Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Top Ten Books Written In The Past 10 Years That I Hope People Are Still Reading In 30 Years

I LOVE this Top Ten Tuesday topic, especially since I've been reading more contemporary fiction lately.

1. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

3. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

4. Elizabeth I by Margaret George

5. Harry Potter 1-7 (I do realize half of them were not written in the last ten years, but it seems trite to separate them)

6. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

7. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

8. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

I don't think I have any more to add, as I may have rather stringent prerequisites and I realize not all the books I have read and enjoyed are destined or even deserve to be classics. But if even a few of the books above are still being read in 30 years, I will have a high opinion of the reading public's taste. And I see little evidence today that I should not place my confidence in them. (Especially as I will be shaping the minds of a few! Ha!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Top Ten Blogs/Sites I Read That Aren't About Books

Tough question, Broke and Bookish! The vast majority of blogs I read at least are about books. Including websites makes this a little easier.

1. The Chicktionary

2. Feministing

3. The Washington Post

4. PostSecret

5. Baking Bites

6. TasteSpotting

7. Crepes of Wrath

8. AllRecipes

9. And Then Keir Said

Everything else I can think of is obvious or does actually relate to books...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gaithersburg Book Festival

The third annual Gaithersburg Book Festival was a large and successful book event that I intend to return to in future years.

Besides being a lovely day, the plethora of booths, authors, and panels were astounding. It was an amazing opportunity to meet local authors, publishers, and writing groups, including the Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, the Maryland Writers' Association, and Lands Atlantic Publishing.

I attended readings with authors whose books I'm very interested in reading, including Baratunde Thurston (How to Be Black) and Matthew Norman (Domestic Violets).

I received an ARC for review and two free books from the Bookcrossing booth; Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood, and a Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Macbeth!

These sorts of events bring together people from all aspects of the book world with readers and writers, and I can only hope that events like these can continue to grow and continue to be free for everyone.

Excuse me while I attend to my exponentially expanded reading list...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mean Girls in Tudor England

15. Gilt by Katherine Longshore

I received Gilt for review via LibraryThing, and was rather thrown off by the unabashedly YA cover. You shouldn't be! While this is a YA book, it's among the best in its genre, and another historical fiction novel bucking the bodice-ripping historical romance trend.

In this smart, hip criticism of modern girl culture, Katherine Longshore transports Mean Girls to Tudor England.

Readers will be seduced from the beginning with detailed descriptions of Tudor era opulence. Longshore finds her parallel to Regina in Catherine Howard, or Cat, Henry VIII's fifth wife. The teenage Cat has a bottomless appetite for clothes, jewelry, and young men. She is queen of the group of unwanted Howard nieces and cousins who live as servants-in-all-but-name to their grandmother, dowager duchess of Norfolk. In this boarding school-like setting, Cat blithely manipulates her friends and family members to suit her desires, particularly her "shadow," her "mirror," her "sister of the soul," Kitty Tylney, who hails from the even poorer side of the family. In Kitty, the audience will find its moral anchor and spark of light for the insufficiently gilded road ahead.

Longshore's dialogue and pacing are distinctly modern. Though some historical fiction purists will criticize her, her vernacular is consistent and fits with the parallel she is trying to make--in five centuries, teenage girls haven't changed. Anachronistic phrases like "Shut up," and "best friend," feel authentic in the mouths of her characters. Although she occasionally runs away with her language, Longshore's inventiveness and extensive vocabulary bring an extra dimension to her writing. She will undoubtedly be compared to Philippa Gregory (and deservedly so, this is equal to Gregory's best work in The Other Boleyn Girl), but her writing style more closely mimics that of Suzanne Collins.

Gilt is a fast and thrilling read, and demonstrates a complex understanding both of teenage girl hierarchies and palace politics. While Gilt may be read for pleasure, it may be read again for social commentary. The historical parallel drives home that while modern schoolgirls may not be in a position to have their heads chopped off by mad monarchs, selfishness and materialism hurts everyone. And furthermore, while Cat is far from sympathetic, we can see this much through Kitty's eyes: Not even Regina deserves to be hit by a bus.

Recommended especially to teenage girls, but also to fans of historical fiction and adult fans of YA books.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


14. Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Wallingham Illustrations by Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton, Sherilyn van Valkenburgh, Todd Klein

I read my first graphic novel! I tried with Maus, I tried with Watchmen, but I finished Fables. I should have remembered to start slow, as when learning a new language.

Fables is a delightful and familiarly narrative tale about fairy tale characters exiled from their homelands by a villain called the Adversary. Those who were not enslaved or massacred managed to escape their various worlds to the "mundane" world (that is, Earth), where the Adversary seems uninterested in pursuing them. Centuries after the General Amnesty, when all characters were forgiven for deeds committed before relocation, we pick up our story in New York City. The Big Bad Wolf, known as Bigby, is sheriff of Fabletown. Snow White is its deputy mayor. And Jack, of beanstalk fame, reports a terrible disturbance at the apartment of Snow White's lesser known sister, Rose Red, who's missing.

Wallingham's gritty reinterpretation of the characters is a hoot-Prince Charming is a ne'er-do-well who mooches off the women who can't resist him, Bluebeard is a wealthy businessman, and Bigby has the hots for the tough-as-nails Ms. White.

Reading Fables is like watching an episode of your favorite fairy-tale remake TV Show, except you can read it whenever you want. The illustrations are colorful, yet suited to the noir undertones of the story. The first volume at least though, is none too grim (or should I say Grimm?).

Definitely worth a whirl for a bored adult. A couple of sex scenes and R-rated language make it inappropriate for kids.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Top Ten Authors I'd Like to See on a Reality Show

For Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Authors I'd Like To See On A Reality Show OR Top Ten Authors Who Deserve Their Own TV Show

1. Vladimir Nabokov

The man once said his books were the best ever written. I'd like to see him on Hell's Kitchen or American Idol.

2. Dave Eggers

From his first book, I'd send him the route of Nabokov, but after hearing him speak, I'd give him a show about his efforts to help inner-city kids develop their literacy skills.

3. J.K. Rowling

Who doesn't want to know more about J.K. Rowling? Or she could just write a Harry Potter TV series and give cozy talks afterward. I'd watch it.

4. Mark Twain

He was a traveling show unto himself. I'd watch him on TV.

5. Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

See above. I'd also be interested in having him write a show.

6. Azar Nafisi

I heard her talk once, she is magnificent. Give her a soapbox and let her go.

7. Victoria Sweet

I want to give her a show advising people, doctors, hospitals, and the government what to do about healthcare. She could do demonstrations of medieval medicine too.

8. Ayn Rand

It might be fun just to hear her talk or put her on Survivor with Nabokov. Let them duke it out.

9. Gregory Maguire

Heard him talk, he even did a song and dance routine! He gets a show. I would watch.

10. David Rees

I basically just saw him give a show the other night on pencil sharpening. I laughed a lot. I'd syndicate that.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Books/Series I'd Read to My Children

This is NOT an official Top Ten Tuesday topic, but it is based on that format. I got the idea for this topic from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric.

Lest anyone get ideas, I'm not planning to procreate anytime soon, but getting to share books with kids is one of the few excitements I perceive in potential motherhood. Luckily for me, I'm going to get to teach a reading and writing workshop for kids this summer, and while I haven't decided everything we'll be reading yet, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is definitely on the list.

1. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Other books by E.L. Konigsburg

2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

The rest of the Time Quartet by Madeleine L'Engle

3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter 2-7 by J.K. Rowling

4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

5. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh

6. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

7. The Giver by Lois Lowry

8. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Everything else by Sharon Creech

9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery

The Emily trilogy by L.M. Montgomery

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Men and Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

11. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

12. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Phew. My kids will be some well-read little pedants. Here's hoping!

Friday, May 11, 2012

God's Hotel

13. God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet

"Excuse me, can I see your book?" says the man next to me on the train. "I have seen so many people reading that book in the past few days, and I just want to see what it's about."

"Of course," I say, handing it over, even though I'm almost done and I've been taking notes on this book for the past week.

"It may be because the author was just in town," I say, though I'm surprised anyone other than me is reading it. I received it for review, and I'm wondering if he'll notice the author's signature on the title page.

He looks at the back, which includes glowing (and richly deserved) recommendations from the likes of Oliver Sacks.

"It's about Laguna Honda Hospital, in San Francisco," I say. "It used to be the county almshouse, then it became a hospital. Then, they shut down the old building and turned it into a health care facility. That's why the author wrote the book."

"Laguna Honda! Seriously?" he reacts with disbelieving laughter.

He's heard of Laguna Honda? I wonder.

"Man! I went there for my knee! Fixed my knee up at old Laguna Honda!"

"Really? That's incredible! Maybe you know the author, she's a doctor there!"

He flips to the author bio and picture on the back flap.

"Naw. I don't recognize her. But that's so funny."

"Yeah. Wow."

"Is it any good?"

"Yeah, you should read it. I definitely recommend it. It's well-written, she tells interesting stories about her patients, and she knows all about the history of medicine. She talks about that a lot."

"It's good, like, comedic good or dramatic good?"

I have to think about this. "Dramatic, definitely more dramatic. It's serious...but there are some funny things."

"All right, well here's your book back. Sorry for hogging your book."

"No, no problem."

We go back to reading our respective tomes, his is some sort of fantasy, the Lost something or other. He gets off a few stops later, just as I'm finishing the last page.

God's Hotel is about a way of thinking, a way of treating patients like people, of treating the body like a garden, a Way exemplified in medieval medicine, in Sweet's hero, Hildegard of Bingen, an eccentric nun in medieval Germany. Even though the last almshouse in the country has been transformed into a modern facility, the spirit of Laguna Honda lives on in Dr. Sweet's book, in Laguna Honda's patients, and in the numerous, and I hope, growing, readers of her book.

"The best doctor walks with you to the pharmacy and stands with you until you drink your medicine. [The doctors, patients, and staff of Laguna Honda] taught me that the real name for the transference and the countertransference was love, and that the doctor-patient relationship was, above all, a relationship."

-Dr. Victoria Sweet

"[God's Hotel] should be required reading for anyone interested in the 'business' of health care-and especially those interested in the humanity of health care."

-Oliver Sacks

Friday, May 4, 2012

Lorna Doone

11. Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore

Lorna Doone was recommended to me at a party a few years ago, where the cookies of the same name made an appearance. However, unlike the homonymous shortbread or even the Devonshire cream with which it shares an origin, Lorna Doone the novel is dense, filling, and leaves a lingering taste.

Lorna Doone is a Devonshire novel like The Betrothed is an Italian novel, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an American novel. It's impossible to divorce from the topography of the moor, the passing of the seasons, the harvesting of grains, the bleeting of sheep, the dialect of Devonshire (or Somerset, as the case may be). Here, in the late seventeenth century, is set our Romeo and Juliet tale, if Romeo were an honest yeoman farmer and Juliet were the scion of high-born outlaws whose name inspired fear throughout the land.

Lorna Doone is this Juliet's name, and the Doones are well-known and feared in Devonshire for their entitled brand of murdering and marauding. Our narrator is our Romeo, John Ridd the yeoman farmer, and if ever there is a more endearing, well-rounded and thoroughly good man in literature, I challenge you to find him. Literary ladies tend to like their rakes, reformed and otherwise, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, Rhett Butler, and so on. John Ridd is a man after my own heart, one I could recommend with a good conscience. Though he purports to be simple, it is evident that he is anything but.

Mr. Ridd loves his Shakespeare, as well as his mother and sisters (though not above a few brotherly jabs), he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, and is scrupulously honest to a fault. There is a sort of Forrest Gump quality to him, especially as he is drawn into Monmouth's Rebellion, but one feels that John is more aware than he lets on. His reputation as a champion wrestler and enormous size help to establish a sort of "gentle giant" myth that both the reader and Lorna can see past. What also endears me to Mr. Ridd is that, depending on his character, this could so easily have been a simple tale of revenge.

As a young boy, the Doones kill John Ridd's father. When he is grown, it is expected for him to seek vengeance. But he chooses not to, not only for Lorna's sake, but because he does not know which one killed his father and does not wish to disturb the lives of his family and neighbors in the retaliative massacre he knows would result.

Lorna herself is duly lovable and beautiful as a heroine should be. There is little besides John's love and pity for her condition to recommend her, but the former alone would be enough. She certainly has more sense than Juliet, despite being only marginally older.

Lorna Doone is a novel to savor with a cup of tea (and clotted cream!) over long successive afternoons. R.D. Blackmore, through John Ridd, paints a varied picture of seventeenth century Devonshire, including encounters with interesting characters from backwoods witches to London spies and of course a particular emphasis on highwaymen. Each character has a telling back story and some get to tell tales in their own words. Part of the reason the novel is so dense is the prevalence of dialect, for though John is able to write in proper English, he uses plenty of native slang, and his servants speak entirely in brogue. Blackmore stands up well to his contemporaries Thackeray and Dickens, and his work smacks of something even more-a true faith in the goodness of human nature.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Horselord, A Wizard, A Tiger...

12. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

My first experience with Elizabeth Bear closely echoes the reviews of her books that I've read. I know Adventures in Reading is a big fan, and I figured the first book in a new series would be a good way to get introduced to her writing.

Temur is a grandson of the Great Khagan, who conquered the diverse lands of the Khaganate and consolidated his victories through intermarriage. Arising from the carnage of a battle between the armies of his uncle and brother, Temur intends to escape to the east. Instead, he becomes entangled in a quest that will lead him to claim his birthright as Khanzadeh (prince). His companions are the wizard and Once-Princess Samarkar of the Rasan Empire, the Cho-tse or tiger woman Hrahima, a mysterious exile from her own people, Brother Hsiung, a mute monk, and a horse named Bansh. His enemies are a religious cult, who intend to resurrect their dead leader, al-Rach─źd ibn Sepehr, known also as the Sorcerer-Prince or Carrion-King.

Temur’s world is harsh and pungent, and Bear particularly excels in describing its material details. Her language shines here in her descriptions of the setting (“Ragged vultures spiraled up a cherry sky”) and the cadence of the characters’ thoughts (“Samarkar would live. And she would grow to become something new”). She expects her readers to keep up with a plethora of unfamiliar terms, references, and names, flavored with the tongues of Central Asia. Her most successful creation is the horse-entwined culture of the Qersnyks, around whom she builds an equine-centric vocabulary; "humphed", "whuffed", and "snorted" are phrases used to describe men as well as mares. Though her phrases can fall prey to a disorienting synesthesia (“a red as wet as blood”), overall Bear’s imaginative lexicon plays like music to a reader’s ears.

The importance of transnational cooperation is a strong theme in a book that appears to have endless cultural variations. The choice of the Mongol culture as a model has interesting implications for the best ways to address differences between peoples. The Mongols’ solution, and thus, the Qersnyk solution, is trade and intermarriage. When she sees Temur’s dark skin, Samarkar remembers, “the plainsmen had such a reputation for intermarrying.” The pitfalls of that method for women are addressed in Samarkar’s own story, featuring an unsuccessful marriage alliance. Still, one is meant to sympathize when Temur reflects, “his people conquered for riches and knowledge, not to evangelize.” The idea that the lands can be one nation while maintaining multiple ethnicities is repeated as an ideal throughout the book. The pitting of a multicultural trade-based empire against an extremist fringe group also reminds me of current events in our reality.

All in all, I am impressed with Bear's use of language, undoubtedly the best feature of this book at least, and I respect her choice to throw readers into a world and let them roll with the foreign names and terms. It demonstrates confidence in her readers' intelligence and doesn't subscribe to the belief that entertainment reading needs to be simplistic to get people to read. While I felt like her characters were well-rounded and likable, there was nothing especially original about them and the plot is typical for a fantasy novel. This is very much a genre piece, written with higher than usual standards.