Thursday, April 26, 2012

What I've been reading: April 2012

I'm posting this a bit before the end of the month, but if there's some sudden reading binge in the next five days, I'll lump those titles into May's post.  April feels like there's something missing, like I read something and I've forgotten to write it down.  Guess I'll add that to May's post, too, if I can remember it!

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach.  This is becoming a bit of a staff darling, and this is a novel that readers and critics actually agree is phenomenal.  Not a baseball fan?  Doesn't matter in the slightest.  Don't think you're interested in what happens to a group of college kids?  You're wrong.  This is the story of hopes and dreams, of sacrifice and starting over, of what happens when something ordinary goes so horribly wrong that nothing can ever be the way it was before.  I am not even exaggerating when I say this is one of the best books I've ever read, and the stories told within its pages, indeed, the characters themselves, will haunt me for years to come.  544 pages

Danse Macabre, by Stephen King.  This is an oldie but a goodie, originally written in 1981, and a reread for me, although it has been at least ten years since I last read it.  King waxes nostalgic and intellectual about three decades of horror in mass media, touching on its early roots in novels like Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and moving on to talk about later horror classics such as The Exorcist and The Twilight Zone.  Told with King's usual candor, insight, and good humor, this is really a lot of fun for anyone with an appreciation for things that go bump in the night.  512 pages

The Accident, by Linwood Barclay.  Set right here in Fairfield County, this novel is actually that much creepier for the familiar surroundings.  Contractor Glen Garber has seen work dry up in the bad economy, and is appreciative when his wife goes back to school in the evenings to become a book-keeper to help in the office.  When she doesn't come home from class one night, Glen gets worried, then frantic.  With their eight-year-old daughter asleep in the backseat of the car, Glen goes out looking for Sheila, only to find her dead in the aftermath of a horrible car accident, along with two other people.  In the aftermath, full of grief and denial, Glen begins to look into the accident on his own, trying to find clues to explain how it happened.  What he reveals, however, is a cascade of dangerous secrets which put the lives of both him and his daughter in peril.  Great, tight and tense suspense work from Barclay.  480 pages

Let's Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson.  If you've read this blog for awhile, you may have noticed I have a somewhat...quirky sense of humor.  Lawson's "mostly true memoir" is definitely quirky.  I've been a fan of her blog, The Bloggess, for quite some time, and her humor is in full force in this work of mostly non-fiction.  Please note, both her blog and the book have quite a bit of strong language, so if you're bothered by that sort of thing, consider yourself warned.  And if that sort of thing doesn't bother you?  Enjoy!  Lawson talks about growing up poor in rural Texas, the eccentricities of family (including a father who was a professional taxidermist), and meeting her husband, among other things.  I find her refreshing, irreverent and absolutely, howlingly funny.  318 pages

The Sunday Wife, by Cassandra King.  I've been reading ahead for my book club; this is May's selection.  Even after twenty years married to a Southern Methodist minister, Dean Lynch has never acclimated to her role as a Sunday wife.  When her husband is assigned to a larger, more demanding community, Dean becomes friends with the free and extravagant Augusta Holderfield, who encourages Dean to break out of her role of preacher's wife.  Just when Dean is reexamining her life, tragedy strikes, and Dean's life changes in ways she never imagined possible.  Sad I'm missing the meeting for this book--there's so much I want to talk about!  528 pages

The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani.  Star-crossed lovers Enza and Ciro meet as teenagers in Italy around the turn of the last century.  Ciro uncovers a scandal in his village and is cast out, leaving Enza behind when he goes to forge a new life in America.  Later, Enza emigrates to America with her family, too, and these lovers meet and part and meet, until finally they are brought together for good by sheer power of their love for one another.  This is truly a beautiful love story, one for the ages, and told by Trigiani at her best.  475 pages

So, the tally for April is: 2,857 pages, 6 titles.

Year to date:
9,529/50,000 pages = 19%
22/100 titles = 22%

Doing a reading challenge of your own this year?  Let your fellow readers know how you're doing, and what you've liked!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Earth Day Greens

So, I'm a couple of days late for Earth Day 2012.  But spring has sprung, and your yard is probably looking for you to do something a little green.  I know mine is!  It's never too late to plant a tree, make an eco-friendly change, or just spruce things up a little.  Here are some great new green books to get you started!

Landscaping for Privacy: innovative ways to turn your outdoor space into a peaceful retreat, by Marty Wingate.  If ever there was a home and garden book that got rave reviews, this one would be it.  Buffers, barriers and screens of all kinds are covered here, from hedges and fences to tricks and tips to hide everything from noisy neighbors to unsightly sheds.

Whole Green Catalog: 1,000 best things for you and the earth, edited by Michael W. Robbins.  This great resource covers eco-friendly options in areas from building and renovating to recycling to parenting and everything else you can think of in and around your home, including toys and furnishings, too.  Full of changes small to extensive that you can make to be a little greener.

If you're looking to make your gardening practices more organic, or you'd like to know more about natural landscaping, The New American Landscape: leading voices on the future of sustainable gardening, edited by Thomas Christopher is a great place to start.  Meadow gardens, landscaping to attract birds, and creating sustainable edible gardens are just a few of the topics covered.

Finally, get your kids interested in going green, too!  There's a great guide to suggested titles by age range listed over on the Earth Day Network website to get you started.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weekend bonus edition: No 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction

I know, I was shocked, too.  Especially since 2011 was an amazing year for fiction.  The three nominees given to the board by the jurors this year were Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, and Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.  While this isn't the first time the board has declined to select a winner for the fiction Pulitzer (it has happened eleven times in the history of the prize), it is the first time since 1977.

Want to read more?  Check out the L.A. Times article here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Three on Thursday: The Jazz Age

I touched on Langston Hughes' work in my last post about poetry; did you know that April is also Jazz Appreciation Month?  While I do love some modern jazz (Zero 7, Norah Jones), I also love books about jazz, and thought I'd take the opportunity to share a few of those titles with you.  If you're not familiar with jazz music, I would recommend doing a bit of reading about the subject, too.  Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux's 2009 history, Jazz, is a great place to start.  Of course, if you prefer a more condensed version, you could always wiki it, or there's a great Ken Burns documentary series made for PBS called Jazz: the story of America's music

The Jazz Age was a movement of the 1920s, when jazz music and dance became popular with the introduction of mainstream radio at the end of WWI.  To me, there are three writers who are icons of the era: Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Jazz Age fiction is typified by writers who fought the pre-war societal norms, bucked the censors, and sought to write with realism and freedom.  Here are a few of my personal favorites:

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you may have noticed I have a bit of a soft spot for F. Scott Fitzgerald (who also coined the term Jazz Age), in particular, The Great Gatsby.  Narrator Nick Carraway, back from WWI and restless, moves to New York to learn the bond business.  The home Nick rents is in the shadow of a mansion owned by Jay Gatsby, mysteriously wealthy and host of elaborate, extravagant parties.  Gatsby is also haunted by his first love, Daisy Buchanan, who lives across the water with husband Tom in fashionable East Egg.  This love triangle among the upper class, bored with what they have and finding the exotic in the ordinary, is a fast read whose narrative holds up well for the modern reader.

While Fitzgerald tended to write about the rich, William Faulkner's writings were set in fictitious and somewhat rural Yoknapatawpha County, based on Lafayette County, Mississippi where he spent much of his childhood.  I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite, so I'll let this be the reader's choice.  I'm fond of both The Sound and the Fury, and As I Lay Dying.  The first is about the dissolution of a family of former Southern aristocracy, and the second is the story of a family's motivations to honor the dying family matriarch's wish to be buried in the town of Jefferson.  Both employ stream-of-consciousness narratives, at least partially, and multiple narrators in an effort to show varying motivations and perceptions surrounding common events.

Finally, Ernest Hemingway's economical prose tended to center on Americans abroad, such as A Farewell to Arms's Frederic Henry, an American serving in the Italian ambulance corps during WWI, and American expat and journalist Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises who travels from Paris to Pamplona to see the running of the bulls.  For their time, both novels were edgy, with plenty of alcohol and affairs peppered along their plotlines. 

Not what you were expecting during Jazz Appreciation Month?  What jazz-related books would you recommend?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Top Ten on Tuesday: Poetry

April is Poetry Month, and if you think you don't like poetry, my guess is that high school English classes ruined it for you.  The fact is, poetry is multi-faceted, from bawdy to reserved, loving to angry, dreamy to precise, flowery to minimalist.  Reading poetry can actually make you a better, more thoughtful reader of prose.  I've got a list of some of the most popular poets of all-time to share, and I hope you'll consider trying poetry again, for the first time.

William Shakespeare.  Best known for his comedies, tragedies and histories, The Bard also wrote 154 sonnets, which span a multitude of subjects from love and marriage to loneliness and death.  If reading his plays gives you a cold sweat, try Shakespeare in small doses via his sonnets.  You might be very surprised at what you find.  Start with Sonnet 130, my personal favorite.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Her Sonnet 43, How Do I Love Thee?, is actually part of modern culture:  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways...  Her style is philosophical and purposeful, with a draw on classical literature.

W.B. Yeats.  Yeats's poetry spans approximately fifty years, and there is a distinct difference between his earlier poems, which are influenced heavily by the occult and Irish legends and his later work, which is more physical and realistic.

Robert Frost.  Best known for The Road Not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (and miles to go before I sleep), Frost's work frequently employed settings from rural New England life (he moved to Massachusetts at nine years old and remained for much of his life) and used these settings to examine more complex social and philosophical  themes.  His work is thought provoking and lingers long after one is finished reading.

e.e. cummings.  Cummings, often remembered as the preeminent voice of 20th century poetry, was incredibly prolific, producing approximately 2,900 poems as well as two autobiographical novels, four plays, and several essays.  He was also an artist and painter.  Cummings's style is traditional with a twist, including sonnets, and his themes included love, nature, and the relationship of the individual to the masses.

Carl Sandburg. Recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry (and a third for a biography of Abraham Lincoln), Sandburg is particularly well-known for his work about cities, Chicago in particular.  He is sometimes attributed to be the first American folk singer, as he used to accompany himself on guitar at readings.

Langston Hughes.  One of the early-innovators of the literary art form of jazz poetry, Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He was a poet, a playwright, a novelist, and a world-traveler.

Edgar Allan Poe.  Though his later career focused mainly on works of prose, Poe's early work was mainly poetry.  However, he was actually best recognized by his contemporaries as a literary critic, which perhaps was a driving force for some of his more satirical pieces.  His style is generally referred to as being of the Gothic, dark romantic genre.  

Emily Dickinson.  Dickinson was extremely prolific, but fewer than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime.  Her younger sister found over eighteen hundred poems after Emily's death, and the first volume was published four years later.  Her early poems are conventional and sentimental, but her later work is much more emotional. 
Walt Whitman. One of the most influential American poets, Whitman is often called the father of free verse.  He was very controversial in his time, and his most well-known work, Leaves of Grass, was considered obscene at the time of its original publication.

I hope you'll embrace a little poetry this month, and use the list I've written as a starting point for further exploration!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Three on Thursday: Fiction off the beaten path

I try to keep my readers here ahead of the curve on all the mainstream new fiction coming in, which is no mean feat in and of itself.  But sometimes, there are some great titles that tend to get lost in the shuffle, whether they're put out by smaller publishers or they're debut novels.  I hate to let them disappear into the library stacks unnoticed, so I thought I'd share a few of these "amazing and different" titles.

The House on Salt Hay Road, by Carol Clevidence.  On a quiet summer's day in 1938, a Long Island fireworks factory explodes.  Clay Poole is fascinated by the chaos that has replaced everyday life as a result.  His sister, however, is more intrigued by the stranger who appears, dusted in ashes, in the aftermath.  The Poole children, orphaned and now being raised by their mother's family, have no idea that this is just the beginning of upheaval to come, including a hurricane and the impending war.  Vivid and amazing.

The Sisters brothers, by Patrick deWitt.  Eli and Charlie Sisters, hired gunslingers working for a frontier baron, are on the hunt for a prospector.  On the road between Oregon City and the prospector's claim just outside of Sacramento, they meet a witch, a bear, and murderous trappers...just to start.  Charlie remains bloodthirsty as ever, but Sisters brother Eli begins to wonder about their line of work, and who they're working for.  Odd, funny, and sad, this is one you should make a point to go back and read.

The Good Father, by Noah Hawley.  Dr. Paul Allen's specialty is treating patients that other doctors have given up on.  His personal life is content, with his second wife and their twin sons.  And then one afternoon, the breaking news is that the Democratic candidate for president has been shot at a rally, and Dr. Allen's son Daniel, from his first marriage, is the shooter.  The harrowing narrative alternates between Dr. Allen's guilt-ridden attempts to understand and save his son, and Daniel's own meandering thought processes.  A deeply emotional page-turner.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reading Ahead: May, part 3

Spring is just whipping right along, and I still can't believe we're talking May releases!  Here's the last of the big-name titles being published next month!

Home, by Toni Morrison

The Proposal, by Mary Balogh

Breaking News, by Fern Michaels

Beautiful Sacrifice, by Elizabeth Lowell

The Storm, by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown

I've got some great recommendations coming up in Thursday's post, for some standout fiction titles that you may have missed.  See you then!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reading Ahead: May, part 2

Ready for more books to look forward to next month?  Me, too! 

Spilled Blood, by Brian Freeman

The Family Corleone, by Ed Falco  (This is a prequel to The Godfather, based on an unpublished Mario Puzo screenplay!)

The Columbus Affair, by Steve Berry

Stolen Prey, by John Sandford

Beach House Memories, by Mary Alice Monroe

The Road to Grace, by Richard Paul Evans

Did you miss part 1?  Check over here.  I'll be back next week with part 3, and some fiction suggestions that are off the beaten track.  See you then!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reading Ahead: May, part 1

I cannot believe how quickly March flew by!  Happy April!  You know what that means?  We get to start looking forward to new books being released in May!  Get ready to start placing holds!

Crystal Gardens, by Amanda Quick

The Sins of the Father, by Jeffrey Archer (This is the second in a series, following last year's wildly popular Only Time Will Tell.)

11th Hour, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro 

In One Person, by John Irving

I'll be back Thursday with more up-and-coming bestsellers!