30 November 2010

Top 10 Tuesday : Fictional Friends -- Who Would You Choose?

This is the first time I've participated in a Top 10 Tuesday list, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, so here goes. Today's topic is Top Ten Characters I'd Like to be Best Friends With:

1) Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice
2) Hermione Granger from fanction (not necessarily canon Harry Potter books), particularly Anna's trilogy that starts off with Roman Holiday
3) Huckleberry Finn from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
4) Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time
5) Emily Byrd Starr from Emily of New Moon et al
6) Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables et al
7) Owen Meany from A Prayer for Owen Meany
8) Thursday Next from The Eyre Affair et al
9) Caddie Woodlawn from Caddie Woodlawn
10)  Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I guess this is kinda cheating, but I'm okay with that)

28 November 2010

And the versatile blogger award goes to...

Alexandria and Moira from the incomparably-named Brazen Broads Book Bash Blog have recognized my book & travel blog with the Versatile Blogger Award.  How nifty is that?!  I didn't really start blogging in earnest until summer '10, and it's so much fun--all the more so to realize that other people out there unrelated to me by blood or marriage might be reading it!

Here are the rules to the award: 

1.  Share 7 things about ourselves.

2.  Pass the award on to 10 bloggers recently discovered.

3.  Notify the blogger recipients.

4.  Link to the blogger who gave us the award.

Seven Things About Me:

1.  I was born in Wisconsin but raised in Mississippi
2. Much like Albus Dumbledore, socks are some of my favorite gifts to receive.
3. Dogs are in my heart, but cats have bewitched my soul.
4. Plaid flannel just might be the fabric of the gods.
5. I did not change my last name when I got married.
6. If I could spend half my time anywhere else in the world, it would be the Caribbean.  Anguilla or Grenada if you made me choose a specific island.
7. A good rum punch is hard to find.

The Ten Bloggers I Award This To:

1.  Wildly Read
2.  A Reading Odyssey
3.  Bank Square Books
4.  Lemuria Blog
5. Bookend Crossing
6.  Everything Distils...
7.  Levonne's Pretty Pics
8.  Shiroccan Adventures

And because I'm still relatively new to the following process, I don't have any more blogs that I follow that haven't already received this same award.  Hopefully that will change quickly, the more I participate in various hops.  So for good measure I'm just going to list one more time the good folks who passed this one on to me:

9. Brazen Broads Book Bash

Thanks for visiting!

27 November 2010

The BBC test: how literary are you? (Based on a somewhat skewed reading list compiled from British listeners & viewers)

 This list had been making the rounds among my Facebook friends, one of whom actually read more than 80% of these titles.  How much of that is his own inherent brilliance (which he has in spades) and how much of that is chalked up to the fact that he's always on the prowl for English-language books whilst living in Germany, I couldn't possibly say.  But here's the list...

 The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.


• Copy this list.
• Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.
• Italicise the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.
• Tag other book nerds.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte  
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens 
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott 
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger 
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll 
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens 
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Emma -Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis 
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (God knows I TRIED!)
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving 
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery  
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett 
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
A Christmas Carol- Charles Dickens  
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte's Web- E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Considering I'm a bookseller, and therefore practically a professional reader, I'm disappointed by my showing;  on the other hand, this is one of the most bizarre compilations of 100 Books I've ever seen.  Really, BBC?  I get that you're trying to get a mix of classics and modern fiction, and that you're trying to represent literature for both adults and children, but how did Dan Brown, Helen Fielding, and Mitch Albom end up on this list?  Were you otherwise afraid that the average responder had only read 3 of the titles?  And what's with the redundancy with Shakespeare and C. S. Lewis?   

Still, I'm surprised with so many of my omissions on this list.  I've read very little Hardy and none of Eliot and it shows here.  Dickens, mezzo-mezzo, but just not the ones on this list for the most part.  1984, anything by the dead Russians-- I really should have read these and more.  Alas!

26 November 2010

It's a black Friday, Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

This week's book hop from Crazy-for-Books is a discussion of what is your favorite book cover.  As a bookseller, I'm inundated with dust jacket images on a daily basis.  And I don't trust people who say they have never bought a book for its cover.  That, my friends, is bulls#it.  It may not be the only, or even the primary, reason you've bought a book.  But unless you only ever walk into a bookstore with a specific title in mind, and then you walk out again having bought that book and only that book, you've bought a book for its cover.  It would be impossible to choose a single book jacket that is my favorite, so I'll launch into a mini-discussion of jacket art instead.

Because I'm a bookseller and thus am usually reading books months before their publication date, over half of the books I read have a non-pictorial cover, or "plain wraps" as we say in the book collecting bidness.  Some galleys (paperback uncorrected proof copies of the forthcoming book) have the finished art printed on their wraps, though, and some are a work in progress, so it's always interesting to see how the art direction has changed on any given title.   One example from a couple of years ago is the imcomparable Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  This extraordinary novel had me in thrall from chapter one. It's a rare author who can plumb the horrors of civil war and the operating theatre one moment, the vagaries of the human heart the next moment, all with equal deftness, but Verghese rises to the challenge with grace. With surgical precision he limns his characters, treating even their flaws with compassion and a true generosity of spirit, adroitly weaving medical techniques and philosophy into this sweeping story of family & fatherland, love & loyaly.  It is, without a doubt, one of the best books I've read in the last decade.

The copy I read from 2008 was bound in plain salmon-colored wraps--truly a galley copy.  When I raved about it to our publisher's sales rep (Ann Kingman from Knopf), she sent more copies to our store for other readers, but they were the Advanced Reading Copy with decorated wraps that mimicked the final jacket art on the hardcover.  Compare the early 2009 hardcover jacket art with the 2010 paperback art below, left and right, respectively:

It will be difficult to discuss the appropriateness of each cover without talking about the plots and story arcs of this book, but I trust that it's not a spoiler when I saw that much of this book takes place in Ethiopia and that much of the drama involves a set of twins.  I love the cloth dust jacket art.  To me, it speaks of something epic and grand, with the boys and their dog silhouetted against a sky that is, at least to me, ambiguous.  Is it sunrise or sunset?  Or could it be something else entirely?  Could those fiery colors in the sky and the scorched black of the ground symbolize something else instead?  (Okay, so I actually don't like the term "symbolize" but the jacket art reminds me of the first time I saw the movie Gone With the Wind. I was quite young, not quite preteen, and watching the movie with my mom, probably on Turner Classics.  In the scene where Atlanta is supposed to be burning, to my young eyes it looked more like a sunset at first.).  So this jacket art simultaneously suggests beginnings and endings, hope and destruction, and in doing so, it is completely fitting for this novel.

Now, I've never been to Ethiopia, and while there's nothing in the book to suggest the lushness of this forested meadow on the paperback edition, I have it on good authority (Mr. Verghese himself, among others) that the country is not without verdure.  But I'm still puzzled why the dramatic change in cover art.  Sales were fairly robust nationwide for a first novel in hardcover, so it's not like the marketing department had to reinvent the book as a palate cleanser so that customers would think is an all-new, never-before-seen novel.  The solitary figure works well enough, I suppose, for the twin who eventually leaves Ethiopia for New York City, but again, I'm puzzled with the green "world between the worlds" aspect (cf: C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew) of the paperback cover. 

For me, though I think both covers are attractive, the hands-down winner for the better, more expressive jacket is the hardcover one.  For those of you reading, which one do you think is better, and why?

23 November 2010

Book Reviews in Brief: The Annotated Pride & Prejudice and The Distant Hours

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice  by Jane Austen.  As with many of her fans, P&P is my favorite Austen novel, one which I revisit almost every year for the sheer reading pleasure she provides.  Picking up this sumptuous version, however, made me feel like I was getting an entirely new reading experience!  The color plates, the annotated text, the heavy acid-free paper, and beautiful design all contrive to make this book a must-have for every Austen fan.  And at $35 for a coffee-table sized format, this book really is an affordable luxury.  Take a look at this gorgeous new offering from Harvard University Press/Belknap, edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks. I bought a copy of this book for myself. 

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. This lush novel interweaves three separate stories which span most of the 20th century.  All of the factors for a great English mood novel are present: a castle, a family whose creative streak is matched only by its madness, three spinster sisters, a quaint village, mysterious disappearances, ancient secrets, tragic misunderstandings, and a young publisher trying to sort fact from fiction in the local lore.  The stories meander at a deliberate (other readers might say slow) pace, converging all in the last chapter in a very satisfying way.  This book is perfect for those readers who want to sink their teeth into an atmospheric novel that will make them want to curl up for hours with a pot o' tea. Published by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster.  My terrific sales rep, John Muse, provided me with the ARC of this book to read. 

22 November 2010

More radio recommendations...

ANNEXED by Sharon Dogar.  This novel for teens and young adults is a familiar story told from a different perspective.  Peter van Pels is only sixteen when he and his parents go into hiding with Anne Frank and her family.  In love with a girl who was taken by the Nazis, at the beginning of this novel, he would much rather brood and sulk than spend time with the insufferable Anne with the impish eyes.  Soon, however, time is all he has, and he is surprised to discover a kindred spirit in Anne.  Their burgeoning love is full of questions and fear, and even reading The Diary of Anne Frank cannot prepare you for the heartwrenching ending.  This book is a very quick and compelling read, and the two 16-year-olds in my family will tell you the same thing—they both devoured it, too. 

ONE HUNDRED PORTRAITS engraved by Barry Moser, published by David R. Godine.   This is a collection of portraits of writers, musicians, composers, artists, poets, and friends, all beautifully reproduced.  Some of these were commissioned portraits, some of them are published here for the first time.  Moser is one of the world’s pre-eminent engravers and this is the first book that amasses 100 portraits from the books and broadsides of his vast collection, spanning several decades.  The production qualities are everything I’ve come to expect from David R. Godine, and I would be remiss not to mention the incredibly thought-provoking foreword that Ann Patchett provided.  And sure, it just so happens that I'm married to the man, but that doesn't take one whit away from hsi portraits and his ability to look unflinchingly at a face (including his own) and reveal something about the person in a most astonishing way, limned in shadow.

12 November 2010

Small Presses: 'Closest Equivalent to Your Local Farmer's Market'

Small Presses: 'Closest Equivalent to Your Local Farmer's Market'

It's not that I don't value the work that the big publishers are doing--they're certainly my bread and butter. But small presses (in which I include most university presses) are doing some of the most responsible publishing in the US today.

Small Presses: 'Closest Equivalent to Your Local Farmer's Market'

"In the world of literary culture, the small press is probably the closest equivalent to your local farmer's market. (The carrots might look funnier, but, after you're used to it, they taste about five times better.) There are tons of small presses, spread out over the country, and they're often run at either no-profit or a loss. These are labors of love--not engaged in the production of commodities for consumption, but something closer to Lewis Hyde's notion of 'the gift.' Hand-sewn chapbooks take time to make, the poems in them take time to read, and the poets (most likely) took a lot of time to write them. Their production occurs on a smaller (and less grandiose) scale, and like the Slow Food and broader Slow Culture movement, they want to restore to us a sense of time that our current world system strips away from us. Perhaps they wouldn't want to be in the airports, even if we let them. But they can, like the local food economy (which is growing at a spectacular rate, nationally), become viable alternatives with our support."
--Adam Roberts in the Atlantic

02 November 2010

Oenophile sounds like a bad word. Or at least a silly one.

I'm not an oenophile, even if I could keep a straight face while saying it.  It's really a very silly word.  I don't usually write about food and/or drink outside of my travel postings, but I read something tonight that made me want to share it with my reading public.  Even if that reading public is mostly just my mom and my husband.  (Hi, y'all.  Love you more'n my luggage!)

I'm not particularly sophisticated, but I'm not provincial, either.  I got my first passport when I was 18 and I'll be renewing it this year for the second time since then.  I've mostly lived in small towns (Petal, MS. Wisconsin Rapids, WI. Winston-Salem, NC.  North Hatfield, MA), but I love to travel, and just as importantly, I'm an avid reader.  If ever there were two activities that broadened one's mind and one's horizons, they would be traveling and reading.  I enjoy drinking alcohol and I've learned to take wine descriptions (and tequila!) with a grain of salt.  I understand tannins, acidity, and spices.  Woodsy overtones and hints of strawberry I can pick up on, but when the descriptions of wine become outlandish, I'm tempted to laugh out loud.

Tonight I was reading my husband's November 2010 issue of Saveur magazine, in which 48 California wines are touted as being eminently drinkable right now. I turned to that particular two-page spread so that I could note some of their recommendations that are $25 ( or under) to purchase the next time I was shopping.  (Most are in the $20-50 range, but some are a whopping $250+).  I nearly lost it when I read the descriptions of one bottle in particular. 

Said bottle was the Ambyth Estate Maiestas 2008 ($35), described as a "Rhone blend lush with cherries and marshmallow."  Umm, excuse me.  Did you just say  lush with marshmallow?  I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that  if I ordered a glass of wine in a restaurant that tasted like it was lush with marshmallow, I'd send it back, post-haste.  Then there is the bottle that is "powerful and musky, delivering a mineral fierceness" (Littoral Hirsch Pinot Noir 2007).  Powerfully musky with a mineral fierceness?  I'm sorry, but that sounds more like an unfortunate sexual encounter than a good wine.  Other are described variously with tar, leather, and smoke.  Might as well light up a Marlboro as drink a glass!

Are these people for real? I can't tell. Guess I'd better drink another glass of wine...

01 November 2010

Great fall reads on the radio, Part the First

So, tomorrow morning I'm going on the radio (www.wamc.org  90.3 FM) at 10:07 am with my coworker, Marika McCoola, to talk about our favorite fall books.  Here are two of mine:

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon.  This is one of the finest letter collections I have ever read.  Thanks to the book (& film) Julie and Julia, most of us are now familiar with the story of how Julia Child, with the help of Avis DeVoto, made French cuisine accessible to the average American for the first time.  Now with these letters, we are given an intimate glimpse into the more private side of these extraordinary women.  Julia Child was living in Paris when she read an article in an 1959 issue of Harper's Magazine, written by Bernard DeVoto, in which he admitted that his avowed crusade was to convince the American housewife that she was in need of a sharp kitchen knife.  Julia was so taken with his article that she wrote a fan letter and included with it a very sharp kitchen knife.  That prompted Bernard's wife, Avis, who acted as her husband's secretary, to answer the fan letter, and the rest, as they say, is history.  That was the beginning of a prolific correspondence that was by turns irreverent, thoughtful, and ambitious.  Their letters are witty, warm, and eloquent, and along with the expected forays into food culture, we get meandering commentaries on politics, pop culture, and the evolving social & sexual mores of their time.  This book is perfect for people who are already fans of Julia Child, but it's also great for readers who enjoy well-written biographies or memoirs of interesting people.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin.  In his most mature work to date, Franklin takes a hard look at a small Mississiippi town in the 1970s and today, following the lives of Larry Ott and Silas Jones, a pair of unlikely friends.  Larry Ott is a reclusive, sensitive white boy who seems doomed to fulfill his father's disappointment in him.  Silas Jones is a black boy whose skill on the baseball diamond is his ticket out of town via an athletic scholarship to college.  Their friendship ends the night Larry goes out on a date with a girl next door, who is never seen again.  Twenty years later, the disappearance of another girl causes their  paths to cross once more.  Franklin's uncanny ear for dialogue rings clear and true, but what impressed me about this novel is his restraint.  He actually reveals far more about the complications of race and class in this small Mississippi town with his oblique approach (or as we Southerners might say, a cattywhompus approach) than he could with a direct one.  His trademark violence is present but subdued; here it's an undercurrent of menace that pervades the novel and proves Franklin a master storyteller.  It's one of the best books out this fall and the Odyssey still has signed first editions available.