Sunday, August 31, 2008


I have been reading the books for 1955 (for My Big Fat Reading Project) since April of this year. My goal was to finish the list by the end of June. Ha. I still have 12 books to go. But I have made some progress since I returned from Michigan.

I read the Marcia Brown version of Cinderella which won the Caldecott Medal in 1955.

Arthur C Clarke died this year and reading about him and his work made me decide to add him to my list of sci fi authors. So I read my first book ever by him, Earthlight, published in 1955, which takes place on the moon. It was great.

The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle, is a first novel and one of the best books I have read lately.

I power read through an advance readers copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stief Larsson, so I could post my opinion on (a very cool site about new books that come out.) It was entertaining and has a fantastic heroine. It publishes in September.

Falling Man by Don DeLillo was for one of my reading groups. It is about people in the aftermath of 9/11 and VERY disturbing. But finally I have read a book by this author.

For another reading group I read The Savage Garden by Mark Mills. It is supposed to be a literary mystery but it was BORING.

Last weekend I started work on the chapter about 1953 for my memoir, Reading For My Life, and realized that I had neglected to read The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir. She published the book in France in 1949, but it was released in English in America in 1953. At 720 pages, it is a tome, so I started the other day with a target to read 50 pages a day, which I have now done for three days in a row. Definitely not a page turner, but so amazing. She is one of the most intelligent writers I have read. Every woman needs to read this book.

Meanwhile I read The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith. Wow. I loved the movie but the book is so much better. And I had not realized that she wrote it in 1955.

Tonight I will start Andersonville, by MacKinlay Kantor, which was #3 on the bestseller list for 1955 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. This one is 760 pages! Plus it is about a prisoner of war camp in the South during the Civil War. I'll have to read some chick lit after all this.

(Just so you don't think wrongly about me, the above reading was done over a three week period.)

So...what are you reading? Have you read any of the above books? Any recommendations? Can you tell I am hungry for comments?


These word of the day posts are a bit hard to do and I have been lazy. Actually I have been reading, but I have put this off for too long, thinking that it takes up too much of my time. But for readers and writers alike, building vocabulary is key. Do you agree?

Today's word is pilaster and comes from page 16 of Children of Men by PD James. (She, by the way, gave me 8 words to look up in the first 98 pages.) This is a word that I have read and not known (except that it is something on a building) for years, so I finally got honest and looked it up.

pilaster noun
a rectangular support or pier projecting partially from a wall and treated architecturally as a column, with a base, shaft and capital.

derived from the French, pilastre from the Italian pila, a pile, column

My sentence: She dreamed of a room with four pilasters on each wall, every one of which was painted a different color.

Please feel free to leave your sentence in the comments.


A Slipping Down Life, Anne Tyler, Alfred A Knopf, 1970, 186 pp

This is Tyler's third novel and reads somewhat like an early novel, yet has her signature characters: people who live just outside the mainstream.

Evie Decker is a plump, motherless high school girl in a small town. She becomes, in her own detached way, infatuated with a local rock singer. As the story goes on she gets increasingly involved in Drumstrings Casey's life. Nothing really bad ever happens to her but there is a sort of underlying menace throughout the story. Evie is smart and fearless but also pretty clueless so you fear for her.

I was intrigued and pulled along all the way. There is just no one quite like Anne Tyler. And there is a movie!

Friday, August 29, 2008


The Book of Air and Shadows, Michael Gruber, William Morrow, 2007, 466 pp

I admit it. Sometimes I pick a book because of its title. This one was promoted as being a smart thriller. Well, yes, it had plenty of smart people in it, including a compulsively philandering intellectual properties lawyer, his perfect wife who made millions as a financial advisor, his brilliant but fairly autistic son, a Shakespeare scholar, etc.

It is a thriller combined with a sort of literary style and quite a scathing wit. The book is all about the plot, which I won't go into except to say that various people are after a supposedly never before seen Shakespeare play. (Worth millions of course.) It was the plot that kept me reading; its many twists kept me guessing right until the final page. The characters, the wit, and the info on Shakespeare dressed it up. Really nothing wrong, though it was a bit wordy for a pleasure read, which it was clearly meant to be. I think I was hoping for another Shadow of the Wind, but I didn't get that.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Coal Run, Tawni O'Dell, Viking Penguin, 2004, 351 pp

This is her second novel, preceded by Back Roads and followed by Sister Mine. I've now read all of them. Once again she writes about the depressed coal mining region of Pennsylvania but of the three novels, I would say this is her weakest.

The story opens explosively when a mine blows and many men are killed. Ivan Zoschenko is just three years old when he loses his father in the debacle. Then it is 30 years later and Ivan is telling his story: how he adopted his next door neighbor Val as a father figure, how he grew up to become a football hero but then missed out on a pro career due to an injury, how he went off to Florida and became a zero to his family.

Now he is back because his old nemesis is about to be released from prison. He is working as a law enforcement deputy, drinking heavily and harbors a dark secret.

O'Dell has created her usual cast of strong but flawed characters and evokes the small town just as well as in the other books. The story kept me hooked. What left me less than impressed was Ivan's voice, which was inconsistent and often sounded nothing like a man in his early 30s.

So, good story, great characters, excellent sense of place with weak narrator. Well, Ivan was a pretty weak guy and at the end he is still weak. He faced some demons but he didn't grow, which is perhaps appropriate for a miner's son.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie, Little Brown and Company, 2007, 230 pp

Big book in terms of recognition and awards. It won the National Book Award in the Young Adult category. I liked it just fine but I would not call it great.

Junior is a smart but nerdy weakling who has grown up on a Spokane Indian reservation. He decides to go to high school in an all white neighboring town instead of attending the reservation school because he wants a good education and he suspects it might be a way out of a preordained life on the rez, where most people die alcohol related deaths. Throughout the book, he suffers; at home, where he is looked upon as a traitor and at school, where he is the only Indian besides the school mascot.

The story draws you in, the humor is truly funny, Junior's trials affect your heart and Alexie makes plenty of important points about Native American life in the 21st century. In the end though, the story arc is predictable. Instead of a white nerd overcoming social and personal barriers, it is a Native American nerd.

Having said that, I do think it is an important book for raising awareness about Native Americans, especially if they are still teaching the altered history I had in school.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Peony in Love, Lisa See, Random House Inc, 2007, 284 pp

I can unreservedly say that I loved this book. It is even better than Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and I don't know why it didn't sell as well. Perhaps because the main character is a ghost for most of the story. Ghost stories of any kind rarely seem to stay on any bestseller list for long.

Peony is a young Chinese girl from a wealthy family in the 17th century. A new dynasty has taken over and the country is in turmoil politically and socially. For women, this means a chance for some unusual freedoms. On her birthday, her doting father presents a showing of the famous opera, The Peony Pavilion, a story of romantic love. Though Peony is already betrothed by custom to a man she has never seen, she is just at the age of romantic love and sexual longing.

She breaks several taboos and meets a young poet. They fall deeply in love but it is all a secret and of course tragedy strikes. As does the heroine in the opera, Peony gets the "love sickness," is unable to eat and dies. Due to various circumstances, her burial is not properly done and she is left to wander as a "hungry ghost" watching over her lover and trying desperately to re-enact the story in the opera.

It is a dramatic and touching tale. Peony comes to an understanding with the mother who kept her trapped and obedient while Peony was growing up. In fact, she comes to understand women, men, art, literature and how to determine her own destiny. There are wonderful scenes where women writers gather to discuss literature, which are like the world's first reading groups. As usual, in a Lisa See novel, the reader learns much about the traditions and culture of China. Though it is a tragedy, Peony in Love has a happy and satisfying ending. This is Lisa See's best book so far.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


The Importance of Music to Girls, Lavinia Greenlaw, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2007, 205 pp

I learned about this book in Susan Salter Reynold's "Discoveries" column in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. She made quite a discovery. It is a memoir of a girl growing up in the 70s and 80s in Great Britain, seen through her relationship to music. I can't express how amazing the book is because I am still trying to figure out how she did it. Lavinia Greenlaw is a poet, so that might partly explain how she distilled twenty years of life into short gem like chapters of pure essence.

Also, though I was a mother while she was growing up; though I grew up in the USA and she in England, I could easily experience through her writing how it was for her. Remembering those moments of pure music throughout my childhood and especially my teen, college and early adult years, was like a gift to me from her. She had her punk, I had Joni, but the music ran deep into our lives and it was how we made sense of our worlds.


I am back from Michigan. OK, I confess, I have been back for 8 days. And catching up and feeling guilty about not blogging. It was a wonderful trip filled with happy and hilarious moments and I did not want to come home. I am so blessed to have a family that is not one bit dysfunctional and full of love and respect for each other.

I got to do quite a bit of reading despite all the goings on (a Big Birthday BBQ celebrating 5 birthdays plus the Family Reunion to celebrate my Mom's 90th which is coming up on Jan 1, 2009. The reunion was attended by 80 friends and family members. My two sisters and I made all the food, with lots of help from sons and daughters.)

I read a great first novel, All About Lulu, by Jonathan Evison.

I got to read my friend Laurie Gailunas' first sci fi novel in manuscript form; about infertility and how a planet dealt with and overcame it. Very good, very full of women and sex and hormones. I can't wait until she gets published so you all can read it.

At long last I read Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. Now I can read The Hours and see the movie.

The latest foster child memoir, Hope's Boy, by Andrew Bridge was fabulous.

I napped my way through A World of Love, by Elizabeth Bowen; a book from the 1955 reading list.

I started but have not finished: Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler, recommended by my daughter-in-law's sister, who is a twin and both sisters read more than I do.

I also started Neal Stephenson's The Confusion, Volume Two of his Baroque Cycle. After 800+ pages of that plus another 800 or so in Volume Three, The System of the World, I will get to read his new book, Anathem, which was just released. My husband is reading it now.

So that is the roundup. I am thinking of starting a weekly post called What I am Reading. What do you think?

As always, I love to hear from you, my readers, to find out what you are reading and anything else you have to say about the reading life.

Stay tuned for micro-reviews of the books mentioned above.