Friday, May 22, 2015

Short story roundup: week three

"Redeployment" by Phil Klay in Redeployment
This National Book Award, New York Times bestselling collection examines he modern soldier's experience. These stories, which I read at friend Merrill's recommendation, were gutwrenching and heartbreaking. The subtext seemed to follow that they can never really go home again. I purchased this book even though I had vowed not to buy any books for this challenge, but I'm glad I did because I know I'll want to finish reading it.

"Love and Honor and Pity and Pride" by Nam Le in The Boat
I bought The Boat a long time ago--maybe six years ago--and was happy to get to this shelf sitter. When this debut collection was initially published, it was to great acclaim. Most stories center around the immigrant experience, particularly that of Southeast Asians. The first story, "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride," which is a reference to Faulkner, is gorgeous. It features a Vietnamese-born graduate student at the Iowa Writer's Workshop who, facing writer's block, co-opts his father's story for his semester final. What follows is a meditation on father-son relationships and guilt and responsibility.

"The Pilot" by Joshua Ferris in 20 Under 40
I returned to 20 Under 40 to read Joshua Ferris' "The Pilot." I had read and loved And Then We Came to the End, which I read coincidentally right after my 2008 layoff. It was dark and funny. I also read his sophomore effort, The Unnamed, which I did not love. It was a short novel about a man with a disorder in which he couldn't stop walking. It was sad but mostly confusing. Since I feel Ferris has a lot of potential, and since I loved the first novel more than I disliked the second, I turned to a piece of short fiction. "The Pilot" follows an alcoholic screenwriter as he tries to finish writing his TV pilot. His networking escapades and attempts to stay sober are farcical but not always funny. The story left me feeling a little meh.

"Another" by Dave Eggers in How We Are Hungry
My friend Caryl and I saw Dave Eggers read from What Is the What at the Pen Pals series sponsored by the Hennepin County Libraries. I thought this novel about the Lost Boys of the Sudan was pretty genius. Eggers is a little bit of a hottie and wickedly talented and sort of knocked my socks off that day at Pen Pals. I bought a copy of his story collection, How We Are Hungry, because I wanted to read more. Most of the stories in this collection are short in length, and so I dived in with the first, "Another." This is the story of a divorcee who visits Egypt and takes a horseback tour of the Pyramids. His discomfort in the saddle becomes more physically punishing as the tour progresses and the pyramids reveal empty chambers, yet he requires another and another. Could masochism be a theme? Or perhaps the tour is an allegory for a search for self.

"The Lesson" by Kelly Link in Get in Trouble
Back to Kelly Link in the hope of finishing this collection. I enjoyed "The Lesson," the story of a gay couple that is expecting their first child (by surrogate). They take one last fling a trip to private island wedding of friends. Their trip is cut short by the early arrival of the baby, a preemie whose survival is questionable. Freaky folklore and a groom with a mysterious reputation create gorgeous tension throughout.

"The Nimrod Flipout" by Etgar Keret in Nimrod Flipout
I bought The Nimrod Flipout on impulse at Micawber's Books when shopping for the boys' Christmas book stacks--you know: one for them, one for me. It has one of the best jackets ever. The book jacket touted Keret, an Israeli writer, as a genius, and finally I had a chance to see for myself. The title story, "The Nimrod Flipout," is about three buddies whose friend, Nimrod, commits suicide after a psychological break. Almost as a curse, the three buddies have periodic, alternating flip outs. It was strange, and I had a hard time making a connection to the writing.

"Lusus Naturae" by Margaret Atwood in Stone Mattress
Lusus naturae means "a freak of nature," and so it is that the protagonist of Margaret Atwood's same-titled story has a genetic condition that renders her frightening to others. The girl's family stages her funeral and confines the girl to their home so they won't have to deal with prying neighbors. But the girl grows bored at home and often sneaks out until she's spotted by townfolk. This story was wily and had a lovely whiff of folklore. Atwood wrote it at Michael Chabon's invitation for his anthology, McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Short story roundup: week two

This week, this stack is short, but three stories were found in the Atwood and another was on my ipad, which is at the bottom of the pile. I found Neil Gaiman's latest book at the library as a "lucky day book" and so only had it for a week.

"Origin Story" by Kelly Link in Get in Trouble
I have long been curious about Kelly Link. And although her reputation preceded her, I can't say I join the choir. Her style can best be described as surreal--melting clocks, floating/hovering characters, and so on--which I thought I'd really like. And, I did like some of collection's stories, prior to this challenge, such as "The Summer People" and "Valley of the Girls," which were fantastical and weird but enjoyable. Mostly, I didn't get "Origin Story," but fortunately Scarlett Thomas in the New York Times Book Review admitted she struggled with this story, too. I recall the main character, Bunnatine, and her superhero boyfriend, as well as references to mutants and the Wizard of Oz. But that is all.

"The Lady with the Dog" by Anton Chekhov in the public domain
When I mentioned to my reading circle that I was doing a short story challenge, my friend Susan suggested reading Chekhov. It occurred to me that I had never knowingly read Chekhov. A quick internet search lead to tons of stories, many of which had links to public domain versions. Snap! "The Lady with the Dog" was a top-searched story, and so it was my entry to Chekhov. It is the story of a adulterous affair conducted by a businessman and a housewife, each of whom were vacationing in Yalta. The story starts with the couple's first encounter and culminates in an ambiguous ending. It was very satisfying in its brevity (most of the contemporary stories I am reading clock in at 30-50 pages = not short). And, I also felt that this was the sort of classic story from which I can see current writers borrowing themes. I will read more Chekhov and entertain recommendations.

"All Aunt Hagar's Children" by Edward P. Jones in All Aunt Hagar's Children
Edward P. Jones is another author who has long been on my radar, and I was not disappointed. The collection focuses on African Americans in Washington D.C. (where Jones was raised and lives) and feature journey as a theme--journeys planned and unplanned, taken and failed. I read the title story, in which the protagonist is asked by his aunt to solve the murder of her son. The story has a decidedly noir tone and is, even though considered one of the weaker stories in the collection, complex and interesting with an unpredictable ending. I will absolutely read more Edward P. Jones.

"Orange" by Neil Gaiman in Trigger Warning
Trigger Warning--images or ideas that could be upsetting--was another recommendation from Susan on the reading circle. Gaiman offers a collection of short fictions and "disturbances," some of which were commissioned by anthologists and others of which were never published and thus were given an opportunity to be reworked. I dipped into many enticing stories where Gaiman takes liberties with characters and form. In the introduction, Gaiman also offers a backstory for each story to help you decide to read it. There is a story that was meant to accompany a David  Bowie/Iman photo shoot, called "The Return of the Thin White Duke," another is a Dr. Who story, a Sherlock Holmes story, one that was written for This American Life...a real hodgepodge. "Orange" is told from the point of view of a girl whose sister disappears. The story's form takes shape through an questionnaire where the reader does not see the questions, but has no difficulty filling in the blank.

"Alphinland", "Revenant", and "Dark Lady" by Margaret Atwood in Stone Mattress
These three stories form the Dark Lady cycle in Atwood's fall 2014 collection, Stone Mattress. Each is linked by characters--a group of artists who are married to or have been married to Gavin, a poet. They explore themes of youth, art, fame/success, and aging. And, they are brilliant. So is the author.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Short story roundup: week one

For the first week of Short Story Month, all of the books I picked up came from my shelves, except for The Other Language, which I had just checked out from the library. In fact, all of these books came from one room of my house. It's hard to know where to start, especially since I'm not obligated to read from cover to cover. So do I always want to read the first story? No, I do not. For some, I chose the title story, for others I picked a story at random, and for a few I chose the first story, just to keep things interesting and random-ish. Some stories I loved. Some stories left me lukewarm. All the stories made me want to read more from the collection, especially if the collection was by one author. I wanted to see more of what that author could do with the form.

"Scandamerican Domestic" by Christopher Merkner (Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic)
I bought Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic at the American Swedish Institute gift shop earlier this year, and it has been patiently waiting on top of an urgent book pile near my reading chair. What made the volume "pickupable" was the comparison to a Midwestern Shirley Jackson, but I found Merkner's style to be more surreal, like Kelly Link. The title story is positioned #5 in the book. It was an odd, impressionistic, dreamlike story about a father who takes his children, whom he often refers to as friends, to Europe. Not much happens, and I felt like I was reading a story that was out of context, even though the stories are not linked. I may need to read the stories that led up to "Scandamerican Domestic," as well as one or two beyond and possibly the last story to get a better sense of what the collection and Merkner are all about.

"The Other Language," by Francesca Marciano in The Other Language
Awhile ago I read a blurb or review for The Other Language and requested a copy at the library. Its availability was fortunate so I included the title story in my short story challenge. Quotes from Jhumpa Lahiri, Julia Glass, and Gary Shteyngart suggest that Marciano's stories are character driven and set in wonderful places that transport the reader, which sounded like my kind of storytelling. This coming of age featured an Italian girl whose family visits a Greek island to recover from the accidental death of their mother. Emma observes the comings/goings of the Milanese, Greek, and British vacationers who also congregate here, thus establishing a budding interior life. Emma's family returns to the island the following summer, and Emma experiences first love. Throughout, the island is vivid, touching on all the senses until the reader feels as if they are on the beach or in the cafe.

"Someday All This Will Be Yours," by John Jodzio in Twin Cities Noir
Mr. Bibliotonic picked up Twin Cities Noir at a bookstore recently. It is one of over fifty titles in Akashic Books' Noir series, which, travelers take note, covers the globe. In full disclosure, I have a number of personal connections to this book and the story I chose. The editors, Julie and Steve, are friends and members of my book group, which has read John Jodzio's story collection, If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Already, and Jodzio came to our book group meeting so we could talk flatteringly about it with him. Mostly, I was drawn to the local nature of these stories, which the table of contents identifies by neighborhood. Jodzio's story, a true short story at eight pages, was set in Minneapolis' warehouse district and featured a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde who set out to scam a local bar's speed dating participants. This very place-oriented story had an economy of language that was sharp and satisfying, and it offered an unexpected ending. I will read more Jodzio as well as more titles from this collection.

"The Young Painters," by Nicole Krauss in 20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
All of the authors in this collection are appealing to me--Rivka Galchen, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nell Freudenberger, Joshua Ferris, ZZ Packer, and more--and so it was difficult to chose just one. "The Young Painters" was chosen somewhat at random, by letting the book's pages fall open. I'd read two of Krauss's novels and happily set about reading her short fiction about a young novelist who wrote a book about a painting owned by an acquaintance that she met at a dinner party. The story is smart and full of allusions, and uses an interesting point of view that will keep the reader wondering. I was pleased to see these stories archived online and kept accessible for the time being.

"Winter Dreams," by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald
Patricia Hampl guest edited this collection, which was published during my time at the MN Historical Society Press/Borealis Books, although I never did crack the spine then. "Winter Dreams" was chosen at random, but promised rich descriptions of St. Paul's Summit Avenue. This story is considered part of the "Gatsby-cluster" stories because it focused on some of the themes--upward mobility, class relations, and ambitions--that Fitzgerald would expand upon in The Great Gatsby. In this story, Dexter Green, a caddy at the Black Bear Country Club courted Judy Jones, a spunky and unpredictable young lady who was bored with the trappings of upper class life in St. Paul. I was pleasantly surprised by Fitzgerald's sense of humor, which I didn't remember from reading The Gatsby. I will read more from this collection, which includes "Berenice Bobs Her Hair."

"Betty Garcia," by John Reimringer in Fiction on a Stick
Another anthology of Minnesota writers that I picked up on an impulse a few years ago. I was familiar with fewer of these authors so it was easy to pick a story at random. "Betty Garcia" offers the promise of a Fitzgerald story of upward mobility, but other side of the tracks--blue collar to middle class. Set in the 1980s in my neck of St. Paul, with scenes set on Summit Avenue and the monument at River Road and Summit, this story is a straightforward character sketch of the protagonist Jack and his girlfriend Betty Garcia.

"St. Lucy's Home for Girls," by Karen Russell in St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
I have been looking forward to reading Karen Russell for awhile--for at least 7 years because that is how long it has been since I purchased this book. And, I loved, loved, loved "St. Lucy's." It was clever, funny, dark--everything I want my fiction to be. Claudette and her pack-sisters have arrived at St. Lucy's Home for Girls to begin their five-stage transformation from wolves to humans. Werewolves + Catholicism and a liberal dose of allegory. I loved Russell's imagination and her textured style. She met all the expectations set by the mountains of critical acclaim. I cannot wait to read the rest of this collection.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Short Story Month

May is, apparently, Short Story Month. According to the sponsor,, we are in the second golden age of the short story. This is exciting news to me because I love short stories! From an impressionable reading age, I dug short stories. "Tale of the Magi" caught my attention when I was 14, and "The Veldt" knocked my socks off in Honors American Studies my junior year of high school.

Unfortunately, I don't take many opportunities to read stories, mostly because I have this weird hangup about reading a book from cover-to-cover rather than just dipping in when the mood or need arises. On a complete whim, I have decided to read a story a day in May. I don't have a plan. My only hope is to read widely within the genre--shelf-sitters, recommendations from friends and reviews, single author volumes, anthologies, emerging writers, classic authors, new-to-me authors, favorite authors, and re-reads.

In addition to my shelves, the following websites have links to stories, free and not:

Akashic Books (free 750-word stories)
Library of America's "Story of the Week"
NPR's celebration of National Short Story Month (with list of suggested authors and collections)
Vintage has a story in ebook format for each day of the month (for purchase)
Graywolf Press authors talk about short stories (with links to purchasing stories)

And, there is always fiction in The New Yorker.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Winter Cookbook Challenge

Earlier this month, an online community to which I belong posted a winter cookbook challenge: 

You might set a goal to read a cookbook memoir (or two); or you could plan to try some recipes during these winter months; or you could decide to purge your cookbook collection, organize your online recipes, or invest in a new cookbook you’ve been drooling over and immerse yourself in it.

I'm eager to to take up all parts of this challenge! Whose cookbook collection and virtual recipe boxes couldn't use organizing and refreshing? Whose home cooking repertoire couldn't stand to be revitalized? And, what a great time of year to shed off some of the old and bring in some new.

To jump start inspiration and goal creation, we were asked the following:
What cookbooks do you recommend? It may be a straightforward one, with just recipes and guidelines, or it may be a combination cookbook/memoir. Or maybe you just want to recommend some good food writing with us. 

I love big, colorful cookbooks and take a lot of inspiration and motivation from them. Typically, I will check them out from the library, often as many times as necessary, although sometimes I know from that test period that I will need to own a copy at some point. It seems like every chef- or personality-driven cookbook these days also offers stories, which makes them great for reading even if I never cook from them. My cookbooks favorites of the 2014--for cooking experiences or just for armchair travel/cooking--are pretty multicultural:

Jerusalem and Plenty (Middle Eastern)
The Lee Brothers Charleston Kitchen (Southern)
Around My French Table (Dorie Greenspan)
Momofuku (Japanese)
The Slanted Door (Vietnamese)

My “go to” cookbooks, however, are not colorful. There are three: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe, and Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe Vegetables. These are the cornerstones of my cookbook library and provide solid recipes and techniques. They have been instrumental in helping me gaining confidence in the kitchen or for simply giving me reminders for things like preparing a steak, which I do super infrequently, or the ratio of water to couscous. My copy of Bittman is so worn that they book falls open to his homemade-pancakes-are-so-easy-you-never-need-use-a-mix-again recipe.

Last week, I packed up my cookbooks temporarily to clear space for a remodeling project. While packing up I set aside a couple books that I either bought on impulse or received as a gift but haven’t given them their proper due: Momofuku, Ivan Ramen, Thug Kitchen, A Tale of Twelve Kitchens. When the remodel is finished, and I unpack the boxes, I would like to give special consideration to which cookbooks go back on the shelf. Years ago I had to come up with some clever stacking solutions because the collection had grown considerably and no longer really fit on the shelves in a conventional manner. We'll see. 

Also, years ago, I created accounts for "recipe boxes" on various websites--Epicurious, Food2, Martha Stewart, and Fine Cooking, to name a few. This has proved to be a clever way to flag and store recipes online. So clever, in fact, that I often forget about these recipe boxes exist or that I can't remember where I saw a particular recipe I want to try. Some of these sites are more robust than others. Fine Cooking, for example, will let you upload your own recipes. Epicurious has an app so you can access the recipe box when you're at the grocery store. I'm sure there is an app that would allow me to manage all my online recipes, and that could be a goal.

Finally cooking essays are among my favorite nonfiction narratives. MFK Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, Calvin Trillin and Laurie Colwin are among my favorites. Currently, I am reading Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, which is one part memoir and one part history set within the framework of Russian cooking. This is true comfort reading to me.

Here is my goal for this winter:  I want to read more food essays and to that end will finish reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking and start (and hopefully finish) Kate Christensen's Blue Plate Special, which is on the side table next to my reading chair, conveniently. Also, I will peruse some shelf-sitter cookbooks: Momofuku, Ivan Ramen, Thug Kitchen and A Tale of 12 Kitchens and pick a recipe from each to cook.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

the year (2014) in books

Happy New Year!! 2014 was a spectacular reading year for me. On Goodreads I set a challenge to read 47 books, which represented the average number of books that I have read over the past few years, all while missing the 50 book goal I typically set. Tracking is so easy on Goodreads, and I spent most of the year ahead of goal. In the end, I finished 60 books, a record for this millennium certainly. The luxury of reading time each morning undoubtedly contributes to this increase in numbers. The boys, unfortunately, no longer want to be read to, and the books that are “read” on our road trips tend exclusively now to be audiobooks. A few long flights offered opportunities to read ebooks on my iPad’s Kindle app, many of which were checked out from the library. I love the library! In 2015, I have set at 75 book goal, but would like to increase the number of shelf sitters to 10, which is less than 1/6th of my goal. Doable? I think so.

Herewith is a list of the sixty books I read in 2014. A small list of statistics follows.

1. Uniform Justice, Donna Leon: #12 in series; death of a young cadet, not Leon’s best but still a comfort to re-visit Venice and Brunetti
2. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn: Wickedly creepy and fast-paced; I hope Flynn writes something new soon
3. Attachments, Rainbow Rowell: Cute workplace romance, set obliquely in Omaha, which made me realize I knew the city better than I thought.
4. Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell: Charming coming of age novel in which a first-year college student writes fan-fic about a Harry Potter-type series, falls in love and has family issues and academic challenges. Plus, Omaha and Lincoln.
5. Billionaire’s Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace: Fascinating blend of wine and history, the inside workings of traditional auction houses (e.g., Sotheby's), and the follies of those with more money than good sense (e.g., Forbes family members).
6. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt: Hands down, my favorite book of the year; Consumed in a monster power read. Sweeping and delicious with loveable and hateable characters in equal measure. I look forward to reading this again. Perhaps I will finally get around to reading My Little Friend.
7. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris (audio): Listened to the audio, which is my preferred delivery system for Sedaris, and nearly peed my pants laughing, as always.
8. The Dead and the Gone, Susan Beth Pfeiffer (E): Companion to Life As We Knew It, but following charaters in New York City. The main characters are children whose parents are missing and presumed dead after a catastrophic event, and one of the older children frequently picks the pockets of dead in the street makes for a dark book.
9. The World Is a Carpet, Anna Badkhen: Conversation with Books. About seriously remote Afghan villages and war and carpets. It's written in a nearly poetic prose that made the book a not totally quick read.
10. Blood from a Stone, Donna Leon: #14 in a series. Murder of a Senegalese vu’cumpra, who sold fake fashion accessories. Meaty with political and social issues.
11. Drawing Conclusions, Donna Leon (E): #20 in a series. Brunetti examines all the ways in which he participates in the system’s corruption while solving a crime that didn’t start out a crime. Victim’s apartment reminded me of Dorothy and David’s Venetian flat.
12. Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, Catherine Pancol. Impulse purchase quickly consumed. Lighthearted with sly humor, sort of a pleasant mash-up of Diane Johnson (Paris) and Raffaella Barker (chicklit).
13. Travels with Alice, Calvin Trillin: Trips to Europe with his wife and children. Characteristic Trillin humor.
14. Oishinbo 05: Vegetables, Tetsu Kariya: Quirky good fun. I love the outrageous expressions on the characters faces. So far, this is my favorite book in the series.
15. Longbourn, Jo Baker: I loved from this Austen pastiche from first paragraph. Like P&P, the writing is clever, and you get the sense that you're in for something special. Plus, hints of Downton.
16. Dear Life, Alice Munro: Conversation with Books, and one of the most talked about books of the year. Mesmerizing and unexpected and deep stories that were, nonetheless, consumed like potato chips. Note to self: read more Munro soon.
17. Oishinbo 06: Rice, Testu Kariya: This volume feature the most significant component of Japan’s diet.
18. Ten Years in the Tub, Nick Hornby: A collection of Hornby’s previous four volumes of book reviews for The Believer, all of which I have read so here just caught up on the newest ten essays. Hornby’s voice is singular.
19. Dare Me, Megan Abbott (E): Nick Hornby told me to read this. It's a sharply written psychological thriller about a cheer team and their coach. For those who are looking for something similar to Gillian Flynn.
20. Tamarack County, William Kent Krueger: Place and character driven mystery set in Northern Minnesota. Listened to 2/3 on a road trip, then finished reading the remainder to John. My only read-aloud book this year.
21. The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje: My first Ondaatje, read for book group. Eleven-year-old Ceylonese boy on a ship from Colombo to England. Relatively plotless book consists of a series of vignettes, observations, really, that the boy makes while on ship. One of my favorites this year.
22. Delancey, Molly Wizenberg: Funny, frank, and tender memoir about opening a pizza restaurant
23. Love and Treasure, Ayelet Waldman: Highly anticipated novel about the WW2 Hungarian Gold Train, but hugely disappointing, especially after Waldman threw a fit for not being included in the NYT’s best books of the year.
24. Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin: Schmaltzy novel but about bookselling with a character modeled on Mark Gates. I didn’t want to cry but found it unavoidable.
25. Under the Egg, Laura Marx Fitzgerald (E): A young adult novel about art—Monuments Men meets From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler. I thought it was really well done.
26. Knots and Crosses, Ian Rankin: Slim, taut Edinburgh-set mystery featuring a deeply flawed protagonist. One of my favorites this year. I look forward to reading more from Rankin.
27. Bobcat and Other Stories, Rebecca Lee: Sharp, edgy stories compared to early Alice Munro.
28. The Vacationers, Emma Straub: Read on the England leg of our summer trip. Light, smart summer read with great characters and situations. The author has a keen sense of observation, which comes through in the best way.
29. The Accident, Chris Pavone (E): Read on the flight during sleepless, jetlagged Glasgow nights. About publishing, predicated on a big reveal that forces the plot and dialogue to be vague. Underwhelming.
30. The Matchmaker, Elin Hilderbrand (E): Quick solid summer read even if I felt like shaking the protagonist. Someday, I will take a vacation in Nantucket.
31. Under Your Skin, Sabine Durrant: Impulse purchase at W.H. Smith in the Glasgow airport. A well-done, Gillian Flynn-like thriller set in London.  
32. The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner. Book group. Dense, immersive read, which is probably why it was a National Book Award finalist and received crazy huge accolades from other authors and the press. Ultimately neither I nor anyone else in book group liked it. My choice, my bad.
33. Notes from a Small Country, Bill Bryson: I find that Bryson’s earlier work isn’t as funny as Walk in the Woods and In a Sunburned Country. His travels around Great Britain, though, were a great way to prolong my summer trip.
34. The End of Everything, Megan Abbott. More Megan Abbott, please.
35. Fictitious Dishes, Dinah Fried: Clever photographs of literary scenes.
36. The Golden Egg, Donna Leon: #22 in the series. Brunetti investigates bribery in the mayor’s office at Patta’s request and the untimely death of a Deaf-mute at Paola’s request.
37. Lethal People, John Locke (audio): Thriller with outrageous characters and situations. Really enjoyed laughing out loud as we listened on an Ely road trip to pick up the boys from their respective camps.
38. My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff (E): Started while staying at Yew Tree Farm. Enjoyed this very readable memoir for the publishing references and coming-of-age in NYC.
39. Morning Glories, volume 1, Nick Spencer: Chilling Orwellian-supernatural-boarding school mashup.
40. California, Edan Lepucki (e): Because Stephen Colbert said to. Postapocalyptic.
41. Oishinbo 02: Sake, Tesu Kariya: I was least interested in this subject, but this volume turned out to be my favorite (with sushi remaining).
42. Portage into the Past, J. Arnold Bolz: Journal of an epic canoe trip tracing the epic canoe trip of another adventurer. Bought at Piragis in Ely after hearing about Simon’s first portage through the BWCAW and Quetico.
43. The Summer Book, Tove Jansson: Twenty-two vignettes set during the summer on a Nordic island that follow a young girl and her aging grandmother.
44. Morning Glories, Volume 2. Nick Spencer: Continuation of Orwellian boarding school graphic novel.
45. Knitting Yarns, Ann Hood, ed.: Essays and stories about knitting. Delightful but always made me want to knit instead of read.
46. By Its Cover, Donna Leon: This is it! I have read every book in the Brunetti series. This mystery is set in a library and involves vandalism against rare books. The Grand Canal is lively and central to this episode.
47. Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan: Four ugly, unsympathetic character, but still enjoyed reading.
48. Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, Marta McDowell: An illustrated biography of Beatrix Potter and her love of gardening. Reading this was a great way to draw out memories of my summer trip, which included a stay at Potter’s Yew Tree Farm and a visit to Hill Top.
49. Delicious! Ruth Reichl: Smart, page-turning novel set at a defunct food magazine with the author’s carefully chosen autobiographical reference woven into story.
50. Lethal Experiment, John Locke (audio): Book two in Locke’s wildly successful bestselling, self-published series. Listened to on a road trip to Chicago during MEA break.
51. Still Life, Louise Penny: Smart writing, great character, intriguing setting--these are all things I look for in a mystery series.
52. Petite Mort, Beatrice Hitchman: Book group. This novel about a silent film, set in 1913 Paris, is told in exquisitely layered flashbacks. Gripping with a plot twist and great payoff. I loved it.
53. Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel: These stories, one of which seemed to be a study for Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, are a satisfying hors d’oevres while waiting for Thomas Cromwell volume 3.
54. The Age of License, Lucy Knisley: Another delightful graphic novel from Knisley. This time about travel.
55. Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham: Smart funny, honest, and sometimes a little raw.
56. Russ and Daughters, Mark Russ Federman: Episodic memoir of the fourth-generation Lower East Side appetizing store. It made me hungry for lox, whitefish salad, and bialys.
57. The Visitors, Sally Beauman: Death on the Nile meets Downton Abbey was an apt comparison. At 500 pages it was a not quick but comforting read.
58. Bark, Lorrie Moore: I found this long-awaited story collection to be lacking.
59. Winter Street, Elin Hilderbrand (E): Cozy, quick, seasonal read for the plane to PHL.
60. Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher: On all the year-end roundups. Local author. I found this short epistolary novel darkly funny and sometimes really sad.

Total: 60
Fiction: 46
Nonfiction:  14
Women: 42
Men: 18
Donna Leon: 5
Mysteries: 15
Rainbow Rowell: 2
Elin Hilderbrand: 2
Audio: 4
Post-apocalyptic: 2
Travel: 5
Food: 6
Graphic novels: 6
Stories: 5
E-books: 9
Shelf-sitters: 3
Memoirs/bio: 4
Book group: 4

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Currently reading: Maine and Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life

Maine, a family saga, was recommended to me for summer reading a few years ago by a publishing friend and then again this summer by Caryl. Since I was between books, reading the book that a friend places in your hands is super easy. This novel is told in the alternating voices of four characters that represent three generations of women. The matriarch is clearing out the family’s summer home in Maine where her granddaughter has retreated as she comes to terms with her unplanned pregnancy. Joining them is the matriarch’s daughter-in-law, who is building a dollhouse (a metaphor for her empty marriage) for an international competition. So far, I find all the characters despicable. Where is the love? Yet, the book is enjoyable to read, which I find is a weird juxtaposition. 

In June, my family spent a week in England’s Lake District where we rented Yew Tree Farm, a farmhouse built in 1693 and owned by Beatrix Potter in the 1930s. Naturally, we saw as many BP sights as possibly, and now, in an attempt to hang onto memories,  I am reading Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, which is a delightful biography framed by Potter's love of the natural world. I love Potter's children's book illustrations and her watercolors so this book is such a treat. She was a complex and admirable woman! In addition to Potter's biography, illustrated by archival photographs and artwork, there are sections on her gardens through the seasons and a travel guide to visiting the places she habituated.

Up next: Margaret Atwood's highly anticipated new story collection, Stone Mattress. Can't wait!