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Monday, July 31, 2006

Another great bookcase idea, a portrait, and a quiz

I love this bookcase...a real "library ladder."

And how about this portrait of a librarian by Giuseppe Arcimboldo ?
Giuseppe had an unusual and humorous outlook, don't you think?

And a quiz: Am I Geeky Enough to be a Librarian? Posted by Librarian Avengers.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

July 28 update

Clark, Clare. The Great Stink. Difficult book to read. Set in the sewers of London in 1855, the novel follows William May who has been invalided out of the army after having been wounded in Crimea. May suffers from what would today be called post-traumatic stress as a result of both the horrors of the war and the concomitant horrors of "hospitalization." On returning home, he recovers slowly, but begins improving thanks to his position as an engineer involved in the overhaul of the sewer system, responsible for so much disease in mid-century London. Then the corruption of one individual threatens May's hard-won sanity...

I did not enjoy the book. The stress, the dread that Clark creates is palpable and forced me to put it down again and again. In that regard alone, Clark is a powerful writer. I did like Long Arm Tom and Lady--although their situation was every bit as full of trepidation for me as that of William May. Historically fascinating, but ultimately unpleasant.

Robinson, Peter. In a Dry Season. Well, what can I say, I'm a fan. Another Jackson read...in between the hospital and Mila play and when everyone else was sleeping.

Khoury, Raymond. The Last Templar. O.K. read...took it with me to Jackson and read it pretty quickly.

Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Green Gables. Excellent fun. A relaxing and comforting re-read.

Bernhardt, William. Dark Eye. The first I've read by this author, and probably the last. This is one belongs in the category of "the more fantastic and terrible the crime, the better." Story line and character are secondary to graphic, despicable crimes (and the more that can be packed in, the better). Poor Poe, writers of much less imagination and aptitude twist his plots into commercial perversions, playing on the fact that his name alone is enough to draw an audience. I've heard some positive things about this author, but not inclined to try again.

Lackey, Mercedes. The Wizard of London. Another fun read, this one is about a school for psychic children in Victorian England. This is the 4th in Lackey's series The Elemental Masters. I have to go back and pick up the previous novels. Again, light reading, but fun.

Quick, Amanda. Second Sight. A fast and fun read about an Arcane Society in Victorian England, the discovery of a notebook by an alchemist who had died 200 years before, murder, mayhem, photography, and love. Entertaining, light, amusing.

Montgomery, L.M. Anne of Windy Poplars. A delightful re-read after many years. Wrote about in progress here. I must order a set and read them all again.

Shreve, Susan Richards. A Student of Living Things. Initially merely annoying, the novel eventually intrigued me enough to finish (and it is a small book). I liked Uncle Milo and the musical correspondence, but overall was not convinced by any of the other characters.

Harris, Joanne. Gentlemen & Players. From the beginning, this novel lived up to its designation "suspense." The suspense and dread are maintained throughout the novel. There were plenty of clues, but even when you picked up on them, they didn't always turn out the way anticipated. There is a good deal of dark humor, some excellent characterization, and a narrative that pulls you on even when sometimes you don't really want to know. St. Oswald's is a school for privileged boys, but as the fall term gets underway, things that have run relatively smoothly for generations begin to fall apart. I picked up on the names right away and was puzzled by several other things, but failed to quite work it out. I've enjoyed most, but not all, of the novels I read by Harris; this may be her best.

Pickard, Nancy. The Virgin of Small Plains. Completely implausible, first to last. Annoyingly so.

Davis, Lindsey. See Delphi and Die. Marcus Didius Falco sets out to solve the mysterious deaths of two young women who died in Greece while traveling with a group of fellow tourists. Davis uses humor and historical details to bring alive the adventures of Falco and his wife Helena Justina. Falco the family man -- husband, father, brother-in-law, uncle -- provide the most amusing and endearing parts of all of the novels. I thought the twist at the end was too clearly announced throughout and was the least appetizing aspect of the latest in the Falco novels.

Russell, Mary Doria. A Thread of Grace. The novel begins with a Preludio--a terrible portrait dated 1907, then moves to Porto Sant'Andrea on the Northwestern Coast of Italy in 1943 and introduces the first of the novels characters. The highest praise I can think of for this novel is that it is populated with believable characters. Not just one or two or three; Russell has several stories that merge into one and all of her characters ring true. I couldn't put this one down so quickly was I drawn into the lives of these people, Jews and Italians, trying to survive the Nazi occupation. The heroic attempt of Italian citizens to save 43,000 native and refugee Jews makes a fascinating, inspiring, and remarkable tale. Russell spent five years researching this period of Italian history and produced a novel that avoids sentimentality, but fully recognizes the heroism and horror of the time. Excellent.

Dunning. John. The Bookwoman's Last Fling. Asked to assess a remarkable collection of juvenalia (flawless copies worth tens of thousands of dollars) that needed evaluation before an estate can be settled, Cliff Janeway discovers there is more involved than just missing titles. The original owner of the collection had died 20 years ago, and Janeway needs to discover more about the circumstances of her death. Not only the interesting information about books that is always part of the Janeway series, but the details about horse racing played an interesting part in the mystery.

Turow, Scott. Ordinary Heroes. Not the usual Turow novel, although lawyers play a role. This is a novel about WWII and family secrets and judgments and misjudgments. After his father's death, Stewart Dubin sets out to learn more about the man who maintained a distance from him in life. Through letters, a surprising memoir, and military archives, Dubin learns more than he could have imagined. Dubin, a character in Presumed Innocent, unravels a past that surprises him, but ultimately brings him to a clearer understanding of his father's strengths and weaknesses. Slow at times, it is still a worthwhile read.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Back from Jackson, MS

Have a new grandson. The new baby Max and his sister Mila are on Bayou Quilts. Have read 3 books in between The Great Stink that continues slowly.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Current reading

I'm currently reading The Great Stink by Clare Clark-- a particularly stressful novel; the subject matter is uncomfortable, and Clark really knows how to inspire a sense of dread and anxiety. Can only manage very short sessions with it. As a result of my difficulties, I turned back to L.M. Montgomery yesterday, and began re-reading Anne of Avonlea.

Abandoned the Last Witch Hunter...just didn't like it.

Update on July reading list is here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

the book man


I love this...sculpture and bookshelf in one. Isn't he fun?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Literary mapping

Just found this interesting link that I'm posting here on my quilting blog as well. The site produces a map of authors. For example: If you read a particular author and enjoy his/her work, you can get a map of what other people read who also read that author. Not only can it introduce you to new authors, but it can remind you of authors that have slipped your mind.

For example, people who read Amy Tan may also read Anna Quindlan, Gregory Maguire, Minette Walters, etc.

People who enjoy Barbara Kingsolver may also be reading Joyce Carol Oates, Jane Smiley, Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx.

What you realize is that your own reading patterns are repeated by so many others. And it's fun to see the connections between authors

.Goethe: Heinrich Boll, Charlotte Bronte, Descartes, Nietzsche, Bertold Brecht.

I must leave this alone!!! But there are so many other authors that I've enjoyed that demand attention...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

On misery and memoirs

An essay on memoirists by Benjamin Kunkel published in The New York Times Sunday Book Review resonated with me. I even love the title Misery Loves a Memoir.

Kunkel sees a marked contrast between many contemporary memoirs (including recent "invented" memoirs) and earlier ones. He says Wordsworth's heroic argument was "that the theme of an individual's growth could claim all the dignity and moment traditionally accorded battles in heaven or on earth." Growth, not just recounting loss, abuse, mistreatment, failure (or making them up)...but learning from them.

He goes on to say that "The best and most Romantic memoir an American has produced is "Walden -- though nobody calls it one. But it is: Here is what I did with a few years of my life and how I feel about it now."

I've always loved this account of Thoreau's sojourn in the woods and for many of the reasons Kunkel mentions in his essay.

Kunkel's main problem with many modern memoirs is their tendency to dwell on bad experiences (real or fake) without even imagining the possibility of self-improvement. Of growth...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Interesting Book Blog Posts

Book World has written about the different reading habits of her two daughters. I always find the differences among readers fascinating, and her post interested and amused me as I remembered some of the differences between my own two girls. What really caught my attention, however, is her decision to begin a family reading club. WHAT IF more families did this? What impact might this have on future readers?

Danielle's post about required reading and what does "well read" mean has also set me to pondering the question.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Children's Books - (Banned, Censored, Challenged)

I just discovered this and found it very interesting.

Judy Blume: "It takes only one parent to challenge a book. It often takes a community to defend it."

M.E. Kerr: "Book banning has a mystique of its own, often one person in a community is the catalyst, often a troubled person displacing her/his own misery."

There are some excellent interviews with various authors of both children's and adult's books.

Oh, and here is a biography I want to read: 'Archie and Amelie': A Combustible Couple in a Torrid Descent Amid Opulence.

in progress

I'm about 1/3 of the way through The Last Witchfinder, but not enjoying it much, so I've started a new Cliff Janeway novel (the Bookman series) by John Dunning. Know it will be a fast read as I've liked all of these novels about an ex-policeman turned book seller and collector. The title of this one is The Bookwoman's Last Fling.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

June - with final entry

Malmont, Jake. The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. I've already written about this here and here. Unfortunately, the novel seemed to lose focus in the last third, but it was still a fun read, and I look forward to more from Malmont.

Jakeman, Jane. The Egyptian Coffin. Another regency mystery, but not especially involving. I'm not having much luck lately.

Tishy, Cecelia. All in One Piece. Reggie Cutter is a recently divorced wife who has psychic abilities and who sometimes assists the police in solving crimes. The murder on which this story is based, however, is that of her tenant. Blah, blah, blah.

Grimes, Martha. The Old Wine Shades. A Richard Jury mystery, but for the first time, a huge disappointment. I was so pleased to find the novel on the New Book Shelves at the library, and eagerly rushed into reading it, but for several reasons, found it a let down. Don't want to discuss too much (or my reasons for feeling it doesn't live up to previous Jury mysteries) in case someone else would like the tedious experience for themselves.

Rusch, Sheldon. For Edgar. Some authors believe that they have to create crimes that are farther and farther out there in horror and violence. Rusch certainly does. His murderer takes his cues from Edgar Allan Poe and adds some even more unbelievable touches. I usually like mysteries based in some way on literary characters or on authors, but this one had little to offer other than pseudo-psychology and graphic/fantastic murders.

Umrigar, Thrity. The Space Between Us. A beautifully written, wonderful, and terrible book. Certainly one of the best I've read in a long time. A culture that is so different it is almost impossible to fully imagine-- combined with the universal situations that occur in every culture. The class, gender, and religious differences in India are remarkable; America has no real knowledge of the kind of poverty that exists there. The upper middle-class Sera and her servant Bhima illustrate many of these differences, yet both are women doing their best in difficult circumstances.

"So this is how a heart breaks, Bhima thought. This is how cold and how delicate, how exquisite it feels, like the high-pitched violin note on the classical music records that Serabai played. Bhima wanted to hug Maya and kill her, to rescue her and destroy her, all in the same explosive moment."

"[Sera] stares at Banu, takes in the shriveled, mousy woman lying in the bed that seems to have grown around her, and reaches deep within herself to pull up a strand of pity but comes up empty-handed. Or rather, she pulls up an endless cord of rope, like the rope used to lower the buckets into the wells at Parsi fire temples. Into the rope are woven bitterness and resentment."

Umrigar has also written the novel Bombay Time, and the the memoir First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood. I will be looking for both of these.


Kostova, Elizabeth. The Historian. I wrote some about this novel here. Overall, I enjoyed it very much. Although a number of people found it too slow, it kept me interested all the way through. Did feel that the conclusion was rushed and much less substantial than the bulk of the novel. This appears to be a problem with a number of authors, the rushing to a denouement that fails to fully satisfy. I can certainly understand, however, that after all those pages, the sprint for the finish would be hard to resist.

Lawrence, Starling. The Lightning Keeper. Although the writing is excellent, this lengthy narrative did not appeal to me. The characters never quite came through for me, the dialogue became more and more stilted, the initial reunion of Harriet and Toma, too contrived and not too realistic. Although the impersonal narrator (Greek chorus, Our Town kind of thing), has a beautiful rhythm to his language (the kind of speech pattern you find your own thoughts imitating) these sections provided more information than I needed about the history of electricity, the descriptions of machines and technology, the internal workings of General Electric, etc. A kind of darkness hangs over the novel, a sense of inevitable disaster which both does and does not materialize.

Marston, Gwen. Liberated Quiltmaking. I've really enjoyed perusing this book. The photos are excellent, the ideas endless, the techniques described in detail where necessary, the attitude carefree. This is one I think I'm going to have to purchase. The library is such a great resource, allowing the kind of time necessary to decide on whether you want to own the book or just glance through it. I've bought so many books that I've never looked at after the initial read; the library gives me enough time to determine whether I want it as a permanent resource or not.

Edwards, Martin. The Cipher Garden. The second in Edwards' Lake District mysteries, but I haven't read the first one. A cold case squad attempts to solve the murder of a master plantsman who was killed with his own scythe in a garden he was reworking. The characters of Hannah Scarlett and Daniel Kind are carried over from the first novel in the series with a palpable sexual tension, although each has a partner; this subplot is obviously meant to be developed over the course of the series. The title refers to Daniel Kind's garden which has its own small mystery, but never really plays into the real story and seems a wasted effort. Unless it will be taken up again in the next novel in the series...? Readable, but not especially appealing for me.

Carrington, Leonora. The Hearing Trumpet. (small aside, the beautiful hearing trumpet given to Marian echoes the trumpet that May Gaskell used after operation left her nearly deaf) OK. I feel pretty dumb. I recognized all kinds of little mythological, pagan, and Christian elements in this book that includes some witchcraft, Egyptian mythology, references to the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar, elements from Carrington's own life, frequent references to art and artists, elements of fairy tales... I got none of the satisfaction other readers seem to have derived from the book. I don't consider myself the most erudite or literate person around, but until this book, neither did I feel ill-equipped for most fiction. Now, I admit to feeling roundly defeated. I wrote about the novel and its author in a separate entry (June 4) in an attempt to get a better grasp, but failed miserably. The Hearing Trumpet is the story of 92 year-old Marian Leatherby (sent to the strangest nursing home imaginable) is described by others as being witty and charming and hilarious...as you can tell, I found it confusing and less than fascinating. Those of you who have read and appreciated this book, please comment. I'm willing to try again.

Dimbleby, Josceline. May and Amy: A True Story of Family, Forbidden Love, and the Secret Lives of May Gaskell, Her Daughter Amy, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. How about that for a title! This family history reveals itself largely through letters and photographs. After Andrew Lloyd Webber purchases a painting by Edward Burne-Jones of Dimbleby's great aunt Amy, the author begins delving into family history to discover more about her great grandmother May and May's daughter Amy, who died of "a broken heart." May's close relationship with Burne-Jones, who wrote and illustrated hundred of letters to May, is one intriguing aspect of the book, but the lives of this family in the midst of the late Victorian period--the travels, the joys and sorrows, the people with whom they socialized--provide an intimate look at the society of that era that is fascinating.

Although Victorians were often very reserved in their behavior, their letters were much more revealing, candid, and passionate than would be comfortable for most people today. The letters from Hal to his mother when he was first sent away to school are both funny and heartbreaking: "My dear mother, this is perficly ofal..I cried al the time from when you went away and al night..." Burne-Jones' letters to May were passionate, loving, self-deprecatingly humorous, and full of longing. If only May's letters to Burne-Jones had survived! And Amy's letters that May destroyed after Amy's death...what a story would be revealed! Nevertheless, what Dimbleby managed to discover, to root out through letters and libraries, results in a captivating saga.

Addition: The figure of 54,000 British men lost in the First Battle of Ypres (where Daphne's husband died) mentioned near the end of the book was so astounding, that I finally looked up further information. One source said 75, 000 lives lost. In. The. First. Battle. There were three battles of Ypres... Another source: "In the area around Ypres - including Hill 60, Passcendaele, Lys, Sanctuary Wood etc. - over 1,700,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded and an uncounted number of civilians."

On the Battle of the Somme: " By the close of that fateful July day in 1916 nearly 60,000 British soldiers, each a son, a father, a loved one, lay dead and wounded, near a small unassuming river whose name would live in infamy - the River Somme. " One battle and one day.

Staggering doesn't begin to cover it. So many British men...and Britain such a small country.