Wednesday, April 30, 2008
When I chose The Caged Virgin I expected it to be more of a documentary about women in Islam, but in actuality it is a collection of essays, speeches and interviews by or with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. So pretty much I was reading a bunch of stuff I'd already read in her other book or through my online stalking. However, after meeting with Chason last week to discuss the book, I learned that he appreciated the book and the new perspective it gave him. Perhaps if I had read it before reading Hirsi Ali's other book I wouldn't have been so critical.
On the plus side, the essay format makes it easy to read this book in pieces. Since it isn't one long story you don't have to worry about having forgotten something in between reads. I definitely preferred her memoir to this though because it was a story and it made the struggles of Islamic women more real to me. This woman has an amazing life and she's very brave to have put it in writing, considering the consequences she faces for having done so.
For those of you who have read this book, what do you think?
Also, I'm still taking suggestions for next month's book club, so if you have any great ideas leave them in the comments sections below. I'll post the selection tomorrow.
Monday, April 28, 2008
So this week, the assignment was to discover new blogs - five of them! This kept me busy because I wanted to list blogs that I really liked rather than just listing any old blog. I figure listing blogs that I enjoy and learn from will be more beneficial for people who read my blog as well, yes? Yes.
And here they are:
Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-Holic - I like that Stephanie lets her personality our in her blogs and I love that she covers some book news as well as writing reviews. Oh, and she loves the library which makes me heart her even more.
Everyday Reads - From what I've read of Lighthearted's blogs, I think we have similar tastes in books. I'll definitely be checking back to get book suggestions from her.
The Literate Kitten - This is a fun blog and also has interesting news bits about books which makes my heart smile in a big way.
Passion for the Page - This blogger is super organized with her challenges. I'm only doing two and I'm not doing so hot on completing them. Also, I like her review style, giving the book stats at the beginning. It's a great feature.
Reading Reflections - Laura is another fun book blogger with an interesting selection of books. I've found lots of new books for my reading list on her page.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Since that time I've been looking for training schedules and information to help me become a better runner. Kowalchik's book was the first one I actually picked up and read - cover to cover. I even read the chapters on running through pregnancy and running through menopause, even though they don't apply to me yet. I found the book to be incredibly informative and actually ended up buying it after I returned it to the library because I think it will be such a great reference for my running future. I have to admit that the thing I liked most about this book was that it was written by a woman. I've seen plenty of women's running guides out there, but they were all written by men and that really bothered me. I felt like a woman would know more about what it takes to be a woman runner. And I also thought a woman would cover the problems we face with more empathy. I think I was right on both counts.
This book includes information on everything from nutrition, to safety tips on the road. It has a whole chapter on how to pick your running shoes and another about how to prevent common injuries. All of the charts and graphs are extremely helpful too, giving great workout plans and tons of help for beginning runners.
For you slower, new runners out there though, be aware that you may feel a little defeated at the outset of this book. Kowalchik talks about how when she first began running she wasn't very athletic, but I think 8 years as the editor of Runner's World magazine and 13 years as a runner has managed to help her forget that not everyone was born running 25 miles a week. In one chapter she talks about what to do if you just don't feel like running, a common symptom in beginning runners (at least for me). Her solution: well just go out for a short 3- to 6-mile run so you feel you've at least given it a try. And who knows? You may end up running 10 or 12 miles once you get started. Um, not this runner. I'm lucky if I can even finish 2 miles daily at this point in my running career. Also, in the appendix at back, there's a chart that gives you recommended paces for training for a 5K, 10K, etc. It starts at a 32-minute 5K. My fasted 5K to date was 35:30. Seeing that I wasn't even fast enough for the chart was a little bit defeating, but hopefully one day I'll get there.
All in all, I highly recommend this book. I plan to use it's advice to train for my half-marathon in October, and maybe I'll even be able to work myself up to a full marathon in the coming year or two ...
P.S. I'm taking suggestions right now for next month's book club. I have a few books in mind but none of them really stand out as a great selection. If you have any suggestions and you want to join in, leave a comment below or email me at bexadler at yahoo dot com. I hope to see more of you participate next month. And look forward to the review/discussion of The Caged Virgin on April 30.
Friday, April 25, 2008
P.S. I found out about this site at Dewey's blog yesterday. Just want to give credit where it's due.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
ANSWER: This is actually the first time I've really thought about how the seasons might effect my reading habits. I'm not sure I read more or less during the warmer months, but I do think I read lighter fair during the spring/summer because I get major spring fever. We may not have huge changes in temperatures here in California, but I for sure am happy once the rain really stops and the days get longer. Longer days for me though mean a shorter attention span. I'd prefer to be out hiking or laying by the pool, which usually gets me to read more fiction because I can get through it quickly without too much concentration. Does this happen to anyone else during the warmer months?
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
In case you're wondering, the two books are first, He Loves Me, He loves Me Not by Trish Ryan. I won this book from her blog, which you can read here. The book will be released for sale on April 30. I'll certainly try my best to get the review done by then. I think I'll take it with me on my plane ride to Utah. That should make the time pass quickly. Oh, and here's a short description of the book from Publisher's Weekly: "Ryan’s winsome memoir and writing debut traces her desperate search for a man — specifically a husband — and for a spirituality that works for her… Ryan is eminently likeable and vulnerable, and her sharp writing will appeal to faithful and irreverent readers alike."
The second book I received is Why the Wind Blows: A History of Weather and Global Warming by Matthys Levy. I think the title does a pretty good job of describing what this book is about. One thing I already like about the book is the graphs and pictures I saw as I was flipping through the book. Too often I get these nonfiction books with tons of scientific references that go WAY over my head without any graphics for me to reference and help me better understand what the heck they're talking about. I'm definitely looking forward to this one.
Oh, and the best news of all is I might finally do my first author interviews as a book blogger! I'm so excited that this is all really starting to come together ... Now if I could just get more people interested in my online book club I'd be totally stoked (Ahem!).
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
So today when I read that Sophie Dahl, Roald Dahl's granddaughter has just released her first novel, I nearly peed my pants with excitement. Granted, she's not the master himself, but having something new from the Dahl family makes my heart smile in a big way. It brings back all those days of reading when I was a kid, and the excitement of having a new book to read. I'm not sure how much I'll love her book, but I still plan to read it in the near future. I have to give her a try at least.
So, from Amazon, this is the description of Playing With the Grown-ups:
"The full-length debut by the granddaughter of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal centers on a dreamy, romantic English woman who hasn't quite escaped the thrall of her fabulous mother, Marina. When Kitty, now married, pregnant, and living cozily in New York City with her financier husband, receives the call that her mother has been hospitalized after a breakdown, Kitty flashes back to her magical youth, revolving around her Swedish grandparents' Never-Neverland of a country home, Hay House, shared by her mother and aunts.
"When Marina's guru insists Marina move to New York City to pursue her painting, Kitty eventually joins her on Park Avenue, and her mixed-up adolescence begins. Wearing her mother's clothes, flirting with her handsome boyfriends and swept into parties where her mother chops the cocaine, Kitty comes through a number of charming yet troubling moments, as well as foreshadowings of Marina's future breakdown. There's plenty of texture to Kitty's remembrances, but the result reads more like a fictional memoir than fully plotted novel."
Monday, April 21, 2008
In Remember Me? Alex Smart finds herself in the hospital with a concussion and begins trying to piece together how she got there. All she can remember from the night before is that she had been out drinking with the girls on a rainy night and she slipped and fell on the wet pavement. But when she goes to look in the mirror, she sees that she's somehow lost a good amount of weight and her teeth are amazingly straight and shiny. And why does she have a Louis Vuitton bag next to her nightstand? She can't afford that!
When people begin to visit her, she doesn't recognize them and they look older than she expects. Finally someone tells her that it's 2007 not 2004. The slip and fall incident happened three years ago. But she doesn't remember the last three years, which includes her meeting her now-husband. The tale that ensues is hilarious as always and not nearly as cliche as I had previously thought.
Sophie Kinsella has a way of telling stories that makes me fall in love with her characters and manages to put me in their shoes (even though I know I'll never be able to afford the lifestyle of many of her characters). However, having read all of Kinsella's books, I'm beginning to see a pattern. She spends the first 2/3 of the book making us fall in love with the main character and all of her witty mishaps. We also watch as they nearly destroy their lives, then in the last few chapters the main character thinks of something brilliant that saves her crumbling career, or that of her husband or friends. As I was reading this book I realized it had become formulaic and it made me sad because I do so love Sophie Kinsella. I still recommend this book because it's a fun and easy read, but if you've read all of Kinsella's other work be aware that you'll be reading it saying to yourself, "OK, now what's she going to think of to save everyone's job? Because I know that's coming next."
If you've never read Kinsella, I highly suggest Can you keep a secret? and Confessions of a shopaholic.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
First is High Infatuation: A climbing life by Steph Davis. I've had this on my Amazon wishlist for more than a year and am so excited to finally be waiting for it to arrive. Steph Davis is an amazing climber, who basically gave up her "normal" life for a life on the road, going from climbing paradise to climbing paradise. She has her car (pictured on the front of the book) filled with all her climbing gear and has become a great climber because of the amount of time she's able to spend on the rocks. As a rock climber I'm totally envious of her lifestyle and can only pray that I'll one day be able to climb some of the great walls. I can't wait to read about her life and her decision to go on the road so she could climb more often.
Second is Radiant Days by Michael A. FitzGerald, a fellow writer at The Nervous Breakdown. I've read some of the books by other TNB writers and have made it a goal to support their work. Radiant Days is another one that's been on my list for more than a year. Here's the Amazon description: "FitzGerald's quiet debut centers on Anthony, a Gen X-er slacking away at a meaningless but remunerative Web producer job in dot-com–boom San Francisco. Anthony's life takes an unexpected turn when he meets Hungarian bartender Gisela at a local watering hole. Beautifully irresistible (and entirely untrustworthy) in the manner of all foreign femme fatales, Gisela quickly persuades him to travel with her to Hungary, supposedly so that she can be reunited with her missing son. In Budapest, the two meet jaded British war correspondent Marsh, a Graham Greene–like character who becomes the third leg in a rapidly evolving love triangle. Anthony spends his time just as purposelessly in Hungary as he did in California, though there are more lengthy sociopolitical and philosophical discussions to be had. Were it not for his glimmers of self-awareness, Anthony might be just another unbearable ugly American."
Lastly, we have The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide: Get off your butt and on with your training by Dawn Dais. I just discovered Dais' book when I decided to start reading about properly training for that half marathon I'm planning on running in October. As some of you know, I did my first half marathon last year and ended up having to walk a good 6 miles of it. I can guarantee that this was because I didn't take my training seriously and thought I'd do it anyway. Word on the street is an old man with a walker finished the race before me. So this year I decided to take it seriously and try to increase my finish time by at least 30 minutes. And I want to run the whole thing. I've been reading The Complete Book of Running for Women, which is an amazingly informative guide. However, I'm a little scared when she talks about going for a short 3- to 6-mile run when you don't feel like getting out on the road one day. Um, a long run for me is 2 miles, so we have issues. That's why I decided to go with Dais' book, which is a combo of training guide and her experience going from couch potato to marathon runner. It includes journal entries from her first year of running and should be a more realistic comparison to my life (I hope).
Thursday, April 17, 2008
ANSWER: Heh. This is an interesting question, and one that comes with a multitude of answers. The simple answer is: I do all three.
If there's a dictionary near by I have to go and immediately look up the word. It bothers me too much to just skip over it. There are some authors I'm familiar with and know I'll need a dictionary on hand (Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy), while others catch me off guard. Sometimes if I don't have a dictionary nearby, but my boyfriend is on the computer and within earshot, I'll ask him to type it into google or dictionary.com.
Then there are the times when I'm reading on the bus/in the car and I don't have a dictionary nearby. If it's my own book I'll circle the word in pencil. If it's a library book I say a little prayer that I'll remember to look the word up later (I never do) and continue reading.
It's not always necessary to look up a word in order to understand its meaning in the context of a good book. But for me, it's the joy of having learned something new that forces me to go look it up. I have always hated skipping over unknown words just because I know the next time I see it I'll still have no idea what it means. Perhaps this anality regarding looking up words comes from studying a foreign language for more than 10 years. And from being forced to use the AP Style Guide for editing and writing newspaper articles throughout my college and professional careers. Wherever I got it from though, I'm glad I've learned to do it.
P.S. One thing I also do is circle misspelled words in books. I LOVE to see how many mistakes I can find. Unless I hate the book and there are way too many errors. In those cases I get furious that the book was ever published. How does a book get through 20-something editors and there are still spelling errors and typos? I'll never know the answer to that one.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Ron Williamson spent 11 years on death row and never once change his story of innocence. He nearly went out of his mind in jail, having already had severe mental disorders prior to his arrest. During his trial not one person - not the prosecution, the judge, nor Williamson's own lawyer - raised the questions of his competency to stand trial despite a 10-year history of psychological problems ranging from manic depression to schizophrenia.
In The Innocent Man, John Grisham tells Williamson's story in a way that's understandable for laypeople. He brings up a number of questions the detectives, judge, prosecutor and jurors should have been asking before convicting Williamson and Fritz. In addition, he gives a detailed account of two other men arrested by the same detectives and tried in the same court. Both were also found guilty and are innocent, but they are still behind bars (www.wardandfontenot.com).
Grisham, with his famous name and storytelling abilities, is bringing awareness to an issue that few acknowledge - our justice system isn't always just.
Unexpectedly, this book gave me reason to question the death penalty (description of death row and lethal injection given on pgs. 214 - 216). I have to wonder how many innocent men are put to death each year in the United States. At the same time I have to believe that the science used today to convict killers is more accurate than in previous decades. It really made me appreciate what a huge discovery DNA has been.
Unfortunately though, DNA testing can often be expensive and isn't available for those already behind bars unless they can get a lawyer to believe in their innocence. Fortunately, The Innocence Project (www.innocenceproject.org) has been working for more than 10 years to free innocent men from prison using DNA testing. More than 200 men have been freed thanks to The Innocence Project.
I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned about our legal system. It gives some great tips on what to do when being questioned by the police (ask for a lawyer!) and information about Miranda rights and the fifth amendment. Also, it's just a great story and a quick read. The injustice of it will stay with you though. In the author's notes, Grisham says, "Not in my most creative moment could I conjure up a story as rich and layered as Ron's." Nor as unbelievable. But here it is, a true story of injustice and the problems with our justice system.
Friday, April 11, 2008
I thought this looked like fun, so I subscribed to the blog and this is my first post.
The challenge this week:
- Pick up the nearest book. (I’m sure you must have one nearby.)
- Turn to page 123.
- What is the first sentence on the page?
- The last sentence on the page?
- Now . . . connect them together….
(And no, you may not transcribe the entire page of the book–that’s cheating!)
From Page 123 of The Innocent Man by John Grisham: "He never wavered, in spite of some yelling and bullying from the cops, who said over and over that they knew Ron was guilty ... Surely they've got the wrong one."
At first, I thought this challenge was to make something up for what comes between these to sentences, but as I looked at other people's blogs I saw that they had just put the two sentences next to each other to see what kind of meaning could be gleaned from them. I was planning on still going with my original instinct, but as I'm feeling sleepy today, I've decided to take the easy way out. I think the two sentences above, together, are pretty interesting. But if you want to see a good blogger who actually wrote a story to connect her two sentences, go here.
What does you nearest book say on P. 123?
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
As it turns out, there are a number of 20 and 30-somethings out there with college degrees who seem like aimless floaters to their parents because they are following their dreams and spending their time doing something they love without the constraints of being stuck under the tyrannical work system they were meant to have joined. Today, in The Buffalo News, I read about a new book coming out, "How'd You Score That Gig," by Alexandre Levit, and I gotta say I'm a bit scared to pick it up. If I get this book, it will only encourage me on the path I've been taking. Not that I mind that path, but man would I love to have some extra cash one of these days. It's the same as me reading travel essays – do I really need more encouragement?!
But here we are. The book has been written and will be released April 15 and I will read it. It's inevitable.
About the book: "How'd You Score That Gig" is filled with some of the most coveted jobs of my generation - graphic designer, travel writer, interior designer, entrepreneur – and how to get those jobs. There is a personality test included for those of us who want to do all of these jobs, but can't decide on which one to pursue, and there are also more than 60 interviews with recent college grads who successfully broke into these fields.
See, it's like crack for people like me. Seeing other people being successful in these kinds of careers only makes me believe even more that I too can be one of those people. And so I'll go on putting off my, hopefully not inevitable, return to the "real" world ...
Monday, April 7, 2008
The book opens with the death of Laura Chase, the daughter of a once-influential family in Port Ticonderoga, Canada, in 1945. We then read a chapter of a book written by Laura Chase and published post-humously by her sister, Iris (hence the cover and reviewer's constant talk of "a novel within a novel"). From then on, the book switches back and forth between excerpted chapters of that book, The Blind Assassin, and Iris' telling of her family's history, the events that led up to the writing of the book, and her sister's suicide.
The book is really interesting, but I didn't find myself as drawn into it as I have been with other Atwood books – at least not until about 150 pages in, when we begin to see some of the layers begin to fall off more quickly. As I began to understand what was really going on, I began to get more and more curious about how the book was going to end and I found myself reading more and more quickly. But up until that point it was really hard going. Had I not read other Atwood books and understood her style of writing, I may have given up on this book after 50 pages or so. For this reason, I wouldn't recommend this as your first Atwood book (especially considering this book is more than 500 pages long!).
However, there are many things I like about this book. I liked that it was a historical novel, covering high society in Canada from about 1910 to 1947. And as with other Atwood books, I liked the social commentary, especially, in this book, about God.
For instance, on page 137 after her mother dies, Laura, age 8 at the time, begins to question God in a way she had never done before:
"In the nighttimes Laura would creep into my room and shake me awake, then climb into bed with me. She couldn't sleep: it was because of God. Up until the funeral, she and God had been on good terms ... But now she was no longer sure. She began to fret about God's exact location. It was the Sunday-school teacher's fault: God is everywhere, she'd said, and Laura wanted to know: was God in the sun, was God in the moon, was God in the kitchen, the bathroom, was he under the bed? ... Laura didn't want God popping out at her unexpectedly, not hard to understand considering his recent behaviour."
I love this simplistic, child's look at who and where God is, along with what his purpose is. Atwood recognizes this human trait of questioning God and the difficulty children sometimes have with just accepting faith because they sometimes take things too literally, especially where religion is concerned.
Atwood is a great story teller, and I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on her beautifully described scenes and wonderfully written stories, however I'd suggest starting with a different one of her books before taking on The Blind Assassin. If you insist though, be aware that it will take awhile before the plot really begins to come out. Atwood is not the type to take the plot and conk you on the head with it. Her books are very mysterious in this way and you begin to feel like a detective as you start to piece it together for yourself. My favorite part is finding out if I've got it right. With her books though, there's always some last minute turn that really surprises me and sticks with me, so look out!
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Part of the reason is that if you aren't already famous, your publishing house won't pony up the cash for you to go on tour. For them it's a matter of making money on their return, and, although it pains me to say it, they're right. I've been to quite a few book signings and the lesser known authors definitely are lacking in crowds. Little to no crowd equals small sales at the end of the signing.
Some authors are doing internet tours. Others phone in to book club meetings or create a blog to raise awareness about their book and their goings-on. But there are those who still want a real connection with their audience (and there are those of us who crave those opportunities), such as Michael Steers and Stanley Trollip, who write under the pen name of Michael Stanley and will be taking an international book tour using money from their own pockets.
On April 1, the two authors released their first book, A Carrion Death, but if their book tour does well, they may indeed be seen more often. And maybe their next book tour will be paid for by their publishers. I'm not a huge fan of murder mystery or detective novels, but I think I might just buy this one to show my support. To learn more about the tour or the book, visit the authors' Web site here.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
So when I heard Arlene Blum is coming to Sacramento in a couple of weeks I couldn't hold in my excitement. Blum led the first women's climbing expedition of Annapurna and later wrote a book about the experience. More recently she wrote Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life, a memoir that follows Blum from her childhood in Chicago to some of the world's most challenging peaks. I've put both of her books on hold at the library and hope to be able to read at least one before I see her in person.
If you're interested in hearing Blum speak here are the details:
Arlene Blum will appear at Sacramento State University in the University Library Gallery at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, 2008. The event is free and will be followed by a reception.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The appearance of the circus brings back memories of his first experience with the circus, which began just as he was finishing his veterinarian degree at Cornell University. He goes through a tragic time and leaves in the middle of his final exams, walking until his legs get tired. Where his legs led him was to the town's railroad tracks. He jumps on the next passing train, although it's late at night and he's not sure what type of train he's just hitched. In the morning he finds that it's a circus train and he's taken on as the circus veterinarian.
The book then goes through his time on the circus, his interactions with the beautiful Marlena and her abusive husband, August. Not only does August treat Marlena badly, but he abuses the animals, especially Rosie, the Polish-speaking elephant taken on by Uncle Al, the circus ringleader.
I know not all people are huge fans of circuses, but if you can stomach it I highly suggest you read this book. It's obvious from her writing that Gruen has a soft spot for the circus and this time period. She wrote about it in a lovely way, without being too easy on the circus operators. She showed the dark side of the circus (beating animals, low pay, difference between working men and performers, etc.) without overdoing it. I never felt like she was trying to harp on about animal abuse or any of the other terrible things that used to happen in circuses. And the archive photos from Ringling and other circuses made the book even that much more fun to read.
THIS MONTH: For April I had a lot of suggestions from members, and I finally decided on The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
I chose this book because I think it will encourage an interesting discussion at our next book club meeting (April 26, 2 p.m. at Cafe Bernardo's on R and 15th Streets in Sacramento), and because I read Infidel, Hirsi Ali's memoirs, last year and learned quite a bit about Islam and the way women are treated within it. It both outraged and inspired me, and I feel this book will do the same.
From Amazon: "Muslims who explore sources of morality other than Islam are threatened with death, and Muslim women who escape the virgins' cage are branded whores. So asserts Ayaan Hirsi Ali's profound meditation on Islam and the role of women, the rights of the individual, the roots of fanaticism, and Western policies toward Islamic countries and immigrant communities. Hard-hitting, outspoken, and controversial, The Caged Virgin is a call to arms for the emancipation of women from a brutal religious and cultural oppression and from an outdated cult of virginity. It is a defiant call for clear thinking and for an Islamic Enlightenment. But it is also the courageous story of how Hirsi Ali herself fought back against everyone who tried to force her to submit to a traditional Muslim woman's life and how she became a voice of reform."
I hope to see more people participate in both the online and live discussion of this book. I'm looking forward to seeing you all in person.
Other blog reviews of Water for Elephants:
A Year of Books
My Year of Reading Seriously
Living to Read