Saturday, October 22, 2011

Read-a-thon: We'll see how it goes

The day is finally here, Jeff and the boys are at basketball practice, but I didn't make specific Read-a-thon plans or sign up early because I didn't know if we'd have anything else going on.  But, we took yesterday off and did a day trip, so the rest of my weekend is pretty flexible, and I'm hoping to spend a good portion of the day reading.  My husband suggested I do most of my housecleaning today, then it will be out of the way and I can read even more tomorrow.  I said, "But the Read-a-thon is TODAY."  And he was all, "It's A read-a-thon, and there seems to always be one going on," and I said, "No, it's THE Read-a-thon, and it's every six months, only twice a year."  And I shook my head and told him he didn't understand.  Nothing new there, I guess.

But, I finished my print book last night, and I'm not sure if I'd want to dig into a new book, or if I should "sample" as many of my unread books as possible, to see if they grab me enough that I want to continue to keep them around the house, or if they don't, then I can weed them.  If I decide to do my housecleaning, though, I'll start an audiobook -- specifically, my third go-round with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I'm going to lead the book group discussion in November, so need to "re-read" it in time to prepare.  So if I listen while cleaning, the time will count as reading, and there's no need to plan or make any decisions, just get my mp3 player, get my cleaning supplies, and GO.  (Of course, I like the idea of reading "in print" when I'm the only one home and the house is quiet, which is NOW, through the next couple hours.)  I'll decide after I finish breakfast and get this posted.

To sum up: I'm tossing my hat in the ring, but with lowered expectations.  If I don't get much reading done, I will not be miserable about it.

I have to add, I loved this pre-Read-a-thon post from Alice at Reading Rambo, called "Why Readathons Never Actually Work for Me."  The details are different, but the overall spirit is a lot like how my Read-a-thons usually end up.  Her post is also really funny; go read it!  And then, enjoy the rest of your Read-a-thon!  :-)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My review of The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman

From the publisher’s website:

In the final weeks of the Weimar Republic, as Hitler and his National Socialist party angle to assume control of Germany, beautiful girls are seen sleepwalking through the streets. Then, a young woman of mysterious origin, with her legs bizarrely deformed, is pulled dead from the Havel River. Willi Kraus, a high ranking detective in Berlin's police force, begins a murder investigation. A decorated World War I hero and the nation's most famous detective, Willi also is a Jew. Despite his elite status in the criminal police, he is disturbed by the direction Germany is taking. Working urgently to solve the murder, Willi finds his superiors diverting him at every turn. As he moves through darkness closer to the truth, Willi begins to understand that much more than the solution to a murder is at stake. What he discovers will mean that his life, the lives of his friends and family, and Germany itself will never be the same.

(First, an admission: when I saw this book on LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers list, I was drawn to it because the cover reminded me of my copy of The Shadow of the Wind. The description intrigued me, and that’s why I requested it, but it was the cover that initially grabbed me. Do you see a small resemblance too?)

The story begins in November 1932, when the body of an unknown woman is pulled from a river, and Willi Kraus is assigned to the case. However, in chapter three, Willi receives orders to find the daughter of the king of Bulgaria, who came to Berlin with her husband a few days before and has since disappeared. Willi doesn’t investigate missing person cases – he’s a homicide detective – but President von Hindenburg wants to assure the Bulgarian ruler that Germany’s best Inspektor-Detektiv is searching for the princess. Fortunately, Willi’s junior apprentice, Gunther, is dedicated and very bright, and he’s able to continue digging for evidence in the murder case while Willi tries to find the princess.

As Willi and Gunther investigate the two crimes, they find a few similarities between them – for instance, the body was found in Spandau, and the princess was last seen alive in the same area. They also find hints that both cases might be part of a larger plot: a number of people, mostly young women, who had appeared to be sleepwalking and then went missing; evacuations of dozens of people from a state hospital, with no record of where they’d been taken; and the fact that several of the missing persons had been linked with a hypnotist called the Great Gustave. All of this takes place while the German government is in turmoil, and the Nazi Party is gaining strength. Willi begins to fear for the safety of his sons and the rest of his family, and eventually for his own life. It’s difficult to know who’s telling the truth, who can be trusted.

Paul Grossman is a great storyteller, and the pacing in The Sleepwalkers is excellent. From the very first chapter, the wheels are in motion: characters introduced and gradually revealed, crimes to be investigated, and pieces of evidence located and examined. Through all this, the tentacles of the Nazi Party stretch further and further over everything in the story. Grossman weaves the elements together in ways that make sense, and keep the reader engaged.

The Sleepwalkers is definitely a thriller, but more a psychological thriller than an action story. It’s much more than a murder mystery, and not a “typical” historical novel. I’d call it a historical thriller: some of the characters, places, and plot details are fictional, but the backdrop of the Nazi Party’s machinations and the increasing horror uncovered by Willi and his allies is, sadly, based on fact. In a note at the end of the book, Grossman indicates which parts of the story are true, but adds that most of the incidents occurred several years later than the timeline in his book.

Given the difficult subject matter and disturbing events and imagery, The Sleepwalkers isn’t suitable for everyone. That said, it’s an intelligent, entertaining, sexy, scary, and thought-provoking novel. Highly recommended.

I received a paperback copy of this book from the publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I appreciate the opportunity to review this book, and hope that LT helps it to reach a wider audience.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The haul from this year's book sale!

It's been a full week since Friends Night at the annual TSCPL book sale, and I'm only NOW able to post about it, although I took the photo and entered everything into my LibraryThing catalog last Saturday. Life is just too damn busy. Also, when I DO have some free time, I usually choose to read rather than blog ... and of course I can read in bed with a booklight before I go to sleep, and it would be much more difficult to write a blog post in that same position and situation. But, I digress.

The book sale was great, and I found a bunch of books that look really good, including a few that had caught my eye several times in the past, and I finally went ahead and bought them - such as Little Children, Say You're One of Them, and Bird by Bird. But Saturday, amazingly, I said to Jeff, "I think I might have too many books, I guess I should get rid of some of them." And then I started clearing out some books -- not too many, but a small pile or two! I was able to make room for some of my new acquisitions, but I still have maybe half of them to put away.

Even though I found good stuff, I didn't have the same euphoria at the sale this year that I've had in most prior years. Yet I was able to spend more than I'd expected to: after paying my $52.00, I literally had one dollar bill and a bunch of change in my wallet, and that was all. In my defense, I have to say that every item I got was $2.00, because I didn't even go near the mass market paperbacks which were only $1.00 each. Also, four of the books I got are for my mother-in-law. (Those aren't in the picture.) So my item total was 19 print books (some hardcover, some trade size paperbacks) and three audiobooks -- all of them only $2.00 each, and if you think of it from that perspective, it's quite amazing! No, I didn't get any books for the boys, but darn it, a few of them are YA and they might like them someday when they're older. Having read and loved King Dork, I'm psyched to have the audio of Andromeda Klein, and when my boys are older teenagers, I hope they might read and enjoy them both, because Frank Portman is completely hysterical!

So many things I want to write about lately, and as I said, never enough time or energy. I wrote a few pages in my notebook last night, might scan and post that later, but otherwise, I've just been reading and thinking, in between all the time working and being mom and cleaning house and just getting by. Next on the list: getting to bed, since it's midnight. But check out that photo again; man, I got some really good stuff. :-D

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Journal entry for August 6

One week ago, August 6, was my first time taking part in an event called Do Nothing But Read Day. Sounds right up my alley, right? Of course it is. But sometime during the afternoon, my mood took an extreme downward turn. Later in the evening, after a nap, I tried to capture my thoughts with pen and paper. The results are in the photos below.

I hope to continue using my new journal to keep my writing hand in shape. ;-) I plan to post more pages from it on here if/when I can.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mini-review of The Shadow of the Wind

This mini-review was initially posted on my local library's website. To enter the grand prize drawing for the summer reading program, adults had to read eight books and write a review of at least one of them. I wrote mine for The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (and brilliantly translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves). I started reading it before the Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference, June 12 to 16, and didn't finish until after my trip. In fact, June and July were very busy, hence my long silence from blogging, and I can't tell you how much I've missed my blog, and writing in general. I'm posting the mini-review in part to "ease back into" blogging. Anyway, I love love loved this book, and here's what I had to say about it:

Almost anyone who really loves books, and who understands the power of books and reading to transform our lives, will love the novel The Shadow of the Wind. It begins in 1945, when ten-year-old Daniel is first introduced by his father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Daniel finds a novel called The Shadow of the Wind, written by a man named Julian Carax, and falls in love with the story. When Daniel tries to find other books by Carax, he learns there is a mystery surrounding the author and his books: someone else has been searching for copies of Carax's books, and burning all that he finds.

There are mysteries, romances, troubled families, true friendships, forbidden love, and murder. There are good guys and bad guys, and some characters' true colors aren't always clear. Most of the story is set in Barcelona, Spain, and the setting feels gothic, as though it's always nighttime. Yet there are lighter moments, and a lot of humorous dialogue. Ruiz Zafón weaves the disparate threads together securely, and creates a masterpiece.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Review of Half a Life: a Memoir by Darin Strauss

From the back cover:

In the last month of his high school career, just after turning eighteen, Strauss is behind the wheel of his father's Oldsmobile, driving with friends, having 'thoughts of mini-golf, another thought of maybe just going to the beach.' Then, out of the blue: a collision that results in the death of a bicycling classmate and that shadows the rest of his life.

This memoir by Darin Strauss begins with one short, stark sentence: "Half my life ago, I killed a girl." He then recounts, almost frame-by-frame, the moments leading up to the auto accident that left a teenage girl dead, and changed the course of the rest of Strauss's life. And it was an accident, a tragic and seemingly random event:

The police, Celine's biking companion, and the recollection of five cars' worth of eyewitnesses all conspired to declare me blameless. No charges were filed. A police detective named Paul Vitucci later told the newspaper, 'For an unknown reason, her bicycle swerved into what you might call the traffic portion of the street, and she was immediately struck by the car. There was no way he' -- meaning me -- 'could have avoided the accident, no way whatsoever' (p. 29).

I read this book in just one day. It's a short book, yes, but it's also gripping. I want to call it a "psychological drama" of sorts. Strauss talks about what happened in the days, months, and years after the accident, in a mostly chronological narrative. But there's a constant tension inside his head, essentially a tug-of-war between his own feelings, and the way the accident impacts his life, and the overwhelming guilt he feels that someone died, and even though it wasn't "his fault," he happened to be the one at the wheel.

Strauss recounts an incident when the whole high school is gathered in the gym for an end-of-year assembly. During the event, the principal begins to talk about the tragic loss of Celine. Strauss writes:

So here was another ritual. As in all rituals, people had expectations about how it should be performed. It was as if every moment at which I could have expressed my real sense of what had happened -- my anxiety, confusion, queasy guilt; the Houdini sensation that everyone who escapes blame feels, everyone who has been pronounced blameless -- they all worked to obstruct that sense. It was blocked off by a completely different sense, that of other people watching me (p. 65).

Perhaps this example sums it up best: "But I did have a somewhat normal and fun middle-twenties, or at least a multi-faceted middle-twenties. ... And I was very mindful that Celine didn't have a fun or normal middle-twenties, or any middle-twenties at all" (p. 126). Whenever he feels pretty good, he feels guilty about feeling pretty good. His mind tries to protect itself, to keep up with everyday life and move forward, while Strauss is tormenting himself at the same time, with what-ifs, if-onlys, and a mountain of guilt.

To me, the great value in Strauss's memoir is that he puts the reader inside his mind, to allow us to feel what he feels, to come as close as we can to an awful experience without having lived it ourselves (as most of us haven't, and hopefully never will). It's not an apology, not an excuse, but an attempt to tell a whole story as honestly as he can -- from his perspective, but with great sympathy for Celine's family and friends. I think Strauss wrote the book because he had to, that he needed to write his way through the second half of his life, the accident and all that's come after, to lessen its grip on him and purge the years of guilt. Once he had written it, I don't know that he needed to publish it -- but I'm so glad that he did.

All quotes are taken from an advance reader's copy of the paperback edition, a Random House Reader's Circle publication. I received this advance copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Many thanks to Random House and to LibraryThing for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this exceptional book.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone

The unusual title caught my eye (of course), and I saw a lot of good buzz on Twitter when this book came out last year. Then, leading up to the release date for the paperback edition, Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog offered up several copies of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, signed by Michele Young-Stone herself. In a turn of events nearly as shocking as if I'd been struck by lightning myself, I actually won a copy!

I started reading the book not long after the April Read-a-Thon, and finished it in about a week, on April 19. I'm embarrassed at how long it's taken me to write this review, even moreso because I won it in a giveaway, and not only did Michele Young-Stone autograph it, but she also included a handwritten card and a couple of Handbook bookmarks -- I collect bookmarks! -- and then she mailed the package to me herself! What kind of ungrateful bum am I, that I can't write a prompt review??

But here's the thing: when I finished reading the book, I had one overwhelming thought:

And four words aren't enough for a review, even if one of them is a compound made-up word expressing very high praise. So the days became weeks, and I finally determined some days ago that this holiday weekend has enough "unscheduled" time that I had to write this review and get it posted.

The novel has two central characters, Becca Burke and Buckley Pitank. Their separate stories are told in alternating chapters, interspersed with quotes and short excerpts from a book called The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, which is supposedly an actual "handbook," not to be confused with the novel in your hands. Becca's story begins in 1977, when she is eight years old. She is struck by lightning outside her family's home in North Carolina. Buckley's begins in 1967, when he too is eight years old, living with his mother and grandmother in a small Arkansas town. Given the novel's title, I expected lightning to appear early in Buckley's story, as it had in Becca's, but lightning is hard to predict, and arrives in Buckley's adventures in its own time.

I loved Young-Stone's characterizations: she includes the kind of telling details and small bits of dialogue that give you a good sense of the characters without tons of exposition. After Becca is struck by lightning, she goes into the house, stunned, and tells her father, "'Dad, I got struck by lightning.'" Her father answers, without looking at her, "'If you got struck by lightning, you'd be dead.'" So right away, I'm ready to really dislike Becca's dad. (And he's not so smart, because as we learn from the "Handbook" within the Handbook, 90 percent of people who are struck by lightning survive.) When Becca is cleaned off and changed, and her father finally gets off the phone, she tells him she's ready to go out for ice cream, as they'd planned. But plans change: something has come up, and he'll have to take her another time. Yes, we learn several things about Mr. Burke, and form an opinion of him, within these three pages.

Buckley adores his mother, Abigail, and never knew his father. He's frequently bullied by other boys at school, and life in his grandmother's house isn't rosy. But he's kind and sensitive:

Buckley wanted a lot of things, but at the top of his list was for his mother to be happy. It seemed to him that she was always sad. She was a good mom -- never a mean word crossed her lips -- but like Buckley, she seldom smiled. She was fat, and it was hard for Buckley when they went places to hear people snicker and know she heard it too (p. 11).

A few warnings: there's some teen sex, infidelity, rough language, and a suicide. This isn't a young adult novel, but a novel that happens to feature kids who grow into young adulthood. Certain scenes and events could be offensive to some readers. But if you don't mind these elements -- which I felt were believable and well done, and not gratuitous -- then there are many wonderful moments to be had with this book.

This novel is like nothing else I've ever read. I loved getting to know Becca and Buckley, as well as many of the supporting characters. I wished the book were longer so that I could spend more time with them! A sequel probably wouldn't be a good idea, but I was glad that Young-Stone included a few pages at the end of the book about what happened to a lot of the characters after the main story ended. (In particular, I was thrilled to see that one character I despised "died from a sudden and painful heart attack" -- that's what you get, jerk!) The characters are quirky and interesting, and there's a lot of genuine love and friendship between them.

Last weekend, an outbreak of storms here in Kansas gave us a fright. We were at the baseball fields, waiting out a "lightning delay" in our van. As the storm strengthened and the lightning became more frequent, my husband and I wondered at the people who were still outside, a few of them running around and apparently unworried about the storm. (This was before the hail started slamming and the funnel cloud developed.) I remembered a critical rule from the Handbook:


Most lightning strike fatalities are caused by cardiac arrest. Begin CPR immediately!!!
(p. 233)

It's funny, it's touching, it's moving and entertaining, and darn it, this book is even educational! You'll never look at lightning the same way again.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day blurb

I'm calling it a "blurb" because I don't have time to cover anything in a substantive way, but yikes it's been four weeks since my last post, and I'm at the laptop, so I'm jotting down some notes before unpacking the dishwasher.

Two weeks ago, Easter Sunday, a nearby house was on fire. Five fire trucks and other emergency vehicles were on our block, and I think some of them were here close to three hours. Frightening day, and more excitement than you ever want to have. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The family wasn't home, and a passer-by broke a window and rescued a small dog in his cage before the fire fighters arrived.

On that same "too much excitement" theme, only five days later, Jeff's mom left our house after putting the boys on the school bus, and found her home had been burglarized sometime between Thursday evening and Friday morning. The front door was kicked in and broken, the place was ransacked, and essentially all the cash and change she had in the house was stolen. The burglars also found the key to the safe, got into that, and stole a container of sports trading cards that belonged to Jeff -- most of his rare and valuable ones. Other than that, there didn't seem to be things missing, just money. There have been other burglaries in the neighborhood in recent weeks, including another house on the same block about five days after my mother-in-law's house was hit. I hope the police are putting the pieces of evidence together from these crimes, as it seems most or all of them have got to be related, but so far, we haven't learned anything new.

The day-to-day has been kind of stressful -- like I've been in a kind of rut -- but also time has flown by. It seemed like April had just started, and suddenly it was over! When I've had time to read, my selections have been quite good, including The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, and I definitely need to write a review of the latter, hopefully soon. I still have pages marked in there, and in the poetry collection A Village Life by Louise Gluck, which I read during the Read-A-Thon, with quotes and passages to include in reviews and/or post on my Tumblr page. I haven't stopped reading, just haven't had time to say anything about it!

I need to at least start unpacking the dishes before Jeff gets home with groceries -- and then we'll have to decide what we're doing for dinner. I'll post again on my next day off from work ... which I'm thinking could be this coming week. ;-)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Super-Short Read-a-Thon update

It's just past midnight here, and I just finished an awesome book, a novella by the late great Muriel Spark called The Driver's Seat. This is maybe my fifth Spark book overall, and man, no one else writes like she did. Her imagination is sort of creepy and twisted, and the writing is so good, the story and characters so believable, no matter how unbelievable a premise might seem. This one blew me away.

OK,I'd better stop gushing and finish my update. ;-) I started the day with the book I'd already been reading, Sula by Toni Morrison. This was only my second book by her; I read The Bluest Eye as a teenager, and remember nothing about it, so either it just didn't grab me, or I was really too young to read it. Sula is great, and also a little creepy in spots (is "creepy" my theme today? hmmm...), but the writing was excellent.

Alongside the Spark novella, the other book I started and finished today was a poetry collection by Louise Gluck (one of my favorite authors) called A Village Life. I have sticky notes on many pages, marking phrases or stanzas that I hope to share on my Tumblr page, and to help me out if I end up writing a review.

I'm not sure of my total time read; the day has been more scattered than I'd hoped it would be. But total pages read is almost 250. I also took a walk this morning, and listened to another 30-40 minutes of Pilgrim's Progress. I told Jeff that I planned to stay up as late as I wanted to, reading. But, since I have to do a lot of housecleaning tomorrow (that didn't get done today because of Read-a-Thon, or last evening because OTHER things got in the way), I think I'll grab one of the novels for my Read 20 Pages Project, start reading that in bed with the book light, and see how much longer I last. Not quite done yet, but getting close, and that's all right with me. :-)

Friday, April 8, 2011

TGI Read-a-Thon time!

We’re between my sons’ basketball and baseball seasons, and tomorrow is the 24-Hour Read-a-Thon. Thus, while one of my kids has a baseball practice scheduled, Jeff will be taking him to that, and maybe taking the other one as well, and I have nothing scheduled. So I decided a couple of weeks ago to put the Read-a-Thon on my calendar, and tell my husband about it, and basically just assume that I’m going to participate. And this time, I’m gonna do it right! Unlike my previous two attempts, I have a book pile all ready, and I’m planning to do housecleaning Sunday so I can just focus on that stack … with my laptop nearby, of course. ;-)

Speaking of the book pile, here’s what I’ve got.

First up is my current read, Sula by Toni Morrison. I will definitely finish this one on Saturday.

I picked a few really short books in the hope that I can get through at least one whole book, start to finish, during the Read-a-Thon. I didn’t do it in my first two tries, but they say the third time’s the charm, right? The “Books Most Likely to Succeed,” ha ha, are:
A Village Life by Louise Gluck, one of my favorite poets, and I don’t know how I’ve had this for a year but haven’t read it yet;
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark, who always keeps me on my toes; this one is only about 100 pages; and
Turning to Fiction by Donna Masini; this is a poetry collection that I bought on impulse because I loved the title, and skimming through it, it looked promising.

In the slightly longer, middle-length novels category, I have On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, and A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ll hopefully start one or both of these, but won’t push myself to finish them.

I have The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone in the pile because – I’m so psyched to say this! -- I just won it!!! There was a giveaway hosted by Rebecca of The Book Lady’s Blog, and I won an autographed copy of the book, and at some future date, I’m to have a Skype chat with Michele Young-Stone herself!!! So I got that earlier this week, and if I don’t get to it Saturday, I’m definitely going to start it ASAP. Yay, I won something – something good that I actually wanted!!!

And finally, I have several longer novels. I realized some weeks ago that the Read-a-Thon might be a good time to “sample” some titles from my TBR Mountain, for my Read 20 Pages Project. I bet I’ve had three of the four for more than two years, and still they’re unread. I’d like to dip into all of them, but realistically, if I spend some time with two of them, reading at least 20 pages from each, I’ll be satisfied. These titles are:

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen;
Carry Me across the Water by Ethan Canin;
The Lightning Keeper by Starling Lawrence; and
All Shall Be Well, and All Shall Be Well, and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka – because just like the Michele Young-Stone and Donna Masini books above, I just think that title is awesome, so the book is bound to be at least pretty good.

So those are my reading plans. I didn't sign up to cheer or anything, but I hope to visit some blogs during my reading breaks, and I know I'll be on Twitter, checking out the readathon hashtag and what readers are talking about, and tossing in a few comments here and there. I'm excited to check the Read-a-Thon web page too, and see other people's book piles. Yes, it's going to be a great day. Happy Read-a-Thon, fellow book lovers!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

So many books: To Keep, or Not to Keep?

Yesterday was the last day to use a coupon at Hastings to "trade in five, get an extra $5.00 in credit." The five items could be any combination of books, DVDs, music CDs, and games. I found nine or ten books I was willing to part with, knowing that they never take everything I bring. (If they have enough copies of it already, if it's not in their system, or if there's something about the condition that they don't like, they won't accept it.) I gave them everything but The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, which I held back in case I couldn't get five from the rest of the batch. I was surprised at a couple of things they didn't take, including The Crazed by Ha Jin, which I'd purchased at Hastings, and which still has their green Used sticker on it. Maybe they'll have another "extra $5.00" coupon next month and I'll try that one again. They also didn't take Manufacturing Consent, which annoyed me because I've been looking at it on the shelf, unread, for years -- or sometimes maybe it was looking at ME! -- and part of me always still wanted to read it and couldn't get rid of it, and when I finally decide I don't need to keep it anymore, Hastings won't take it.

So, they took five books, and I got my bonus store credit, which is great. (I also got to keep that Edith Wharton story collection, which is also great because she's one of my favorites.) But it was really interesting, yesterday, scanning my shelves to try to pull out books to trade in. I found a few that I wanted to get rid of, but saw some problem in them, something that would prevent Hastings from taking them. I saw a couple of mass market paperbacks I really should weed out, and donate to the library for their sale; Hastings only buys used hardcovers and trade paperbacks, not the smaller mass market size. Yesterday was the first time, in a really long time, when I felt seriously ready to weed books from my personal library.

Part of this is, I'd really like to get an e-reader of some kind, but I can't justify getting one when I own so many books, especially books that I haven't read. A quick calculation using my LibraryThing numbers -- which aren't totally correct but are close enough for a good estimate -- shows almost 49% of the books in the "My Library" collection are also in the "To Read" collection. Even if I took two weeks off from work and spent those eighty hours reading, I could barely make a dent. Having gotten rid of five books yesterday (including two or three from "To Read"), I'm thinking that doing some additional weeding in the near future would be good for my psyche.

There are arguments for and against weeding -- looking mostly at books I've owned for years but haven't read. One day last summer, wanting something different and funny, I picked The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell off my shelf, and tore through it in only a few days. I loved it, and I found myself telling Jeff, "Let me read you this one part..." over and over again. And a couple of years ago, my book group read Middlemarch by George Eliot, which I'd purchased in 1994 and hadn't read; the receipt was still in the book! It was hard to read that edition -- a mass market paperback that I've since replaced with a trade size -- but once I switched over to an audio version, I fell totally in love with it. But then there are books that you buy, so sure you'll enjoy them, and when you actually read them, they just don't do it for you. I started reading The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri as soon as I got it in the mail last fall -- it arrived when I was in the hospital, and I had Jeff bring it to me ASAP. I read less than 100 pages and gave up, and was able to trade it in at Hastings.

That's the challenge for me: to look at the books I own, and decide which ones I love enough to keep on the shelves; and to look at the books I own but haven't yet read, and try to divine which ones are most likely to give me that "I-love-this-book-SOOOOO-MUUUUUUUCH!!!!!" feeling. One feature of some e-readers that I've been thinking about: the "read a sample chapter" option. If I'd read a sample of Irma Arcuri before I actually bought it (albeit used), I might have said, "Eh, I think I'll pass," saving me time and money, and a little space on my shelf. I also like the brands of readers that allow you to check out library books, another way to sample a title before "making a commitment."

How do other book lovers -- especially those who acquire more than they borrow, and acquire more books than they have time to read -- figure out what to keep, and what's best to trade or give away?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review: The Ringer by Jenny Shank

I received a bound galley of The Ringer, a debut novel by Jenny Shank, from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Many thanks to The Permanent Press and to LT for the chance to read and review this book.

I decided to copy the summary from the publisher's website, because when I tried to write it myself, I felt like I was saying a lot but not getting too far. So:

Sidelined from coaching his sons' baseball team because he can't resist hollering at loafers, lollygaggers, and space cadets, Ed O'Fallon hopes focusing on his daughter's tee-ball team will calm his temper. But just as Ed prepares to guide the Purple Unicorns to their best season, his work as a Denver police officer changes his life forever.

O'Fallon bursts into a home on a no-knock warrant, expecting to find drugs, but instead encounters a man pointing a gun. Ed kills Salvador Santillano, a Mexican immigrant he had more in common with than he could imagine. Worse, Ed learns his commanding officer made a grave mistake on the warrant that will force everyone in Denver to take sides.

Separated from her husband Salvador after their worst fight ever, Patricia Maestas discovers the police have killed him. Certain her husband never sold drugs, Patricia pushes to find out the truth behind the fatal raid, even while trying to keep her volatile, grieving son Ray from following a shady friend into a north-side gang.

But Ray isn't just any disaffected adolescent —- he's a left-handed pitching phenomenon who throws a blistering fastball. Patricia hopes signing him up for a competitive league will keep him away from danger, but instead it puts them on a collision course with Ed, whose sons play in the same league on a rival team.

Patricia and Ed are unaware of the interconnections between their lives until events on the baseball field draw them together and challenge their preconceptions.

I found The Ringer to be engaging, with an interesting mix of characters and a plot that moved at a good pace. The book is written in the third-person, but presents the story from both Ed and Patricia's perspectives, in alternating chapters. Because of this narrative choice, the reader knows that Ed isn't an evil racist cop, but a decent guy who was doing his job. He feels bad after the incident, but when he learns a couple of days later that the warrant had the wrong address on it, he feels a deepening remorse. Ed begins to question himself and his occupation, and his marriage grows strained as well.

From the other side, we see Patricia digging for more information, wanting to clear her husband's name, and also being pulled by her mother and other people into a committee to "fight the city." The reader knows that Patricia wants to get to the truth, but she's reluctant to step into a spotlight. They'd been separated for several months, but we learn that Patricia had hoped to reconcile with Salvador. She partly blames herself that he wasn't living with her and their two children -- and her troubled son sometimes blames her, too.

As you can tell from the title and the plot summary above, the other big story in the book is baseball. I requested the book because the novel as a whole sounded intriguing, but what caught my attention was the description of Ed as one of those sports parents who's too involved, too loud, too critical, who seem to take all of it a little too seriously. My husband is not loud, but both of my sons (who play basketball and baseball) would agree that he's quite critical. As a sports parent, I knew there would be things I could relate to in this book. Although the boys in the novel are a couple of years older than my sons, with more skills, and in a more competitive league, that part of the book was familiar to me.

Shank packs a lot into the novel without making it feel too "stuffed." In addition to the life and work of police officers, the grief of those touched by violence and sudden death, and the world of young men's baseball, the story looks at present-day race relations, and the subtle shifts of power in local politics. There are a lot of little "everyday" moments in the book that illustrate the joys and stresses of family life. I loved that Patricia's daughter has an action figure of John Elway that everyone refers to as "El Johnway." I was right there with Ed and his family when their basement flooded. Patricia with her kids in the grocery store, Ed with his sons watching TV late one night -- Shank moved the story forward, but chose good scenes to pause for breath.

There are a few less positive things I have to mention. First, strangely, although I enjoyed reading the book, I didn't feel compelled to pick it up every day. That's partly a reflection of the moods I've been in lately, but also, it's not the kind of book where you're going, "I can't wait to find out what happens next!" Second, the writing is good, but I think the plot, the story, was stronger than the writing. I did mark a few passages that impressed me, and since this is a first novel, I think Shank's writing is sure to get even better. Third, there were a couple of questions that didn't seem to be answered, for example, the question of whether Salvador actually had a gun, whether Ed really did hear gunfire coming from someone's weapon, before he fired his own. Those nagged at me a little. Last, the book's description states that "events on the baseball field draw [the two families] together and challenge their preconceptions." But really, it seemed to take forever before the parents -- Ed and his wife Claire, and Patricia -- figure out their connection. My copy of the book has 349 pages, and Claire puts it together first, on page 242. The pacing of the book is good, but that part just took longer than I'd expected.

I also found one mistake that really confused me, that hopefully is corrected in the final publication. (As I said, I received a bound galley.) Patricia isn't sure if Salvador had an affair, because he took occasional trips to Mexico that sometimes lasted weeks, and she'd found a picture of him in his personal effects with a woman she'd never seen. On page 209, we learn the woman's name is Carmelita, and on 215, that she has a daughter named Gracielita (or Graciela). On 216, the letter is signed from Carmelita, but on that same page we have a quote, "'He says Graciela lives far away, and comes to town about once a month.'" So I'm thinking, Isn't Graciela the daughter? When the woman appears in the story later, by telephone, it's Graciela who's the mother, and Carmelita is the daughter. This is the kind of thing that you can't hang on the author, when it's the publishing/editorial staff that must have messed up, but damn, I was confused!

Overall, I enjoyed The Ringer a lot. I think it's a solid debut novel, and I hope it gets some positive attention. Jenny Shank could have a good career ahead of her! I'm interested to see what she writes next, and what other subjects she decides to tackle.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

An apology of sorts

On March 2, I started writing something that I expected would be a blog post. It's now March 13, and that piece still isn't done, and I've neglected to post anything else here in the interim. The conundrum is that I've really been wanting to do more writing, but no matter how many ideas I have, no matter if I've got something in progress (like that "maybe blog post"), and even if I have some extra time, as I do now when Jeff and Ryan are at baseball practice -- whatever the circumstances, it seems that I can't bring myself to get working, that I can't focus on it.

So, it's not officially a blogging hiatus, or at least it's not intended to be; it's just a bumpy stretch of road, where I might have the desire, or the time or opportunity, but never simultaneously. Right at this moment, what I want most is to take a nap! However, I have some coffee right here, so I'll keep drinking that, then get away from the computer for now and do something else to wake me up. Hopefully I can recover my energy enough to do some more reading before Jeff and Ryan come home. I'll be back when I can ...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My productive weekend

I got LOTS done this weekend! I'm writing this quick post so I can reflect back on it when I'm tired at work tomorrow (ha ha), and then running around like a crazy person for the next couple of weeks. So many things on my Google Calendar, I keep getting confused about whether a specific event or appointment is this week or next week!

So, yesterday:
Brought car to shop to get an oil change and replace a headlight;
Finished all the prep work for federal income taxes, and filed them online for free! Yay for direct deposit of income tax refund, please come soon!!
Renewed my Friends of the Library membership for 2011.

Today was my mega-cleaning day:
Vacuumed all carpeted rooms except one, and also vacuumed three sections of stairs, plus a short hallway;
Dusted boys' bedroom;
Cleaned kitchen;
Cleaned main bathroom.

I probably would have done even more cleaning, like the second bathroom, but I was running low on cleaning supplies.

Not too much reading this weekend, BUT, I started a new audiobook while I cleaned today: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, downloaded to my phone from Librivox. I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would; it's not as DRY as I feared it would be. I've already copied some quotes into Evernote.

Yep, it was a good weekend. Hope it's the start of a good week!
* crossing fingers *

Monday, January 31, 2011

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

The first time I heard of Jhumpa Lahiri was when one of the members of my book discussion group selected Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri's debut story collection, when it was his turn to choose the book and lead the discussion. The book had recently come out in paperback, and had also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I read the book and enjoyed it, and it was a good choice for our book group, but I didn't think much about it after the meeting. I mean, I admired the writing, and I did keep the book, but I tend to like novels better than stories. I love losing myself in a wide expanse of narrative! A year or two ago, I finally listened to the audiobook of The Namesake, Lahiri's full-length novel, and it did not disappoint.

Lahiri's writing is always sharp and perceptive, so beautiful, yet so wise. It's true that the novel, and many of the stories, feature Indians who have emigrated to the United States, and their Indian-American children. Her writings explore the complexities of family, home, love, and loss, through the kaleidoscope of her own heritage. Nearly all adolescents rebel against their parents, believe that their parents don't understand them, and are embarrassed by their parents with some regularity. These things are all present in Lahiri's work, with the additional layers of meaning and complication that a "clash of cultures" can bring, when parents are traditional, and their growing children embrace American "consumer culture" as part of their struggle to fit in.

Over the past few weekends, I listened to Lahiri's second collection of stories, Unaccustomed Earth. They were longer than those in her first collection, and I found this difference very satisfying. Most of her characters are well-drawn, "round" as opposed to "flat" characters, and once I got into each new story, I liked spending more time with them, getting to know them better, than if the stories had been shorter. Part One has five stories, and covers a little over 200 pages. There's a grown daughter mourning her mother's death, and trying to reconnect with her more-distant father. An older sister introduces her teenaged brother to beer, and he ultimately becomes an alcoholic. A husband and wife attend a weekend wedding, expecting a mini-vacation away from their kids, but nothing goes as they'd planned. Bengali immigrants and Bengali-Americans are central characters in all five stories, but the themes are universal.

Part Two, called "Hema and Kaushik," contains three interlinked stories, totaling about 110 pages. As I listened, they seemed more like chapters or sections of a novella. I loved how long it was, because as it seemed a section was coming to an end, I wasn't ready, I wanted MORE -- of those characters, and of their stories. Lahiri gives the reader everything, until there's no more to tell. The "Hema and Kaushik" stories are a masterpiece, nothing less. My chest ached as the tale progressed, the shifting perspectives indicated by the alternating narrators -- first her view, then his, then hers again, back and forth until the end of the book.

I finished listening to Unaccustomed Earth yesterday afternoon, and as I wandered around my kitchen and living room, I had two thoughts. First, I asked myself, When will Jhumpa Lahiri have another book coming out? (I don't know, but I hope it's soon!)

Second, I thought, If she keeps writing this well, and publishes a book every few years, she will win the Nobel Prize. That's my prediction. Now, if you haven't yet read anything by Jhumpa Lahiri, go get started!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reading Challenges for 2011: only two

In my somewhat delayed wrap-up post for my 2010 reading challenges, I said that I planned to participate in two of last year's challenges again in 2011. One of them, the Persons of Color (POC) Reading Challenge, is up and running, but the other one, Read Your Own Books (RYOB), doesn't seem to be offered for this year, so I found a replacement.

I'm going to sign up for Level 3 again, between seven and nine books. I really think I could have completed the challenge in 2010 if I hadn't gotten Horner syndrome, and also (starting with those couple days in the hospital) spent several weeks taking a medicine that made my brain fuzzy and made it almost impossible to read. I'm off to a great start for 2011, in carving out time to read, and I'm going to make a concerted effort to have more authors of color on my radar, so when I finish a book and don't have the next one already lined up (usually the selection for my book discussion group), I'll scan my TBR Mountain for authors of color first and see what grabs my attention.

For the RYOB Challenge last year, I'd hoped to read thirty books that were already in my TBR Mountain on January first. About a week ago, searching for a replacement for RYOB, I found the Off the Shelf Challenge, hosted by Bookish Ardour. I'm glad that there's a 30-book level, because that seems like a reasonable goal for me again -- and as I said above, if I can maintain a reading pace close to what I've done these last three weeks, I'll make good progress. Level 4 is 50 books, which I haven't reached in any of the last three years (2008 is when I started keeping track), so I'm selecting Level 3, "Making a Dint," which is 30 books.

Sometimes other challenges pique my interest -- I did look for another poetry challenge for 2011, but didn't find one -- but these two are all the commitments I'm planning to make. Reading more of the books I already own is a goal that just makes sense -- plus it's really convenient and doesn't cost anything! Reading more books by persons of color exposes me to different perspectives, enriching not just my reading, but my ways of thinking, my whole interior world.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A nip here, a tuck there, thanks to Bloggiesta!

Jeff and the boys are at basketball practice, and I confess that the 9-to-11am Saturday morning practice is starting to spoil me. They leave around 830am, don't get home till about 1130am, and I have three glorious hours to do things like play around on the computer or read. This morning, I've been tweaking my blog, thanks to Bloggiesta.

Bloggiesta is an event hosted by Natasha at Maw Books. It's a kind of blogging marathon -- and participants might catch up on reviews or other posts, or write a few extra posts ahead of time for "a rainy day" -- but it's also an opportunity to spiff up your blog, add new buttons, update the blog roll, find and fix (or delete) broken links, organize your feed reader, and get tips from other bloggers, either on their blogs, or by chatting with them on Twitter. It's all about improving your blog, helping and learning from each other, and improving all the tasks and processes related to your blogging experience. (For book bloggers, updating their book info in LibraryThing or GoodReads counts!)

I did some laptop stuff last night, not specifically blog-related, but I did work on the Evernote account I created last week. I hope to fill that with quotes and other good pieces of information or pearls of wisdom that I want to remember and keep on hand. So, there's at least a desire and intent to get a little more organized. (I also deleted some super-old messages from my Gmail account, and THAT felt good.) This morning, I spent about 90 minutes tweaking some little things on my blog, and reading other bloggers' advice and suggestions. I added a copyright blurb to my RSS feed posts, and added a subscription to my own blog in Google Reader, since I had no idea what it looked like before. (Good news: it looks okay!) I switched my comment notification from the home e-mail account to Gmail so I'll usually see them sooner. I put a Creative Commons license in my blog footer. I modified the LibraryThing widget in my sidebar, and tweaked my "Friends & Favorites" list.

It's nearly 1030am now, and I'm thinking if I get on the treadmill soon, I might be able to "buy" some goodwill from Jeff and the boys, and get more time with the blog later today or tomorrow. Now that I'm looking at it closely, there's definitely more I'd like to do -- update the Blog Roll tab being first, and writing posts for the two challenges I plan to join this year. (I did add buttons for the challenges this morning -- yay for me! -- but that doesn't make it official.) I'm going to add myself to the list of Bloggiesta participants, and cross my fingers I can get another couple hours for blog cleanup this weekend. To the other Bloggiesta participants: Ole! And happy blogging!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Let's Take the Long Way Home: a Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell

Yesterday morning, I woke around 4am and couldn't get back to sleep. By 445am, I'd decided to get up and start my next book. I'd first heard of Let's Take the Long Way Home in late summer or early fall, on an episode of the Books on the Nightstand podcast, in which Michael Kindness gave it a glowing recommendation. I remember I was walking toward my mother-in-law's house as I listened -- specifically, in the area of 29th and Gage. He said it was Gail Caldwell's memoir about her friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp -- and I was instantly alert, because a few years ago, I bought, read, and loved a book by Knapp called Appetites: Why Women Want. I recognized Caldwell's name, but wasn't familiar with her. It was the chance to learn more about Knapp that drew me in, as well as Michael Kindness saying that the book was a picture of how full and all-encompassing a friendship between two women can be, and also explored the dark corners of addiction. Both Caldwell and Knapp were alcoholics, though both were sober by the time they became friends. After the podcast, Caldwell's book was quickly added to my "must-have" list.

So, I started reading it yesterday, obscenely early in the morning, and got about thirty pages in before work. I didn't read at work, but made some more progress on it last evening. Today, Saturday, I did some reading this morning, then cleaned the kitchen, and eventually got back to the book. This afternoon, I finished the book through copious tears. I was up in the bedroom by myself, while Jeff and the boys and Grandma watched the KU game in the living room. At one point, Jeff came up and suggested I stop reading for a while and do something else, and I said no. When he asked why not, I sobbed, "Because I don't want to!" I felt justified in this decision: three-day weekend, kitchen already cleaned, end of the book coming ever closer. Jeff said he didn't understand, and I agreed, he didn't.

Since I read it so quickly, and finished it during a weekend where I have some extra time, I thought, "I need to post a blog about it, I need to write a review." But then, the idea of writing a review of this book seemed akin to reviewing pieces of Gail Caldwell's life -- some painful, mainly her battles with alcoholism; and many precious and beautiful, memories of her friendship with Caroline, and the bonds both shared with their beloved dogs. Truly, the writing is so honest and raw, that the book feels alive, and lived in -- not just recounting parts of Caldwell's life, but opening the door on those scenes, and letting the reader into them. That's the best review I can give of Caldwell's memoir: I felt like I was living it with her.

Though Gail and Caroline first met at a party, it was several years later, when they happened to run into one another at a pond in Cambridge, Mass., that they began their friendship. Both single women who were independent and used to solitude, both childless, each had acquired a dog who became companion, child, best friend. When they met that day at the pond, Gail knew Caroline had been doing a lot of public appearances to promote her recently published memoir, Drinking: a Love Story. Caroline later said she was relieved that Gail "was more interested in her dog than her book sales" and Gail writes, "We were like new moms in the park, trading vital bits of information about our charges that was enthralling only to us" (p. 17).

They bonded over this shared love of their dogs, and began walking together, a “pack of four,” every day. Caldwell writes:

We ran the dogs for hours in those woods outside of town, and in other woods, searching out gorgeous reserves of forests and fields all over eastern Massachusetts. We walked the beaches that autumn, and the fire trails in winter, carrying liver snaps for the dogs and graham crackers for the humans. We walked until all four of us were dumb with fatigue. The dogs would go charging through the switchbacks while Caroline and I walked and talked – over time so much and so deeply that we began referring to our afternoon-long treks as analytic walks.

“Let’s take the long way home,” she would say when we’d gotten back to the car, and then we would wend our way through the day traffic of Somerville or Medford, in no hurry to separate. … Then we would go inside our respective houses and call each other on the phone.
(p. 19)

One of my favorite scenes in the book occurs after Gail purchases her first house. Caroline had gone to open houses with her, helped her weigh the pros and cons of different locations, and offered suggestions as needed. When the purchase is made and Gail arrives at her new house,

I was standing on the front porch of what was now my house, fiddling with the keys, dumb with fatigue and vague apprehension. Inside lay a near gut job of months of renovation. I heard someone drive up behind me and turned to see Caroline and Morelli [Caroline’s boyfriend, and later her husband] at the curb in Caroline’s Toyota RAV, both of them grinning and waving at me to wait up. I got the door unlocked just as Caroline vaulted up the front steps. And while Morelli held on to the dogs and laughed, she picked me up – I outweighed her by ten pounds – and hoisted me, like a sack of grain, over the threshold. (p. 118)

Caroline was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in the spring of 2002. She was hospitalized with a second bout of pneumonia when they found the cancer, which had metastasized to her brain and liver. She went home when she was strong enough, and she and Morelli got married. Soon after, Gail had an engagement to speak at a commencement in Texas, and reluctantly left town for a four-day trip. While she was gone, Caroline suffered a series of bleeds in the brain, and could no longer speak. Gail cut her trip short to get back to Massachusetts. Caldwell writes,

We had spent years talking – talking when other people would have given up, teasing apart feelings and conversations and the intricacies of daily life. Now she couldn’t talk anymore and so I didn’t either; our narrative became a choreography of silence. I would spend hours at the end of her bed, not knowing much of the time if she even knew I was there. But Caroline and I had begun our friendship with a bond devoted to the elegant truths of nonverbal language: the physicality and hand signals and eye contact that dialogue with an animal entailed. When she had first fallen ill, I had brought to the hospital a T-shirt that she loved, from the Barking Dog Luncheonette in New York, with SIT! STAY! written on the back. I knew all about sit-stay, and how straightforward and essential it was, and so that was what I did. I sat and I stayed. (p. 141-142)

Let’s Take the Long Way Home is beautiful, and heartbreaking, and I love it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The last 2010 reading round-up

Yes, the year 2010 is done, and I feel like all the bloggers I follow have written their Year in Review posts, with lists, stats, and general thoughts on their reading for the past year...and I'm finally just starting mine. But in the space of life, what's a few days' delay, really? Not much.

I joined three challenges for 2010, and I "failed" all of them.

For the RYOB (Read Your Own Books) Challenge, I hoped to read thirty books that I already owned but hadn't read. I was pretty strict with myself on this one: they had to be books I'd acquired before 2010, books that were already tagged "tbr" in my LibraryThing catalog when I wrote my blog post about the challenge on January 6. I used the tag "RYOB 2010" in LT to track my progress, and I only read 23 of those tbr books this past year.

If I'd counted books I purchased during 2010 and then read, however, I'd be pretty close to my goal. Books like The Passage, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Push, and The Zen of Eating were purchased this past year and read within a couple months. So I didn't do too badly, overall. I'm planning to participate again in 2011, and already have an "RYOB 2011" tag in LT.

For the POC (Persons of Color) Reading Challenge, I planned to read between seven and nine books written by persons of color, and/or featuring characters who are persons of color. I ended up reading only six books written by persons of color, although I did listen to the audiobook of The Help as well. This challenge finally got me to read the two Zadie Smith novels that were waiting on my shelves, and I've since purchased The Autograph Man and hope to read that in 2011. I checked out Smith's essay collection, Changing My Mind, from the library during the summer, and it's not included in my count as I dipped in and out and skipped around and didn't read the whole thing, but I've just fallen in love with Zadie Smith's writing this year, thanks to the POC Reading Challenge. I will join again for 2011, and I will do better!

My third challenge was the Clover, Bee, and Reverie Poetry Challenge. I hoped to read eight books of poetry, and only read six, and didn't read two books that were "connected" in some way (author, theme, etc.). I don't feel too badly about this one, though, partly because the main website for the challenge wasn't updated throughout the year. It's hard to be motivated about a challenge when you aren't connecting with others who are also involved, and when the person(s) hosting the challenge are absent from the challenge's website. Something like RYOB doesn't need to be as social, it's mostly just me and the books in my house, but for most challenges, there's gotta be something more, and I just didn't find it in this one. I might join a different poetry challenge for 2011 if one catches my eye.

I have to stop here and say, I'm so thrilled that Kyle's basketball practice runs from 9am to 11am, and that Jeff took Ryan along as well. It's 1035am, and I can probably finish this (gigantic) post before they get home -- hooray!!! And now back to the blog post already in progress. ;-)

My reading slowed down a lot in the last few months of the year. During the weeks when I was taking Topamax (late Sept. and much of Oct.), it was very hard to read anything, and I'm so glad that migraines weren't my main problem, so I was able to stop taking it. Any medication that makes my mind too fuzzy to even READ is simply not worth taking. Between the illness and doctor visits, all that uncertainty, it was often hard to focus on my reading. I think I could have gotten at least two or three more books read this past year if I hadn't developed Horner Syndrome, and spent those weeks on Topamax. In 2011, I resolve not to take medications that keep me from reading! :-D

Finally, the list of books I finished in 2010. I hoped to include The Sparrow on this list, and a second listen to the audio of The Help, but I didn't quite make it, so those will be my first two for 2011. The ones I enjoyed most are marked with an asterisk.

1. The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison, audio, Jan. 3
2. Against Love Poetry by Eavan Boland, Jan. 5*
3. The Children by Edith Wharton, Jan. 25
4. Once upon a Time When We were Colored by Clifton L. Taulbert, Feb. 10
5. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, audio, Feb. 10*
6. The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance by Audre Lorde, Feb. 14
7. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee, Feb. 27
8. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, print & audio, March 13
9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, March 14*
10. Welcome to My Country by Lauren Slater, March 18
11. The Keep by Jennifer Egan, audio, March 31*
12. King Dork by Frank Portman, April 17*
13. The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing edited by Kevin Young, LT Early Reviewer (LTER) book, April 19*
14. Versed by Rae Armantrout, April 25
15. On Beauty by Zadie Smith, audio, April 25*
16. A Worldly Country by John Ashbery, May 2
17. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, May 6
18. Jack in the Pulpit by Cynthia Riggs, audio, May 9
19. The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald, edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, May 19 (LTER book)
20. March by Geraldine Brooks, started in audio but finished in print on May 22
21. The Nerve by Glyn Maxwell, May 30
22. Candide by Voltaire, June 5
23. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, audio, June 26
24. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, audio, July 1*
25. White Teeth by Zadie Smith, July 4
26. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, July 11*
27. E. M. Forster (a Brief Lives biography) by Richard Canning, July 18 (LTER book)
28. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, Aug. 1*
29. The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, Aug. 3*
30. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Aug. 21, audio*
31. The Passage by Justin Cronin, Aug. 25*
32. Nightwork by Christine Schutt, Sept. 3
33. Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, Sept. 10*
34. The Giver by Lois Lowry, Sept. 16*
35. Great House by Nicole Krauss, Sept. 26 (LTER book, ARC)
36. The Reef by Edith Wharton, audio, Sept. 27
37. The Zen of Eating by Ronna Kabatznick, Oct. 9*
38. The Bridge of Dreams by Robert N. Lawson, Oct. 28
39. Fury by Salman Rushdie, Nov. 14
40. The Help by Kathryn Stockett, audio, Nov. 14*
41. Push by Sapphire, Nov. 20
42. A Pound of Paper by John Baxter, Nov. 28

As I look through the list, I wish it were longer, but mostly I think, Man, I read some really good books last year! I hope 2011 is more of the same: good books, but more of them! ;-)