Saturday, May 31, 2008

May Book Club Discussion: Year of Wonders

This month for The Inside Cover book club, we read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Year of Wonders is a historical novel about a small English town 100 miles outside of London. It's the year 1666, and the town has been struck by plague, brought to them by a London tailor boarding with our narrator, Anna. The village is so remote that when the plague first appears the villagers don't recognize it for what it is. Once they learn the horrors of the disease, the villagers are asked to make a decision whether to flee in order to save themselves, or to stay put in order to keep the disease from spreading any further.

In the end, everyone in the village agrees to stay, aside from the only rich family in town - the only family with the means to run far from the reaches of the disease. As we follow the rest of the town through its year of isolation, we watch Anna, who begins as a lowly maid, transformed into a strong woman who the town begins to depend on for herbal remedies to just about every malady, in addition to becoming the only midwife in town (after an unfortunate incident that leaves the former midwife dead).

When I first saw this book I knew it was going to be an easy read, merely because of its length (only 336 pages!). What I didn't know was how much I'd enjoy reading it. This book packed in a ton of information, along with many vivid scenes. Time and again I found myself being shocked by how much I learned from this book and how many different places/people were described in so few pages. Brooks is an amazing writer for both her economy of words and her ability to tell a story well. Also, she does a wonderful job of using old English without it seeming cumbersome. I have read other historical books and been completely put off by them because it's so difficult for me to figure out what the characters are saying to each other.

I really enjoyed watching Anna grow as a person. One of my favorite parts of the book was when she went to the mine with Elinor (her partner in seeking herbal remedies to the plague) to save Merry from losing her family's mine. I was surprised Brooks made these women so independent in a novel about the 17th century, but in the interviews with her in the back of the book she talks about the necessity of women taking a leading role during that time and the fact that women were starting to gain more freedom during that century in England.

There were some cringe-worthy moments in this book - from the witch hangings to a couple of scenes where women are physically abused - but I think it added to the authenticity of the book. We live in such a sterile world today, it was difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to live in such a dirty place while trying to fight a fatal disease.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I would definitely recommend it (and already have forced it upon a number of friends). The one thing that really disappointed me was the epilogue, although that was pretty much because it went against what I had imagined and what I was expecting to happen. Normally I'd be glad about this because I hate when books are too predictable (and I probably would have said it was predictable if it had ended the way I had expected it to, so I don't know why I'm complaining), but after all the death and destruction in this novel, I guess I kind of wanted a couple of people to end up "happily ever after."

SO what did you think? What was your favorite part of the book? Would you recommend it to others? Were you disappointed in anything?

This book was also reviewed by:
Heather @ A Year of Books
Lisa @ Books on the Brain
Jen @ Devourer of Books

Let me know if you reviewed this book so I can post a link to it. Thanks!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Interview with Joshua Henkin, author of "Matrimony"

Joshua Henkin is the author of two books, Swimming Across the Hudson, released in 1997, and Matrimony, released earlier this year. In addition to writing, Henkin teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Brooklyn College, and the 92nd St. Y in New York City.

In case you missed yesterday's review, here's a VERY short snippet about the book:

It is 1987, and Julian Wainwright, aspiring writer and Waspy son of New York City old money, meets beautiful, Jewish Mia Mendelsohn in the laundry room at Graymont College. So begins a love affair that, spurred on by family tragedy, will take Julian and Mia across the country and back, through several college towns, spanning twenty years.

First, I'd like to ask about the title of the book. When I first saw this book reviewed I skipped past it because I thought it was a nonfiction book about how to make your marriage work. Once it started showing up everywhere I finally settled down to see what all the fuss is about. So, my questions: Why did you choose the title Matrimony? Also, do you get any criticism about this title?

You're not alone in seeing the title and thinking it might be nonfiction, and yes, I've had some people think it's the wrong title for the book. I myself am ambivalent about the title, but on balance I stand by it. I tend to think that the best titles are evocative of the novel without telling the reader too much about it. My first novel, SWIMMING ACROSS THE HUDSON, is a good example of that. Swimming across the Hudson is simply an image from the book; it’s not a novel about aquatics, certainly. But you call a novel MATRIMONY and you create certain expectations. People might think it’s a self-help book, and even if they know it’s a novel, they might expect a certain kind of story that may or not be borne out by what happens in my book.

MATRIMONY is about more than marriage. It’s about friendship, class, maturing over the years, among other things. But I certainly couldn’t have called it MARRIAGE, FRIENDSHIP, CLASS, AND MATURING! OVER THE YEARS, though Alice Munro has a story collection with a title not so far from that. But she’s Alice Munro, and as far as I’m concerned she can do whatever she pleases; she’s that good.

In the end, the title MATRIMONY felt true to what the book was about, in that the central relationship is a marriage and the book is really about several other marriages as well—Carter and Pilar’s marriage, Mia’s parents’ marriage, Julian’s parents’ marriage. But I didn’t want to call the book MARRIAGE. I liked the more amorphous feel of MATRIMONY, as well as the implied phrase “holy matrimony,” which of course is belied (or at least rendered more complex) by what happens in my novel.

Are sections of this novel autobiographical? Where did you get your inspiration for writing this type of story?

In very deep ways, MATRIMONY is not autobiographical. I met my wife many years after college, her mother didn’t die of breast cancer, and my wife didn’t sleep with my best friend. Or, if she did, no one has told me yet! And, regrettably, I’m not nearly as wealthy as Julian is. The only character in the book who’s based on a real character is the dog, Cooper. Aside from a sex and breed switch, Cooper is a dead ringer for my wife’s and my beloved golden retriever, Dulcie. But all the other mammals in MATRIMONY are products of my imagination.

It’s interesting that many people assume that the book is autobiographical and, if it is, that I must be Julian. If anything, despite certain superficial similarities (like Julian, I grew up in New York and have moved back there; we’re both writers; our names both begin with “J”), I’m probably more similar to Mia than to Julian. I’m Jewish; she’s Jewish. I’m the son of an academic; she’s the daughter of an academic. Not that there aren’t some key differences between Mia and me that go beyond gender. Still, the home she grew up in, with certain notable exceptions, was much more similar to the home I grew up in than Julian’s home was.

The only qualification I’d add is that in the broadest sense Julian, Mia, and Carter are the kinds of people who are familiar to me, who I might have hung out with at various points in my life. If they showed up at a party I was at, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve lived in some of the places they’ve lived (I spent eight years in Ann Arbor, and four years in Berkeley/the SF Bay area; I’ve lived almost half my life in college towns), and I share, in the broadest contours, some of their concerns. In this sense, I was doing what Professor Chesterfield said, which is writing what I know about what I don’t know or what I don’t know about what I know.

Beyond that, it's hard to say where I get my inspiration, other than that everything for a novelist is a source of inspiration. The people you meet, the situations you encounter, and, of course, your imagination pure and simple. A fiction writer obviously needs a certain facility with language, but just as important is an abiding curiosity about people and about the world. Novelists are psychologists in many ways, and so it's not entirely surprising that Julian and Mia end up together. When I was a toddler, I apparently made my mother pick me up so I could look into every store window we passed. Even now, you take me to a party and hand me a stranger's high school yearbook and I can entertain myself for an hour. I'm a gossip; in another life I'd have had a talk show. In that sense, I'm like Julian – the Julian who snoops through Mia's closets, trying to get to know her. For me, this is one of the appeals of visiting book groups. It's intellectually stimulating, certainly, but beyond that, I like meeting new people. It's not every day that you get invited into a stranger's living room!

In the same vein, did you have an inspirational teacher like Mr. Chesterfield in the novel?

I've had a number of influential and inspirational teachers. Professor Chesterfield isn't based on anyone exactly (he's quite different from any writing teacher I've ever had), but he's loosely inspired by my first writing teacher, Leonard Michaels, a terrific writer whose star fell precipitously after a very promising early career, and whose work has just recently been reissued posthumously (his collected stories were published last year by Farar Straus) and who is finally again getting the attention he deserves. Lenny was a complicated guy and not a particularly good teacher by traditional standards (he often didn't come prepared to class), but he was smart and passionate and funny, and he encouraged me early on in ways that were very important to me.

Also, are you a teacher like Chesterfield, or have you met teachers like him (teachers who have commandments about how to write)?

I myself don't resemble Professor Chesterfield--I'd like to think I'm a good deal kinder than he is, and I'm certainly less scary! I don't write commandments on the blackboard, nor do I speak in terms of commandments. That said, I think most of his commandments have a big kernel of truth in them (on balance, I agree with most of what he says), and I do have a reputation for being a traditionalist as a teacher and thinking aspiring writers should learn the "rules" and then break them knowingly, and with purpose, instead of doing so out of ignorance.

I'm all for experimental writing if it's good, but there's a lot of terrible experimental writing out there being perpetrated by 18- and 19-year-olds. There's an attitude that a lot of undergraduates, especially, bring to class, which is, essentially, "Hey, dude, it's creative writing, so I can do whatever I want." Well, you CAN do whatever you want, as long as it works – which turns out to be a pretty daunting limitation.! At the end of every semester I'll have several students say to me, "I never realized fiction writing was so hard." It pleases me to hear this, because I know this means they learned something.

What did you ultimately hope readers would take away from your novel?

The reason I read fiction is get out of my own experience – to have characters I didn't know before I started the novel come sufficiently to life that I know them as well as or better than the people in my own life. If a novel does that to me, then it has succeeded, and if my book does that to my readers, then I feel that I have succeeded.

For me, plot and language are important, but they're important as vehicles for exploring character. Beyond that, I'm not looking for the reader to take away anything from MATRIMONY, or from any other piece of fiction I write. It's a common but mistaken assumption that novels are supposed to make statements or have points. Novelists aren’t in the business of making arguments, statements, or points; they aren’t in the business of teaching lessons. If you want to make an argument or a statement, if you want to teach a lesson, you should become a philosopher, an economist, a theologian, or a lawyer, all of which are perfectly good professions. They’re just not my profession. A novelist is in the business of creating characters and telling stories—nothing more, nothing less.

I'd also like to ask about writing in general. What are your writing habits? And what suggestions do you have for young writers? You write about Julian's struggles with writing his novel, his worries of never finishing his novel, and, at one point, a problem with writer's block. Have you had the same types of struggles? What do you suggest writers do to keep imagination going?

Writing fiction is incredibly difficult, and you have to go about it singlemindedly. It took me ten years to write MATRIMONY and I threw out more than three thousand pages. No matter how much you've accomplished in the past, there's always the risk of failure, always the fraud police hanging over you. With novels, especially, unlike stories (I write those, too), it takes a leap of faith. With a story, you can sometimes see the whole in advance, but not so with a novel; you can't see the forest for the trees. It takes a couple of years before you know not whether it's a good novel but whether it's a novel at all. You need to just plow forward and not think about it. The best way to look at it is that you're not writing a novel; you're writing a page a day, two pages a day, half a page a day, and then, at the end of a couple of years, you have a whole bunch of pages, most of which are likely to be a mess, but you hope that over time you'll begin to figure things out.

The suggestions I have for young writers are the same suggestions I have for myself. Treat it like a job, because it is a job. If you wait for inspiration, you'll never write. I don't believe in inspiration; I believe in tying yourself to your chair. It's not that there's no such thing as inspired work. But I find that inspired work doesn't correlate to feeling inspired; if anything, the relationship is inversely proportionate. If you're feeling too inspired, you're likely to fall in love with the sound of your own voice, and what comes out is self-indulgent and maudlin. Often my very best work comes from when I'm feeling least inspired.

I try to write every day or as close to every day as I can, and I keep a calendar in which I mark down to the minute how long I worked each day, and if I didn't write at all on a particular day I put a big fat zero next to the date, and that's my guilt zero. Even if you have very little time, it's better to write regularly! I tell my students that, given the choice between writing ten minutes a day six days a week or an hour on a Saturday, I'd choose ten minutes a day six days a week. That way, you're living with your characters, and you come up with ideas even when you're not writing.

In terms of similarities to Julian, I certainly experience many of the same insecurities he does, but unlike him, I never had writers block. I was always writing. I just was writing a lot of bad pages along the way, and it took me many years to figure the book out.

Lastly, I'm curious about your decision to market your book through book blogs. What was your reasoning behind that? And, did you use book blogs to help market your first book? Has it been a successful endeavor?

The Web was in its infancy when I published SWIMMING ACROSS THE HUDSON (1997), and beyond that, the world of publishing has changed a lot. It's become a much tougher, bottom-line business, and writers have to do whatever they can to sell copies of their book. It's hard to isolate the impact of my marketing MATRIMONY through book blogs because I've been fortunate with MATRIMONY on many fronts.

The reviews have been terrific, which has helped the book a lot, as, no doubt, has the fact that it was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. And my publisher, Pantheon, sent me on a long book tour and put advertising money into the book, and there's no substitute for that kind of support. That said, with the publishing world being as difficult as it is and book sales suffering across the industry, authors who take initiative can really make a difference, and what I've done on the Web, both in terms of book blogs and in terms of using the Web to reach book groups that end up choosing MATRIMONY, has clearly had an impact and, I hope, will continue to have an impact when MATRIMONY comes out in paperback at the end of August.

Thanks, Rebecca, for these really thoughtful questions. If you or your readers have any follow-up questions, I'd be glad to try to answer them. Also, if anyone would like to see further thoughts I have about MATRIMONY and about the writing process, check out the online book group discussion of MATRIMONY that I participated in at

As always, I’d be delighted to participate in book group discussions of MATRIMONY. If you would like me to join your book group discussion, you can contact me through my website, or directly, at Jhenkin at SLC dot edu.


Me again (Becca): Also, I found this article about Josh Henkin in the New York Times. It's and old one, but if you're interested in reading more about him and his book, I recommend checking it out.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Matrimony is a book about Julian, a high society kid, who decides to stray from his family path by going to a small college instead of Yale like his father. Julian also wants to be a writer, rather than a business man. While in college, he meets his best friend in a creative writing course. The two later meet their future lives and we follow them through the next 15 years while they go through the ups and downs associated with any life, and definitely any marriage.

I'm a little ambivalent about how I felt toward Joshua Henkin's novel. I really enjoyed the book, but only after I got past the first couple of chapters. In the beginning I had a really hard time connecting with any of the characters, for the mere fact that I kept focusing on Julian, the main character, and his super naive niceness. For someone who is supposed to have been raised in a blue blood family in New York City, he's a bit too clueless. He walks people's dogs and becomes good friends with the Chinese grocers near his school. I mean, I know he's supposed to be disgruntled about his upbringing, but I find it hard for someone who was raised in prep schools and high society to be so completely transformed within minutes of moving away from home. I think my difficulty with this aspect of the book may have been made worse by the description on the inside cover, which makes it seem as though Mia, Julian's future wife, was the one to lead him through this transformation.

I don't know. Anyway, once I got past my issues with Julian's character I really did enjoy the book. I loved that it was just snapshots of his life, allowing me to fill in my own ideas of what happened in the in between time. I also was able to really identify with Mia's character, which made the book even more enjoyable for me (and painful at some points). I like that Henkin takes this group of people form college and gives them all extremely different personalities and then brings them all together. It's kind of like he has someone for each of us to identify with. It kind of reminds me of the suggestions in girly magazines that every woman needs four friends (the listener, the partier, etc.).

So, even though I had some issues with this book, I'd still recommend it. It was a quick read (only took me two days, even with my new job) and had some great scenes (although I found myself wondering whether PETA was popular in 1987 and I didn't know breast cancer was such a big deal back then. It was really hard for me to wrap my head around the time difference because it isn't so far in the past).

Please check back here tomorrow for my interview with Joshua Henkin, the author of Matrimony.

Also, don't forget that Saturday we will be discussing Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I'm really looking forward to what you all thought of the book.

This book has also been reviewed by:
LisaMM at Books on the Brain
Julie P. at BookingMama
Everyday I Write the Book
Fresh Ink Books

Monday, May 26, 2008

Reviews I've been avoiding

Sometimes I have a difficult time writing about books when I was less than thrilled by them. If I truly hate them, the words come with ease. But when I have little feeling toward the book or its subject it can take me awhile to get around to their reviews, and even when I do it's painstaking work. So I've decided to just do a couple of mini reviews for the books on my list yet to be reviewed. Let me know what you thought of these books too. I'd love to hear from some people who liked these books. Perhaps then I can discover whatever it was I missed.

First up is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In the beginning I found Marquez's writing to be absolutely beautiful. I got carried away with the words and loved the vivid descriptions he conveyed through the writing. However, I'm not much of a romantic and I found myself being quite skeptical of Florentino Ariza's undying love for Fermina Daza. Not only that, but I kept getting the two confused. I realize the names aren't that similar, but as I plowed through the book hoping it would end quickly I kept seeing the F and thinking it was one character, only to get to a pronoun (he or she) and realize I had been wrong about which character had been speaking.

Also, I really loved Fermina's husband and the descriptions of him. I didn't understand why Marquez spent so much time describing him (some 50 pages in the beginning of the book) just to kill him off. Also, really, how long can infatuation last when you've never actually talked to the subject of your fascination? I just didn't get it and I was bored to tears. I hate to admit it but I never made it more than halfway through this book. Someone out there, please convince me there is some reason I should try to pick this book up again.

Next is Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. I became fascinated by this book after listening raptly to Rolf Potts' reading at Google Talks. Potts talked about how he worked menial jobs and lived humbly in order to save up enough money to spend months on end traveling. After college he traveled around the United States for a year with one of his friends before signing up to teach English in Asia. He spent two years teaching, then spent the following four years traveling using his earnings from that job.

Having already made two attempts to move abroad, I was curious to find out how he actually made it work and learn what steps I could take to finally become a wanderer myself. I didn't find the book to be that helpful, however. He talked about the reasons we travel and what-not. But when you've already picked up his book, it's obvious you don't need any extra encouragement. What you need is resources to get you on the road! He does provide resources ... in the form of URLs to visit and other books to read ... resources you can just as easily find on his Web site. The book was only about 200 pages so it was quick to get through, but I highly recommend just checking out his Web site and his video on Google Talks. You'll get pretty much the same information by doing so.

Last is Dematerializing by Jane Hammerslough. This is another book that I haven't actually finished, but at this point I'm not sure I have the courage to try. I had to return four unread books to the library today because I got so mired in this book I was unable to face any other reading in the meantime. I knew once I set it down I may never pick it up again, and so it is. I gave it up on Sunday in order to read our book club selection (Year of Wonders, if you're interested in joining the discussion, learn more here).

I chose to read Dematerializing because I thought it would have some interesting insight into why we buy things and perhaps some tips on how to get rid of all the extra stuff we somehow accumulate in our homes. The book turned out to be a lot more about the psychology behind buying things and what advertisers do to draw us in. There were also a lot of weird feminist leanings to the book, which I wouldn't normally mind, but I didn't get this book to read about how advertising demoralizes women. If that were what I was going for, I would have bought the much better written and researched, although ancient, Can't Buy My Love by Jean Kilbourne.

To be fair, I think the other reason this book bothered me so much was that it didn't say anything I didn't already know, but perhaps that is because I'm reading it several years after it was first published. Maybe her observations about media's influence on us was a new phenomenon a few years back (although I highly doubt it).

OK then, I'm glad to have those off my conscience. Now I can look forward to my next two book reviews. Also, watch for an interview with Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, later this week. Hope you're all having a great Memorial Day!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Weekly Geeks #4 - Getting Political (or in this case, social)

Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to books you’ve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog.

As part of the assignment, Dewey posted a link to social issues, but mine doesn't appear on that list. Perhaps it's not a social issue after all, but I feel like it is, and it's becoming more and more so. The mounting debt and lack of savings in our country are only two examples of how materialism and overspending have become major issues in our nation. As an issue, this is something I have struggled with for years, having come from a family of horders and learning a lifelong lesson when I had to dig myself out of more than $35,000 in credit card debt I accrued in college (I'm still working on the student loans). I now try to keep my possessions to a minimum, but I still struggle. It's not an easy thing today to say no to wanting things, especially when there is SO MUCH to want. So here are a few books I'm either reading, or planning on reading, to help me understand spending habits and how to keep them under control.

I'm currently reading Dematerializing: Taming the Power of Possessions by Jane Hammerslough. So far I'm not impressed by the book. It seems like a bunch of psychobabble rather than tips on how to maintain a budget and control impulse buying. I was also hoping there would be tips in there about how to dematerialize, you know, get rid of all the junk. But I'm only about 4 chapters in so maybe it gets better (fingers crossed).

In my TBR list I also have Shop Your Closet by Melanie Charleton Fascitelli. I'm really looking forward to this book, but am waiting to read it until I move into my new place in August. I figure since I've got to move all my clothes anyway it will be the perfect time for me to get organized and take a look at everything I have in there with a critical eye (when moving I tend to throw tons of stuff away as a way to lighten my load). Shop Your Closet seems ideal for most women, who, if they're like me, tend to hold on to clothes for years and years without knowing really what they have. In her book Fascitelli argues that instead of going shopping when you feel like wearing something new, maybe you can just go through the old part of your closet and find something you perhaps forgot about. Maybe it's not for everyone, but certainly appeals to me.

A non-self help type book dealing with materialism is The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser. From Amazon: "Kasser, a psychology professor at Knox College, certainly does. Drawing on an impressive range of statistical studies, including ones that use his own 'Aspiration Index,' Kasser argues that a materialistic orientation toward the world contributes to low self-esteem, depression, antisocial behavior and even a greater tendency to get 'headaches, backaches, sore muscles, and sore throats.'" I'd like to read this book just to see the stats.

Lastly, I think The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need sounds like an interesting read. In her book, Juliet B. Schor "notes that, despite rising wealth and incomes, Americans do not feel any better off. In fact, we tell pollsters we do not have enough money to buy everything we need. And we are almost as likely to say so if we make $85,000 a year as we are if we make $35,000. Schor believes that "keeping up with the Joneses" is no longer enough for today's media-savvy office workers." Although this book was published in 1999, I think it still applies to our society today.

Oh, wait, one more: For a fun read, I recommend Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic. If you've ever been a shopaholic you will laugh hysterically at all the antics Becky Bloomwood uses to try to avoid her mounting debt proble (everything aside from paying her bills). When I read this book I identified so solidly with the main character that it was a bit disconcerting. Although I'm ashamed to admit it now, there are several things she does in the book that I have personally done myself.

Another book that has been recommended to me is Rich Dad, Poor Dad, but somehow I'm just not interested in it. I've been told by numerous people that I should pick it up, but I have yet to add it to my TBR list. Has anyone out there read it and done a review on it? Perhaps one of you can change my mind.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Catching Up

Yesterday I had grand plans to do a Sunday Salon post about all my lovely new books, but it turned out to be a blah kind of day and I just couldn't get myself motivated. So here I am today playing catch up.

Before we get to the books though, I want to mention that I have a guest appearance over at Books on the Brain as part of Lisa's ongoing series, "In Praise of Book Clubs." It's a short little piece about how much I love my book clubs because they get me to read and keep me in touch with my friends. Stop on by and leave a comment there if you'd like.

Now, on with the new books!

First off is Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, which I'm reading as part of an online book club over at Everyday I Write the Book. At first I wasn't planning on participating this month, but then Josh (can I call him Josh?) graciously sent me a signed copy of the book so I can participate and review it here on my blog. In addition, he's agreed to do an interview here! So keep your eyes peeled for that.

The book itself is a novel about Julian Wainwright, a high society son, who goes to a smaller college (not Yale like his dad) and studies creative writing. While in college he meets his best friend, Carter, a fellow writer. He also meets his future wife, Mia. The book goes through the next 15 years following Julian through his relationships with these two people, all the while working on that unfinishable novel. As I haven't finished the book yet, I can't give much more detail about the plot, but I think this is a pretty good start.

Next up: The Memory Keeper's Daughter. I've been putting off reading this book for a long, long time. I've read the back and know that the plot will make me incredibly uncomfortable (anything about family relationships going awry makes me anxious), so despite all the praise this book has received, I've avoided it at all costs. Until of course it was offered as a giveaway by Kim over at Bold.Blue.Adventure. So now I'm going to read it, but probably a couple of weeks after I get over Matrimony.

And lastly, my copy of In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan finally arrived at the library. I've been on the waiting list since February! I'm leaving it at the library though until I'm certain I can read it. The worst thing would be to have to go on the waiting list again because I couldn't get to it in my allotted three-week checkout period.

Friday, May 16, 2008

High Infatuation by Steph Davis

I read High Infatuation as a way to gain some inspiration to keep me rock climbing and also to get some insight into the sport. Steph Davis is one of the top female climbers in the world and has accomplished several firsts for women in the sport so I was excited to get her book and read about her experiences. When I bought the book I had expected it to be more of a memoir, but I have to say I was really pleased with the essay format.

High Infatuation is a collection of journal entries, photos and published articles by Davis as she finished difficult climbs through the years. While I probably would have preferred the essays to be in chronological order, or at least given more background so we understood where she was at the time and where she was coming from, I don't think it was necessary. Once I got to the end of the book I could see why she ordered it the way she did. If I had to read six essays about Patagonia in a row, I may have ended up getting bored with the book. Each of her quests was amazing to read about, with the last one (the Salathe wall in Yosemite) being my favorite. Her attempt of the Salathe in Yosemite was a difficult climb for her and it made me realize that even the pros still have challenges when it comes to climbing (that's why they're still climbing, right?).

The photos in the book really helped me to understand better what she was talking about. They also made me want to get out and climb right away. Unfortunately my climbing partner has a bruised rib so we haven't been out in a few weeks, but hopefully we'll get out there before the weather gets too much warmer (it was 103 here yesterday!). This book definitely inspired me as much as I hoped it would ... but it also made me realize how much I still have to learn about rock climbing. There are about ten techniques I have written down that I have to go look up now and beg someone to teach me about. But then I just have to remind myself that Steph Davis has been climbing for more than 15 years and I feel a little better about my novice climbing skills.

In the book I also loved the short clips she included. There was one about running that was only about two paragraphs long, but it was a beautiful image of running and why it feels so great. If you're a climber and want some inspiration (and tons of words you may not have heard before), then I'd recommend checking out this book. Also, if you've never heard of Steph Davis, you can check out her Web site or this video of her base jumping and talking about why she loves being in the wild. The video was featured by Timex's "Return to the Outdoors" series, you can check out some of the other videos here, and also enter to win an outdoor adventure vacation.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

For My Sacramento Readers

While I was skulking around the library last week, I discovered a couple of cool events that I really want to take part in. I thought maybe some of you would be interested as well, so here they are:

The Arden-Dimick Library (891 Watt Ave, corner of Watt and Northrop) is holding an open book club featuring banned books. The first meeting is Sunday, June 22 at 2 p.m. and features In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Admittedly, I've avoided this book for years merely for the fact that the title sounds scary. I never even bothered to look at what the book was about. I guess I'm about to finally find out. In July the book is Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and in August it's Beloved by Toni Morrison. I love that they've already got it scheduled so I can plan out my reading accordingly.

In addition, the Rancho Cordova Library (9845 Folsom Blvd.) will be holding three seminars about tea. The first is "What is tea, and the history of tea" to be held Saturday, September 27 at 2 p.m. In October they will discuss "The Traditions of Tea," followed by "Tea and the Arts" in November. I know I don't make it sound too interesting here, but I'm super excited about this event. I think it'll be amazing to learn more about the traditions and cultures behind tea. Maybe I'm just a big dork though.

Anyway, if you're interested and shy about going, I'll be there so you don't have to feel awkward. I'll be a big geek with you. Awesome, right?!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Are children being cheated of books today?

Writing about all those childhood memories of books and searching for them on Amazon made me realize how lucky I was as a child. When I was looking for The Boxcar Children series I couldn't remember exactly what it was called. The word "boxcar" just wouldn't come to me. So I tried a bunch of different searches. I tried "train children," "box children," "sidecar children," and a couple of others until it finally came to me. What bothered me was when I searched for "box children" and Harry Potter came up for about the first 70 search results.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Harry Potter. What bothered me was realizing that the Harry Potter series may well be one of the only series young children today read. If their parents aren't big readers and don't encourage reading at home, most children likely will only read when it's the "in" thing to do (aka there's a media circus surrounding the book). And that thought just made me really sad. I'd be so bummed if my children, or even my younger brother and sister (ages 8 and 13) missed out on the books I loved as a kid. Luckily they won't miss out because the books on their shelves are hand-me-downs from all of us older kids (unless of course we stole them when we moved out, which I totally did with my Roald Dahl books).

I don't know, I don't have kids so maybe I'm over-exaggerating. Maybe kids read as much today as I did when I was younger. Maybe all this talk in the media about children reading less today is just a bunch of hype. I guess I won't know until I have children of my own. I'm just saying that the exercise yesterday really got me thinking. What do you think? Am I totally off base?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Weekly Geeks #3: A Trip Down Memory Lane

This week's challenge asks us to write about fond childhood memories of books. The problem for me is defining "childhood." Should I include favorites from my teenage years too? Or do I only write about books from before I had any responsibility, my pre-schooling years? I suppose I can define it any way I want, so I'm going to just write from my first experience with chapter books on to books that had a profound impact on me while I was growing up, including some of my favorites from the required reading I did in High School.

So let's start with my first-ever memory of a chapter book. This goes all the way back to about first or second grade and is my most cherished reading experience. The book was actually the Ralph S. Mouse series by Beverly Cleary and the reader was actually my mom. It took us months to get through these books, as she read them to me at bedtime and I often fell asleep while she was reading (although it was more often that I'd still be awake and beg her to read a second chapter). I don't remember much about these books aside from them having been about a mouse with a motorcycle, a car, or what have you. He had fun adventures. I remember that. What I remember most though was that cherished time with my mom that I rarely got as I grew older (it's not easy to get personal time with the 'rents when you have eight siblings). Other books I remember her reading to me were about the Littles, Ramona Quimby, Amelia Bedelia and something about a sock-eating monster under the bed (couldn't find it on Amazon).

Once I was reading on my own, I loved series books. I read The Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High and The Boxcar Children all the way up until fourth grade, where I discovered Roald Dahl and quickly set out conquering the stack of books he had written. Matilda was my all-time favorite and I read it over and over and over again. The only book to this day that I have ever re-read. I also absolutely loved Island of the Blue Dolphins.

In middle school I don't remember reading much. I'm sure I read, but it was a time of turmoil in my life. We moved at the end of my sixth grade year, then just as I had established my new best friends and figured out the town my dad announced another move, planting me in a brand new school for my first year of high school as well.

In high school I was required to read, and those books are what I remember most. I know I read other books as well because I was often caught reading a book behind the book I was supposed to have been reading. I'd also read my brothers' and sisters' required reading books that they brought home from middle school since I'd missed out on them (I don't remember there being quite as much required reading in Utah as there is in California).

From this required reading I remember The Giver (which was actually from my younger sister's list). That book I think was the first thing to make me wonder about where technology is taking us and what our society would be like if we were to become a "utopia." I remember being shocked to realize that taking away everything bad in our world and shielding people from the realities of life doesn't necessarily make life better. This book may well have been the most influential book I read as a child.

Then there was The Good Earth - my first book by a feminist. And after that was Ender's Game, which then sent me on an Orson Scott Card binge for my remaining years of high school.

Of all the required reading though, the one that surprised me most as a favorite was Hamlet. Each year we were required to read a Shakespeare play and each year I would read it and wonder why on earth everyone admired Shakespeare so much. But my senior year I had an amazing English teacher who finally was able to help me understand the Shakespeare thing. Granted, I've never tortured myself through another of his plays, but I did enjoy Hamlet. I still have my copy with all of its highlighting, notes in the margins and post-its poking out in all directions. Shakespeare and John Steinbeck remind me that even if I don't like one book by an author, I should try some of their other stuff before writing them off completely. Sometimes they end up surprising me.

So, what were some of your childhood memories with reading? Some of your favorite books? Authors?

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Watermelon King by Daniel Wallace

If I were to write one of those cheesy quotes for the front of books, my quote for The Watermelon King would be "Storytelling as storytelling should be!"

I picked up this book thanks to a suggestion on Things Mean A Lot, a book blog I've been checking out lately. The blogger there had nothing but good things to say about Daniel Wallace's writing and storytelling ability. And with such a glowing review how could I resist?

One of the actual cheesy quotes on the back of this book compared Wallace to Roald Dahl and I have to say I agree. I grew up reading Roald Dahl and loving the obvious imagination he put into his books. It's obvious Daniel Wallace has the same big imagination.

The Watermelon King plays out in Ashland, Ala., the world's biggest watermelon patch. However, after the arrival of one Lucy Rider and her desire to stop the archaic practice of naming a watermelon king, the watermelons stopped growing in Ashland. See, the problem Lucy had with the town naming a watermelon king was that it was based on a legend that went something like this:

The fertility of our land and the fertility of our people have always been intertwined. Fertility to us is everything. And so it has been our belief that no boy shall reach manhood with his virginity intact. If this were to happen, the land would dry up and we would have no more watermelons. So each year at the watermelon festival the oldest male virgin in town is chosen as the watermelon king. He goes out to a field where he is greeted by three females who take a handful of watermelon seeds from a bag. Whichever girl ends up with the golden seed is the one he sleeps with that night.

But Lucy Rider, new to their town, will have none of that, so when the king is picked that year, she says she's had sex with him and she' pregnant with his child. Within the week all of the watermelon field in town wither up and die.

The ensuing story is told by her son, who comes to the town to learn about his mother and hopefully find out who his real father is, which could be difficult considering every man in town is keen on taking credit for the deed. This book is fairly short and so fun I'd recommend it to just about anyone.

P.S. I used a random numbers generator to pick the winner for my copy of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not and it goes to Julie P. at Booking Mama. Sorry to those of you who didn't win, but there will be plenty of other chances to win a free book here in the future. Thanks again to everyone who entered!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday Salon: Jodi Picoult and things to come

Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there! To celebrate the holiday, I spent the day winetasting with my boyfriend and his parents. It was beautiful up in Amador County today and I discovered a lot of great new wineries. And the best part? I finished my latest book on the drive up and in between wineries, which means I get to start on some new books this week on the commute to my new job! Lots of changes this week so I don't know how much time I'll have to blog (or to run), but I'm going to try to keep it up.

Just in case though, I thought I'd include a review of my most recent book in today's Sunday Salon (my first!). Originally I'd planned to do a review every Monday, but I've been reading books faster than I'd planned and as it turns out I have more time on Sundays. Who knew?

OK, OK, on to the review: Today I finished my second Jodi Picoult book, Plain Truth. The book is about an Amish teenager who has a baby out of wedlock and is accused of murder when the baby is found dead near the barn where it was birthed. The teenager, Katie, is represented in court by her non-Amish cousin Ellie who happened to be visiting their ex-Amish aunt at the time of the birth. Ellie had just finished a high-profile case and had been trying to get away from a bad relationship and rethink her life while staying at her aunt's house. Instead she found herself thrown right back into work, only this time it required her to stay on an Amish farm, where she was ordered by the judge to babysit her client.

A lot of people take issue with Picoult's writing because she uses similar visual images in all of her books (curling up in the shape of a comma, etc.), but I honestly wouldn't have noticed it if nobody had ever pointed it out to me. (So sorry to now be the one to have pointed it out to you!) Personally, I really enjoyed both of the books I've read by Picoult (My Sister's Keeper and now this one). She picks incredibly interesting plots on current issues and she always includes turns that make her work unique.

As for Plain Truth, it is the first book I've ever read about the Amish and I was glad she included a ton of background on them (background gleaned from her own experience living with an Amish family as part of her research for the book). I find the Amish way to be incredibly interesting, although until now I had remained extremely ignorant about why and how they live the way they do. This book helped me to understand them a little bit better. I also enjoyed watching the relationship grow between the two cousins, who were unknown to each other before the trial. The ending didn't catch me off guard as much as in My Sister's Keeper. I kind of knew what was coming from the hints earlier in the book, and also because I'm sort of a law media junky (I have been known to watch reruns of Law & Order and CSI for six hours straight). Overall this was a great read and very quick, which I love.

If you enjoy books about law, I think you'd enjoy Picoult's books. Sometimes I think of her as the female John Grisham, even though I know that their writing styles are very different. Grisham tends to be more of a thriller law writer, while Picoult's are more about the characters and their underlying reasons for going to court. When I was younger John Grisham was my second author love (Roald Dahl was my first), and I devoured everything he wrote. I think Jodi Picoult will probably take his place for me, as I now have three of her books on hold at the library. What can I say? Once I like a writer, I feel like I have to read their entire body of work. So I guess I'll be alternating between Margaret Atwood and Jodi Picoult for the next few years. At least I finally have some favorite female authors.

This book has also been reviewed by:
Trish at Trish's Reading Room

As for other reading, today I started Dematerializing: Taming the Power of Possessions just to break away from all of this fiction I've been reading lately. I've also been reading High Infatuation by Steph Davis and, of course, our book club selection, Year of Wonders. What are you reading this week?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Well, aren't you just so lucky, you get two posts by me today! I finished The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy last night and just have to write about it before I start another book and forget all of the things I wanted to say about this one. So here goes:

The God of Small Things may well be the saddest love story I've ever read. Arundhati Roy unravels the story almost painfully slowly, then hits you in the end with the sad truth of what she has been trying to say all along. The story is based in India and told from the perspectives of two-egg twins (fraternal twins), Estha and Rahel. It is almost poetic in its telling, sometimes sections even reminding me of the chorus line in a song.

The real core of the story is about how one day changed the entire trajectory of the twins' lives. It all begins on the day their cousin, Sophie Mol, comes to Ayemenem, their home town. It's the week of Christmas and Sophie Mol's step-father has just died. Her arrival, and other events that happened in Cochin while the family awaited her arrival, led the twins on an adventure with irreversible consequences. Although, throughout the book the reader knows something terrible is going to happen, nothing prepared me for the ending it had. I don't want to say much more about the plot because I'm afraid I'll spoil it.

I do recommend reading it, though this is a book I feel (at least for me) needs to be read more than once in order to gain the full meaning of the words. Personally, I found the language to be confusing. And I found myself getting mixed up about some of the relationships among the characters in the beginning. Instead of trying to figure it out at the time, I decided to just go with it. In the end it all made sense, but a second read will help me clarify some of the things I may have missed.

This book has also been reviewed by:
Juli at Can I Borrow Your Book?
Books I Done Read

P.S. If any of you have reviewed this book, please leave a comment or email me (bexadler at yahoo) so I can link to it here. Thanks!

P.P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment here if you're interested in a free copy of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Deadline to enter is May 11.

Booking Through Thursday: Manual Labor

Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?

Hm...I've read a couple of the other responses to this questions and was surprised to find quite a few people who aren't interested in reference books in the least. Some people say the English language makes sense to them so they don't need to look things up, while others prefer to look things up online.

The problem arises, though, when you are working with a specific writing style (MLA, Chicago, AP) that requires exact uses of certain words. For instance in AP Style "website" is actually "Web site" and it must be written exactly this way - because it's actually proper English. The problem I have with using the Internet (another AP particularity) as a resource for spelling and punctuation is that it's often written by laypeople who aren't interested in looking up correct punctuation and spelling. Nor do they bother to wonder whether they are using the right word for what they are trying to say. Oh, and what about the constant misuse of "their, they're and there" and "your, you're"? With actual reference material, these mistakes are more easily avoided. Yes, these are simple mistakes that wordy people likely don't make, but there are plenty of times when I see big vocab being misused.

As for me, I have a ton of reference books. I actually have more of these than of regular books because for me to actually buy a book I have to see a value in it. I have to either not be able to get it at the library OR I have to know that I'll go back to it again and again and again. I own one English dictionary, at least two French-English dictionaries, one Italian-English dictionary, one Spanish-English dictionary, a German-French dictionary, several French grammar books, a French verb conjugation book, a German grammar book, at least two AP Style guides (the newspaper writer's bible), an MLA style guide (left over from my college years), and an English thesaurus. I probably own more, but these are all I can think of at the moment.

In addition to these reference books, the question asks about writing guides. I actually only own one of these - a how-to guide for writing children's books - and have never read it. However, I do have two books on hold at my public library about how to write, and I have several on my TBR list. The reason I don't usually get into these books though is because they take time and effort. I can't just say, "Hey, I think I'll pick up that book on writing memoirs today," and voila! a memoir is made. It'll probably take me a good couple of months to get through these type of books because they include writing assignments and creativity. But I feel if I ever really want to be a writer, I'm going to have to figure out how to grow my creativity first. So, the books remain on my list, waiting out their time, hoping one day I'll finally pick them up and let them be read.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Weekly Geeks #2 - Linking Up With YOU

I'm a little late posting my second Weekly Geeks assignment, mostly because I had to put a lot of thought into it. Straight off, I liked the idea of all us book bloggers linking to other reviews of books we have reviewed. I love reading what other people have to say about books, especially when they don't agree with me. I think it gives me a better understanding of the books. Not only that, I think it is a benefit to my readers because they can get several opinions/reflections of one book, giving them more to use when deciding whether to pick up the books themselves.

So, you're asking, with me being so optimistic about this option, why did it take me so long to jump on board? Well, it's the logistics of it. I was worried I'd forget to remind people to send me links to their posts or that I'd get lazy with the follow-through. But after thinking about it a little more, I realized I have way less work to do than some of you other book bloggers. After all, I've only been around for 4 months so I don't have that many past links I'd have to catch up on if everyone sent me links to all of my past reviews. Also, I decided, as a back up, to post a note over in my sidebar >>>> to let people know they can send me links to their posts about the same books I've reviewed. This way if I forget to remind you, you can't say I didn't have it posted. (I know, I'm a cheater, but at least I've got my back covered).

SO, with that said, start sending me links to your reviews so I can get this thing updated! :-)

My email: bexadler at yahoo

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Giveaways Galore!

I'm still catching up on my sleep from my week with my sister, so I'm going to be a lazy book blogger today and give you all some links to go visit. But come on, who doesn't love giveaways? So here are a couple of recent giveaways I've entered:

Oh, but first, don't forget to join my first giveaway! You can get my copy of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by leaving a comment here by May 11.

Want some free giveaways for your book club? Visit Lisa Daily's site for her new book Fifteen Minutes of Shame and get a cool swag bag (includes t-shirts, bookmarks and postcards for everyone in your book club). Sorry no free copies of the book though.

Over at A Book Blogger's Diary, you can get up to three free books and book-related items. You have to scroll through the whole page and leave comments on each of the items you're interested in. And you have to do it before Mother's Day (May 11). So check it out.

And lastly, you can get a free review copy from Blog a Penguin Classic. A couple of caveats though: 1. You don't get to pick which book you get. 2. You have to agree to write a review of the book within 6 weeks of receipt of the book. Still, it's a free book, right?

Monday, May 5, 2008

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Trish Ryan

Trish Ryan's book, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, is billed as a memoir of finding faith, hope and happily ever after, which left me a little worried about how well I'd like it. I approach most overly Christian books with some degree of incredulousness, however I found Ryan's perspective to be a bit refreshing. The parts about God or Jesus talking to her were a bit weird, which even she admits, saying "It seems hokey, it was hokey" at one point. But all the same her faith in Jesus Christ made her happier than she had ever been before in her life, and I commend her for taking that leap of faith. The book made me think a lot about my own faith and I decided I just wasn't willing to give up all my sinful ways - at least not yet.

The book begins with Ryan's first engagement, which ends badly. She goes through a series of other relationships, along with other faiths. She's into all of the new age type spirituality, from tarot cards to spirit crystals. After a horrible marriage and scary runaway episode, then another bad relationship, Ryan gets a message from God telling her to take Jesus seriously if she wants to find a man that will treat her right. The second half of the book is about her discovering the Christian religion and giving up her other forms of spirituality so she can find a good man.

Overall the book is a good read and was a fun love story. Ryan includes a lot of funny episodes from her first days visiting Christian churches, referring to it as an anthropological study on Christianity. She, like many of us, had been put off the Christian religions by overzealous Christians, but what she found was a wonderful community and a faith she could get down with. I loved reading her struggles to understand the faith.

The weirdest part for me was that I was reading this book while visiting my sister in Utah for her wedding. It was interesting because I felt like I was getting a real-life dose of what Ryan was talking about. I even though a few times about my decision to leave my religion, but in the end I remain a "recovering Christian."

One thing that bothered me about this book was Ryan's obsession with finding a husband. I think that's my own issues coming into play though. Anyone who's hung around me a bit knows about my feminist rants, and I think this book would have made for a good one had it not been for Ryan's ability to look at both sides of the coin, whether she was talking about her husband obsession or Jesus.

There were also some great quotes in the book, but I don't have it with me so I can't put them down here. I'll try to add them later on today.

Also, if anyone's interested in reading Ryan's book, I'm going to hold my very first giveaway! Leave a comment below by MAY 11 if you'd like to have my copy of this book.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Booking Through Thursday, and May Book Club Selection!

Q: "Quick! It’s an emergency! You just got an urgent call about a family emergency and had to rush to the airport with barely time to grab your wallet and your passport. But now, you’re stuck at the airport with nothing to read. What do you do??

And, no, you did NOT have time to grab your bookbag, or the book next to your bed. You were . . . grocery shopping when you got the call and have nothing with you but your wallet and your passport (which you fortuitously brought with you in case they asked for ID in the ethnic food aisle). This is hypothetical, remember…."

A: Heh. There have definitely been times when I've gotten to the airport without a book, but mostly because I consider the time I spend waiting for a plane as my "browsing" time. I say "browsing" because I usually end up buying at least three books (mostly because there are usually deals, but also because I can never decide on just one). Past airport buys have included Three Junes, The Da Vinci Code, Shopaholic and Harry Potter. I loved them all.

Also, if you have a super long flight and only one book to tide you over, you can always consider trading with the person next to you once they've finished what they're reading. I did this once on a trip home from France. The woman next to me was flying home to Seattle from India and had been in transit for nearly 24 hours. As soon as she saw me turn the last page of my book and shut it, she asked me what it was about, then politely asked if I'd be willing to trade. I remember my book was The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella, but I can't remember what I traded it for. Anyway, I usually leave finished books on the plane anyway. I figure the stewardesses or the next traveler could use some new reading material.

And NOW for our May book club selection!

This month our selection comes from LisaMM over at Books on the Brain. She suggested Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, and I was convinced because I find the plague to be a really interesting time period, I'm out of my own ideas, and she had the only suggestion. So thanks Lisa for throwing in your two cents. I'm really excited about this book because I probably wouldn't have chosen it on my own, but it sounds like it will be really great. One of the things I love most about being a part of book club is reading new things that I probably wouldn't otherwise pick up. And, as always, here is a short synopsis of the book from Amazon:

Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders describes the 17th-century plague that is carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor. As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice: do they flee their village in hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay? The lord of the manor and his family pack up and leave. The rector, Michael Mompellion, argues forcefully that the villagers should stay put, isolate themselves from neighboring towns and villages, and prevent the contagion from spreading. His oratory wins the day and the village turns in on itself.

Cocooned from the outside world and ravaged by the disease, its inhabitants struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the disaster. The narrator, the young widow Anna Frith, is one of the few who succeeds. With Mompellion and his wife, Elinor, she tends to the dying and battles to prevent her fellow villagers from descending into drink, violence, and superstition. All is complicated by the intense, inexpressible feelings she develops for both the rector and his wife. Year of Wonders sometimes seems anachronistic as historical fiction; Anna and Mompellion occasionally appear to be modern sensibilities unaccountably transferred to 17th-century Derbyshire. However, there is no mistaking the power of Brooks's imagination or the skill with which she constructs her story of ordinary people struggling to cope with extraordinary circumstances.

OK then, I hope to see more people at our online book discussion this month. It should be good! Also, if any of you are in the Sacramento area, let me know and we can plan a live book club meeting. Happy reading!