Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vacation Reading

The bookworm is back from vacation. I read three books while on my annual family vacation and while I didn't dislike any of them, I woudn't say I was blown away either.

I'll start with my favorite: Alva & Irva by Edward Carey is told mostly by Alva. Alva are Irva are twins leaving in the imaginary city of Entralla. While Alva dreams of travel (she has a map of the world tattooed on her body), Irva is more reclusive. When Irva stops leaving the house, she and Alva undertake recreating the entire city in plasticine. Irva promises to leave the house once they've made a model of the entire city. Interspersed between Alva's recollections, the novel is narrated by one of Alva's friends. The novel is structured like a tour guide/ memoir, which the main narrator providing information about Entralla and the twins. It also includes images of the plasticine models of Entralla Alva and Irva created. While a tad bleak, I thought it was a quirky read.

One Word: Plasticine

Florida by Christine Schutt. Florida is told in short bursts by Alice Fivey, who is shuttled between relatives when her mother, Alice, goes into a sanitarium. Uncle Billy and Aunt Frances take Alice to the desert vacation home. Their regular house is full of collections and not very child-friendly. Uncle Billy's driver, Arthur, ferries the family around and is one of Alice's favorites. He creates a tinfoil box for her mother to sunbathe in. Her mother, who dreams of goting to Florida, calls the contraption Florida.The novel is told in mostly short passages that seem more like connected vignettes. I thought it was bittersweet and engaging.

Finally Stephen King's Gunslinger (volume one of the Dark Tower series). I'm not sure what I've gotten myself into here. I somehow managed to miss that this is part of a seven-book series. Yikes! I'm not sure if I'll make it through the whole series. Gunslinger traces Roland's quest across the desert to find the Man in Black. Along the way, he stops at a desolate town and meets Jake, a boy from New York City, which Roland has never heard of. I'll have to see what the other books are like before I decide whether I like the series or whether not enough happens to keep my interest.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Morsels: Library Funding

Rep. Thomas Stanley has a compelling defense of library funding over at the Boston Globe.
Stanley: Protecting libraries from budget cuts

According to Stanley, he and 109 colleagues have signed a letter supporting an override of Governor Patrick's Deval's veto of state aid to regional public libraries, which reduces the amount of funding by 2.25 million.

Unfortunately, many agencies, groups and services in Massachusetts are facing funding cuts. Libraries aren't the only deserving group facing painful choices about budget cuts and service reductions. However, I have a sweet spot for the library and think many people don't realize the breadth of services and and programs libraries run. They do so much more than just check books out.

"Public libraries are important to our communities, especially in these tough fiscal times" Stanley notes.

Library services can include classes, English as a second language and even job training. Job hunters can search online for job postings and print out their resumes.

For more on libraries in tough times, I blogged about this topic months ago - Libraries in tough economic times.

I've tallied how much money the library has saved me this year (based on prices listed on Amazon):
Books I've read:
Elsie's Business - $17.95
Revenge of the Spellmans - $16.50
Curse of the Spellmans - $10.98
Hunting and Gathering - $16.00
The Help - $24.95

Books I'm reading:
The Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Dinner - $15.00
Middlesex - $7.95

Total: $108.88

This list doesn't even include a few books that I just could not get through. Many of these books were also shipped to my library as part of library exchange program.

According to Stanley, more than 28,000 Waltham residents have library cards.

Do you?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Elsie's Business - Frances Washburn

On a recent trip with a friend, I happened to glance at some books her daughter had brought home after her freshman year at college. Despite the grim description, I was intrigued by Elsie's Business by Frances Washburn.

The novel begins with the brutal attack of Elsie, who is beaten and raped by a group of white boys. Elsie, is half African American and Native American. The narrator of the book pieces together Elsie's life from various people he talks to including Nancy Marks, who befriends Elise. Elsie, like her mother cleans homes and makes beaded moccasins and other crafts from deer hides.

After leaving the town where she is attacked, Elsie is murdered. The mystery of who killed her is never solved. There are several other questions raised that are never answered.

I have to admit, this was a tough book to read. I think I sniffled/ cried through at least half of the book.

Morsels - A literary look at Massachusetts

Sunday’s Globe rounds up literary references to Boston. Literary Boston Neighborhoods includes Dennis Lehane, Roland Merullo and Nathaniel Hawthorne. There’s a handy map that accompanies the article.

From Revere Beach Boulevard:
“The language of racing felt like my true native tongue. And the track itself - Suffolk Downs, with salty breezes shifting in off the ocean, and the sweet smell of cigar smoke, and crowds of bettors … lining up at the windows - felt like my truest home, a place where the rules were as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror.”

The Times Travel section visits Provincetown – The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown. The story focuses on poet Mary Oliver and the inspiration she draws from Provincetown.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dead and Gone - Charlaine Harris

The newest Sookie Stackhouse is out. Just in time for season two of True Blood.

I enjoyed Dead and Gone more than the last Stackhouse novel, which I thought had too much crammed in there. There's still plenty going on but it felt more manageable. I'll keep it vague to avoid spoilers - the shifters including werewolves come out and no shock, not everyone's happy. Sookie is also drawn into a growing conflict involving her grandfather.

There's intrigue, mystery, danger and a little bit of romance. All the things I look for in a Sookie Stackhouse novel.

Speaking of drama -- True Blood season two is on HBO. I've been taping it but am reluctant to watch. I fear I may be disappointed. I thought last season veered too much of the book. I'm understand wanting to add subplots, but I felt the characters that they fleshed out were made too one dimensional. I'll just say it, Tara annoyed me.

We shall see.

Some interesting reading in Fast Company

Did HBO's 'True Blood' Campaign Achieve Immortality or Just Plain Suck?

Q&A with Pop Candy

Fun video with Tom of Top Chef fame.

What are you reading about True Blood?!

Crazy about Isabel Spellman

I'm not usually big into mysteries. I have a bad habit of being impatient and flipping to the back of the book mid-way in. However, I recently picked up the Spellman Files on a whim after reading about how it's being made into a movie.

And with that became totally hooked. I just finished the third book -- Revenge of the Spellmans and don't know if I can wait until March 2010 for next book!

The Spellman books center around Isabel Spellman, a wise cracking private investigator who works for her parents' detective agency. The Spellmans don't understand the concept of boundaries -- in this family blackmailing, eaves dropping and convert surveillance are the norm.

The mysteries are almost secondary to Izzy's jokes and pratfalls. But the mysyteries are also engrossing and the answers have also completely surprised me.

For more information about Lisa Lutz and news, check out her Web site:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book vs. Movie: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Another installment in Book vs. Movie ... although technically, today's entry was a tv series. I recently watched The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency on HBO. I really enjoyed the series, so when I saw the first book in the series I snapped up.

Typically, I dislike watching something and then reading the book, because I hate picturing the characters as they are on tv or in the film. The book and series centers around Precious Ramotswe, who opens a detective agency after inheriting any money. She tackles crimes small and big from a missing dog to looking for a child who disappeared.

Overall, I thought the series really captured the book very well. It seems that the series included some mysteries/ plot developments that might be in later books. If you have HBO on demand, I would definitely recommend watching the series

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

April reading

I enjoyed a relaxing week in southwest Florida last month and was able to read several books. Overall, I was happy with my choices.

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda-- I read about this book on ShelfTalk ( It centers around a group of misfits who end up sharing an apartment and forming unlikely friendships. This book felt like a rich meal. I had the crazy impression that I should be reading it while having a picnic with a crusty baguette, cheese and tiny pastries. Overall, an absorbing read.

Away by Amy Bloom & The World to Come by Dara Horn -- Both of these had superficial similarities. The World to Come starts off with Benjamin Ziskind stealing a Chagall picture during a singles event at a museum. He believes that his family, who used to own the painting, were swindled out of it. The book flashes back and forth between Benjamin and his grandfather, who met Chagall when he was at an orphanage in Russia and a writer who also taught at the orphanage with Chagall. I found the Yiddish folktales that were interspersed in the novel interesting. I was a little put off by the ending. I felt like I was left wanting to know what was going to happen next. In Away, Lillian Leyb flees Russia after witnessing the slaughter of her family. When she finds out her daughter is still alive, she travels across the country to try to find her. It was a quick read and I found the description of times and the characters engrossing.

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penny - Takes place in Canada during the 1860s. The novel focuses on the murder of a trapper. When her son disappears at the same time as the murder, Mrs. Ross sets out to find him and clear his name. I enjoyed it but did think it had a few bumps along the way. I liked the characters but sometimes felt that I was missing something because of the way things were just implied or hard to understand.

Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch -- the plot centers on Sarah Walters - a southern debutante. I thought this was a quick read, but wasn't really blown away. I felt like it was unconnected short
stories/ vignettes versus a cohesive novel. For some reason, I found Sarah also irritating and since she narrated most of the book that was problematic. I didn't think she was particularly sympathetic or likable.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Town Like Alice

If you've ever come across BBC's list of 100 books, you've probably spotted A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. A Town Like Alice centers around Jean Paget, who was a prisoner of war during World War II in Malaya, and the man she met and fell in love with.

This book starts off incredibly slow, I would recommend really giving it a chance. It opens with a lengthy description of the will preparations for one of Jean's relatives (the book is narrated by Jean's lawyer). The beginning is very dry and technical. This is the second time that I've tried reading A Town Like Alice -- I couldn't get through it the first time. There is also some outdated language as well.

During the war, Jean and fellow women prisoners walked for thousands of miles while their captors look for a camp in which to keep them. She meets an Australian soldier, whose also a POW and risks his life to help Jean and her fellow prisoners.

An interesting read and well worth the effort.

Belong to Me

I may have been ::er:: lax with the blogging as of late, but I have been doing fairly well on the reading front. Recent reads include Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. Belong to Me follows the intertwined lives of Cornelia, Piper, Lake and her son Dev.

I didn't pick up on the fact that Belong to Me is a continuation of Love Walked In. One of the main characters -- Cornelia -- was also in Love Walked In. Cornelia and her husband, Teo, have moved to the suburbs. Their neighbor, Piper, is caring for her terminally ill family and Dev -- Lake's gifted child -- struggles with understanding why his mother has uprooted them while finally feeling at home at school.

Like Love Walked In, Belong to Me alternates between the characters with Piper, Cornelia and Piper narrating chapters. I typically don't like that that type of narration, but in this instance I liked the voices of each of the characters.

A few pet peeves: I still find Cornelia and the overall writing style a little too precious. The main plot twist or revelation towards the end also annoyed me. It felt too forced and stretched credulity to a certain extent. I enjoyed reading about the friendships like Piper's relationship with her sick friend, Elizabeth -- and how our connections with people can cause sadness, but also joy and comfort.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kindred goes graphic

I was very excited when I saw this news via Feministing. There are plans in the works to make a graphic novel of Kindred.

According to Racialicious, Beacon is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Kindred with a proposal to create a graphic novel of Kindred. If done correctly, this could be really awesome.

For those unfamiliar, Kindred is about a woman who time travels between the 1970s and the south when slavery was at its height. She finds herself pulled back in time every time her ancestor (a white son of a slaveholder who had her ancestor with a slave) is in danger.

You can read my take on it here:

Announcement: Beacon Press Seeks an Illustator for Kindred

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

Despite the sadness of the story, I had a hard time putting down Sarah's Key, which focuses on the Vel d'Hiv roundup in 1942 in Paris.

Around 12,884 Jews were arrested and imprisioned in the VĂ©lodrome d'hiver - an indoor track -- for five days before being sent to camps in France. Utlimately, they were sent to Auschwitz.
According to Wikipedia, The roundup accounted for more than a quarter of the 42,000 Jews sent from France to Auschwitz in 1942, of whom only 811 came home at the end of the war.
Sarah's Key centers around two women - Sarah, whose family was taken in the roundup and Julia, an American living in Paris decades after the war.

When the novel starts, Sarah locks her four-year-old brother, Michel, in a secret cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that they'll only be gone for a few hours.

The book alternates between Sarah's story and Julia's. Julia becomes drawn to Sarah's tale after being assigned to write a story about the roundup's 60th anniversary.

I usually don't like it when books flash back and forth like Sarah's Key does, However, in this instance I felt like it helped break up the unrelenting sadness of Sarah's tale. I thought this was an interesting look at love, redemption, secrets and forgiveness.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Olive Kitteridge -- Elizabeth Strout

Ordinarily I don't care much for short stories. However, after hearing my sister rave about Olive Kitteridge, I picked it up when I was at her house. I was instantly drawn in. The structure of the book is short stories -- but one character, Olive Kitteridge, runs through them all. She may be the subject, a secondary character or just a passing thought.
Olive can be abrasive, difficult and outspoken, she can also be funny and caring. The stories take place in a small town in Maine.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. The format suited the type of reading I was looking for -- something I could put down and pick up without feeling like I lost the plot thread. My only pet peeve is why is modern fiction so bleak? Adultery, divorce, suicide, estrangement, eating disorders, etc. Sometimes when I read, I need something happy and upbeat to counter the negative news I'm inundated with on a daily basis.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A look back at Praise Song for the Day

When Elizabeth Alexander participated in the inauguration, she joined a small group of poets that includes Robert Frost and Maya Angelou and Miller Williams. The poem – “Praise Song for the Day” received quite a bit of critical feedback.

I have to say that I enjoyed the poem the second and third listen. Initially, I felt her delivery was a little flat. However, there are several parts of the poem that I felt were very striking.

"We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

I need to see what's on the other side."

The Chicago Tribune weighs in: “And that's OK. A poem, like any other piece of art, doesn't have to be perfect or universally loved to have value. The mere fact that Obama mingled poetry with the day's political rhetoric sends a message: Language matters. Language from the heart matters.”

I’ve included the poem below and links to coverage on the poem.

Praise Song for the Day

by Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other's

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.

We need to find a place where we are safe.

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

brick by brick the glittering edifices

they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.


Big stage amplifies poet's critics -,0,5305166.column

Obama inauguration poem: Elizabeth Alexander -

Praise Song for the Day -

Elizabeth Alexander: Barack’s bard on problem poetry -

Book vs. Movie: Tale of Despereaux

I recently took my niece and nephews to see a Tale of Despereaux. Now I try to always read the book before I see the movie. I really enjoyed the book - I thought it was sweet and fairly complex for a children's book.

For the uninitiated, Tale of Despereaux takes place in a kingdom that has banned soup and rats after an unfortunate rat in the soup incident. The rats have been banished to the dungeon where there's no light. Despereaux finds himself banished to the basement and likely death after he breaks a cardinal rule and talks to a human.

Some favorite passages:
Say it, reader. Sa the word "quest" out loud. It is an extraordinary word, isn't it? So small and yet so full of wonder, so full of hope."

"Is it ridiculous for a very small, sickly, big-eared mouse to fall in love with beautiful princess named pea?
The answer is ... yes. Of course, it's ridiculous.
Love is ridiculous.
But love is also wonderful. And powerful."

Wonderful book. The movie. Eh. Let's just say I fielded several questions from nephews mostly along the lines of 'Is this movie over already?'

The animation was great. However, I felt like they changed the story way too much - they drastically shortened Mig's backstory and altered what they left in. I felt like some of the changes were odd. For instance, they made the female cook a male cook, how Despereaux met the princess, how he met the jailer and... Really I could go on, there were so many changes.

I didn't really understand why the filmmakers felt they had to change so much, but it really prevented my enjoyment of the movie.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inaugural Poem

In case you missed it, Elizabeth Alexander's poem, "Praise Song," which she recited at Obama's inauguration.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Wrinkle in Time -- Madeleine L'Engle

I hate to admit I've never read A Wrinkle in Time. It seems like one of those books everyone should read. I have to say I wish I had read it years ago.

Wrinkle in Time centers on Meg, her precocious brother, Charles Wallace, and their friend, Calvin, as they try to rescue her father. There's a lot packed in the book -- there's time traveling. The children's father had been working on a tesseract, which is a wrinkle in time. There's also an evil thing -- the black thing -- that is threatening earth and other planets. There's the battle of the individual versus the group/ freedom of thought.

Parts of the book reminded me of 1984 -- full disclosure it's been years since I've read it -- such as when they visit a planet where everyone acts identically.
I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Libraries in tough economic times

I think we can all sadly agree that times are tough. But there’s still a place that’s free. It doesn’t cost to check out a book, read a magazine, surf the Web or work on your resume.

It’s the library.

According to the Boston Globe’s Derrick Jackson the Boston Public Library has seen a surge in visitors and activity.

“New library cards are up 32.7 percent from July to November of 2008, compared with the same period in 2007. Visits are up 13 percent, from 1.4 million visits to 1.6 million. Checkouts of books, CDs, and DVDs are up 7.2 percent overall over the last fiscal year. More telling is that checkouts have soared between 27 percent and 37 percent at the Egleston Square, Fields Corner, Jamaica Plain, and Orient Heights branches.”

The library is more than just books these days. Most libraries have tickets to museums, aquariums, etc. You can also take out music, movies and books on tape. My library has access to hundreds of other books and media at other libraries. There’s also a plethora of events geared towards families as well as activities like book club.

Unfortunately, many cities and towns constantly grapple with having enough financing to keep school and town libraries open/ fully functioning. When I was a reporter I saw too often the struggle towns went through to convince citizens that libraries are worth funding.

While many immediately understand the benefits of say police, fire or public works, the intangible benefits of a library can often be hard to understand. I think that libraries pay a crucial role in the community that can’t be underestimated. I’ve outlined a variety of services libraries offer, but most importantly they offer knowledge. There’s thousands of worlds in the library.

To quote a poem:

“Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!”

The library - a recession sanctuary -

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reading Resolutions

Shelf Talk has some great New Year’s Reading Resolutions and inspired me to create my own. Some may be similar to Shelf Talk's (they were good!)

1. I will read some children’s classics I’ve never read.
I’m currently reading A Wrinkle In Time, which I regret to say I’ve never read.

2. I will not feel guilty for reading children’s books/ lighter fare.
I have been dying to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret. There I said it.

3. I will finish series that I’m in the middle of.
This will be year I finish His Dark Materials and the Twilight series.

4. I will read more poetry.

5. I will read at least one classic.
I have plenty of Dickens and Virginia Wolf I need to read.

6. I will read a book I’ve had for a very long time.
There’s Phil Ochs and two Woody Guthrie biographies that have been languishing in my apartment for too long.

7. I will use the library more often. First step: Start participating in the book club again.

8. I will continue to try not to hoard books as much as I do.
I could currently open my own lending library. I literally have BOXES of unread books. And #7 should remove the need to hoard.

9. I will enjoy reading and try not to make it a chore.
Too often I feel like I focus on how many books I read versus just enjoying the books I’m reading. I tend to be down on myself if I don’t finish a book “fast” enough.

10. I will make sure to regularly blog.
It’s not reading per se, but connected to my reading. I truly enjoy blogging about one of my favorite things – reading.

Do you have any “reading” resolutions?

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