Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Snapshots: "Stitches: A Memoir" by David Small.

Stitches:  A graphic novel.  Excellent illustrations.  Depressing story.  If you are interested in a memorable book that will quickly, competently, yet artfully deflate your mood, this is it.      

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Recommended Reading: "Love Warps the Mind a Little" by John Dufresne.

John Dufresne's Love Warps the Mind a Little has everything you want in a novel.  It's an engaging story that  made me laugh, cry, reflect on life, and, I think, made me a little wiser at its end.  This is the kind of good book that keeps me searching for more wonderful reads.

The protagonist of Love Warps the Mind a Little is LaFayette "Laf" Prouix.  Laf's wife, Martha, has thrown him out.  In his mid-30's, Laf has quit his job as a school teacher to pursue his dream of being a writer, and started an affair with Judy, a therapist.  Ousted by Martha, Laf moves in with Judy and tries to sort out his life, including her off-beat family, rejection letters from obscure publications, marriage counseling, and his job at a fast-food restaurant.  At first, Laf doesn't seem particularly appealing, but he is funny, observant and, when Judy is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, he demonstrates that he is made of strong stuff.   By the stories end, we are cheering for Laf's commitment to carry out his dreams. 

Love Warps the Mind a Little is filled with funny, sad, and interesting characters.  There is a lot of hope in LaFayette Prouix and a commitment to seize the day.  That's a good message from a very enjoyable novel.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry, Merry!


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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From Electronic Frontier Foundation: "E-Book Buyer's Guide to Privacy"

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reviewed the privacy policies of the major e-readers currently on the market. An e-reader can send to its manufacturer information about the users' reading habits and location.  EFF found, not surprisingly, that the manufacturer's disclosures to consumers as to what information they collect is murky.   Details here

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best Books of 2009 from Library Journal

Library Journal's annual list of the best books of the year here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Best Cookbooks for Holiday Giving 2009

Going holiday shopping this weekend?  If you are shopping for a cook, cookbooks are always a good idea.  Previously, I posted about NPR's selection of top cookbooks for 2009.  For some additional ideas on what books to look for this holiday season, check out Caroline Russock's post over at Serious Eats where she sets forth her top cookbooks of the year.  Below I've listed a few alternatives and additions to those identified by Russock.

First, Russock lists 660 Curriesby Raghavan Iyer.  This is a large cookbook with, as the title states, recipes for hundreds of curries.  Although it is an interesting book, 660 Curries is probably overkill for the occasional Indian cook.  My suggested alternative:  Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey.  This is a slim volume - important with limited shelf space in the kitchen - with a nice variety of dishes that are delicious and easy to prepare.

Second, Russock suggests Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods.  As a newbie into the world  of canning this year, Well-Preserved is a book I will check into.  If there is a cook on your list who wants to try canning, consider purchasing the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  In addition to recipes, this book is loaded with the basic information that the newbie needs to know.  It is the definitive book to read before beginning home preserving, in my opinion. 

Third, Russock lists three specialty books,How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking, Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals, and Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana.  Specialty books do make interesting gifts.  I'd add to the list two books that are special, but offer a lot of variety.  The first is The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger.  Krieger's recipes for healthy food are amazingly delicious - I highly recommend her book.  The second is Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking, which has hundreds of wonderful, traditional Southern recipes - literally from soup (gumbo) to nuts (sugared pecans).  It's a cool book to give someone who loves cooking and good food.

If you do give a cookbook this year, add a small kitchen tool or gizmo to the present to spice up the package a bit.  Or consider giving a small cooking tool along with an Amazon Gift Card so that the chef can select his or her own book.

Happy Shopping!   


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Recommended Reading: "Home" by Marilynne Robinson.

Home by Marilynne Robinson is a companion book to her earlier work, Gilead: A NovelGilead, which I have not read, won a Pulitizer Prize.  Having enjoyed Home so much, I may now pick-up Gilead.

Home is intelligent, engaging, and wonderfully well-written.  Set in 1957, Robinson packs a punch with just a few characters and a simple location, the Iowa home of the Pastor Robert Boughton, retired.  The Pastor is elderly, ill, and a widower.  One of his eight children, 38-year old Glory, comes home to care for him.  For Glory, this is a task of love, but one that marks her defeat in trying to create a life for herself in the world.  Shortly after Glory returns, her brother Jack arrives home.  Jack led a wild and scandalous youth and then essentially disappeared from the Boughton family for over 20 years.  Much of Jack's adult life has been rough, with even the happiest times difficult to live in 1950s America.        

Jack, Glory and their father, along with their father's life-long friend, Rev. John Ames, are the core actors in this book.  Robinson skillfully weaves together the story of what happened to these characters in the past with the story of how they now cope together.  This terrific book offers much to think about.   

Home is recommended reading. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Washington Post: Top Books of 2009

The Washington Post book critics identify their favorite books of the year here.

It's not what you said, but . . . well, actually, it is what you said.

You can't have your nose in a book all the time.  Today I went for a 3-hour hike in the Sonoran Desert with my friend, Marlene, and her dog, Rocky.  Along the trail Rocky stopped next to a pair of trees, sniffing upwards toward the higher branches, jumping a bit to get a better sniff.  "What do you see, Rocky?" we asked, peering into the branches that had caught the attention of his nose.

Marlene looked at the second tree, which was upwind of us, and matter-of-factly said, "Oh, there's a deer leg in the tree."  My brain turned over what she had said.  Ordinary words; basic vocabulary, but put together in a combination that gave me pause.  "There's a deer leg in the tree."  Now, over the years I have read countless books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and other published flotsam and jetsam.  I've listened to hours of television, movies, radio, records and live performances.  According to my memory bank, this was new material.

I looked where Marlene and Rocky were looking:  There was a deer leg in the tree.  The small black hoof pointing through the branches, toward the sky.  The other end, typically a point of attachment to the full deer, directed towards the ground, looking a bit like a stick.  Not particularly gruesome, just odd.

Marlene, who'd seen this phenomenon before, gave me an explanation.  Since I was busy mulling over what it was that I had seen, I didn't completely grasp all she said other than, I think, if you are hiking and find a deer leg, the correct procedure is to put it in a tree.

I mention this all because we are coming to the end of the calendar year, and this is a time we reflect on what we've done and what we'd like to do.  In 2010, I want to increase my "noticing" - noticing flowers, sunsets, and shadows; examining places close to home that I walk by, but have never yet visited; stopping at the scenic overlook; closing my eyes and identify how many different sounds I can hear.  Maybe I'll notice more strange things, like a deer leg in a tree.  Hopefully, I'll see things that are more beautiful.  But ultimately, I resolve to see and hear as much as I can in each day.

And I can't wait for my next hike!   



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To All of You Who Own a Digital Camera: Should We Do This?

Although it is only December 15, it is none to soon to start to think about New Year's Resolutions.  No, not the awful, come-to-Jesus type of resolutions, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or the ever popular exercise-every-day thing.  I'm talking about something creative and fun:  Starting a Project 365 for photographers.

A Project 365 is, according to Peter Carey at Digital Photography School, simply deciding to take a picture every day for a year and either posting those photos somewhere, such as on a blog, Flickr, Picasa Web Album, or sending them to friends.  Says Carey, "The idea behind starting a Project365 is to make photography an every day event, with hopes of improving the art. It also has the added benefit of forcing a photographer to slow down and take a different look at the world around them."

Interesting.  Easier than losing weight.  Let's think it over.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Kirkus Reviews is Shutting Down.

In the future, don't look for a Kirkus Review quote on your paperback:   The publication is being put out of business.  Read more heres: Nielsen folds Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews.

Paradise Lost for Kirkus Reviews.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Snapshots: "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger.

I was so looking forward to reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger that perhaps disappointment was inevitable.  The story is about twin sisters from the Chicago area, Julia and Valentina, who inherit a sizable estate and a London apartment from their aunt, Elspeth.  Elspeth and the twins' mother, Edie, were themselves twins.

As the book begins, we learn that Edie and Elspeth have long been estranged, although they corresponded in the final months of Elspeth's life.  Why the estrangement?  Well, it is a big secret, by gum.  We eventually do find out what the deal was, and story line it is one reason I became exasperated with the last part of this book. 

Anyway, Elspeth dies and Julia and Valentina, who bear an annoying resemblance to real life twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson, inherit.  The two young women, having just turned 21, proceed to London to take up residence in their new apartment, which is located in a three-flat building next to Highgate Cemetery.  They meet the other flat owners.  One of these is Robert, a historian writing his doctoral thesis on the Cemetery and who was Elspeth's long-term, significant other.  The other neighbors are a married couple.  He has obsessive compulsive-disorder; she can't stand living with it anymore.  But they are in love; what to do?  (Hint:  One theme at work in this book can be summed up as "can't live with you, can't live without you".)   

The plot proceeds along nicely for the first two-thirds of the book as relationships develop and are explored, and some of the interesting history of the Cemetery is explained.  Unfortunately, things get odd at the end.  As you might imagine in a story featuring a cemetery, death, souls, and ghosts are on the scene.  That's fine; this is fiction, after all.  However, instead of being pulled into these elements, I instead thought "oh, for god's sakes" and was annoyed.  I ended up skimming along to the finish, impatient with the story and, after waiting so long to read this book, hurrying to wrap it up.

In sum, while I enjoyed a great deal of Her Fearful Symmetry, I ultimately found it to be a disappointment.   

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fun Innovation: The New York Times Skimmer.

Browse the headlines of the New York Times with the paper's new "skimmer".  After linking to the skimmer page, select the section of the paper you want to peruse from the box on the right.  Then use the "next" and "previous" buttons, or the arrows on your keyboard, to scan those pages.  Fun!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Recommended Reading: "Death Wore White" by Jim Kelly.

Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and his partner, George Valentine, must solve three murders in this very interesting mystery by Jim Kelly, a former reporter for the Financial Times.  Shaw is a young, by-the-book D.I.  Valentine, the chain-smoking veteran, was once partnered with Shaw's father until the two men ran into trouble with a case that forced the elder Shaw into early retirement from the force, and pushedValentine's career into a downward spiral.

Now the veteran and his young supervisor are out in the cold, winter weather trying to determine how, and why, the driver of the first car in a line of eight-stranded vehicles was murdered.  There are no witnesses, and no clues as to who did the deed.  More bodies spring-up along the nearby beach, and readers are swept into a complex and engaging story in which Shaw and Valentine work to sort through the crimes.  Meanwhile, the men also must try and sort through the past:  What really happened during that last case Valentine worked with Shaw's father?

These mysteries all add up to a fine book.  Death Wore White is a pleasure to read and is a very well-plotted mystery.