Friday Favorites: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
by Robert C. O’Brien

Mrs. Frisby is widowed field mouse who is used to a quiet life. When her son Timothy comes down with pneumonia she becomes desperate to save him and is thrown into an unexpected adventure.

Soon Mrs. Frisby’s path leads her to a group of former laboratory rats that live on the same farm that she does. Their leader, Nicodemus, explains their history and then must decide if they’ll help her in her quest.

This was one of my absolute favorite books growing up. I think I was in about 2nd grade the first time I read it and I was hooked. We are sucked into a fascinating world of animals with human intelligence, yet the author keeps it firmly grounded in reality, with a believable explanation for everything.

The book won the Newbery Award in 1972 and author’s daughter later wrote two sequels, Racso and the Rats of NIMH and R-T, Margaret and the Rats of NIMH. I read the two sequels as a kid. Neither is as good as the original, but I just couldn’t get enough of the story.

If you haven’t read this one, than I’m bummed, because I’m sure it’s much better if you’re a kid. But I still think you should pick it up and read it. Then eventually you can pass it along to another young reader.

Side Note: I saw the animated movie version when I was young. I wasn’t impressed. It adds unnecessary magical elements to the story, which just detracts from the plot.

Book Reviews: One Day

Thursday, October 28, 2010

One Day
by David Nicholls

We, the reader, first meet Dexter and Emma on the day after they graduate from college, July 15, 1988. Dexter is a wealthy playboy with no real worries. Emma is a bookish girl with high morals and something to prove. Somehow the two hit it off and the story follows their lives from their early twenties to their late thirties.

For some reason, I was under the impression that Emma and Dexter only met once a year and that was the “One Day.” But instead, the “one day” gives us a snapshot of what their lives are like on July 15 each year for almost 20 years. They still interact the rest of the year, but the reader doesn’t see every other day. This felt much more natural to me than the way I had originally thought it was structured.

Dexter seemed to have a tenuous grasp on reality at best. He acts rashly, makes careless decisions and takes all of the people in his life for granted. He expects no consequences to his actions and it's hard to understand what Emma sees in him sometimes.

This was a strange book for me, because I never really liked Dexter. I kept thinking he would completely redeem himself, but he never really did. Yet at the same time I loved the character of Emma and I did like them when together when they were at their best. I wanted to know what happened and I continued thinking about the characters after I finished the book. So it was really good, just not what I expected. I think that’s a tribute to Nicholls’ wonderful writing. Even if you don’t love the character, he makes you feel sympathy or pity for him. I’ve heard him compared to Nick Horby and there’s a definite resemblance.

"Nothing here was neutral, everything displayed an allegiance or a point of view. The room was a manifesto."

"There was a time when they were barely able to pass a photo booth without cramming inside it, because they had yet to take each others permanent presence for granted."

Wordless Wednesday: Vatican City

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Vatican City

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Tower, The Zoo and the Tortoise
by Julia Stuart

Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater (Yeoman Warder) who lives and works at the Tower of London. He and his wife Hebe lost their only son, Milo, a few years before the book begins. Trapped in a cycle of grief, the two struggle to understand what’s happened and how they can go on living without their child.

Stuart manages to temper the heartbreak in this story with a sweet humor and quiet devotion. Hebe works in the London Underground's Lost Property Office and spends her days reuniting people with things they’ve lost, yet ironically she can do nothing to get back what she’s lost.

It’s not a book that pulls you in with the first paragraph, instead the characters grow on you and you find yourself rooting for them. I recognized their flaws and struggles and could identify with some of their pain. In one section Hebe is discussing her son’s death with someone and says this…

"I can't imagine what you've been through," he said.

"Some people think they can," she said. "You'd be surprised how many bring up the death of their pet."

As absurd as that sounds, I’ve had people do that to me on multiple occasions!

I think that the book could have done without some of the subplots. I never felt attached to the Rev. Setimus Drew, his love interest Ruby the barmaid or the Ravenmaster. I think their stories hindered the main plot up unnecessarily. There were just too many different threads and those could easily be axed.

I did enjoy Hebe’s coworker Valerie Jennings and her budding relationship with Arthur Catnip. They provided a good balance to the Joneses tragedy.

The title refers to the Queen’s decision to reopen the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. Balthazar is put in charge of corralling all of the animals and, of course, chaos ensues. This plot feels very secondary to Balthazar’s relationship with his wife. Their estrangement is what grounds the whimsical elements in the book.

Hebe and Balthazar made this book worthwhile in my opinion. I loved reading about their past, their son and their frustration. I would recommend this and am curious to see what Stuart comes up with next.

“There was a pause during which the two strangers held on to each other through the silence.”

** I received this book from the Doubleday Publishing House

Book Reviews: The Prince and the Pauper

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Prince and the Pauper
by Mark Twain

Tom Canty, a young pauper in England, dreams of living a better life. One day he finds himself inside the king’s palace and in the presence of the prince. The two boys are the exact same age and discover that they look identical. They are amused and swap clothes to entertain themselves. Chaos, of course, ensues and the prince is thrown out of his own palace, while Tom Canty is unwillingly thrust into the role of prince in the confusion.

I was expecting a short parable or fable about two boys, in very different situations, who end up swapping lives for a day. I’ll admit most of this assumption was based on watching the Mickey Mouse version of the Prince and the Pauper when I was young. I also didn’t realize that Twain used an actual prince, Henry VIII’s only son, Edward VI, as the title prince in his story.

The book is more of a lesson in merciful leadership than a fanciful tale. The heart of the story lies in the true prince learning the importance of governing with a balance of strength and wisdom, not just blind power.

Friday Favorites: Lord of the Rings

Friday, October 22, 2010

When I was in 3rd grade my family took a trip to visit relatives in Boston and my Dad gave me a copy of The Hobbit to read while we traveled. I’ve never forgotten my first taste of Middle Earth. Bilbo Baggin’s journey was much simpler than his nephew Frodo’s in the books that followed, but it was the perfect introduction to Tolkien’s epic world.

The plot, in a nutshell, is as follows. There is one ring of power, created by a dark lord, which ends up in the hands of a simple hobbit. Once the good people of Middle Earth realize what the ring is, they must band together and travel to Mt. Doom to destroy it. A fellowship of four hobbits, two men, a wizard, an elf and a dwarf take on the quest.

One of my favorite things about the trilogy is that their world is so different from ours, filled with wizards, elves and orcs, yet the relationships are so similar. Tolkien created such original creatures, like the tree-herding ents, but the emphasis is really on the friendships that have to withstand such intense trials.

Tolkien’s story is memorable not only for the plot, but because of the wonderful characters that fill it. There’s Gandalf, a powerful but wise wizard, Aragorn, a reluctant leader, Gollum, a broken, depraved creature, Samwise, the most loyal friend a person could hope for, and so many others.

Our hero is not a powerful man, but instead a small hobbit, the gentlest people in the land. Our villain is Sauron, the ultimate embodiment of evil. He has no redeeming qualities, just an all-encompassing need for power. He is the inspiration for future characters like Voldemort. Yet at the same time we also have other characters that used to be good or are still trying to be, that succumb to the temptation of the ring, like the Ringwraiths, Boromir and Saruman. These characters demonstrate how even good people can become weak when tempted by something so powerful. Their failure to resist just makes Frodo and Sam’s journey all the more poignant.

I’ve heard people complain that the books are too long, too boring, too detailed, etc. I understand those thoughts, but I think people are more forgiving with other classics, like Anna Karenina, than they are with these fantasy novels. People expect aspects of Charles Dickens work to be too detailed, so they read it and judge the book by its overall plot, but LOTR is sometimes overlook by those same people. I would argue that the story Tolkien created is just as powerful as many classic tales from centuries gone by. So don’t skip these because fantasy isn’t your thing or some other silly reason.

Side Note: People are divided on whether the films did the movies justice and I’m firmly in the camp of, they absolutely did! They manage to capture the massive scale of the wars and the intimate delicacies of falling in love. They also highlighted the best parts of the books and even emphasizing lesser story lines, like Aragorn and Arwen's relationship, which is only an appendix in the book. So I love the films and never get tired of watching them.

Book Reviews: The Thirty-Nine Steps

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Thirty-Nine Steps

by John Buchan


Richard Hannay is a young, single man who has grown bored with life in London in 1914. But just when things seem slow, a man is murdered in Hannay’s flat and he finds himself in the midst of a conspiracy. He realizes he has some top secret information and his life is at risk, so he goes on the run.

I love the bits about Hannay escaping on trains, you just can't do that in the states because we have so few passenger trains. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a train about to leave the station, run for it and at the last second leap aboard, loosing your pursuers in the process. That wouldn’t exactly work at an airport.

Hannay meets some great characters while evading both the bad guys and the police, who want to question him about the murder that happened in his flat. It’s a fun adventure story, though I don’t think the details with stick with me. I would like to check out Hitchcock’s movie version.

Wordless Wednesday: Vienna Park

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A peaceful park in Vienna.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: Madame Bovary

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

I read this Lydia Davis translation of Madame Bovary as part of the read-along hosted by Nonsuch Book.

Let me begin with saying sometimes it’s hard to read classics because there are so many references to their plots mentioned in other books and movies, that when you finally read them you find out that you already know too much.

I started Madame Bovary already knowing the ending and much of the plot, which is unfortunate. I can only imagine how powerful this novel was for people who had no idea what was going to happen, especially when it first came out. That being said, I knew very little about the first half of the book and was surprised by quite a bit of the plot.

At the beginning we meet a sweet farm girl, Emma. Charles Bovary is married to a horrible woman and he falls for the lovely girl. After his wife passes away, Charles marries Emma, making her the title Madame Bovary (not to be confused with his first wife or his mother, both of which are frequently referred to as Madame Bovary).

Emma is infatuated with the idea of love, but neither she, nor her husband, actually understand what real love is. Emma expects something like the passionate affairs she’s read about in books. Charles’ version of a marriage is a simple relationship with little interaction beyond basic marital relations and discord. He expects very little from his wife and in return he gives her very little.

Soon Emma is completely disenchanted with married life. As a newlywed she wonders what will happen to her bridal bouquet when she dies. Later, feeling completely numb and emotionally dead, she burns the bouquet herself, demonstrating just how detached she’s become.

SPOILERS: The following comments discuss aspects in the Part II and III of the novel.

Emma is searching for something to save her from her boredom and she falls for a young man, Leon, with whom she has wonderful discussions. Soon he leaves, because she’s married, and she sets her sights on Roldolphe, a local bachelor, instead. He has decided he’ll take her as a mistress and sees their relationship as a casual one. She, on the other hand, sees him as her salvation. She’s miserable and hangs all of her hopes on him. When they decide to run away together she thinks of her daughter as a mere afterthought, she’s so wrapped up in her affair. She becomes more desperate and reckless as she feels her lover slipping away from her.

The scene at the opera was incredibly poignant to me. Emma watches the love affair unfold on the stage just as her own did, while her husband sits next to her, never comprehending what his wife is thinking.

The book begins and ends with Charles, which is fitting. He is completely oblivious to most of what happens in his wife’s life and she passes in and out of his life before he even knows what happened. He only lets himself see what he wants to see. He pictures Emma as an innocent doll, incapable of intentionally doing anyone harm. He’s both a victim and enabler in this tragic story. He does love his wife, or at least the idea of her, but he never really gets to know her, which just increases her isolation.

The real victims in the story are all of the people left behind when Emma is gone. Her daughter’s story was particularly sad. She’s no more than a footnote in most of the book and then at the end, she’s orphaned and alone in the world. Her selfish mother was never willing to put her daughter’s happiness before her own.

Even though, in the end, Emma proves herself to be self-absorbed and immature, I still loved the book. It was a wonderful portrait of a woman who begins with a romantic vision of love in her mind and is heartbroken by its realities. Instead of choosing to find meaning in her relationships and give them depth, she flits to other lovers hoping to find that illusive “romance.” She looks to wealth, spending money like she can buy happiness. She thrives on lies and the thrill of getting caught. She seeks only momentary pleasure and in doing so she ruins not only herself, but her whole family. Flaubert’s talent is obvious, because despite all of those things, we still care what happens to her.

One note on the translation:
I can't compare all of Lydia Davis' new translation to previous ones as this is my first time reading Madame Bovary. I did read a few of the same passages I’d highlighted in Davis’ translation in another copy of the book and found them to be very similar. But Davis certainly has an elegant way with words, which enhanced my experience with the book.

To participate in the rest of the read-along, visit Nonsuch Book here.

She will post on Part 2 on Thursday, Oct. 21 and on the final section on Thursday, Oct. 28.

Book Reviews: Percy Jackson Series

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2)
by Rick Riordan

This is the second book in the series and to be honest I liked it a bit better than the first. Percy learns that Camp Half-Blood is under attack. Thalia, Zeu's daughter, who was turned into a tree, has been poisoned and because of this the protective borders of the camp are being destroyed. At the same time he realizes his best friend, Grover, is being held captive by a cyclopes in the Bermuda Triangle. He decides to go on a quest to save both Grover and the camp. Unfortunately for him the quest is assigned to another demigod, Clarisse, and he's left feeling helpless. Percy and Annabeth decide to take on the quest anyway and head out on their own.

The book maintains the fast-paced momentum of the first, while adding depth to the characters. The book's newest addition is the sweet and loyal Tyson, a friend of Percy's. I love how this book ends and it left me eager to pick up the next one.

So I did…

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3)
by Rick Riordan

Once again, the books begins bang as Percy and his try to help to new demigods reach Camp Half Blood. In the midst of the chaos they meet Artemis and her band of hunters. In additional to Artemis, this book introduces a slew of familiar Greek faces in clever ways. Annabeth is not in this book as much as the first two and it made me realize how much I like her. I missed her character, but enjoyed getting to learn a bit more about her back story.

This one, like the first two, is a quick read. There is constant action and before you know it, the book is done. I’ve heard some people refer to these books as “Harry Potter Lite” and I think that’s a great description. I never find myself quite as attached to the characters or involved in the story as I do with HP, but I enjoy reading them.

Again, one of my favorite parts of both books is the Greek mythology that’s woven into the story. Reading about mythology that's been around for centuries in a modern setting makes the books endlessly entertaining. There are five books in the series and I'll definitely be reading the final two.

One a side note, here's a fun website for the series.

Tagged, One Year

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I was tagged by at Whatcha Readin', Books? and I haven't done one of these before. I don't think I've actually said too much personal stuff about myself on this blog, so here we go.

Rules of the game (if you wish to participate):

- Accept the tag and link to the tagger at the beginning of your post.

- Answer the questions honestly in your post by listing four things.

- Pass on the love by picking four other people to tag and listing them at the bottom of your post.
Notify them that you tagged them.

4 Things That Are In My Handbag

- Burt’s Bees Chapstick (I’m an addict)

- A pashmina I bought in Prague

- My iPhone
- Madame Bovary

4 Favorite Things In My Bedroom

- My collection of bookmarks bought on dozens of trips 

- A big framed copy of Klimt’s “The Kiss”
- The Huz
- My floating bookshelves and the books they hold

4 Things On My Desk
- My coffee mug 

- A post-it noting what chapter I’m in for my current audiobook 

- A page-a-day calendar of 1,000 places to see before you die

- A picture of my niece and two nephews

4 Things I've Always Wanted To Do (but haven't yet)

- Ride in a hot air balloon

- Attempt to make Coq Au Vin

- Watch every Best Picture Oscar winner

- Visit all 50 states (I’m at about 30)

4 Things I Enjoy Very Much At the Moment

- Catching glimpses of Sneaky Pete, the raccoon who's taken up residence in our yard

- My favorite TV shows returning with new episodes

- A good G&T

- The leaves changing colors

4 Songs I Can't Get Out Of My Head

- “Love Vigilantes” by Iron & Wine

- “M79” by Vampire Weekend

- “You Don’t Know Me” by Ben Folds and Regina Spektor

- “You And I” by Ingrid Michaelson

4 Things You Don't Know About Me

- I love Jeopardy

- I review about one play/musical a week on another blog
- I got married one year ago on Oct. 17th!
- I just started a new full-time job Oct. 1

4 Bloggers I'm Tagging
- Brenna at Literary Musings
- Jenners at Life...With Books
- Jessica at Park Benches & Book Ends
- Iris at Iris on Books

Photo by Burkett Photography of me and the Huz

Friday Favorites: The Portable Dorothy Parker

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dorothy Parker and her acidic wit are infamous. I fell in love with her writing after reading one of her cynical poems and just cracking up. After that I asked for a book of her collected stories for Christmas one year and my Dad said, “Of course you would like her work.” I think he recognized a bit of the sarcastic nature.

The Portable Dorothy Parker is a 600 page tome filled with her short stories, poetry, articles, letters and more. If she wrote it, it’s probably in there. She had a sharp tongue, but also a brilliant talent for writing. Her short stories were usually tinged with tragedy, giving a weight to her words. One of my favorites is “The Game.”

(The painting at the Algonquin Hotel above the Round Table, that's Dorothy on the left)

The poem below is a great example of her cutting sense of humor; short and to the point.

General Review of the Sex Situation

Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman's moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?

Parker’s personal life was tragic, filled with unhappy marriages and alcohol. She was part of the famous Algonquin Round Table in NYC and never toed the line of what was normal or expected. Though I don’t envy her life, I do love her work. Her quips never fail to make me laugh and her stories always make me think. She was an amazing author.

“The writer's way is rough and lonely, and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say, cleaning out ferryboats?”

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot


When I first heard the name Henrietta Lacks it rang no bells. I, like the majority of the world’s population, have never heard of her, but her story is amazing! In this nonfiction account of her life, Skloot introduces us to not only Henrietta, but to her children and the huge impact that she had on the world, without us ever knowing it.

In 1951 Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer. At the time, she was only 31 and she had 5 young children. She and her husband could barely make ends meet and medical bills for Johns Hopkins soon began to pile up. As a poor African-American woman in the ‘50s, Lacks had few options and within a year of her diagnosis she was dead.

Before she died, Johns Hopkins researchers took a sample of her cells to study. Unlike hundreds of similar samples, Lack’s cells didn’t die, instead they reproduced with an amazing rapidity. The cells, named HeLa for the first two letters in Lack’s first and last names, soon changed the face of the medical world. They were used in the research of and creation of cures for many diseases, including Polio, AIDS and cancer, making millions of dollars for the people involved in the studies. Yet Henrietta’s family was never made aware of this and no one ever asked them for permission to use the cells.

One of Henrietta’s daughters, Deborah, becomes the key figure of Skloot’s research. In the end, the story is as much her’s as her mother’s. She has grown up never knowing the full extent of her mother’s cells impact on the medical field. She’s at times skeptical and suspicious and at others warm and welcoming. Her family has experienced countless deceptions and tragedies and they have no reason to believe anything authority figures tell them.

I was fascinated by Skloot’s experiences while researching the book. She can’t help becoming involved in the story and seeing everything unfold through her eyes makes it even more powerful. Though the story deals with complicated medical concepts and ethical dilemmas, Skloot simplifies everything, making it very reader friendly. The story itself wrenched my heart, while at the same time educating me on so much, which is a difficult balance to pull off. It was a great read.

Sandy (You’ve Gotta Read This) has a wonderful review here.

Wordless Wednesday: Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A new favorite reading spot in Wisconsin.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Book Reviews: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew is an elderly British widower. When his brother dies his path unexpectedly crosses with the widowed local grocer, Jasmina Ali. He finds himself falling for her despite the social class system which frowns upon their interaction.

Mrs. Ali was the kind of person who I would love to sit and chat with over a cup of coffee. She was kind, thoughtful, clever and a lover of books.

I was fascinated by Pettigrew's relationship with his self-absorbed son Roger. The Major seems shocked by his son's frequent selfish and rude behavior, yet Roger is very much a product of his upbringing. I think Roger represents everything the Major dislikes about his own personality.

The story is really about well-mannered people's underlying prejudices. They will go to great lengths to say things in a politically correct way, but their actions and comments reek of bigotry.

I loved the irony in the fact that Mrs. Ali is treated like a foreigner, even though she has never left the UK, while Major Pettigrew is the one who was actually born in India.

All-in-all the book was a slow, but sweet read. I loved the dry sense of humor and stiff social interactions.

"Passion is all very well, but it wouldn't do to spill the tea."

Books for Littles

Monday, October 11, 2010

A most delightful sassy Scot is pregnant with twins and in much need of suggested reading material. So she conspired with one of my favorite people and had her create a list of fantastic reading suggestions for 3 age groups of kiddos...

Tiniest Littles


Slightly Bigger

Amanda's taste is flawless and I read through each of the lists jumping back and forth between, "Oh I love that book!" and "How have I not read that?"

So go, read the lists and enjoy! I would add that though these books are great for children, they're also great for the kid in all of us.

Friday Favorites: Nine Stories

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nine Stories
by J.D. Salinger

After reading The Catcher in the Rye I realized that angst and frustration were universal feelings. Franny and Zooey made me fall in love with the Glass family and decide to cover my walls with large sheets of handmade paper, covered in quotes. But it was Nine Stories that's always held my favorite bit of Salinger's writing.

Where his other novels are sometimes a bit too dramatic for my taste, Nine Stories offers single servings, just enough that it feels like brilliance as opposed to whining. In these smaller doses Salinger's writing is poignant and powerful. He doesn't give the reader everything, he makes you work for it and I appreciate that.

Many of the stories deal with someone connected to the Glass family in some way. I get something different from them each time I read one. My two favorites are "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which broke my heart and "Down at the Dinghy," sweet in its innocence. "Teddy" is also memorable, because it's a bit disturbing.

Nine Stories has always seemed a bit underrated, which probably makes me love it more. It contains some of Salinger's greatest characters, if only a snapshot of them, and helps me get a Salinger fix if I need one.

Book Reviews: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
by Allison Hoover Bartlett

This book is subtitled "The true story of a thief, a detective, and a world of literary obsession," and that about sums it up. The author researched a well-known rare book thief named John Gilkey. He has been stealing rare books for years and despite numerous stints in jail because of his actions, he's completely oblivious to the crimes he's committed. He sees himself as entitled to the books and is pathological in his desire for them. He is constantly trying to attain a level of power and respectability that he believes only money and possessions can help him obtain.

One of the most interesting elements of the book is Bartlett's surprise at becoming part of the story. She tries to maintain an objectiveness, but the more research she does, the harder it is to separate herself from the situation. When she's around Gilkey she gets sucked in by his charismatic behavior.

The book also introduces us to Ken Sanders, a book seller who has worked to catch Gilkey and put him behind bars. He becomes just as obsessed as Gilkey in his quest. There's a bit of madness on both sides of the issue.

The descriptions of the books and the individuals love of them is contagious. I found myself wishing I could wander through a rare bookstore as I was reading. It is shocking how much some of the books cost and how silly some of the semantics of collecting are.

In the end I think I love books too much to ever collect first editions and rare books. The collectors said over and over again how you should never read those books because they're too valuable to touch and read, which seems so sad to me. Books are meant to be read and thumbed through. Some of my favorites have coffee stains and dog-eared corners. It would be torture to own a book by a brilliant author and never crack it's pages to delve into the story.

All-in-all a wonderful read about obsession and its dangerous effects. It's made even sweeter because it deals exclusively with the world of books.

Wordless Wednesday: Venice

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The canals of Venice

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Making of a Book Cover

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Here's a link to a fascinating video about a book cover being designed. We always say don't judge a book by its cover, but how quickly we make snap judgments when we see one that's really bad or really good. I know it's mostly a matter of opinion, but still it was pretty awesome to see a quick behind the scenes look at how one was made.

Book Reviews: Great House

Monday, October 4, 2010

Great House
by Nicole Krauss

Krauss' latest book is split into four separate points-of-view and each of these has two sections in which to tell their story.

First there is All Rise, where a lonely author tells the story of a huge desk she inherited from a Chilean poet. She's spent her whole life choosing a life of work over human connections and now she feels lost.

True Kindness delves into the delicate relationship between estranged parents and their kids. A father, newly widowed, can't understand his introverted, sensitive son and struggles to come to terms with their complicated past.

In Swimming Holes, we read of a husband who loves his wife, even though she keeps him at arm's length. He's an outsider who understands little of his wife's past and because of that we discover things with about her along with him.

The final section, Lies Told By Children introduces us to Isabel, who tells us of her lover Yoav and his sister Leah who live a strange, secluded life under the thumb of their controlling father.

All of the stories are loosely connected by a mammoth desk with many drawers and a past as complicated as its many owners'.

I didn't feel as investing in these character as I did with The History of Love and I don't think the story is as well-constructed. But in the end it didn't really matter. I loved it, because I love her writing. She manages to convey a mood or mental state in such a deeply poetic way that's intoxicating.

I can sink into Krauss' writing like a warm bath, it's all-encompassing. When I'm reading something by her I sometimes forget the plot for a minute and get carried away by the magic of her words. Almost every line makes me want to reach for a highlighter. I love dipping into each of the characters' lives and seeing the world through their eyes and I know I'm going to continue reading everything she writes.

"Our kiss was anticlimactic. It wasn't that the kiss was bad, but it was just a note of punctuation in our long conversation."

"Sometimes politeness us all that stands between oneself and madness."

Friday Favorites: The Princess Bride

Friday, October 1, 2010

A princess falls in love, but the man she loves is kidnapped by a pirate. So she is forced to marry a prince, but before she can she is also kidnapped. Along the way she meets a friendly giant, a Spaniard seeking revenge and a few R.O.U.S creatures (rodents of unusual size). Sound familiar?

The book is a tongue-in-cheek fairy tale that was turned into one of the best movies ever. It's part romance, part adventure, part satire and pure brilliance. If you've seen the movie and love it, then I would absolutely recommend the book. Unlike most film adaptations, that one remained almost identical to the book.

I love this book not because it's written perfectly or has a groundbreaking story, but because it makes me laugh so hard I cry. It defies all regular happily ever after rules and chooses humor instead. The Princess Bride paved the way for Neil Gaiman's Stardust, another hilarious fairy tale. It's filled with some of the best one-liners ever. Even elements that I was sure were changed in the movie originated in the text, like the priest's odd mispronunciation of the word marriage as "Mawidge." It's all in the book.

So if you haven't read it you're missing out.