The Sunday Salon - November recap

The Sunday
Since it's the end of the month and I have no creative juices to do anything different this morning, here's a recap of my November reading. I'm just three books away from my 100 book goal for 2008! So I may come close to 110, given that I have a lot of reading time in December.

Here's my reading list for November, in the order read:

  • Peony in Love by Lisa See: this was a big disappointment after Snowflower and the Secret Fan. This book didn't resemble that good writing in the least. I struggled to finish and probably wouldn't have if it wasn't a book group read. I found it tedious, repetitive and, while I do love magical realism, this just wasn't done very well. I'll give it 2.5 stars because the history of the Chinese traditions interesting (though not presented well).
  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson: a great read. I was expecting a mystery since I thought that's what Atkinson wrote primarily. But, though this book had some intrigue and a bit of mystery that wasn't too hard to figure out early on, it was an engaging read, a coming of age story of young Ruby in England. The opening paragraph had me hooked:
    I exist! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight on the clock on the mantelpiece in the room across the hall. The clock once belonged to my great-grandmother (a woman called Alice) and its tired chime counts me into the world. I'm begun on the first stroke and finished on the last when my father rolls off my mother and is plunged into a dreamless sleep, thanks to the five pints of John Smith's Best Bitter he has drunk in the Punch Bowl with his friends, Walter and Bernard Belling. At the moment at which I moved from nothingness into being my mother was pretending to be asleep - as she often does at such moments. My father, however, is made of stern stuff and he didn't let that put him off.

  • Mosquito by Roma Tearne. A lovely book. Star crossed love amidst the devastating civil war in Sri Lanka. Beautifully written, heartwrenching.

  • Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice. I don't recall where I first heard of this book, somewhere in the book blogosphere I suppose. It's a sweet story, set in Australia, of a young girl whose two invisible friends, Pobby and Dingan, go missing in an opal mine. Told from her brother's point of view. The whole town gets involved in the search.
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. YA fantasy that was enjoyable but felt like a Harry Potter knockoff - young boy is orphaned when his parents are killed by evil being who wants to kill young boy who develops special powers... I was also disappointed by the illustrations in this US edition. I've seen illustrations from the British edition, different artist (at left), which is what first attracted me to this book. This is my first Gaiman read.Fun read, nice change of pace for me. Recommend for HP lovers.

  • Disgrace by JM Coetzee. South African novel. I've heard wonderful things about Coetzee and look forward to reading more of his work. I was a little concerned early on that it would be another white middle aged male obsession with sex, but it was much more than that (unlike The English Major).

  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan. A graphic novel that is all graphics, no text. I wrote about this remarkable book in last week's Sunday Salon. Highly recommend. I'm looking forward to exploring more of his work in December.
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Excellent book, along the lines of Remains of the Day. Full of philosophical wonderings and tested cultural norms. Excellent translation (from French); highly recommended.

  • Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan. I'm not sure why I liked this book so much - maybe its simplicity speaks to me. It's a character driven novella about the final lunch and dinner shifts at a failing Red Lobster restaurant. The story centers around Manny, a Puerto Rican-American who manages the restaurant. He is capable and has a very strong work ethic; he feels responsible for his employees. Nothing very dramatic happens, but it's an engaging read nonetheless. If nothing else, this book will give you a deeper respect for restaurant workers.
I hope all you holiday travelers arrive home safely today. We're staying an extra day at my sister's and taking the train home tomorrow, so hopefully we'll avoid the crush. And now I have to finally admit it is the holiday season. I get pulled into it kicking and screaming some years, especially when they start the holiday music in the stores the day after Hallowe'en. I love the winter holidays, but I do not love them lasting three months. I'd rather hibernate in the dark with some good books and a good cuddle!
Interested in joining the Sunday Salon? Visit Deb's page all about it.

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Friday Fill-ins #100 - 11-28-08

Janet is our lovely host for this weekly event. My responses are in italics.

1. My stomach is not happy with me.

2. Pumpkin pie is what I ate the most of on Thursday.

3. The yard is full of beautiful leaves that will become beautiful compost.

4. Right where I am is where I'd rather be at any given time.

5. The smell of daphne reminds me of falling in love.

6. A turkey sandwich is what I need right now!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to hanging out with my sister, tomorrow my plans include playing cribbage with my sister (and winning, of course) and Sunday, I want to hang out with my sister and my partner's family!

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Booking Through Thursday - Gratitude

Deb at Booking Through Thursday says:

Today is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. Now, you may have noticed that the global economy isn’t exactly doing well. There’s war. Starvation. All sorts of bad, scary things going on. So–just for today–Spread a little positive thinking - how about sharing 7 things that you’re thankful for?

Wow, only seven, that could be challenging.

I am thankful for:

My wonderful partner Laurie and our home filled with love and comfort and joy. Laurie brings children and families into our home as part of her work in the world. And, though it's taken me awhile to get used to all the activity and noise and chaos that infants and toddlers bring with them, I find it enriching my life in amazing ways. Laurie is my #1 support and champion.

My amazing family: sisters, dad, stepmom, son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren. They are all strong, independent people who I don't tell often enough how much I love them.

My friends who love me in all my weird ways, who laugh with me regularly, play music and sing with me, share visions and dreams, ups and downs and are always there for me.

My community. Portland is an amazing city that often feels like a small town. My roots grow deep here. It's often voted one of the greenest cities; I sometimes forget that the rest of the world isn't always this progressive. I live in a bubble.

My country. It's been a long time since I've been able to say this. We have for so long lived under a mantle of fear and divisiveness. I finally have some hope for our nation and for the rest of the world. Let the work - and the healing - begin!

Mother Earth and all her beauty and bounty. May we learn to respect her and find ways to heal our relationship with her.

My health; that I have access to good healthy food and clean water; that I am able to retire comfortably; that I have choices about my spiritual path; and lots of good books to read.

OK, I cheated, that's really more than seven. But there's so much to be grateful for - and thank you, Deb, for giving me the nudge to remember that and write about it.

May all be fed; may all be healthy;
may all be happy; may all know peace.

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Wordless Wednesday 11-26-08 The Autumn Leaves....

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Questions for my Readers

Hello faithful blog readers! I don't think I've told you how much I appreciate you stopping by to find out what's happening in my life. I think it would be silly to post this much and not have anyone see it, so THANKS!

My question is this: I'm starting to participate in more and more photography memes (as I use it here, 'meme' refers to weekly events or prompts in the blogosphere, such as The Sunday Salon or Weekly Geeks). I will likely have almost daily photos to post; so I've started a separate photography blog for posting these photos. If you're someone who visits my blog regularly, would you tell me what you think of this idea? Would you rather have everything in one place or the photo memes separate? The photo blog would only have photos on it, very little text and no other memes. Would it be a pain in the rear for you to navigate to another spot if you want to see the photos? Or is it a pain in the rear to have so much stuff on one blog?

And, if you visit the photo blog: what do you think of the dark background? Too hard to read the captions? I like the way it sets off the photos, but I don't want to scare people away with the background. I know I hate reading a lot of light colored text on a black background, but there won't be much text.

Leave me a comment or send me email teelgee7 AT gmail DOT com and tell me what you think! This is a participatory endeavor, so your input is important to me. While you're at it, tell me what you'd like more of (politics? personal stories and photos?) or less of (politics? photos?).

Thanks for your time!

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Teaser Tuesday 11-25-08 : The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Should Be Reading - Miz B - hosts this weekly event. We throw out a couple of sentences from our current read to entice you to read the book!

From The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, page 81:

Well I never. He's sniffling noisily, expediting his nasal runoff to a place it never came from, and I am obliged, by the speed of his gesture, to witness the feverish contractions of his Adam's apple working to assist the passage of said nasal secretion. It is repulsive but above all disconcerting.
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Macro Monday: 11-24-08 At the Market

Macro Monday - hosted by Lisa

We love our local farmers markets. Not only do we get fresh local produce and other goodies like smoked salmon and beeswax candles, I always manage to find something interesting to photograph. Saturday was the final day for our favorite market.

Click on photos to enlarge, for full effect.

Romanesque cauliflower. A young girl nearby asked if this was monster scales.
This is what the whole plant looks like.

Bell peppers. They always have such interesting shapes and a variety of colors.

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The Sunday Salon - Graphic Novels

The Sunday Hello Salonites and other readers - happy Thanksgiving week for those of you in the US and happy, well... week to everyone else.

For the longest time I kept hearing the term 'graphic novel' and I thought it was just a novel that had a lot of graphic language or sex or violence! A little less than two years ago I read my first graphic novel - a memoir, actually - Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. This was a good place for me to start - I'm a fan of Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For and Bechdel's story of growing up in a rather unique family is so compelling and well told. Poignant, funny and, yes, tragic.

This year some young friends introduced me to The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I've never seen such wonderful illustrations, they come alive on the page. The story is sweet - Hugo is an orphan who lives secretly in the hidden passages behind the walls of a Paris train station. He keeps the clocks running. "A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message all come together." (From the Hugo Cabret website.)

After falling in love with these first two graphic novels, I went on to read Ethel and Ernest, the story of a family living in England during WWII. This was written by Ethel and Ernest's son, Raymond Briggs, and is a heartwarming story with wonderfully expressive drawings.

Next up was Persepolis, a graphic memoir by Marjane Satrapi who was born in Iran and lived in Tehran during the civil war and the Iran/Iraq war. Part Two is about her time in Austria attending school and then returning to Iran. Powerful stuff.

Two recent graphic novel/memoir reads were Blankets by Craig Thompson - a beautifully written coming of age story - and The Shiniest Jewel, Marian Henley's story of adopting a child from Russia.

Which brings me to today's graphic novel, The Arrival. This one is told only in pictures, no words at all, which is so appropriate for the subject - an immigrant leaving home and traveling to a country (presumably America) where he doesn't know the language and can communicate only with drawings and hand signs. The new world is a bizarre place, the food is different, the landscape and the cities are different.

The drawings in this book are beautiful; much can be understood by a facial expression, a gesture, body language. And the bizarre creatures and objects and buildings that represent the strangeness of this new country are evocative - fear, curiosity, alienation.

I'm going to read this book again today; it's one of those books that you can read multiple times and see something new with each reading.

I can't write a post about graphic novels without mentioning Edward Gorey. Though his works aren't novels, there are collections of short stories and single panel pieces that tell a story. You'll recognize his art from the PBS series, Mystery!

It's good to see this genre becoming so popular; I think it's a wonderful medium for story telling, as so much can be expressed by a good drawing (a picture worth a thousand words and all). Of course, like most things in our culture, it's gone too far when Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick show up as new graphic novels. I think a graphic novel needs to be written as such and not an adaptation from an existing book. I haven't seen any of these new adaptations, but my hunch is they lose something in the translation . (OK, how many cliches can I write in a paragraph?)

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Weekly Geeks #26 - Strolling through the bloggerhood

Dewey's assignment this week is to visit five other blogs - of bloggers we don't know - and find some things in common with them. At first this SO reminded me of those uncomfortable "ice breakers" I've endured at countless meetings and workshops. But it was quite fun and I wasn't forced to talk to anyone!

  • My first stop was at Ali's blog, Worducopia . Ali had just posted a meme, 4 Things, and I saw we had some things in common:
    • We've both lived in Portland
    • We both love Harold and Maude
    • We've both vacationed in the San Juan Islands
    • We both visit LibraryThing often

  • Next I visited Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. What I noticed here was our similar blogging style: we both incorporate a lot of photos, cartoons and book covers. We also read a lot of the same books.
  • Reading in Appalachia was my next stop. This is Icedream's blog. Her review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society could have been written by me!
  • Then I knocked on Book Dads' door. I didn't find a lot we had in common, but I really liked his WG Gift Books for Dads post last week. It's so very inclusive of all kinds of families. And I appreciate that he promotes positive images of fatherhood through books and blogging.
Thanks, Dewey - even though I grumble when those icebreakers come up, I usually end up enjoying them.


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We Have a Winner! The 19th Wife

I had some help drawing the book winner's name today. Sophie, who is one year old, comes to our house 4 days a week. She loves to empty bowls and baskets, and was more than willing to draw a name out of the basket for me.

The 13 names are written on scraps of paper...

...put in a basket....

..and Sophie pulls out the winner's name, which is...

...beastmomma! Oops, blurry --

Congratulations, beastmomma! I think I have your email address, I'll be in touch and get the book mailed to you early next week.

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Friday Fill-ins 11-21-08

Janet is our lovely host for this weekly event. My responses are in italics.

1. The last band I saw live was a local duo, Kate Power and Steve Einhorn .

2. What I look forward to most on Thanksgiving is being with family.

3. My Christmas/holiday shopping is practically nonexistent- I don’t do much of that anymore (except stocking stuffers – I didn’t forget, honey!).

4. Thoughts of long cozy winter nights fill my head.

5. I wish I could wear pierced earrings. There are so many cute ones! But alas, I’m allergic to metal.

6. Bagpipes played well can be a beautiful sound or, played badly, a sound that makes me want to fill the pipes and the bag with cement.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a quiet evening, tomorrow my plans include farmers market, shopping in a funky neighborhood and going to a storytelling event and Sunday, I want to sleep and read!

(Photo courtesy of The Weekly Funnies.)

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Booking Through Thursday - Reviewers

Deb at Booking Through Thursday poses this question:

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.

Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

I absolutely don't think reviewers should have to give a good review if they didn't like the book. When authors or publishers send ARCs to readers, they ask for a review, not for a rave. I've heard a lot of stories from bloggers lately who have panned a book and then gotten a nasty comment from the author (or sometimes from Anonymous, who seems to get around quite a bit). If I write reviews or comments, I don't hesitate to tell it like I see it. I wonder if some authors think that because book bloggers aren't "professional" reviewers (i.e. paid by a magazine or newspaper) they don't take the task seriously or aren't qualified to give an objective review. Well, I know some bloggers who do a much better job reviewing books than a lot of those pros.

Trish takes this question a couple steps further:
How has receiving ARCs affected your reading? Have you considered stemming the flow of incoming books so you have more freedom to read what you want? Has receiving free books become more of a burden than a blessing?

I've stopped requesting books from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program -- I seem to have a block when it comes to reading books I have to read and review. Maybe it goes back to my college days when I rarely had a choice about what to read and always had to write an essay about what I was required to read.

If it looks like something I'll enjoy, I will request a book from a publisher via Shelf Awareness (note: you need to subscribe to their email newsletter to find the book offers). But, truth be told, I really don't enjoy writing full-blown book reviews (blasphemy!). It's not the kind of writing I want to spend much energy on, so my "reviews" are often short comments and star ratings. Which, come to think of it, is what I like to read too - just give me the gist and the juice and whether it's worth my while to read.
Speaking of free books, Friday is the deadline for my giveaway of The 19th Wife - see this post for details.

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A to Z Challenge: the Letter Q

This meme comes from Menagerie. I've jumped into this 2/3 of the way through the alphabet, but it's a perpetual challenge so I'll get to A - P on the other end. The idea is to shoot a photo for each letter of the alphabet; we move on to a new letter every two weeks.

What I found for Q: A Quonset hut. This little building has been in my neighborhood for years. It now appears to be a part of a brew pub.

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Wordless Wednesday 11-19-08

As always, click on photo for larger, better view.

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Teaser Tuesday 11-18-08 : The Graveyard Book

Should Be Reading - Miz B - hosts this weekly event. We throw out a couple of sentences from our current read to entice you to read the book!

From The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, page 194:

At the best of times his face was unreadable. Now his face was a book written in a language long forgotten, in an alphabet unimagined. Silas wrapped the shadows around him like a blanket, and stared after the way the boy had gone, and did not move to follow.

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Macro Monday Mushrooms: 11-17-08

Macro Monday - hosted by Lisa

Mushrooms at the farmers market. Click to enlarge for full effect.

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The Sunday Salon - Reading Challenges 2009

The Sunday Salon.comI stuck my toe in the reading challenge waters this year with the Orange Prize and Booker Prize challenges. These are open-ended challenges (no end date) which appealed to me for several reasons. But now that I'm retired (I say that so much now, I probably won't have time to do anything extra!) I've decided to take on two more challenges for 2009. One of the main reasons is that I already have many of the qualifying books on my TBR shelves, which is not a minor consideration! A couple of them are reads for my book group, too, so I'm already there.

The Challenges:

What's In a Name?
caught my fancy last year. This one comes with a list of categories that you match with a title and read one book from each. For this year the six categories are:

1. A book with a profession in its title.
I'm considering: The Translator; Dr. Zhivago; The Bonesetter's Daughter; The Beekeeper's Apprentice; The Bookseller of Kabul

2. A book with a time of day in its title.
I'll choose from: The Dazzle of Day; Midnight’s Children; Night; On a Day Like This; The Night Watch

3. A book with a relative in its title.
My choices might be: The Bonesetter’s Daughter; Wives and Daughters; The Aguero Sisters; The Rice Mother; Midnight’s Children (we're not permitted to double up in categories though)

4. A book with a body part in its title
I can choose from: The Bone People; Heart Songs and Other Stories; The Bonesetter's Daughter (I'll be reading this one for sure!); Autobiography of a Face; The Good Body; Fall on Your Knees

5. A book with a building in its title.
Several choices here: Palace Walk; The Palace of Desire; Open House; The Glass Castle; Bleak House; Sandcastle

6. A book with a medical condition in its title.
None of these are on my shelf but all are on my wishlist: Consumption; Ship Fever; The Great Influenza

Sounds like fun, eh? Which ones would you choose? Do you have more suggestions?

I also ran across The Decades challenge. The idea here is to read one title from each of the decades in the 20th century. I also have a lot of these on my shelves, and this is a good incentive to read some more classics. I can cross-post some of these with other challenges, so some of these titles repeat from above:

  • 1900s – A Room With a View
  • 1910s – O Pioneers; Winesburg Ohio; Of Human Bondage
  • 1920s-- Kristin Lavransdatter
  • 1930s—The Good Earth; Tortilla Flat; How Green was My Valley; The Big Sleep
  • 1940s—Cry the Beloved Country; The Screwtape Letters; The Razor’s Edge; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; 1984
  • 1950s - The Martian Chronicles; The Catcher in the Rye; East of Eden; Fahrenheit 451; The Cairo Trilogy; Doctor Zhivago; Night
  • 1960s - Franny and Zooey; Cat’s Cradle; Slaughterhouse-Five
  • 1970s - Princess Bride
  • 1980s -- Midnight’s Children; Life & Times of Michael K; The Bone People; Oscar and Lucinda
  • 1990s – The English Patient; Fall on Your Knees; Queen of the Tambourine; Regeneration; Ship Fever; The Translator

What would you pick from these? Do you have suggestions for the 1970s?

Of course, I'm continuing with the Orange and Booker prize challenges (some of which are on these lists too) and my 100 books/year - which I may bump up to 125, now that I'm retired!

Be sure to check out the book giveaway in honor of my 200th blog post! Deadline to enter is Friday.

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200th Post - a Giveaway to Celebrate

I was stunned to realize I'd hit the 200th post mark already! I just started this blog in March. Chatty, aren't I?

So what better way to celebrate than my first book giveaway!

I took part in the author book blog tour for The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff a month or so ago and have a hardcover, very slightly used copy to give away -low miles! only used once! by a retiree! looking for a good home! (the book, not the retiree).

Here are links to my posts about the book, including the author's guest post:
If you'd like to enter the giveaway, leave a comment below and a way for me to contact you (via blog or email). I'll choose a winner by November 21st. Open to anyone, anywhere. Good luck!

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