Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Monday! (8/31/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
Sometimes I like to just tuck into a thick novel and read it all week. After the week before last's marathon of reading, I finished everything on my August reading list, so I decided to slow things down a little with Jan Karon's At Home in Mitford, the first of thirteen (I think) books in the Mitford series. I finished it yesterday, and I enjoyed it a lot. It's a nice, quiet, clean novel, truly a breath of fresh air.
And my love affair continues with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie audio. That stinkin Flavia is something else.
I started a couple of other books last week, but since they're on my September reading list, I don't want to reveal them yet!

What are you reading?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (syllabus)

Link up with your own list here: The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's topic: Top Ten Books That Would Be On My Syllabus If I Taught Contemporary Biography/Memoir 101
You don't know this, but I used to teach summer English classes to high school students in the Upward Bound program. The best part about teaching (I was not a very good teacher) was setting my own syllabus, right down to the focus of the summer's study. My first year, I taught research writing. My second summer, I taught poetry. 
I think the trick to a good syllabus about biography and memoir writing is to choose works that discuss an array of different lives all using top-notch writing to tell the story. 
This is what would be on my syllabus: 

the extraordinary American: Unbroken

celebrity memoir: Open by Andre Agassi
biography of a famous animal: Seabiscuit

childhood written in verse: Brown Girl Dreaming

Powerful people
U.S. president: Destiny of the Republic
British monarch: Elizabeth the Queen 

minority lives: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
My Beloved World

ladies: Eat, Pray, Love
gentlemen: Visiting Tom
What would be on your biography/memoir syllabus?



Monday, August 24, 2015

It's Monday! (8/24/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
I had a great three days off last week, and I accomplished a lot in the reading category. Almost nothing in any other category, though. (But in my defense, it was too rainy to weed the garden.)
And since hubby  has to work on Saturday (boo!) I'll likely be doing nothing more than reading until he comes home.
So, last week I finished...
Sister Mother Husband Dog. Good book. I enjoyed it when Ephron talked about working on screenplays and movies with her sister, Nora Ephron. Movies like Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally. You know, back when Meg Ryan was the It girl. I have no idea who the It girl is these days.
And I finally finished The Best American Poetry 2011. I'm kind of amazed at how long this series has been going--esp. given this selection of poems. I'm still feeling kind of burned by this one.
And I finished my Mansfield Park audio. Nothing like first cousins falling in love to make you feel all warm and tingly inside.

I spent most of my three days off re-reading Julie & Julia. I liked it a lot more when I read it for the first time in 2008. This time through I was a little disgusted by Julie Powell's immaturity and narcissism. This is one case where the movie is much better than the book.  
Last week I intended to read The Folded Clock, but after giving it 30 pages or so, I decided I couldn't continue. The author and I would be buds is all I'm saying. So at the public library, I picked up The Book of Joan, Melissa Rivers's tribute to her mother, Joan Rivers. I've been trying to check out more books from the library, and this is exactly the kind of book I should check out instead of buy because I'll likely never feel the desire to re-read it. I was enjoying the book for awhile, but its crassness started to grate on me before long. I finished it this weekend, and let's just say I'm glad I didn't buy this one.
I also finished The Great Gatsby this weekend. Did you know it's a very short book--a novella, I'd say. I didn't know that. I enjoyed the writing, but the story left me cold. I don't understand why this one is such a favorite for so many.
This weekend I started At Home in Mitford, and I think I've found something I'm going to really enjoy. Since there are about a dozen Mitford books, that's a good thing. I love finding new fiction that charms me.
The surprise hit of the month, though, has been The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first in Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mystery series. I couldn't find an audiobook I wanted to start at the library, but I did find the audio of this book which was already on my August reading list, so I decided to "read" it on audio. And oh! Oh! I'm loving the audio. The narrator is fabulous. She brings Flavia to life with her wonderful accent. I'm hereby adding all of the Flavia books to my TBR.

What are you up to this week?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

Truman Capote

Category: Nonfiction novel*

Synopsis: The 1966 nonfiction novel recounting the mass murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, the murderers, and the subsequent trial.

Pages: 343

Date finished: 10 February 2015

Rating: *****

Recently, I was at the library’s graduating senior party where we present each of our graduating employees with a book with their bookplate in it that will be placed in our stacks. I dislike crowds of any kind, big or little, even if, like this one, they come with really good cupcakes. I’m always so bad at making small talk. But I have learned that the best way to start a conversation is to ask a question, so when I forced myself to stop hugging the wall and sipping my strawberry lemonade ridiculously slowly, I sidled up to a work friend and asked, “So, what are you reading these days?” We ended up shutting the party down. (Perhaps introverts are only introverts when it comes to most topics?)

At any rate, when my friend was done telling me what she’s been enjoying, she asked what I’ve read and loved lately. I told her about Middlemarch, but she didn’t seem particularly interested. Then I told her I’d read In Cold Blood earlier this spring and loved it. “Really?” she said, “You? I’ve never read that book because I assumed it was horribly violent.”

Same here.

So, in case you’re like my friend and me and have put off reading In Cold Blood because of its promise of violence, this review is meant to make you reconsider.

First off, is it violent? Yes and no. Capote is a very sensitive writer. While he has to give the gruesome details of the murders of the prosperous and well-loved farm family, he does not glory in it. He doesn’t spend any more time describing the crime than he has to in order to present the facts. While I don’t remember how many pages he uses to describe the murders, I’d guess that it’s not more than a dozen, and only half of those or less are describing the slayings per se. (If you’re especially sensitive to this sort of thing, I think you could skip the parts describing the murders without it affecting your ability to follow the rest of the book.) In fact, the murders seem to be downplayed. While they are at the center of the book, they’re not really the main focus of the book. They aren’t particularly violent or heinous (beyond how all murders are violent and heinous) because the murders aren’t premeditated nor done in a fit of passion. Three of the four murders are done in a merciful way, which is central to the story. There’s no rape nor physical or mental torture.

Capote spent years writing this account of the murders and the murderers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickok. In fact, he seemed to become friendly with Smith—though that special relationship doesn’t show up in the book. Hailed as one of the first (or the first, depending on who you ask) true crime books, Capote’s approach is more journalistic than novelistic. The narrator is neutral, though scenes are set much the way a novel’s scenes are. Capote is much more interested in the psychological than the gruesome or pitiful. And that’s what makes this book so masterful. His writing is fluid and precise. He is a master at providing just the right details in just the right amount to set a scene or paint a powerful picture. He is sympathetic but not at all partial. He doesn’t condemn the murderers nor make saints of the Clutters.

And that’s the true genius of this book. His restraint and control of the subject is incredible. He goes far enough, but never too far. He tells everything, but doesn’t dwell. He fleshes out the victims and the criminals and everyone they knew, but he doesn’t take sides. I sincerely hope this book is still being taught in nonfiction writing classes at universities, because it is a flawless example of what to do and how to do it. I’ve never read another book like it.

If you’ve always been turned off by what the title promises, I hope you’ll reconsider. I’m glad I did.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
I did!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (auto-buy authors)

This week: Ten Authors you Auto-buy. In other words, if they release a book, you snap it up.

Link up with your own list here: The Broke and the Bookish.

In no particular order:

Gretchen Rubin
I haven't read anything of Rubin's before her first Happiness book, but I've gobbled up everything since then.

A.J. Jacobs
The King of the Experiment. I've read all of his books, and only one was a dud. The rest rank among my favorite books ever.

Ree Drummond's cookbooks
I haven't read her kid's books, but I drool over, and read every word of, her cookbooks.

Michael Perry (at least his nonfiction)
There are a couple Michael Perry books I haven't read, but in general I read and love everything the man puts out--even the ones I don't expect to like.

Bill O'Reilly's Killing... series
I own but haven't read Killing Lincoln, but I've finished Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, and eagerly await Killing Reagan--out next month.

Anne Lamott (nonfiction)
I can't get through Lamott's fiction, but I adore her nonfiction. Even though I seldom agree with her!

Laura Hillenbrand
I will read everything this woman puts out. Period.

Elizabeth Gilbert
I haven't read her earlier novels, but I've read everything from Eat, Pray, Love on, and I love it all.

Mo Willems (for the library)
When I new Mo Willems book comes out, which they do every couple weeks, I auto-buy it for the library. I love the Pigeon books and also the Gerald and Piggie books.

Candice Millard
She only has two books (Destiny of the Republic and The River of Doubt) but I loved them both so much, I'll read whatever she releases next.

Who are your auto-buy authors?


Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Monday! (8/17/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
As you read this, I'm on a three-day reading vacation! Each August I participate in the Bout of Books Read-a-thon, and I generally take three vacation days to do nothing but stay home and read. If there's a better way to take vacation, I haven't discovered it yet! I don't always officially sign up and link up, because daily reading updates bore me to write and likely bore others to read, but I'm with the 'thon in spirit at any rate.
Beyond reading, I hope to get a couple things done around the house. I need to weed the garden, for one. I also want to get started on a couple jewelry designs I've got floating around in my head. And I need to straighten up my study because I don't even like to enter it these days. But mostly, it's just me and the couch and books.  
* * *
Last week I finished three books. I loved (can't emphasize this enough) The River of Doubt. It started out slow, but when it picked up, it got really good. It's an adventure story full of suspense. I highly recommend it.
I read Babymouse: Queen of the World! at my desk on break after a copy was donated to the library. This is the first in a series of 16 graphic novels for kids. I enjoyed it, and I think I'll order a couple more for the library.
I also finished Garlic and Sapphires last week, and I was sad for it to be over. Years ago I'd read Ruth Reichl's other memoirs about food, but I don't remember them well. After this one, I now want to re-read them all, plus I've added her most recent novel, Delicious! to my TBR. In this book, Reichl, who has just become the New York Times restaurant critic, is forced to use disguises to make her trips to area restaurants anonymous. The way her personality takes on the disguise's persona and people's reactions to her based on how she looks is fascinating. It brings up a lot of questions about personal interaction and how closely personality is tied to outer cues. Reichl is a very good writer, and her descriptions of food are truly yummy. I highly recommend this one.
I have less than an hour left in my Mansfield Park audio. This novel seemed to have more build up than her others (or was that related to listening to it rather than reading it?), and I truly wasn't sure how it would end. Now I can't wait to find out.
I'm also a few pages away from the end of Sister Mother Husband Dog, and I'm really enjoying Delia Ephron. She has a clipped, personal, almost conversational, writing style which I find refreshing. Not sure I'd want to read a lot of books that trip along the way Ephron's does, but I have liked it very much.
I also don't have much left to read in The Best American Poetry 2011. Last week I read a poem that was truly phenomenal in its structure. It had a complicated rhyme scheme I've never seen before, and it repeated lines from stanza to stanza and then put all of the repeated lines together in the last stanza. The poem itself  was about Motown music, and its style really blew me away.

So, I'll be finishing these three up during the read-a-thon, and then I'll be starting two or three or all four of the rest of my August reading list:

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's Monday! (8/10/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
Happy Monday! Will someone please explain to me how it got to be August 10? And will someone please explain to my garden that it must start producing vegetables if it will beat the frost? I know everyone is saying this, but the summer HAS gone much too fast.
It's been a rather uneventful week reading-wise. I read the same four books all week and didn't finish any of them. It took awhile, but I really got into The River of Doubt. It's one of those epic-adventure-everything-goes-wrong kind of books, and it's fascinating. Teddy Roosevelt was unbelievable. I can't imagine most of our recent presidents taking off on an unexplored waterway in the heart of the Amazonian jungle.
Sister Mother Husband Dog has also picked up. The first essay in the book was a long, meandering one about her sister, Nora Ephron (responsible for most of your favorite chick flicks), and it was not representative of what I've read in the book since. I'm enjoying her voice.
The Best American Poetry 2011. Hmm, well, you win some, you lose some. This is a loss. I actually skipped one whole (long) poem because it was like someone threw words on paper, saw what stuck, and didn't bother to arrange them. Poetry like this gives all poetry a bad name. Blech!
And my Mansfield Park audio is getting really good. Unfortunately, it's almost over. I have only one more Jane Austen novel to read, and I can now say I see her novels as quite formulaic. That doesn't necessarily bother me--I wish there were more, in fact--but nothing is much surprising me either. Austen does allow her Mansfield characters to actually speak their minds which is rare, as I remember from the other books. Refreshing.
I should finish a couple of these this week.
What will I pick up next? I really can't decide. I'll just choose something from my August book pile:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

August 2015 Reading List

I spent a lot of time on my August reading list for some reason. I'm having trouble focusing on just what I want to read these days. But I finally settled on nine books, heavy on the woman-y memoirs and fiction this month.
          Nonfiction: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
          Poetry : The Best American Poetry 2011
          Memoirs: Sister Mother Husband Dog
                           The Folded Clock
                           Garlic and Sapphires
          My re-read: Julie & Julia
          Fiction: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
          Classic: The Great Gatsby
          Audio: Mansfield Park
I'm trying to read more library books--I do, after all, work in a library, and both The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Great Gatsby are library picks.
This is an ambitious list, but I hope to participate in the Bout of Books Read-a-Thon midmonth (for which I take two or three vacation days to read), so maybe I'll be able to finish these--and even a tenth book.

What are you reading these days?