Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman is--by her own admission--the sort of person who learned about sex from her father's copy of Fanny Hill, whose husband buys her 19 pounds of dusty books for her birthday, and who once found herself poring over her roommate's 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only written material in the apartment that she had not read at least twice.

This witty collection of essays recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. For Fadiman, as for many passionate readers, the books she loves have become chapters in her own life story.

What a delight…I tittered, snickered and laughed out loud.  When my husband asked what was so funny I shared with him.  Not being a reader, he didn’t see the humor.  Some of my favorite parts/quotes:

“To use an electronics analogy, closing a book on a bookmark is like pressing the Stop button, whereas when you leave a book facedown, you’ve only pressed Pause.”

“George Bernard Shaw once came across one of his books in a second-hand shop, inscribed To ________ with esteem, George Bernard Shaw. He bought the book, returned it to _________, adding the line, With renewed esteem. George Bernard Shaw.”

The whole chapter about plagiarism is hysterical. I especially enjoyed the parts about ‘anticipatory plagiarism’ (where someone plagiarizes you 100 years before you are born and the quote about Joe Biden and how he cannot NOT plagiarize.

5 Stars (Rated G)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Seventeen Second Miracle by Jason F. Wright

Seventeen seconds can change a life…forever.  This is what Rex Conner learned one summer afternoon in 1970 when his gaze is diverted for just seventeen seconds and tragedy occurred. Forty years later the waves of that day ripple through the lives of many people, including Rex’s son Cole.

Cole Conner is a patient teacher, and has long shared his father’s story with those in need. This fall, Cole has invited three struggling teenagers to learn about Rex Conner—and the Seventeen Second Miracle.

The teens will hear how Rex remade his life—seventeen seconds at a time—by performing small acts of kindness that sometimes had life-altering consequences. As Cole’s students learn, miracles can happen—with a little help from you. When this knowledge is put to a surprising test, what the students discover my transform your world as it did theirs.

From the author of “The Christmas Jars”, this book is a heart-warming, thought-provoking story not to be missed

4 stars (Rated PG – some emotional disturbing scenes that may not be appropriate for young children.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Yes, yes…I know what you are thinking?  This sounds like an odd choice of a book for me to read and you are right!  I don’t remember where I first heard/read about this book, all I remember was that the premise intrigued me immensely and the book did not disappoint.

‘The City’ is a place inhabited by the newly-dead, those people who are still remembered by those living on the earth.  When all those who remember you pass on, you are sent to another place.  The City expands and gets smaller as needed. We are introduced to multiple characters in this city and watch them as they deal with their new state.

Meanwhile, Laura Byrd, is stranded at the South Pole and finds herself travelling through the frozen wasteland by herself. 

The book alternates between the two stories. I loved it!  I could not put it down. I read it within 24 hours and that includes sleeping and working!

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for occasional F-Bombs and profaning of Deity.)

Saul and Patsy by Charles Baxter

Five Oaks, Michigan is not exactly where Saul and Patsy meant to end up. Both from the East Coast, they met in college, fell in love, and settled down to married life in the Midwest. Saul is Jewish and a compulsively inventive worrier; Patsy is gentile and cheerfully pragmatic. On Saul’s initiative (and to his continual dismay) they have moved to this small town–a place so devoid of irony as to be virtually “a museum of earlier American feelings”–where he has taken a job teaching high school.

Soon this brainy and guiltily happy couple will find children have become a part of their lives, first their own baby daughter and then an unloved, unlovable boy named Gordy Himmelman. It is Gordy who will throw Saul and Patsy’s lives into disarray with an inscrutable act of violence.

There were parts of this book that were good, where other parts were just ‘meh!’.  Saul’s character was a little hard to believe, and I didn’t really like him.  I thought the plot fell apart a bit at the end. I would try another book by Charles Baxter.

I waffled between 2 and 3 stars.
3 stars (Rated PG-13 for language and sex)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coming Home Crazy by Bill Holm

Bill Holm went to China in the 1980’s to teach English/Literature at a university. The he went home and wrote essays with titles beginning with A-Z about his experiences and travels in China.  Holm covers such topics as dumpling making, black hair, bound feet, Chinglish, night soil (think about it), and banking. 

A delightful, fun, informative and sometime frightening in the details of everyday life in China.

4 stars (Rated PG – mild language)

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

“Cat's Eye” is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman--but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories.

After having read “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood, both very unusual books, I expected something along the same line for this book.  On the surface it is just a story of a young girl/woman and how the events of her childhood help determine who she would be as an adult.  It is beneath the surface that the remarkableness of this book comes to light.  Atwood is a master wordsmith.  She can evoke emotion, describe a scene, and convey a conversation like few authors I know.  This was a delight to read. I would love to discuss this work with someone.

4 stars (Rated PG13)

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Heroines by Eileen Favorite

Although a true lover of books, Anne-Marie prefers not to read to her spirited daughter, Penny, especially from the likes of Madame Bovary, Gone With the Wind and The Scarlet Letter. These novels, devoted to the lives of the Heroines that make them so irresistible, have a way of hitting too close to home -- well, to the Homestead actually, where Anne-Marie runs the quaint family-owned bed and breakfast. In this enchanting debut novel, Penny and her mother encounter great women from classic works of literature who make the Homestead their destination of choice just as the plots of their tumultuous, unforgettable stories begin to unravel. They appear at all hours of the day and in all manners of distress. A lovesick Madame Bovary languishes in their hammock after Rodolphe has abandoned her, and Scarlett O'Hara's emotions are not easily tempered by tea and eiderdowns. These visitors long for comfort, consolation, and sometimes for more attention than the adolescent Penny wants her mother to give.

Knowing that to interfere with their stories would cause mayhem in literature, Anne-Marie does her best to make each Heroine feel at home, with a roof over her head and a shoulder to cry on. But when Penny begins to feel overshadowed by her mother's indulgence of each and every Heroine, havoc ensues, and the thirteen-year-old embarks on her own memorable tale.

The premise of this story was so much fun that it was easy to overlook some of the flaws of the book (too much happening, overwrought characters, etc).  I enjoyed the interaction of the characters from classic literature with the ‘modern-day’ (1970’s) people. 

3 Stars (Rated PG-13, some mild sex and drugs)