Tuesday, November 02, 2010
This month's reading kicked off with the wonderfully delicious Georgia's Kitchen by Jenny Nelson. I'd first heard of the book at The Divining Wand, where I won a copy of the gorgeous book. It's a lovely read, a wonderful feel-good book. The descriptions of food, New York, and Italy don't hurt, either.
From the back of the book:
At thirty-three, talented chef Georgia Gray has everything a woman could want—the top job at one of Manhattan’s best restaurants; a posse of smart and savvy gal pals who never let her down; and a platinum-set, cushion-cut diamond engagement ring courtesy of Glenn, the handsome entertainment lawyer who Georgia’s overbearing mother can’t wait for her to marry. The table is set for the ambitious bride-to-be until a scathing restaurant review destroys her reputation. To add salt to her wounds, Glenn suddenly calls off the wedding.
Brokenhearted, Georgia escapes to the Italian countryside, where she sharpens her skills at a trattoria run by a world-class chef who seems to have it all. Georgia quells her longings with Italy’s delectable offerings: fine wine, luscious cheeses, cerulean blue skies, and irresistible Gianni —an expert in the vineyard and the bedroom.
An appetite for something more looms large in Georgia’s heart – the desire to run her own restaurant in the city she loves. But having left New York with her career in flames, she’ll need to stir up more than just courage if she’s to realize her dreams and find her way home.
Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh is not the kind of book I usually like. It’s historical fiction and at times, pretty bleak. Things don’t end exactly right for a number of characters. I read the first paragraph and thought, “Meh,” then kept reading and by page two I was hooked.
This is the third book I’ve read by Haigh. She really does family stories well, sprawling, multi-generational stories.
"Haigh has beaten the sophomore slump with another page-turner: Baker Towers. The action, such as it is, takes place in post-World War II Bakerton, a Pennsylvania mining town. "...[T]he town's most famous landmark, known locally as the Towers, two looming piles of mine waste. They are forty feet high and growing... The mines were not named for Bakerton; Bakerton was named for the mines. This is an important distinction. It explains the order of things."
If self-help books actually worked, people would be self-actualized and happy and wouldn't need self-help books anymore, and entire industries would grind to a halt. That's the premise of Happiness by Will Ferguson. Reviews of the novel were mixed but I enjoyed it - it's satire and it was a fun ride.
Probably I'm the last person in the world to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Before I read it, I knew little of what to expect - there was a woman? Who was a spy? And somebody has a newspaper or something? I also didn't realize how brutal and violent some of the scenes were. Probably, I won't read the other books in the series.
From Publishers Weekly:
"Cases rarely come much colder than the decades-old disappearance of teen heiress Harriet Vanger from her family's remote island retreat north of Stockholm... At once a strikingly original thriller and a vivisection of Sweden's dirty not-so-little secrets, this first of a trilogy introduces a provocatively odd couple: disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist, freshly sentenced to jail for libeling a shady businessman, and the multipierced and tattooed Lisbeth Salander, a feral but vulnerable superhacker. Hired by octogenarian industrialist Henrik Vanger, who wants to find out what happened to his beloved great-niece before he dies, the duo gradually uncover a festering morass of familial corruption—at the same time, Larsson skillfully bares some of the similar horrors that have left Salander such a marked woman."
I'm almost certain that A Moveable Feast is the first Ernest Hemingway I've read. It was a great one to start with.
From Amazon reviews:
"In the preface to A Moveable Feast, Hemingway remarks casually that "if the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction"--and, indeed, fact or fiction, it doesn't matter, for his slim memoir of Paris in the 1920s is as enchanting as anything made up and has become the stuff of legend. Paris in the '20s! Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lived happily on $5 a day and still had money for drinks at the Closerie des Lilas, skiing in the Alps, and fishing trips to Spain. On every corner and at every café table, there were the most extraordinary people living wonderful lives and telling fantastic stories."
Some of my favorite bits:
“[Ralph Cheever] Dunning was as fine a poet as Ezra [Pound] believed him to be. For a poet he threw a very accurate milk bottle.” p. 146
“Until then I had felt that what a great writer I was had been carefully kept secret between myself and my wife and only those people we knew well enough to speak to.” - p. 150
Some of the best advice about writing:
"You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say."
One reader at Amazon.com said A Connecticutt Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain was a classic, “serious message with big, big humor.” Which is exactly what it is. I read somewhere else where a reader mentioned he never knew Twain was a science fiction writer; the character finds himself back in time.
The copy I checked out of the library, a copy so old that it still held an actual card that people signed, had the author listed as Samuel Clemens. Love that.
***End side note
From School Library Journal:
“The hit on the head that sent protagonist Hank Morgan back through 13 centuries did not affect his natural resourcefulness. Using his knowledge of an upcoming eclipse, Hank escapes a death sentence, and secures an important position at court. Gradually, he introduces 19th century technology so the clever Morgan soon has an easy life. That does not stop him from making disparaging, tongue-in-cheek remarks about the inequalities and imperfections of life in Camelot. Twain weaves many of the well-known Arthurian characters into his story, and he includes a pitched battle between Morgan's men and the nobility.”
Perhaps you’ve heard that Mark Twain has a new book coming out. He directed that his autobiography be published no less than 100 years after his death so that he could write freely about who and what he wanted. He was soft-hearted and he knew people would be hurt. Volume 1 of the autobiography – all 500,000 words of it - will be released the 15th. It’s already a bestseller on Amazon, and has been for weeks.
Author Steve Almond reviewed the book and said it’s worth the hype and worth the wait. He said that Mark Twain was one of the most famous persons of his time; imagine John Updike, Jon Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, and Bruce Sprinsteen combined and that would give an idea of how popular Mark Twain was.
I can’t wait. I’ve already ordered my copy.
A few years ago, journalist Neil White spoke to our advanced reporting class. He made no bones about the fact that he'd served time in a federal penitentiary for check kiting. This past summer, I met him again at the Yoknapatawpha Writers' Workshop in Oxford. I bought a copy of his book, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, at Square Books that weekend.
It’s an incredible story: Neil White, well-to-do, educated, ambitious pleads guilty to check kiting and serves time at Carville, Louisiana, part federal penitentiary, part home for the last leprosy patients in the country.
I can’t say enough about it. I want you to read it.
"White was a successful magazine publisher in 1993 when he was convicted of fraud and check kiting and sentenced to prison in Carville, Louisiana. He knew he was facing 18 months without his wife and two young children; he knew his enormous ego and ambition had landed him in prison; he knew he had to figure out a way to save his marriage and somehow rebound financially. What he didn’t know was that the isolated 100-year-old facility at Carville was home to a leper colony of 130 patients. He learned that the patients (some severely disfigured and disabled) and the 250 inmates eyed each other suspiciously across the corridors and breezeway, each thinking the other was the scourge of the earth. Because his work detail brought him into frequent contact with the patients, White developed strong relationships with them. His favorite was Ella, a dignified and beatific elderly black woman, who had lived at Carville for more than 50 years...He offers a memoir of personal transformation and a thoroughly engaging look at the social, economic, racial, and other barriers that separate individuals that harden, dissolve, and reconfigure themselves when people are involuntarily thrust together over long periods.
“But I’m always drawn back. To a place where the river flows backward, where outcasts find a home, where the disfigured are beautiful. At night, I dream about the colony. Sometimes I am lost. Other times, I encounter my old friends. And sometimes, I see Ella. She glides in her chair down the empty corridors. She sways to music I cannot hear. She reminds me there is no place like home. And I know I will always be able to find her. Ella will be waiting for me. In the breeze.”
Favorite Book of the Month: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts. It's also the only one that made me cry.
Character Who I Most Want to Have a Drink With: Ezra Pound.