July 22, 2009

'ere, chicky chicky

You know that feeling you get (or ... plethora of feelings you get) after you've had too many lychee martinis or mango margaritas? After a decadent trip to the Bay Area and exactly four late-night chick-lit binges (plus one for the road - or, as it were, sky), I feel familiar hangover pangs and a need to plunge back into the cold, cold waters of Amy and Isabelle, which is what I left off reading before my trip.

The first night, it was Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed, because my hotel room freaked me out and I needed some distraction. I had brought my standbys, and The Woman at the Washington Zoo and A Wrinkle in Time for the plane (I find them really good for settling nerves) but neither was doing the trick for the creepy hotel room. So after I picked up dinner from a Powell Street diner, I went to the Borders at Union Square and grabbed Something Borrowed along with Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger. (The latter actually mentions Emily Giffin's Borrowed and its follow-up, Something Blue, which is sort of neat.)

Despite two thousand and one cliches in Something Borrowed, the story did take my mind off the room. SIAS: Goody-two-shoes snakes BFF's fiance (whom everyone knows is wrong for her from page 2 on). One thing that annoys me about the few chick-lit examples I've frolicked in is that everyone has a name like Rachel, Samantha or Marnie, and all the stories take place in Manhattan, and all feature a prodigal daughter who wants her parents to leave her alone - until she is spurned by the real/corporate/chauvinistic world and goes crying to her mom. They hate their jobs, their bosses hate them, and the only way to get through each workweek is to drink too much on Friday night and/or take the jitney to the Hamptons on Saturday. Invariably, someone gets pregnant or dumped or perhaps both, and in the end, someone gets the guy (or a guy), or gets a much better job, and no one gets the swift kick in the pants they so desperately need.

I generalize. But so do they. Also, I realize that to get a broader, fairer view of this genre, I'd have to read more titles. A task which, after I finish Something Blue, Love the One You're With, and Confessions of a Shopaholic, I am unlikely to focus on.

Anyway, I didn't mean to crap all over chick-lit in general - the indulgence did save me from staring wide-eyed at the ceiling till I fell asleep, and I did go back for more at the airport bookstore. Also, I picked up Amanda Eyre Ward's Love Stories in this Town from City Lights (the closest thing to chick-lit they had was Amy Tan, and I'm positive they only carry her for her homages to the city) and read it over a tuna melt and mixed green salad on Sunday in a cafe whose name I can't remember along a street I can't remember either. I remember the stories, though. I tried to consume them in one sitting - and therein lay my mistake. Once the mini-plot to each story went down, all I was left with was the essence of sadness. Most of the stories are about loss or despair about never having had in the first place. Because of my state of mind on this trip, it was back to Emily Giffin that evening.

All told, I got to know Giffin and Weisberger (read The Devil Wears Prada in Vegas last summer, come to think), peeked at Sophie Kinsella (Confessions of a Shopaholic), and inhaled some Jane Green (Babyville). Got home to find The Reader in the mailbox, which I am excited about, and which reminds me that I should start posting chick-lit titles immediately. They seem to be snapped up really quick on PBS.

June 23, 2009

annual treasurehunt report

Friends of the Library Booksale, 2009:

I'm sure they do all right, and I'm sure stifling heat is part of the FOTL tradition, but this booksale would rake in b'zillions more if they'd find some way to get air conditioning for the McKinley High School cafeteria. I brought a cardboard box but could have stuffed my meager (and mostly halfhearted, might I mention) purchases in my handbag. (Which is kind of a big handbag, but still, I am making a point.)

Got a few more days to decide if I want to go back. Can't hold out till the last day, when everything will be cheaper, because this coming weekend's (Not Our) WEDDING WEEKEND! Woo hoo for Tami and Roger! Anyway, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are still open. Probably should not go back. Although we are soon going to be the PROUD new owners of a hand-me-down bookshelf from Cub's sister. I'm insanely excited. Cub, a little less so.

1) Bought Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Living to Tell the Tale. A dollar fifty. Liking it so far. Kind of distressed that this is just one of three installments of his autobiography, though.

2) The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Two dollars. This, along with the Marquez, was something I vascillated on for awhile but decided to go ahead and buy it because it was inscribed. I am drawn to books with pasts. I feel so sad when I find a book that was given as a gift at a garage or rummage sale. When you give someone a book, you're either taking a huge risk and putting your heart out on a limb - giving the book because you loved it and/or hope the recipient will love it too - or you just don't give a crap. Inscribed discarded books tell me that a heartfelt effort was spurned and the book needs a loving home. Do not tell my husband I think this way and that that's part of the reason a good number of books live on our shelves. He thinks I'm crazy enough as it is.

3) Paid two measly bucks for new-looking copy of blogger-journalist Rebecca Eckler's 2004 pregnancy memoir Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother-to-Be. And I want a refund. If Eckler's self-portrait is accurate, she was for nine months a ridiculous, self-absorbed ball of misery whose every self-centered whine* probably made her nameless fiance so very glad theirs was a long-distance relationship. She's so determined not to let pregnancy and motherhood change her life that for more than 300 pages she brags about her daily french fry and Big Mac consumption, and smokes cigarettes. Somewhere in the second trimester I think it is, she acquires a weird sort-of boyfriend who fills the void in her life that should have been filled by the guy who made this all possible, the nameless fiance.

*Not talking about her references to morning sickness or the assorted aches and pains that come with pregnancy. Talking about her incessant whining about being fat. 1) News flash: Growing a kid in your uterus makes you appear fat. Even though Eckler didn't plan her pregnancy, surely she knew that much? 2) Eating fries and Big Macs every day of your pregnancy will not make you appear fat. It will make you fat.

Kind of want to sneak the book back into the booksale or maybe ask for a trade. Ha.

Grabbed a few others as well, maybe TBB later.

Might hit up the sale again sometime this week. Wasn't really feeling it last time ... that's why I ended up rescuing orphan Christmas gifts instead of squealing with joy over truly awesome finds like last year.

June 10, 2009

super PBS mail haul ...

... including stuff I forgot I ordered. Apparently Beast in View is lost in transit, but pretty much everything else arrived in mail locker #2 today:

1) Death, Bones and Stately Homes. My latest in a long-running series of attempts to get into mystery franchises so that there'll never be a lack of quick, fun, one-shot reads at my fingertips. If this doesn't work out, I'll try Lillian Jackson Braun.

2) Mishima: A Biography.

3) Anansi Boys. Although Stardust put me to sleep, I liked The Graveyard Book enough to peruse PBS for more Gaiman titles.

4) California Diaries: Dawn Diary Three. The California Diaries spinoff of the Babysitters Club is totally unpalatable to me. Apparently when Dawn reclaimed her West Coast roots, she became an uber-drama queen thanks to Sunny et al. This is one I don't remember ordering.

5) The Fire at Mary Anne's House. The last book ever written in the straight-up Babysitters Club series. And the one I'm saving for last, even though chronologically it comes long before the end, Farewell, Dawn. Before you comment on how so much Stoneybrook will rot my brain, remember that for a schoolteacher, that is the sole purpose of summer vacation.

Sometime this summer I'll have to set up the new classroom bookshelf (the teeny one I have the kids' books currently stuffed in has got to go). I will have to watch my shelves like a hawk and may have to set up a whole new borrowing system or do away with take-home borrowing altogether (don't worry, they still have the library downstairs) because I hear that the incoming class has sticky fingers when it comes to books.

Even having read only the book jackets so far, I'm looking forward to sharing The Underneath with them, as well as Savvy. Am not yet 100 percent sure I'm putting Nation or even The Graveyard Book on the classroom shelf. Though I'm not one to censor, I have to think like a parent sometimes. Even though my copy has this cover and not this one, I still need to see how "old" the kids are before I decide what goes on the shelf.

June 9, 2009

summer reads

Between teaching, hiking, swimming, and hobbling toward the finish line at one or two small-potatoes races this summer, I think prime time for reading will be just before I fall asleep each night.

Lined up:

The Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seierstad
Amy and Isabelle, Elizabeth Strout
The Underneath, Kathi Appelt
Savvy, Ingrid Law
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, John Krakauer
Death, Bones and Stately Homes, Valerie S. Malmont

May 21, 2009

olive kitteridge

I don't know why my mind as of late has insisted on playing casting director for the as-yet-unmade movie version of every book I read (Danny Strong as Owen Meany - OK, that was made, several times but ...), and don't even get me started on what I see as the DEFINITIVE cast of The Babysitters Club, to trump every "cinematic" attempt ever made), but I can really see Frances McDormand playing the unapologetic Olive Kitteridge. Henry, her ever-beneficent husband, leaves me stumped, though. Get back to you on that one.

You will marry a beast and love her, Olive thought. You will have a son and love him. You will be endlessly kind to townspeople as they come to you for medicine, tall in your white lab coat. You will end your days blind and mute in a wheelchair. That will be your life.

It's really not all as Andrew Beckett as the passage above. Not done with the book yet, so can't give a really good review, but can say I love it. You know those moments where you read or watch something and can immediately identify with the character - "I'm Carrie Bradshaw!" - I had one or two of those moments with Olive Kitteridge. And if you read the book, you'll know that chances are that revelation is not a Personal Best Moment. But it's okay. (Isn't it?)

I just read the vignette called "Tulips," which chilled me to the bone. The dozens of ways family members can hurt each other in the delivery of a few sentences, the horror of a person's total insanity plastered over by the most desperate desire to appear loved and needed. Had to stop and take a breather. Next up: "Basket of Trips."

Should be finished soon - the cast of characters is long and the town "family tree" slightly convoluted. If I had read more reviews before reading the book (which I never do, for obvious reasons) I would have known that I should have been treating it as completely separate stories with one common thread (Olive) rather than trying to piece every single person and every single event together.


May 3, 2009


Today FLW recommends Margaret Millar's Beast in View, which from Amazon's sneak peek seems intriguing - but here's my Sunday Secret: I'm horribly afraid of multiple-personality movies and books, and with all the teasers I've read, I'm afraid BIV might turn out to be one. I'd prefer a straight-up murder mystery (well, not too straight-up, or I guess there's really limited mystery potential).

I ordered it from PBS anyway. :P

Speaking of PBS, stuff has been coming in amazingly fast. Yesterday I discovered that sending paperbacks via Media Mail is not always the smartest way to go. For an additional 20 cents or so (if it's a reasonably-sized paperback) you could opt for first-class, which will place the book in the receivers hands in less than a week, as opposed to MM's 4- to 6-week wait ...

April 24, 2009

i used to live in stoneybrook

Just spent 3 PBS credits on Babysitters Club titles. I got into the books in the fifth grade, when I ordered one from a Scholastic leaflet (it was The Truth About Stacey (#3), which taught me about friendship, Connecticut, and juvenile-onset diabetes) and grew so deeply esconced in the lives of Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, Mary Anne and Dawn that I didn't grow out the series when everyone else seemed to. (Or were they hiding their BSC behind their R.L. Stine like I was?) My interest in continuing faded around #51, but re-read my favorites often. The Ghost at Dawn's House, Kristy and the Snobs, Kristy and the Mother's Day Surprise, Dawn's Wicked Stepsister ... The stories that weren't too farfetched but still brought the good old Stoneybrook drama.

And now, re-reading oldies and fervently ordering and devouring the ones I never read, it's like I never left. I've so far refused to pick up an Abby book because I'm something of a purist and didn't even really like the Logan and Shannon chapters in the Super Specials, but I made room for them - adding Abby, was that really necessary? She seems like a spaz.

Last night I read The Babysitters Remember which I thought would be a throwaway Super Special (recaps, whatever) but it was actually pretty good. It filled in some gaps from the regular series (e.g. why was Shannon Kilbourne such a bleeping bleep when Kristy met her?) and made me tear up (e.g. when Mimi went to bat for six-year-old Claudia, who was humiliated by her teacher for drawing a butterfly self-portrait.)

Revisiting Stoneybrook reaffirms my goal: to re-build the entire collection and house it in my classroom (holy cow, that's a lot of "re"s). The kids who tear through Twilight and Gossip Girl should at least taste the more wholesome but still funny writing of Ann M. Martin (and her ghostwriters). 1) Kristy Thomas has a kick-ass vocabulary. 2) The art of expositing background info? Ann M. Martin is queen. 3) As a kid reader, I loved that the babysitters (while babysitting) seemed closer to 30 than 13. As an adult of course I'm more skeptical (what sane parents would leave an infant in the care of two eleven-year-olds?) but as a kid it made me think that kids really could do these things - run a profitable business, organize Color Wars, solve mysteries, and put irresponsible adults in their places.

On deck: #113 Claudia Makes Up Her Mind. Boys, school and blessings in disguise. Yum. When I've finished my short stack of BSC, I'll get back to The Golden Notebook, but for now, it's still the weekend ...

April 13, 2009

armadillo claws

I have borrowed my friend's copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany and am unable to put it down. I had many opportunities this less-than-stellar weekend to steal away to her quiet apartment to read, with her sweet orange cat perched on my tum. Which occasionally made it hard to breathe, but he's so sweet I couldn't bear to move him until serious oxygen deprivation set in.

I flipped through The 158-Pound Marriage, which she also had lying around, but the name "Utch" and a scene involving a cow on a hot day made me put it back down. Perhaps a book for later.

April 8, 2009

my FLW pop-up reviews

For Maurice Sendak's Mommy? and Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart.


April 6, 2009

like the '90s all over again

I think I've figured out why I like mailing PBS books so much. It's like therapy. Printing out a two-sheet mailing label, finding some way to scotch-tape them together to make something big enough to wrap an oversized paperback, and securing the whole thing with enough packing tape to immobilize a full-grown man - there's something so 1996 about it. As well-intentioned and sweetly primitive as a mix tape, all wrapped up and shipped off with all your hopes that the receiver will like it as much as you did.

Mailing Hotel Honolulu today.


April 4, 2009

the pig is a magical animal

Wow. At last check-in, I swore no one would touch my PBS bookshelf with a ten-foot pole, but thus far I've gotten four requests: The Blank Slate: Modern Denial of Human Nature, Tales of a Female Nomad, Exterminate All The Brutes, and Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next Book 2).

Since I was so awesomely productive, getting all the books down to the PO on time (although I did send them off at the recommended parcel post rate, which is dreadfully, awfully, hideously SLOW), I took myself to Barnes and Noble and bought Kitchen Confidential.

Yah, I know. Defeating the purpose of blah blah blah. But not really! Because I am slowly - and I daresay, albeit prematurely, surely - clearing the shelves of the books I will probably never read. I am clearing the shelves of the books that need a better home than the one I'm providing. And I'm replacing them with books that get gobbled up on the spot (like Kitchen Confidential and the one PBS book I've received so far, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America. Next to Bourdain, Bill Bryson might be the love of my nonfiction life.

Today I took great pleasure in an activity most others would probably find very weird: I got a takeout lunch (chopped salad and chicken chowder) and sat in my car in a congested mall parking lot, reading and eating. Bliss - the perfect end to an imperfect but satisfying Spring Break.

March 15, 2009

except no one wants what i'm willing to part with

All right, I'm all set up on PaperbackSwap.com. Please don't consider my bookshelf a reflection of my taste in reading - those are, after all, the books I'm willing to part with. This is in response to my husband(!)'s pleas to me to "please get rid of some of your books." I stuffed the most disappointing ones I could find into a box, posted the titles on PBS, and with my two automatic free credits promptly sent out for The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson, and Songbook by Nick Hornby. This means that in about a week, I will have added two books to my shelf and gotten rid of none. Good times!

March 2, 2009

Temple Grandin has a new book. Like Animals in Translation, which I really enjoyed (thesis: it's perfectly fine to eat meat, but we owe farm animals a good life and a quick end before they become our dinner), it's co-written with Catherine Johnson. I can't add anything to my bookshelf right now, though. Boo.

January 27, 2009

he always sat near anne tyler at borders

Why does the death of an author (or actor) make me feel like I have to go read (or watch) something by them?

Adding to my TDL: find a copy of Rabbit, Run.

January 5, 2009


Last book bought:

My last book purchase was actually a stack of books, and when the Amazon box arrived, I tore it open and distributed the books quite haphazardly among the eight shelves of one bookcase, and three shelves of another - much the way the compulsive shoe buyer would hide a new pair of slingbacks in a tattered old shoebox. From that stash, the title I'm on right now: Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. This first read around I'm savoring the tone of the correspondence of the two friends - so intimate, yet so proper. I wish the term "witty banter" hadn't been sarcasticized to death, because this is truly Lowell and Bishop's (albeit unwitting) gift to the reader. Later I hope to attempt some of the poetry of Bishop and Lowell to truly digest and understand what these intimations are all about.

Last book read:

The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason. Prior to reading this, it had been a long time since reading a book felt like watching a movie. I think the last book was Saving Fish from Drowning, which, like The Piano Tuner, is set in Burma. I read a lot of harsh criticisms of TPT, many that said Mason wrote clumsily, like a creative writing major doing his senior project or something. I found the writing lyrical and the story totally enchanting. You knew from the start that the piano tuner would die (seriously, I didn't give anything away by telling you that) but still, when it happened, I was in shock. And give Daniel Mason a break - the man wrote the book while he was a student in medical school, for corn's sake.

Five books that mean a lot to you:

1) Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There is one of my favorite books of all time. It is a poem, a song. It will take you to sea, to sadness, to goblin territory, and home again, and you just may recognize all those places - even as illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

2) A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. I love three books by Anne Tyler - A Patchwork Planet, Saint Maybe, and Ladder of Years. My favorite, Patchwork, is about a man named Barnaby Gaitlin, a character in whose wrinkled plaid shirt and Corvette Sting Ray I've been sitting since it first occurred to me that popularity and integrity could be mutually exclusive. So, since preschool.

3) I'm gonna cheat with this one and name two books: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman. In 2001 I did a brief stint as a special-education preschool teacher in the area of Honolulu I would later call my home. It was a diverse, highly transient demographic. The preschool assignment was one of the most memorable I've ever had. In my class was a boy, classified on paper as borderline autistic and oppositional defiant. He had difficulty expressing himself and displayed physical aggression toward others. But. When he pulled Brown Bear or Pumpkin out of the book box every morning (and it was inevitably one of the two), he was peaceful. He was absorbed. Happy. And he read.

With Nicholas I got to see, firsthand, the value of whole language literacy instruction. At first I read the book to all eight kids. When he adopted them as his favorites, he would demand they be read to him one-on-one. Soon, he was reading the books to me. "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?" He would imitate my inflection, hold up the pictures for me to see, and even do little lead-ins to the next animal before turning the page. "He's not reading," his mother scoffed one afternoon. "He just memorized the text." I explained to her that his ability to match words to corresponding images was an important gateway skill to reading. And I had her listen to him read Big Pumpkin. If the words were, "Along came a ghost. 'I am bigger than you, and I am stronger, too,' said he. 'Let me try.'" - Nicholas would say, on that page, "A ghost came. I'm big and strong. I will pull out the pumpkin!" Of course to his tired, skeptical, phonics-trained mother, that wasn't reading, either. But as for me - nothing brought me the same kind of joy as hearing Nicholas learn to read with these two books.

3) The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

4) The Underground History of American Education, John Taylor Gatto. Read it in '03, refer to it constantly. An eye-opening read, although one must take JTG with a grain of salt. I hope my teaching reflects some of JTG's most wildly unpopular philosophies of education.

5) The Harry Potter series. I haven't read but the first installment (and that took me a week to choke down) but here's why I think HP is very important.

A book no one will believe you haven't read yet:

The Odyssey.

Tag six people to continue this meme:

Dan, Caryn, ColumbusOH, Vickie, Mama's Dramas, and YOU. Yep, you. I see you! Get blogging!

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