Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's Been a Week of Books

My only bookshelf: all books needing to be
read, and a box on the side full of books I've
read that are ready to head out to the garage.
I've been so good at regulating my book buying, that my book binge this week took me by a bit of a surprise. Part of it, I'm sure, is that I've been dreaming about moving my books into my new home library at the end of the year.  My books will have been in storage for two years at that point, and I get a little giddy thinking of unboxing them, cleaning them, organizing them, and shelving them where I can actually see them all. In the last eighteen months, the only books I see on a daily basis are the dreaded TBR books (well, some of them) because of my limited shelf space.  I thought it would be terrible to having them looming over me, but while I do miss seeing all my dearly loved books, it has been rather nice to have the constant reminder of new friends to come.  Plus, its pretty much the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before falling asleep, which is a treat no matter how you look at it.

So this week my local book shop - which previously required a bit of a walk to get to (just a bit) - moved less than a block away.  Danger! Danger!  Yeah, so I bought some books there....Eleanor & Park, another copy of The Rosie Project to loan out, The Lighthouse Road, and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I had to welcome them to my block and check out the new space.  That is one thing that will make it hard to leave the neighborhood once our rebuild is complete!

Also this week, I noticed a Crown Books Liquidation Center nearby, so of course I had to go check that out.  I came home with a copy of The Art of Fielding to loan out, The Position by Meg Wolitzer (since I enjoyed The Interestings so much), Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, and Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.

As if those weren't enough, I let myself go into Barnes & Noble, where I bought Longbourn by Jo Baker, The Dinner by Herman Koch, and two pictorial history books about my area...just because I figured that was something that should be on my shelf.

Meanwhile, I'm still busy busy with house design. It's been a long haul, but (as my husband reminded me this morning) we are more than halfway through! We can do it! We've discovered that we are extremely particular and have therefore ended up doing many things ourselves.  (It's the whole If You Want Things Done Right, You've Got to Do It Yourself.) However, we are still hoping to be done near the end of summer one way or another.  One thing is certain: it will be a little while before we jump into another major remodel!

That's all I've got for now.  I've actually been doing a lot of reading - hopefully I'll be able to post about some of those titles soon!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

For the Record: February 2014

Here in California, winter has been quite the opposite of winter in the rest of the States.  We haven't really had one.  That's sad - both because we desperately need the moisture, and because winter is my favorite season.  Winter in SoCal is silly enough (temps tend towards the 60s instead of 70s) but usually I can escape back to NorCal and get my fill of snow and icicles.  Not so this year.  Still, I've been trying to make the most of it by getting cozy and reading books anyhow.  It worked pretty well in February!  I feel (for the first time in nine months or so) that I'm finally reading again. Mostly due to intentionally forcing myself to focus and get some reading done.

7 Books Read in February: (12 year-to-date)

2 Read Aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - The Children of Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren (4.5) Written by the author of Pippi Longstocking, but a bit different in tone.  While I enjoyed this one more than the Pippi books, it makes for an interesting comparison.  The Children of Noisy Village is probably more representative of the time it was written (mid 1940s) which makes Pippi even more of a standout.
  - Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo (4) I find DiCamillo's books to be a little sad, but perhaps that's just the way of modern junior fiction.  This was a re-read, and much more enjoyable read aloud. I got more out of it than my daughter, though she certainly enjoyed the descriptions of the animals.

1 Classic:
  - Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen (5) One of Austen's more serious books, but still quite enjoyable for me...made even more so because of the annotated edition I read.  I highly recommend the Belknap publications.  Not only are they beautiful, but the illustrations and annotations are thoughtful and balanced.

1 Audiobook:
  - The Dog Stars, Peter Heller (4) A little slow to ramp up, and not my preferred topic (post-apocolypse) which is why I opted for the audio version.  Ultimately, the writing style grew on me and I found Heller's dystopia to be realistic.  It ended up being less the story of an end than the story of a beginning.

3 New Books
  - Lexicon, Max Barry (4) From the first Book Riot Quarterly shipment, this was yet another book that wasn't in my usual diet - sort of a plot-based action-filled story.  I found it very enjoyable, largely due to the fact that it revolved around the power of words.  It was like X-Men For Readers.
  - The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion (5)  What a book!  (Thanks Emily!) It's short and sweet and funny and intelligent and completely re-readable.  One of those stories that I could recommend to just about anybody.  This is one I think I'll end up keeping multiple copies on hand so I can hand it out to whomever is nearby.
  - The Moon Sisters, Therese Walsh (4) A review copy of this was sent to me, and I have to say that [after other poor experiences] I was a little worried it would be gimmicky and lacking in depth.  Fortunately, it wasn't.  It was unique and interesting, and bit magical as well.


3 Current Reads:
   - The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer.  I'm reading this for book club, and in some ways it is [so far] much more satisfying to read than I thought it would be.  In other ways, it is just somewhat bland.  I'm getting a lot of those popularity/talent/beauty superiority sort of vibes.  Sort of like The Marriage Plot. I have to finish it by Monday night (I'm currently around page 150 of 480) so I need to kick up the speed.
  - Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides.  I'm mid-way in this read-along.  I'm not enjoying the book much, mostly because I just don't seem to jive with Eugenides.  He bugs me.  :/  But I shall carry on.
  - The Best of McSweeney's.  I didn't progress much in this during February, due to stalling out on a David Foster Wallace story, (I know he's supposed to be amazing but my mind just drifts,) but as soon as I finish my book club book, I'll be back at it.


On My Nightstand:
This is somehow in about the same place it was a month ago, partially due to impulse buys and group reads that pushed their way ahead.  I'm sure I'll have a couple more of those this month, with another Book Riot box and LibraryThing Early Reviewer book on their way.  The good news is that I feel like I'm keeping my TBR list under control, which is always nice because then I have a good excuse to buy more books!

  - The Big Burn, Timothy Egan.  One of my goals this year is to read more nonfiction, so I thought it might help to have it staring me in the face.  I really enjoyed Egan's The Worst Hard Time (about the Dust Bowl) and am looking forward to this one about Teddy Roosevelt and our National Parks and Forest Service.
  - Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather.  It's been a while since I've read something by Willa Cather, and I'm itching!
  - The Touchstone, Edith Wharton.  This was my Classic's Club Spin.  It's quick, so it should be no problem.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Books About Sisters

I recently read two books (in a row) whose main focus was the relationship between two sisters during a trying/coming-of-age time of life.  One of these books was a reread: Sense and Sensibility, and the other is a book soon to be released: The Moon Sisters.

Now, if you're anything like me, you'd expect a soon-to-be-published book to pale in comparison to tried-and-true favorite.  I experience that so often that I really should pay attention and pick my following book more carefully.  What a surprise then, to have another good reading experience despite the glaring similarities and differences it held to Austen.


Sense and Sensibility is probably a familiar tale to most of you: two sisters disagree how best to live one's life—logic vs. emotion—whilst navigating that rough period between adolescence and adulthood.  Oddly enough, The Moon Sisters is about the exact same thing (I wasn't really expecting that).  Of course, there are some differences.  The era (Regency/Modern), the names (Elinor & Marianne/Jazz & Olivia), the location (England/West Virginia), and the situation (marriage/mother's death), for starters...not to mention writing style and other technicalities.

What I love about Sense and Sensibility is the high level of observation that Austen carries throughout the story (until the end, which she wraps up way too quickly and tidily, as usual) mixed with a humorous perspective on people's foibles.  That being said, this is one of her more serious novels, not carried along by witty quips—a deep exploration of dreams, ideals, duty, and expectation.  Reading it at this point in my life, I found it more sad than I previously had.  All of those oddball characters were believable (and sometimes stressful) rather than just silly and entertaining.  But her writing is still seriously enjoyable.
"Elinor was to be the comforter of other in her own distresses, no less than in theirs."
Walsh's writing is nothing like Austen's, and the mood of the story leans toward the magical, but the interesting characters and contemplation of dreams, duty, and grief are as present in this story as in any of Austen's.  I was caught up in the story from the beginning, and never once got irritated by the alternating point-of-view or other writing mechanics.  The themes were deep, while the plot made it a quick read.  I loved finding out the details of how Jazz and Olivia grew up, how their different experiences led them to have very different opinions of their mother's death, and I loved meeting the people they met throughout their journey.
"If you live your whole life hoping and dreaming the wrong things," she said, "what does that mean about your whole life?"
Now...I don't have any sisters.  I thought this was the reason I didn't enjoy reading The Weird Sisters.  But that may not be the case after all.  While sisters certainly have a unique dynamic that I don't have firsthand experience with, I do have firsthand experience being female.  Many of the things that Elinor, Marianne, Jazz, and Olivia felt (insecurities, frustrations) are things that I have felt and can identify with, and that's pretty much what I hope to find in a book: a connection.

[Two things:  First, a big thank you to Random House for giving me an opportunity to read The Moon Sisters and share it with you!  Second, Sense and Sensibility is being counted toward the Back to the Classics Challenge as my 19th Century Classic.]