Friday, December 30, 2011

TLC Blog Tour - New

Published:  2011 by The Penguin Press
Source:  Received from Publisher for Review

  When I began reading New:  Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change, I was expecting a diatribe about how today's consumer culture gives almost every product a limited life span to encourage more and more consumption.  This topic is touched upon, but instead what I found was a very interesting account of the value and importance of novelty in civilization.

  As the author, Winifred Gallagher, describes, neophilia (desire for novelty) has had an evolutionary purpose; it has helped civilization react to events or situations which in turn has led us to the world we live in today, for better or worse.  Using the example of Homo sapiens versus Neanderthals in prehistoric times, Gallagher notes that  Homo sapiens, as strong neophiles, were able to adapt to periods of potentially disastrous change and evolve into the "human race" as we know it today, while the Neanderthals, as neophobes (novelty-resistant), preferred the comfort of their insular surroundings, didn't interact with anyone else, and as result drove themselves into extinction.

  In the present era, novelty works on a spectrum.  There are extreme neophiles - those who are extremely sensitive to and distracted by new stimuli in their environment - and extreme neophobes - those resistant to any newness at all - but most of us fall somewhere in between.   It is a survival instinct to react to novelty and change (as Gallagher explains, a swerving car on the highway is a novelty in one's average existence and is thus reacted to as such) and how we determine an event on a separate danger spectrum is likely to determine how we react to it from a novelty point of view.

  Going into my preconcieved notion of the essence of this book, Gallagher does go into the consumer side of novelty and especially how in our present day novelty is represented by the latest gadget or even the buying experience itself.   This appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, which Gallagher compares to an almost religious experience:

By the lights of the old Protestant ethic consumer meant something like "spendthrift" or squanderer.  the avid customers queuing up for Black Friday sales and the latest Apple productcts, however, resemble religious pilgrims who prove their devotion by sleeping in front of the shrine on the night before they're permitted to purchase the Holy Grail.

  Related to this is Gallagher's thought that the pursuit of new "stuff" has resulted in society - specifically, American - losing touch with the purpose of novelty.  In today's turbulent economy, with young people fearful of what the future has in store for them; and the increasing number of seniors who are typically more conservative (and more neophobic), Gallagher notes:

All of these social influences contribute to a newly fretful America that's wary of original ideas that have uncertain outcomes, much less of active problem finding.

  Aside from the descriptions of studies on the science of novelty which I found uninteresting (I am NOT a science person), I found this book to be extremely interesting and a pleasant surprise to what I had originally expected.  The concept of novelty is much much more than material, and is more important than I had ever thought.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Secret Santa Update!

Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful day with family and friends.  My husband and I are spending a quiet day at home, but later on we will Skype with my family in Winnipeg. 

Ok, I admit I couldn't wait to open my two remaining gifts from Secret Santa, but I did make it until Friday, which isn't too bad for me.  And I was thrilled with what I received (over and above the reading journal and the chocolates and the coffee):

Two books on my wish list!

Funnily enough, these are the only books I received as gifts.   I think people assume I've read everything or already have the books I'm interested in. 

Once again, thank you to my Secret Santa, Sheila at Book Journey for the wonderful wonderful gifts.  They are all perfect. 

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Favorites of 2011

  With a little more than a week left of the year, I've read 123 books in 2011.  Yes, it's a lot, but it's a bit short of my goal of 140 books.  I read an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction, books published this year and books that have been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while.  I've enjoyed most of them, loved a lot of them, and surprisingly disliked very few.

  Rather than making a list, I thought I'd highlight some of my favorites of the year:

  Favorite fiction published in 2011:  The Submission by Amy Waldman
  Favorite fiction published before 2011:  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  Favorite non-fiction published in 2011:  Man Seeks God by Eric Weiner (I just finished this and have yet to write about it, but it is a great book.)
  Favorite non-fiction published before 2011:  The Great Typo Hunt by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
  I'd also like to mention the most pleasant surprises of the year:
  These are all books that I discovered thanks to the Books on the Nightstand Readers' Retreat I attended in April (best weekend ever).  I am pretty sure I would not have selected any of these on my own and I definitely would have missed out, because these are all original novels that were a pleasure to read.   I'll be attending their retreat again in 2012(in Oxford, Mississippi) and I cannot wait to see what gems they have for me this time around.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Secret Santa Came!

I'll admit it .... after my bad experience with Secret Santa last year I was getting a bit concerned this year when as of Saturday nothing arrived at my doorstep.  But today, on returning home from running a few errands I found a package on my doorstep with the following goodies:

  And being an excited kid, I just had to open one of the gifts, which was:
It's a lovely reading journal which is different from many others I've seen and I can't wait to start filling it up.

The other two wrapped gifts are going to remain un-opened until Christmas (if I can wait that long); but I might have to open the chocolate and try the coffee out before then.....

And I know the Secret Santa "rules" say we aren't supposed to reveal ourselves until after Christmas but I must thank my Secret Santa -- Sheila at Book Journey.  I think she went above and beyond what was necessary and I know the other two gifts waiting for me are going to be perfect.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Southern Literature Challenge

  Yup, another challenge, but unlike the others I will be participating in during 2012, this for me will be a true challenge.   Because I (ahem) am sadly lacking in Southern Literature.  Three of the best books I read this year -  Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore; and The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson - would be perfect for this challenge, and they are the extent of my Southern Literature exposure.

  Hosted by The Introverted Reader, this challenge requires reading fiction or non-fiction written by an author from the South (to clarify for my international readers, that is the Southern United States) that is set mostly in the South.  I am going to aim for the "Y'all come back now, y'hear" level and read four books for this challenge.

  I don't have a reading list for this challenge yet, but I am pretty sure that I will be reading some William Faulkner during the first part of 2012, as I will be attending Booktopia 2012 in Oxford, Mississippi, in June (SO EXCITED!), which happens to be where Faulkner lived.  I know that I will likely pick up a lot of recommendations for this challenge (and for Mount TBR in general) when I am there, but I hope to have at least one or two books completed before then. 

  I'm a clean slate people -- any recommendations for me?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Half Blood Blues

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Published:  2011 by Serpent's Tail
Source:  Purchased at an independent bookstore

 Paris, 1940.  Paris has fallen to the Nazis.  Anyone who can leave the city does.  A group of jazz musicians flee back to the U.S., knowing that they have left one of their own, trumpeter Hieronymous Falk - German and black - to an unknown fate after his arrest in a cafe.

  In 1992, Sid Griffiths, the only witness to Falk's arrest, is preparing to head to Berlin with another bandmate, Chip Jones to attend the premiere of a documentary of Falk's brief and brilliant life.  Having long abandoned his jazz career, Griffiths is reluctant to go, but Chip convinces him.  And once Sid has committed to the trip, Chip reveals an ulterior motive -- Falk is alive and living in Poland.  This causes Sid's memories to come flooding back and to come to terms with what really happened all those years ago.  And so the story moves between the two periods.

   In pre-war Berlin and wartime Paris, we see Sid, Chip, Hiero and their other bandmates working hard to "make it" as jazz musicians.  While in Berlin, they meet Delilah, an intriguing, mysterious woman who pulls Sid in all directions and creates in him a jealousy of Hiero, his much younger and more talented colleague.  That said, Sid is just as protective over "the kid" as anyone else, but Sid's ultimate goal is to make that one record that will shoot them all to stardom.

  In 1992 Berlin, Chip and Sid attend the film screening,  but after Chip makes an astonishing revelation in the documentary about Hiero's disappearance, Sid storms out of the theater and is ready to head back to Baltimore, not wanting anything more to do with his so-called friend.  However, in a comedy of errors that Chip may or may not have staged, Sid once again reluctantly accompanies him, this time to Poland to seek out Hiero, and to right the wrong he committed back in Paris.

  This novel interested me on a few levels.  As I'm drawn to WWII era novels anyway, I found this one - giving the perspective of black Americans in Europe - to be rather original (at least to me).  And the language used definitely created "the scene" for me; I could hear the way the characters spoke simply by the way Esi Edugyan wrote their dialogue.

  The story?  Well, I guess it's sad -- having to live with such a burden for so long can't be good for anyone -- but the parts where Sid and Chip are travelling are pretty funny.  It's also heartwarming, but I can't explain why or that will spoil it for you.

  This novel won the 2011 Giller Prize, Canada's highest literary honor.  I haven't read any of the other books shortlisted (yet -- a few are on Mount TBR), but I love the fact that a Canadian writer can still be considered as such when writing a novel with hardly any mention of Canada (Delilah is from Montreal, and that is the only Canadian reference I could find in the book).  (Just waving my patriotic flag).

  Highly recommended.



Saturday, December 10, 2011

A-Z Book Challenge

  Another challenge for 2012!  The A to Z Book Challenge is hosted at Babies,Books and Signs and I found out about it thanks to Judith at leeswammes who seems to always know where everything is in the book blogosphere

  The premise?  Very simple -- for each letter of the alphabet, read a book with a title beginning with that letter.  There are officially two options to join in on the challenge -- select your books ahead of time, or add books as you go through the year.  As I'm using reading challenges to whittle down the books on my to-read shelves, I'm doing a hybrid of the two.  Checking Mount TBR has already got me a decent head start:

A.  The Art of Losing by Rebecca Connell
B.  Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky
C.  The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
D.  Dreams of My Russian Summers by Andrei Makine
E.  Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
F.  The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
G.  The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris
H.  Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank
I.    Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
J.    Juliet by Anne Fortier
L.   Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
M.  My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
O.  The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
P.   Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber
R.  Rondo by Kazimierz Brandys
S.  The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
T.  Triangle by Katharine Weber
U.  Unfinished Business by Lee Kravitz
X.  Annexed by Sharon Dogar  (X only has to be somewhere in the title)

Ok, a pretty good start.  I'm overlapping with a few other challenges, so I might actually get some completed in 2012!

Any suggestions for the missing letters in my list?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Virtual Advent Tour -- Why it's great to be the grandchild.

Welcome to my little corner of the 2011 Virtual Advent Tour.  If you'll permit me a digression from the usual book talk, I'd like to share with you a Christmas ritual in my family that began as a tradition, but then morphed into something unique to us and the source of a good laugh.
Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Sure the presents are an important part of it, but even when I was a kid I loved everything else that went with the holiday; decorations, Christmas cards, the truly Silent Night of Christmas Eve (in Winnipeg where I was born and raised just about everything closed by 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve and didn't re-open until the 26th - Boxing Day - or even the day after that), and of course the food.  And though sometimes I felt left out of bigger celebrations, I was lucky that I come from a small family and was able to celebrate Christmas with everyone at the same time.

  On Christmas Eve, my parents, two brothers and I would go to my maternal grandparents' house for dinner.  My mom's family is from Denmark, and the traditional dinner was roast pork, frikadeller (my Grandma's were THE BEST) and rice pudding for dessert.  The Danish tradition is to hide an almond in the pudding and whoever is lucky enough to have the almond in their serving receives a small gift (a box of chocolate or something like that).  In our family anyways it became a big game to see who could hide the almond from everyone the longest.

  The problem:  My brothers and I hated rice pudding.  Even the thought of an extra present was not going to get us to eat the stuff.

  The first few years that I can remember, we just didn't eat dessert; but then one year my Grandma made a chocolate mousse pudding with an almond instead of rice pudding so that we could play along, and that was the Christmas Eve staple for as long as Grandma hosted Christmas Eve dinner (the last one I attended at her home was six years ago and the chocolate mousse was still there, and we all still fought over the frikadeller).  It took me a few years to "win" the almond, but at that point it didn't really matter; Grandma was the best because she made us what we wanted to eat.

  Christmas Day was held at our house, with my grandparents, my paternal grandmother, and my dad's aunt joining us for dinner.  My mom also made rice pudding for dessert, but she was a purist:  if you don't like rice pudding, then no dessert for you.  So we just watched the grown-ups eat theirs and my brothers and I made our own game of guessing who was hiding the almond.

  Fast forward many years.  I live in the US now and am not able to get up to spend Christmas with my family every year, and my brothers have children of their own and must split their holiday time with the other side of their families.  But that Christmas six years ago again sticks in my mind.  I was home and dinner was as always at my parents' house.  One of my brothers, his wife, and their two kids (about 4 and 2 at the time) were with us and we had a lovely dinner as usual.  Until dessert.  There was a rice pudding for the adults in attendance and we still had to eat it if we wanted to get a prize, but my niece and nephew each got THEIR OWN bowl of CHOCOLATE PUDDING that had THEIR OWN ALMOND!  My brother and I cried foul -- this was totally not fair!  My parents just laughed it off -- grandparents' perogative, they said. 
  My Grandma passed away last year, and I've only been able to come home for Christmas once since that Christmas six years ago, so my own special treatment is but a memory.  And even though my nieces and nephew have developed a taste for rice pudding, they still get their own almond at my parents' house.  I guess that is the benefit of being the grandchild.

  Happy Holidays everyone!  May you have a grandma that makes chocolate pudding just for you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Belated Readathon -- That's All Folks

  Time for me to pack it in. 

   I guess I was overly ambitious in the amount of reading I'd get done, since I only completed one book (Domestic Violets -- so good).  That said, I did read 70 pages of one book before I abandoned it, about 100 pages of Half Blood Blues, and four or five chapters of Bleak House.  I shouldn't be down on myself, though -- I've probably read today what some people might not read in a year.

  It was more tiring than I thought it would be, partially because I didn't properly plan the snack situation (and I'm an old lady).  Something to remember for next time -- coffee can only get you so far.
  I only read for just over nine hours, but for the sake of my charitable donation I'm going to say I read for 10 and will be sending $50 to Sit Stay Read.

  Thank you so much to Amanda at Dead White Guys (Happy Birthday!) and Brittney at The Souls of Thought for hosting this Belated Readathon. 

'Nite all.

Belated Readathon Update #4

Did you miss me? 

I made a poor choice with my second book, The Disappearance at Pere Lachaise and I think that wore me down.  I got about 70 pages in and it just wasn't interesting me.  So after a quick run to the grocery store and dinner with the hub, I'm going to go back into Half Blood Blues and a few more chapters of Bleak House.

Sadly, I have to go to work in the morning, so I'll have to shut down at around midnight or so.  I plan to get at least four more hours of reading in so that my donation to Sit Stay Read can hit $50.

Off to read ....

Belated Readathon Update #3

Well, I've been at it for six hours.  That's $30 for Sit Stay Read if you are keeping track.

I finished Domestic Violets which was a great book -- funny and touching, very relatable.  I've now started The Disappearance at Pere Lachaise, which scratches my historical Paris-loving itch.

My eyes are beginning to get heavy, so I'm going to take a short break to re-charge.  But (trying to sound ominous)  I'LL BE BACK.

Belated Readathon Update #2

11:30 am here in dreary Chicagoland and I'm up to page 257 of Domestic Violets (still awesome) and completed another chapter of Bleak House (there has been a suspicious death!)

My loving non-reading hub has set me up in a comfy reading chair with a computer desk at my side so I can update on my netbook rather than sit and read in my un-comfy office chair in my very cold office.

I just had a snack of some mini cheese pizzas (Weight Watchers brand, they are good and, for pizza, "healthy") so I'm good to go for a few more hours.

Belated Readathon Update #1

Two hours in and I've read 108 pages of Domestic Violets, which is AWESOME in the fact that I'm relating perhaps a bit too much with it; and one chapter of Bleak House.

I'm off to get some more coffee and then back to the books....

The Belated Readathon Begins

7:15 am Chicagoland time and I'm off.... to read

The weather gods deserve a shout out because it is cloudy and raining and just plain nasty outside.  Perfect conditions to curl up with a few books.

I'm starting off with Domestic Violets and aim to read a chapter or two of Bleak House each hour.

If you are on twitter, follow the hashtag #readathon; and check out Amanda's posts at the host blog Dead White Guys.

Catch you later.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

European Reading Challenge 2012

  I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be make it to Europe sometime in 2012, but until then I will always have books through which I can virtually travel.  This evening I came across this new challenge, The European Reading Challenge, hosted by Rose City Reader.

  I think I can easily achieve the Five Star (Deluxe Entourage) status by reading five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.  Just going through my TBR shelves have provided my tentative selections for this challenge:
  1. Prague by Arthur Phillips (Czech Republic and Hungary)
  2. The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore (Soviet Russia)
  3. The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (Italy)
  4. All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky (France)
  5. The Twins by Tessa De Loo (Germany and The Netherlands)
  That is quite a nice little tour I've set for myself, don't you think?

What I'm Reading for the Readathon

I will be participating in my first Readathon Saturday!  Well, I'm excited about it. 

I am currently in the middle of three books:  Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan, The Table Comes First:  Family, France, and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnik, and Bleak House by Charles Dickens.  Bleak House will not be finished anytime soon, but I wonder if I should finish the other two before pursuing any other books.  Readathon veterans, what do you think?

I've had a look at my shelves and without too much thought (thinking would require the decision process to take too long) I have selected these books as my additional readathon material:

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote (my book club's Christmas party is Monday and this is what we'll be discussing)

The Disappearance at Pere Lachaise by Claude Izner

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

The Gospel According to Coco Chanel:  Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo

       The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

These aren't in any particular order so I'll let my mood dictate what to read.

Now I have to think of my snacks ......

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?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Carrots 'N' Cake

Published:  2011 by Sterling Publishing
Source:  Purchased

  For me, this book is another indication that I might be a little bit too impulsive when I am browsing the bookstores.  I picked up the book because I liked the catchy title, and in my ongoing effort to maintain a healthier lifestyle I thought I could learn a few things from it.  I may have read the jacket copy that said the author maintains a blog of the same name, but it didn't fully register.

  Hindsight now tells me that when I see a book that is based on a blog, it might be a good idea to visit said blog first to see how I like it before purchasing the book.  

  It's not that what she writes about isn't interesting; in fact, I'm very much drawn to personal stories of weight loss struggles because I can completely relate to them, and I appreciate the author's thesis of maintaining a healthy diet and exercise program while including occasional indulgences.  There was just something about her style that I didn't like; the book reads like a collection of blog posts, though I could not determine by a quick look through her blog if the content was taken directly from it.  This is where I should have put the book back on the bookstore shelf, gone home, and looked at the blog first.  And I didn't feel that I could relate to the author; she is describing her personal lifestyle but I found it very close to being preachy.

  Aside from some recipes that might be worth a try, I don't feel like I learned much by reading this book. 

  My recommendation:  Check out the Carrots 'n' Cake blog first,  If you like what you see, you'll probably enjoy the book.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thoughts on In My Time

In My Time:  A Personal and Political Memoir by Dick Cheney (with Liz Cheney)
Published:  2011 by Threshold Editions
Source:  Borrowed from the Library

  OK, I finished it.  And frankly, it's kinda boring.

  I think I expected a detailed explanation/analysis of Mr. Cheney's tenure as Vice-President of the United States,  but this time of his life took up a fairly small portion of the book.  Instead what I read was a thorough autobiography of a man who came from rather humble origins and who came to hold some very important and influential positions.

  I'll admit that I don't support Mr. Cheney's view of politics in America, and I was hoping to read about why he held such conservative views and why he made the decisions he did; however the stories of his political career felt like they came directly from his calendar and lacked insight.  Whether he agreed or disagreed on an issue was the only indication of his position and I wanted to know more.  As he also served as Secretary of Defense under the first President Bush, the narrative emphasized the military and of course the two Iraq Wars and the war in Afghanistan, and the economy and other domestic issues were almost ignored.

  I didn't hate reading this book, but it is certainly not going on my list of favorites.  

  By the way, I did borrow this book from the library and it was only the other day I noticed the labels on the book's spine:

Someone at the library must have a sense of humor!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All About bibliosue

Helen's Book Blog and Estella's Revenge are featuring this interesting getting to know you meme today so I thought - hey, I don't think anyone knows much about me!  So here for your reading pleasure are some fun facts that you've always wanted to know but were afraid to ask.
Age: 42
Bed Size: Queen
Chore that you hate:  Most of them :-)  though I really dislike cleaning toilets.
Dogs: Nope
Essential start to your day:  Sadly, coffee
Favorite colors: Gray and green
Gold or Silver: Probably silver
Height: 5'3"
Instruments you play: I used to play the flute in junior high school
Job Title: Human Resources Manager, Purchasing Manager, System Coordinator, External Fulfillment Coordinator (my business card is really big!)
Kids: None, but I have 4 nieces (10, 5, and almost two year-old twins), 1 nephew (8) and another nephew coming next month and I love them all to bits
Live: Lake in the Hills, IL  (northwest of Chicago)
Mother-in-Law's name: Ruth
Nicknames: Sue, Suz, my little nieces have just started calling me Soosoo
Overnight hospital stays: When I was six I had my adenoids removed and when I was 16 I had jaw surgery. 
Pet Peeves: People who let their kids play with the handicapped entrances into buildings.
Quote from a movie: "Nobody puts Baby in a corner"  (RIP Patrick Swayze)
Right or Left handed: I'm a lefty
Siblings: Two younger brothers
Time you wake up: Lately I've been making an effort to get up at 4:50 am during the week to exercise before work; most days I've been able to do it!
Underwear: Ummm, yes?
Vegetable you hate: I'm not a fan of asparagus
What makes you run late: My husband
X-Rays you've had: Dental x-rays, chest x-ray for the process of immigrating to the US, a few MRIs too
Yummy food that you make: I think I make a mean meatloaf
Zoo animal: I love polar bears 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Should I Read in November?

  It's time once again for you to help me decide what books I should take off of my overwhelming to-read shelves and read right away.

  Last month I was so pleased with your fiction choice, Cutting for Stone, that I can't wait to find out what fiction you will pick for me to read in November.  The options are three new releases that I've heard good things about and which are sitting patiently on my shelf:

  1. On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
  2. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  3. The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
  I still have not started October's non-fiction pick, Carrots 'n' Cake, but I still have a week left in the month and it's not a long book. Here are the non-fiction options for Novembe
  1. In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
  2. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
  3. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
  Voting will be open until Sunday, October 30.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop Winner

Congratulations to Ceri!  She has won my giveaway for the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop.  She has been contacted by e-mail and her selected book -- Quarantine by Rahul Mehta (my review here) -- will be on its way shortly

Thank you everyone for visiting and entering the giveaway -- I'm sorry I couldn't send all of you books :-).
I hope you continue to follow my posts and I look forward to reading your comments.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Published:   2010 by Vintage
Source:  Purchased

  Readers who selected this for the October "What Should I Read Next" poll:  THANK YOU.  

  I initially picked up Cutting for Stone last year, but got about 120 pages in and decided that it just wasn't the book for me at the time (read my post about that here).  So it went back on to Mount TBR, patiently waiting for the right moment.  I guess my mind must have been ready for it when I added it to the poll, because this time I didn't want to stop reading it and a few times found myself staying up past my bedtime to read just a little bit more.

  The novel begins with the surprising and traumatic birth of twins, Marian and Shiva Stone, at a hospital near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where their mother - a nun - worked closely with their father - the surgeon at the  facility.  Since it happens early in the book I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that upon their arrival they are abandoned by both of their parents in different ways, and are left to be raised by the remaining staff of the hospital compound, primarily doctors Hema and Ghosh.

  Told from Marian's perspective, the novel is the story of the twins' upbringing in Ethiopia, amongst the morally questionable officials and the beautifully described landscape (Verghese's descriptions of Ethiopia are so much in contrast to the only images I've seen of the country - depicting desolation and misery).  As twins, Marian and Shiva are very much in sync with each other, but they also have their own personalities and interests; as with any other sibling relationship, this creates some conflicts, especially in the area of women; specifically, Genet, the daughter of one of their household's servants who has grown up together with the boys.

  After some political turmoil in the country, the adult Marian - now a medical school graduate -  is forced to flee Ethiopia and finds his way to New York, where he takes on internship/residency at a hospital that closely resembles the hospital he called home in Ethiopia.  It is here that his past catches up to his present, and where his future is also at stake. 

  I won't say any more, because you just have to read the book.  It's not a short book -- over 600 pages -- but well worth the time and effort.  And the ending -- well, when you've finished it for yourself I'd love to talk about it; suffice to say that I had not expected what happened and was emotionally affected.

  Highly highly recommended.