Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Running with Kites

I had the fantastic luck to score tickets to an advanced screening for the movie of the Kite Runner last night! (Librarians have connections.) The movie was originally scheduled to open in November, but has been pushed back to December 14th because of safety concerns for the actors. I had to schlep all the way downtown to see it, but it was well worth the hassle. I was hesitant to see it, simply because movies based on books are usually such a let down. But this was not the case here. The movie stays true to the book, leaving out only one major scene that I remember. The scenery, music and acting were fantastic. The little boy who plays Hassan is sooo cute and I loved watching the children fly the kites. The movie also did a great job of creating the same strong emotions I felt when I read the book. The scenes of the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan are quite disturbing. It was interesting to me that scenes I found particularly difficult to read, were not as bad to watch (maybe because I was prepared). And scenes that didn't affect me much in the book, really choked me up in the theater. Fans of the book should be pleased. If you haven't read the book, pick up a copy and get reading! Then go see the film in December.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

In their small North Carolina town, the Waverly's have always been considered "different" because of their special talents. Claire Waverly has a talent for food and runs a successful catering business. Her secret is the edible herbs and flowers she grows in her garden, which have a magical effect on the eater. Claire's cousin gives random gifts to people for no obvious reason, and the townspeople believe the apple tree in Claire's garden has special powers. Claire leads a simple life and is happy living alone, but her life is turned upside down when her long lost sister returns with a young daughter and no explanation for where she has been.

This is a sweet story, with quirky, charming characters. It's somewhat predictible, but that doesn't make the story any less enjoyable. Fans of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic should enjoy this one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

And the Award Goes To....

The Quill Awards were presented earlier this week, with Nora Roberts winning Book of the Year for her novel Angels Fall. Diane Setterfield won Debut Author of the Year for her novel The Thirteenth Tale (yay!). Cormac McCarthy won the general fiction award for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road and Laura Lippman won the mystery award for her novel What the Dead Know. In non-fiction, Walter Isaacson won the biography/memoir award for Einstein: His Life and Universe, Amy Sedaris won the humor award for I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, and Al Gore won the history/current affairs/politics award for his book, The Assault on Reason. The Quill Awards will be broadcast on NBC this Saturday, October 27th at 7pm.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Playing For Pizza

John Grisham's latest novel is not one of his typical legal thrillers. This is a short novel, featuring Rick Dockery, a third-string quarterback who has made so many blunders, no NFL team wants him anymore. Unable to give up his dream of playing football, Rick takes a job as quarterback for a football team in Italy. Since soccer reigns supreme in Italy, most people are unaware of the American football teams. None of the players, with the exception of the few Americans that are hired, receive a paycheck and simply play for the love of the game. They play on rugby fields, with only a few hundred people in the stands. Getting back to the basics, Rick begins to find his game, and realizes that life in Italy is not so bad.

This is a fun, quick read. Since I don't understand much about football, the descriptions of the games were a little confusing, so I skipped to the end of the games to find out the final score. But even with all the football, it was still an enjoyable read. Descriptions of life in Italy-the food, the people, the towns-were my favorite part.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

And the award goes to....

Anne Enright took home the Booker prize for her novel, The Gathering, in which the middle child in a large Irish-Catholic family travels to London to retrieve the body of her recently deceased brother. Enright's win surprised the bookies who were giving good odds to two favorites-Ian McEwan for On Chesil Beach and Lloyd Jones for Mr. Pip.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I know a dog and his name is Merle

With a $40+ billion pet industry, it's clear we are a nation of animal lovers. As such, there is a huge market for books about animals. Jon Katz is well known for his books about dogs, and John Grogan's Marley and Me has been a huge hit. Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote, just out this summer, has been described as a Marley-like memoir, and since I'm a sucker for those four-legged people with fur, I immediately put it on hold at the library. Now, don't get me wrong-I enjoyed reading Marley and Me, but I loved, loved, loved this book. Not just a memoir of a man and his dog, Kerasote also provides a fascinating and well researched discussion of canine evolution, psychology and behavior. Merle is the exact opposite of Marley. Extremely intelligent and well-mannered, you'd think this dog is too good to be true. While Marley's antics made us laugh, Merle's ability to learn and think for himself shocked me.

Kerasote takes an uncommon, although interesting, approach to "raising" Merle. He believes that domestic dogs are responsible and show good behavior when they are not confined but given their freedom. Whereas dogs that are crated, leashed and kept in fenced yards to not mature, are permanently halted in the puppy stage and need direction from humans their entire lives. On page 257, he makes an interesting, although strange, point that most dogs are suffering from a version of Stockholm Syndrome.

"our control, water, elimination and fun-we reduce dogs to a state of quiet capitulation, a softened version of the Stockholm Syndrome...virtually all dogs remain captives. Indeed, the activities they enjoy-roaming, seeing other dogs, and exploring interesting odors-are constantly thwarted by the demands of modern civilization and training methods that have been designed to bring about what one dog trainer...has called 'the reversal of millions of years of evolution and genetic propensity.' Is the loyalty people then receive from their dogs true devotion, or the numbed reaction of captives to captors?"

This is an interesting concept that I had never considered before, but now I feel like a terrible dog-mom. Kerasote rarely leashes Merle and installs a dog door so he can come and go as he pleases. Merle makes the rounds of their small town in Wyoming, and has lots of dog friends. He is very independent, but also very devoted to Kerasote and very well-behaved. Some critics have complained that Kerasote anthropomorphized too much with Merle, interpreting what Merle must be thinking. It is a little strange at first, but I think it helps us get to know Merle's personality. My only criticism is the practicality in this. Yes, I would love it if my dog could live this way, but for people that live in a city with traffic, dogs cannot roam free. Kerasote mentions that many animal organizations are proponents for looser leash laws and designated off-leash areas. According to the San Francisco SPCA: "limiting dog play results in under-socialized, under-exercised, under-stimulated dogs and often leads to behavior problems." So maybe that's a place to start.

WARNING: The last 100 or so pages of this book is a sob-fest. Obviously with a dog book, we know what's coming. It's inevitable. But that doesn't make it any easier to read. Kerasote journals Merle's aging and his declining health. When Merle can no longer make the rounds of their town, it is heartbreaking. Kerasote considers the idea of euthanizing Merle, but decides to let Merle die on his own time. He mentions how humans are sometimes too quick to euthanize animals because we are uncomfortable with watching them die. Kerasote is by Merle's side the entire time, caring for him and calming him. (Oh, I'm getting a little weepy just thinking about it.) Dog lovers will have a hard time with the last 100 pages. Although the end is extremely sad, it is a funny and touching story of the relationship between a man and his dog, as well as a fascinating look at canine behavior and a different way to think about raising dogs. Highly, highly recommended.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The World is Flat....and Scary

I'd been meaning to read The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman for quite a while. But I kind of felt like it was one of those books I should read, but would be about as enjoyable as reading a David McCullough book (I know, I know, but his stuff puts me to sleep). But last week he was on the Colbert Report and was talking about how when you send your Toshiba laptop out to be repaired, it's actually a UPS person that fixes it. I was intrigued, so I thought I'd give it a try. I ended up getting the "updated and expanded" version, which is about 565 pages. Now, for me to read 565 pages of anything, it had better be entertaining, enlightening and life changing. I would say that this book was entertaining and enlightening, but not life changing, so I read the first couple hundred of pages and skimmed the rest.

Friedman basically says that many factors, including the web, outsourcing, insourcing and offshoring, have leveled the world's playing field. In order for us to compete in a flat world, we must become "untouchables," meaning we need to find jobs that cannot be outsourced, automated or digitized. Most of what he discussed was not news to me, but he has an interesting chapter called The Quiet Crisis, which talks about how our country is starting to lag behind in terms of producing people who can compete in this flat world. Compared to other countries, we have a lack of highly skilled scientists and engineers. He believes this is because young people are more interested in TV and video games than math and science. American children also lack ambition and creativity that is necessary to compete in a flat world.

It's an interesting book, and his writing and anecdotes are enjoyable which makes it less painful to read (or skim) 565 pages.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Happy Birthday Michael Palmer

Today is the birthday of best-selling suspense writer Michael Palmer. Palmer's latest hit, The Fifth Vial, is a medical suspense novel about illegal transplant organ trafficking.

Author Visits!

These are last minute, but both of these non-fiction authors have been getting a lot of press for their books.

Author Ted Kerasote will be discussing his new book, Merle's Door at the Bookstall in Winnetka today at noon. Call for details and reservations. This book is being compared to John Grogan's bestselling book about his dog, Marley and Me. I'm actually in the middle of reading Merle's Door now, and even though it is his story of his life with his dog, Kerasote includes quite a bit of information about the evolution, domestication and psychology of dogs. More to come on this book.

Pulitzer prize winning journalist Carl Bernstein will also be signing his new biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, A Woman in Charge, at the Michigan Avenue Borders in Chicago tonight at 7pm.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Luncheon of the Boating Party

I loved, loved, loved Susan Vreeland's novels, The Passion of Artemesia and Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Both are beautifully written historical fiction novels with art history as the basis. When I heard about her latest novel, Luncheon of the Boating Party, which tells the story of Renoir's creation of his famous painting, I was thrilled. For some reason though, I just couldn't get into it. I checked out the book and didn't get very far. Then I tried the audiobook, and almost had it finished, but it was due back at the library and I found myself not interested enough to keep it over the due date. And I don't know why. The writing is just as beautiful as her other novels. The descriptions of Paris and the countryside, even the colors of the paints, are wonderful. We hear Renoir's story of his attempts to be successful at his dream and solidify his place in the Impressionist movement. And we also hear about the lives of each of the models in his painting, which is fantastic. I think I must just be in a reading funk, because I can't seem to finish anything lately. But I do feel bad about missing the ending. Can someone tell me how it ends? What happens with the painting? Obviously I know he finishes it, but does he get it done in time? Does he find a quatorzieme for the painting? Does it hang in the salon? Does he get together with Alphonsine?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Outlander Finale

Diana Gabaldon's final work in her popular Outlander series is set for publication in fall of 2009.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Read a Banned Book This Week

Banned Books Week, which runs from September 29 to October 6, celebrates "the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those...viewpoints to all who wish to read them." Over the years, many books that we now consider classics have been challenged or banned. John Steinbeck, Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut are just a few of the famous authors that have been challenged or banned. Most of the books that are challenged these days are childrens books, but of the top 10 challenged books in 2006, two belong to Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye and Beloved). Many of those "classic" works of fiction, such as The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are still challenged today.

But, maybe there is something to be said for challenging books. Labeling a book as bad or banned is a great way to get a kid interested in it. When I was a kid, I always wanted to get my hands on Judy Blume books, simply because adults thought they were bad and shouldn't be read by kids. When I was in college, I became interested in reading Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses. Not because I knew who he was, or even knew what the book was about. I wanted to read it simply because it had been banned in so many countries and the Ayatollah put a hit out on Rushdie. Ok, I admit that I never read the book. It was a bit over my head at that time. But I bought the book anyway, to show my support. So, in honor of Banned Book Week, I'm dusting off my copy of the Satanic Verses. Check out the American Library Association's website for more information, and celebrate your freedom to read by reading a banned book this week!