Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Stew of Book News, from Accessories to Movies

Below are some wonderful gleanings from Shelf Awareness, the booksellers and librarians listserve:

Best literary birthday letter ever
In 1889, Mark Twain wrote a congratulatory message to Walt Whitman on
the occasion of the poet's 70th birthday. Letters of Note presented this
eloquent missive, which was "not just a birthday wish, but a stunning
4-page love letter to human endeavor, as seen during Whitman's

This really is an awesome letter, though it is hard to read Twains handwriting.

"What do you get for the book nerd who has everything--or at least all
of the paperbacks that their apartment can hold?" asked Flavorwire
before helpfully offering a few irresistible suggestions in a post
headlined "Design Porn: Accessories for Bookworms

Really cool typewriter necklace and the ring made out of a book is gorgeous!

Book Review: The Year We Left Home
A war at the beginning (Vietnam) and one at the end (Iraq) frames an
American family's path through 30 years of life in America, from 1973 to
2003. It is a portrait of the Erickson family of Grenada, Iowa, in
alternating viewpoints of family members and their cousin, Chip, a
damaged vet of the Vietnam War.

The story opens with Anita's wedding to Jeff. She is the eldest of four
children; the others are Ryan, Blake and Victoria. Through vignettes
that capture moments of their lives both important and ordinary,
Thompson (author of the story collection Do Not Deny Me) paints a
picture--who they are, what they want and what they will eventually
settle for. The constant thread throughout all their stories is that
these are basically good-hearted individuals, often saddled with more
than they are equipped to handle. Anita's husband is a banker,
responsible for foreclosing on loans to farmers Anita has known all her
life. At one of the farm auctions, Anita cleans out their bank accounts
and gives the money to now-homeless relatives. Ryan does Chip a great
kindness when Chip is past 50 and on his uppers. Ryan buys the farmhouse
that once belonged to Uncle Norm and Aunt Martha, now long gone, but
prototypical examples of that exemplary American farm couple: thrifty,
hardworking, honest, church-going and long-suffering. He worked every
day while she canned, cooked and cleaned. Blake says of them: "They
didn't think in terms of happy."

Each of the Erickson children has thought in those terms, however, and
mostly have come up short in the happiness department. Each of them has
endured a difficult situation, hoping things would change. Anita has
become the smiling Realtor of the Year displayed on the back of the
grocery cart to compensate for Jeff, who turned out to be a chronic
alcoholic and is now barely hanging on to sobriety. Ryan says of his
marriage to Ellen: "At some point in their life together he had assumed
the burden of making her happy. Her most familiar mood, what he thought
of as her default position, was one of exasperated suffering." Blake
married "beneath him" and his mother and Anita never let him forget it.
Torrie made a bad decision that altered her life forever.

This all sounds grim, but it isn't. In Thompson's engaging style, each
characters has a life filled with much humor, insight, reconciliation
and understanding. Ryan tried to escape Iowa to a life in academe, only
to find that he was ill-suited for it. His consolation prize was being
at the beginning of the computer revolution and making a ton of money.
Anita never wanted to leave familiar surroundings--and didn't want
anyone else to, either. Chip is the wild card here. He bangs around the
country and Mexico, a real rolling stone, returning to Iowa with his
lungs and liver shot, grateful to Ryan and ready to settle down. At
story's end, the next generation is starting to leave Iowa. Who knows
what their outcome will be? Jean Thompson pulls the reader into this
novel and keeps us hoping for the best for her characters, as she
chronicles events and shows us their interior lives.--Valerie Ryan

I could have written the above book about my own family, growing up in Iowa...but you have to be from the tall corn state to know how true the line is about Iowa being a good place to be "from."

Atlas Shrugged: Part I, the first in a series of films based on the book
by Ayn Rand, opens April 15. Taylor Schilling stars as Dagny Taggart, a
railroad executive trying to fix a country plagued by social and
economic decay. Directed by Paul Johansson.

I was totally into the works of Ayn Rand when I was in high school, and I recall being moved to tears by Atlas Shrugged many times. I can't imagine how well the characters will hold up under the weight of filming this epic novel, or whether Rands philosophy will come off as being too cold and ruthless. We shall see. I have no idea who Taylor Schilling is, but I hope he's manly enough to change the world, at least for the duration of the movie.

Admitting "books can be harder to kick out than termites," Laura Jofre
chronicled her experiences with the delicate art of book purging in an
Associated Press piece
"In the name of renewal (and family peace), my husband and I repurposed
our rec room into a master bedroom and let our girls, ages 12 and 6,
have their own rooms. In the process, we had to redistribute everyone's
books. In the process, I was forced to admit it: I had too many books."

Oh my, do I ever know the pain of book purging, which I undertake about twice a year. It nearly kills me to part with books, even ones that were so-so at best. So I empathize with Ms Jofre.

This is an interesting article that claims to be able to tell something about your character as a person by what your favorite books were as a child. I can't say I really agree with that idea, but it does have an interesting kernel of understanding human nature in it.

Today I was fortunate enough to use my Barnes and Noble membership and buy 3 new books at the Bellevue Barnes and Noble: Shady Lady by Ann Aquirre, The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg (One wonders if she's any relation to Elizabeth Berg, an author whose works I've read and enjoyed), and Vampire Love, and anthology that includes a poem by the delicious Neil Gaiman. I also snapped up a copy of the new American Dr Who Insider magazine--hurrah! I can't wait to read all these treasures.

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