Monday, April 30, 2007

Home Comforts

eeek! It's a reference book! And about homemaking no less. As virtually everyone reading this blog knows, I'm not know for my tidiness. This book, by Cheryl Mendelson (a lawyer living the dream of not practicing law) is pretty cool. Whether you want to know how to fold a fitted sheet or get gum out of your carpet (ahem, just an example) this book has the answers. There is a huge section on food safety which is vastly helpful for figuring out if that slightly moldly cheese is safe once you cut the mold off (answer if its a soft cheese pitch it, if it is a hard cheese you can try to save). This is a really helpful book and when I first bought it, I was inspired to clean my house A LOT. Sadly, that wore off but this book still has much to recommend it. (PS, for God's sake, buy a hardback, you'll split a paperback spine in seconds)

Sunday, April 29, 2007

High Fidelity

After breaking up with Laura, Rob goes back to visit his "top-five breakups" in order to get some insight into his romantic life in Nick Hornby's wonderful novel. Rob has never quite grown up and his job as a record store owner lets him hang out with his friends and co-workers Dick and Barry as they discuss music and pop culture and compose endless top-five lists. Rob's quest to visit his exes is funny and cathartic but the record store scenes are really the novel's highlights. Hornby's book was Americanized brilliantly for the movie starring John Cusack and Jack Black. Rob is such a great character--a little immature, a little narcissistic, a little obsessed with music, a lot messed up but very lovable. In Hornby's world, it is not necessarily who we are, but what we like, that helps to determine compatibility. I think I'd get along with most Nick Hornby fans just fine.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Kindred is Octavia Butler's time travel classic. I first heard about it in an interview with the author on NPR about ten years ago. Dana is an African American woman living in America in the 1970s who is married to a white man and has just moved into a new house, when she begins to time travel back and forth to the antebellum south. She realizes that each time she being called there to save the life of Rufus, a white boy who she comes to find out is her ancestor. Her husband begins to time travel with her and each trip into the past is progressively more dangerous. The book has a lot to say about race, gender and power, and has become a bit of a period piece itself (Dana is referred to as Black, rather than African American, for example). Interesting and worthwhile.

Friday, April 27, 2007

What's That Guy Reading?

I have a half hour commute that really isn’t too bad when Mother Nature cooperates. I would love for a public transportation option, though, so I could use that time to read. Oh and to check out what other people are reading too! I can’t pass by someone reading in public without craning my neck at unusual angles to catch a glimpse of the title. Unfortunately, although I read in public all the time, I don’t really see that many other people with an open book. I can be a voyeur at this site—and people are reading some very interesting things.


I read this many years ago and really liked it but am listening to it again on audio now for book club. It really is amazing how Nabokov is able to write so beautifully while telling such a disturbing story of Humbert Humbert and his nymphette. The moving language is even more evident as a book on CD in Jeremy Iron’s creepy voice. I’m not very far in so far, but I really appreciate the beginning “notes’ where the narrator says that offensive is often just another name for something unusual, and, because a quality of art is originality, it is often considered offensive. Just a great book.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Anthony Swofford is bracingly honest in this memoir of "the first Gulf War", as my copy calls it. He talks about all the emotions he passes through as part of a spotter-sniper unit in the Marine Corp, from fearful to bored to stir-crazy. He also is honest about the behavior of the Marines, which like any group run the gamut. He talks about how many Marines (at least the male marines of his acquaintance) cheat wildly on the women at home whenever given the opportunity, and are obsessed with thoughts of the wives and girlfriends cheating on them (sometimes with reason, sometimes not). He talks about the good and bad sides of life as a Marine (don't call them soldiers, they are Marines) and how his father's service during Vietnam shaped his own life and choices. A well written memoir that is better than the movie.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fortress of Solitude

1970's Brooklyn comes vividly to life in Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude. Dylan and his parents, hippie Rachel, who soon leaves them, and artist Abraham, move into the mostly black Boerum Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn. Dylan has a rough time adjusting until he befriends his neighbor, Mingus Rude, the son of a jazz musician. Dylan's childhood in Brooklyn with Mingus grows from games of scully to graffiti tagging to discovering a ring that gives them magical abilities. As they grow older, they grow apart, until one final meeting between the friends where the ring comes into play once again. A few posts back, Shuttsie talked about a book that killed her book club. I was the only one of my group to finish this book, but I absolutely loved it. I saw some of the flaws they did, but I also saw a book that was more evocative of time and place that just about any I had ever read. The book also explores gentrification, art through Abraham's work, pop music and much more. It may be a little slow going at times, but stick with it and you will be rewarded.

Awhile back, Shuttsie posted a link to book sale finder, which lists libray book sales across the country. My local library semi-annual book sale ended last week and, as usual, I came home with lots of loot, which I finally entered into LibraryThing. Regular dailybookbuddy readers might detect a few familiar titles. I have fond memories of going to this sale with Shuttsie and then coming back to our dorm, uh residence hall, rooms and showing each other our finds.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Love Story

What can you say about a 25 year old girl that died? Does love mean never having to say you're sorry? For the answers to these and other thought provoking questions check out this pop favorite of the 1970s. I read this in high school, as research for a speech on censorship. Apparently, "for Christ's sake" can get your book banned in high school libraries. Well, for Christ's sake, concerned censors, I would have never read this book without you! The book is full of snappy dialogue and I still have a major soft spot for it, though I've always related more to Oliver than Jenny and it certainly is full of stock characters. It's a quick read and it will make you laugh.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Amazing Grace

I had a conversation with a coworker who was reading Amazing Grace this weekend. For awhile in college, I wanted to be Jonathan Kozol when I grew up. Kozol has been a tireless and passionate advocate on poverty and education issues since being fired from a Boston school in the 60’s for teaching a Langston Hughes poem that deviated from the curriculum. Amazing Grace features the neighborhood of Mott Haven in the South Bronx, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. Drugs, childhood asthma, and AIDS are prevalent and jobs and fathers are scarce. Through conversations with the people of this neighborhood, Kozol shows the grace and humanity that remains in a community where so much seems lost. Kozol may not be good at offering solutions, but he does pose important questions about what and who we value as a society.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What Will Happen In Harry Potter 7?

This book, put out by the website Mugglenet is an entire volume of speculation about what will happen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. I just read it this weekend and it has me quite excited about July 21. Each chapter focuses on a different topic, such as whether or not Dumblebore is really dead and what the title might refer to. The book is carefully researched citing tons of interviews with J.K. Rowling, mythology associated with the word "hallows", and lots and lots of evidence from the novels to back up their speculation. It's well written and lots of fun.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Born on a Blue Day

Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant. He possesses an amazing facility with numbers and languages but encounters difficulties with abstract ideas, communication, and empathy with others. His memoir contains fascinating descriptions about how his brain works. Daniel has synesthesia and therefore experiences some words and especially numbers as colors, shapes, and/or textures. For example, he is able to visually differentiate prime numbers and performs large calculations by fitting one number "shape" with another to form a new shape, or the solution. Tammet was the subject of a documentary "Brainman" that showed some of his abilities, including setting a record by memorizing and reciting pi to its 22,514th digit and learning Icelandic in a week. Partly due to his autism, presumably, some parts of the book are a bit flat and lack emotional resonance and the book does a much better job of conveying Daniel's extraordinary abilities and does a poorer job of detailing his limitations. On the whole, though, this was a fun glimpse into someone else's brain, one that works completely different than my own.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Good Soldier

Here it is ladies and gentlemen, the book that killed my last book group. We had been meeting for 3 or 4 months, things were swell and then we had our meeting to discuss Bel Canto (one of Angstrat's previous picks). At that meeting, the hostess pulled out the Oprah magazine that featured Ann Patchett, Bel Canto's author. The article included a list of Patchett's favorite books and we decided we should read one off that list--The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. We were disbanded in two months. The story of two couples who's lives are intertwined. John, the narrator, is a bit of a pathetic character, but the way he comes to the novels secrets is really interesting and he definitely has a distinct "voice." This is a book that does not read like it was written 90 years ago at all. I really liked it, but book clubs beware.

Project Gutenberg

Want to download some free e-books? Check out this website, where 100s of books are available for free download. Their list of top 100 downloads is entertaining too. I hope the Methods of Surgery downloads includes illustrations, otherwise there could be some problems.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Say Goodnight, Gracie

I remember reading this YA book in one sitting and not being able to stop crying afterward. Julia Reece Deaver's book is a beautiful evocation of two friends who grow up together. When Jimmy is killed by a drunk driver, Morgan is left to face life for the first time without her best friend. I remember wishing I had a friend like Jimmy, whose love for George Burns and Grace Allen routines gives the book its title. I loved this book so much that I hounded my mom and sister, both non-readers, to read it too. They both loved it also.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?

This book is loosely a novel, but really is more a collections of vignettes about Eddie Ryan, a kid attending an all boys Catholic high school in Chicago and his assorted friends. I think the first copy I read of this was my dad's, which makes sense as he would be a contempory of Eddie and did the all boys Catholic high school thing, albeit in the suburbs. The book takes on the lies nuns, priests, and Catholic brothers told them about the opposite sex (such as the title question) and life in general and discusses their affect on typical teenage problems such as school, dating, and their future. The book is very funny and kind of heartwarming too. It's a look at a now disappearing way of life. The Last Catholic in America about Eddie's grammar school years is also a worthwhile read.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fall of Rome

Rashid is a city kid from Brooklyn who is one of the few black students to attend the prestigious private school Chelsea. His arrival at the school follows the shooting death of his brother and Rashid struggles with his loss and with fitting in socially and academically at Chelsea. Hope would seem to come from Jerome, the black classics teacher and cross-country coach, but Jerome is reluctant to become a racial role model and pushes Rashid harder than the other students. He resents the disruption to the discipline and order that he has embraced in his dual role at Chelsea. Jana, a white woman who previously taught in inner city Cleveland schools, does take an interest in Rashid and also pursues a relationship with Jerome. Rashid’s experiences at the school are told through these three characters and how they relate to each other while coping with their own losses and pasts. Beyond the theme of race, this novel has a lot to tell about how the past shapes us in ways we can’t always anticipate.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Swann's Way

Larry McMurtry's book of essays Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen talks a lot about Proust. McMurtry discusses his open heart surgery and how he felt like a different person afterward including feeling differently about reading (shudder), saying that right before this cognitive dissonance started he reread Proust and he was glad to have this last hurrah. In the past this novel, made up of seven volumes was known as Remembrance of Things Past, but the powers that be have decided In Search of Lost Time is a better translation. Swann's Way is the first volume, made up of two parts : Combrey, the story of the narrator's childhood and Swann in Love, the story of Swann's (a friend of the narrator's family) for Odette, a totally inappropriate woman. Combrey is amazing for Proust's ability to describe how the mind works in ways I could never articulate (the way your mind drifts before you fall asleep, or sense memory-the famous madeleine (a cookie from his childhood) , which makes you experience the past again, not just remember. Swann in Love is great for Proust's observations of love, especially unrequited love. I haven't finish Proust, I'm still bogged down in volume four, seven years after I started. But he's amazing. Once I finish I know I'm going to have to start over.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tickle the Duck

This is another nephew-inspired pick. Ethan Long's Tickle the Duck is a fun book for toddlers. The duck in question begs the reader not to tickle him and he helpfully points out which areas the reader should NOT tickle. The tickle spots are of various textures such as a rubbery foot. The following page then has the duck laughing uproariously as the toddler has inevitably not heeded the duck's warnings not to tickle him. Very fun and interactive. I just saw that Long will have another book, Stop Kissing Me, due out in August that will probably go on the list for Christmas presents.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Feminine Mystique

When I was a junior in high school I bought this book at a garage sale. The premise of the book is some women would find jobs outside the home fulfilling and even be good at them, an idea that was revolutionary at that particular moment in American history. Reading this book in the 1990s showed me how far we had come and how much stereotyped gender roles are still everywhere. The book talks about how women were being programed through their education, through society and so on, to get married, have children and devote every cell of their being to cleaning, cooking and child care for the rest of their lives. Betty Friedan discusses how household cleaners and other products are marketed to women as being items that give women a sense of accomplishment and how women's magazines trended away from stories about women having any adventures but romance (no more learning to fly a plane for example). Bright high school girls were discouraged from going to college or sent there solely to find a husband asthe average age at marrriage for women was dropping. This book has been accused of focusing solely on the plight of white privileged women, which is true, but this is still an important book. Friedan never belittles being a mother or a homemaker, but merely points out women are capable of other accomplishments, in addition to or instead of a "traditional" woman's role, and shouldn't be barred because of their gender. Thanks Betty.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Has Died

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died yesterday after suffering injuries from a fall a few weeks ago. You can read the New York Times obituary in the title link. I confess, I have not read much Vonnegut and the two I have read, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian and Man Without a Country fall under the later, minor works category. I hope to read at least one of his novels this year. He came to speak at my college my freshman year. At the time, I only had a vague idea of who he was. I knew he was a writer but I didn’t really know much about what he wrote or the importance of his work. A lot of people on my floor were really excited about the guy, though, so I went to hear him speak and see what all the fuss was about. I don’t really remember much about what he spoke about—I know I laughed and he talked quite a bit about war. But I do remember feeling an energy that night that made me realize how much of a college education takes place outside the classroom. This was an intellectual and cultural event that I certainly never had the opportunity to take part in before. I’ve been able to attend many other events like that since but I will always fondly remember that experience.

Man Without a Country

Man Without a Country is a collection of nonfiction pieces. Vonnegut also mixes in aphorisms and illustrations to break up the pieces. The majority of the book is a lament about what is happening in this country and the world we are leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. There are a few lighter pieces mixed in as well about childhood or music. The book reminded me of my memories of the lecture of his I attended in college—a bit rambling, a bit cynical, a bit humorous. Most of all, it seems to be a book by a man who’s seen a lot in his lifetime and hopes to remind us to learn from what has taken place then and wake up to what is happening now.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dave Barry's Greatest Hits

Dave Barry is a funny guy. So funny, in fact, that he won the Pulitzer Prize for it. There are a ton of books by Dave Barry out there, lots of compliations of his columns, and "theme books" like Dave Barry Turns 40 and Dave Barry Slept Here, a Sort of History of the United States. Some of those are funny, all have funny moments, but this book, above of his others is hilarious. When I loaned to my Dad, he woke up my mother he was laughing so hard. In conclusion-- it really is his greatest hits!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bel Canto

Japanese businessman Mr. Hosokawa loves opera, and opera singer Roxanne Coss in particular. In an effort to lure him into opening a factory there, a South American country invites Coss to sing at a birthday party they host for Mr. Hosokawa also attended by many foreign businessman and diplomats. During Coss’ performance, a guerrilla group takes over the building and holds the attendees hostage. The plan backfires, as the target, the president of the country, had decided not to attend at the last minute. Once the less important people and the women, with the exception of Roxanne, are released, the remaining hostages are kept for months. There are lots of language barriers, between the terrorists and the hostages and among the hostages themselves, who are mostly foreigners. They are aided by Mr. Hosokawa’s translator, Gen, and the power of music in the form of Roxanne’s performances. As the novel builds toward its inevitable conclusion, relationships are formed, priorities shift, and barriers are crossed. I loved this novel for its unusual premise, its sense of shared humanity, and its beautiful writing, which is almost operatic in nature to match its subject.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Handmaid's Tale

A classic feminist dystopia, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is set in a not too distant future where women are strictly controlled. The protagonist, Offred (Of Fred) a handmaid whose role in a family and society is to bear a child and then turn the child over to the wife to rear it. In this reality, women have no say in their lives (Offred was basically kidnapped into her role) and ever aspect of their day from where they go to what they wear. Infertility is rampant and the handmaid's are in a precarious position, being both the other woman and the only hope of producing a child. A chilling, well-written book that has some important things to say, even twenty years after it was first published.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Bookmark Now

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably part of the demographic that doesn’t really believe the sky is falling reports on how nobody reads these days. You’re probably in a book club, have friends who read, and always seem to see lots of people during your weekly trips to the library or bookstore. But some article or survey seems to come out every few months talking about the end of the book. It is this scenario that Kevin Smokler addresses in this essay collection he edited. There are 24 essays with young writers like Neal Pollock and Meghan Daum talking about why they still write despite these dire predictions. In actuality, the essays are much broader and more varied than that and talk about everything from the current state of MFA programs to author collaboration to writer jealousy. I found most of the essays entertaining, jotted down a few authors to watch out for, and was encouraged by the various ways that authors are trying to get their work out there, from blogs to cooperatives like the Dave Eggers/McSweeney’s groups. There is also a nice appendix in the back with lots of book resources for both writers and readers.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

I Thought My Father Was God

This book, edited by Paul Auster is a collection of true life stories sollicted from National Public Radio listners for the National Story Project. The stories complied here are short--ranging from a page to around four pages-- and cover a wide range of topics such as love, death, war, families and just about anything else that touches people's lives. It's a lot like sitting a coffee shop with a bunch of strangers as they tell you the most noteworthy story of their lives, some funny, some sad and all of them unique. Great book, also a good gift book.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Coroner's Lunch

This mystery by Colin Cotteril was recommended by a coworker. She picked it up for the pretty cover. Dr. Siri Paiboun is the state coroner for Laos and he is confronted with a poisoning and three more bodies that could spell trouble for international relations for his country. He uses clues picked up through his medical examination as well as an ability to commune with the dead in his sleep to discover what happened. My coworker liked the book for its humor and its insight into Laotian culture. This is the first book in a planned series.

Friday, April 6, 2007


My mother has a heavy black three ring binder divided by alphabetical tabs. In it is every book she's read since college. LibraryThing is here to save our generation from the tyranny of the binder. This site allows you to easily catalogue your books, find book recommendations and anti-recommendations, compare your books with other users (including Daily Book Buddy recommended authors) and chat in various threads. Here Angstrat is the way cooler kid, she has been using LibraryThing for a while and encouraging me too as well. Maybe soon.

Maus and Maus II

The link above is to the first of these graphic novels by Art Speigelman. I am not a huge graphic novel fan (though I do want to sample some of Angstrat's picks) but these two are amazing. Speigelman depicts his parents. experiences through the holocaust (and some of the aftermath) in cartoon form. The Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Pole ares pigs, French are frogs, Americans are Dogs. This works particularly well in Maus where they are trying to escape being sent to the camps and assume various disguises--the mice wearing pig masks when pretending to be Poles and so on. These novels also explore Speigalman's tortured relationship with his parents and how his father telling him the story of their holocaust experiences changes how he sees him. Speigelman's father, who kept himself and his wife alive in Auschwitz through sheer tenacity is an amazing man, though he can be infuriating to his son. A brilliant portrait of the holocaust and one family's story.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

We Need to Talk About Kevin

I am currently struggling through Lionel Shriver's latest The Post-Birthday World, which is disappointing because her Kevin is one of the most memorable books I've ever read. Despite its flaws, I wanted to push this book on everyone I met just so I had someone to talk about it with. The book takes the form of letters from Eva to her absent husband two years after their son, Kevin, kills several classmates in a Columbine-like incident. In the letters, Eva tries to figure out what went wrong and how much responsibility she should bear. Eva was ambivalent about having children to begin with and the early questions that are raised about why people have children hooked me in from the very beginning. Kevin was a difficult child and he and Eva never really bonded. Whether Kevin is irredeemably bad is a question mark, as Eva is definitely an unreliable narrator. I did have some problems with the book, I think Shriver tried too much to make Kevin different than typical teenage shooters, i.e. he wears his clothes too tight and his weapon of choice is a bow-and-arrow. Despite this, throughout the book raises a lot of questions about marriage, parenthood, nature v. nurture and much more. I unfortunately have a tendency to forget much of what happens in a book after reading it, but there are scenes in this book that I still think about several years after reading it, including when Eva meets the mother of a victim in the grocery store, the gift Kevin gives his mother while in prison, and the last scene. This is a great book for book clubs to pick!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (who also wrote 101 Dalmatians) is a "read alike" for Jane Austen, but also has a bit of the The Glass Castle in it as well. Narrator Cassandra and her sister Rose live an actual, albeit crumbling castle. Their father was once an esteemed novelist, but has been "blocked" for many years and the family is extremely poor. Their stepmother, Topaz, is a former artist's model who is closer to the girls age than their fathers, but contrary to convention, is far from wicked and actually makes real effort to mother the girls and provide for them financially. Two American heirs to the property they live on visit the village and Rose schemes to "catch" one of them in order to rescue the family, with a surprising outcome. The book is full of memorable characters and is a great read.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


One of the best parts of having nieces and nephews is getting to buy them books for birthdays and holidays. I just got this very cute board book by Matthew van Fleet for my nephew who's turning two and is obsessed with dogs at the moment. The book features dogs of all breeds and features opposites, synonyms, and action words. There are also lots of different textures to feel from soft ears to a sticky tongue. Pull tabs make tails wag and ears shake after a bath and one dog even lifts his leg up by a tree on his walk. I have a few more books in mind for my nephew but am always looking for more suggestions--what are your favorite books for toddlers? I also have a new nephew on the way, so suggestions for baby showers and newborns also welcome!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Tender at the Bone

One interesting thing about doing this blog is that looking over our choices, patterns start to develop. Apparently I am completely obsessed with books about cooking and food, because here is yet another food related choice. Tender at the Bone is the first of three excellent memoirs about former New York Times restaurant critic and current Gourmet editor in chief, Ruth Reichl. The book describes her childhood and her early adult years, showing how she came to love not only good food, but the meaning of cooking and serving a particular dish. From a some what privileged background, Reichl learns about food from the various excellent cooks in her life (housekeepers, family, friends) but also learns much from from her mother, who is maniac depressive and prone to serving guests spoiled food. Overall, this is a great memoir of an unusual life, as are the next two volumes, Comfort Me With Apples and Garlic and Sapphires.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Empire Falls

It's really impossible for me to name just one favorite book or one favorite writer--I like too many different things for too many very different reasons. Richard Russo or a book by him is always in the mix, though. Russo's books are usually about life in a blue-collar small town populated by an eccentric cast of imperfect but likable characters. All that sounds kind of depressing, I realize, but Russo manages to be funny too. The town of Empire Falls is slowly fading away; the mills have closed and the stores on Main Street are boarded up. The town matriarch, Francine Whiting, owns much of what's left, including the Empire Grill. Miles Roby had bigger dreams than this town, but left college to care for his dying mother and has run the Empire Grill ever since. His wife, Janine, recently divorced him to marry the slimy Walt and his teenage daughter, Tick, is having problems of her own at school. There are a lot of other colorful people running around,Empire Falls, including Miles' father, the unreliable Max, and his former neighbor and nemesis Jimmy Minty. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Russo read from this book shortly after it won the Pulitzer, and if he ever comes to a bookstore anywhere near you, don't pass up the chance. He is just as warm and funny as his characters.