Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Falling for Me by Anna David

Published:  2011 by HarperCollins
Source:  Received from the publisher for review

  Once again, I am drawn to a project memoir that I was fully expecting to dislike, but am pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed.
   Anna David, a successful writer, has been unlucky in love one too many times and -- like many of us bibliophiles -- heads to the bookstore to search for that one perfect book that will cure everything that ails her seemingly bleak situation.  Her search appears to come up empty until she sees a pink cover on the shelf -- a copy of Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown.  The first line "I married for the first time at 37.  I got the man I wanted."  intrigues David and she purchases the book, but with the realization that is not likely to be a miracle worker:
I'm not the sort of person who transitions from a state of hopeless despair to one of zany optimism just because of a book - let alone some guide to living as a single girl in the 60's - so part of me wonders if I'm in a delusional state where I only think I feel better.  But I also know that I'm not really in a position to care.  This is the first time I've felt something other than miserable since my birthday, and these days, I'll take whatever I can get.

  And here is where I expected to start disliking the book.   I had preconceived notions of what a book written in the early 1960s would say about finding and keeping a relationship, and I didn't want to read about a woman in the present day changing herself just so that she could meet Mr. Right.  With some women, that may have been exactly what happened, but with David, what she learns about herself is much more than just how to get a guy.  For example, after some less than successful dates arranged through an online dating service, she realizes that her comfort zone is too small, she dusts off the Rollerblades that have been sitting in the closet and heads to the park to reacquaint herself with the activity; before she realizes, she is a fair distance away and is thrilled with herself and of the experience:
This place I've discovered because I'd forced myself to do something I'd long wanted to do, in other words, reminds me of some of the happiest times of my life.
 This experience resonated so strongly with me.  I've had the same types of experiences with things I've wanted to do but were afraid of trying because I thought it would be too hard; when I "just did it", the results were nothing but positive, even if there were some bumps along the way.  And in this sentence she sums this up beautifully:  "I can be whoever I want to be, provided I'm willing to not give up even when it's difficult." 

  In addition to expanding her comfort zone, David also picks up more domestic pointers from S&SG (as she refers to the book throughout her own); like how to cook a proper meal, how to decorate your home/apartment, how to "dress for success".  Ostensibly, these are improvements designed to impress a man, but to David they provide self-satisfaction; that you should be doing these things for yourself all along.

  Of course, the memoir does talk about David's adventures in dating and romance, and I found these parts to be uninteresting, even though I know they are a main point of the book.  However, I absolutely loved the overall message I took from reading it -- that anything you do should be done with you in mind first.

  Highly recommended.

  Here is a podcast interview with the author, Anna David (also available on iTunes)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hamlet's Blackberry

Published:  2011 by Harper Perennial
Source:  Received from the publisher for review

  There are days when I pine for a smartphone.  The ability to be able to check my e-mail, Facebook and Twitter accounts wherever and whenever I wanted to seems like a good thing to me.  The fact that I check them several times during the day anyways on my computer and very little happens between each check  and that I rarely have my current "dumb" phone on and yet still rarely miss calls should be a sign that maybe that new shiny gadget isn't a priority in my life. 
  Reading Hamlet's BlackBerry has reinforced this justification to stay behind that trend-following curve, at least for a while longer.  William Powers is far from a technophobe and I think that is what makes this book so interesting and useful.  Not only does he take examples from his own life on his experiences in occasional "unplugging" (disconnecting from the Internet for entire weekends, for example), he also goes back into history and profiles the contemporary "technology" of seven great thinkers from Plato to Walden to Marshall McLuhan that provide lessons for us in the current era.  I especially appreciated his thoughts on Seneca, who encourages us not to allow outside distractions to disturb one's focus on the task at hand:
I force my mind to become self-absorbed and not let outside things distract it.  There can be absolute bedlam without so long as there is no commotion within.
For me, that means ignoring the e-mail and social media when I am in the midst of any work or personal project; and to give proper attention to the book I am reading now rather than think of the (many, many) other books sitting on my shelf that I want to read.  Right now that is still easier said than done -- old habits die hard -- but I am aware of these tendencies in myself and when I have made the effort to focus on the task at hand it is not as difficult to complete. 

Ultimately, technology is a great tool but should be used in conjunction with the other ones that civilization has given us over the centuries.

Highly recommended.

Readathon in December!

If you dislike crowds as much as I do, you will be avoiding major shopping districts on Saturdays from now until Christmas.  But what are you going to do with all of that spare time?  Housework?  (Ummm, no)  Watching TV?  (Is anything decent ever on TV Saturdays?)  Nap?  (Tempting....)

How about reading (Yayyyyyyyyy!)

Amanda of the extremely witty blog Dead White Guys and Brittney of The Souls of Thought are co-hosting a readathon (official name:  Belated Readathon For Those Who Forgot About the Last One or Were Out of Town or Slept Through it or Whatever) on Saturday, December 3rd, beginning at 7:00 am, and running through Sunday, December 4th at 7:00 am.  It's a fairly casual thing; you aren't obligated to participate in all 24 hours but if you have a blog they encourage periodic updates to make sure "you aren't buried under your TBR pile".  (hey, it could happen).

So I will be participating, though I can't see myself participating for all 24 hours (I do need beauty sleep periodically).  That said, I am going to challenge myself to read as much as I can with the aim of helping others during this holiday season; for every hour I read, I pledge to donate $5 to Sit Stay Read, a Chicago charity that encourages at-risk children to read to dogs, in turn increasing their confidence and love of reading. 

My reading list?  I haven't exactly figured that out yet, but I think I'm going to go with the lighter, fluffier books on my TBR pile and hopefully clear some of them off the shelf.   I'll probably pick out five books, but even though I am a fast reader I only expect to complete two. 

If you have nothing else to do on Saturday, why not join us (sign up here)?  Or if you do have a life have other plans, why not check in with us once or twice to cheer us on?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wishlist Challenge 2012

  As you all know, I have a lot (A LOT) of books sitting on my to-read shelf, waiting patiently for their chance to be selected.  However, there are almost as many books waiting just as patiently on my to-read list, hoping for that opportunity to regain that attention that put them on the list in the first place. 

  I'm sure anyone who is an avid reader has the same "problem", and Leeswammes' Blog is here to help!  Judith has created a Wishlist Challenge, which challenges you to read 12 books that you would like to read but don't already have on your shelves.  The rules:

  1. The challenge runs from January 1st, 2012 to December 31st, 2012.
  2. You are to read 12 books from your current wishlist. If you don’t have a list anywhere, write down books that you are eager to read, that you don’t own yet, and choose 12 books off that list.
  3. If you can’t find a book that’s on your wishlist (your library doesn’t have it, or you don’t want/can’t buy it) then you can use another book. But: you are not allowed to include any NEWLY added books for this challenge. So, whatever your list is now, that’s it.
  4. You can overlap with other challenges, as long as you read books that were on your wishlist before January 1st, 2012.
  My wish list is on Goodreads and here are the books I've tentatively selected for this challenge:
  1. The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
  2. The Art of Losing by Rebecca Connell
  3. Galore by Michael Crummey
  4. The Art of Eating In:  How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway
  5. Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes
  6. Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen by Kate Taylor.
  7. The Jewish Husband by Lia Levi
  8. Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow
  9. February by Lisa Moore
  10. Cool Water by Dianne Warren
  11. The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy
  12. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
  I'm holding out for the glory and honor that is promised to those of us who completes the challenge!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spoiler Alert! (but not that kind)

  So..... I may have mentioned once or twice about my collection of nieces and nephew (soon to be nephews in another week!).  Well, my twin nieces -- Abigail and Marlowe -- will be turning two in a couple of weeks and so Auntie Sue has been surfing the internet in search of some interesting and fun gifts.
  Look at what I found at Bas Bleu and Cafe Press:

  They absolutely love "reading" the board books they already have, and it's never too early to start them on the classics, right?

  There may be a few other gifts heading their way too..... I am a spoiler after all.....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2012 TBR Pile Challenge

  Thank goodness for Adam at Roof Beam Reader.  Though I didn't complete his 2011 TBR Pile Challenge I did manage to blow the dust off of a few books; and was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed a lot of them.  So I'm checking in again for the 2012 Challenge and hope to get all of my selections completed.

  The rules are the same as last year:
  1. Read twelve books that have been on your to-read pile for at least a year (you may include two alternate titles).
  2. You must write a review/response for each one you read.
  3. You must link your master list to the sign-up post .
  Here are my books for this challenge, a mix of fiction and non-fiction:
  1. Annexed by Sharon Dogar
  2. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
  3. Mrs. Somebody Somebody by Tracy Winn
  4. Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold
  5. The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris
  6. Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber
  7. Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt
  8. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton
  9. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
  10. The Dead Beat:  Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries by Marilyn Johnson
  11. Ghost Soldiers:  The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission by Hampton Sides
  12. Nine Lives:  In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple
  My alternate titles are:
  1. Triangle by Katharine Weber
  2. The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton
  Any thoughts on these books?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Recent DNF's

  Here are three books that I've not been able to finish in the last week:

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.  I've actually read it before, several years ago, but aside from disliking the ending I don't remember much about the book at all.  When my Classics book group selected it for November's discussion I picked it up again.  However I only got about 100-150 pages in before I couldn't handle it anymore.  I found Isabel to be annoying this time around and I just don't think I had the patience to deal with James' very descriptive (and to me, sometimes rambling) writing style.

The Bomber by Liza Marklund.  Judith at leeswammes really enjoyed this book; and since she and I have similar tastes, and the book sounded interesting, I thought I'd give it a try.  The main event happens right away, but I found that it almost takes a back seat to the the media covering the story, and of the primary character's struggle to maintain the work-life balance.  I got bored.  I also found the translation of the edition I read to be hard to follow sometimes. 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I admit, the premise of this novel didn't interest me that much, but I bought into the buzz/hype surrounding its release and I picked up the audio version and started listening in the car driving to and from work. The first part of it seemed interesting but the magic stuff lost me and unfortunately I let my mind wander and I lost the storyline. I'll probably go back to this one again when I'm taking an extended road trip.

If you've read any of these books, can you give me a good argument for going back to them one day?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Library Book Sale Experience

  For the last few years I have volunteered at my local library's book sale.  The sale has a permanent location, in the lower level of the branch library, and because it is shelved almost like a "real" library I find that it is one of the more organized sales I've attended.

  My duties vary as needed, from calculating the customers' purchases to tidying up the shelves and helping people find what they are looking for.  In both cases I love observing how people act at the sales.  You get dealer types with their little handheld devices that they use to scan the books (for what I'm not sure), teachers looking to build up their classroom libraries, and avid readers picking up a favorite author's backlist titles. 
  My inner bibliophile kicks in too, and I'm always interested in seeing what types of books people read.  I admit to being a bit of a book snob, and when I see people loading up on James Patterson books or those of similar type robo-authors, I do judge them a little bit (in my mind only!), but when someone comes to the checkout with some books that interest me, I immediately want to talk to them and discover why they've picked these books (I've also been known to hand-sell books at the sale). 

  I'm not involved with the year-round planning that goes into the thrice-yearly sales, but I'm sure it is no small undertaking.  The few hours that I put in can be tiring, especially when I'm reshelving books, but I really do enjoy it.

  I just put in my shift at the sale yesterday, and one of the perks of volunteering (well, THE perk) is that you are given $5 credit for books.  Yeah, it's not a lot, but that amount can be stretched when you're talking used books; and besides, given that it is a charitable cause they don't even have to do that.  My shift involved tidying the shelves and re-shelving books, so I had a lot of opportunity to browse.  Here is what I picked up:

  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
   The Clumsiest People in Europe or: Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World edited by Todd Pruzan
  Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose (Zohar at Man of la Book just mentioned this one in his Veterans' Day post)
  Collected Stories by Saul Bellow
  The Twins by Tessa De Loo
  Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
  Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (this is in immaculate condition!)

Total cost to me:  Free!  (actually, it was $1.75 but one of the other volunteers hadn't used up all of her credit so she gave it to me).  Not bad for a few hours of work :-)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget

  For some reason the holiday that makes me most proud of being Canadian (even when I've been an American citizen for 3 1/2 years) is Remembrance Day.  Canada's participation in world conflicts have been relatively small, but the sacrifices made were no less significant, especially in the two World Wars.  Only until maybe 15 years ago the day was almost sacred in my hometown of Winnipeg -- virtually everything was closed and the only items you could legally buy on that day (if you could find a store that was open) was milk and bread; and even today there are place names in the city relating to the First World War.

  Even as a kid I think I grasped the solemnity of the day.  It was always a day off of school, but on November 10th there was always a school assembly with a veteran or two talking about war.  Then the Last Post was played prior to a moment of silence, which to this day still makes me weep. 

  Remembrance Day was initially established to honor the Armistice that ended World War I and pay respect to all of the victims of that conflict, and it has continued as a tribute to all who have fallen for their country. 

  One of the other constants in the Remembrance Day commemorations of my youth was the recitation of the poem In Flanders FieldsI can still recite this poem by heart, and even though I perhaps didn't fully understand it then, I read it every year and thank all of the veterans then and now who have given so much for all of us:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 7, 2011

You are Not so Smart

Published:  2011 by Gotham Books
Source:  Received from the Publisher for Review

  Here's a newsflash:  it turns out that I am not so smart.

  Upon reading David McRaney's book, I discovered a few things about myself, some of which I might not have wanted to know.  He describes 48 different psychological principles that we all experience and which give us the illusion that we are always conscious of what we are doing.  For example:
  1. Apohenia -- My niece and I share the same birthday.  Coincidence?  Sure. Meaningful?  Just to me (and hopefully her, but she's only 5 and right now birthdays are all about her as it should be)
  2. Dunbar's Number -- I have over 500 followers and followees on Twitter (@bibliosue if you don't already follow me!) but I regularly interact with less than 10% of that group. 
  3. Procrastination -- When I add foreign films and documentaries to my Netflix queue I feel so smart and cultured, but when push comes to shove I either keep moving them down the list to get something more popular or I let the DVD sit in its sleeve for a week before giving up and sending it back unwatched.
   Of course once I read about the principles they make perfect sense, but because I now know that I am not so smart it will not prevent me from experiencing them; but I will be aware of them.

   At times I found the narrative to be a bit heavy with details of the various experiments used to prove these principles, but they are necessarily included to show their effects.  Apart from that I found You are Not so Smart to be an interesting and entertaining read and a book that I think could make for interesting discussions with the right book group.

  The publisher has provided a copy of You are Not so Smart to giveaway to a lucky commenter (US and Canada only -- sorry!)  Please leave your e-mail address in your comment and on Sunday November 13, I will randomly select a winner and contact them by e-mail.

  Thank you to TLC Blog Tours for allowing me to participate, and be sure to check out the other stops on this tour:
Monday, October 17th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Tuesday, October 18th: Simply Stacie

Wednesday, October 19th: Luxury Reading

Thursday, October 20th: Girls Gone Reading

Friday, October 21st: Patricia’s Wisdom

Monday, October 24th: Overstuffed

Tuesday, October 25th: Today’s Path

Wednesday, October 26th: Unabridged Chick

Thursday, October 27th: 1330V

Tuesday, November 1st: Books, Movies, and Chinese Food

Wednesday, November 2nd: He Geek/She Geek

Thursday, November 3rd: Acting Balanced

Monday, November 7th: Bibliosue

Wednesday, November 9th:

Thursday, November 10th: A Bookish Affair

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Bookworm Santa Wishlist

Well, Halloween is over, and here in the US Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, but the stores are already full of Christmas merchandise.  I admit, I have been listening to a little bit of Christmas music (I have a little bit of an obsession with Michael Buble and his Christmas CD is just awesome!) but I usually don't get into the true spirit until the first snowfall.

But .... in browsing my google reader this morning I saw Judith @ leeswammes post about some Secret Santa exchanges going on in the blogosphere so even though it's not yet beginning to look a lot like Christmas, I'm getting started on the season.

Despite my disappointing experience with a Secret Santa exchange last year,  I am going to participate in the My Bookworm Santa exchange hosted at The Magic Attic.  And here is my wish list for Secret Santa:
  1. Winter:  Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik
  2. The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
  3. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy
  4. You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik
  5. The Jewish Husband by Lia Levi
It's going to be exciting to wait for the mailman and see what treasures await!

Friday, November 4, 2011

2012 Back to the Classics Challenge

  I was not successful in completing the 2011 Back to the Classics Challenge, but I am ready to take on the 2012 Challenge, once again hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much.  I was new to the whole challenge thing this year, and I think I was too ambitious, but this year I am going to be SMARTER (ha). 

  Here is the list of categories and the books I tentatively plan to read:

 Any 19th Century Classic:   Moby Dick

Any 20th Century Classic:  1984

Reread a classic of your choice:  Pride and Prejudice

A Classic Play:  Macbeth

Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction:  Frankenstein

Classic Romance:  Persuasion

Read a Classic that has been translated from its original language to your language:  Doctor Zhivago

Classic Award Winner - To clarify, the book should be a classic which has won any established literary award:  The Diviners (it won Canada's Governor General's Award in 1974 -- does that make it a classic?)

Read a Classic set in a Country that you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime:  Heart of Darkness
Several of these books are on the schedule for my library's classics reading group in 2012, so that will make completing the challenge a little bit easier!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday -- Books Evoking Strong Emotions

The meme Top Ten Tuesday is hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish

  I haven't participated in this meme in a while but this week's topic -- Ten Books that caused a strong emotional reaction -- got me thinking, so here is my list, in no particular order:

  1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  There were several times in the book where I felt like I was punched in the gut. 
  2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.  I closed the book, thought for a minute, and just sobbed.
  3. The Department of Lost & Found by Allison Winn Scotch.  I read this not long after my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and of course the story wasn't exactly the same but many parts of it hit home for me (ps Dad's been in remission for 3 years!  Woot!)
  4. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  I find it hard to say I hated a book, but this one comes really close.  There came a point where I wanted to throw it against the wall because to me it got too unbelievable.
  5. I'll Mature When I'm Dead by Dave Barry.  His essay about getting a colonoscopy is hysterical, especially if you have gone through one yourself.  I laughed so hard I cried, both reading it the first time and reading it to my husband.  (The vasectomy piece is also very funny).
  6. Room by Emma Donoghue.  Who wouldn't have an emotional reaction to what Jack and his "ma" had to endure, both in and out of the room?
  7. How to Be A Canadian by Will & Ian Ferguson.  A very funny book about all of those quirky things that make Canadians (even expats like me) the way they are.
  8. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  Both of these books made me mad at the injustices Black Americans suffered in the not-so-recent past. 
  9. The Ominvore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.  These books, in different ways, changed the way I think about food and put me on the road to becoming a vegetarian.

November's Reading List

  Well after a fairly slow start to October I did manage to finish the month with a better sense of accomplishment.  I still don't think I read as many books as I normally do in a month, but I felt I got my reading "mojo" back.  Let's hope it continues through November, where the cooler weather makes curling up with a book the ideal form of relaxation.

  What will I be reading in November?

  For Reading Groups:
 For Review:
Readers' Poll:

I'm starting to look out for challenges for 2012 -- if you see any that sound interesting please let me know!

What will you be reading in November?