Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Walking Israel: A Personal Search for the Soul of a Nation

Published:  2010 by Thomas Dunne Books
Source:  Borrowed from the library

  I love reading travel narratives, because I until I win the lottery (ha!) this is the only way I can experience most of the places I want to visit (also, I'm a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to certain places, but I digress). 
  Martin Fletcher decided to take two weeks to walk down Israel's Mediterranean coastline (110 miles), from the border with Lebanon to the Gaza Strip. Fletcher is a foreign correspondent for NBC News based in Israel, so he is not a traditional tourist in this country; but he wanted to take the time to see this part of the country at a leisurely pace.  Throughout his journey, he manages to uncover some interesting stories about Israel and Israelis - Arab and Jew.
  The politics of the region cannot be avoided in what he writes - Fletcher says "Here, history is not merely something you read about; it's ever present." - but it is not the main focus.  Even though these stories aren't likely ones that could be from anywhere else in the world, for me they were fascinating even without the backdrop against which they are told, and they provided perspectives on life in Israel that we never see on the news.  For example:
  • An Arab Israeli whose family's home was taken in the 1948 War of Independence converts to Judaism and enlists in the Israeli army, rising to the rank of colonel and who bears no grudge toward the man who currently occupies his family's land.
  • The Holocaust was considered a taboo subject in Israel until testimony in Adolf Eichmann's trial in 1961. ("The trial was the therapy that survivors had been denied.")
  • The daughter of a Holocaust survivor who lost her family to a terrorist attack in their home and yet does not hate ("... from the beginning I decided that what happened to me won't make me anti-Arab or racist.  I wasn't one before.  We must relate to people through what and who they are, not through race.")
  Perhaps it takes a journalist to write this kind of balanced story about a region that is so divided.  But as a traveller, Martin Fletcher provides us with portraits of people - people who go about their everyday lives just like you and me, but under very different circumstances.  Israel is on my list of scaredy-cat places, but after reading this book, it is a country I'd really love to visit one day.

Highly recommended!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ten Favorite Books of 2010

 Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's question is to list your top 10 favorite books of 2010.

  I read a lot of good books this year, so I had to really think about my favorites.  But here they are, in no particular order:
  1. Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay
  2. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  3. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
  4. Room by Emma Donoghue
  5. A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse
  Have you read any of these books?  What were your thoughts on them?  What were your favorites of 2010?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished the following books:
  Books in progress:
  I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas.  Mine was very quiet; although I love celebrating the holiday with my nieces and nephew every few years it's nice to be able to stay home and just relax.  This week at work I'll be busy co-ordinating our annual physical inventory, so things are going to be a bit crazy in my world.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Secret Santa Meets the Grinch


 I wasn't sure if I was going to write a post about this, but I thought it might turn my lemon into someone else's lemonade so here goes.  (and I know I'm going to sound petty and selfish -- I do apologize)

  I signed up for a Secret Santa gift exchange on The Neverending Shelf's blog.  I received the name of another blogger with a list of books they had on their wish list and - though the books weren't familiar to me at all - I searched around to find a few on the list and had them sent.  Not a huge amount of time spent in the process, but enough (I felt) to make sure that I was choosing something this person would like.

  So a few days ago, my Secret Santa package arrived in the mail, and I was very excited to open it and see what treasures awaited (don't we all turn back into children at Christmas?).  Alas, my husband had a good laugh at my face when I had my first look, because the books weren't what I was expecting at all:

I certainly appreciate the effort that my Secret Santa made to package and send these books to me, and I don't remember exactly what I put on my wish list; but these don't even come close to anything that I would have chosen.  I did page through each of them to get a feel for the stories and I know that I am not going to ever read any of them.

I know -- Bah Humbug indeed.  And I feel rotten because of it.  But I do want to see these books go to someone who are genuinely interested in reading them, so if you would like any of these books please comment below and I will gladly send them to you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Crossing the Heart of Africa by Julian Smith

  Men (and women too, I suppose) will sometimes do strange things for love - serenade under the beloved's window, rent a highway billboard to publicly declare one's affection - but none I think have been so extreme as Ewart Grogan and Julian Smith.  Smith's travel narrative/memoir Crossing the Heart of Africa details the lengths he and Grogan went to prove themselves to the ones they loved.
   Ewart Grogan met Gertrude Watt, the sister of a school friend, and they instantly fell in love and wanted to be married.  Her stepfather, however disapproved of Grogan as a suitable (i.e. not wealthy) match for Gertrude and was reluctant to give his blessing until Grogan made an interesting proposal:  If he were to make the first crossing of Africa from south to north, then would he be deemed worthy of Gertrude's hand?  The stepfather accepted the proposal, and Grogan set off.
   Julian Smith was intrigued by Grogan's adventure and, three months before his wedding day, embarks on re-tracing Grogan's route.  His book follows his odyssey through Africa, while also describing Grogan's.  And while Grogan was trying to prove his love for Gertrude, I think Smith was also trying to prove something -- that he was ready to be married and partner with someone for life.
   Each man's journey was of course different, given that they were 100 years apart.  Grogan had an entourage of men carrying his gear, preparing his meals, Smith travelled alone.  Grogan's journey was almost entirely on foot, while Smith used planes, buses, automobiles, and motorcycles to get around.  There was a purpose to Grogan's expedition (outside of winning Gertrude's hand) - to map his route for the British government; whereas Smith was able to travel more like a tourist and visit places along the way (granted, there were probably not may attractions to see in Grogan's day anyway).  And Grogan purposely kept out of contact with the outside world, especially Gertrude, until his journey was a success; while Smith was able to periodically check in with his fiancee by e-mail and the occasional phone call.
   There were similarities too, mostly of the inconvenient kind.  Instability in regions along the route caused problems for both men.  In Smith's case, he wanted to trace Grogan's route into Congo, despite the tremendous risk, but after seeing one too many warnings:

That's it.  No to the Congo - it's just not worth it.  Years ago I probably would have tried.  The longer I follow Grogan's trail, though, the more I can see how different our motivations are.  He came to prove himself to Gertrude's stepfather and to make his mark in the world, and was willing to risk his life to do it.
  I'm here to prove something, too, but not to Laura's father.  To myself.  Maybe to Laura, too.  What it is, I'm not exactly sure.  I do know that nothing else matters if I don't get home safe.

Spoken like someone who has his priorities straight.

  The accounts of both men's adventures are truly interesting, if at times a bit disturbing (what Grogan's team was reduced to eating .....) and provide a picture of Africa that is not always pretty (though descriptions of some of the scenery were beautiful).  But I think that this book is ultimately two love stories, and how even Africa was not big enough to destroy them. 

(book received from the publisher, Harper Perennial)

Other reviews:  Leeswammes     Sophisticated Dorkiness

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished one book:  Crossing the Heart of Africa by Julian Smith, which I will be reviewing later this week.

  Books in Progress:
  • The Best European Fiction 2010 edited by Aleksandar Hemon (I'm dipping in and out of it as I have time, some of the stories so far are really good, others just aren't my cup of tea)
  • War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  I am quite impressed with my progress so far with War & Peace.  I am on page 595 and so far am ahead of my 160 page/week pace.  Unlike other long classics I've attempted recently (Ulysses and Proust's In Search of Lost Time), this novel is easier to follow and one that I can read pretty much anywhere.  And it is very enjoyable.

  This week I also prepared my reading lists for three challenges in 2011:  What's in a Name Challenge 4, Back to the Classics Challenge, and the TBR Pile Challenge.  With only one exception, which I can pick up at the library, these books will be from my to-read shelves.  There are a few more challenges that I might join, but I need to give it some more thought.

  What are you reading this week?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The 2011 TBR Pile Challenge

  I think the book blogging challenge gods are really trying to help me deal with my overwhelming TBR shelves (and save my husband from the heart palpitations he gets everytime he sees how many books are on them).

  Adam at Roof Beam Reader has created a challenge for 2011 that seems catered exclusively to me:  a TBR Pile Challenge.  The goal of this challenge is to read at least 12 books from your to-read pile(s) that have been there for at least a year and that have a publication date prior to January 1, 2010. 
  So here's my list:
  My two alternate books are:
  This should free up some space on the shelves for some new books (but don't tell my husband!)

  What do you think of my list?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Back to the Classics Challenge 2011

  The second challenge I am committing to in 2011 is the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much (don't we all?).  This is a more challenging challenge, as it has eight categories, but again I am going to wade through the overflowing to-read shelves to find the right books:

1,  A Banned Book:  The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle Completed!

2.  A Book with a Wartime Setting (can be any war): A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous  Completed!

3.  A Pulitzer Prize (Fiction) Winner or Runner Up: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

4.  A Children's/Young Adult Classic:  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (I am ashamed to admit I have never read this)

5.  19th Century Classic:  Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

6.  20th Century Classic: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (this will be a re-read but I haven't read it in years and I have always meant to go back to it)

7.  A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (another re-read)

8.  Re-Read a book from your High School/College Classes:  The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

What do you think of my choices?

What's in a Name Challenge 4

 When I started blogging last year I noticed a lot of reading challenges in which I wanted to participate.  I started out with the best of intentions, but sadly my ambition petered out and I didn't complete any of them.  One of my problems, I think, was that I did not have a plan of action; that is, I should have selected the books ahead of time so that I had a focus. 

  The What's in a Name Challenge, hosted by Beth Fish Reads, is one of the challenges I failed at in 2010, but in 2011 I am going to attempt it again.  And because I have an absurd amount of books on my to-read shelf, I am making (almost) all of my selections for this challenge from them.

  The challenge is fairly straightforward:  between January 1 and December 31, 2011, read one book in each of the following categories:

1.A book with a number in the title: Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris  Completed!

2.A book with jewelry or a gem in the title   Suggestions please?  I have nothing (NOTHING) on my shelf that meets this requirement  Summer at Tiffany -- Completed!

3.A book with a size in the title:  The Whole Five Feet by Christopher R. Beha  Completed!

4.A book with evil in the title:  The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

5.A book with a life stage in the title:  Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden  Completed!

6.A book with travel or movement in the title: Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

So aside from the jewelry/gem title, I'm set to go! 

Have you read any of these books?  Do you have other recommendations for any of these categories?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mr.Peanut by Adam Ross

  Can someone please explain this book to me?

  This novel starts out as a simple murder mystery -- a woman is dead and her husband is the prime suspect.  But it doesn't stay that way.  In the investigation of the murder, Mr.Peanut  becomes - to me anyway - an extremely negative portrayal of marriage; not only of Alice and David Pepin (the dead woman and her husband) but also of the police investigators, including Dr. Sam Sheppard, who was accused of the brutal murder of his own wife (the genesis of the TV show and movie The Fugitive).

  I've heard many positive things about this novel and so stuck with it but it is a very negative story with no likeable characters and to me the murder mystery was not solved by the end of the book.  

  So if anyone has insights that I may have missed -- please share!

Monday, December 6, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This week I finished the following books:
 Books in progress:
 My life will sort of return back to normal this week.  We got back from Toronto yesterday and had a fabulous time at my nieces' first birthday party (and I got lots of cuddles).  My parents are heading home tomorrow and I'm (sadly) returning to work tomorrow but it will be nice to get back into the regular routine.

  What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December's Reading List

  Oh sure, I'm probably going to read something else in the month as well, but I am giving this one the bulk of my attention in December. 

  I'm also going to spend some time planning my 2011 reading year.  There are a few challenges I plan on participating in and I am going to review my stupidly huge to-read shelves for books to meet them.  As soon as I have those figured out I will post my commitments to the challenges.

  Due to work and family commitments I won't be able to attend my book groups this month but their selections for December are  Half Broke Horses and The Man Who Loved Books Too Much.  I have them both on my shelf so I hope to read them sometime.

  I have a nice quiet Christmas planned -- no travelling this year -- so I hope to curl up on the couch and read the holiday away.

  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and that 2011 brings us a lot more great books to read!