Friday, June 24, 2011

The stash for summer travel

I’m currently in New Orleans for five more days to attend the American Library Association’s Annual Conference. I’m attending with my company in a work capacity, but my library school student side is also excited to be around so many librarians and fellow book nerds!

This trip to New Orleans is going to be immediately followed by a day in El Paso, TX (also work-related), a week in Nashville, and then a week on vacation in Destin, Florida. Needless to say, I am pumped to be away from my desk for so long, and with lots of plane rides on the schedule, I’m excited to have the opportunity to just sit and read without other distractions (besides flight-induced panic, of course). I’ve actually missed my hour-long subway/bus school commute, because that was great reading time.

I’ve got a couple of books currently checked out from the library that I’m going to read in the next few weeks (actually, hopefully I’ll finish these in this first week leg of my travel):

  • Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagan, thanks to a glowing review by Fizzy Thoughts
  • Life With Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier, thanks to a review by Reeder Reads
  • Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace, which has been on my queue for quite a while 

Beyond this, I’m going to aim to read books that already inhabit my shelves and are desperately waiting to be read. Included:

  • The Glass Castle by Jeanette Wells, which I’ve owned forever but a friend just told me I have to read it
  • Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands, because I’ve been in a French kinda mood lately
  • Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher, because my copy is an old, mass-paperback edition that looks totally like a romance novel, making it a perfect beach read
  • Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy, which is the newest addition to my shelf and thus excites me

What’s on your summer reading list?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A topic-based approach to my reading queue

I’m in a posting slump right now because I’m in the middle of the rather chunky Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier for the World Reading Party‘s June country-of-choice (Russia), and I’m all caught up on posting about everything else I’ve read. Well, mostly. I did recently read NYRB’s The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick, but I’ve decided to not post about it because I was bored with it and have NOTHING to say about it. Sorry guys.

No matter how much I’m enjoying the current book I’m reading, my brain is always thinking to the future and deciding what to read next. The greatest thing about books is learning about places and events you’ll never get to experience firsthand (duh!). Sometimes, when I’m adding books to my reading queue, I like to think of topics I want to read about and find a good book that will quench my thirst on a time or a place. For example, I wanted to read something about modern-day polygamy and Mormonism, so I hunted down and found David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife. When I wanted to read about everyday life in Alaska (a place with a lifestyle I will never be able to fathom), I picked up Heather Lende’s memoir Take Good Care of the Garden and Dogs.

I have lots more examples like this, and the World Reading Party has been a great contributor to this little personal quest for knowledge. Sure, I could read the news or do a Wikipedia search. But sometimes, I just want to learn while reading something with a voice—that little extra something that puts you in the story and makes it more memorable than just a list of facts.

Some topics for which I’m currently hunting down books include:

  1. Homesteaders and the migration west
  2. American Indian experience (past and present)
  3. Israel/Pakistan conflict
  4. Religion (interesting and analytical nonfiction, nothing preachy)
    Right now, my list that will fit into these categories include: (more suggestions are welcome!)
    1. Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinor Pruitt Stewart. I read about this on a book blog long ago, but it doesn’t seem to be easily available at any local libraries. Maybe have to just fulfill this wish with Little House on the Prairie books for the JUV FIC Corner.
    2. Anything by Sherman Alexie. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven has been my preference based on reader comments.
    3. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. Also read about this on a book blog and have been wanting to read it ever since.
    4. The Case for God by Karen Armstrong or The Evolution of God by Robert Wright. I found the Armstrong book through Goodreads, and Sal has read the Wright book and reviewed it on here.
    Do you have any topics you want to read about? What are your special ways of deciding what goes on your reading queue?

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    My Final Chapter of Maud Hart Lovelace

    I just finished the last chapter in my story of Maud Hart Lovelace. After a year of reading about Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Emily, and the rest of the Deep Valley crew, I finished Lovelace’s collection of works by reading Harper Perennial’s compilation edition of Carney’s House Party and Winona’s Pony Cart.

    In Carney’s House Party, it’s the summer of 1911 and Carney is hosting a month-long house party with members of the old Crowd and Isobel, her Vassar (and Eastern!) roommate. Winona’s Pony Cart focuses on Winona Root’s eighth birthday party, when all she wants for her birthday is a pony to impress her friends Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.

    These were a little odd to read, to be honest. They kind of felt like the outliers of Maud’s repertoire. After finishing the Betsy-Tacy series with college and weddings, then reading Emily of Deep Valley which features well-known characters in only the briefest sense, Carney’s House Party took me back to the Crowd’s college days, which seems to be somewhere in time before Betsy and the Great World. I felt like I was jumping back in time to something I’d already experienced. Then, Winona’s Pony Cart hops even further back to the elementary school days of the future members of the Crowd. Yes, these all work as independent stories, but after getting to know the characters so well after so many books, it was just strange to segway into the past!

    This is not in any way really a complaint. Of course I still enjoyed the stories. The thing I liked about them was that they focused on characters we know from the Betsy-Tacy stories but don’t really know that well. We get to see everything that’s been going on in Deep Valley from a new perspective.

    Carney, I liked a lot. I felt that she, like Emily (from Emily of Deep Valley), is a lot more down to earth than Betsy, which I appreciate. Betsy’s self-indulgence always annoyed me a bit. I cringed at the way she acted sometimes, like she was always just so amused with herself. I think I’m just too modest for Betsy and couldn’t relate as much. I especially liked reading Carney’s story with the return of her high school sweetheart Larry Humphreys, as they discovered if their relationship is still everything they thought it was.

    Despite a whole book about Winona, I still don’t feel like I really knew her. In Winona’s Pony Cart, she’s kind of just a brat who cries til she gets what she wants, an impression that was already given about her back in the early Betsy-Tacy books. She had some redeeming qualities as an eight-year-old, like inviting all the kids to her party, but she’s still just a little spoiled. Winona’s Pony Cart is a quick story focusing on one event, definitely more juvenile than the other Lovelace stand-alones. It reminded me of a story my sister wrote back in high school for me when I was little (and that she doesn’t remember writing!) called Andy Kitty’s Birthday Party about our cat Andy who invited all his animal friends over to our house for his birthday. It’s that kind of simple.

    So here concludes my trip through the works of Maud Hart Lovelace. The exciting part of reading every book was reading the historical followup at the end and looking at all the pictures of the real people on which these characters were based. I liked how the characters overlapped, and we got to peek at them from different angles. But now that these are done, I need another children’s historical series to read!

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Bookish Things at the Renegade Craft Fair

    When a friend from book club told me last fall about the Renegade Craft Fair that happens in Brooklyn every June, I put it on my calendar immediately and have been looking forward to it ever since. It happened in McCarren Park this past weekend, and I opted for the sunnier of the two days (Sunday) to take a stroll and browse.

    I LOVED this craft fair. Lots of talented artists peddling their wares—jewelry, clothing, prints, hand-sewn goods. Prints are my weakness at these sorts of things, and if I had unlimited funds, my apartment walls would be covered to the point where I’d need to institute monthly showcases of my collection by rotating art! However, here was my problem: I went stocked with cash, but whenever I saw something I wanted, I would hold off on buying in case I saw something I wanted more. It’s a case of either come home with EVERYTHING or come home with NOTHING. And I came home with nothing besides a collection of business cards so I could check it all out later. Oh well.

    I loved so many things—which I’ve summed up on my Tumblr in case you want to see more—but here are some bookish things I thought you guys might love as well.

    And if you’re lucky enough to live in or around San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, or London, you can check out the Renegade Craft Fair for yourself later this summer or fall!

    Book Jewelry from Peg and Awl. I’d kill for a neck full of these! They also have journals made from antique materials. [Etsy]
    Library Card Notebooks from Kelso Doesn’t Dance. They also had lots of notebooks made out of old Golden children’s books but I can’t find those online! [Etsy]
    Bookish notecards from Jacqueline Schmidt. Birds and books are two of my design favorites! Browse to find a number of bookish prints. [Online shop]

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    The JUV FIC Corner presents “Maniac Magee”

    The Boy, The Myth, The Legend…I’m pretty sure that throughout my childhood, Jerry Spinelli’s Manic Magee is one of the only books I read more than once. Surprisingly, though, I just realized during this 2011 re-read that I remembered absolutely NOTHING about it! Except for the fact that Maniac likes to run, of course. But you can pick that up from the cover.

    To refresh your memory, Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee is a legend. His parents died in a trolley car accident, and he’s pretty much been on the run ever since. And kids know Maniac. He’s the guy who sleeps with the buffalo, who can slam home runs off the best pitcher in town, who can outrun anyone, who can untie any impossible knot. But Maniac is also this: he’s the kid who’s not afraid to cross the town lines between East and West—black and white. The book’s strongest message, and I had completely forgotten about it. Go figure.

    In a small Pennsylvania town that is racially segregated, Manic is the only person who crosses the racial line. His belief in equality is his strongest characteristic—he ran away from his aunt and uncle’s because they always fought and shared nothing; he doesn’t go to school because (in my opinion) he doesn’t want to pick a side, East or West. Maniac likes being the floater, able to enjoy everyone and everything, and he just doesn’t understand the “black” and “white” of race:

    “For the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black” (p. 51).

    On the whole, the story of Maniac Magee is presented as a folk tale; his outstanding feats will amaze his audience but his story has a lot more seriousness underneath. The fact that I didn’t at all remember the racial tensions of this book kind of alarms me, but at the same time, doesn’t surprise me. By that I mean, it must not have been a new concept to my 10-year-old brain at the time; if it was, I probably would’ve remembered that part of the book. I can’t conclude whether this is a good or bad thing, but it made me think about how I would’ve constructed my own world views as a kid based on the stories with which I surrounded myself.


    One thing I’ve noticed now, after reading just TWO books as part of this JUV FIC spotlight, is that children’s books are a lot more complex than I would’ve presumed. Look at the two main characters:

    1. The Great Brain is a trouble-making swindler.
    2. Maniac Magee is a homeless truant. 

    I guess I’m surprised these are defining characteristics, because children’s entertainment feels so censored now. This just feeds my theory that kids are so much smarter and understanding of the world than adults give them credit for. I find myself now, at 25, starting to think like an adult, and I have to force myself to remember how I felt as a kid, knowing much more than I let on or that adults gave me credit for.

    What do you think about the way JUV FIC broaches more serious topics? Have the messages stuck with you through adulthood?

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn, and other NYC hist-fic

    Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn has a lot of features that indicated I would like it before I even started it—a) it’s about Brooklyn and I live in Brooklyn, b) it’s mid-century New York, which is a stylized period I love to read about, c) Colin said his mom liked it and we like the same sentimental things [specifically all Canadian Victorian L.M. Montgomery novels/movies/shows].

    The briefest of brief summaries: Young Irish girl, Eilis, moves to Brooklyn to work in a store and attend business classes. Adjusts to new life. Meets new people. Has new experiences. Tragedy brings her back to Ireland where she questions which life is for her.

    Brooklyn was pretty much as I expected. I loved experiencing this New York and Brooklyn through Eilis’ eyes. I loved seeing how she adjusted to her new environment, how she interacted with new people, and how she remained a thoughtful and somewhat conflicted individual with a lot stewing below the surface. Towards the last section of the book, however, my esteem of Eilis started to wane, as she became indecisive and, I thought, immature in her thoughts and decisions. When she returned to Ireland, she seemed to lose a lot of the strength and individuality that made her such a strong character back in Brooklyn, and that annoyed me.

    But, it is how it is —home is where you can return and avoid the responsibility, where you can be dependent again and stop the stress of working everything out yourself. That can be a great feeling [certainly a reason I love going back home to Nashville where my parents feed me and take care of me and I don’t have to be an adult on my own for a few days!], but in Eilis’ situation, it seemed to be more of a step back than a temporary situation.

    I did enjoy this book a lot, but the historical aspect of it was my favorite part. New York City, as one would expect, has a very colorful immigrant history, and what’s interesting about it now is that many neighborhoods are still completely reflective of their immigrant past. Greenpoint has a large Polish community; sections of the East Village, Ukranian; sections of Yonkers, Irish; and then the obvious Chinatown and Little Italy. At this moment in history, these cultural connections aren’t really anything you think about walking from neighborhood to neighborhood. The cliche line about the city being a melting pot is cliche because it’s true. And that’s the biggest difference between now and the Brooklyn that Eilis lived in, when one was conscious of different cultures in the neighborhood, when these encounters were new and strange.

    Some other good New York historical fiction I’ve read and would recommend:

    • Dreamland by Kevin Baker — turn of the century
    • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith— turn of the century
    • New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherfurd — 1600s to present
    • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart — WWII
    • Kafka Was the Rage by Anatole Broyard — mid-century
    • Lost Lustre by Josh Karlen — 1970s/80s
    • Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead — 1980s
    • The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe — mid-century (read these two in high school and don’t remember much aside from liking them)
    • The Room-Mating Season by Rona Jaffe — mid-century
    And if any of you are visiting NYC anytime soon, I highly recommend the Tenement Museum located in the Lower East Side. I visited for the first time this past Thanksgiving weekend, and it is excellent.

    Friday, June 3, 2011

    The Idlewild Discussion on the African experience

    I finally made it to a book club meeting. I’ve missed the past THREE, and my literary life has seemed so lacking as a result. For this month, we read The Shadow of the Sun by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski.

    Kapuscinski first spent time in Africa in 1957, when colonial rule was ending and countries were fighting for independence and learning to govern themselves. His career as the African correspondent to a Polish newspaper brought him back to Africa over and over again for the next 40 years as he traveled throughout the most poverty-stricken, destitute countries, delving deep into the “real,” everyday experience in the Africa that is far off the radar. The Shadow of the Sun is a compilation of essays previously published, melded together to form a cohesive novel, that offers brief snapshots into different moments and locations in African history. Some is written as a memoir, some as a history lesson.

    The best statement I took away from this book is this, Kapuscinski’s introduction:

    “This is…not a book about Africa, but rather about some people from there—about encounters with them, and time spent together. The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say “Africa.” In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.”

    This book just further confirmed that…I know nothing about Africa. Despite having close friends who have spent significant time in various countries, hearing their stories, seeing their pictures, it is not a concept I can fully wrap my head around. I can’t imagine an area so vast and so lacking in resources. I took two main things away from this book: (a) Africa is hot. (b) The African mentality is completely contrasting to Western thought. For instance, the concept of distance is measured in time, but time is not the structured, independent variable it is to us. Stuff happens when it happens, on a schedule completely of its own.

    If this book was trying to answer a question, I would say that question is this: Why is Africa the way it is? And similarly: Why is it so hard to change that?

    I’m interested on your experiences with Africa. Ever been? Ever studied it? Read any other Africa-centric books?

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    World Party: A one-sided conversation with a reluctant fundamentalist

    For May’s World Reading Challenge pick (Pakistan), I read Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. This was a quick read, one I quite enjoyed, and one I finished a few weeks ago…yet I’ve been struggling on how to write about it.

    Here’s the premise: At a restaurant table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man is conversing with an American stranger who seems visibly uncomfortable. The novel is the narration of this conversation but completely one-sided; we, as the reader, never hear a word the American says. The Pakistani, whose name we learn is Changez, tells the American his story…

    Changez grew up in a privileged family in Lahore. He attended college in the US at Princeton and immediately secured a well-paying corporate job in Manhattan right out of college and a love interest, a fellow student and upper-class New Yorker, Erica. Bottom line: America treated Changez well, and he was proud to consider himself a “New Yorker.” Then 9/11 happened, and Changez’s feelings about his new, adopted city began to get more complicated.

    This is where I thought the story really got interesting. The book’s synopsis led me to believe that Changez’s relationship with the US changed as a result of persons viewing him differently; that was not the case. The change was completely internal, as Changez found himself torn between the traditional values of the society in which he was raised (the East) as opposed to the conflicting values of his new life and home (the West). He began to resent the country that had so warmly opened its arms to him and shown him success because of its contradictions to his native country. The point that struck me the most and that has really stuck with me:

    “Four thousand years ago, we, the people of the Indus River basin, had cities that were laid out on grids and boasted underground sewers, while the ancestors of those who would invade and colonize America were illiterate barbarians. Now our cities were largely unplanned, unsanitary affairs, and America had universities with individual endowments greater than our national budget for education. To be reminded of this vast disparity was, for me, to be ashamed (p. 34).”

    That’s all I’m going to say on this book. I think it’s a fabulous choice for book clubs, required reading, etc. There’s plenty you could analyze and discuss in much more depth than I am going to go into. The main characters struggles with his own identity and how it relates to family, history, religion, and patriotism, and he holds nothing back. A politically-charged book without feeling like too much ‘politics.’

    Have you read this one? What did you think of the writing format?