Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Books & Things - What I got for Christmas & Birthday

I'm including my birthday gifts here because I was too lazy to blog about them before Christmas. My birthday is December 22. I won't spend time whining about how over the years I have received lots of Christmas/birthday presents. It happened sometimes, but not enough to scar me for life. Plus, Valerie never combines gifts, and her gifts are always just what I wanted even when she surprises me with something that I hadn't put on my Christmas wish list. :-)

Birthday Gifts
Drood by Dan Simmons - I've been wanting this book all since it was released in February. I've been rather obsessed with it. Searching the New Releases shelf during each visit to Half Price Books since its release. The kind of funny thing is that I've never read any Wilkie Collins books or Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. However, I did purchase a copy of Dickens's book and Collins's The Woman in White at Half Price Books during the spring or summer, but I haven't found the time to read either yet. I even downloaded a free audiobook of Collins's book. It's funny how I can sometimes read about a book and can't stop thinking about it. I think I'll have to read Drood very soon, even though it's 784 pages makes it a daunting read for this slow reader.

CueCat Barcode Scanner from LibraryThing - Yes, I'm a nerd. I've been wanting one of these as long as I've known about them, but I wouldn't purchase myself one because I thought it was silly. However, Valerie and I really need to weed some books and organize what we have. I'm not happy about the thought of getting rid of books, but I'm excited about organizing them in a joint library. We downsized our living space in April and weeded several boxes of books then, but, sadly, we still need to weed more, especially since we can't seem to stop accumulating them.

Smart Glass Necklace - A couple of years ago, Valerie gave me some cool cobalt blue earrings made of recycled glass, and this year, she gave me a matching necklace. I was totally surprised by the necklace, but it was a perfect gift. :-)

(Some) Christmas Gifts
Because Valerie and I bought a new TV for ourselves right after Thanksgiving, we only gave each other stocking stuffers on Christmas day. Once again, she made great surprising choices: a nifty Scrabble tile necklace that she purchased from someone on Etsy.com, some superb sterling silver earrings that I can wear all the time, and a box of Red Hots. I love Red Hots!

I got lots of other good things from Valerie's family and from one of my nephews-in-law--my extended family is too big, so we draw names--but I won't bore you with all the details. I'll limit myself to the two books I received.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson - I've been wanting to read this book for a long time. Robinson and Joseph O'Neill did an Inprint reading here in September, and I had to miss it because my school Meet Your Teacher Night was the same night. Since I was having a book fair that week, I had to be there to sell books that night, and I'm still upset about the timing. Anyway, every time I hear someone talk about this book, it makes me think that I have missed out on a masterpiece. This book is rather short, so it should be easy to work into my reading schedule very soon.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro - I've read two other books of Munro's stories, Runaway and The View from Castle Rock, which I read this summer as part of my Short Story Reading Project. I've completely fallen in love with her writing, and I would now list her as one of my favorite writers. I can't wait to find the time to read this volume of stories.

Like I said above, I got lots of good gifts that I'm very grateful for, and I feel like the gifts that I gave were well received. As far as I'm concerned, Birthday and Christmas 2009 were GREAT!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I need some footnotes

While I should have been reading Water for Elephants last night, I started T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. The mere mention of this play's fourth tempter in an Engines of Our Ingenuity episode during yesterday's commute to work reminded me that I had never read this play and made me obsess about reading it. I kept thinking about it off and on all day. (Eliot's "The Waste Land" is one of my favorite poems, and I like "The Preludes," and some of his other poems too.) I knew that I had a copy of the play at home, a copy that I bought over three years ago when I was still teaching AP English.

So last night before going to bed, I found the book, thinking that I might read the whole playbefore going to sleep--it's very short and even a slow reader like me can read a play in one sitting sometimes. However, I should have known that I'm too old to stay awake that long. When I woke up this morning, I remembered a line from what I had read: "I have seen these things in a shaft of light." This line immediately brought to mind Emily Dickinson's poem that begins "There's a certain slant of light." Later, while I was waiting on the hair straightener to heat up, I found the poem in a book and reread it. Both the poem and the play have religious themes. Is Eliot's line an allusion to Dickinson's? That question is one of the reason's I need some footnotes.

Murder in the Cathedral is a short play, mostly in verse. It tells the story of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, returning to England after years of exile/banishment. He is assassinated very soon after he returns, and he had prophesied his impending death. Despite being written mostly in verse, the basic plot of the play isn't difficult to follow. What I need footnotes for is the British history, which provides the basis for the play. I just don't know or remember enough.

I really enjoyed the Chorus, which functions in much the same way as the Chorus does in the plays like Oedipus Rex. One of my favorite Chorus parts is in Part II after the four knights have stated the evidence of Thomas's treason and hinted that he must die for it. The Chorus says:
I have smelt them, the death-bringers, senses are quickened
By subtile forebodings; I have heard
Fluting in the night-time, fluting and owls, have seen at noon
Scaly wings slanting over, huge and ridiculous. I have tasted
The savour of putrid flesh in the spoon. I have felt
The heaving of earth at nightfall, restless, absurd. I have heard
Laughter in the noises of beasts that make strange noises: jackal, jackass, jackdaw; the scurrying noises of mouse and jerboa; the laugh of the loon, the lunatic bird. I have seen
Grey necks twisting, rat tails twining, in the thick light of dawn...
And this great poetry goes on for another page and a half in my book. Eliot piles on the dark imagery as the Chorus intones an incantation of death. (This passage makes me wish I still taught AP English.)

I think this play is intended as a tragedy, which would explain Eliot's use of a chorus. I need to reread the play with some footnotes and/or read some literary criticism before I say anything else about it. Hopefully, I'll have time tomorrow at work to do a little research. One of the perks of being a librarian is that I can do personal research and reading and look like I'm working hard, but let's keep that little secret between us. ;-)

Now, I need to go to bed and read more of Water for Elephants. Book club meets on Sunday, and I don't want to spend my whole weekend trying to finish it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Post-Holiday Week Reading Report

I had planned to do a lot of reading during the holiday, and I did, but I only finished one book.

I'm not a big fan of non-fiction, but I finished The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher Saturday. And I loved it! I thought Kate Summerscale did an excellent job narrating the details of the murder and its ensuing investigation. I had never really thought about how the profession of a detective, whether policeman or private, might have developed nor how the public might have felt about the creation of this new profession. I was fascinated with this aspect of the book. Being a literature lover, I also really enjoyed Summerscale's use of the investigation of the murder as a parallel to the development of detective fiction. I was a bit surprised that Summerscale was able to weave all these informative and narrative threads into such an enthralling book that kept me reading not only to find out who did it but also see how it affected the public psyche and literature.

It's funny that I've never considered myself a mystery connoisseur, because I have always liked mysteries, even as a young reader. I loved Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. As an adult, I've enjoyed Lawrence Sanders, especially his McNally series, and P.D. James. I have always liked movie mysteries too, especially those based on British mystery stories, such as Agatha Christie's, and Conan Doyle's. Some of my favorite TV shows are police dramas, which are often mystery-like in plot, such as the Law & Order franchise, the CSI franchise, Cold Case, and Criminal Intent. In addition, I love British mystery series like Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Midsommer Murders. I like mysteries, I think, because I like solving puzzles and trying figure out the answer before it is revealed, and something about knowing the answer in the end is comforting.

Because I think of mysteries as my "easy" reading, I've never thought about mystery sub-genres, such as the country house murder mystery even though I'm sure that I've read and seen some. The murder that is the focus of the book is a real-life country house murder. A child is brutally murdered and someone in the house did it. Because this is a real life murder, it's a bit more difficult, actually damn near impossible for the detective to prove his case. Even years later, when the accused confesses, there's some question as to whether she could have done it alone. I really hate it when TV mystery/police dramas don't tie up all the loose ends at the end of an episode, but I don't mind when a book leaves me wondering.

In the Afterword, Summerscale comments:
"Perhaps this is the purpose of detective investigations, real and fictional--to transform sensation, horror and grief into a puzzle, and then to solve the puzzle, to make it go away. 'The detective story,' observed Raymond Chandler in 1949, 'is a tragedy with a happy ending.' A storybook detective starts by confronting us with a murder and ends by absolving us of it. He clears us of guilt. He relieves us of uncertainty. He removes us from the presences of death."
So in the end, we are comforted and cleansed and feel better about the (fictional) world. Is it any surprise that there is more than one book where the detective is/was/almost was a priest/rabbi? (Okay, I can only think of one that I've read, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman, but I'm sure there are more.)

Other Reading
I read some more of both of the two motherhood books that I named in the previous post, and I might blog about them later this week. I also started Water for Elephants. I've only read about 50 pages, but I think I'm going to really like it. (Is it just me or does the opening narration by the 90- or 93-year-old narrator remind you of Little Big Man? I've never read that book, but I've seen the movie a couple of times.)

I did not read any of the YA books that I brought home with me from work. Today at work, I finished the first chapter of Tender Morsels, and I decided it wasn't the YA book for me right now. I read the first chapter of Marked, the first book in the House of Night Series, and thought I might give it a chance. I also read two or three chapters in The Missing Girl, and the opening chapter was kind of creepy, so I think I'm going to give it a try too. Tomorrow, we are doing some testing at my campus, and I have to sit in the hallway all morning and relieve teachers when they need a bathroom break, and I plan to use that time to read more of one of these two books.

Now it's time to go to bed and read for a while. Later.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Big Plans for a Week of Reading & Writing

If you look at the left sidebar of my blog, you will see that it says I'm reading The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (true - I'm completely enthralled with this book & will definitely write about it later), Water for Elephants (false - not started; planning to begin today), and Moby Dick (false - read about thirty pages at work but that was several weeks ago; planning to restart soon). In addition to those three books, I brought home three work reads: Tender Morsels, which I started a few weeks ago but can't decide if I'll finish or not; Marked, the first book in the House of Night series, and The Missing Girl, the last book by the recently deceased YA author Norma Fox Mazer (brand new book; only one student read so far & her comment: "This is a very creepy book" made me want to read it). Add to this list two books about motherhood: The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy, & Birth and Confessions of the Other Mother--I should have already finished the first one (I'm afraid that Valerie is getting frustrated with me for not having finished it or read the one that she read).

Whew! That's a lot of reading for a slow reader to do in only one week. I know that I won't finish all of these this week, but I should be able to make a pretty big dent in most of them.

As for writing this week, I am usually such a procrastinator when it comes to writing, but I've been feeling the need to get some out lately. I spent the summer reading short stories, and I have been thinking a lot about trying to write some since the summer ended. Last week, I decided that I would try to write one this week. I have a couple of ideas for it but unfortunately nothing definite. I'm going to get off the computer and do some housework for a while then come back and work on that story.

Enjoy your Monday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My To-Read List Just Keeps Getting Longer

I went to the Texas Book Festival in Austin two weekends ago. The weather was gorgeous and the authors were interesting and entertaining, even the ones that I wasn't that excited about seeing. The problem with the weekend, though, is that now I have a bunch of books added to my already impossibly long list of books that I want to read. When I picked the sessions for Sunday, I seriously thought about cutting out early and even not going at all, but I ended up staying all afternoon, and I am so glad that I did. What follows is a list of the authors that I saw and the books that I now want to read. (I started this post over a week ago, so excuse the lack of details for the Sunday sessions. I suck when it comes to posting regularly.)


Jane Smiley and Lucy Silag: I thought that I had read something of Smiley's, but after checking out her list of works, I'm fairly certain that I was mistaken. After hearing her talk about her writing, I definitely want to read something of hers, especially A Thousand Acres and maybe her new YA book, The Georges and the Jewels, which is what she is promoting right now. I already wanted to read her daughter's book Beautiful American, but I didn't know Silag was Smiley's daughter. I picked up an ARC of the book at last year's Texas Library Association's conference, but I haven't made time to read it yet. When I get to work tomorrow, I'm going to move it to the top of the to-read pile that I have there.

Colson Whitehead and ZZ Packer: The title of this session was About Race: Identity and American Fiction. Whitehead began by reading a very funny satirical piece about post-racial America then he read an excerpt from his most recent novel Sag Harbor. I have read and really enjoyed his earlier novel The Institutionist, and I think I started his novel John Henry Days several years ago after I saw him read here in Houston. After hearing the excerpt from Sag Harbor, I really want to read this book. ZZ Packer read from an article that she wrote about Reconstruction. The she read part of a short story from her book Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, which I have read already and highly recommend. She is currently working on a novel about the Buffalo Soldiers and Reconstruction--can't wait to read it now. After they read, there was a discussion about race and American fiction, which was very interesting.

Jim Crace, Johnathan Lethem, Robert Olen Butler, and David Eagleman: This panel was very interesting, but, unfortunately, I had to leave early to get to the location where Margaret Atwood was speaking. I was there long enough to hear each of the authors talk about their most recent books: Being Dead (Crace), Chronic City (Lethem), Hell (Butler), and Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife (Eagleman). It was very funny when Eagleman talked about people coming to his appearances, thinking that he was going to talk about the afterlife from a neuroscientist's point of view and being surprised that the book is fiction. I have to admit that I was one of those people. :-) I have never read any of their works, but I think now that I will definitely try to read some of them.

Margaret Atwood: She is the main reason I wanted to go to the festival. I have seen her once before. I think she was the first author that I ever went to a reading by and Alias Grace was definitely my first signed book. I LOVE Atwood's writing, and I think she is such a smart, funny woman that I don't think I would ever be disappointed by her or miss any opportunity to see her in person. I already have The Year of the Flood, and I will probably read it as soon as I finish Howard's End, the current selection of my book club.


Michael H. Marvins: Texas' Big Bend: A Photographic Adventure from the Pecos to the Rio Grande is about a place that I LOVE. I've been there twice and look forward to going back some day. I liked the photos that Marvins showed during his talk, so I bought this book--Surprise! Surprise! But it was the only book that I bought all weekend, which is really good for me.

PC Cast and Kristen Cast: This mother-daughter team are the creators of the House of Night series, a young adult vampire series. There are currently six novels available in this series: Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, Hunted, and Tempted. I really don't like vampire stories, not even Twilight, but I went to this session anyway because some of my students have read the series and have asked if I will get it for the library. Last year, one of my co-workers read the books and said she felt like they were too mature for 7th and 8th graders. One of my 8th grade students who has read the books said she thought they would be inappropriate in our library. Still, I thought I would check out the authors, and I'm glad that I did. They were very entertaining women, who are very concerned about empowering young women. Plus the mother used to be a high school English teacher. She doesn't know it, but we bonded over both those points. According to PC, the vampirism in these books is based in biology, something about junk DNA, something that I know nothing about but it made the books sound more interesting to me than the usual vampire books. I'm going to read Marked, the first book in the series, and see if it really is too mature for my school's library.

Jonathan Safran Foer, Novella Carpenter, James Sheehan, James E. McWilliams: This panel was hosted by an Atlantic Monthly writer, Corby Kummer, and I think it was the best panel of the weekend. Each person briefly described the genesis of their most recent books: Eating Animals (Foer), Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (Carpenter), Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen (Sheehan), and Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (McWilliams). Kummer had obviously read all three books and asked pertinent questions, and the panelists were not afraid to voice differing opinions on how we should eat, where we should eat, and where we should shop for food. (I wish I had made notes or posted this a week ago). There was talk of factory farming and the ridiculousness of farm bills and how the farm lobby does nothing to help change the status quo. I try my best to shop locally and by free range/grass fed meat, sometimes organic and sometimes not, but I learned that all those terms don't always mean what they connote. I'm a meateater, and I can't really see myself ever giving it up completely, but this panel gave me a lot to think about, and I'm putting two of these books on my to-read list, Eating Animals and Locavores. As my regular reader(s) knows, I'm not big on non-fiction, but I think I might have to start reading more of it.

Jessica Lee Anderson, Libba Bray, and Sara Zarr: These are all young adult authors. I've read one book by Bray and one by Zarr, but I've not read their most recent works. This panel was very entertaining, thanks mostly to the antics of Bray, who definitely wanted to be the star of the panel, and the rather dry humor of Zarr, who didn't seem like she wanted to play second fiddle to bray. I was especially interested in hearing/seeing Zarr because she is a self-professed (former?) struggling reader and an admitted slow reader (me too!) who writes realistic fiction, which is much more to my taste than all the vampire/fantasy novels that everyone and their dog is writing these days. After hearing these authors, I think I would like to read all of their most recent works: Border Crossing (Anderson), Going Bovine (Bray)--is that a great title or what!--and Once Was Lost (Zarr). This was the last panel of the weekend for me.

I had a really great time at the Texas Book Festival, and I was pretty geeky impressed by the fact that I was sitting in the Senate chamber and House chamber for some of theses panels. My final assessment of the weekend's events: I'm never going to get my to-read list down to a manageable number.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Review and Something about Mysteries

I finished reading The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf a couple of nights ago. (It is my book club's current selection.) This novel is about what happens when two young girls, best friends, go missing at the same time. One of the girls, Callie, hasn't spoken for four years, not since the night her mom had a late term miscarriage after falling down the stairs with some help from her drunk dad. Early on, the reader knows that only one of the girls, Petra, is truly missing in the kidnapped sense. Although a certain person thinks the opposite is true, I tried very hard to like this book, but in the end, I just didn't like it very much.

The story is told from points of view alternating among the participants in the story: Callie; Petra, the other missing girl (only one or two times though); Callie's older brother Ben; Antonia, Ben and Callie's mother; Martin, Petra's father; and Deputy Sheriff Louis, who just happens to be Antonia's first love. I usually like stories with alternating points of view, but I think that Gudenkauf's choice to make all of them first person narratives except Callie's was a mistake because I don't think any of them except Ben really had a distinct narrative voice, although a case might be made for the very stilted and unbelievable first couple of chapters from Louis's point of view. Also, the chapters were so short that I never felt like I got to know the characters well enough to really sympathize with them. (I do not buy James Patterson's theory that short chapters make reading a book feel addictive, and I have to wonder if that's what Gudenkauf was going for.)

One big problem that I had with this book is that in the chapters written from Callie's point of view there were descriptions that were obviously not the way a child would view things or describe things. Although these chapters were not written in first person, in Callie's voice, I still felt like the adult word choices were a misstep. For example, at one point, Callie recalls a fun afternoon at Petra's that included the marriage of a dog and a stuffed animal. The dog belonged to one of Petra's father's students, Lucky. Callie recalls Lucky "pretending to cry with happiness..and drawing [Petra] close to him." I"m sorry but an eight-year-old would not recall that event using those words to herself. Another example occurs late in the story. Callie is thinking about what she witnessed, about what happened to Petra. She remembers, "He carefully moved to set Petra down, resting his hand behind her head as he laid her on the altarlike rock. Once again he stood, shaking his arms free from the residual weight of Petra." Now Callie might be a very smart eight-year-old, but this description is not believable as hers at all.

Depite this problem and others, I didn't hate this book, and I thought it had some good writing in it, but overall, I just didn't think it was better than okay. The characters are not very original, but the writing is not bad and even occasionally very good. I really like this passage, Ben is describing his father, but I'm not sure it's a teenager's description:
"For once in my life, I think my dad looks old. Not ancient old, like an eighty-year-old man, but just tired old. Like a middle-aged man who spent too much time drinking and being mean to others, time sits on his face like some Halloween mask."
Then later in the same chapter, Ben describes some pajamas that he used to wear:
"I remember they were white and had these grinning little clowns holding balloons all over them. I wouldn't tell all my friends this, but I loved those pajamas. It was like sliding into something happy when I put those on after a bath." :-)
Like I said earlier, I did try to like this book. It's basically a mystery--who and what happened to Petra?--and I like mysteries. I don't think many readers would have a difficult time figuring out who did it before it's revealed, but I don't think they would figure it out too early in the story. Sometimes when I'm reading mysteries, I want to look ahead and see if my suppositions are correct, but I enjoy the getting to the solutions so much that I resist the temptation. With this book, I just didn't enjoy the getting there enough to resist. This book didn't make me want to keep reading or to read faster to get to the end; it just made me want to skip to the end. Not a good sign.

One thing this book did do for me, though, is make me want to read a good mystery, so I picked up an old P.D. James book, Unnatural Causes, to read before I read my next book club selection, which will be picked on Sunday. It also made me wonder what makes a good mystery and made me want to do some research about the conventions of mysteries, which made me think that I need to read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher very soon. Maybe I'll do some research and post about what I find.

For now, though, I need to go to bed, so I can get up early and do some work that I should have been doing instead of blogging. Later.

Monday, September 28, 2009

No cooking equals book buying

What happens when you don't put the chicken strips in the refrigerator to defrost and don't put the peas in the crockpot to cook while you're at work and the only other option for dinner is spaghetti with jarred sauce? Well, in my home, you end up talking yourselves into going out to pickup some Chinese food. Of course, you also decide to go to the one Chinese food place that is in the same strip as a Half Price Books. No one wants to just sit in the restaurant and wait on the food to be prepared, right? After all, the time will pass much faster in the bookstore than in the restaurant, especially when you find books that you have to have.

I only bought one book tonight: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimimanda Ngozie Adiche. There was no way that I could leave it sitting on the shelf unbought. It just came out in June! I absolutely fell in love with Adiche's writing when I read her novel Half of a Yellow Sun. I still need to read her first novel Purple Hibiscus too. This new book is a collection of short stories, so it might get read sooner than later. I can read one here and there and not have to worry about remembering where I left off.

Well, the Cowboys have won, and I can go to bed and read now. Later!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Really Good Weekend & Some Reading

Even though the Astros lost badly when I saw them last night for the last time this season, I still had a really good weekend. I enjoyed a yummy Mexican food dinner and margaritas with Valerie and a good friend of ours on Friday night. Afterward we went to a bar for a couple of more drinks.

Yesterday, Valerie and I went to a members preview of a new exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. The Moon is an interesting exhibit that combines art with science. My favorite item in the exhibit was a painting by one of my favorite painters: Blue Luna by Kenneth Noland--I wanted to include a photo of it, but I can't find one online. I will definitely go back and see the exhibit again. I want to see A Trip to the Moon, a silent film, the first science fiction film. It's based on two novels, one by Jules Verne and one by H.G. Wells. We watched about five minutes of it, but I want to go back and watch the whole thing. (I have one big complaint about this exhibit. It is organized around the phases of the moon, but it is not laid out in a way to easily follow the phases.)

After the museum, we went to the sorry Astros games. :-( But after the game, we had a nice dinner with another friend and did a bit of people watching in downtown Houston.

Today, I mostly spent the afternoon finishing The Little Stranger. I thought the book was very good. I see why this book is a Booker prize finalist. Waters is doing so much more with this novel than simply creating an entertaining haunted house story. Because one of the main characters is named Roderick, I really feel like I should re-read Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." Also, I need to think about The Little Stranger for a day or two before I write at length about it.

Now, what's next to read? I have to read The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf for my book club, but I'm going to start at least one other book too. I really want to read 2666, but it's so long that I think I will wait a bit to read it. Besides I'm already reading a very long book at work, Moby Dick. I also have been thinking about reading another P.D. James mystery, but Valerie's great pleasure in reading Sarah Vowell has made me really want to read something by her. So, I think I will start The Wordy Shipmates soon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

BBAW Day 5 - The Present and the Future of Breathing Space

For this final day of BBAW, I have two assignments:
  1. In 50 words or less, tell what I love best about my blog.
  2. In 50 words or less, identify goals/changes that I foresee for my blog.
What I love best
I love that this blog gives me a chance to write about the books I read. I can write reviews of whole books or simply write about a what a passage/book makes me think about. And I love that my posts are archived, so that if I want to refer to them again, I can do it.

Well, I now own my own domain name (Thanks, Valerie!), and I would like to migrate my blog to that space and try to create a multi-faceted site. I'm not sure what other facets I will add, but I would definitely like to personalize the look of my blog, even if I simply change the banner. I would also like to blog more regularly and maybe create some recurring blog features.

I've really enjoyed being a part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and I look forward to reading the blogs that I have discovered this week.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

BBAW Day 4 - A Memorable Book Recommendation

Today's assignment is to write about a book that I read about on a book blog and that after reading it, I fell in love with it. I have to admit that I couldn't immediately think of a book. Thank goodness for LibraryThing! I went to my library and went through the titles there and as soon as I saw Mutual Life and Casualty, I knew I had to write about it.

In the fall of 2005, I discovered this book on The LitBlog Co-op, which was a site that highlighted contemporary fiction from unknown authors and smaller presses. Unfortunately, this site is no longer active, but some of the bloggers who participated in this site are still active on their own blogs.

Mutual Life and Casualty by Elizabeth Poliner is a novel in short stories that tells of the lives of the Kahn sisters and their mother during the late 70s. Before I go any further, I have to admit that I loved the title of the book and the cover. But once I read The Happy Booker's recommendation of the book, I had to have it. I think I even ordered it from Amazon because I couldn't find it in a store here. I didn't write a long post about it then, but the book really resonated with me, and I still think about it on occasion. I think that I connected with these stories because I grew up at that time and witnessed the changing lives of women as they fought for equality. However, I think the stories would be interesting even to people who don't have the same background as I do. Because this is a book of short stories, I don't find myself recommending it very much, but I should. As a matter of fact, I think I might have to re-read this book soon. :-)

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Meme for BBAW

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I love snack food, but I'm really not a big snacker while I read.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I used to mark books up all the time, and I'm not sure when/why I stopped doing it. I've tried folding page corners to remind myself of the location of sentences/images/events that I want to remember, but I don't feel as satisfied with that method as I was when I marked up books. I think I will have to start reading with a pencil handy again.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
I LOVE bookmarks! In 2002, I went on my second tour of Europe, and I decided that I would buy bookmarks as souvenirs. I'm not usually a big souvenir buyer, but I liked the idea of bookmarks because they are rather inexpensive, easily portable, and useful. So I became a bookmark collector. Often when I start a new book, I will try to find an appropriate bookmark to use. Very silly, I know, but I can't help myself.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
I am a fiction reader who only occasionally reads non-fiction.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
Hard copy! However, I used to commute for an hour one-way, and I did listen to some audiobooks. It's hard for me to call listening to audiobooks reading. I just don't get the same pleasure or satisfaction out of listening to books as I do reading a hard copy.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
It depends. During the week, my main time for reading is when I go to bed. I always try to read to the ends of chapters, but sometimes I just can't stay awake to finish. If I'm close, I might nod off a few times before I give up and put my book down for the night. Most of the time, I can put a book down at any point, but I like to at least finish the last paragraph on a page even if it's continued on the next page or get to a break on the page, if there is one.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
If I can get a good idea of meaning using the context of the word, I won't bother looking it up. Otherwise, it depends on when/where I'm reading. Lying in bed, I would not look up a word. Sitting some place with a computer/cell phone handy/dictionary handy, I would be more likely to look it up immediately.

What are you currently reading?
At home, I'm reading The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. At work, I'm reading Moby Dick.

What is the last book you bought?
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf. I just bought this on Sunday after my book club met and selected this book for our next read.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I used to be a one-book-at-a-time person unless I was re-reading something that I was teaching. Now that I'm a librarian, I do often have more than one book going at a time. Sometimes it's an adult book and a young adult book, but for the past couple of years, I've found myself often reading two adult books, one for me and one for book club, and one young adult book for work. Sometimes I might even have a short story book or, rarely, a non-fiction book going.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
My favorite time to read is first thing in the morning, sitting in the chair by the living room window and drinking a cup or two or three of coffee.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
I really have never been a series book reader, not even when I was a kid. I don't really like sequels/series movies either. Over the years, as a high school English teacher and now a librarian, I have tried some childrens/young adult series that my students were reading and loving. I read and loved the first Harry Potter, but I've never felt compelled to read the others in the series, although I do sometimes think that I should. I read Twilight and did not fall in love with it, and I know that I will never read any of the other books in the series. Last spring, I read Hunger Games and fell in love with Katniss, the protagonist, and I couldn't wait for September 1 to get Catching Fire, the second book in the series, which I liked just as much as the first one, and now I am anxiously awaiting the next book.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
A couple of books that I know that I've recommended to lots of people are Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides and Possession by A.S. Byatt. My favorite authors are Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison, and I often recommend them. After reading a second book of stories by Alice Munro this summer, I have become a real fan of her work and will start recommending her. For people who like mysteries, I recommend P.D. James and lately, the Stieg Larsson books.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
I wish my books were organized, but I just haven't gone to the trouble of doing it yet. I do have all my signed books grouped together. Maybe next summer, I'll spend some time organizing, but I'm not making any promises.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Introducing Valerie from Life is a Patchwork Quilt

Participants in Book Blogger Appreciation Week were paired up to interview each other. My interview partner is Valerie, a blogger in Colorado who also quilts. Her blog Life is a Patchwork Quilt includes posts about quilting and her life but mostly she posts about books. When I was notified that we would be interview partners, I checked out her blog and was happy to see that we had a lot of books in common. As a liberal Texan, I love that when she posted about Steinbeck's Travels with Charley that she pointed out a comment he made about Texans and secession threats--such an embarrassing truth about some Texans, including our current governor, even today.

Her blog has an extra feature that I never even thought about creating, but I wish I had. She has a Books page, which is essentially an alphabetical index of the books that she has reviewed or mentioned in reviews. The titles in the list are linked to her posts. What a great feature! Her list includes a good mix of fiction and nonfiction books. Her reviews are always interesting and helpful to readers. I definitely want to read Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy after reading what she thinks about it.

Here's my interview with her:

Why/when did you start blogging?
I started blogging In January 2008, and at that time it was a general blog that covered family events, my art quilt projects, some recipes I'd try out, and about books I read. Eventually I blogged less about family (I found facebook to be a better place for updates). I tried to do a seperate blog about food and recipes, but it was too much work. Quilt-related posts enced up being too far apart. So it seems like I ended up mostly blogging about books!

What are your favorite books/authors?
Oh, there are so many I like! It's hard for me to say whether I have favorite authors, because I tend not to read authors that churn out several books. I have several books by Edith Wharton but it's been a long time since I last read one of her works. I also have, and enjoyed, several by T.C. Boyle. I love "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth, and I wish more people would read it, but I think the size scares most people off!

Do you do reading challenges?
Only a couple at a time. I know some people love doing them, but enforced deadlines are hard for me!

Do you read more than one book at a time?
Oh, yes. Usually 3-4, but they are different types: one book might be a short story collection, one might be on poetry, one would be a novel, and one non-fiction book.

Is there any kind of book that you won't read?
I say "never say never", but generally I don't read romance, science fiction, fantasy, or true crime.

Do you review books for publishers? Library Thing?
I'm a member of Library Thing, but in the year or so that I've been a member, have only received five books to review. I'm very picky about which books I request; I do not want to have an endless list of ARCs I need to read. As for books from publishers, so far it has been just a couple; and again, I'd be very choosy about which books I accept. I've also recently had a lucky streak recently and have won a few books through blog give-aways, but again I only enter the ones where I have a real interest in the book.

Do you participate in any kind of rewards program like Amazon's? (I'm not sure what it's called.)
I do have an Amazon Associates account, and I try to remember to link titles to amazon, but it's really more for the reader's conveinence because I've made zero profit from it :-)!

Do you mostly borrow books from the library, or are they purchased (and of those purchased, are they primarily new or used?)
I purchase my books--many are used--because I have a hard time trying to meet library due date deadlines (even with renewals).

Are your TBRs mostly on a list, or collected and waiting to be read?
I have both a list, and an ever-growing pile of TBR books. One reason why it's been growing is because our local library has had a lot of good books for sale-- paperbacks 25 cents, hardbacks 50 cents. This is currently a half-price sale; soon it will go back to 50 cents for paperbacks and a dollar for hardbacks. I found a pristine hard-cover copy of "What is the What" by Dave Eggers there for only 50 cents. Still waiting to be read!

What are your earliest memories of reading, and do you remember what book(s)?
I've been reading since I was about two years old, but my earliest memories are the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder; I don't remember myself reading picture books (if I ever really did).

I hope you will go to Life is a Patchwork Quilt and look around. If you're a Texan, make sure that you check out her post about Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. While you're there, you can read her interview with me too. :-)

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Welcome to Book Blogger Appreciation Week. This is my first time to participate, and I am very excited. Tomorrow, I will post my interview with Valerie of Life is a Patchwork Quilt, and she will post her interview with me on her blog.

Here is our assignment for today:
What book blogs mean something to you? Who are your most trusted sources for recommendations, your greatest help, the blogger you turn to for a laugh or to vent? Whose writing do you admire or who introduced you to a whole new genre you didn’t know about?
Some of favorites book blogs are:
  • A Work in Progress - Danielle is a great blogger. She posts regularly about the multiple books that she is always reading. She reads a lot of British mysteries and both American and British classics. When she reads nonfiction, it seems like her choices are related to the fiction that she reads. Her posts are always interesting.
  • Classical Bookworm - Sylvia's blog is about the arts and humanities rather than simply books. I share her love of classics. Many of her posts are accompanied with interesting and relevant images. There's always something interesting on her site.
  • So Many Books - Like me, Stefanie works in a library. Mostly, she blogs about literature, but she also has been blogging about her readings in her library science courses. I really enjoy reading her posts.
  • Stainless Steel Droppings - Carl's blog has the best art/images on it of all the blogs that I read. He mostly blogs about fantasy and science fiction books, which I don't read very much, but I love reading his posts and seeing the art and images.
Check out all of these book blogs. Also, be sure to come back tomorrow and read my interview with Valerie of Life is a Patchwork Quilt.

Happy Book Blogger Appreciation Week!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Weekend of Reading

Valerie will be in class all weekend, so I will have the days to myself. Since it is Labor Day weekend, I'm going to try to do as little labor as possible even though I do have a short list of household chores to do. I plan to spend the weekend reading as much as possible and squeezing in a couple of episodes of Masterpiece Mystery that I have DVR'd recently.

I finished reading The Professor and the Madman this morning with my first cup and a half of coffee. I'm not a big nonfiction fan, but I was glad when it was chosen for our book club. While I was reading it, I complained about it being kind of slow. It definitely moved faster toward the end. In the end, I found it interesting but not very exciting to read. I marked a few passages and might post about them later. I need to start posting about books as I read them rather than waiting until I finish. Too often, once I've finished a book, I don't want to go back and relive it in order to write a proper book review post. Usually, I'm more interested in looking forward than looking back, which is what I'm about to do.

Books on my weekend reading list
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - One night last week I gave in to my book lust and read almost twenty pages of this, and I was hooked. I'm quite proud of myself for resisting the temptation to give up on The Professor and the Madman and move on completely. A couple of years ago, I read Waters' The Night Watch, and I've wanted to read something else of hers ever since. I bought this book very soon after it was released, but I kept putting other books in front of it. Hopefully, it will live up to all the good reviews that I have read about it. I think it probably should since it has been longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize. This book is over 400 pages, so I won't be able to finish it this weekend, but I do plan to get deep into it.
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - This is a young adult book, the second in a trilogy which began with the much-lauded Hunger Games. I loved Hunger Games and am very excited to see how Collins continues the story of Katniss, one of the best girl characters that I have ever seen. This book came out on September 1, and I picked up three copies for my library, which isn't open to students for check out until after this holiday weekend. It's a good think too because I wanted to read it and so did my principal and her secretary. Hopefully, we will all finish it this weekend because I know students are anxiously awaiting this book's availability.
  • Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block - Another YA book. When I scanned all my books this week for inventory, I came across this short novel. I didn't even realize that it was part of my school library's collection. The book is about a young man who is trying to come to terms with being gay. I really only heard paid attention to this book because a Christian group has sued to be allowed to burn the copy that is available in the West Bend, Wisconsin library. I decided that I should read it. Since it's just over 100 pages, I shouldn't have any trouble getting it read this weekend.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville - I'm a slow reader and know that I would never be able to read this 500-page book in a long weekend, but I do intend to use a 40% off coupon from Borders to purchase a copy so that I can start feeding my obsession about reading it. Valerie said the other night that it was like I was Captain Ahab. Yeah, I had thought about that already.
So, now it's just after noon and I need to pick a book to take with me to read while I have a pedicure and get out of the house for a while. Later. :-)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tomorrow is a big day for YA books

Even though I am a junior high librarian, I usually don't write much here about young adult books. I really don't like books written for teens very much, but I do have to read some books so that I can feel conscientious. After two years in a junior high library, I still haven't acquired a real taste for young adult books. However, I am very excited about two YA books that are being released tomorrow. First, Catching Fire, the second book of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. I read the first book, Hunger Games, in the spring, and I LOVED it! I think Katniss, the main character, is a great girl character, one who is not focused on a boy or the need for a boy. There are two major minor boy characters, but Katniss has much more important things to worry about, things like surviving a fight to the death. I can't wait to see how Collins continues Katniss's story. A former co-worker got an advanced copy of Catching Fire and says it's even better than Hunger Games. I'm going to pick up three copies of the book tomorrow and plan to start reading as soon as possible, like tomorrow night or maybe even during the PTA meeting that I have to attend after work.

The other book is Ash by Malinda Lo. I read an advanced copy of this book in the spring. Ash is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, but it's not overly Cinderella-ish. I liked it a lot, and I think that it will be exciting to see how Lo develops as an author. I had intended to blog about the book when I read the ARC, but I procrastinated, so I will try to post something about it after I have read the final copy.

In other reading news, I am still reading The Professor and the Madman, but I am itching to start something else. It's very nerdy but interesting. I'm not a big fan of nonfiction; it really is different from reading fiction. Maybe if I read more nonfiction, I would get used to the difference, but I have so many fiction books waiting in the wings that I don't think I will be able to squeeze in very many nonfiction choices. I do have one that I intend to read soon, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, but it will have to wait a little while. I know that I will read Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger next, then I will probably read Moby Dick or Middlemarch. I will probably go with Moby Dick because I can't seem to stop thinking about reading it. I'm not sure why I'm so obsessed with the idea of reading it, but I get weird like that about books sometimes. Or maybe I'm just weird. Now, I think I'll go to bed and read for a while. Later.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Blogging again with a reading update

I've been blogging since March 4, 2005. Looking at my archives, I see that I have blogged less and less as the years have passed. For 1.5 of those years, I can blame grad school while being an English teacher work for keeping me from being a regular blogger. Since the fall of 2007, I've been a junior high librarian, so I really have no excuse for not blogging more. I do have a work blog too, but I don't really post much there since my students are not allowed to access it at school. (Yeah, I just love Internet filters and adult paranoia. Don't you?)

Recently Valerie said that she had reviewed some of my old posts and that I should get back to it. She said that I write good/interesting posts. I know that she's biased, but I also know that she doesn't lie. In telling me this, she reminded me of how much I enjoyed blogging in the past. Well, I've decided that I'm going to blog more regularly. Starting with this post.

I finished reading The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson yesterday morning. I love Lisbeth Salander! She is a unique character, but I find her very believable. I really enjoyed Larsson's first novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I thought all the information about Sweden's economy and financial sector was interesting, probably because it reflected well real life events in America and the world. Then the mysteries that make up the main plot were also interesting. I felt like Larsson was using his first book to say something about out of control greed on a grand scale. The Girl Who Played with Fire is a more straightforward mystery/thriller. Although some of the revelations of Lisbeth's secrets do cross the line into social commentary. When it's revealed that Lisbeth's father was a Russian hit man who had defected to Sweden and been allowed to break laws and be a monster for the sake of national security, I can hear Larsson sneering at that rationalization. But in this book, those moments are few and far between. This book is a page-turner! It has real excitement and quite a lot of violence, but I never felt the violence was gratuitous. I was able to figure out much of the mysteries before they were revealed in the narrative, but I still enjoyed the reading. After being left with Lisbeth's life hanging in the balance, I can't wait for the trilogy's finale The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which comes out October 31, 2009. It should be interesting to see how Larsson ends the series.

In other reading news, my book club's current selection is The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, my book club is made up of a bunch of nerds. Actually, this is the nerdiest book that we have chosen in our over two years of existing. I'm not much of a nonfiction fan, but I do like words, and this book has a definition at the beginning of each chapter. Woohoo! ;-)

Okay, I think that's enough blabbing blogging for now. Later.

Monday, August 17, 2009

And the winner is...

Jane is the winner of The Girl Who Played with Fire! Jane, email me your address, and I'll get the book in the mail as soon as possible. I hope you read it soon and enjoy it as much as I am.

I am over half finished with the book, and I think it's more enjoyable than Larsson's previous book. It kept me up until almost 1:00 a.m. last night, and I might have read longer if I hadn't glanced at the clock when I came to the end of Part 3. I had to go to work today, so I decided to go to sleep instead of reading further. I will probably finish it in the next couple of days.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Book Giveaway!

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson hit bookstores on July 28. It is the follow up to Larsson's The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, which I read in the spring and blogged about here. (The earlier book is now out in paperback.) The publisher sent me a copy of The Girl Who Played with Fire to give away. I'm also supposed to have some temporary tattoos to give away also, but I have not received them yet.

If you haven't read the first book, I do recommend it, but don't let that keep you from entering the contest. I've read almost 100 pages of The Girl Who Played with Fire, and I think you could read the second book without having read the first book first. Larsson does a good job of filling in the pertinent background information

To be entered into the drawing for the book, all you have to do is leave a comment below with your name. This giveaway is open to those in the U.S. and Canada only, and the deadline for entry is midnight Central time, Friday, August 14, 2009. I will pick use a random integer generator to pick the winner and announce the winner on Monday, August 17.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Watching Golf, Thinking about Reading

The Open Championship is concluding today, and I have been enthralled watching Tom Watson try to win his 6th championship at 59 years old. My dad would've loved this! As an adult, I LOVE watching the major golf tournaments, especially when they have exciting endings like this one. Growing up, I'm not sure I really enjoyed the golf that much. Mostly, I think I endured the TV viewing because my dad loved it. I was a daddy's girl.

While watching today, I've been thinking about reading, mainly because I have a 50% off coupon to use today at Half Price Books. I've been thinking about what book I would buy. I would love to find a copy of Drood there, but I looked for it at two different locations earlier this week, when I had a 40% off coupon to use, and had no luck. I will probably look for it again today, but I'm only going to one location. If I don't find it, I have to have a second choice. I can't waste a 50% off coupon for a book--that would be a sacrilege.

I have wanted to read a novel by James Baldwin for a long time. I have read one of his short stories, "Sonny's Blues," but nothing else that I recall. I remember liking the short story very much and thinking that I should read more of his work. I did a little research about his works, hoping to discover what is considered his masterpiece. According to information on PBS' American Masters site, "Go Tell It on the Mountain has long been considered an American classic." Classic is close enough to masterpiece for me. So, I am going to look for a copy of it.

In other reading news, I will finish reading The House of Seven Gables today. Hopefully, I will not be lazy and will post about it soon. Last week as part of my short story reading project, I finished reading Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. This week, I am going to finish reading Alice Munro's The View from Castle Rock. There are 6 stories in the second part of the book plus an epilogue. If I finish the book, I think I will have made up for missing days when I was on vacation and a couple of other days since then when I was busy or reading something else. This book of stories based on her family's history has reinforced my admiration for Munro's writing. If I can't find a copy of Go Tell It on the Mountain, maybe I will look for an older Munro book because I definitely want to read more of her work.

Well, the 4-hole playoff is half over, and Watson is one shot behind Cink. I should probably get dressed now, so that Valerie and I can go eat lunch and maybe do grocery shopping as soon as it's over. Enjoy your Sunday!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Short Story Project Update

Last week, I finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth. The final three stories are linked, alternately focusing on Hema and Kaushik, a girl and a boy who are thrown together as children when Kaushik's family returns to the U.S. and stay with Hema's family for a while. Although they are not friends and their parents do not remain close friends, thier short time together leaves a lasting impression on them both. In the final story, their reunion and subsequent coupling is not unexpected, but Hema's ultimate decision about their relationship, while probably not the desired ending for many readers, is completely fitting with her character. I really enjoyed these three stories. With this book, Lahiri has further cemented her place in my list of authors I love, authors whose books I will buy as soon as they are released.

Other short stories that I have read since my last post:
  • The opening story in J. D. Salinger's Nine Stories: "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." This story concerns Seymour Glass, a World War II combat veteran, who is not coping very well with the return to civilian life. He is probably suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder, but I don't think it was being called that in the late 40s/early 50s.
  • Another story from Nine Stories, "For Esme--with Love and Squalor." I think this story has appeared in many anthologies. I recognize the title, but I don't think I ever read it. It is another post-World War II story. I found it funny and sad. In this story, Clay relives a meeting he had in England during the war with a young girl and her brother and the lasting impression that the meeting had on him.
  • On a much lighter note, "The Macbeth Murder Mystery" by James Thurber. Have you ever read any Thurber? I think I have only read two of his stories before this one, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "The Catbird Seat"--both read a very long time ago, but if I remember correctly they are silly on the surface, but the silliness reveals a deeper, more serious problem lurking under the surface. Well, "The Macbeth Murder Mystery" is just silly to me. Still, I wish I had used it when I taught Macbeth all those years.
  • Another silly story, "Carry on Jeeves" by PG Wodehouse. A very funny story that I found in book at a bed and breakfast that Valerie and I stayed in on our recent trip to the Hill Country (I need to blog about our trip soon too). I had never read any Wodehouse but have intended to for a while.
  • Two short stories Alice Munro, but I'm saving them for another post.
  • Another by Salinger's Nine Stories, "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut." This story is about two former college roommates who get together for lunch and end up spending the afternoon getting drunk while catching up and reminiscing. I'm not sure what I think about this story. I just read it this morning and haven't had time to fully process my thoughts. Maybe I will post more thoughts about it later.
Okay, that's enough for now. I need to do something else for a while today. Later.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Short Story Theory

From the first sentence, a good short story makes you feel like something important is about to happen. By its very nature, you know that the climax will occur relatively quickly, but you still enjoy the path to the climax. I've noticed this week that I tend to approach the reading of short stories like I approach the reading of mystery novels. I find myself mentally predicting where the story is headed. Of course, it's easy to predict the trite turns that a story about human relationships might take, but the best short stories do not go to those trite places or they go there in an unexpected way.

Most of the time, Lahiri, like a great writer should, takes the story someplace else. When she does take the story to an expected place, she focuses the story in such a way that the climax isn't merely the expected outcome but some other aspect of that outcome. For example, in "Nobody's Business," Sang, a young Bengali American woman, is being duped by her Egyptian boyfriend. To me it was apparent from the beginning of the story that Farouk was hiding something and most likely being unfaithful to her. He wouldn't let her spend the night with him, wouldn't spend the night with her, and didn't introduce her to his family. Sang's housemate Paul discover's Farouk's secret, but he keeps it from Sang for a while. In the end the story is more about how and why Paul discovers, keeps, and finally reveals the secret than it is about Sang and Farouk's relationship.

The previous story, "Only Goodness," is a story about family relationships, but this one focuses on the siblings in a family, Sudha and her younger brother Rahul. While this story is about a Bengali American family, I would label this a universal family story. I think that anyone with at least one sibling could find something to connect with in this story. For example, when Sudha thinks of the stories of her birth and early childhood in London, she thinks of them "like an episode out of a Greek myth or the Bible." I can think of a number of my family's stories that might, to us, be thought of on the same level. Those are the best family stories.

Despite having been raised essentially the same, Sudha and Rahul end up in very different places. Sudha is a successful academic while Rahul, the smarter of the two siblings, is a floundering alcoholic. Rahul is kicked out of college and living at home with his parents. He has no car and only a part-time job. During a visit home, Sudha becomes "aware of a horrible imbalance between them. She felt accused, simply because her life wasn't broken in the same way." I sometimes feel really bad when I talk to my younger sister, who is constantly having money problems. I know her problems are not my fault and not my responsibility, but I still feel bad that I can't make her life better, can't solve her problems.

(FYI - I typed up most of this post a couple of days ago. Then I added the following paragraphs tonight.)

I think this story can be summed up in one simple sentence from the story: "Life went on." Of course, we know that it must, but, like Sudha, we still feel guilty when we realize that we are moving on. We can sit still; our lives must be lived. Sudha can't wait on her brother to get his shit together before she takes the next step in her life. And no one would really expect her to.

I'm really enjoying this book of stories. The final three stories are related to one another. I took a break from Lahiri today to read "Goldrush Girl," a short story by Jeanette Winterson. You can read the story online here. I'm still trying to decide what I think about it. Maybe I'll post something about it later.