Friday, January 29, 2010

Even though he became a recluse and stopped publishing, I still loved Salinger for the stories he gave us. His characters were as troubled as they were complicated. I remember reading "Franny and Zooey" for the first time as a teenager and being blown away by the fascinating Glass family. I loved his "Nine Stories" collection and I think I'll re-read a few this weekend.

J.D. Salinger
Jan. 1, 1919 - Jan. 27, 2010

Friday Favorites: Travels With Charley

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Today I'm starting a little segment I'm going to call Friday Favorites. Each Friday I'm going to talk about one of my favorite books and why it meant so much to me. It might be a book I read as a kid or one I read just last year.

For the very first segment may I present "Travels With Charley" by John Steinbeck. Over the decades Steinbeck's books have been lauded by critics and readers alike. Classics like "Grapes of Wrath," "Of Mice and Men," and "East of Eden" all poured from his pen. All of which are truly remarkable books, but "Travels With Charley" hit me on a completely different level. 
It's a nonfiction book written later in Steinbeck's life. He decides that after having written about the underdogs in America for years he has grown out of touch with his beloved country. He decides to take his dog Charley and travel across the United States. The book is about the people he meets and the thoughts he has along the way. The book combines so many things that I love; great writing, travel memoirs, a deep love for pets.
(My bag Charley)

I'm particularly attached to this book because my Mom gave me a copy of it for my birthday one year and she passed away when I was 14. I didn't read it until 10 years later, at which time I realized, once again, what great taste she had and how well she knew me. After reading it I named my trusty backpack after Charley. That bag has been my devoted companion on some fantastic treks across Europe and those trips became my own "travels with Charley."

How about you? Any favorite books? Any favorite travel memoirs?

Photo by moi.

From the library of...

I received a lovely stocking stuffer this Christmas from my husband (who somehow understands my love of books). It's a custom stamp that says "Ex Libris MY NAME." I immediately went on a stamping spree, marking all of my favorite books that I love to lend out. If you're looking for a good stamp to use in your books, I'd highly recommend this one.

Visit terbearco's shop for more info.

Photo by moi.

101010 Challenge

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Last year I completed the 999 Challenge and decided to do the updated version again this year. The 101010 Challenge consists of picking 10 categories and reading 10 books in each category in 2010. Last year I found that this challenge encouraged me to get through a lot of the books on my TBR list, which was great. I'll keep you updated with my progress.

Here are my 10 categories ...

-Favorite authors

-Nonfiction / Travel Memoirs

-Recommended Books

-Pulitzer Prize Winning Plays

-Short Stories / Poetry Collections

-1,000 Books To Read Before You Die


-Book That Have Won Awards (Pulitzer, Booker, Orange)

-Book Club Books

-Random Book Challenge

Photo by moi.

The Remarkable Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl has long been one of my favorite authors. He became famous for his much-lauded books like, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." But I am even fonder of his nonfiction pieces like, "Going Solo" and his macabre adult short stories.

I recently decided to re-read a few of his young adult books and had a chance to fall in love with his writing all over again. Dahl had a gift for telling stories with a good moral lesson without making the reader feel like they were wading through saccharine. I can't say enough about how wonderful his books are. I remember reading them as a kid and just loving every second of it.

If you're new to Dahl or have a son/daughter/niece/nephew whom you think would appreciate his genius, here's a few must reads...

Matilda - A young girl, who loves books, struggles to feel accepted by her family. Then she discovers she has a secret power!

James and the Giant Peach - An orphaned boy, who lives with his evil aunts, climbs into a giant peach and finds a new family in the form of huge, friendly bugs.

The BFG - The Big Friendly Giant is an outcast in the world of giants. He doesn't like to eat little children. Instead he sneaks around at night giving the children wonderful dreams.

Going Solo - Dahl writes about his time as a pilot during World War II. He ends up in plenty of scrapes, including a plane wreck that almost kills him.

The Umbrella Man - These dark, twisted tales are a perfect treat for grown ups who remember loving Dahl as a child and would like a taste of his work for adults.

Photos by moi.

Book List: 3 Fictional Worlds

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This week's book list topic is 3 fictional worlds I'd like to hang out in. Here's my list...

1) Rivendell from Lord of the Rings. It's the gorgeous and peaceful land where the elves live in Middle Earth. It always sounded so beautiful to me when I read the books.

2) Anne of Green Gables's Avonlea. I'd love to meet all the characters I fell in love with as a kid. I can just imagine drinking lemonade on the front porch of Green Gables and chatting with them.

3) Harry Potter's Hogwarts. I would love to have a whole year to wander around the castle and find random rooms and passageways.

Hop on over to Lost in Books to see more about the weekly lists.

Photos from around the internet, credit where it's due.

Book Reviews

Monday, January 25, 2010

The last few weeks have been an interesting mixture of mediocre reads. "The Color Purple" was the only one that really stood out to me. I've just started "Les Miserable" though and I have high hopes for it.

The Color Purple
by Alice Walker

This powerful book is told in the form of letters from a young black woman, Celie, to God. Celie and her sister Nettie are separated at a young age. Nettie travels to Africa where she becomes a missionary. Celie is married off to a cruel man.

Walker's portrayal of the women in this story is wonderful. From the sexy Shug Avery who shows Celie what love is, to the Sofia, who refuses to back down to any man.

I particularly loved reading Nettie's letters to her sister, which describe her time in Africa. Both women, though separated by an ocean, are encouraged by the very thought of one day being reunited. This book is shows the wonder of hope and the strength that it can give us through the most horrible moments in our lives.

For One More Day
by Mitch Albom

Albom's second fiction piece is sappy at best. The characters aren't likable. Chick, the main character, is a selfish alcoholic who has spent his life idolizing his horrible father and never appreciating his wonderful mother. He doesn't truly realize his mistake until it's far too late and he decides to kill himself.

But don't judge him too harshly by this novel, his strength lies in nonfiction. "Tuesdays with Morrie" is a wonderful read.

G is for Gumshoe
by Sue Grafton

Grafton's 7th Millhone mystery divides it's time between two plots. Kinsey made it on someone's hit list and is being hunted by hired killers. She hires another PI, Robert Dietz to act as a body guard. The second plot focuses on a missing person assignment Kinsey has accepted. What starts off as a simple job quickly becomes complicated by murder.

The book isn't my favorite in the series, but unlike the others, it features the sharp-tongued detective having to ask someone for help. It's not often we see her in such a vulnerable position. It's a fun light read that won't be hard to get through.

Strait is the Gate
by Andre Gide

Gide's story follows a young man, Jerome, and his love for Alissa, his cousin. The two fall in love (back when cousins marrying was completely normal) and everyone assumes they will soon marry. But Alissa becomes increasingly distant, distraught and consumed with religion.

I had a hard time becoming attached to the two main characters, Jerome and Alissa, because they seemed to talk a lot about what they loved and wanted, but never really did anything. They seemed more in love with the idea of love than with the actual reality of it. I was more interested in Alissa's passionate sister Juliette, who was the most energetic of the characters. It was beautifully written, but won't stick with me.

The Wordy Shipmates
by Sarah Vowell

The latest from Vowell focuses on the pilgrims. I've really enjoyed some of her other books, but this one felt like it dragged on. Her opinions and sarcasm often overwhelmed the facts and it also felt like she tried to pack too much information into the book. It lacked the balance between fact and anecdote that she has managed so well in the past.

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

Brown's novel follows a similar path as his other Langdon thrillers. It's packed with interesting historical and architectural facts, but the plot is predictable and repetitive. It's a fun, quick read, but don't expect it to challenge you too much.

I'm not sure where this photo came from, but I love this idea for a bookcase.

Book List: 3 Characters I Love to Hate

This week's Book List topic is "3 Characters I Love to Hate."

Here's my list...

1) Rebecca from "Rebecca"
2) Miss Trunchbull from "Matilda"
3) Kevin from "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Hop on over to Lost in Books for more info.

Random Book Challenge

I've found another fun reading challenge that I just can't resist. This one was just too interesting. Instructions are explained for choosing each book. I've figured out the book I'll read for a few of them, but I'll post an update once I have them all.


1. Random Book Selection. Go to the library. Position yourself in a section such as Fiction. Then write down random directions for yourself (for example, third row, second shelf, fifth book from right). Follow your directions and see what book you find.
Book: "Their eyes were watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston

2. Random Word. Go to this random word generator and generate a random word. Find a book with this word in the title. Read the book and write about it.
Word: Highway
Book: "Blue Highways: A Journey into America" by William Least Heat-Moon

3. Birth Year Book. Find a book that was published in the year of your birth.
Book: "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros

4. Judge A Book By Its Cover. Pick out a book based SOLELY on the cover.
Book: "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

5. Phoning An Author. Pick a random last name out of the phone book. Find an author with the same last name and read a book by them.
Name: Morris
Book: "O Pioneers!" by Willa Cather

6. Public Spying. Find someone who is reading a book in public. Find out what book they are reading and then read the same book.
Book: "Little Children" by Tom Perrotta

7. Random Bestseller. Go to Random.org and, using the True Random Number Generator, enter the number 1950 for the min. and 2008 for the max. and then hit generate. Then find the bestseller list for that year and pick a book.
Year: 2007
Book: "The Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan

8. Turn on your iPod and hit play, the first song that comes on at random, find a book that shares at least one word in its title with the title of that song.
iPod song- Fool for a Lonesome Train by Ben Harper
Book: "Fool" by Christopher Moore

9. Have Random.org give you a number between 1 and 1,000 and read the book that is that number of the list of 1,000 books to read before you die.
Number: 689
Book: "Strait is the Gate" by André Gide

10. Movie/Book Comparison. Find a book that you haven't read that has a movie based on it that you haven't seen. Read the book and watch the movie within a few days of each other.
Book: "Proof" by David Auburn

Photo by Pidge

Book Reviews: What's on my bedside table?

No matter how fast I read, the stack on my bedside table always gets out of control. Right now I'm reading an interesting mix of books. I just finished the Pulitzer-Prize winning play "Dinner With Friends," "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "Great Expectations" (reviews below). I'm in the middle of "The Color Purple" and am finishing up "The Portable Dorothy Parker." It looks like this is going to be a great year for reading.

Dinner With Friends
by Donald Margulies

The story follows two married couples in their 40s. Gabe and Karen, happily married with kids, and Tom and Beth, who are in the midst of getting a divorce. The play paints an intimate portrait of marriage and friendship. The play is really well done, giving glimpses of each of the characters' true feelings, which aren't always pretty.

It was interesting to read the play as a newlywed. It almost felt like a cautionary tale. But the portrayal of the two couples also reminded me that marriage is work, a lot of work and you need to treat your partner with the respect they deserve if you want your marriage to last.

Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens

I've had a interesting relationship with Dickens over the years. I've really enjoyed some of his books (A Tale of Two Cities) and didn't like others (Oliver Twist), but Great Expectations is the first that I've truly loved.

The plot follows Pip from his time as a young orphan through his maturing into a young gentleman. All of the main characters are deeply flawed: the violent criminal Magwitch, selfish Miss Havisham, haughty Estella. But each of them has redeeming qualities or aspects of their lives the reader can identify or sympathize with.

In addition to that, the plot is so richly developed that, though at its core it's a coming of age story, it feels so much more complicated than that. It was a book I could dive deeply into. Its lessons were diverse as well: the danger of refusing to open your heart to anyone, the importance of valuing the people who care for you, the unimportance of wealth in the large scheme of things. It's a book that resonates with readers for so many reasons. Great Expectations reminded me, once again, that sometimes books become classics for a reason.

The Girl Who Played With Fire
by Stieg Larsson

The book sucked me in immediately. At the end of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," the one thing I wanted to know more about is the character Lisbeth Salander. This book explores her world in much more details. The story is well-written, the characters are rich in detail, I was hooked. This is the second book in the Millennium trilogy and I would definitely recommend reading the first book before diving into this one. It was a great read!

The White Tiger
by Aravind Adiga

The story is told through letters from a formerly poor Indian man named Balram. He has made his fortune and is now an entrepreneur, but to reach that level he killed his boss. He tells his story, starting with that piece of info. The telling was fresh and original. It was an interesting look at the caste system and corruption in India, but it never quite got me to feel deeply for the characters. It's a interesting was to tell the story, but in the end it fell flat to me.

Photo by moi.

Audio Book Challenge

Another book challenge I'm undertaking this year is the 2010 Audio Book Challenge Hosted by Royal Reviews.
The challenge has different levels and I'm doing the "Obsessed" level.

Challenge Guidelines:
1. Anyone can join. You don't need a blog to participate.

2. There are four levels:

-- Curious – Listen to 3 Audio Books.

-- Fascinated – Listen to 6 Audio Books.

-- Addicted – Listen to 12 Audio Books.

-- Obsessed – Listen to 20 Audio Books.

I love reading in audiobook form. It's like sitting around a fire and having someone tell you a story. So, I don't think this one will be too hard. Hop over to Royal Reviews if you want to join!

999 Challenge

These are the books I read to complete my 999 Challenge. I picked 9 categories and read 9 books in each category in 2009. Sorry for the lengthy post, there's just no great way to list these.

-New Authors
-"Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer" by: Steven Millhauser - ★★★☆
-"Bowl of Cherries" by: Millard Kaufman - ★★★
-"Rabbit Hole" by: David Lindsay-Abaire - ★★★★
-"Revolutionary Road" by: Richard Yates - ★★★★☆
-"Before You Know Kindness" by: Chris Bohjalian - ★★★☆
-"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by: Seth Grahame-Smith - ★★★☆
-"Wit: A Play: by: Margaret Edson - ★★★★
-"Atlas Shrugged" by: Ayn Rand - ★★★★☆
-"The Good Women of China" by: Xiaran - ★★★★

-Favorite authors
-"Black Dogs" by: Ian McEwan - ★★★☆
-"Shakespeare: The World As A Stage" by: Bill Bryson - ★★★★
-"When You Are Engulfed in Flames" by: David Sedaris - ★★★★
-"The Martian Chronicles" by: Ray Bradbury - ★★★★☆
-"Babylon Revisited" by: F. Scott Fitzgerald - ★★★★
-"Echoes" by Maeve Binchy - ★★★
-"F is for Fugitive" by: Sue Grafton - ★★★★
-"Treasure Box" by: Orson Scott Card - ★☆
-"Out of the Silent Planet" by: C.S. Lewis - ★★★★

-"The Middle Place" by: Kelly Corrigan - ★★★★
-"A Girl Named Zippy" by: Haven Kimmel - ★★★☆
-"Freakonomics" by: Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner - ★★★★
-"Fever Pitch" by Nick Hornby - ★★☆
-"Brave Men" by: Ernie Pyle - ★★★★
-"Nickel and Dimed" by: Barbara Ehrenreich - ★★★★
-"A Beautiful Mind" by: Sylvia Nasar - ★★★☆
-"Partly Cloudy Patriot" by: Sarah Vowell - ★★★★
-"My Life in France" by: Julia Child - ★★★★

-"The Muse Asylum" by:David Czuchlewski - ★★★★☆
-"Winesburg, Ohio" by: Sherwood Anderson - ★★★★
-"Looking for Alaska" by: John Green - ★★★★
-"The Brothers K" by: David James Duncan - ★★★★★
-"The Penelopiad" by: Margaret Atwood - ★★★★
-"Sherlock Homes: A Baker Street Dozen" by: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - ★★★★
-"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - ★★★★
-"Close Range: Wyoming Stories" by" Annie Proulx - ★★
-"Blessings" by: Anna Quindlen - ★★★★

-Amy's List (a list of books a friend created for me as must reads)
-"The Portable Dorothy Parker" by: Dorothy Parker - ★★★★
-"Anna Karenina" by: Leo Tolstoy - ★★★★★
-"The Name of the Rose" by: Umberto Eco - ★★★☆
-"My Sister's Keeper" by: Jodi Picoult - ★★★★
-"Bee Season" by: Myra Goldberg - ★★★☆
-"Uncle Tom's Cabin" by: Harriet Beecher Stowe - ★★★★
-"Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky - ★★★★
-"Time and again" by Jack Finney - ★★★★
-"Old School" by Tobias Wolff - ★★★☆

-1,000 books to read before you die
-"White Noise" by: Don Delillo - ★★
-"Things Fall Apart" by: Chinua Achebe - ★★★☆
-"Wide Sargasson Sea" by: Jean Rhys - ★★☆
-"Hideous Kinky" by: Esther Freud - ★★★☆
-"The Prime of Miss Brodie" by: Muriel Spark - ★★★☆
-"On Beauty" by: Zadie Smith - ★★★★☆
-"The World According to Garp" by: John Irving - ★★★☆
-"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien - ★★★★☆
-"The Corrections" by: Jonathan Franzen - ★★☆

-Young Adult
-"Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz" by: L. Frank Baum - ★★★
-"Anne of Windy Poplars" by: L.M. Montgomery - ★★★☆
-"The Call of the Wild" by: Jack London - ★★★
-"Peter and the Star Catchers" by: Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson - ★★★☆
-"Eggs" by: Jerry Spinelli - ★★☆
-"The Hostile Hospital" by: Lemony Snicket - ★★☆
-"Inkheart" by: Cornelia Funke - ★★★★☆
-"The Graveyard Book" by: Neil Gaiman - ★★★★
-"Because of Winn-Dixie" by: Kate DiCamillo - ★★★☆

-"Perelandra" by: C.S. Lewis - ★★★
-"The Well of Lost Plots" by: Jasper Fforde - ★★★★
-"Something Rotten" by: Jasper Fforde - ★★★★
-"Dexter in the Dark" by: Jeff Lindsay - ★★★☆
-"Dearly Devoted Dexter" by: Jeff Lindsay - ★★★★
-"Teacher Man: A Memoir" by: Frank McCourt - ★★★★
-"Eclipse" by: Stephenie Meyers - ★★★★★
-"Son of a Witch" by: Gregory Maguire - ★★★☆
-"Coming Attractions" by: Robin Jones Gunn - ★★★★

-Book Club
-"Isaac's Storm" by: Erik Larson - ★★★★☆
-"The Ride of Our Lives" by: Mike Leonard - ★★
-"Cry, the Beloved Country" by: Alan Paton - ★★★☆
-"Peace Like a River" by: Leif Enger - ★★★★☆
-"The Soloist" by: Steve Lopez - ★★★★☆
-"A Mercy" by: Toni Morrison - ★★
-"The History of Love" by: Nicole Krauss - ★★★★★
-"The Grapes of Wrath" by: John Steinbeck - ★★★★★
-"Manhunt" by: James L. Swanson - ★★★

My Rating System (I rate on my personal reaction to the book):

★ = one star
☆ = 1/2 star

★★★★★ - a must-read
★★★★ - liked it a lot
★★★ - nothing special, but OK
★★ - not my cup of tea
★ - a waste of time

Photo by moi.

Reading Rainbow

As the year winds to an end I'm picking a few reading challenges to tackle in 2010.

I recently found a fun one here at Lost in Books that I’m going to attempt. It’s called the Color Challenge. You pick 9 books with different colors in the title. I'll keep you all updated on my progress. Let me know if you're doing this challenge too!
Here’s what I’m hoping to read for this challenge…

Color Challenge: 9 books with 9 different colors in the title

"The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga
"Black Water" by Joyce Carol Oates
"Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi
"The Green Hat" by Michael Arlen
"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
"Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen
"Blue Highways: A Journey into America" by William Least Heat-Moon
"The Scarlet Thread" by Francine Rivers
"Silver Wedding" by Maeve Binchy

Penguin Classics found here.

Library: Before and After

So I might have a bit of an obsession with books.

From what I understand the two things women are supposed to fantasize about are weddings and babies. I never thought too much about either. But the one thing I frequently dreamed about was the day I could have my own library. I couldn't wait to have my hot little hands on all of my books at one time.

Over the years my books have survived in cardboard boxes in family member's attics and mini barns while I skirted between apartments, countries and jobs, all the while acquiring more books. Now that I have my own home, Flannel Man (aka the husband) agreed to let me turn our second living room into a giant homage to the love of my life - (second to him of course) -books!

So here's the before and after of my library. This room couldn't possibly make my any happier (unless maybe it had room for one more bookcase.) We painted the walls (below) and then promptly covered them with all of my bookcases. In the corner you can see my book tables and there are big comfy chairs for reading.

Photos by moi.

Literary Alphabet Soup

As the year comes to a close I try to not to start any new books and instead I wrap up the ones I'm already in the middle of. This year held some great reads.

My top books for 2009:

The Brothers K, The Hunger Games, Anna Karenina, Peace Like a River, Here is New York, The History of Love, Atlas Shrugged, The Portable Dorothy Parker, The Things They Carried and 84, Charing Cross Road

I tend to take on reading challenges to get me to pick up books I might not have and the best example of this was "The Good Women of China." I needed an author whose name began with an X for my alphabet author challenge and so I picked this nonfiction book up and it was really good. It's extremely sad, but it gave me a much better idea of what Chinese women have had to go through over the last few decades.

Anyway, I just finished 3 challenges for 2009. The first: 999 Challenge, where I picked 9 categories and read 9 books in each category in 2009. The second: 100 book challenge, which is self-explanatory. And finally: Alphabet Challenge, where you read one author for each letter of the alphabet. Here's my alphabet...

* A: Margaret Atwood - The Penelopiad
* B: Bill Bryson Shakespeare: The World As A Stage
* C: David Czuchlewski - The Muse Asylum
* D: David James Duncan - The Brothers K
* E: Barbara Ehrenreich - Nickel and Dimed
* F: F. Scott Fitzgerald - Babylon Revisited
* G: John Green - Looking for Alaska
* H: Nick Hornby - Fever Pitch
* I: Ian McEwan - Black Dogs
* J: Julia Child - My Life in France
* K: Nicole Krauss - The History of Love
* L: Jeff Lindsay - Darkly Dreaming Dexter
* M: Frank McCourt - Teacher Man
* N: Neil Gaiman - The Graveyard Book
* O: Tim O'Brien - The Things They Carried
* P: Dorothy Parker - The Portable Dorothy Parker
* Q: Anna Quindlen - Blessings
* R: Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged
* S: David Sedaris - When You Are Engulfed in Flames
* T: Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina
* U: Umberto Eco - The Name of the Rose
* V: Sarah Vowell - Partly Cloudy Patriot
* W: E.B. White - Here is New York
* X: Xinran - The Good Women of China
* Y: Richard Yates -Revolutionary Road
* Z: Zadie Smith - On Beauty

Photo by moi.