soul could be put at ease, restored. At home. But the soul finds its own home if it ever has a home at all."
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Thoughts from other bookworms:
New York Times Book Review
A Guy's Moleskine Notebook
Literary License
Savidge Reads

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You might also like:
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

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Home | Marilynne Robinson | Picador | 9780312428549 | $14.00 Trade Paper | 336 pages | September 2009 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

The Age-Old Battle of Making Time to Read

09 March 2012

Literary Blog Hop
How do you find time to read, what's your reading style and where do you think reading literature should rank in society's priorities?

This is a tricky question--er, questions, really--because the phrase "finding time to read" implies that reading is something that I must fit into everything else, rather than the other way around. I suppose it's just a matter of wording, but to me, it's also symbolic of something larger. After all, have you ever been asked how you make time for television in your life? Or how you manage to fit in all forty hours of work?

This gets at the heart of the second question, and I've already given away my answer: I think reading should be a priority, rather than a chore. A form of entertainment, fun, education, relaxation, rather than something to be squeezed in. It pains me that we think of reading as something for which we must carve out time, rather than something ingrained in our day-to-day lives; unlike television, housework, and grocery shopping, reading does not make the automatic to-do list. I'd argue that this is even true for avid readers--I know it is for myself--and it makes me wonder what an obstacle reading must seem to a non-reader, how difficult it must seem to carve out enough time to read an entire book.

But because I live in a world of reality, where chores and work and errands don't magically disappear in light of my desire to simply read, I do find time to read, and I do it at any given opportunity. I listen to audiobooks in the car, to and from work each day and any other time that I don't find myself with passengers. I listen to audiobooks while doing chores around the house or walking the dog--I purchased a portable CD player for just this purchase, so I can listen to audiobooks from my local library. I read in the mornings when I eat breakfast, and I read on my lunch breaks when I can, and I read in the evenings while my husband plays video games or watches television. I read before I go to bed. I read on vacation. I read when I travel. I read in line at the post office. I read whenever my mind--and my eyes and ears--are not caught up in other things.

I'm not hating on television or housework or even forty-hour work weeks here; I watch trashy TV shows (Worst Cooks in America, I'm looking at you), and I have a house to clean, and I work full time. But none of that is going to stop me from picking up a book each night, and whenever else I can, and from preaching to everyone else that they should do the same.

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Prompt from The Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase.

Telegraph's 110 Best Books List (By Genre)

08 March 2012

I've always been a sucker for lists (despite my inability and unwillingness to keep a strict TBR list) so imagine my delight when Brenna a Literary Musings recently posted a book reading list I'd never seen before, which she had just discovered in a post from Amanda at Dead White Guys on BookRiot about reading lists.

Anyway, here's the list: Telegraph's 110 Best Books List. It's organized by genre, which I love, and I've read a measly number to date:

KEY:
Read for an assignment, which only half counts
Read it! Take that!
Own/planned to read in short order/but let’s face it those plans never really work out anyway

CLASSICS
  1. The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer
  2. The Barchester Chronicles, Anthony Trollope
  3. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  4. Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
  5. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  6. War and Peace, Tolstoy
  7. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
  8. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
  9. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  10. Middlemarch, George Eliot

POETRY
  1. Sonnets, Shakespeare
  2. Divine Comedy, Dante
  3. Canterbury Tales, Chaucer
  4. The Prelude, William Wordsworth
  5. Odes, JohnKeats
  6. The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot
  7. Paradise Lost, John Milton
  8. Songs of Innocence and Experience, William Blake
  9. Collected Poems, W. B. Yeats
  10. Collected Poems, Ted Hughes

LITERARY FICTION
  1. The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
  2. A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust
  3. Ulysses, James Joyce
  4. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
  5. Sword of Honour trilogy, Evelyn Waugh
  6. The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark
  7. Rabbit series, John Updike (I've read the first book in the series)
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  9. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  10. The Human Stain, Philip Roth

ROMANTIC FICTION
  1. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  2. Le Morte D'Arthur, Thomas Malory
  3. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos
  4. I, Claudius, Robert Graves
  5. Alexander Trilogy, Mary Renault
  6. Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian
  7. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  8. Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
  9. Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  10. The Plantagenet Saga, Jean Plaidy

CHILDREN'S BOOKS
  1. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
  3. The Lord of the Rings, J.R. R. Tolkien
  4. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  5. Babar, Jean deBrunhoff
  6. The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
  7. Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
  8. Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
  9. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  10. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

SCI-FI
  1. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  2. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
  3. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
  4. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  5. 1984, George Orwell
  6. The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham
  7. Foundation, Isaac Asimov
  8. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke
  9. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
  10. Neuromancer, William Gibson

CRIME
  1. The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
  2. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
  3. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
  5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré
  6. Red Dragon, Thomas Harris
  7. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  8. The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allan Poe
  9. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
  10. Killshot, Elmore Leonard

BOOKS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
  1. Das Kapital, Karl Marx
  2. The Rights of Man, Tom Paine
  3. The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  4. Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
  5. On War, Carlvon Clausewitz
  6. The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
  7. Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
  8. On the Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud
  9. On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
  10. L'Encyclopédie, Diderot, et al

BOOKS THAT CHANGED YOUR WORLD
  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
  2. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach
  3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  4. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
  5. The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf
  6. How to Cook, Delia Smith
  7. A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle
  8. A Child Called 'It', Dave Pelzer
  9. Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss
  10. Schott's Original Miscellany, Ben Schott

HISTORY
  1. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon
  2. A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill
  3. A History of the Crusades, Steven Runciman
  4. The Histories, Herodotus
  5. The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides
  6. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence
  7. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Compiled at King Alfred's behest
  8. A People's Tragedy, Orlando Figes
  9. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Simon Schama
  10. The Origins of the Second World War, A.J.P. Taylor

LIVES
  1. Confessions, St Augustine
  2. Lives of the Caesars, Suetonius
  3. Lives of the Artists, Vasari
  4. If This is a Man, Primo Levi
  5. Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Siegfried Sassoon
  6. Eminent Victorians, Lytton Strachey
  7. A Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell
  8. Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves
  9. The Life of Dr Johnson, Boswell
  10. Diaries, AlanClark

So…
7 books read as a school assignment, which only half counts, so 3.5
14 books read, so take that. Six were from the children’s book section. What does that say about my reading selections?
14 books that I already own and already planned to read... someday. Which is not to say I won’t read the others, but it is to say I may not have necessarily heard of all of the others.
So, 14 or 17.5 or 21 books read in total, depending on how you count.
14 books on my radar.
Which leaves approximately 2/3 of the list, however you cut it, on which I grade myself a complete Fail. How many have you read? What reading lists do you get excited about?

Where would you be without your library?

07 March 2012

... Or if your library was only 900 square feet?

This little town in Massachusetts is setting out to raise enough money to build a new library, and this little video that they made get right at the heart of why libraries always have been -- and always will be -- a crucial part of our communities. Enjoy!


(Kudos to Shelf Awareness to sharing this this morning)

Pseudo-Review: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

06 March 2012

Poor Hemingway. This little gem of a book has taken quite the beating over the years, subjected to countless skeptical high-schoolers forcing their way through the slim novella only to finish it and think, "What just happened?" I count myself among the ranks of these bewildered teenagers who finished my assigned reading only to think to myself, "But what's with the fish?"

Of course, even my stubborn teenage mind grasped that there was something more to it than a fish, but I never gave it much thought, really. And then, as a semi-adult, I challenged myself to read all of Hemingway's works before my 26th birthday. With that deadline a mere year and a half away, and only one book under my belt, I figured it was time to get cracking. And The Old Man and the Sea is short, and I needed something to knock off the list quickly so I could feel accomplished, and so, voila. I revisit the book I so dreaded in 9th grade.*

Now, having finished all 127 pages of what might be Hemingway's most-read story, I am exceedingly glad I did. While I still struggled to connect with the old fisherman the second time around, and I still thought to myself, "What's with the fish?," there was a part of me, albeit a small one, that got it. That understood that this is not about the fish, but about an old man with nothing left to lose, who sets his sights on a goal and refuses to back away from it, whatever the consequences. Even when he realizes the folly of his plan, even as he scolds himself for not being better, in every way, shape, and form, he stands firm.

While this might not top the list of my favorite Hemingway books (that remains to be seen, as I work my way through more of them), I have a sneaking suspicion that it may be one of the more lingering ones. Its simplicity is also its charm, what gives it the power to resonate for days, weeks, and even years after reading it.
"Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. But imagine if a man each day should have to try to kill the sun? We were born lucky, he thought."
It is silly note to hope, he thought. Besides I believe it is a sin. 
"'I should have brought a stone.' You should have brought many things, he thought. But you did not bring them, old man. Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is."

* I actually revisited the same copy of the book from my 9th grade English class, which I have moved from one place to another over the years.


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Thoughts from other bookworms:

Your Move, Dickens
Age 30+... A Lifetime of Books
Book Brothel

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This satisfies the re-read requirement for the Back to the Classics Challenge, and moves me one book closer to my goal of reading all of Hemingway's books before I turn 26.

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The Old Man and the Sea | Ernest Hemingway | Scribner | 9780684801223 | $10.00 Trade Paper | 127 pages | 1995 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

The Raven: Edgar Allen Poe on the Big Screen

05 March 2012

Did anyone else miss this until recently? Because I certainly did. Apparently John Cusack will be appearing on the big screen in April as none other than Edgar Allen Poe himself.



I've been meaning to read more of Poe's works for some time now - I do live terribly close to Baltimore, after all, and the Poe House is on my list of local sights to see - and this seems the perfect excuse to break out that old collection of creepy stories, no? Does anyone know of a good account of Poe's life, while I'm on the subject?

Why Do We Have to Read Poetry?

04 March 2012

"Why do we have to read poetry? ... Read it and you'll know why. And if you still don't know, read it again. And again. Some of them took the things she said to heart, as she had done once when they were said to her. She was helping them assume their humanity. People have always made poetry, she told them. Trust that it will matter to you." (from Marilynne Robinson's Home)
I started out my year with an intention to read a poem a day. I haven't succeeded in reading quite that many, but I have read more poetry this year than any other, and I'm rather enjoying it. Any recommendations for poems/poetry collections I should be sure not to miss?

Book Review: Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson

02 March 2012

Originally published in the February 28, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.. Receive bi-weekly Shelf Awareness for Readers in your inbox by registering here.

Before the Poison starts, very simply, with the purchase of a house. After 25 years abroad, successful Hollywood musician Chris Lowndes has decided to return to the Yorkshire countryside of his youth. He purchases Kilnsgate House sight unseen, trusting his real estate agent to handle the transaction. Upon arriving at the house, however, Chris discovers that its former owner, Ernest Fox, was poisoned to death in his bedroom nearly 50 years earlier; his wife, Grace Fox, was found guilty of his murder and sentenced to hang. Chris is quickly captivated by this story of domestic distress and execution; convinced of Grace's innocence, he sets out to learn what really happened all those years ago--and finds a story of romance and war he never would have expected.

Peter Robinson, best known for his police procedural series featuring Inspector Alan Banks, recounts the hidden story of Kilnsgate House through imagined histories, letters and diary entries of the 1950s, interspersed with Chris's first-person narration of events. Though the style results in somewhat uneven characters, it ultimately succeeds in providing important insights into the thoughts and actions of both Grace Fox and Chris Lowndes.

These insights carry the reader through Grace's often harrowing experiences as a wartime nurse and Chris's efforts to cope with his own wife's death to a well-imagined, if somewhat tidy, conclusion. The result is an intriguing mystery that draws on the classic trope of the haunted old country house, but does so in such a way that it feels newly invented.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:
A Bookworm's World
Whimpulsive
Book Club Girl

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You might also like:
The Likeness by Tana French
Dandy Gilver & the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona MacPherson

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Before the Poison | Peter Robinson | William Morrow & Co | 9780062004796 | $25.99 Hardcover | 368 pages | February 2012 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you

The Right Instruments

01 March 2012

Image from Williams-Sonoma
My husband and I went shopping this weekend and found ourselves at Williams-Sonoma with money to spend (well, with a gift card to spend, really)

We intended to walk into the store and look for a new gadget. We don't necessarily need any gadget (next to our bookshelves, our kitchen is the most cared-for and well-stocked part of our house), but it's always fun to use gift cards on something that seems extravagant. We wandered around aimlessly, looking at the various contraptions that looked fun, but realistically, would never be used (I'm looking at you, individual pie maker, you adorable, uni-tasking thing).

In the end, we went back to basics. We left with a good supply of wooden spoons. Well-made, sturdy, durable wooden spoons. They weren't expensive. They weren't flashy. They weren't extravagant. They weren't a new toy. They weren't shaped like Star Wars characters, or adorable because of their miniature size, or out in a new, luscious color of blue. They are just spoons, but they are the right instruments. And sometimes having the right instruments for the task at hand is significantly more important than having a funky new gadget.

The things you learn at the mall.