Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My Life in France

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme is a terrific read for your quarter (or one third) life crisis. At age 36, Julia Child moved to France with her new husband Paul, speaking no French and newly retired from the O.S.S.. In looking for a way to occupy her time, she turned her new found love of French cuisine into first a hobby, then a job teaching cooking and then a career, publishing cooking books, staring in her first PBS series and becoming Julia Child, cooking celebrity. Refeshingly, Julia doesn't hesitate to say what she thinks, she remains unrepentingly critical of her father through out the book, and recounts her differences with Simone Beck, one of her co-authors on Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book was written shortly before her death with the assistance of her nephew, Alex Prud'Homme and I was shocked it wasn't on any of the best of the year book lists.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

While I Was Gone

Yesterday was not only my birthday, but also the birthday of Oprah Winfrey. Today's recommendation, While I Was Gone by Sue Miller, was one of Oprah's Book Club selections. When a man from her bohemian past returns, Jo Becker must relive the summer one of her housemates was brutally murdered. The return of Eli causes Jo to rethink her marriage and the events of her past. I liked this book for the nostalgia of Jo's earlier life and the suspense of the unfolding events, as well as the questions it raised as Jo must make a fateful decision at the end.

As an aside, in college my boss/friend Tiffany and I once had one of those 2 a.m. "what am I going to do with the rest of my life"conversations (profound, as all late night dorm, I mean residence hall, conversations ultimately are) where we decided that I should be Oprah when I grew up. But not everyday Oprah hosting Tom Cruise jumping on the couch and depressing abuse victims. No, I was going to be Oprah one day a month, on book club days (and also paydays, of course). I would have interesting discussions about books with the author and other people who loved books. Granted, I'd never seen a book club episode in its entirety, but in my version the discussions would be smart and lively and I would have lots of witty and articulate things to say beyond "I really liked it". Most of all, though, I would be able to tell other people what they should read and have them actually listen. Now, through this blog, I guess my Oprah dreams are fulfilled. Except the audience of this blog is probably about 3 people. And they are probably far less likely to read, or at least buy, the books I recommend. And no stickers (Shuttsie, can we work on getting stickers?). But hey, it's a start.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Coming of Age In Mississippi

First of all, Happy Birthday to my co-blogger! Today's book is a call back to our days as undergrad American Studies majors, Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. This memoir, written before the memoir craze, tells the of the author's childhood and in the 40's and 50's and her participation in the civil rights movement. She is unflinchingly honest about how facing racism shapes not just the events of her life but also her personality. This book woke me out a deep sleep, and actually made me want to take action. Unfortunatly I was several decades too late for Freedom Summer, but hopefully the effect of this book has remained with me, at least a little bit.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Feast of Love

I adored this book by Charles Baxter which explores the many aspects of love in a very unusual form. The narrator, Charlie Baxter, comes upon his neighbor, Bradley, one insomniac night. Bradley advises Charlie that he should be writing a book about love and offers to send people his way to tell their stories. Charlie meets Bradley and his ex-wives; Chloe, one of Bradley's employees and her boyfriend Oscar; and Bradley's academic neighbors, the Ginsbergs, among others. Along the way the characters tell their stories of love in its many forms, comment upon other characters' versions of events, and even advise Charlie. I was especially affected by the stories of Chloe and Oscar's passionate love and the sad parental love story of the Ginsbergs and their son.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

On a Pale Horse

I first read this book, On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, when I was in high school at the recommendation of my friend Beth, who LOVED Piers Anthony and my high school boyfriend, Jacob, who said this series was the only good stuff by Piers Anthony. I don't think these are the only good books he's written, but they are the best, and this one is the best of the best, by far. The premise is --what if Death were a job? The book opens a magically enhanced version of our world, with Zane alone and in despair, trying to kill himself. However as he sees a corporal version of death approach him (think hood, skull, scythe) he panics and turns the gun on him, killing Death instead of himself. By doing this he assumes the office of death. Zane tries to fight this, refusing to reap souls, but eventally embraces his role (sort of), sorting through the souls of those who fall somewhere in the middle of good and bad. His pale horse, Mortis, changes from a steed to a car at the flip of a button and he has a computerized system to help him in his work. There is an entire series, called the Incarnations of Immortality, which include time, nature, fate, war, and good and evil.

Friday, January 26, 2007

NBCC Nominations Are Out

The National Book Critics Circle announced its 2006 finalists last week. The NBCC will be profiling one book each day on its blog. I've only managed to read two books on the list, Fun Home (recommended in the post above) and Stuart: A Life Backwards. My book club is reading The Road for next month, too. I don't usually make my reading choices based on awards, but I do look at the nominees and shortlists for any unknown gem I might have missed out on. Here are the list of nominees:

Patrick Cockburn, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso)
Anne Fessler, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade (Penguin Press)
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin Press)
Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (Ecco)
Sandy Tolan, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East (Bloomsbury)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (Knopf)
Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss (Grove/Atlantic)
Dave Eggers, What is the What (McSweeney’s)
Richard Ford, The Lay of the Land (Knopf)
Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Knopf)

Donald Antrim, The Afterlife (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin)
Alexander Masters, Stuart: A Life Backwards (Delacorte)
Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (HarperCollins)
Terri Jentz, Strange Piece of Paradise (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Daisy Fried, My Brother is Getting Arrested Again. (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Troy Jollimore, Tom Thomson in Purgatory. (Margie/Intuit House)
Miltos Sachtouris, Poems (1945-1971) (Archipelego Books)
Frederick Seidel, Ooga-Booga (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
W.D. Snodgrass, Not for Specialists: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions)

Bruce Bawer: While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the WestFrom Within (Doubleday)
Frederick Crews, Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays (Shoemaker & Hoard)
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon(Viking)
Lia Purpura, On Looking: Essays (Sarabande Books)
Lawrence Wechsler, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences(McSweeney's)

Debby Applegate: The Most Famous Man in Amerca: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher (Doubleday)
Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968 (Simon& Schuster)
Frederick Brown, Flaubert: A Biography (Little, Brown)
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (St.Martin's Press)
Jason Roberts, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler (HarperCollins)

Which of these have you read? Do awards influence your reading choices?

Fun Home

I haven't read many graphic novels, but a review of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel drew me in and I'm glad it did. This was probably the best book I read all last year. The fun home of the title is the funeral parlor where Bechdel grew up with her mother and closeted father. The book follows Alison's coming of age touching on her coming out and her father's suicide, among other subjects. I think my mild aversion to graphic novels has been the somewhat choppy nature of the writing due to it being broken up in panels. Bechdel's writing flows beautifully from one panel to the next and the gorgeous drawings enhance the story. I particularly loved the interplay between father and daughter about their love of books. Inspired by Bechdel, I will definitely try other graphic novels in the future. What is your favorite graphic novel?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lonesome Dove

This book, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, is one of my personal all-time favorites. I have been pushing it for years, even though some (such as my co-blogger) haven't gotten to it yet because "it's a western". McMurtry set out to subvert the western, to show cowboys as imperfect, rather than a larger than life movie image, and all long the way, he redefined the genre. This is the story of Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, two middle aged former Texas Rangers, who have a half hearted cattle business in Texas and go on one last cattle drive (along with their colorful employees and the town whore). Along the way they encounter old friends, horse thieves, and more. Gus and Call are two of the best characters in fiction. They are so real, you will feel like you know them, and like someone you know, you will go through the range of emotions with them, happy for them, angry with them, and so on. The supporting characters are also great, particularly Clara, Gus's long lost love, and the rest of the Hat Creek Cattle company. There was a mini-series, a sequel and two prequels. Two warnings: McMurtry can break your heart like no other author, and secondly there are some discrepancies between the prequels and Lonesome Dove about what happens to certain characters. If anyone has read these I'd love to discuss Clara's choices in the comments.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lost and Found

This book was recommended by a coworker who also enjoyed Carolyn Parkhurst's previous novel, Dogs of Babel. Lost and Found follows multiple characters on their quest to win an Amazing Race type reality TV show. Among the couples competing to win are a pair of child actors, a married couple that is part of the ex-gay movement, and a mother and daughter team that are still trying to recover from the daughter's secret. While the details of the game itself are not that thrilling, this novel works best as it focuses on the interaction between the characters. I was especially drawn to the mother-daughter duo, Laura and Cassie, as they worked to repair their relationship while also bonding with other contestants.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Cape Ann

This recommendation, The Cape Ann by Faith Sullivan, comes to us from my entire book club. I think this may be the only book that we have all 1) finished and 2) completely loved. Told from the point of view of Lark, a little girl growing up in the Depression, the book centers around her parents troubled marriage. Lark and her mother dream of building a home of their own, pouring over blueprints for their dream home, a Cape Ann. Her father seems satisfied with their current living arrangements, a sectioned off room in the train depot where he works. The story unfolds to include her mother's family, in particular her aunt, who's tumultuous life plays a huge role in the second half of the novel. There is a sequel, Gardenias, which I haven't read, but plan to soon. (Warning: the description of Gardenias has mild spoilers for the Cape Ann)

Monday, January 22, 2007

1968: The Year that Rocked the World

1968 was a monumental year in US and world history, from the assassinations of RFK and MLK to the Tet Offensive to the Democratic convention in Chicago. A friend I work with is fascinated by all things 1968 and has read a lot of books on that year. His favorite is Mark Kurlansky's 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, which he calls "the most definitive book on the social, cultural, and political history" of 1968. My friend also collects all things 1968, most notably pennies (6919 and counting!). If you want to add to his collection, go here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Man with the Golden Arm

This book, The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren was recommened by a guy who I worked with for three years before I learned how much he loves "gritty Chicago" stories. Growning up in Chicago (or as we say around here, "the city") he loves books set there and particularly loves this one, for the great protrayal of the dark side of city life including drugs, crime and just plain hard luck. This was aslo made into a movie staring Frank Sinatra.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Set This House in Order

When you work in a library, sometimes it's a patron who helps you find a book you wouldn't normally read. I picked up Set this House in Order by Matt Ruff after an enthusiastic patron insisted I needed to give it a try. Andy Gage was reborn two years ago as the public face of the old Andy who has multiple personality disorder. Andy and his fellow souls have devised a unique way of dealing with his MPD. They all live in a house in his mind loosely guided by Aaron, another of his personalities. When his boss hires a woman, Penny, who also has MPD, Andy reluctantly begins to help her. As he tries to help Penny, questions are raised about his own life that threaten to destroy the house he developed as a coping mechanism. Ruff has some imaginative theories about how the mind works and the characterization of the various personalities is wonderful.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Art Garfunkel makes me feel dumb

Friday Bonus Post- Art Garfunkel is more intellectual than anyone I've ever met in real life. The title to this post is a link to his web page where he lists every book he's read since 1968, including such light reads as Kant, Hume and Flaubert to choose some random names from 1981. He has a few less cerebral tomes, such as the Da Vinci Code and the Shining, but mostly he's reading the heavy hitters. I rationalized to my husband that maybe being a musician, he didn't attend college and is over compensating. Wikipedia says he has a B.A. and a Master's from Columbia. So clearly, that's not it. Post your theory about this list or let us know how you keep track of your reading.

Master and Commander

My husband LOVES this book. In fact he loves the whole series. Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brien is the first in a series of twenty novels (and a twenty-first unfinished novel) about sea captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. The books are set in the Nepoleonic Era and follow the career of Aubrey as he rises through the ranks in the British navy. The books are full of details about history and boats, have lots of action, and depict a great friendship between Aubrey and Maturin, who serves as ship's doctor and Aubrey's closest advisor. If you have seen the movie, don't be suprised that the book is different, as it actually based on one of the later books in the series. Also check out Salon's Table Talk, there are many mentions of Stephen Maturin in the characters we love thread.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


My first recommendation, Cross-X by Joe Miller, has been generating a lot of local (KS) buzz because it follows a high school debate team from Kansas City's Central High School. Central is an inner city school that has been deemed "academically deficient" yet its debate team is competitive at the highest national levels. Miller follows two teams of African American debaters as they confront stereotypes about the Urban Debate League and even attempt to change the structure of debate itself. It falls off a little in the last part as the book shifts to Miller's increasing role with the debate squad and his views on the democratic world of debate. On the whole, though, it is a highly suspenseful and engaging read. I only wish it was also a documentary so that I could watch some of the debate rounds described. Also check out this NPR interview with the author and Marcus and Ebony, two of the Central debaters.

Life As We Knew It

This book, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, was recommended by my younger sister. It's a young adult book and the premise is that a meteor causes the moon to be pushed off of its axis, causing the tides, and thus global weather to change dramatically. This leads to tsunamis, tidal waves, disease and the eventual breakdown of societal institutions. The teenage protagonist and her family struggle for survival and deal with a world that has changed completely. My sister loved this book and was totally caught up in the survivalist aspect.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Sparrow

Today's book is a recommendation of a co-worker at my previous job: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. He and his wife are both crazy about this book- she says its her favorite book ever. Although they assured me it isn't science fiction, I have to say it does have science fiction elements, but there is also more, as the novel is an exploration of cultural misunderstanding. The book is the story of a mission to Rakhat, the home of the first discovered extra-terrestrials. The mission was funded by a Jesuit group and half of the members are Jesuits themselves. From the first pages, the reader learns that things went disastrously wrong and the details of the story slowly unfold as the only survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, gradually reveals what happened on Rakhat. This book also has a sequel, Children of God.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Welcome to my new blog. My plan for this blog is to present a book every day, that myself or someone I know has read and really enjoyed. I am hoping that by doing this, people will learn about books they might not have otherwise heard of. Without further ado here is the first book:

Self Made in America by John McCormack

This book was brought to us today by one of the attorneys at the firm where I work. He found the book to be a great read, the stories of the self made immigrant millionaires was fascinating and inspirational. He also found that it gave him insight into many of the small business men he works with in his practice. It's an older book, one that I don't remember hearing about previously.

Better link

To avoid cutting and pasting the above book is above.