Thursday, February 25, 2010

New Challenges: Memoirs and New York

Yes, I've done it again - found two more really great looking challenges that I just can't pass up. But they fit so well with all my other reading challenges, I don't think they'll be a problem.

The Memorable Memoir Reading Challenge is being hosted by Melissa of The Betty and Boo Chronicles. See the sign-up page here.
My progress page, with list of possible reads will be here.

The New York Challenge is being hosted by Jill of Fizzy Thoughts. See the sign-up page here.
And again, see my progress page, with list of possibilities, on my challenge blog here.

Booking Through Thursday: Why Read?

This week Booking Through Thursday offers this quote from Sven Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age:
“To read, when one does so of one's own free will, is to make a volitional statement, to cast a vote; it is to posit an elsewhere and set off toward it. And like any traveling, reading is at once a movement and a comment of sorts about the place one has left. To open a book voluntarily is at some level to remark the insufficiency either of one's life or one's orientation toward it.”
And then BTT asks "To what extent does this describe you?"

Well, to begin with, I'm not even sure I fully agree with that whole statement. I'll go along with the part about reading (volitional reading, that is) being "a movement" and a setting off toward another, new and different place. But I don't think it necessarily follows that the act says anything about the "insufficiency of one's life." That's sort of saying that only malcontents, misfits, and nerds are out there doing all the reading. And I just don't believe that's the case.

Not that there's anything wrong with being a malcontent, misfit or nerd. (Some of my best friends . . . yada, yada, yada.) And maybe the statement does say something about Sven Birkerts life - I wouldn't know about that.

Of course, I agree that one reason we engage in voluntary reading is to escape our everyday existence, and experience new places and situations. But I like to think of it as an enriching process, and an adding to - not as filling in or making up for life's "insufficiency." I read because I love the experience, the process, and the benefits I derive from reading. I read because I love the voyage of discovery I take every time I open another book. I read because I can't imagine not reading, and I suspect many of my fellow readers (and book bloggers) would say the same thing. Isn't that the bookworm's creed?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "C"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach, and here are the guidelines:
To join, here's all you have to do:

Go to your stack of books and find one whose title starts with the letter of the week.

1~ a photo of the book
2~ title and synopsis
3~ link(Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.)
4~ Return to the host's blog and leave your link in the comments.
This week's letter for A-Z Wednesday is "C." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Crewel World, by Monica Ferris (1999)

1. See the author's website (and read an excerpt) here.

2. Description from GoodReads:
When Betsy Devonshire arrived in Excelsior, Minnesota, all she wanted was to visit her sister Margot and to get her life in order. She never dreamed her sister would give her a place to stay and a job at her needlecraft shop. In fact, things had never looked so good - until Margot was murdered…

The art of needlecraft requires patience, discipline, and creativity. So, too, does the art of detection. Just ask Betsy - who's learning that life in a small-town needlecraft shop can reveal an unexpected knack for knitting … and a hidden talent for unraveling crime.

3. And a photo of the paperback edition (I'm not sure these books were ever issued in hard cover):

This book is the first in Monica Ferris' Needlecraft Mystery series, which is centered around Betsy Devonshire and the shop she inherits from her sister. This first book sets up the premise, introduces most of the regular characters, and (of course) has Betsy getting involved in solving her sister's murder. I love these books because they combine two of my favorite things - whodunits and needlework. Plus, each book includes a free needlepoint pattern. And the writing is usually excellent, too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: Cat Tricks

As usual, I've got several books going right now, so it took me a while to decide which one to use for this week's teaser. I settled on Hazel Holt's Mrs. Malory and Any Man's Death, one of a series of cozy mysteries that I'm hopelessly hooked on. I know this snippet is more than two lines, but I had to include the whole excerpt because it reminds me so much of a Persian cat I once had:
Foss, my Siamese, in his endless quest for entertainment, has invented a new ploy. When I go upstairs he rushes past and lies across the stair in front of me. This means that I either have to step over him (difficult because they are steep cottage stairs) or pay him the attention he requires by stroking him. This continues all the way up the stairs (mercifully he doesn't do it for the downward journey). [p.14]
Sheila Malory, the main character and amateur sleuth featured in the books, lives in a small English village, writes scholarly articles, teaches part-time, and solves murder mysteries as a sideline. She also has pets - several dogs, and her Siamese cat Foss. The books are full of village life and lots of dotty characters. The author, Hazel Holt, was a close friend and literary executor of novelist Barbara Pym, and her books are very Pym-ish in feeling, and Holt's sense of humor is similar to Pym's. I like to think if BP had written mysteries, they'd be much like the Mrs. Malory series; so it's almost (but not quite) as good as still having Dear Barbara around.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizb17 at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?
is now being hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link.

OK, I guess it's almost not Monday anymore. I seem to be running even slower than usual today. Blame it on an emergency dental appointment. I've been having a lot of those lately. (Getting old is so much fun!) Anyway, here's my info for this week:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review: The Raphael Affair

Written by Iain Pears
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990; 191 pages

Publisher's description:
This is the first of a series of highly knowledgable detective novels by an art historian about the art world. Set in Rome, it features the perpetually beset General Bottando of the Italian National Aft Theft Squad; his glamorous assistant, Flavia di Stefano; and Jonathan Argyll, a British art historian.

When Jonathan is arrested for breaking into an obscure church in Rome, he claims that it contains a long-lost Raphael hidden under a painting by Mantini. Further investigation reveals that the painting has disappeared. Then it miraculously reappears in the hands of the top British art dealer, Edward Byrnes. How has Byrnes found out about the hidden masterpiece, and whom is he acting for? There is also the curious matter of the safety-deposit box full of sketches closely resembling certain features of the newly discovered painting. A hideous act of vandalism occurs, then murder. Bottando faces the most critical challenge of his career, and Jonathan and Flavia find themselves in unexpected physical danger.

My thoughts:

Not a lot to say about this one. It was a nice, fast read, and mostly very enjoyable. Great settings, and plenty of talk about art and art history, which I liked a lot. Not a lot of action through most of the book – or, at least, not as much as you'd find in most police procedurals. Actually, I thought this book had more of a cozy mystery feel to it – not a bad thing, in my opinion.

Since this was the first book in a series, a lot of time was taken in introducing characters and setting things up. I liked the character of Jonathan Argyll very much – loved the way he hid his cleverness behind a dithery, slightly pedantic professorial facade. I wasn't as taken with the Flavia character, but she wasn't obnoxious and the little romance between the two was cute and not overdone.

This was a fun book, and looks to be a very appealing series. I'm looking forward to reading some of the later books and spending more time with Jonathan and Flavia as they fight crime and corruption in the wonderful world of art.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau

Written by H.G. Wells
Stone and Kimball, 1896; 249 pages
Available online at Google Books

H.G. Wells once again shows us it's dangerous to mess with Mother Nature.

Edward Prendick ("a private gentleman"), after being abandoned at sea by a madman of a ship's captain, finds himself rescued by the inhabitants of a mysterious island in the South Pacific. There he meets and is sheltered by the infamous Dr. Moreau. The mad doctor, who has been exiled from England because of his experiments in vivisection, is on a mission to create a new, superior race of beings. At first grateful for being rescued, Prendick gradually learns the true horror and dangerous consequences of Moreau's shadowy, gruesome biological research, and what it means for the grotesque inhabitants of Moreau's hellish island hideaway.

Wells' classic sci-fi adventure tale was apparently something of a sensation when it first appeared at the end of the 19th Century, and is heavy with themes and worries of its day – eugenics, vivisection, Darwin's writings, psychiatry. And its concentration on what, today, we would call "bioengineering" adds a very contemporary feeling to the novel, more than a hundred years after it was written. Moreau's warning that "The study of Nature makes a man at last as remorseless as Nature" is a problem scientists will probably always face.

I don't really know why it's taken me so long to read this one, since H.G. Wells is one of my favorite writers. Although I didn't love it as much as War of the Worlds or The Time Machine, it was still great fun – lots of excitement and surprises. And as always with Wells' work, it was beautifully written and accessible – just what you'd expect from one of England's greatest story-tellers.

Booking Through Thursday: Olympic Reading

This week's BTT topic has an Olympic theme: You may have noticed - the Winter Olympics are going on. Is that affecting your reading time? Have you read any Olympics-themed books? What do you think about the Olympics in general?

Before I go any further, I just wanna say: How about that Shaun White???!!! Far out!!!

OK, back to the books.

Yes, the Olympics have definitely taken up some of my reading time lately. Not that I've been reading about them – but I've certainly been doing more TV watching this week. Of course, a large chunk of that TV watching was devoted to the Westminster Dog Show which I never miss. But the Olympics have played their part in upending my reading routine, as well.

I love the Olympics – especially the winter games because I really enjoy all the skating competitions. Never been on ice skates in my life, but I always thought it looked like so much fun. And the costumes are gorgeous. But when it comes to reading about the games – well, the only reading I've done has been news reports on the Internet. Haven't read any Olympics-themed books and it's not likely that I'll read any in the future. I just don't have much interest in sports-related books. I like sports, but I'd much rather watch them than read about them.

And for the most part, I'd rather watch them than participate in them, too! What a shameful admission. I guess the only title I could compete for would be World's Laziest Old Broad.

Review: Quattrocento

Written by James McKean
Doubleday, 2002; 307 pages

Publisher's description:
Matt O’Brien has a quiet life: A painting restorer with a particular love of the Quattrocento period of the Italian Renaissance, he toils away millimeter by millimeter, bringing old oils to new light. But one day he happens upon a painting in the basement of the Metropolitan Museum that is thick with centuries of yellowed varnish and dust. As he uncovers the portrait of a mysterious, beautiful woman, he finds himself suffering from an urgent sense of déja vu coupled with the pain of falling in love with a person long dead. Meanwhile, strange things have been happening in the museum since the installation of a wood-paneled room from Gubbio called a studiolo. As Matt increasingly seeks refuge in this magical room from the pressures of having potentially discovered a Leonardo da Vinci, the centuries slip away and he finds himself in the center of a love triangle, with Anna on one side and the Machiavellian knight Leandro, fighting for her fortune, on the other.

My thoughts

In general, I enjoyed this tale of time-travel and art history set in modern-day New York City and fifteenth-century Tuscany. The glimpses behind the scenes of the art world are interesting, the story of Matt's obsession with a woman depicted in an old painting is very romantic and intriguing, and there's just enough danger thrown in to keep everything mysterious and exciting.

I especially liked the idea of the studiolo being the passageway through time. It was a little like an adult version of the wardrobe entrance to Narnia. But I sometimes had trouble with the time-warp elements of the story – the main character would just suddenly fade out of one setting and appear in the other. There seemed to be a suggestion that the time displacement had to do with vanishing points and certain sounds or vibrations, but I would have welcomed a little more explanation of why or how it all occurred. Also, Matt seems to fit into that Renaissance world a little too easily, even for someone who's spent most of his career studying its art and culture. Things happen very quickly and without much explanation in that past world – one minute Matt is just encountering Anna for the first time, they have a brief conversation about a painting, and suddenly they're soul mates sharing rather intimate moments in her private studio. Would a woman from an aristocratic Italian family have behaved so freely with a stranger in fifteenth century Italy? I think it's doubtful.

The book is a pretty fast read, although I found the prose style a little hard to wade through at times. McKean has obviously done a huge amount of research on art and the history and culture of Renaissance Italy, and it shows – but sometimes not in a good way. A lot of the discussions about art begin to sound like study notes, after a while. McKean is actually a musician and instrument-maker, and the book includes some discussions of music which are probably fascinating to other musicians, but seemed a little dry to me.

But as I said, even with these reservations I still enjoyed the book. It was McKean's first novel, so I'm hoping for better things in the future. He's definitely a writer worth a second try.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: The Anthologist

Written by Nicholson Baker
Simon and Schuster, 2009; 245 pages

Publisher's description:
The Anthologist is narrated by Paul Chowder – a once-in-a-while-published kind of poet who is writing the introduction to a new anthology of poetry. He's having a hard time getting started because his career is floundering, his girlfriend Roz has recently left him, and he is thinking about the great poets throughout history who have suffered far worse and deserve to feel sorry for themselves. He has also promised to reveal many wonderful secrets and tips and tricks about poetry, and it looks like the introduction will be a little longer than he'd thought.

What unfolds is a wholly entertaining and beguiling love story about poetry: from Tennyson, Swinburne, and Yeats to the moderns (Roethke, Bogan, Merwin) to the staff of The New Yorker, what Paul reveals is astonishing and makes one realize how incredibly important poetry is to our lives. At the same time, Paul barely manages to realize all of this himself, and the result is a tenderly romantic, hilarious, and inspired novel.

My thoughts:

I absolutely loved this book! It's a terrific read – there, I've said it, and I'm tempted just to leave it at that. You really should run out and grab a copy and read it as soon as possible. From the opening lines ("Hello, this is Paul Chowder and I'm going to try to tell you everything I know. Well, not everything I know, because a lot of what I know, you know."), I found it charming and funny and frustrating and thought-provoking and outrageous and moving – both unreal and all too believable, and just a lot of things that I really wasn't expecting, given the subject matter.

At the beginning of his tale, Paul Chowder promises to tell us "everything I know about poetry. All my tips and tricks and woes and worries. . . ." And that's just what he does. By book's end, if we've paid attention, we've actually learned quite a lot about poetry and the people who write it – but mostly we've learned all Paul Chowder's (and, I suppose, Nicholson Baker's) theories on the subject. The book turns out to be, in itself, quite a nice little introduction to the world of poetry, and to modern pop culture as well. Baker/Chowder throws in hundreds of references to books, poets, products, TV shows, movies, etc. There's Slaid Cleaves, Anne Boleyn, Margot Fonteyn, Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Jens Thiel (and his chair), Paul Oakenfold, Don Rickles, Red Skelton, Louise Bogan, Geoffrey Chaucer, Edward Lear, "Johnny Crow's Garden," A.A. Milne, Dr. Seuss, Gilbert and Sullivan, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, Sidney Lanier, Christopher Morley, William Wordsworth, Edgar Allan Poe, Alfred Tennyson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Frost, Sara Teasdale, Charles Causley, W.H. Auden, Walter de la Mare, James Fenton, and The New Yorker. And that's just in the first twenty pages! It's a pity the book comes without footnotes and an index – they would have saved me a lot of time spent with Google and Wikipedia.

And in there amongst all the theorizing about verse, and the discussions of iambic pentameter, there's the story of Paul's writer's block and his doubts about his own career as a poet ("I'm basically willing to do anything to come up with a really good poem. . . . That's my goal in life. And it hasn't happened."), and the traumatic breakup with his girlfriend Roz. Paul's life seems to be falling apart at the moment, and he's doing his best to get it back together – trying to hide his desperation behind his rambling lecture on verse. But we see it, in flashes at first, and then in more detail as the book goes on. And, of course, what makes it all the more painful is his knowledge that the blame for Roz's departure is all his own:
I'm not going to get all maudlin about why Roz moved on. She moved on, period. I know why. It's because I didn't write the introduction to my anthology. And I was morose at times with her, and I was shockingly messy. And I had irregular sleeping habits. And she was supporting us, and I was nine years older than she was. And I didn't want to walk the dog as much as I should have. And I got farty when we had Caesar salads. And I do miss her. (p. 27)
I came to really love Paul Chowder, even with all his faults. He can be pedantic and crude, but also lovable and sensitive, and very funny. And he's the only other person I've ever come across (in fiction or in real life) who seems to feel the same way I feel about haiku:
This, children, is a kind of poetry that makes perfect, thrilling sense in Japanese, and makes no sense whatsover in English. . . . This form is completely out of step with the English language. And the person who foisted it on us – that person was a demon. (p.73)
This isn't a book with a great deal of plot – not a lot of action. But there's a lot happening, all the same. I won't say any more about the story or how it works itself out, except that I found the ending very satisfying, if just slightly less than totally believable – it fit the story and the story-teller perfectly.


Full Disclosure Statement:
I got this book from the public library. They let me keep it for several weeks without charging me any fees. The library card which allowed me to borrow the book was also free of charge. When I finished reading the book, I was not allowed to keep it; I returned it to the same library. No moneys changed hands. No one asked me to read this book or attempted to influence my response to it. This review represents my unsolicited personal opinion of this book. No one paid me or offered to reward or compensate me in any way in return for this review or for any recommendation that may appear in or be inferred from this review.

A-Z Wednesday: "B"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach, and here are the guidelines:
To join, here's all you have to do:

Go to your stack of books and find one whose title starts with the letter of the week.

1~ a photo of the book
2~ title and synopsis
3~ link(Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.)
4~ Return to the host's blog and leave your link in the comments.
This week's letter for A-Z Wednesday is "B." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Betsy-Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace (first published 1940)

1. Book Details at Wikipedia. You can read my review here.

2. Description from GoodReads:
Betsy and Tacy were two little five-year-olds, such inseparable friends that they were regarded almost as one. These stories of their friendship present a very real picture of young children living in the early 1900's. Each book features amusing illustrations by award-winning author/illustrator Lois Lenski.
3. And a photo of the recent hard cover edition:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: People of the Book

This week, my teaser lines come from People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I'm about a third of the way into this one, and enjoying it so far. This excerpt is from the first section of the book, which sets up the framing story about Hannah, a professional book conservator from Australia, who's been called to Sarajevo and given a rare and beautiful ancient Hebrew manuscript to analyze and preserve. Here, Hannah is discussing the materials and routines used in conserving and restoring antique volumes:
In the bright snow light, my hands looked even worse than usual, all ruddy and peeling from scouring the fat off cow gut with a pumice stone. When you live in Sydney, it's not the simplest thing in the world to get a meter of calf's intestine. [p.5]
See, the calf's intestine is for using in the preparation of gold leaf - that is, if you're going to beat your own gold leaf the way a medieval bookbinder would have done it. Ah, well, conservation and archival work may not be the most glamorous undertaking I can think of, but I find it fascinating and always thought I'd missed my calling by not going into that field. But that bit about the cow gut is making me think I might not have been up to the task after all.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizb17 at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now being hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link.

Well, if the power stays on this week, I'm hoping to work on getting some reviews posted. I'm already way behind in my reviewing this year (what else is new?), and there are one or two books I read last year that I'd still like to say a few words about. So I really need to stop staring at the mountains of snow around the place, and start working!
  • Finished last week:
    Quattrocento, by James McKean

  • Reading this week:
    People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (really enjoying this one, so far)
    Also continuing with The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington.

  • Next up:
    Mrs. Malory and Any Man's Death, by Hazel Holt. This is the latest entry in one of my favorite cozy mystery series, and if the weather doesn't improve I may just ditch everything else and settle down with Sheila Malory and her village pals.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Encouragement

Wow, whole careers have been built on answering today's BTT question ("How can you encourage a non-reading child to read?"). So I'm just going to say, up front, I'm really not at all qualified to say much on the subject – never having been a parent or a teacher. And the idea that I might have had to accept that my child "is a non-reader" brings a chill to my heart!

I've always found it very hard to understand a child who doesn't like to read. I didn't understand it, even when I was a child myself. I wanted to read, pretty much from the moment I saw words printed on a page and began to figure out that those strange looking marks meant something to the big people who looked at them. Some of my earliest memories – I would have been about two or three – are of sitting on my parents' bed with some of their books spread around me, and pretending to read the pages. There were no illustrations to grab my attention – just the printed words were enough to hold me enthralled.

I don't really have any memories of anyone teaching me, although I remember that my mother and grandmothers and aunts used to read to me a lot. But whatever the case, I know that when I finally turned six and went to school (Texas didn't have a lot of kindergarten or pre-school programs in those days), I could already read a bit. So I ripped through those primers with Tom and Susan and Spot and Pony, and headed right for all the "enrichment" readers, with real stories and adventures to lose myself in. And I've been an enthusiastic reader ever since.

But I really don't have a clue about how to instill that love of reading. I know that the old patterns and routines and systems probably don't work as well on the children of today – they simply don't look at reading in the same way we did when I was young. They have so many more opportunities for "escape" and entertainment. Also, reading is such a solitary activity (even if we're talking about reading for a book club, the reading itself is usually done alone) – and today's younger generations are decidedly social and communal organisms. I'm sad to have to say it (and I hate starting the day off on such a pessimistic note), but I really think that reading for pleasure, for the simple satisfaction of enjoying a great story, or visiting new places, or taking wisdom from the masters is most likely a dying phenomenon.

Of course, I hope I'm wrong!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A-Z Wednesday: "A"

A-Z Wednesday is hosted by Vicki at Reading At The Beach, and here are the guidelines:
To join, here's all you have to do:

Go to your stack of books and find one whose title starts with the letter of the week.

1~ a photo of the book
2~ title and synopsis
3~ link(Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc.)
4~ Return to the host's blog and leave your link in the comments.
This week's letter for A-Z Wednesday is "A." So I went to my shelves, and this is what I pulled out.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (first published 1865)

1. Book Details at Wikipedia

2. Description:
I'm assuming just about everyone is at least a little familiar with the story of the little girl who falls down a rabbit hole and has amazing adventures in Wonderland. If not, you should grab a copy and read it right now. But the Wikipedia entry has a very thorough synopsis.
3. And a sampling of the many covers the book has sported over the years:

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Of course, the book is almost always paired with its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (and What Alice Found There), published in 1872. That second Alice book has always been my favorite of the two. As a child, I was absolutely fascinated by the possibility of stepping through that mirror into a strange and lovely (and dangerous) new world. But if you haven't read either book, Wonderland is definitely the place to start.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: The Magnificent Ambersons

All this snow and ice is beginning to addle my brain (not that it wasn't pretty much addled already, of course) - I completely forgot about today being Tuesday. Please, please tell me that spring is just around the corner!

OK, enough of that. This week, my teaser lines come from Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, winner of the Pulitzer Prize back in 1919. This snippet is from the book's first chapter, and the author is describing life among the upper crust in a "Midland town" during the last part of the 19th Century:
During the earlier years of this period, elegance of personal appearance was believed to rest more upon the texture of garments than upon their shaping. A silk dress needed no remodelling when it was a year or so old; it remained distinguished by merely remaining silk. [p.4]
Timeless fashion? Would that that were true today. I could still be wearing those pretty little velvet mini-dresses I loved back in the 1970s. Or maybe not. Yours truly in a mini-dress is definitely a sight we can all live without, velvet or not.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizb17 at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

Monday, February 08, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now being hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link.

Last week I didn't get as much reading done as I hoped I would. Between the power outage caused by the snowstorm, and the hours I spent zonked on pain killers after dental surgery, there wasn't much time left for reading. But I'm hoping to get back on schedule this week.
  • Almost finished last week:
    , by James McKean. I should be able to finish that one up tonight.

  • Reading this week:
    Continuing with Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons. I've put Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays aside for the moment - good book, but just a little too depressing for this time of year.

  • Next up:
    Haven't decided yet, but I'm thinking of People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks - it's been on my "must read" list for quite a while now. Or maybe a nice cozy mystery - preferably set in the tropics with lots of beaches and sunshine!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Winter Reading

This week's BTT topic is about seasonal reading habits: "The northern hemisphere, at least, is socked in by winter right now… So, on a cold, wintry day, when you want nothing more than to curl up with a good book on the couch … what kind of reading do you want to do?"

I really don't think my reading habits change a lot from season to season. I read pretty much the same sorts of books all during the year. It probably is true that, during the winter months, I usually read more than I do at other times of the year. So maybe I'm just more serious about my reading then - you know, starting a new year with all those newly-minted resolutions and all.

When I look back at my reading list from last year, I can't really detect any special patterns except that I read the largest number of books in the months of January and May. But the types of books or genres don't seem to change at all - mostly literary fiction, humor, and suspense. I guess I'm just one of those "this is what I like and I'm sticking with it" types. Boring but consistent.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Random Notes: The Lost Man Booker Prize

Today's Shelf Awareness newsletter has this announcement about the "Lost Man Booker Prize":
The 22 authors on the Lost Man Booker Prize longlist have waited a long time to contend for the best novel published in 1970. . . .

The Guardian reported that the new award "aims to commemorate the works that 'fell through the net' in 1970 after changes to the Booker rules. In 1971, two years after the prize was first given, it ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became, as it is now, a prize for the best novel in the year of publication. The date on which the award was given was also moved from April to November, creating a gap when a wealth of 1970 fiction could not be eligible." The shortlist will be announced in March and the winner named in May. The longlist:

  • The Hand Reared Boy by Brian Aldiss
  • A Little of What You Fancy? by H.E. Bates
  • The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden
  • A Place in England by Melvyn Bragg
  • Down All the Days by Christy Brown
  • Bomber by Len Deighton
  • Troubles by J.G. Farrell
  • The Circle by Elaine Feinstein
  • The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard
  • A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill
  • I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill
  • A Domestic Animal by Francis King
  • The Fire Dwellers by Margaret Laurence
  • Out of the Shelter by David Lodge
  • A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch
  • Fireflies by Shiva Naipaul
  • Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian
  • Head to Toe by Joe Orton
  • Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
  • A Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell
  • The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark
  • The Vivisector by Patrick White
I haven't read any of the books listed, and several of them look really intriguing, so this is a bit of good news.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays: Quattrocento

This week my teaser lines come from James McKean's debut novel Quattrocento, a strange tale of Renaissance art and time travel. I'm only a few chapters into it, but so far I'm enjoying it even though I'm not really sure exactly what's going on. This snippet is actually three sentences, and comes from page 185:

"Someone once asked me where I would go if I knew I only had twenty-four hours to live," Matt replied. "There was no question in my mind. The Brancacci chapel, I replied right away, without any hesitation."

Here's a photo of the place mentioned in the quote - the Brancacci chapel, located in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence (photo from

Beautiful interior, and it contains some of the greatest Florentine art of the period. But I don't think it would be my choice of a place to spend my last twenty-four hours. I'd probably head for the Texas hill country to watch my last sunset.

Where would you go?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizb17 at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.