The Liebster Award, Or Me Talking About Myself

So I’ve been nominated by Anna from The Tsundokist for the Liebster Award, which is a fun blogging honor/meme that I’ve seen pop up from time to time on other blogs.  You should check out Anna’s blog – I very much enjoy reading her reviews!  Thank you, Anna!

liebster2The Rules: 

  1. Thank the person who nominated you.
  2. Answer the 11 questions they’ve written for you.
  3. Nominate 11 other people (preferably those with under 200 followers)
  4. Give your nominees 11 different questions to answer.

The Questions:

1.Do you read one book at a time or multiple?

I read multiple books at a time – I usually have a fiction and a nonfiction going at any given time, and sometimes will throw audio books or another fiction in the mix.  I tried the one book at a time thing and it just didn’t work for me!

6147RXZYV3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_2. Favorite Childhood Book?

I particularly loved Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum.

3.  Which author do you think is totally overrated and why?

I hate to say mean things about authors…  I will just say that I do not see the appeal of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, having read the first one.  Not my thing.

4.  What was the last book you read that made you laugh a lot?

I’ve been rereading Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik series lately (a favorite from childhood) and they are laugh out loud funny.anastasiaagainloislowry

5.  What was the last book that made you cry?

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

6.  Are you a fast or slow reader?

Medium.  (Seriously, I don’t know how to judge these things.  I’m no speed reader, I know that.)

7.  Name a book you DNF’ed recently.

My most recent DNF was More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera.  I intend to try it again, though.  I just wasn’t in the mood.

8.  What is your go-to genre for long-haul flights?

I don’t fly very often or very well, but I MUST have two things for reading materials:  Gossip magazines, and an Anne Tyler novel.  It’s a weird superstition of mine.

sense-and-sensibility-bicentenary-edition-penguin-classics-2012-x-2009. What is the most recent classic you read and what did you think of it?

Right now I’m listening to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility on CD and it’s MARVELOUS.  I’ve read it twice before and it’s one of my favorite books anyway.  But this version, read by actress Juliet Stevenson, is really well done!

10.  What is next on your TBR?

I’ll be reading Donal Ryan’s All We Shall Know for Reading Ireland Month.

11.  Do you have a favorite bookshop?  Why is it your favorite?

I have a particular fondness for Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina.  My husband and I go there whenever we’re in Asheville.  It’s just marvelously quirky.

So that’s it.  This was great fun!  I think many of you have already done this meme before, so I’ll just nominate five bloggers who I think may not have participated and who I enjoy reading:

Valancy @ Blue Castle Considerations

Jackie @ Death By Tsundoku 

Katie @ KatieGilley

Sarah @ Reviews and Read-a-thons

Marie @ Book Chatter

Questions for Them to Answer:

  1. Name a book that’s been on your TBR for more than three years.
  2. If you had time to grab one book from your shelf before fleeing your home (and your family is safe) what would you choose?
  3. What’s the most recent book you gave someone as a gift?
  4. If you could have coffee with any writer, living or dead, who would you choose?
  5. What time of day do you do most of your reading?
  6. What do you do to get out of a reading slump?
  7. Do you have a favorite bookmark?  If so, describe it.
  8. Do your IRL friends read your blog?
  9. Name one of your favorite “comfort reads.”
  10. Name a bookstore you’d like to visit.
  11. Name your favorite book-to-movie adaptation.

Thanks again, Anna.  This was great fun!  For anyone else who may or may not have done this book tag before, feel free to answer any of these questions in the comments below. I’d love to hear your picks.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: My Spring TBR

Hey there!  It’s Top Ten Tuesday Time again, hosted by The Broke and Bookish – they’ve been on hiatus and I haven’t participated in one for a while.  But I do so love talking about TBRs – my own and yours as well!  It’s so much fun to anticipate the things we *might* read soon.  I am not a book planner, but I know some of you follow a pretty strict schedule. I’m very moody when it comes to reading, so I may get to these this Spring – or I may not!  I intend to read them sometime, in any case, so this list is partly based on what my library holds look like, and partly random.

All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan.  I WILL read this very soon, as it’s one of my choices for 746 Books’s Reading Ireland Month.  So I plan on taking it with me to the beach next week!

Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter by Ruth Rendell.  It’s been too long since I’ve read an Inspector Wexford mystery and this is the next one on the list (I’m working my way in order, very slowly.)

51Ma6eymR0L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  This one just sounds too good, and I’m high on my library’s hold list for it.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.  I’m going to suggest this as one of our book group’s choices when it’s my turn to host next month – I hope they choose it!

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  I have to admit, I’m not super excited to read this, but I want to at least give it a try, since it’s such a big book for our moment in time.  If any of you guys have read it, please let me know what you think.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae.  I bought this on Kindle for $1.99 recently and it looks funny and sharp.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins.  Another recent super cheap Kindle find.  Short stories written by an African American woman in the 1960’s only just now published.165208

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay.  Love Roxane Gay.  More short stories.

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki.  “A sinister, sexy noir about art, motherhood, and the intensity of female friendships” according to Goodreads.  I liked her first novel, California.

Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin.  Romance and comedy of manners.

Have you read any of these?  Do you plan to?  Do you plan out your reading by month or season, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?  (And what’s up with that saying anyway?  That’s a weird one.)  What’s on your Spring TBR?

 

 

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

I liked Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking:  A Writer in the Kitchen.  But I didn’t love it, and I know it says more about me than about the book.  I’m not much of a cook, frankly.  I make good scrambled eggs, can roast some vegetables, and can make a decent grilled cheese.  I pretty much leave the rest of the cooking to my husband, who really enjoys the task (see?  I call it a “task”) and take solace in the fact that I enjoy baking and am good at it.41NSwNv9PfL

So I think someone who is more comfortable in the kitchen and has a more adventurous culinary spirit would appreciate this collection of food essays more than I did.  Laurie Colwin was a writer who lived in New York City and not only wrote about cooking for Gourmet magazine in the 1980’s, but also wrote five novels and three collections of short stories.  Sadly, she passed away from a heart attack at the age of 48.  Her writing has experienced a renaissance of sorts, particularly her food writing. (You can read an interesting article about how her essays continue to influence foodies now here.  The comments are particularly moving since her daughter responds to many who expressed their admiration.)

What I liked about the essays was the tone – she’s quite funny, breezy, and opinionated. She admits no formal training but more of a “let’s just see what happens” attitude to cooking, which is something I admire in people.  My husband has that.  She also consistently writes about cooking as a way to get people together and apparently was a great fan of casual dinner parties.  She writes in a way that conveys her sense of cooking as an act of love and service to her friends and family.  And yet my favorite essay was the one called “Alone in the Kitchen With An Eggplant.”  This one details her former one room apartment in which she cooked and hosted friends with a two-burner stove; essentially a hot plate.

When I was alone, I lived on eggplant, the stove top cook’s strongest ally.  I fried it and stewed it, and ate it crisp and sludgy, hot and cold.  It was cheap and filling and was delicious in all manner of strange combinations.  If any was left over I ate it cold the next day on bread.  

Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures.  Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest.  People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone.  A salad, they tell you.  But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.  

I looked forward to nights alone.  I would stop to buy my eggplant and some red peppers.  At home I would fling off my coat, switch on the burner under my teakettle, slice up the eggplant, and make myself a cup of coffee.  I could do all this without moving a step.  When the eggplant was getting crisp, I turned down the fire and added garlic, tamari sauce, lemon juice, and some shredded red peppers.  While this stewed I drank my coffee and watched the local news.  Then I uncovered the eggplant, cooked it down and ate it as my desk out of an old Meissen dish, with my feet up on my wicker footrest as I watched the national news.

She shares a recipe for bread that I intend to attempt as one of my 40 Challenges this year.  I’ve never made bread before but the notion is appealing and is pretty much like baking in my book.  Other than that, I wasn’t tempted to make any of her recipes, really.  For one thing, there’s a lot of beef, which I don’t eat.  She presented the recipes breezily but they seemed kind of complicated to me.  A lot of the things she liked to cook are not things I want to eat.  I grew a bit weary of her opinions as I read on, and I ended up skimming the last few essays.  I truly think that someone who enjoys cooking and feels intuitive in the kitchen would enjoy this collection, though.  Lots of five star reviews on Goodreads attest to that.  The rest of us would be satisfied with picking and choosing a few essays.

Have you read anything by Laurie Colwin?  Is there a food writer that you particularly like? How do you feel about cooking and/or baking?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

Sometimes it’s nice to not have the weight of expectations behind an author’s newest work.  I’ve only read one book by George Saunders, his breakout short story collection Tenth of December.  (I loved that, by the way.)  So coming into his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, I didn’t have all the expectations that someone who’d read and loved his other three short story collections and novella might.  I just knew from reading December that he had the capability to make me cry and make me laugh and terrify me in the span of 300 pages.  I knew that he has one of the most inventive voices in modern fiction, as well as one of the most humane.97808129953431

I was only slightly aware of Bardo’s premise: President Abraham Lincoln, a year or so into the Civil War, distraught over the death of his beloved young son Willie, ventures to the crypt where he is laid to rest to visit his son’s body.  Various spirits, including Willie’s, talk and swirl around Lincoln. “Bardo” is a Buddhist term for the spiritual state between death and rebirth.  That’s all I knew going in.  When I type that it seems kind of weird and morbid and, frankly, kind of boring.  But knowing what a master Saunders is, I knew I wanted to give it a try.

I’m so glad I did.

It’s a difficult novel to describe.  The structure took a little while for me to settle into.  I wasn’t exactly sure who was speaking in the first chapter (turns out it’s two spirits in the graveyard,) and then the next few chapters chronicle a White House state dinner that President Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln are having, while the country is at war and while Willie and his brother Todd are both lying in bed very ill.  These chapters are comprised of snippets of facts and first-hand accounts from people who were there or who wrote of the dinner.  Saunders uses this technique to give a framework to the novel and inform the casual student of history of what was happening in the country at the time.  It was disorienting at first but I grew to appreciate it as a way to ground the more fantastical, imaginative elements of the novel.

We meet many, many spirits while we are in the cemetery, including a drug-addicted, foul-mouthed couple who bemoan the fact that their children never visit them, a prodigious hunter who has had a change of heart and is atoning for his kills, and an anxious mother who is convinced that her husband can’t be trusted to raise her children. All of the spirits here are tethered to the world for some reason, and they don’t seem to understand that they are dead. Young people who linger are particularly in danger, for if they don’t move on to the next realm quickly, they become ghastly, gruesome vessels of anguish, chained to the cemetery forever.  Three spirits emerge as main characters:  Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins, and the Reverend Everly Thomas.  We get to know each of these spirits very well over the course of the book, and they valiantly work together to try and shepherd young Willie Lincoln to the next spiritual level before it’s too late.  In trying to help him they are also figuring out things about their own spiritual predicaments.

This book may hold the record for The Most Times Laila Cried While Reading.  I picked it up and put it down dozens of times in the first half just because I didn’t want to sob in the break room at work during lunch.  So it took me a week to read it.  But once I got into the second half of the book, it flew.  I couldn’t put it down.  I still sobbed, but I knew I could handle it, because it was going somewhere that felt… satisfying and authentic.  This is a book about a father learning to let go of his beloved child and simultaneously coming to a deeper understand of all the other parents losing beloved sons to the horrors of the Civil War.  It’s about how human beings contrive all sorts of ways to forget that all the people we hold most dear will one day die, and that one day we will too.  It’s about loving and letting go, and helping others along that difficult path.  It was bawdy, quirky, heartbreaking, and utterly astonishing in its agility and scope.  It’s one of those kinds of books that I like to say are “about everything.”  For me, it’s about life itself.   It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read.  George Saunders is full of compassion for his characters and for his readers, even though he may put us through the emotional wringer.  Don’t let my emotional state put you off reading this.  I’m a huge cry-baby!  I fully admit it!  I have a Goodreads shelf called “Sad But Worth It,” and Lincoln in the Bardo is definitely on that shelf.  Although it’s only March, I’m confident than this will be on my year-end Best Of list.

 

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by The Book Date.

its-monday-what-are-you-readingHi, bookish friends!  I hope you had a good weekend.  Mine was excellent.  It included a dinner date with an old friend, stomping around in the neighborhood park on a beautiful day with my son and husband, and going to see The Lego Batman Movie, which was really fun!

Recently finished:  Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.  WOW.  I was just floored by this book.  I’ve been trying to come up with words to review it for days now.  For now I’ll just say that Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad finally has company as one of my five-star reads in 2017. Review to come.

12-19-08-colwin4Currently Reading:  Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. I think I heard about this on Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? podcast. It’s essays about food and cooking, originally published in Gourmet magazine. Sadly, she passed away in 1992 at the young age of 48, after having also written many novels and short story collections, which are still in print. Apparently she’s become a venerated cult figure among foodies and food bloggers.  I’m enjoying this book of essays, despite not being much of a cook myself.  It’s very conversational in tone, and I like it, but I find it quite easy to put down after each essay. Hence, it’s going slowly.

I’m also reading Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. I’ve had this on hold for months and it finally came in.  I only became a Hamilton fan in the fall, when I saw the Great Performances episode about it on PBS.  So basically a lot later than the rest of the world.  Anyway, this is a must-read for a fan of the musical.  It’s annotated lyrics of the songs, with all the hip-hop references that someone not well-versed might miss, as well as behind the scenes pieces on the show’s creation and actors.

7493Since becoming a Hamilton fan, I’ve been wanting to know more about America’s Founding Fathers (I know, I feel like such a cliché.)  So I just checked out Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis from my library on Overdrive.  I’m not very far into it yet.  The first chapter is on Burr and Hamilton and their duel.

Looking Ahead:  Reading for Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books!  I’m going to read The Visitor by Maeve Brennan and All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan.

Have you read any of these titles?  Do any of them interest you? Are you participating in Reading Ireland Month?  What are you reading right now?  Let me know in the comments.

 

 

The Murder At The Vicarage by Agatha Christie

“My dear young man, you underestimate the detective instinct of village life.  In St. Mary Mead everyone knows your most intimate affairs.  There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.”

Fairly recently I was reminded that I’d never read a Miss Marple mystery, despite having read and enjoyed many of Christie’s mysteries featuring Hercule Poirot.  It’s one of those bookish oversights that I can’t logically explain.  My aunt was the first person to introduce me to Agatha Christie, when I was in high school.  She gave me a hardcover collection of five famous Poirot cases, and I was hooked.  This same aunt, however, prefers Miss Marple as a detective to Poirot, so why didn’t she give me Marple?  And why has it taken me 20+ years to get around to reading one with the clever spinster? Perhaps we’ll never know.

murder-at-the-vicarageIn any case, I’m glad I finally tried one.  This is the first featuring Marple, set in the fictional British village of St. Mary Mead.  I was surprised to find that Marple is almost a side character in the book, albeit a vital one.  The story is narrated by the Vicar himself, and the murder is one of those types where many in the village have a motive, and the victim is spectacularly unpopular. Colonel Protheroe is found shot to death sitting at the Vicar’s desk, and within hours we have two separate confessions from two probably suspects.

It felt very classically British and cozy, with all the gossipy spinsters contributing tidbits to the police investigation, as well as the Vicar himself dipping his toe into detective work.  I very much enjoyed the tone and humor of the book, finding it recalled my beloved Barbara Pym at times.  The Vicar’s wife, the much younger Griselda, is especially funny.  He asks her at the beginning of the book what she’s got scheduled that day, and she replies,

“My duty,” said Griselda.  “My duty as the Vicaress.  Tea and scandal at four-thirty.”

“Who is coming?”

Griselda ticked them off her fingers with a glow of virtue on her face.

“Mrs. Price Ridley, Miss Weatherby, Miss Hartnell, and that terrible Miss Marple.”

“I rather like Miss Marple,” I said.  “She has, at least, a sense of humor.”

“She’s the worst cat in the village,” said Griselda.

My only complaint is that this was a very slow read for me.  It took me a week, and my paperback edition is only 230 pages long!  I voiced my issue with a regular library patron who enjoys Christie and she said that the Marple mysteries do unfold at a slower pace than the Poirots.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s certainly possible.  Or perhaps it’s just this particular title.  Any of you Christie fans care to weigh in on that one?

Despite the glacial pace, I did enjoy it.  There’s some clever misdirection by the master mystery writer, and I (once again) did not guess the murderer.  The Vicar and Vicaress were charming, and I found that Miss Marple grew on me as the story progressed.  She is indeed a “shrewd” character, as the Vicar describes her.  As all great amateur detectives are, she’s a keen observer of human nature, yet I found her to be humble as well – something I don’t think I can say of Hercule Poirot.  I am most definitely going to try another one in the series and see how I like it.  There are still many other Christie mysteries I’ve not yet read.  I find myself reaching for these when I’m stressed or in a weird reading mood. They’re dependably entertaining and serve as palate-cleansers.  No matter who the detective is, there will always be a place for Agatha Christie in my reading life.

 

Juliet Takes A Breath by Gabby Rivera

I really enjoyed reading Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath.  Several bloggers I follow had  recommended this coming-of-age novel and I thought it would be a good pick for my goal of reading more LGBTQ authors in 2017.  What I didn’t anticipate was what a lively, energetic voice the character of Juliet would have.  I didn’t anticipate the extent to which I would identify with Juliet, despite not being Puerto Rican or a lesbian. This novel truly was a breath of fresh air.28648863

The bones of the story is this:  Juliet is a freshman in college, and she’s just come out to her close-knit family in the Bronx the day before leaving for a summer internship in Portland, Oregon.  She obtained the internship with feminist author Harlowe Brisbane by writing a beautiful, funny, soul-baring letter to her, which the book opens with.

I’ve got a secret.  I think it’s going to kill me.  Sometimes I hope it does.  How do I tell my parents that I’m gay?  Gay sounds just as weird as feminist. How do you tell the people that breathed you into existence that you’re the opposite of what they want you to be?  And I’m supposed to be ashamed of being gay, but now that I’ve had sex with other girls, I don’t feel any shame at all.  In fact, it’s pretty fucking amazing.  So how am I supposed to come out and deal with everyone else’s sadness?  … You did this to me.  I wasn’t gonna come out.  I was just gonna be that family member who’s gay and no one ever talks about it even though EVERYONE knows they share a bed with their “roommate.”  Now everything is different.

While Juliet is in Portland she is dealing with the emotional fallout of her coming out to her family and also trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with her first girlfriend. She’s researching forgotten feminist heroines for Harlowe and learning new terms like “PGPs” (preferred gender pronouns.) She smokes weed and drinks soy milk and flirts with cute baristas and librarians.  She learns that while her idol may be an expert on feminism, she is still clueless when it comes to dealing with her white privilege.

What I really liked about this novel was the fact that we not only got to join Juliet on her journey, geographically and spiritually, but we also got to see a loving family grappling emotionally with her coming out.  There are some honest, wrenching phone conversations between Juliet and her mom, and she finds a safe haven later in the book with one of her aunts and cousins on a trip to Miami, FL.  I loved all the references to the music Juliet listened to – her description of Ani Difranco’s music absolutely cracked me up. (“Her music evoked images of Irish bagpipes and stray cats howling in heat.”) I loved seeing Portland through Juliet’s eyes.  I’ve visited the city a couple of times and could see Powell’s Books and Pioneer Courthouse Square in my mind.  I identified with Juliet in that I was once a fiercely feminist young woman in a conservative environment, eager to experience life in a more liberal place.  When I got to my small liberal arts college I, too, felt out of my depth with all the new-to-me terms and language people were using to describe themselves.  I liked seeing her wrestle with her lesbian identity, her feminism, and her brownness, trying to find a place for herself where the intersection of all three identifiers gets messy.  All sorts of characters in this book are earnestly trying to be good to one another, which is a refreshing tone in modern fiction.  It was funny profane, and sweet.  I think this book would be a lifeline to a young person trying to deal with their sexuality.  It’s an excellent pick for anyone looking to diversify and shake up their reading.  I’m glad I read it.

For a brilliant take on this book, check out Naz’s great review here.

Have you read Juliet Takes A Breath?  Do you have any other recommendations for a coming-of-age story or a novel by a LGBTQ author?  Have you ever visited Portland, Oregon?  Let me know in the comments.