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 ......