Thursday, November 29, 2007

Julie and Julia on the Big Screen

I just read that Columbia Pictures is making a movie of Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 534 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell, which I loved. It will be directed by Nora Ephron; Amy Adams (Enchanted) will play Julie and Meryl Streep will play Julia Child. Joy joy joy! Release date will probably be 2009. This will be a fun flick. If you haven't read this book, it's a great read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This looks way more fun than Frisbee Golf

College students have brought the world of Harry Potter to life on campuses around the country with intercollegiate Quidditch matches! Check out the video clip-it looks like so much fun!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gentlemen of the Road

The thing I like about Michael Chabon's novels is that the stories are so different. Some authors seem to write the same type of story over and over, but with Chabon, it's something new every time. His latest, Gentlemen of the Road, is set in 950 A.D. in the Khazar empire. An unlikely pair of gentlemen of the road wander the land, making their living from the occasional con, barely escaping a few sticky skirmishes. Zelikman, a Jew, is "a slight, thin-shanked fellow, gloomy of countenance, white as tallow, his hair falling in two golden curtains on either side of his long face." Amram is a giant ax-wielding African with "skin that was lustrous as the tarnish on a copper kettle, and his eyes womanly as a camel’s, and his shining pate with its ruff of wool whose silver hue implied a seniority attained only by the most hardened men, and above all with the air of stillness that trumpeted his murderous nature to all but the greenest travelers." On one of their adventures, they meet Filaq, a prince of Khazar, whose father, the king, was murdered. Filaq is bent on revenging his family and reclaiming the throne of Khazar. Zelikman and Amram are swept up in the rebellion as they attempt to help Filaq reclaim the throne.

Chabon, who originally titled the work Jews with Swords, described the novel as a "swashbuckling adventure story" and it definitely is that. The story grips you from the very beginning with sword fighting, hasty escapes and these two very interesting characters. Chabon's typical rich, verbose prose is present here as well. I found myself consulting a dictionary and trusty Wikipedia several times while reading this story. It's a fun, quick read-great for anyone who likes a good, old-fashioned adventure story.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Amateur Gourmet

Several well known blogs have resulted in popular books and Adam Roberts' The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop and Table-Hop Like a Pro (Almost) is one of them. The book was born from his well known blog at In the book, Roberts recounts how his family ate out more often than eating in, which instilled in him an appreciation of homemade meals and the desire to create easy but delicious food. The book is more of a narrative, rather than instructional, as the title led me to believe. I thought there might be diagrams on proper cutting techniques, but he simply describes how to cut an onion, which does nothing for me without the pictures. But his point on the importance of using a sharp knife in the chapter Fear Not the Knife, is well taken. In the chapter Master the Market, he talks about how to shop for fresh foods at the local farmers market, which we've all been hearing about lately. The chapter Expand Your Palate seems a little out of place-I guess his point is to try new things, but it really seems to be stories about him trying to get his friends to try foods they hate. He then talks about cooking for a date and cooking for your family. Again, these are more personal stories of his experiences, rather than how-to's, although he does include a few recipes (which come from well known chefs, not his own). I did really like his chapter Fine Dine Like a Professional where he had lunch with food critic Ruth Reichl and got tips for making the most of your dining experience. Reichl suggests picking a few restaurants that you enjoy and becoming a regular; asking the chef what is especially good that day; order what you want; share your food and eat only until you are full-although these seem like common sense tips to me. He ends the book with a chapter on how to do dishes. Seriously. If you don't know how to do dishes, you've got bigger problems than not knowing how to cook. I suppose this would be a good book for a young person who is out on their own for the first time and has never even made spaghetti for themselves. Even so, there are better cookbooks for first-timers. And Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen : how one girl risked her marriage, her job and her sanity to master the art of living is a much better read if you are interested in a cooking narrative. For the most part, if you've been reading the popular cookbooks, watching the Food Network, and can manage the basics, there really isn't anything new here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Author Visit!

Anthony Bourdain will be signing his new book, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach at the Chicago Borders on Michigan Avenue on November 28, 2007 at 7pm.

More than just a companion to the hugely popular show, No Reservations is Bourdain's fully illustrated journal of his far-flung travels. The book traces his trips from New Zealand to New Jersey and everywhere in between, mixing beautiful, never-before-seen photos and mementos with Bourdain's outrageous commentary on what really happens when you give a bad-boy chef an open ticket to the world.

And the winner is...

The National Book Award winners were announced last week. Denis Johnson won the fiction award for his novel Tree of Smoke. Tim Weiner won the non-fiction award for Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. Robert Hass won the award for poetry, with his collection Time and Materials.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

They Call Me Mister Pip

Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip was a favorite for the Booker prize, so I figured I had better give it a look. Just as I was disappointed with Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (another favorite for the Booker), I was somewhat disappointed with this one too.

On a small island near New Guinea during the 1990's, a conflict is occurring between the island rebels and the invading "redskins." Matilda, one of the children on the island, recounts how the villagers attempt to go about their lives, but the war is always in the background. The sole white man on the island, Mr. Watts, agrees to take over as teacher for the village children. Mr. Watts introduces the children to "Mr. Dickens" by reading Great Expectations to them. The children love the story, especially Matilda, because it provides them with an escape from the everyday realities of the war. Matilda becomes fascinated with Pip, as well as with Mr. Watts. Her mother, on the other hand, dislikes that the children's heads are being filled with useless stories. When she hides the copy of Great Expectations, it has a disastrous result for everyone on the island.

At first, I thought this was a fairly good story. Not really substantial, but a good story nonetheless. But I don't think the author did a very good job of capturing the horror of the war and its affects on Matilda. When Matilda's mother steals Great Expectations, there are extremely violent repercussions, however Matilda gives very little thought to it. The story seems to be wrapped up rather neatly, with no lasting affects on Matilda, which just did not seem believable to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Evening With Frank McCourt

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a talk and book signing with Frank McCourt. The Bookstall in Winnetka hosted Mr. McCourt, who has a new Christmas book called Angela and the Baby Jesus, and Lauren Long, the illustrator of the book. The book is based on a story McCourt's mother told him when he was 6, about when she was 6 years old and took the baby Jesus from the church nativity scene to keep him from getting cold. There are actually two editions of the book-both with the same text, but a larger size for children. The smaller size, which is illustrated by Long, has some lovely drawings and really captures the feeling of 1914 Limerick. It's a cute story, and McCourt is a great storyteller.

I've said before that I could listen to Frank McCourt talk all day. He has a wonderful Irish brogue that just makes anything he says sound great. I listened to all of his memoirs on CD, and it was wonderful to hear him speak in person. He is actually a very funny guy, and had the audience cracking up the whole evening. He talked about how strange kids can be sometimes and joked that they should be shipped out of the country after third grade and not allowed back until 19 (a thought I think many of us have from time to time). He also implored the audience "don't just buy one book. Don't be stingy!" He informed us that some of the proceeds for Angela and the Baby Jesus will be donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which if you remember from Angela's Ashes, helped the McCourt family survive by giving them food and clothes when they were poor. He reported that he is meeting with the screenwriter for a movie adaptation of Teacher Man. He said that he will have a say in this script, unlike in the movie of Angela's Ashes, because he wants to be sure that teachers are portrayed well. When someone in the audience asked if he will be writing any more memoirs, he declared that he is sick of himself and won't be doing any more memoirs. Fans will be happy to know that he is currently working on a novel that sounds like it will be set in Brooklyn. But according to him, "God only knows" when it will be published, so fans will have to be patient.

Follett Receives Oprah's Seal of Approval

Oprah has named Ken Follett's book, Pillars of the Earth, as her next book club pick. I've been meaning to read this one forever. It has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust, so I guess now might be a good time to dust it off. I have enjoyed several of his other books, but the size of this one is somewhat daunting, which is why I have been putting it off.

Follett will be writing a new trilogy called The Century Trilogy, which will cover the events of the 20th century from WWI, WWII and the Cold War. The first installment is scheduled for publication in 2010, with the second in 2012 and the third in 2014.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can We Live Without China?

The title of A Year Without "Made in China:" One Family's True Life Adventures in the Global Economy by Sara Bongiorni is pretty self-explanatory. On Christmas Day, the author looks around her living room and notices that she is surrounded by products made in China. Wondering whether China is truly taking over the world, she decides to see if her family can survive for an entire year without buying any products that are made in China. The project turns out to be more difficult than she imagined. When her 4-year old son needs new tennis shoes, she ends up having to order a $65 pair of Italian tennis shoes, because all the tennis shoes in the stores are made in China. When her husband's sunglasses break, he must resort to wearing a pair of glacier climbing glasses until an inexpensive non-China pair can be found. And of course, toys are a huge issue. With two small children, supplying them with toys is nearly impossible. Inflatable pools, beach toys, Halloween decorations and light swords are all made in China. An invitation to a birthday party means a gift of Legos, since that is the only toy to be found that isn't made in China (although even that company begins manufacturing some of their toys in China). It's quite funny when her son walks through the toy aisles picking up toys and muttering "China" before returning them to the shelves. By the end of the year, her son is begging for "China things." Although you don't really learn anything about China and there is a lack of factual information to back up her study, the author's attempts to live China-free are amusing and even eye-opening. A quick, amusing read, but not for someone looking for hard facts.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Happy Birthday Tracy Kidder

Today is the birthday of Tracy Kidder (born November 12, 1945). Kidder is known for his work The Soul of a New Machine, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and chronicles the true story of a computer design team racing to complete the next generation computer.

You may be hearing more about Kidder in the upcoming months at the Deerfield Library, so stay tuned!

Man Asian Literary Prize Announced

Chinese writer Jiang Rong has won the first Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel Wolf Totem.
"A panoramic novel of life on the Mongolian grasslands during the Cultural Revolution, this masterly work is also a passionate argument about the complex interrelationship between nomads and settlers, animals and human beings, nature and culture. The slowly developing narrative is rendered in vivid detail and has a powerful cumulative effect. A book like no other. Memorable."

Worth $10,000, the prize is sponsored by the same company that sponsors the Booker Prize. The book will be published in English in March 2008.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer Dies

Pulitzer Prize Winning author Norman Mailer died today, at age 84. Some of his well known works are The Naked and the Dead, The Deer Park and the The Executioner's Song. His most recent novel, The Castle in the Forest, was published in 2007.

Take a look at this article from Time on "Why Norman Mailer Mattered."

Friday, November 9, 2007

Whitethorn Woods

I grabbed the audiobook version of Maeve Binchy's Whitethorn Woods because it is narrated by Paul Michael, one of my favorite narrators. It turns out, Michael doesn't actually narrate the entire book. Sile Bermingham narrates the majority of it, with Michael narrating the beginning and ending. I've never listened to her before, but she's quite good.

The Whitethorn Woods are woods near the Irish town of Rossmore. A well is located in these woods, and has been named St. Ann's Well because it is believed to be a source of miracles. A highway is proposed, which will go right through the woods and destroy the well. The town is divided on the issue and Father Brian Flynn is caught in the middle. Each chapter in the book is the story of someone who either lives in Rossmore, visits Rossmore, or is connected to Rossmore in some way.

Even though there are many characters, Binchy creates well-developed characters with distinct voices and unique stories that pulls the reader into their lives. A good read.

Author Visit!

The Bookstall in Winnetka will be hosting Joseph O'Connor on Monday November 12 at 7 pm. He will be signing and discussing his newest book, Redemption Falls, the number one bestselling book in Ireland currently.The story is an unforgettable romance of Irish immigrants in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Book Banning in West Virginia

A high school in Charleston, West Virginia banned two of Pat Conroy's books. Take a look at what he has to say about it. I especially like his point that banning the books will only encourage kids to read them.

"Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Heart-Shaped Box

I'm not much of a horror fan-I don't like horror films and I don't like being scared. But Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box has gotten such great reviews, I decided to give it a try for some spooky Halloween reading. I should have known....

Judas Coyne is an aging rock star with an obsession for macabre objects. His collection includes a snuff film, a human skull, a hangman's noose and a cookbook for cannibals. When he sees a suit for sale on an online auction that is said to be haunted with a ghost, he decides he must have it for his collection. As soon as the suit arrives, strange things begin to happen and Judas begins seeing the dead man. In an attempt to learn more about the ghost, he contacts the woman who sold him the suit. It turns out that she is the sister of Judas' former girlfriend who recently committed suicide. The ghost in the suit is their father, who blames Judas for the suicide. The ghost is intent on killing Judas to avenge his daughter's death.

And that's about all I can tell you. I was so creeped out, I stopped reading. I admit that I am a big baby. Nothing really scary or violent happens (at least up to that point), but it was pretty creepy. And, Judas has two dogs, and I just know something is going to happen to those dogs, which I couldn't stand to think about. What I can tell you though, is the premise of the story is very clever and it is obvious that Joe Hill is a very talented writer. I am sorry that I couldn't stick with it, because it's a good book. But I need to be able to sleep at night. I have passed this one off to my husband, who likes all thing scary and creepy, so hopefully he can tell me how everything works out. This would be a great read for those who appreciate a good scary story.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Author Visit!

The Bookstall in Winnetka will be hosting author Frank McCourt next Tuesday, November 13th. I have had a crush on McCourt ever since I listened to him narrate his three memoirs, Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, and Teacher Man. He is a great writer, and I could listen to his voice all day. He will be speaking about his new Christmas book, Angela and the Baby Jesus, which is about Angela (of Angela's Ashes) as a child, who feels compelled to rescue the baby Jesus from her church nativity scene and take him home.

Hope to see you there!

Time: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 7:00 PM
Location: Skokie School, 520 Glendale, Winnetka, IL 60093
No reservations necessary.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Zookeeper's Wife

Sometimes I feel like I read more non-fiction than fiction. But there are just so many great non-fiction books to read! The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman is one of them. Ackerman tells the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski. Jan was the director of the Warsaw zoo before WWII and the Zabinskis lived on the grounds of the zoo. When Warsaw was invaded, the Nazis took the animals they wanted and shot the rest for fun. Although the zoo was no longer operating, the Zabinskis stayed put, first under the guise of running a pig farm to supply the soldiers with pork, then as a fur farm to provide the soldiers with fur for warmth. But the Zabinskis were secretly helping the Polish resistance. Jan brought food to many of the Jews in the ghetto. They also helped many Jews to escape, sheltering them in their home and in the empty animal cages. Amazingly, they were never caught.

This is a fascinating story of a very brave family. Ackerman gets much of her information from Antonina's diaries, which provide incredible details of their activities in the resistance, as well as day to day life in occupied Warsaw. A great read!