Monday, July 28, 2008

New Classics Challenge

Joanna at Lost in a Good Story is hosting The New Classics Challenge, and I figured it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to join since I've already posted and discussed this list of new classics compiled by Entertainment Weekly here on my "Pondering the Classics" post. Also, I have 6 of books—the required number—already on my TBR list, so I don't have to add any to my list. I am, however, adding a couple of alternates.

So the challenge rules are:

1) Copy the list and bold the titles that you have already read.
2) Choose at least 6 other books from the list , read and review them between 1 August 2008 and 31 January 2009.
2) Go back to Lost in a Good Story and post links to your reviews.
3) In January 2009, cast your vote for which one of the 100 books on the list is your favorite (and write a post on why). The winning book will be sent to a lucky winner chosen by the scientific method favored here in the blogosphere, i.e. names in a hat.

Below is the list (with books I've read already in red), and here are the books I'm planning to read for this challenge:
The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995) Read and reviewed 8/08
Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002) Read and reviewed 8/08
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)

My alternates:
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)

EW's List

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

You can take part in the challenge by following the links above.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Bookshelves and TBR Discipline

Part 1: Bookshelves
I have a fun challenge ahead of me when we return from vacation in mid-August. We have an apartment attached to our house. For the past 8 years, it's been my parents' winter home. Recently, however, they bought a house down the street from us. As soon as they sell their house in upstate New York, they'll be moving down here full time. (Looking for a spacious home located right on one of the Finger Lakes? Shoot me an email and I'll hook you up!)

So we've decided to turn the living room of the apartment into our library. Right now we have bookshelves scattered throughout our house, literally in every room. We'll leave the bookshelves in the bedrooms and one in the living room for now, but the rest of the shelves we'll consolidate into a single library. I'm looking forward to doing that. Before we had children, I was precise about organizing books alphabetically, and of course we kept hardbacks and paperbacks separate. But with three kids with their own overflowing bookshelves, homeschooling, and our own books, my organizational system has become quite haphazard.

I've been shopping around for bookshelves.
Bookshelves has photos of the 30 Most Creative Bookshelf Designs. And the blog fittingly called
Bookshelf is solely devoted to bookshelves. What I really want is something like this photo from Seattle-based Ballard Bookcase Company. I wonder if I could get Dr. H to build me something like this? He's pretty handy with such things, but the thought of staining a whole wall of shelves stresses me out. The reality is that we'll probably go to Target and get a few shelves for $29 each. Then again, I could easily be talked out of that. What would you do if you had limited funds and a whole empty wall to fill with bookshelves?

Part 2: TBR Discipline
Last I went to our library's used book sale and bought three books not on my TBR list: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris, and The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif. Yesterday I had the unusual opportunity to go to the library all by myself (sans children), but I gave myself a stern lecture first. I made myself swear that I'd only go to the "temporarily shelved" stacks (books which were just returned by patrons but not yet put on the ir proper shelves by library workers). Furthermore, I promised myself that I'd only check out books that are on my current TBR list. And I did it! I found: The Secret Between Us by Barbara Delinsky, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, A Death in the Family by James Agee, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and The Serpent Handlers by Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald (OK, those last two weren't on my actual physical TBR list, but they were in my head).

I'm going on a 12-day vacation at the end of this week (2 of those days will be spent in the van— 15 hours each way), so I have a nice fat stack of books to take with me. If you have reviewed any of those titles, please feel free to put your link in the comments!

Part 3: This Week at SmallWorld Reads
Apparently I haven't posted much on my reading blog this week. I moved my "at-home" blog from one site to blogspot, so I've been concentrating on that this week. Yesterday I took part in Sunday Scribblings and listed my latest reviews at Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Earlier this week I reviewed Felicia Sullivan's fantastic memoir, The Sky Isn't Visible From Here. I highly recommend adding that to your own TBR list.

To my own TBR list I'll be adding some of the books I acquired this week, plus:
Hope's Boy by Andrew Bridge (reviewed on In the Shadow of Mt. TBR)
Liar's Club by Mary Karr (recommended by Words on the Page)
Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (reviewed at The Bluestocking Society)
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (reviewed at Lesa's Book Critiques)
Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (reviewed by Lines-In Pleasant Places)

And that's all for this week's Sunday Salon! Next week I'll be posting from upstate New York, on the shores of Seneca Lake (see photo; House for Sale)!

If you'd like to participate in The Sunday Salon, you can sign up here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Solace

“Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
~John Muir

This week's prompt at Sunday Scribblings: solace. Solace for me is synonymous with the mountains. Used to be Buffalo and Unaka back in college in upper East Tennessee; now we are at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The mountains have always held something inexpressible for me. There are days when all I want to do is be in the mountains, to inhale woods, river, and earth. I can breathe here, great gulps of something wild just at the edge of my view.

Solace: Mountain, Wood, River

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
~Psalm 121:1-2

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied - it speaks in silence to the very core of your being”
~Ansel Adams

“Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.”
~George Washington Carver

“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

~Winnie-the-Pooh (A.A. Milne)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book Review: The Sky Isn't Visible From Here

In a recent post I mentioned my love for memoirs. Done well, a memoir reads like carefully crafted fiction, redolent of storytelling at its best. (Done poorly, a memoir makes you want to throw the book violently, or perhaps have a book club session in which you roll your eyes a lot and seriously question the veracity of the author.)

The cool thing about a memoir is that it's not fiction. When we get caught up in fiction, we readers understand that, while the characters and events may be based on fact, it's still just a story. Happy ending or tragic ending, it's made up. But a memoir: this is real stuff. Felicia C. Sullivan is a real person (here's her blog to prove it) who survived an incredibly rough, volatile childhood only to battle her own drug and alcohol abuse, ultimately emerging—fiercely—into this "author, foodie, and rockstar."

The Sky Isn't Visible From Here alternates between Felicia's childhood in Brooklyn and her college and post-college years. Central throughout each chapter is Felicia's relationship with her mother: a manipulative, unstable, selfish, drug-addict. The chapters are neatly compartmentalized for much of the novel, just like Felicia's post-Brooklyn life:
I had been in perpetual chrysalis for most of my life, but during college I'd become an expert at transformation. I turned into a walking J.Crew catalog: preened, preppy, and audaciously New England. Lake a barnacle, I clung desperately to my affluent Waspy friends, most of them blonds who owned platinum Rolex watches that cost more than used cars. Unbeknownst to them, they were my teachers on all matters of etiquette and style. I mimicked their expressions and copied their wardrobes. … And I never let down my hair. Literally. I have curly hair— the kinky, unruly kind — but I wore it ironed straight. The difference between wearing my hair straight or curly was the difference between life and death.
Like Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle, Felicia Sullivan takes great pains to keep her childhood separate and secret from her Ivy League friends. Eventually, though, the two worlds collide and Felicia crashes, ultimately losing friends and love when her cocaine and alcohol use spins out of control. The scenes of alienating her friends and of her losing Ben are painful and heartbreaking:
I am afraid I'll never kow this love again; never hold it between two fingers, because I'm busy letting myelf slip away from myself. From a distance, love seems entirely too hard, always a mopping up, a sweeping down. Who you are is never enough. You need a catch phrase, a story that makes everyone laugh.
You can't help but root for Felicia. You might even stalk occasionally visit her blog, anxious to read that she is still okay. Her blog also has a great collection of interviews, including this one here at All Things Girl and this oneon Ploughshares Blog. Felicia Sullivan's story is fascinating in itself, but her writing makes the memoir breathtaking.

My creative writing thesis was a mixture of poetry and memoir. It was a requirement that we have one person outside of the English department be a part of our defense committee. One of my professors suggested a woman in the architecture department. She wore a shiny yellow rain slicker to my defense and looked angry to be there. Put out. "Why," she said, "Would I care about this? Why do I care about any of what you have to say? This has no relevance in my life." Both being writers of creative nonfiction themselves, my other professors/committee members were horrified and momentarily speechless (as was I). How do you defend the need to tell? How do you convince your readers that your memoir is worth reading--that you have something valuable to say?

I can't remember how the awkward silence was filled, but my major professor apologized profusely to me after my defense, assuring me that this woman obviously had no clue about writing and no lyrical gene in her body. And I know that this woman's reaction is every memoir writer's fear: that her work will be considered self-indulgent and irrelevant. A cathartic outlet.

But I think it is a risk that has to be taken. What do we as readers gain from memoirs? A greater sense of humanity. A reminder that the world is so much bigger than our own backyard. A gratefulness for our own lives, or perhaps a reassurance that others have shared the same struggles. A rejoicing in the strength of an individual, in one's ability to overcome adversity and not just survive, but thrive. Or in some cases, like in Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, a simple delight in ordinary things.

If you aren't much of a memoir reader, this is a great place to start. Other suggestions are here and in the comments of this recent post.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Sunday Salon: On Memoirs

I love memoirs. I suppose I was particularly drawn to the genre of creative nonfiction in graduate school because I am so fascinated by memoirs, and I am rarely disappointed. Some of the ones I've read and loved in the past couple of years are:

The Horizontal World by Debra Marquart (she was my major professor at Iowa State)
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Night by Elie Wiesel's
The Nazi Officer's Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson
The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan
The Color of Water by James McBride
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
A Very Small Farm by William Paul Winchester

Last night I finished another one which will go right up there in my list of favorites: The Sky Isn't Visible from Here by Felicia C. Sullivan. This is Sullivan's memoir of growing up in Brooklyn with an unstable, selfish, cocaine-using mother. I'm going to give this a proper review later this week, but my recommendation is to go out and buy or borrow this book. It is beautifully well-written and mesmerizing.

Books I've reviewed this week:
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
Blue Ridge by T. R. Pearson
More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon

I have unbelievably added only one book to my TBR list this week: Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian, reviewed at The Magic Lasso. Of course I haven't yet read 90% of this week's Sunday Salon posts, so I'll no doubt have a few new titles to add later today.

If you'd like to participate in The Sunday Salon, you can sign up here.
Also, I'm just linking to this post because I think it's so excellent: Becky's Book Reviews: The Sunday Salon: Finding Yourself in Books

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sunday Scribblings #120: Ghosts

On Poplar Street at the foot of our bed, we feel it pressing on the mattress, like a cat kneading. We sit up to brush the cat off the bed, only the door is shut. No cats. We remember that insistent push and the next one, too. There is no denying that it happened. We don't even speculate on what it could have been. Who.

No cats in the room, too, when our roommate feels the tap-tap-tapping on her head. Like water dripping, she says. Only, no water. No cats. What happened in this apartment? We don't speculate.

In a dream he beckons, outside my bedroom window. Two stories up he floats in his gray corduroys, gesturing with his hand for me to come. Tossing his hair off his forehead in that certain way and that small smile. His crooked teeth.

The cats hiss, fur like porcupines and tiny sharp teeth. They see what we can't, and we laugh uneasily. Crazy, we call them. Psychotic fur balls. We shiver and toss those thoughts away, although we are not bold enough to say, "There's no such thing."

I can't come now, I tell him in my mind. I shake my head and will myself to waken. In my sorrow, I banish him. Like a proper ghost, he sinks, bare feet on the soft brown soil.

(Need a writing prompt? Got something to say about ghosts in your life? Check out Sunday Scribblings.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Book Review: More Than You Know

This is yet another of the stack of books I picked up at my favorite used bookstore a while back. I'm actually making a dent in the physical TBR pile that waits beside my bed. More Than You Know (2000) is the first novel I've read by Beth Gutcheon, although she has eight or nine others. I loved this novel, and I will try to remember to find more by this author.

The stories take place on the coast of Maine in a tiny fishing village and a nearby island. There are two stories here that span several generations but are beautifully interwoven. One story is a long-ago murder/love story and the second is the memory of one summer in the life of Hannah Gray, who looks back on her one true love and the ghosts that haunted her. During that one summer when Hannah was 16 and hounded by an cold and hateful step-mother, she becomes fascinated by the long-ago murder of Danial Haskell. By talking to the townspeople and reading old newspapers, she pieces together the story. While she uncovers this sad story, she finds a kindred spirit in the Conary Crocker. The ghost-story component of the novel actually spooked me (in a good kind of way), but I am a lightweight. The characters are well-developed and richly described, the language both lyrical and sparse, perfectly reflective of the Maine setting.

Last week I read three novels. Interestingly, each novel used the chapter-by-chapter (for the most part), alternating-stories technique. With Briar Rose, the contemporary story of the sisters was aggravating and tangential but the "real" story was excellent. With Blue Ridge, the two stories, while following the same theme, had nothing to do with each other and both were disappointing. But Gutcheon makes this technique work in this novel. The stories are both rivetting, and they are tied together in a most satisfying way. I love a novel with good closure, in which everything comes together.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review: Blue Ridge

This short novel (2000) by T.R. Pearson is another one I picked up at my favorite used bookstore a month or so ago. I was attracted by its title, Blue Ridge, which promises something Southern, perhaps buried in the mountains or told quietly on front porch swing.

Nope. The back cover promises "a riveting, double-barreled story of crime and intrigue." Once again, I forgot that I really tend to not enjoy this genre. My review of Blue Ridge could read much like my review of P.D. James' The Lighthouse. I didn't hate it, but I was glad to reach the end and get to my next book.

There are two stories going on in this novel: one focuses on Ray Tatum, new deputy sheriff of a little town in Virginia, who happens upon a skeleton in the mountains. The other features Ray's cousin, Paul, who has to go to New York City to identify his grown son's body, although he's only met his son a couple of times. Both stories, which had nothing to do with each other, were anti-climatic and confusing. I think that both Paul and Ray were potentially interesting characters; unfortunately, the book focused too much on the odd details of the murder victims and their lives. Paul and Ray were just a few steps away from being flat as pancakes.

This one is going up on Paperback Swap, right away.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Book Review: Briar Rose

I seem to be continuing my theme of Holocaust literature this past year, without any conscious intent. Jane Yolen's Briar Rose (1992) is the story of a granddaughter's search for her grandmother's mysterious past. For all of her life, Becca and her sisters have heard only one story from their grandmother, Gemma: the story of Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose), told with a haunting twist. After Gemma dies, Becca is determined to find the true meaning behind the fairytale.

Her search takes her to Poland and the gruesome extermination camp Chelmo. This is when the story gets good. Horrifying and painful, but well written. The first half of the novel was frankly somewhat annoying. Sandwiched in between interesting chapters about Gemma were seemingly insignificant chapters that featured catty fighting and nitpicking between Becca and her two flat, stereotypical sisters--both present day and in flashbacks. I have no idea why Yolen included this meaningless subplot. It was a huge distraction to me. I wish she's concentrated more fully on developing the characters of Becca and her grandmother. There is probably some "wicked stepsister" allusion here, but it was not effective.

But if you can get past that, the story itself is good. The experiences described at Chelmo and with the partisan fighters outside the camp added a new dimension of the Holocaust experience for me.

Another review of Briar Rose: Natasha at Maw Books.
Other Holocaust-themed books reviewed here: I Have Lived a Thousand Years (Livia Bitton-Jackson), Night (Elie Wiesel), The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak), The Nazi Officer's Wife (Edith Hahn Beer), The Endless Steppe (Esther Hautzig).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Finished, Unfinished, and Yet To Read

It's been a reading week with ups and downs. I've read but have yet to review two great ones—Jane Yolen's Briar Rose and Beth Gutcheon's More Than You Know— and one very forgettable one— Blue Ridge by T.R. Pearson. (I'm already forgetting what that one was about.) Stay tuned here at SmallWorld Reads for reviews of those three this week. I also did a review (or a non-review) of one I dropped: Meg Wolitzer's The Ten Year Nap. Pretty much made me want to take a ten-year nap.

Also on my blog this week I had fun with the Classics Meme and the LibraryThing's List of Top Unread Books. Over at Weekly Geeks, readers have been discussing Magazines. And I'm still hoping a few more readers will join in on my Life Books Challenge. (I probably should have offered a $500 card to a random participant. Couldn't I just say that and then not really pick someone? Kidding!) I have nothing to offer. Even if you don't want to do the reading part of the challenge, you might consider making out the Life Books List and linking back!

I've been moving over all my book reviews from the past two years from my "home" blog to this one. I have yet to go back and change all the links, but it's a start.

Last night I started The Sky Isn't Visible from Here by Felicia C. Sullivan. This is one of those books I picked off the "new books" stacks at the library without ever reading any reviews of it. I'm only 20 pages into the book, but I'm looking forward to getting a good chunk read this evening. In many ways this memoir reminds me of the amazing The Glass Castle, although the Sullivan's childhood as described so far has a different texture than that of Jeannette Walls. I predict this is going to be a great memoir.

And as always, I have a bunch to add to my Ever-Growing TBR list. I need to stop reading all of your reviews, really. This is getting out of control. So here goes:

Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts (reviewed by Lesa's Book Critiques)
I Am Scout by Charles J. Shields (reviewed by Becky)
Perfect Example by John Porcellino (reviewed at The Hidden Side of the Leaf)
What Peace There May Be by Susanna Brarlow
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan C. Bartoletti (reviewed by Natasha at Maw Books)
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (reviewed on The BlueStocking Society)
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim (reviewed by Musings)
The Girls Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson (reviewed by Clare at Blue Archipelago)
Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins (reviewed by Just a Reading Fool)
Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones (reviewed by Bookeywookey)
The following books were all mentioned or reviewed at The Magic Lasso. I am not stalking her, really, but sometimes you just hit the jackpot on someone's list!):
How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen (mentioned by The Magic Lasso)
People of the Book by G. Brooks (reviwed by The Magic Lasso)
House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (reviewed by The Magic Lasso)
Property by Valerie Martin (reviewed by The Magic Lasso)
Cellis of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan

Phew! And that's enough for today's Sunday Salon. If you'd like to participate in The Sunday Salon, you can sign up here.

Click here to subscribe to SmallWorld Reads

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sunday Scribblings #119: My Oldest Friend

When you meet, you are both three. She has a sprinkling of freckles across her tiny nose and a gap between her two front teeth. Her hair curls in ringlets of a sort, wild ringlets. She giggles. She has red Keds, and your brothers are best friends. You trail behind your brothers, from now until they graduate. You are possessive of them.

At her fifth birthday party, you play a game where you sit on balloons until they pop. No one worried then about how popping balloons sound like gunshots. Her table is filled with packages, a bounty of Barbies and games.

On the first day of second grade, you look up on the board and see that her name is there, inside a butterfly. Lisa. You tell the teacher, "She moved." It is only across town, but you face the lonely year ahead without her. Sometimes you still have playdates. At her house, her mother serves Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies. You dress her baby brother in fancy dresses and laugh as he trips down the massive staircase. Behind the house is a kidney-shaped pool, extravagant. And the veranda. Even then you understand that she has money.

You meet back up again in junior high school, when the elementary schools merge together. You resume your friendship, united in your fear of Dawn, the school bully. She flicks her switchblade at both of you, mouthing "I'm gonna kill you!" maniacally against the door to your algebra class. You both break out in a cold sweat and laugh.

In Tuesdays, you help her roll and deliver the weekly newspaper. Your hands are smudged with ink and smell of rubberbands. She keeps the money, but it is worth the independence, the feeling of walking the neighborhoods on our own, employed.

You walk to the pool for swim team practice every day. There are three of you now, inseparable. At the market on the way, you buy Twinkies and Orange Crush. You hide in the bushes and evenly split the box three ways, with the last Twinkie divided into thirds. You sing Kenny Rogers and wear Izod. You laugh all the time, until food comes out your noses.

And then high school. You are smart. Boys like you.

You like your boyfriend more than your friends, she accuses.

You tell her that she would do the same thing if she had a boyfriend. If.

She judges you too much. She makes snide remarks. You love her and hate her.

You both graduate from high school. You hug stiffly. You go to college. You marry. You have a baby.

She marries. She divorces. She lives alone in a big house with her dog and writes Christmas cards detailing his antics, her illnesses. You remember how, at her wedding, she looked like she did when she was three, with the freckles across her nose and the space between her teeth. She looked happy.

At your 10-year high school reunion, she says gritting her teeth with a smile on her face, "What the f*#@ are you doing here?" You smile back. She can't help it, and neither can you.

And ten years after that, she suddenly likes you again. Just like that, as if she remembers what it was like to once laugh without restraint, before things got complicated.

Your life is a fairy tale, and hers is not. She is always in pain. Her heart hurts and her body hurts worse. If you had the secret potion, you would give it to her in an Orange crush can; you would bake it into Twinkies. You would give her the right balloon to pop.

(Need a weekly writing prompt? Check out Sunday Scribbling here!)

Classics Meme

Book Club Classics has just my kind of meme this week: a classics meme. Here’s the meme:

  • What is the best classic you were “forced” to read in school (and why)?
  • What was the worst classic you were forced to endure (and why)?
  • Which classic should every student be required to read (and why)?
  • Which classic should be put to rest immediately (and why)?
  • **Bonus** Why do you think certain books become “classics”?
The best classic I was "forced" to read in school: This one, I can't answer. I just don't think I was ever forced to read anything. I was hungry for books all of the time and willing to give anything a try.

The worst classic:
I have to say that I truly did not enjoy George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss in high school. I also struggled through Conrad's Heart of Darkness in college. I should probably reread both of those. Likely an adult perspective was what was missing.

The classic every student should be required to read: Easy. To Kill a Mockingbird. Click on the link for reasons why. This year I taught an American Lit class for our homeschooling co-op. What a fabulous year I had revisiting classics! I re-read many and finally picked the following novels and a play (we also read poetry and short stories) for various reasons: The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, My Antonia, Ethan Frome, The Crucible, The Red Pony, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Separate Peace. I loved sharing these books with my 17 students. As part of the final exam, they had to write an essay detailing their three favorite books from this year and why they chose these books. Reading their essays was both enlightening and delightful. The vast majority of them, to my delight, chose To Kill a Mockingbird as one of their favorites. The rest varied greatly, but each novel was picked by at least one students. I also had them, for extra credit, write an essay detailing which three novels they liked the least. This also varied greatly, but The Red Pony and The Scarlet Letter were among the top contenders.

The classic to put to rest: I really can't, in all good conscience, say that any classic should be put to rest. One classic that I've never read (nor been required to) is Moby Dick. I did try a few times, but I've never managed to get very far. But that doesn't mean that it should be put to rest.

Why certain books become classics: I've talked about that here in a post discussing Entertainment Weekly's new list of classics.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Doomsday

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This week's Booking Through Thursday asks: What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable? Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?

I have three main sources for books: the our beautiful public library, McKay Used Books, and Paperback Swap. I would be least devastated if PBS went under, as I know there are other internet swaps out there. But the library and McKay's! I would indeed by devastated. We go to the library at least once each week. I consider the library a vital part of our lives not only for the usual reasons but also because we use it so heavily for homeschooling. The same for McKay's. They have a fabulous selection of books and CDs, and I also find lots of homeschooling materials there.

We have a small chain bookstore (Hastings) and a book warehouse and a Christian booksotre, but I rarely go into them. It is hard for me to pay full price for books when I know I can either borrow them or get them for so much less used. Knoxville used to have a small bookseller I loved —David-Kidd— but they went out of business in KnoxVegas when the big guys moved in. I rarely go into the Big Guys up in Knoxville (Borders, B&N, Books-a-Million), but I hear we are getting one of those here in our ever-growing small town. I'll probably stop in for coffee and quiet every now and then...

(Want to join the discussion? Head on over to Booking Through Thursday!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

LibraryThing's Top Unread Books

I saw this today over at In the Shadow of Mt. TBR and had to do it, too. I'm like that about lists. (Speaking of Mt. TBR, be sure to leave a comment over there for chance to win a Borders gift card!)

Explains Mt. TBR:
These are the top 103 (was 106, but I guess I lost 3 somewhere) books most often marked “unread” (or the equivalent) by LibraryThing’s users. The rules are: BOLD the books you have read, italicize the books you started but did not finish (DNF), *STAR* the books you’ve read more than once, underline books that are on your TBR pile, and cross out books that you hated.

Here is my list; I've read 47 of the 103 (there really are 103 here; something funky happened with the automatic numbering):

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
  2. Anna Karenina
  3. Crime and Punishment***
  4. The Silmarillion
  5. Life of Pi : a novel
  6. The Name of the Rose
  7. Don Quixote
  8. Moby Dick
  9. Ulysses
  10. Madame Bovary
  11. The Odyssey**
  12. Pride and Prejudice *
  13. Jane Eyre***
  14. A Tale of Two Cities
  15. The Brothers Karamazov
  16. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
  17. War and Peace
  18. Vanity Fair
  19. The Time Traveler’s Wife
  20. The Iliad
  21. Emma

  22. The Blind Assassin
  23. The Kite Runner
  24. Mrs. Dalloway
  25. Great Expectations
  26. American Gods
  27. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  28. Atlas Shrugged
  29. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
  30. Memoirs of a Geisha
  31. Middlesex
  32. Quicksilver
  33. Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
  34. The Canterbury Tales*
  35. The Historian : a novel
  36. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  37. Love in the Time of Cholera
  38. Brave New World*
  39. The Fountainhead
  40. Foucault’s Pendulum
  41. Middlemarch
  42. Frankenstein*
  43. The Count of Monte Cristo
  44. Dracula
  45. A Clockwork Orange
  46. Anansi Boys
  47. The Once and Future King
  48. The Grapes of Wrath*
  49. The Poisonwood Bible: a novel
  50. 1984*
  51. Angels & Demons
  52. The Inferno*
  53. The Satanic Verses
  54. Sense and Sensibility
  55. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  56. Mansfield Park
  57. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  58. To the Lighthouse
  59. Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  60. Oliver Twist
  61. Gulliver’s Travels
  62. Les Misérables
  63. The Corrections
  64. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
  65. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
  66. Dune
  67. The Prince
  68. The Sound and the Fury
  69. Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
  70. The God of Small Things
  71. A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
  72. Cryptonomicon
  73. Neverwhere
  74. A Confederacy of Dunces
  75. A Short History of Nearly Everything
  76. Dubliners
  77. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  78. Beloved*
  79. Slaughterhouse-five**
  80. The Scarlet Letter***
  81. Eats, Shoots & Leaves
  82. The Mists of Avalon
  83. Oryx and Crake : a novel
  84. Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
  85. Cloud Atlas
  86. The Confusion
  87. Lolita
  88. Persuasion
  89. Northanger Abbey
  90. The Catcher in the Rye **
  91. On the Road*
  92. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  93. Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
  94. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
  95. The Aeneid
  96. Watership Down**
  97. Gravity’s Rainbow
  98. The Hobbit**
  99. In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
  100. White Teeth
  101. Treasure Island
  102. David Copperfield
  103. The Three Musketeers

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Life Books Challenge

(This is a sticky post. Please scroll down for exciting new SmallWorld Reads posts!!)

Who doesn't have a list of favorite books? Chances are, those books are favorites because they tell a universal truth, and, most likely, because they say something about you. This challenge is in three parts.

Part I: Choose Your Life Books
What are the books that, in some aspect, define you? Think about who you are in terms of spirituality, love, economics, values, worldview--the list could go on and on. These might be nonfiction, self-help, fiction, picture books, children's books, etc. These don't have to be the best books ever written; concentrate on pinpointing books that are significant to you. Give us your life in books. To see my example, click here. After you've picked your life books, write a post and leave the link on Mr. Linky. Be sure to copy and paste the icon above on your blog somewhere!

Part II: Discover Something New
Check out the blogs of other participants and find at least two titles to add to your TBR list. (If you are near the top of the participants' list, be sure to come back in a few days and check out the new postings.) Let us know what books you are adding by linking a second time to Mr. Linky with (Something New) by your name. That'll let readers know to go back and read your new post.

Part III: Read the Books
When you've read the new books, write a review and leave a link to your post in the comments. I'll create a new post with all the reviews listed.

Timeline: I've decided to make this without a time-line. Anytime you want to join in and read the books, just sign up and finish when you can!

Spread the Word: Let your blog readers know about the Life Books Challenge so they can ponder their existence, too! Just grab the button and use it on your post and/or your sidebar and link back here.

And so the challenge in short (this is the part you copy on your blog!):
Part I: Choose Your Life Books
What are the books that, in some aspect, define you? Think about who you are in terms of spirituality, love, economics, values, worldview--the list could go on and on. These might be nonfiction, self-help, fiction, picture books, children's books, etc. Give us your life in books. To see my example, click here. After you've picked your life books, write a post and leave the link on Mr. Linky. Be sure to copy and paste the button above on your blog somewhere!

Part II: Discover Something New
Check out the blogs of other participants and find at least two titles to add to your TBR list. Let us know what books you are adding by linking a second time to Mr. Linky with (Something New) by your name.

Part III: Read the Books
When you've read the new books, write a review and leave a link to your post in the comments here.

So do some pondering, mull it over, and make your lists. Let's find out more about each other!

A Non-Review: The Ten Year Nap

I rarely do this, so I thought it blog-worthy: I actually gave up on a book. I'd skimmed a few reviews of Meg Wolitzer's The Ten Year Nap but hadn't really paid much attention. But when I saw the book in the "New Books" section of the library, I picked it up along with a few other titles that caught my eye (none of which were on my TBR list).

And as soon as I finished Briar Rose (whoops--haven't reviewed that one yet), I chose this Wolitzer book to start next.

Bad choice.

The conflict in the book is the internal and apparently eternal struggle of women who choose to leave the workforce and stay home with their kids. So the moms begin examining their choices once their kids hit grade school, wondering if the grass is greener and all that.

So the thing is: I didn't care about one single person in the 75 pages I read. You know that old Far Side cartoon about what the dog hears as the person speaks ("Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. Blah, blah, blah.")? That's how I felt. "Waa, waa, waa," says one SAHM to another. "Money, money, money," says one WAHM to a SAHM.

Boring. Nobody cares. Yawn.

Perhaps part of the whole apathy-for-characters thing is that this all happens in NYC, which is a different world from the one in which we non-urbanites live. We plebians don't do Exclusive Boys' Schools and Luncheon Dates/manicures. We don't have botox parties and nannies. I find it tedious to even read about such things, except perhaps for in The Nanny Diaries.

So, there's my non-review. I'll add this to the very short list of books upon which I gave up.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Weekly Geeks #10: Magazines

This week’s Weekly Geeks theme is to talk about the magazines we read. ... For each magazine you want to talk about, here are a few questions. Answer as many or as few as you want.

1. Name of magazine.
2. Do you subscribe or just buy it now and then?
3. What’s your favorite regular feature in the magazine?
4. What do you think your interest in this magazine says about you?
5. How long have you been reading this magazine?
6. Is there any unique or quirky aspect to the magazine that keeps you reading?

I am not much of a magazine reader. Before I had kids, I used to subscribe to a few small literary journals, The New Yorker, Writers' Digest, and Harper's. Before that I subscribed to Tiger Beat. And in the early years of parenting I subscribed to Child and Better Homes and Gardens.

Nowadays I hold two subscriptions: The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and Cottage Living. The latter was a gift subscription.

I also pick up two weekly magazines at our church: The Christian Standard and The Lookout.

I read through these two short magazines regularly. I also read most of the articles in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Cottage Living, I skim. I've never really been into home improvement-type magazines because they make me feel, well, inadequate. And wanting.

In any sort of waiting room I search through stacks to find a People magazine. My dentist is so annoying with his Architectural Digest and Uppity Homes and Patios. Good grief! If I'm going to have a few minutes of wasted time, at least provide me with something totally brainless! The orthodontist is great about providing the latest People magazine. I am more in touch with the lives of celebrities in the past 2 years than I've been in decades, thanks to Dr. Diddle.

And so that's the extent of my magazine-reading life. I think what this says about me is: I'm a mom who digs articulate articles about home education and about what's happening in the worldwide church and local congregation; I have too many other things to do to renovate my home on a monthly basis; and I enjoy a good dose of Hollywood smut now and then.

Got something to say about magazines? Head on over to Weekly Geeks. You can play, too.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Mid-Year Review and Such

I like what several Salonists are doing for this week's Sunday Salon—evaluating their reading mid-year—and thought I'd do the same.

Books Read January-June (Total: 30)

My Favorite Book Ever (multi-reread)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

Top 5
Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks)
Broken for You (Stephanie Kallos)
Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)
Winter Wheat (Mildred Walker)
I Have Lived a Thousand Years (Livia Bitton-Jackson)

My own Life Books Challenge
Books Around the World Challenge

Where I Play
Booking Through Thursday
Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books
Sunday Scribblings
The Sunday Salon
Weekly Geeks

Last year's total was 69, so I guess I need to pick up the pace in order to meet or surpass last year's list. Dr. H. and our oldest son were gone for the past week doing a week of service with Group Workcamp, and I could have gotten loads of reading done. But...I was so exhausted every evening that I could only read a few pages before falling asleep. Besides taking care of the younger kids and our normal life, at long last, I painted our kitchen. It is so lovely.

If only I had a couch in there, it would be a most perfect place in which to read!

(Do you like to chat about books? You can join The Sunday Salon here and find out what's going on in the world of book lovers across the continents.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Holiday

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Today's Booking Through Thursday asks:

It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple–What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?

Yesterday I finished reading Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. (My review is here.) It was simply stunning. I should be getting Lahiri's The Namesake in the mail today or tomorrow, courtesy of PaperbackSwap, so I choose a short book to read in between Lahiri: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. Natasha at Maw Books gave a great review of it here.

The rest of the summer I plan to tackle my Ever-Growing TBR List and also pick books and do my own short Life Books Challenge. In early August we go on vacation for 10 days or so, and that's when I'll likely get the bulk of my summer reading done. I can usually finish a book every day or so, but this year we'll be helping my parents pack up their entire house life to move down here, so I might have to slack off a bit!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Book Review: Unaccustomed Earth

Oh, I am so happy that Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake should be arriving in the mail tomorrow, because I have finished Unaccustomed Earth and I haven't nearly gotten my fill of this absolutely amazing writer. I am seriously astonished by the sheer excellence of Lahiri's writing. She is a true master of the craft of writing and of the short story genre.

Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of eight short stories that follow the similar theme of Bengali immigrants in America and their American children--the struggles and conflicts of both generations, especially for the grown children as they are caught between two radically different cultures.

Although much of the conflict centers on this theme, the characters are universal, and there is not one single stereotypical flat character here. Even the tertiary characters have well-rounded faces, wiping doughnut crumbs from their smiles. But the main characters! I truly can't even begin to express the depth of Lahiri's skill in character development--the nuances, the details, the insight and exactitude--phenomenal.

My only complaint is that this is a book of short stories. I want each story to be a novel. And I love what she does with the last three stories; read it, and you'll see what I mean.

I can't bear to be done with this book.