Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: The Inn at Lake Devine

This book tells the story of how one anti-Semitic hotel owner shapes the life of Natalie Marx, from her childhood through young adulthood. When Natalie's family is turned away in the 1960s from a Vermont resort because of their Judaism, Natalie becomes obsessed with the inn's owner and her prejudices. As a child Natalie works hard to infiltrate this forbidden world. The second part of the book jumps forward to Natalie's early twenties. By this point Natalie has more or less put the Inn at Lake Devine behind her, but when she makes the choice to revisit part of her past, the Inn at Lake Devine will return once again to Natalie's life in important and tragic ways. Once again Natalie will be forced to confront anti-antisemitism and the pain of her youth. At the same time, Natalie is trying to negotiate the world of and early twenty something: breaking away from overprotective parents, establishing a career, and finding love. Overall, a beautifully written and engaging story.

Elinor Lipman, The Inn at Lake Devine (Vintage, 1999) ISBN: 037570485X

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wyrding Studios Sale

Hear ye, hear ye, one of my very favorite jewelers is having a big end of year sale. Have a look here at all of the beautiful jewelry on sale. I wear Wyrding Studios jewelry frequently, and I get compliments on my jewelry all the time.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Pub Challenge

I absolutely love the new books rack at the library, so this next challenge is a perfect fit for me. The Pub Challenge involves reading nine books published in 2009. I have no idea what I'm going to read yet- my strategy is going to be to peruse the new books rack and take whatever looks interesting. Bottoms up to great books in 2009!

The Victorian Challenge

I've decided to join up with the Victorian Challenge, as I really need to read more Victorian literature. Between Jan. 1 and June 30 I have to read books written during, set in, or about the Victorian era. I can choose my own level, and right now, given all the other challenges I have going, I think I'm going for "A Walk in Hyde Park" which involves reading four books. Right now I'm planning:

Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (1899)
My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Hopefully this will get some more Victoriana under my belt, though I recognize that books 1 and 2 just barely make the cut!

Review: Spook

I think Mary Roach is a hilarious writer. Ever since I read Stiff, I've been waiting in anticipation for her next book. In Spook Roach jumps from the physical to the metaphysical. Whereas Stiff examined the ultimate fate of cadavers, Spook looks to the soul. In particular, the book examines scientists' efforts to to offer measurable proof of the existence of the soul, and their attempts to understand what happens to immaterial parts of personhood after death. To give a full picture of these efforts Roach's research takes her across cultures and continents. She brings us the story of the woman who could vomit large quantities of fabric on demand in the name of talking to the dead. She writes of doctors who attached dying consumptives to giant scales. As with her other work, Spook is infused with Roach's sense of humor and her clear fascination with the bizarre. The stranger it gets, the happier Roach seems to be. This book is, without question, a rollicking good read. Beyond pure enjoyment, Roach book also shows just how enmeshed certain sectors of the scientific community have become, in the past two centuries, in matters of belief. The very premise of this book, and what unifies these stories, is an attempt to merge seemingly incompatible thought systems. Ever since the arguments in Kansas and the Dover, PA school board case, the ability, and the desirability of merging these two thought systems in the name of education has become an issue of political significance. Roach's study suggests that scientists and lay people have been involved in efforts to merge the physical and metaphysical arts. It shows that at significant points in the past, large numbers of people have been drawn to efforts to apply science to faith; see, for example, her chapter on spiritualism. The experts involved, however, (scientists, doctors, etc.) have usually been marginal figures, on the fringes of their fields, or at least respected only in their work outside of the supernatural. Obviously, the scientific question of the afterlife is never going to create the firestorm generated by evolution/creationism/intelligent design. The general consensus remains that afterlife is a matter of faith, not science. Public schools have little need or desire to teach about the fate of the soul. That is the work of clerics and philosophers. But here lies the great irony. It is precisely because there is such widespread agreement in the western world on the division of body and soul, that attempts to bring science to bear of matters of the spirit and the immortal may be able to proceed without the criticism and argument generated by by similar battles in which the divisions seem less clear.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A to Z Challenge

I've decided to join up with the A to Z challenge for the upcoming year, and this is perhaps the most challenging yet. The rules are as follows, in 2009:

Option A: Read authors A to Z. Commit to reading 26 books theoretically speaking.
Option B: Read titles A to Z. Commit to reading 26 books theoretically speaking.
Option C: Read both authors A to Z and titles A to Z (52 books; this is the challenge Joy created)
Option D: Read internationally A to Z (books representing 26 different countries) (The books could be from international authors (writers from that country); however, it's fine if a book is only set in that country. If need be, instead of countries one could use cities, states, regions, etc. The idea is to use proper place names. If you'd like you could even use a few fictional countries.)Option E: Read 26 Alphabet books. Embrace your inner child and go visit the children's section!

I've decided to go with Option B, so I'll be reading titles A to Z. I'll be relying heavily on my Librarything catalog to pick books. Here are some thoughts of what I may choose:

A: Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
B: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
C: The Camomile by Catherine Carswell
D: Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane
E: Educating Esme by Esme Rajii Codell
F: The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates
G: Gorgeous Lies by Martha McPhee
H: The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi
I: The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
J: Joy School by Elizabeth Berg
K: The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle
L: Life after God by Douglas Coupland
M: Mary O'Grady by Mary Lavin
N: Native Speaker by Chang Rae Lee
O: On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons
P: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
Q: The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum
R: Rebecca by Daphne duMarier
S: The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman
T: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
U: Unless by Carol Shields
V: Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre
W: The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau
Y: You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates
Z: Zami by Audre Lorde

I'm still searching for an X, and these might change at any time, but this is a good starting point.

What's in a Name Challenge

I'm signing up for this year's What's in a Name Challenge. The instructions are as follows:

*Dates: January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009
*The Challenge: Choose one book from each of the following categories.

1. A book with a "profession" in its title. Examples might include: The Book Thief, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Historian

2. A book with a "time of day" in its title. Examples might include: Twilight, Four Past Midnight, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

3. A book with a "relative" in its title. Examples might include: Eight Cousins, My Father's Dragon, The Daughter of Time

4. A book with a "body part" in its title. Examples might include: The Bluest Eye, Bag of Bones, The Heart of Darkness

5. A book with a "building" in its title. Examples might include: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Little House on the Prairie, The Looming Tower

6. A book with a "medical condition" in its title. Examples might include: Insomnia, Coma, The Plague

Sounds like lots of fun. I've got lots of books that fill these categories, but here are some thoughts:

1. Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride (perhaps it's stretching it to consider thievery a profession, perhaps I will change it to The Handyman by Carolyn See)

2. Kaye Gibbons, On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon

3. Lori Parks, Getting Mother's Body

4. Renate Dorrestein, A Heart of Stone

5. Elizabeth McCracken, The Giant's House

6. Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

These titles are, of course, all subject to change!

Support Your Local Library Challenge

I am a huge fan of my local library. Whatcom County, Washington has a fantastic public library system. Thus, I was thrilled to find this challenge, which involves reading books checked out from the local library. There are three options- one can choose to read either 12, 25 or 50 books. I've decided to go with the second option, and read 25 books from the library. This challenge will dovetail nicely with my 999, as there are several categories in my 999 that will rely heavily on the library. Can't wait to begin!

WWII Reading Challenge

I've decided to join up with this reading challenge, which involves reading five books (fiction or non-fiction) on WWII in the 2009 calendar year. I love reading challenges way too much. In any case, I can choose to read five or more, and right now (because I'm a bit of a challenge whore) I've decided to challenge myself to read five. Here's a tentative list of what I might read:

Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine
Jeanne Houston, Farewell to Manzanar
Anita Shreve, Resistance

Those are the only definites thus far, and I'm certainly open to suggestions. Can't wait to get started!

Review: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang

My poor abandoned blog- it was a rather busy end of quarter. It's over now and I'm back. So, back to the reviewing.

This novel is a fictionalized account of an all-female gang that forms in a working class community in upstate New York. The gang, Foxfire, is founded by a group of girls who've all suffered alienation and lack of parental attention. The girls share a sense of being alienated and restricted from any sort of real social benefits or meaningful relationships because of their age, gender, economic status, and family situation. The gang is formed, and begins, by using public humiliation and minor violence to bring justice to local men who have abused the privileges of their gender. Quickly, though, their activities escalate, and it becomes clear that the gang is on a path to self-destruction. This book was a bit hard to get into at first because its written in the tone and style of one of the gang's members, but the writing becomes engrossing. Oates truly takes on the tone and spirit of a teenage girl gang. While this is part of what makes the book hard to get into, it ultimately makes for an engrossing story. It is striking just how anti-male Foxfire's violence is, and the book seems to suggest that this is one of the myriad of social responses to a world in which girls are expendable objects, sexualized, and undervalued. Indeed, Oates invites the reader to consider the gang and it's activities as part of a continuum of responses that individuals in a depressed, sexist, and emotionally alienated society might produce. The book is as much a critique of the word that made Foxfire possible as it is a narration of the gang's activities. While Oates does not excuse the violence she clearly assigns broader culpability to the world in which these girls live.

Joyce Carol Oates, Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (Plume, 1994) ISBN: 0452272319