Sunday, December 30, 2007
This is a beautiful debut novel (a Random House Advanced Reader's Edition, not for sale until April 2008), an epic story centered around generations of a family afflicted with Early Onset Alzheimer's.
I usually select books when I feel I can personally relate to their subject matter. At first, since I'd never had any experience with the disease or known any family members who have, I thought it wouldn't interest me, at least not on such a deeper level.
I couldn't have been more wrong. The story was more than a book centered around a disease that the majority of us (albeit, incorrectly) think we are familiar with. The Story of Forgetting is a patchwork of nuances -- memories found and memories lost, that connect those related by both blood ties and love.
Despite my initial reservations, I discovered that the book spoke to me through a universal theme -- one of its main characters had attempted to forever escape her past. This left open the possibility that she would one day need to come full circle and return home. I have always considered the need to return to my home state of Alabama, to come to an understanding of my own past and the parts of it that haunt me. By choosing this seemingly unfamiliar book, I came face to face with my own inner thoughts.
Here's what readers of this story are saying on LibraryThing.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Yakov and his family arrived with barely the clothes on their backs, and now Yakov owns his own theater in Branson, and it's one of the biggest attractions of this destination for many who visit this locale of the Ozarks. Smirnoff for the Soul is truly a shot of "100 Proof Pure Wisdom Gift-Wrapped in Laughter," as the book's cover advertises.
With as much money as I shell out on books, and the speed with which I plow through them, I'm really interested to discover how well this service works. I'll let you know when I do.
For a while, I was hot and heavy into the Bookcrossing phenomenon, which really is a fun concept, but your luck in getting hold of a book you've had on your reading list via Bookcrossing is kind of skewed, if you go about it using this service. Still, it's fun to come across one of these registered finds, especially if you are in the market for a new title to add to your reading repertoire.
The only other service I found to be fairly popular was Bookins, and I haven't looked into that one very much.
I'd be interested to hear from other readers - how do you get your books? I imagine like many of us, you have a card for your local library branch or, when the mood strikes, you hit up Amazon or your favorite brick-and-mortar store; but I would love to get recommendations for alternate means to satisfy my book cravings. As for myself, I've discovered AbeBooks to be the best shopping site offering the most reasonable prices on titles I want to buy, as well as a good resource for out-of-print books.
Monday, December 24, 2007
This book was culled from thousands of interviews from across the country done at various locations where StoryCorps makes available mobile recording booths and at static locations set up at New York City's Ground Zero and Grand Central Station.
So far I've only read the first story in the anthology, based upon an interview done by Adrienne Lea with her friend, Cynthia Rahn. The result is a heartwarming childhood memory shared with readers and listeners, from 48-year-old Cynthia's life, of how one small act of thoughtfulness on the part of her mother will resonate with her forever.
When Cynthia was in kindergarten, she was asked, as part of a class project, to bring in something to add to the classroom's farmyard scene. Her family was poor, and this was more difficult for her than her teacher may have realized. She put it out of her mind, played outside until dark, and only realized her mistake when it was seemingly too late. Upon telling her mother of her problem, she was told it was her fault for not taking the responsibility to bring up the issue earlier. When it seemed all hope was lost, this little girl awakened, after her mother had already left in the early hours for work, to find a magnificent piece of origami made from simple notebook paper, left on the kitchen table, and formed into the shape of a barn.
To this day, Cynthia still marvels at that inexpensive though sentimentally priceless item, a show of her mother's quiet but boundless love. She said she has no idea how her mother put that intricate piece together, since, to her knowledge, her mother had no experience with origami. It remains a mystery.
Cynthia says she went into the classroom where others brought store-bought plastic farm animals and other implements, and she felt like a queen. The usually shy, insecure girl had a magical conversation piece to buoy her confidence that day, all because a tired, overworked mom saw the value in taking a few extra moments to do something special.
Reading this story brings back to me my own belief that the smallest gestures can have a profound effect on others, when freely given to family members, friends and even strangers. I believe even a smile or a thank you given meaningfully, and with eye contact, or lending a quick hand to someone in need, may mean more to them than we could ever know. What we do for another may even rub off on others, as the kindnesses we share with individuals get passed on and on into eternity - small acts that multiply, building mountains.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Truth be told, the music is from independent labels, and although I can appreciate musicians that don't subject themselves to the McDonaldization of entertainment, I can't find anything remotely worth downloading, even for free.
But, the books portion of the site piqued my interest and wasn't half bad. I chose to download James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds.
The writers of these brief, 100-word essays hail from different age groups, geographic locations, ethnicities, religions, genders and races, with both famous and obscure names.
I enjoyed reading each and every one of them, but the ones that most spoke to me were:
Pages 40-42 - "Good Can Be as Communicable as Evil," by Norman Corwin
Pages 80-83 - "The Connection Between Strangers," by Miles Goodwin
Pages 90-92 - "Disrupting My Comfort Zone," by Brian Grazer
Pages 126-128 - "The Benefits of Restlessness and Jagged Edges," by Kay Redfield Jamison
Pages 159-161 - "The Joy and Enthusiasm of Reading," by Rick Moody
Pages 171-174 - "Mysterious Connections That Link Us Together," by Azar Nafisi
Pages 178-180 - "We Are Each Other's Business," by Eboo Patel
Pages 181-183 - The 50-Percent Theory of Life," by Steve Porter
Pages 204-206 - "The Artistry in Hidden Talents," by Mel Rusnov
Pages 247-249 - "How Do You Believe in a Mystery?" by Loudon Wainwright III
I found myself stirred to examine my own beliefs, to see if I could encapsulate them within such a small span of verbiage myself, after having read the heartfelt statements of so many other people. Because I'm feeling too lazy to explain the entire project, check out the associated site, This I Believe, to craft your own story, bring this project into your community, read and search for more essays, or listen to podcasts.
Friday, December 21, 2007
I seem to get swept away by one book, when I've barely finished the previous one. If books were love relationships, I guess I would be a fickle woman.
I have been doing some Utterz during the commute, when time allows. So, feel free to check those out. They're not very detailed or formal, just fun, spur-of-the-moment thoughts I like to share when the mood strikes me.
And, as always, please comment. I look forward to establishing more of a dialogue with other readers, either on this blog, or on my Utterz page, Books on the Run.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I would rather share and communicate primarily through a book club, but the reality is that there don't seem to be any in my community (Columbia, Maryland), and although there are probably many in the Washington DC area, life's errands, appointments and the commute keep me too busy to drive in grueling evening traffic to attend these meetings.
Frankly, I just don't have the motivation anymore. Since I moved here 14 months ago, I've become someone who looks forward to returning to the comforts of home each day. I had a brief few months of enjoying my newbie urbanite status, when I would energetically linger in the city to try out different restaurants or attend concerts at places like the 930 Club (caught a Blue October concert there), GW Lisner Auditorium (saw Madeline Peyroux perform there) and the DAR Constitution Hall (Loreena McKennitt concert). I would wait around in the city and share a beer and appetizers with friends at Sine Irish Pub in the Post Pentagon Row area. That was fun, but gradually, I came to see that because I didn't live in nearby Virginia, trying to have a social life in Arlington or DC was a lot more of a challenge than I'd originally imagined; gradually, I let it all slough off, and stopped trying to be the Superwoman of lunch and dinner dates. Now I'm again the acutely incurable bibliophile I was as a teen, relishing each day's lengthy train ride to the end of the line, where my car awaits me for the last leg of my journey.
I feel that my move to Washington DC was a life-changing one. Yes, on one hand, it was very good for me -- opening me up to a new career opportunity in Virginia, bringing me from out of the desolation of the West, to where I would soon meet my special guy, Tim. It also exposed me to much more culture than my previous residence in Casper, Wyoming. However, it also feels like it's daily eating away a chunk of my life. I find myself wasting hours sitting in gridlock on the Beltway, and it's at those times that I wonder what I've truly gained.
On a positive note, moving to this area did bring back my enthusiasm for constant reading. I choose to turn those 7-1/2 hours on the Metro each week into time for catching up on my ever-growing reading list. Added to the time I set aside on some mornings to read, and the occasional bedtime literary session, I cover a lot of pages these days.
I used to bemoan that there was never time to read, and that I could never finish a book. I used to own somewhere between a thousand and 1,500 books, causing the shelves in my tiny apartment to bulge from overcrowding. Sadly, this was the same collection I had to abandon for my move to the District. Back then, I would lose interest quickly and be itching to move on to the next novel before I was halfway through the current one. But now, I immerse myself in one (as long as it's not boring to the point of inciting narcolepsy), and I stick with it, contemplating what it has to say to me, when I'm not engaged in its dialogue.
We can learn a lot from books, and I'm not talking about the academic varieties.
I believe we pick up books at the right times for the right reasons. Some, purely because we are looking for an entertaining literary jaunt, and others because we need to "hear" them at certain points in our lives. For me, Eat, Pray, Love is one of those special books. Like the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, I am 35. I too have been divorced (twice...yikes) and suffered raging heartache countless times. I also share many of the same open-minded views and curiosity about my spirituality. Parts of the book are like readings from my own mind, and whenever I come across anything that really "speaks" to me, I underline, highlight or make ample notes in the margins; or I fold a page over for later perusing.
I really use all of my senses when I read. I buy mostly paperbacks, because I feel that those written printed gems are meant for us to use -- not just to look pretty, to decorate our shelves and impress others with our collection of data -- but for us to encounter the energy of their authors through our five senses (sense of taste, meaning only in the indirect sense of cookbooks or culinary travel guides, of course).
Literature is my constant companion, always with me, wherever I go. Not to mention, books make great conversational pieces for meeting likeminded readers, at least when we take the time to remove our noses from between the books' covers once in a while.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
- Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver - I read this when I was stationed in Germany during a military field exercise in 2002 or 2003. I found time to devour it, little by little, when there were short waits in between my duties. I recall being just as in love with the rhythm of Kingsolver's spare and yet eloquent descriptions as I was with the actual story.
- Plainsong, by Kent Haruf - I read this directly after Prodigal Summer. I think I enjoyed it so much, because it had the same simple quality to the prose as I mentioned with Kingsolver's book; and the story was just as raw and moving.
- On the Road, by Jack Kerouac - Always a favorite of mine, for Kerouac's down-to-earth writing style and because of my passion for road trips, adventure and free spirits
- Wish You Well, by David Baldacci - Not your typical Baldacci novel but wonderful in its own way
- Here on Earth, by Alice Hoffman - Remember that magical feeling you used to get as a kid, when a book was so good that you'd read way past your bed time, hidden beneath the blankets with a flashlight, in order to finish it? Well, I do. And, trust me, Hoffman's books will give you back that same magic as an adult. (Here's where you can read an excerpt.)
- The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler - Well-remembered as a joy of a read
- I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years, by Bill Bryson - Bryson is a wonderful writer that makes nonfiction so much fun to read. I could no more stop reading one of his books once I begin one than I could stop breathing.
- Cheeseburgers: The Best of Bob Greene
- Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War, by Deborah Copaken-Kogan - A window into the life of a female war photographer
- Love Stories of World War II, by Larry King - I have fond memories of having read this book. Young and old can relate to the stories within, based on the timeless universal theme of love in all its many forms.
- Stephen King's writing instruction book/memoir, On Writing
- Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg - This is my constant writing companion, and the number one book I would take with me, if I were to be stranded on a desert island. I usually have more than one copy floating around at all times.
- There Are No Accidents, by Robert H. Hopcke - A delightful read about the topic of synchronicity and how it fits into the stories of our lives
- If I Live to Be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians, by Neenah Ellis
- One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, by Robert Maurer
- Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, by P.M. Forni - If everyone in today's society read this book, considered the lessons within, and applied them in daily life, what a wonderful world it could be.
Do not read this novel unless you are prepared to learn about the grievous plight of Afghanistan. This country that regularly makes the evening news and seems symbolically millions of miles from us as Americans is much more than just another combat zone where NATO troops fight and the Taliban rule. At least that's what I feel to be true as I near the close of this second of Khaled Hosseini's heart-wrenching tales.
When you read this book, you may too acknowledge that this land holds a brilliant history -- a colorful, rugged population that exists despite struggle and strife, and manages to hold onto hope, woven tightly together as a people by the richness of familial bonds and traditions that have hardly changed over centuries. This book breaks apart the narrowly crafted concepts of Afghanistan fed to us through the press. Through such realistic characters, Hosseini transports our souls into the bodies of Afghans, and we look out from within, becoming one with the story -- we sense on a personal level the deepest essence of the humanity that we all share -- far beneath religious practices and differences in women's clothing.
Because of Hosseini, we readers from any nation feel that same fire that burns brightly within the spirits of women like Laila and Mariam. We are proud of their courage alongside them, rooting for them, our fingers crossed in expectation. And we too recoil in horror as Rasheed, the denier of their freedoms, beats them like animals and gloats in taking away even the most basic of rights. We fear for them, and we mourn them their losses.
Afghanistan is a place that has long endured an existence fraught with uncertainty and corruption, even from those who came into power with smiles and promises to return its people to peace and the old ways.
Do not crack the cover of this book, if you feel yourself unable to handle these dark and painful truths. Even when communicated through fiction, these revelations will bring Afghanistan more clearly into your experience and from out of that digital box of the media's half-truths.
Just as with Hosseini's first novel, The Kite Runner, Thousand Splendid Suns does not disappoint. Even when I am not engaged in reading, the women characters in this book occupy a space in my mind. I drive my car somewhere and my thoughts land on Laila and Mariam, for a moment here and there. They embody for me the many women of Afghanistan, showing them to me not as static ideals, but as living, breathing people of the present.
I am curious if they ever wonder about us -- American or European women, those of us who live seemingly in a different world, a different century -- in the same way I wonder about them. I wonder do they think of us at all, and, if they do, do they only know what they are told, and believe us to be impure and frivolous; or do they know we share the same hearts, and often, the same personal tragedies.
The only thing I regret when I read Hosseini's books is that I don't understand the words completely. Outside of hitting up Wikipedia for the descriptions of Hazaras, Pashtuns and Tajiks, I don't get the deeper meanings of these cultural differences. Probably knowing all of the many terms used for food, clothing and more in the book and the history of these meanings, would expand my enjoyment. However, this powerful story moves so quickly that I am unable to put the book down long enough to look up the sheer number of unfamiliar terms I encounter. Maybe later I will read these books a second time, and then allow myself more time to dissect and ponder what I'm reading.
However, on the whole, this matters not, as I have already become swept up and dedicated to this journey until the very end.
The one thing that this book has brought about from within is strong gratitude for the freedoms I enjoy as a female citizen in America. Granted, this society is not perfect. I do live in a culture where a woman's worth is still, sadly, tied to the size of her chest, her youth, and how much she is willing to show of her physical body. As it is difficult to attain such perfection, it causes many of us to suffer from low self-esteem, the feeling that we can never be enough. It makes us constantly compare ourselves to other women and live in fear that the men we love will one day leave us for someone more beautiful; no matter how great we are on the inside.
Few of us wear burqas. Our "prisons" are private and invisible.
But, I can do nothing about these flaws in our world of media, marketing and consumerism.
Books like Thousand Splendid Suns, however, remind me of how lucky I am, regardless. I feel proud to live in a country where I am free to have a career, to pick up a book of my choosing and fill my mind with what I deem interesting, and where I am not required to cover up my individuality in public.
So I say, don't walk... RUN to read this book, and let me know what you think of it!
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Maybe I'm just being old-fashioned (although I do admit a fondness for reading books on my Apple iPhone).
However, despite my ambivalence as to the validity of audiobook content in my own world, I wanted to share this link to free audio content I stumbled upon, posted on author Neil Gaiman's blog today: A Study in Emerald.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Further Thoughts on A Thousand Splendid Suns... A second entry on my blog based on further reading
News Update: Kite Runner actors flown out of the country for fear of reprisals - Four child actors in the film of the best-selling book The Kite Runner have been flown out of Afghanistan for their own safety. Their families fear the boys could suffer reprisals over the depiction of a male rape. Paramount Pictures delayed the U.S. release for six weeks to negotiate the young actors' passage out of their homeland.
More Links of Interest:
The Kite Runner Movie Website
The Author's Website
Monday, December 3, 2007
The book focuses on Auster's years as a struggling writer, made much more difficult by the fact that he philosophically railed against settling into the status quo of 9-to-5 working society. Even after graduating from the prestigious Columbia University, he preferred instead to tag onto random spurts of blue collar work where he found it (Merchant Marines, dishwasher, etc.) and to take on stints of freelance work in French language translation when he could get them. He moved through life, just getting by like this, for over a decade, from odd job to odd job, continuing to write whenever he had spare time.
One can't help but admire Auster for holding on so doggedly to his writing, that, at times, seemed to be the only glue that held him together. Where someone else may have tossed it all aside, the person Auster describes as himself in this book plodded on, seemingly toward a goal that would end with him becoming a writer or else destroying himself in the process. There was no other way. He didn't say he chose to be a writer; it chose him.
Had he not suffered these setbacks and woven such a tapestry of unique characters into his world, one wonders if he would have become the unique writer he is today. These experiences, coupled with the urgency that kept him churning out the written word were a second education to his Ivy League one. So many of us would never be so bold as to attempt to ride the winds of life without that safety net, the regular paycheck, at least by our own volition.
One of my favorite ways to look at art (to include the creative craft of writing) is that it supports life, and not the other way around. That's what came back to mind when I read Hand to Mouth.
I picked up this most recent of Kinsella's laugh-out-loud novels at the airport when my boyfriend and I were headed back to Maryland from Missouri. And, I am happy to report that my brain is still intact. I was dead wrong. If anything, with this book, I couldn't wait until my next free moment, so that I could dive back into the world of Samantha Sweeting, a lawyer-turned-housekeeper just trying to keep her head above water.
After a harrowing turn of events that instantly changes the course of her immaculate legal career, Samantha panics, flees and ends up signing on as a domestic engineer, a job which encompasses all of the tasks she never got around to learning in her high-powered frenzy of everyday life -- chores such as cooking, ironing and washing laundry eluded her, until she was forced to demonstrate she was an expert at them all. Gulp... What transpires keeps the reader positively cemented to the seat to the very end... or at least it does this reader.