Literary Feasts: People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks

literary-feasts3I love reading about food in books.  I like to cook and I love to eat even more.  So on Friday’s I’ll be sharing the culinary delights that I have come across in my reading. What better way to start off the weekend than thinking about good food in a good book.

“Raz grinned, defeated at last by my sour mood.  He’s always had a romantic streak.  That’s what had drawn him to shipwrecks, I suppose.  The waiter arrived with a bowl of searing vindaloo.  I dribbled the fiery sauce over my rice, took a forkful and felt my eayes water.  I loved this stuff.  I had lived on it when I was at Harvard. The burn was as close as I’d found to my favorite food in the world: the king prawn sambal at the Malayan restaurant at home in Sydney.  Food can be very restorative sometimes.  After a few bites I started to feel a bit better.” [194]

Have you come across any good food in your reading this week?

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Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill – Book Review

the-man-in-the-pictureThe Man In The Picture, by Susan Hill
Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
Publication Date: September 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 160 pages

 

Oliver is in town to visit his former tutor and mentor, Theo Parmitter. They catch up and reminisce about old times when Theo suddenly announces after dinner that he has a story he must tell Oliver in order to regain his peace of mind.  Having been an art trader when he was younger, Theo has picked up a mysterious Venetian painting of Carnevale from ancient times.  Even though he is begged by the agent of an unknown buyer to name his price- and sell the painting, the painting has already taken a hold of Theo. He falls under its strange power and refuses to part with it for any amount of money, even when he learns its deadly history and suspects that he will pay the ultimate price.

 

I have another book on my shelf by Susan Hill entitled The Various Haunts of Men, though I didn’t realize it when I picked up this book to read. A cross between The Picture of Dorian Gray and an Edgar Allan Poe short, this tale started out creepy but left too many  unanswered questions in my mind for me to really appreciate it.  The atmosphere and the suspense set in right from the beginning.  Set in a creepy and deserted-for-the-term college campus, it’s filled with mysterious figures lingering in the shadows and curiously unexplained mishaps.  A delightfully chilling tale within a tale, within a tale, within a tale, I was a little apprehensive about starting to read it late at night, and more jumpy than usual at bedtime, peering into shadows around my room and half wondering whether I would see a face lurking in the dark.  And then, all of that promise fell flat, which was disappointing because it could have been easily remedied had the book been longer.

 

I can’t go into too much detail without giving the story away completely, but character motivations and development were sparse, and I just didn’t feel there were any valid explanations into why this curse was being passed along to the people.  Was the  painting haunted? After its initial reasons for revenge was it just content to continue wreaking havoc on the lives of those who came to possess it? What happened to the people who were affected by the painting?  What happened to cause the painting to come to exist and begin its deadly work? I was very disappointed not to find these answers.  Not knowing made the whole thing less creepy, and I was more inclined to concentrate on the holes within the plot.

 

That being said I am really looking forward to reading The Various Haunts of Men.  I suspect that the problems I encountered due to the lack of length won’t be as much of a problem since it is a full length novel.  I enjoyed Susan Hill’s writing.  It was suspenseful and atmospheric, and I thought she did an excellent job capturing the spirit of a different time through the dialogue and scene descriptions.  I can’t wait to see what she does in a full length novel where she answers some of the questions that her story asks.

 

Read More Reviews At:

A Girl Walks Into A Bookstore

Have you reviewed The Man In The Picture? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

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Linus’s Diary ~ Drood, by Dan Simmons: pp 1-85

This is a diary.  Read at your own risk.  You know what happens when you read other people’s diaries, sometimes you find out things that you’d rather not know.  Consider yourself warned.

drood1I’m coming to this book without a lot of knowledge of any of the people or topics that it’s about.  I’m not a great Charles Dickens fan. I read the abridged edition of A Tale of Two Cities in the fifth grade and thought I liked it, but what do you know in the fifth grade? I have seen A Christmas Carol more times than I can count, and in many different incarnations, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge of Dickens beyond the titles of his books.  I know even less about Wilkie Collins.  His novel, The Woman in White, is only familiar to me as the title off a classic that I have never had to read.  But the story sounded good.  I love to read stories that have hints of the truth and glimpse, fictionally, into the lives of real people.

So far this is a sprawling read.  There is so much information that I am on overload.  Too much information.  There are so many names of people that are similar to each other and the names of residences, and the names of books and literary authors and acquaintances.   There is so much information that I am catching myself reading paragraphs and pages and realizing that I am retaining hardly anything but atmosphere.  It is a good thing that the names and relationships are repeated many times, and are slowly being reinforced because otherwise I would know nothing.

The narrator Wilkie Collins jumps around a whole bunch in the story and shares many distracting asides, which seem important because of the intricacy with which they are told, but I still wonder how much of it will have any bearing on the story. At the same time I am supremely interested in all the details of Dickens’ life,  and the fantastic way that he and Collins rival each other in terms of being absolutely fascinating characters.  Collins is a drug addict, who unoriginally, thinks he finds his truest self when he is under the influence of several glasses of laudanum (enough too kill eight men and two women, a physician who witnesses his habit tells him).  An unreliable narrator at best he alternates between mocking and worshiping his mentor Charles Dickens.  Dickens on the other hand has so far abstained from drugs, though he is mean to the wife that he is in the process of divorcing for an 18-year old actress whom he has cast in one of his theatricals. A rampant egomaniac, Dickens has tender sensibilities for the fortunate which is displayed in his work.  He is also an exercise/walking fanatic who walks 4 miles an hour up to twenty miles per day.  I am riveted by the contradictions in these two men and the nuances in the way that Collins feels about Dickens.

There is a such vivid description of the way it must have been to live in the city of London, back when sewage ran raw in the streets and straight into the Thames River.  I have heard the talk and read artices about us becoming a society that is too clean, with our bleaches and anti-bacterials and limited exposure to germs.  I think that any of us would die to live in the London that Dickens and Collins inhabit.  I see dog poo on the streets and am grossed out, so the description of the rotting flesh of the graveyards and the heaps of excrement had me turning up my nose and screwing up my face in disgust.  I had to remind myself to relax my face because I’m not walking down a filthy London street with a perfumed rag under my nose to try and disgusie the stench, which I guess is a good thing as it connotes great descriptive powers, or maybe I am just sensitive to vivid descriptions of you know what.

I am glad to be finally at the part where they are focusing on more tightly upon Drood and his origins.  As I get further along and more into that part of the story my mind is less likely to wander as I now have my bearings and am being drawn into the horror and the mystery of this mysterious man.

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Miles from Nowhere, by Nami Mun – Book Review

miles-from-nowhereMiles from Nowhere, by Nami Mun
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: December 26, 2008
Format: Paperback ARC, 288 pages

“The country was new and strange.  It unanchored him.  But the liquor was the same, and his habits were the same.  He merely drifted toward things familiar- drinking, cheating- paths that never questioned who he was or why he was there.  And who was I to judge.” [202]

After suffering the desertion of her father and the  mental collapse of her mother, thirteen-year-old Joon decides to leave her dismal life and quickly runs to a life on the streets in the Bronx of the  the 1980’s.  Starting off in a shelter for teenagers, Joon makes the rounds as an escort at a night club, an Avon Lady, newspaper girl, and addict and thief.  Along the way she meets a heartbreaking cast of characters like herself, each running running from something and doing the best that they can to make their way.

Nami Mun has a way of putting you right there in the present moment of the story.  You can’t escape Joon and what she is experiencing and feeling.  I was taken with the straightforward yet gripping prose, even though the situations weren’t always comfortable- I acutely felt that discomfort throughout the book.  I  enjoyed Mun’s skillful use of language to craft sentences filled with not only beauty but ugly truth, and I liked that I was transported into situations in not only Joon’s world, but that of the runaways and strays drifting in and out of her life, especially her brash and thoughtful friend Knowledge.

All of the adult activity going on made it difficult to remember that I was reading the experiences of a very young girl, and this was emphasized by the fact that Mun’s references to age and appearance are sparse at best, but that just made it more realistic and sad when I took a step back and realized that these are the unfortunate experiences of  runaways, and most of them just as young vulnerable and troubled as the main character in this novel. When Joon was having a moment on the streets getting high, working, or just survivinng the night I was fully present and aware as the events were unfolding.  Mun has strong powers observation and is adept at translating those observations in powerful writing and description.

While each chapter focuses on different time in Joon’s life, the story does not unfold in a linear fashion which made it very difficult to create a time line for what is happening with Joon- people disappear, you don’t know how old she is, and sometimes you don’t even know why things are happening to her.  There is a chapter where she is beat-up; it’s over as quickly as it began without references to time period or any friends and activities that are comprising Joon’s life at the moment. The actual experience of the beating is well told and you are right there with Joon as it is happening, but you can’t connect it with anything else in the story except it just being life on the streets.

The structure of the narrative is an interesting choice to make with this story because it is very reflective of a transient lifestyle and state of being, especially of someone who may be viewing her life through the haze of lost times and drugs, but it made it difficult for me to care about her as a character and easy for me to put the book down in between sections since most chapters have nothing to do with the other, and the people that you have gotten to know in reading the chapter are not likely to be around in the next.  Joon was disconnected, so I was disconnected and distracted as well.

Nami Mun is a strong writer who creates interesting characters and beautifully describes difficult and intricate life situations. While I enjoyed reading her writing and the story that she created I needed a bit more in terms of the narrative structure to really connect fully with her novel and characters.

Read More Reviews At:

J. Kaye’s Book Blog
Reading Matters

Have you reviewed Miles from Nowhere? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

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[TSS] The Week That Wasn’t (as far as reading goes)

the-sunday-salonThis is my first Sunday Salon post in a long, long while.  Last year I tried a whole bunch of different memes and weekly activities just to see which ones I enjoyed and I tried out a few features of my own. So far in 2009 I haven’t participated in much of anything.  I will slowly start to add things back as I figure out what will fit most within the scheme of this blog.  I like the idea of a weekly wrap up post on my reading and other blog activities and I like the idea of having a place where I can look ahead and set some goals for my reading week.  The Sunday Salon makes it easy to do all of those things, and I know how much I enjoy reading other Sunday Salon posts.

I say all of that and this week there was not very much to track and report.  I have been working on People of the Book by Geraldine Books for at least the past two weeks, maybe a little bit more.  At first I didn’t know whether I was going to enjoy reading this one. I found the first few pages to be a little dry and technical, but I quickly got into the story once they started to explore the different items found in the  book and the stories of the people connected to the items.  Like an excavation, each layer goes deeper and deeper into the past exploring the history of the book and how it came to be.

I have also been working my way through Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff for at least the same amount of time.  I am enjoying reading this group of stories which seems to be about the lives of women and how they cope with difficult circumstances or break beyond their limitations.  I like that the collection is varied in the locations where the stories take place, and the women are different and leading different types of interesting lives. Some I have enjoyed immensely and there are others where my reaction is more mixed or even muted, but as a whole the collection is holding my attention, which doesn’t always happen with short story collections.  Sometimes it can seem as if all the stories are  the same and happily so far this is not the case.

I am hoping to finish these two books this week and maybe even start and finish something else.  I also have several reviews to write, so this may be one of those weeks where I post one every day.

Work has seriously limited blogging and readig these past few weeks.  Between board meetings and general changes due to the state of the economy I haven’t been home or had as much free time, and when I do I’m much more likely to be found sleeping or cooking and attending to household chores.  Not much time for anything other than that.  I am hoping that this will be a lighter work week so that I can get back to my books and my blanket.

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Love and Other Natural DIsasters, by Holly Shumas

love-and-other-natural-disastersEve is eight months pregnant and in the middle of a Thanksgiving
celebration when she discovers that her husband Jonathan has developed
an intimate relationship with a woman over the past year. Jonathon
asserts his innocence (an affair involves physical intimacy, and he
didn’t have any), while Eve feels deeply betrayed by the emotional
connection he shared with someone else. What Jon has done seems so
terrifyingly out of character that Eve finds herself questioning her
entire reality. Did she ever really know Jon at all? Was their
happiness together a lie? Is emotional intimacy more forgivable than
sexual intimacy? And can their marriage survive?

Read an excerpt here.

Read Reviews At:

BermudaOnion
The Tome Traveler
Booking Mama

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A Week in October, by Elizabeth Subercaseaux – Book Review

a-week-in-octoberA Week in October, by Elizabeth Subercaseaux  and Marina Harss (Translator)
Publisher: Other Press
Publication Date: August 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
Date Finished: December 30, 2008

“He needed her to get better so that he could repay his debt to her.  Five years, that was all he needed.  He couldn’t let her go without making amends or rather he could not let her go and be left behind with this terrible sense of guilt that would not leave him. One morning before going to the office he stopped by the clinic to talk to the doctors.  He wanted to hear them say they could extend her life five years, but the doctors had frightened him with their militaristic, warlike language, a dark language he was sure began to kill their patients and their patients’ families even before the illnesses finished them off.” [18]

Claire Griffin is the beautiful yet unsatisfied wife of a successful architect.  After being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, her husband suggests that she start writing in order to occupy and distract her mind from her illness. Writing is something in which Claire has always had an interest, so she starts writing in a notebook which she keeps hidden in a drawer in the kitchen where her husband quickly finds and begins secretly reading the chapters almost as quickly as she can write them.  Claire starts her book with a bang in a scene where she is in bed with her lover who has just died.  Her husband is shocked to find that she has a lover, and he is even more shocked by what he finds about the identity of his wife’s lover and how she views him and their marriage.  The suspense is palpable and creeps along, rising slowly as we, along with her husband, try to figure out what will happen next and what  is real and what is not.

This was such an interesting read for me.  It is darkly playful and meditative on what it means to write and how we build stories and fiction out of the fodder of our lives, how those closest to us will view and react to this information.  The novel unfolds in alternating chapters of the contents of the notebook and then Claire’s husband reading it and trying to figure out what is true of the life that Claire leads based on his own version of the events that have happened in the notebook.  The husband is ridiculous as he tries to figure out the the truth in a book of fiction, and thus the spell is woven as we try to figure out the truth.  I eagerly awaited his version of what happened in the book  and wondered all the way through how much and what Claire was fictionalizing out of her life, and how ceryain events suggested themselves to be written over others.

What is truth, especially in fiction?  Is it the way events unfolded, or is it the way that you felt about something or the way that you wanted it to happen? Subercaseaux also explores the little truths about marriage and people, our irrational fears and petty jealousies, the way that we don’t talk to each other even as time is running out. Instead of using the notebook to take the opportunity to deepen his relationship with his wife, Claire’s husband chooses to hide from her even as he is reading and trying to uncover all her scecrets.  And, having had his won affair for several years, he is still selfish enough to begrudge his wife an affair, real or imagined, and he selfishly wants her to  live so that she is around to facilitate his atonement  and the forgiveness of his trespasses against her.

This is the first book of Elizabeth Subercaseaux’s that has come out on translation and I am eagerly awaiting the next one.  The writing is spare and not a word is wasted in painting the portrait of a long and ambivalent marriage.  The suspense of what would happen next kept me riveted until the very end.

Have you reviewed  A Week in October by Elizabeth Subercaseaux? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

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Literary Feasts: The Book of Night Women, by Marlon James

literary-feasts4I love reading about food in books.  I like to cook and I love to eat even more.  So on Friday’s I’ll be sharing the culinary delights that I have come across in my reading. What better way to start off the weekend than thinking about good food in a good book.

“Cooking commence from early in the morning.  There be mutton and pork to roast, ham to bake, beef and fish to stew, chicken, duck and goose to fry, and crabs to pickle. There be bread yam to sear, plantains to boil, pawpaw sauce to stir, potatoes to steam, carrots and cabbage to chop.  There be chocolate batter for cake, flour and corn for pudding , cheese to slice and wine bottle to wash off from the cellar dust and rum and whiskey to get from the licquor merchant.” [144]


Have you come across any good food in your reading this week?

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Literary Feasts: The Reluctant Widow, by Georgette Heyer

literary-feasts5I love reading about food in books.  I like to cook and I love to eat even more.  So on Friday’s I’ll be sharing the culinary delights that I have come across in my reading. What better way to start off the weekend than thinking about good food in a good book.

“Mrs. Cheviot and the Hon. Nicholas Carlyon dined very cosily together off
a neck of veal, stewed with rice, onions and peppercorns, followed by
pippin-tarts and some ramekins which moved Nicky to send a message to the
kitchen assuring Mrs. Barrow of
favourable treatment should she desire a post as cook up at the Hall.
” [118]

Read my review of The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer, here.

Have you come across any good food in your reading this week?

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Booking Through Thursday: The Year Ahead

btt button Happy New Year, everyone!

So … any Reading Resolutions? Say, specific books you plan to read? A plan to read more ____? Anything at all?

Name me at least ONE thing you’re looking forward to reading this year!

I really want to go back and read The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew. I loved that book when I was younger so I definitely plan to get my hands on a copy this year.  Then I have to see if I can get Nia in on it.  That probably won’t prove to be difficult since she’s been asking about witches and spells lately.

Last year I read 93 books.  My goal was to read a book a week, so that was obviously not a problem.  I am debating whether I should go for 100 for next year since I came so close this year.  Over the next week or so I am looking at my goals from last year and will be tweaking them, and deciding on new things to concentrate on this year.  Depending on what other projects I undertake I will either stick with 52 or go for 100.

I would like to read more non-fiction.  I think I hardly read any in 2007.  Maybe 5-10, and I had planned on reading one a month this year and was almost able to read one a week (I read 24)! I will probably read less memoirs though.  Right now I am finishing up How We Decide, and I will be starting The Secret Life of Men soon.  I am really looking forward to that one.  I might have to write something up chapter by chapter.  I wouldn’t want to miss a thing with that one.

Happy New Year everyone, and Happy Reading!

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