Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top Ten Books I Recently Added to My TBR List

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

So...the most anticipated ten books on my TBR list (which has been growing for years) or just the last ten I added? I'm doing a mix, but trying to include only books I added in the past, let's say, six months.

1. The Martian by Andy Weir

2. Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

3. The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

4. The Tale of the Heike (author or authors unknown)

5. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

6. The Just City by Jo Walton

7. Holy Cow by David Duchovny

8. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski

9. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

10. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Book Review: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

13. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland is Curtis Sittenfeld’s most recent and perhaps most mature novel. The Sittenfeld trademarks, a nonlinear narrative and first-person perspective in hindsight, are present, but more polished than in previous books. This novel also adds new elements to the oeuvre, including a premise that relies on magical realism. I’m not always certain what ‘magical realism’ means (except that I know it when I see it, natch), but here I’m using it to describe something that could be interpreted as either genuinely supernatural, or merely a character’s (in this case, two or more characters) delusion.

The conceit is that the protagonist Kate and her twin sister Violet are psychics. Violet revels in her ‘powers,’ and becomes a psychic medium. Kate denies her visions, struggles to live a normal life, and eventually rids herself of her powers altogether (perhaps). The room that the twins share growing up is labeled “Sisterland” with a physical sign that Violet makes. The population is two, and no one else may enter without permission. The novel hinges largely on an exploration of the relationship between the two sisters, their similarities, and their differences. But this is a bit of a wider canvas than we’ve seen from Sittenfeld before.

While the novel, like all of her others, is still focused, some might say obsessively, on the protagonist, the world widens to encompass more about both sisters, and about Kate’s husband, children, and family friends. Also, the whole city of St. Louis gets involved when Violet predicts a devastating earthquake (come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever read another novel set in St. Louis. Why is that?). Again, like all of Sittenfeld’s novels, it’s a book focused on relationships, but whereas earlier novels focus solely on dysfunctional or disconnected relationships, there are some deeper, more complete relationships here that I would not quite qualify as either.

The relationship between Kate and her husband, for example, seems more realistic and perhaps more ‘normal’ than the relationships I remember from earlier Sittenfeld novels. Don’t get me wrong: I bought into the reality of the relationships between Lee and Cross, and between Alice and Charlie. However, there’s an unsustainable, larger-than-life quality to those relationships; they happen, but they don’t represent a stable marriage between two ordinary, middle-class Americans. In this novel, the featured dysfunctional relationship, for much of the book, is between Kate and her sister, and even that is more cordial and forgiving than any relationship I could imagine Lee Fiora having.

Sisterland is a novel that admits that earthquakes happen, but not always in ways we expect. It reminds us that relationships are more flexible and more elastic than we may think, and that reality may be larger than we are willing to believe. These themes, which acknowledge the vagaries of the world, ring more adult to me than Sittenfeld’s previous books, and I look forward to the further development of her canny, nuanced writing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Top Ten Books From My Childhood/Adolescence That I Would Love to Revisit

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

I revisit my favorite books from my childhood and adolescence regularly. I read the Lord of the Rings every year for 10 years between the ages of 11-21. I can't count the number of times I've read A Wrinkle in Time, all the Harry Potter books, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books, and all the major works of L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, and Jane Austen. My Chronicles of Narnia books are all literally falling apart (except for the last book, which is in near perfect condition and I pretend doesn't exist).

So...here are some of my perhaps lesser favorites that I *probably* haven't read since childhood, but still really liked and would return to.

1. The Borrowers by Mary Norton

I will never forget when my third grade teacher read this aloud to the class. Looking back, there were definitely some spotty bits with "Old Madeira" that I never questioned then, but whoa, that was kinda adult for third grade.

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl

My dad and I both remember getting out paper and pencil to solve that math problem that Matilda's dad is teaching her older brother, and Matilda does the calculation in, like, a minute.

3. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I read this in high school for a modern fantasy class, and I remember not being really into it, but then I liked the sequels a lot, so I should probably go back.

4. Marathon Miranda by Elizabeth Winthrop

I'm sure no one else read this ever, but I was really into the story of an asthmatic girl living in New York City, mostly because I was unfamiliar with either of those experiences. Wonder if it would hold up.

5. The Watcher by James Howe

I really related to this book, even though it was kind of abstract and distant. I should probably examine why.

6. Dancing on the Edge by Han Nolan

Another book about a teenager whose life I could not relate to at all. She's raised by a grandmother who's a psychic medium, and...it's really compellingly weird, but also deep and painful in ways that are more popular in contemporary YA fiction (this was a 1997 National Book Award winner, according to my copy).

7. The Farthest Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks

I was really obsessed with this cute, quirky fairytale, and it's still one of the only books I've read featuring gargoyles as significant characters. I just didn't re-read it as much as some other books.

8. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

The cover shows signs of ample wear, though I haven't read it in several years. As far as I'm concerned, this is still the best Cinderella re-telling of all time (I still have not, and will not, see the movie).

9. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Probably the only reason I haven't re-read this in many years is that I long ago lost my copy, but still keep hoping it will turn up (I still have The Long Secret on my shelf). Harriet the Spy was an incredibly formative book for me, and Harriet's goal to "know everything" is still my dream.

10. Knight's Castle by Edward Eager

I read this before I read Ivanhoe, and while it's an utterly charming book, I'm still not sure why children between the ages of eight and thirteen were reading Ivanhoe. I know I read it more than once, but my cover looks pretty intact, so I can give it another go!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Books Spotted on the NYC Subway

I saw paperbacks in plenty, but not one Kindle. Not sure why. Both are common on the DC Metro.

Here are three whose titles I happened to catch a glimpse of:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Finds from the Strand

Took a quick jaunt to NYC during my spring break, and paid a visit to the Strand.

The selection was incredible, better than any bookstore I've ever been to, including Barnes & Noble. They had literally every book I've ever looked for. Night Watch and Dispatch from the Future are two I've been looking for quite a long time, so I snatched them up, along with some discounted Ursula K. Le Guin books (already read The Dispossessed, but don't have my own copy) and the hot debut Seraphina. The sequel was available too, but didn't want to get ahead of myself.