Saturday, January 28, 2012

Seattle is #2, Book Blog Convention and Mary Modern

Seattle has always been an extremely literate city, and usually places first in these rankings, but this year, the "other Washington" on the East Coast beat us out for first place. Still, being second is nothing to sneeze at!

Washington, D.C. topped the list of the most literate cities in the U.S.
for the second consecutive year, while Boston (up from #12 in 2010) and
Cincinnati (up from #11) made significant gains in the statistical
survey released annually by Central Connecticut State University
President Jack Miller, and "based on data that includes number of
bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and Internet
resources," USA Today reported. The top 10 for 2011:

1) Washington, D.C.
2) Seattle
3) Minneapolis
4) Atlanta
5) Boston
6) Pittsburgh
7) Cincinnati
8) St. Louis
9) San Francisco
10) Denver

What I wouldn't give to go to the BEA and Book Blogger convention this summer!
I could showcase this blog, which has been going strong for nearly 7 years.

Reed Exhibitions has purchased the Book Blogger Convention, which will
continue to be located with BookExpo America at the Javits Center and
integrated into the overall activity of the trade show. Co-founders
Trish Collins (Hey Lady! Watcha Readin'? and
Michelle Franz (Galleysmith launched the
first Book Blogger Convention in 2010, attracting more than 200 people
and increasing to 340 attendees in 2011.

"Trish and Michelle are devoted to their community and they have
invested a tremendous amount of their own personal time and energy into
building a major presence for their colleagues at BEA," said Steven
Rosato, BEA show manager. "We are pleased to be able to take this
responsibility over for them and to build even greater recognition for
the Book Blogger Convention by fully merging it with our BEA marketing
efforts, programs, and attendee outreach."

This year's Book Blogger Convention, scheduled for Monday, June 4, will
occur just as BEA is getting underway, rather than at the show's
conclusion, as has been the case previously. Rosato noted that the
change "will provide greater continuity for the book bloggers and will
afford them more opportunity. This way, the book bloggers can attend
their own event and then immediately participate in BEA or BlogWorld
East, which gets underway Tuesday, June 5, and which is also co-located
with BEA."

On BEA's blog The Bean,
Rosato observed that "the role of BEA is increasingly as a source of
discovery for new titles and bloggers are a critical connection for
readers of all kinds to learn about new titles."

I feel the same way about the ocean, which I love, and books, which are my passion, as Bo Caldwell, who says it quite well:

"When I was a little girl and my family would go to the beach, I wanted to somehow take it with me when we left. I'd try, by keeping the shells I'd found or a small glass jar of salt water or a handful of sand (which was extra special if it glittered with fool's gold), but whatever I chose lost its magic once we got home; no ocean, no gold. I learned early on that I couldn't contain the beach or the sea or the experience, but even now, years later and firmly in middle age, I still want to. I stare out at the blue expanse of ocean with longing, wishing I could keep it and knowing I can't. There isn't a vessel that can contain its beauty and mystery and vastness.
Which is where books come in, for they are wonderful and wondrous vessels for life and beauty and love and soulfulness, and they satisfy that childhood longing I still feel. Books let me keep what they portray for my very own: Pip and Magwitch will always be mine, as will Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and Scout and Atticus and Boo, and that lovely moment when Scout introduces her father to their neighbor in her brother's bedroom. If I am open to it, reading allows a sort of magical transference to occur: the characters and their story--their joys and sorrows and longings and loves--settle in my heart and become part of me, and I never have to say goodbye to any of it. For someone who hates goodbyes--whether to loved ones or experiences or places I love--this is gold, the real thing. It's like taking home a spice-bottleful of ocean, and still hearing it roar in my ear, miles and miles away." --Bo Caldwell, author of City of Tranquil Light and The Distant Land of My Father

Finally, I just finished a book called "Mary Modern" by Camille DeAngellis last night. It's the story of Lucy Morrigan, a young genetic researcher and her boyfriend Gray who live in a crumbling family mansion with a small group of young men who consider themselves a celibate religious order.
Lucy discovers that she can't have children, and, since she's a geneticist, decides to clone her grandmother Mary and implant her in her own womb. Lucy soon finds out that she's growing an adult, and will die if she doesn't have a c-section, so she has her friend Megan take out her grandmother, who, after a few months is already the size of a four-year-old, and place her in a simulated, or artificial womb built by her father.
Unfortunately, once Mary is decanted and is roughly an adult in her 20s, she doesn't remember anything past 1924, and still has all her old fashioned mores, habits and sensibilities, including her moral outrage at what her granddaughter has done to bring her back, when her own husband and children are all dead. Meanwhile, a horrible Christian fundamentalist minister has set up a protest on the college campus where Lucy works, purely to protest her departments genetic experiments on religious grounds.
Meanwhile, Gray appears to be able to deal with Mary much easier than Lucy can, though he's an African-American gentleman. Mary came off as a rather snooty, snobbish and ungrateful b*tch, who can't forgive her grand daughter for bringing her back and yet insists that her grand daughter go through the whole process again to bring back her husband Teddy, which means Lucy and Gray have to go grave-robbing. She's not even happy with the results, as Teddy's genes were middle-aged when he died, so his clone is 15 years older than Mary when he's 'reborn'. And Mary is never able to accustom herself to the modern world or technology and whines constantly about all that is gone and changed since the 20s. This makes her character seem somewhat pathetic and weak, when we've been lead to believe by her grand daughter that she was an adventurous and intelligent, capable woman. Lucy also seems somewhat cold and whiney, and it is no surprise that Gray begins to fall in love with Mary, who treats him with kindness and affection. Still, the ending of the book, with the betrayal by one of the young boarders and the minister doesn't really ring seems more of a hasty plot device.
This book had a lot of things to recommend it, including well-crafted prose, a strong plot and interesting characters, if not ones that you can really learn to like. But DeAngeles leaves us hanging at the end, by not telling us what happened to Mary and Teddy, and where Lucy and Megan both ended up after they abandon the mansion and destroy the artificial womb and all her notes. It's my belief that a strong novel with modern themes like cloning deserve a strong ending that wraps everything up. That's why this novel gets a C+, with the caveat that it would have rated a grade higher had the ending been satisfactory.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lucky Break by Esther Freud and Another Wish List

I think Sonya Chung and I would get along just fine, as I agree with her about the uplifting qualities of bookstores and the fact that cheap books in bad condition are a boon to poor students everywhere:

"The independent bookstores I love in New York are literary havens, the
soul-nourishing equivalent of your grandmother's Sunday-afternoon
kitchen," author Sonya Chung (Long for This World) wrote in a Tin House
piece about the role bookstores in Seattle and New York City
have played in her literary education. "What I mean is that a beloved
bookstore is more than just a smart place, it's a warm place. Over the
years, I find that I've come to frequent independent bookstores
primarily to boost my spirit; and when I walk out with a book or two
that happens to blow my mind (which is more often than not the case), I
count myself an extra-lucky girl."

Half Price Books in Seattle proved to be the "most influential on my
literary education," she recalled, noting that when she was an MFA
student, the shop became "the perfect candy man for this remedial book
fiend. They had an abundant clearance section with books in sh*ty
condition and editions with the ugliest covers. It was a students'
dumping ground that became my gold mine."

Yesterday I finished reading Esther Freud's "Lucky Break" which I picked up because it was about theater majors with big dreams, and, though the novel was set up a bit like the 80s TV series "Fame" it seemed, from the jacket and short review pieces, to have characters I could identify with, as an old theater major whose life got in the way of her dreams.
Though the story began in the London England theater world, I kept hearing the lyrics to "Dance 10, Looks 3"(or as it's commonly known, the T and A Song)from " A Chorus Line" throughout the first 75 pages, mainly because the young women in the story were so fixated on how they looked to others and to themselves. Still Nell, Charlie (a girl), Dan, Jemma and to a lesser extent Pierre, the token gay and Sita, Nell's Indian room mate were off to an interesting start at "Drama Arts" college, which was a stand in for RADA, (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts). The school was run by a variety of strange old characters and two vicious gay men who tended to keep only the young men they fancied for the third year, ruthlessly cutting the others with a patronizing and denegrating lecture at the end of year 2. The only protagonist allowed to stay is Dan, the golden boy of the story, who can do no wrong, and who is in love with Jemma, while Nell worships him from afar. Charlie, meanwhile, is something of a gorgeous mixed-race harlot who uses people and sleeps with whomever she feels will advance her career.
Nell, who actually has talent as an actress, is left to struggle along in the real world, working odd jobs and constantly auditioning, while dodging casting-couch slimebags who claim to be agents, and hoping for her big break. Dan and Jemma marry right out of school, and Jemma basically becomes a whiny cow, producing four children for Dan and then kvetching at him when he doesn't spend enough time with them, or her, though she knows what the theater business is like. Charlie seems to get her big break first, but squanders it, though she discovers a talent for Reiki healing. Dan gets a Broadway theater job in an Ibsen play and Nell gets the lead role in a blockbuster movie.
Though I loved the fact that the prose was savory and hearty, and the plot swift and sure, I wasn't terribly happy with Freud's ending, which left us in doubt as to whether the golden lad Dan was going to have an affair with his co-star and we're also left wondering if Charlie will have a career as a healer or continue in the theater. We do know that Nell is now on the fast track to fame and fortune, which only seems right, as she's been our underdog from the start, but I really wanted closure for all the main characters, though I despised stupid Jemma, who did nothing but complain and pout and cry like one of her children. I also thought Charlie was a bit too much of a narcisist and was surprised that her sluttish ways didn't catch up with her.
I'd recommend this book to those who, like myself, have a love of theater and actors, and believe, as I do, that most of the best actors and actresses are from England...there must be something in the water of the Thames. Anyway, a B is the best I can do for this novel.

Here's another Wishlist of books that I want to peruse:

MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche
The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy
Lady Almira and the Real Downton Abbey by Countess Carnarvon (whose father or grandfather discovered King Tuts tomb and died of an infected mosquito bite,which some claim was the Mummy's Curse!)
Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
A Lady Cyclists Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
Jumping the Queue and Part of the Furniture by Mary Wesley
The English Breakfast Murder by Laura Childs
And, there is a new book by the marvelous Adriana Trigiani coming out in March called "The Shoemaker's Wife" that I can hardly wait to read! I've read all of her novels and really enjoyed them, as has my mother. Come on, Spring!
Oh,and one final note to those who suggested I rent the movie "Moneyball" with Brad Pitt. What were you thinking? This was a movie for baseball fans and Brad Pitt fans, but really no one else. I found that the only character I enjoyed was the overweight kid who created the system by which Pitts character was able to rebuild his team, the Oakland A's, with 'overlooked' talent. Other than the kids explanation of the system and his discussions of why the various ballplayers were overlooked ("It's like the Island of Misfit Toys" LOL), the movie dragged like a slug on ice. How exciting can it be, after all, to watch Brad Pitt work out? I really do not need to see him sweat, as I saw him in 1994 and I didn't find him attractive then, when he hadn't aged so badly.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Some Odds and Ends

Great Quote of the Day:
'Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby. If you give her a house, she'll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart.
She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of sh**.'

Seattle's book maven and star librarian has come into some controversy for partnering with Amazon to reissue some out of print books. I think it is a tempest in a teapot, myself, but here's the skinny from Shelf Awareness:

Nancy Pearl, the former librarian and bookseller, author of the Book
Lust series, NPR book commentator and champion of reading, libraries and
independent bookstores, is launching the Book Lust Rediscoveries series with

The series of about six books a year will consist of Pearl's favorite
out-of-print books that will be available "in print editions via and as audiobooks via and, at
bookstores, wholesalers and libraries nationwide and as eBooks in the
Kindle Store," Amazon said. The company's statement had no information
on how non-Amazon outlets might be able to obtain the printed versions
of the books. The books will include introductions by Pearl, a list of
discussion questions for book groups and suggestions for similar titles.

Pearl will donate part of the proceeds from the books' sales to the
Nancy Pearl Endowment for Public Librarianship at the University of
Washington's Information School. "Helping these wonderful books find new
readers is, for me, a joy and a delight," Pearl said, adding that she
has received many requests from readers who found some of her
recommended titles--a significant number of which are
out-of-print--difficult to find.

The first two titles in the series are:

* A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller, to be published April 3.
("Joshua Bland tells the story of his life growing up in small-town Iowa
as a child prodigy to his career as a theater producer and his most
recent divorce: a life marked by a failure to love and be loved.")
* After Life by Rhian Ellis, which appears June 5. ("A charming novel
that's part psychological thriller, partly a story of mothers and
daughters, and partly something entirely original.")

The move has shocked some people in the industry. The Stranger, the
Seattle website, outlined why:
"Pearl built her fame on a career at Seattle Public Library and through
partnerships with local bookstores. Many of the local librarians and
independent booksellers who supported her can't stand, which
means that things could get a little awkward around here real soon."

And here's a charming video of what books do at night, when the library or bookstore is's a book ballet!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Two Good Books, One Unexpected Bad Book

I've recently completed three books, "Steve Jobs" (a biography) by Water Isaacson, "Howard's End is on the Landing" by Susan Hill (literary memoir) and "Blueyedboy" by Joanne Harris (general fiction).

Steve Jobs died of cancer in late October, 2011 at age 56, bringing to a close an era of great Apple Computer products and leaving a legacy of innovative products that changed the world. Jobs has fascinated me since I first learned of the company he founded in his garage with Steve Wozniak in the 1970s. Until Apple came out with the Macintosh computer in the early 1980s, computers were impenetrable tools that I thought I'd never learn to use, because I am not technically inclined, and I stink at math. In 1984, while searching for a way to get my master's thesis on paper without a gallon of white-out, I was shown into the computer lab at Lesley College, where some brave soul sat me down in front of a Macintosh, spent 15 minutes showing me how to use it, and then left me to play. I wrote my entire thesis on that Mac, and was wonder-struck at how easy it was to cut and paste paragraphs, to spell-check the document and to save it all to this little floppy disk that looked just like something from the bridge of the Enterprise on Star Trek. This was a technological revelation, that computers were accessible to the rest of us, that I shared with hundreds of thousands of people who all discovered the fun of computing thanks to techno-tyrant and geek god, Steve Jobs. I remember cutting out photos of him in magazines and marveling that such a young,handsome man also happened to be a genius at making and marketing personal computers. So despite my 80s crush, or perhaps because of it, I started the hefty Isaacson biography with some trepidation; after all, celebrity biographers these days tend to focus on the 'dark underbelly' of their subjects, leaving no stone unturned in their quest for the 'dirt' on the famous person they're writing about. However, I had read that Isaacson, an old-school journalist who's been covering tech for decades, had written a fairly grime-free version of Jobs life that wasn't too heavy on the tech talk, but still managed to create a balanced view of the man's life and many accomplishments.
For the most part, what I'd heard was true. Jobs biography is only slowed down about three times by tech jargon, and it doesn't go on for page after page with no explanation. Isaacson's prose is sturdy and clean, reading like a well-researched newspaper article in the New York Times or the Washington Post.
And though there are chapters about Jobs eccentric diets and hygene, his soap-opera-worthy relationships with women and his offspring, Isaacson never sneers or seems judgemental, rather he lays out the information in a studied fashion and lets the reader decide for themselves what to make of it all. Though its a tad long, at 598 pages, I found Steve Jobs the biography to be well worth the time and effort it took to read it. On a side note, the photos in the middle of the book are almost as revealing as the text. All in all, "Steve Jobs" is a fitting tribute to the pioneer of Apple Computers and the father of iMac computers, iPod MP3 players, popular iPhones and iPad computing devices. I would recommend this book to anyone who runs a business, loves Mac computers (as I do) and to those who are curious about the life of a wealthy tech god. A solid A!
Susan Hill's "Howards End is on the Landing" is the third book I've read in the last 6 months that is a non-fiction, personalized account of a bibliophiles goals in reading for a year, either a specific number of kind of book. ("Tolstoy and the Purple Chair" and "So Many Books, So Little Time" are the other two)
But "Howard's End" has the advantage of having been written by a British woman who has also been a writer/editor and publisher, so there's loads of charming British wit, wisdom and insider insight into the glitteratti of the book world.
I found myself chuckling and alternately tearing up at several junctures in this marvelous book, and I found myself slowing down so as to savor each well-written paragraph.
Hill's year of reading is to be guided by one rule, that she not buy any new books, but instead should either re-read or read for the first time books she already has around the house. As any bibliophile worth the title knows, there are always books tucked away in nooks and crannies that we are delighted to re-discover, often by accident. And so it is here, as Hill charms and beguiles us with tales of meeting famous literary figures, from Iris Murdock to the actor/novelist and wit Stephen Fry, and on to the Sitwells (Edith, Oswald and Sachie) and of all the wonderful fiction she's read, from Virginia Woolf to Charles Dickens. Hills lists of books read and re-read are larded with anecdotes, reviews and personal memories that engage the reader and make them feel as if they're having a lovely cup of tea by the fireplace in the library of Hills ancient home. Because she's a seasoned novelist, Hill's prose is impeccable, and her slender volume is finished all too swiftly...I found myself yearning for more. I'd recommend this book to all those book-lovers and anglophiles out there who enjoy bolstering their reading list and learning about book lust on the other side of the pond. A solid A here, too.
Unfortunately, now we come to the one bad book of the three, Blueyedboy by Joanne Harris.
Harris is one of the few authors I have on my "I'll read anything she writes" list. I've read everything she's written, and with the exception of "Gentlemen and Players," I have loved all her previous works, including the book that made her famous, "Chocolat" which was made into a movie with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche. Harris had a way of evoking time and place with sights, sounds and smells that made the reader feel as if they were there, peeking in the window of the French chocolate store, or cloistered in a nunnery. Her prose was always lush, inviting, sensual. So I had no hesitation about ordering her book "Blueyedboy" from Amazon, because, though it had only been printed in the UK originally, I assumed it would be a rich and decadent mental treat, like her other works.
I was wrong.
Alas, from page one we are treated to the emails and blog posts of the title character, "BlueyedBoy" who professes to be a serial killer who still lives with his extremely abusive mother in a depressing little town called Mawbry in England. This woman, whom one can barely call a mother, systematically beats, poisons,bludgeons and bullys her sons, until two are dead and the one remaining is a sociopath whose one overriding goal is to kill his mother in as brutal a fashion as possible. B.B., as he is often called, is also abused by his brothers, but manages to survive his horrific childhood only by dint of being afflicted with synesthesia, or the ability to ascribe colors to music, or smells to sounds.An old professor and psychologist, Dr Peacock, attempts to help BB come to terms with his "gift" and his world, and shows him the only kindness and affection he will ever know. But other than Dr Peacock, there is nothing kind, gentle or decent about any of the other characters in the book. Most are delusional liars, syncophants, users, gossip mongers or bullies. The reader shudders to think of living among these people, for whom backstabbing, snobbery and ruthless manuvering seem to be a daily occurance.
I had a strong feeling from chapter 1 on that the protagonist was, in reality, afflicted with Multiple Personality Disorder, and all the characters represented in his life and on his blog were just different facets of himself. Rather like Norman Bates acting out murders while dressed as his dead mother. Though that would have tied up a lot of loose ends and made sense of things, Harris decided to complicate things further by making BB and another character in the book both be people who have taken over a dead sibling's persona as their own. While I assume this is supposed to be a shocking twist in the plot, I found that it muddied the waters too much and made the story more confusing. I was also appalled at the ending, which really wasn't an ending at all. It was one of those ghastly things where an author just leaves you with a scene half-finished, so you're left to wonder what actually happened to the protagonist. I felt this was tremendously mean-spirited of the author, and I find that I've resolved not to buy and read any more of her books, from this moment forward. I don't know what has happened to Harris to turn her from writing fine prose to writing horrific drek, but whatever it is, she's just lost a faithful reader. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone but those who like twisted horror novels with no ending. This novel gets a D, and I'm only being generous because of Harris' past works.

Finally, I saw this on Shelf Awareness today,and because my birthday is on 12/12/12 this year (I'll be 52) I had to sign up:

Cool Idea of the Day: 12/12/12

Village Books,
Bellingham, Wash., has launched 12/12/12, a program that aims to have participants read 12 books in 12 months this year. As Lindsey McGuirk, digital marketing and
publishing manager, explained, "It's a reading goal for those of us who tend to be on the slower end of reading (like myself) and feel daunted by readers who can conquer a book a week."

Readers can register with the program, which is "as noncommittal as
possible," on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or in the store. Village
Books asks participants each month what book they've chosen for the
month, checks in in the middle of the month about the book and asks at
the end of the month how readers liked the book. "If they feel like
joining any of the discussions we're holding on Facebook, Twitter,
Goodreads or in the store, they're more than welcome to," McGuirk added.
People who join the discussions each month are entered in drawings to
win one of four $5 Village Books gift certificates.

For more information, including a downloadable PDF that people can use
to track their reading lists and accomplishments, click here