Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Running With Books will be taking a break for the holidays. I'll return after the new year, hopefully with lots of good books to share. I have read a lot of good non-fiction lately, but I feel like most of the fiction I have been reading has only been so-so. It's disappointing. Over the next two weeks, my mission is to read some good fiction. I've got Alexander McCall Smith's Love Over Scotland, Richard North Patterson's Exile and Steve Berry's latest thriller on hand. I know I can't miss with these. And my shelves are filled with books I haven't gotten to yet, so I'm looking forward to getting to a few of these.

I hope your holidays are happy, and you find some time to relax with a good book!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kitchen Confidential

Have you ever thought it might be fun to be a chef? Read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. It will end any misconceptions you may have about the life of a chef. I have enjoyed many of Bourdain's books in the past and as usual, this book does not disappoint. Bourdain's writing is entertaining, engaging, clever, crass, obnoxious and fantastic. Incidentally, the audiobook is narrated by Bourdain and is fantastic. Bourdain begins with the story of eating his first oyster in France as a boy and realizing that food could be more than just something one ate when hungry. From there, he describes his first job at a restaurant, his realization that chefs live like rockstars, and his entry into the Culinary Institute of America. He tells of his stints at various restaurants in New York City, working for members of an "Italian Fraternal Organization," running hectic kitchens and dealing with unconventional employees. Bourdain describes the ins and outs of restaurant kitchens and enlightens us as to why you don't order meat well done or fish on a Monday night. Thoroughly entertaining, as usual.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Recently a boy came to the desk asking for Babylon's Ark by Lawrence Anthony. After helping him find the book, I looked at the subtitle: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo, and thought it sounded interesting. Having recently read Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife, about the Warsaw zoo during WWII, I thought this would be an interesting comparison. All I can say is: thanks kid. This was an incredible story that I'm glad I took the time to read. The author, a white South African, is a conservationist and environmentalist, and lives on a game reserve in Zululand. He says:

"I knew nothing about Iraq and the politics of war. But what I did know was that in all human hostilities animals have suffered horrifically and often anonymously. Unable to flee or defend themselves, they either were slaughtered wholesale in the initial assaults or died agonizingly from thirst and hunger later, locked and desperate in their cages. Or worse, they were callously shot by blood-crazed soldiers just for the hell of it."

So, Anthony decides to go to Iraq to help save whatever is left of the zoo's animals. Shortly after Baghdad was invaded, Anthony flies to Kuwait and begins badgering anyone who will listen, until they let him into Iraq. After a very dangerous journey, he finally arrives at the zoo and discovers appalling conditions. Only the animals that were too dangerous to steal (such as the bears, lions and tigers) were left. Because of the horrible looting, most of the animals had been taken, either for food or for sale on the black market. The animals were in worse condition than Anthony expected and he actually considered whether shooting them would be the most humane option. Working in an extremely dangerous environment, battling relentless looters, with little help and very little supplies, medicine, food and water, Anthony begins the slow and difficult task of nursing the animals back to health and saving the zoo. What impressed me was the help Anthony received from the American soldiers. One might think that when a soldier is in the middle of a war, with bombs and bullets a constant threat, he might be more concerned with staying alive than with helping a few animals. But this was not the case. All the soldiers that Anthony encountered were more than willing to help whenever they could. They gave the animals their shares of MREs, got a generator for the zoo, provided protection and help when Anthony shut down a private zoo holding animals in appalling conditions, and helped to recover some of Saddam's herd of priceless Arabian horses from a very dangerous neighborhood.

Although it seems odd to be using the words "great story" when talking about the Iraq war, this really was. Without focusing on politics and whether the war is right or wrong, Anthony takes us into the heart of Iraq, shows us the everyday realities of war, and how the bravery and compassion of a few good men can create hope.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

All the latest in book news....

The Rockford Public Library in Rockford, Illinois has bought a former Barnes and Noble bookstore to house its Northeast branch. The space is 23,000 square feet-three times the size of the branch's current location. Don't get me wrong-I love bookstores, especially B&N, but this is kind of satisfying.

The Tales of Beedle and the Bard, a limited edition, handwritten and illustrated book of fairy tales by J.K Rowling, sold for nearly $4 million at Sotheby's last week, the highest ever paid for a modern literary manuscript. Inc. is now the proud owner of one of only seven copies of the book. Reportedly, Rowling gave the remaining six copies to "people closely connected to the Harry Potter collection." Proceeds from the sale will go to Children's Voice, a charity co-founded by Rowling that campaigns for children's rights across Europe. You can see pictures of the book on Amazon's website.

The Golden Globe nominations were announced this week. Quite a few of the favorites were movies based on books, such as Atonement, No Country f0r Old Men, A Mighty Heart, Away from Her, Into the Wild, Love in the Time of Cholera and The Kite Runner.

John Grisham's brother, Mark Grisham is set to co-author (with David Donaldson) a novel of the Civil War and the events at Wingate Asylum, under the title Bedlam South. Publication will be in 2008.

Looking for the perfect gift for your favorite librarian? Try In the Library perfume.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rhett Butler's People

As a huge fan of Gone With the Wind, I ate up the sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, which came out in 1992. When I heard about Donald McCaig's Rhett Butler's People, I was the first one on the hold list at my library. It was....OK. I will admit now that I didn't finish it. I read about half and it just didn't hold my attention. The story wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I expected or wanted. I thought it would be GWTW told from Rhett's point of view, with more insight into Rhett's background. It is, for the most part. But chapters jump around to different characters, such as Belle Watling, Melanie Wilkes, Rhett's sister and friends. And there are parts of the story where Rhett is completely absent. I guess that's why it's Rhett Bulter's People. Maybe I wanted more Rhett and less People. We do get some insight into Rhett's upbringing and how he got the reputation of a scoundrel. Of course, Rhett really is a good man, just misunderstood and misjudged (but we all knew that). But maybe what is so attractive about Rhett in GWTW is that we don't know much about him, and that makes him mysterious. Maybe it's the idea that he is a bit of a scoundrel. Take that away and what do you have? A really long novel that can't keep my attention.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Author Visit!

Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation, brings to life the tumultuous decade of the 1960s in his latest book Boom! Voices of the Sixties. Brokaw will be signing his new book at the Chicago State Street Borders on December 13th at noon.

Only What We Could Carry

On this day in 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor, ultimately killing 2, 390 Americans and wounding 1,178. Shortly after, the United States entered WWII and thousands of Japanese Americans were relocated to internment camps throughout the country. Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese Internment Experience (edited by Lawson Fusao Inada) is a fascinating compilation of narratives, poetry, diary entries, letters, news accounts, and declarations that illustrates what life was like for these American citizens during their imprisonment. It shames me to say that I wasn't even aware that this had taken place until about 5 years ago. This was not something I was taught in school, or even in college, and while I read these narratives, I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading fiction. This happened, in my country-the land of the free, not so very long ago. Although all of the stories are touching, one that particularly affected me was the story of an all-Japanese American battalion that was one of the first to liberate the prisoners of Dachau, and many years later, a Japanese American soldier was reunited with one of the men he rescued from Dachau. A truly touching, frightening, eye-opening look at a part of history that we don't often hear about.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter

I hate winter. With a passion. I'll tolerate it until Christmas, but after that, I avoid the outdoors at all costs until spring. Oh sure, it's lovely to sit inside on a winter day, snuggled up on the couch, watching the beautiful snow falling while sipping cocoa. But most of us have to leave the house eventually. And that's why I hate winter. The cold wind whipping through my jacket. My glasses in a constant state of fogginess. Dirty slush fouling up my shoes and soaking my socks. The snowplow that dumps 10 feet of snow in front of my driveway. Sorry, where was I going with that tirade? Oh right-books! Fortunately, there are many, many new books coming out this winter that should keep us occupied until it thaws. There are lots of well known authors with new books coming out, and lots of not-so-well known authors that are getting great reviews.

In January, we will have new books by W.E.B Griffin, Sara Paretsky, John Grisham, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Douglas Preston, Stuart Woods, Jayne Anne Krentz, John Lescroart, Barbara Delinsky, Bernard Cornwell, Jack Higgins, Luanne Rice, Rita Mae Brown, Russell Banks, Arturo Perez-Reverte and Geraldine Brooks. One new author to watch is Jeffrey Hantover, whose first novel, The Jewel Trader of Pegu, has been getting a lot of good publicity and reviews. The historical novel follows a Jewish jem trader from Venice to Burma as he seeks his fortune. I'm really looking forward to this one!

In February we will have new books by James Patterson, Robert B. Parker, J.D. Robb, Lisa Scottoline, Danielle Steel, Robert Crais, Sophie Kinsella, and Mary Kay Andrews. Lauren Willig's fourth book in her Pink Carnation series, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, will also be out this month. I absolutely loved the first three and I can't wait for the next one!

In March we will have new books by Jodi Picoult, Anne Rice, Jeffrey Archer, Steve Martini, Jonathan Kellerman, and Laura Lippman. Benjamin Black's sequel to Christine Falls, Silver Swan, as well as Lisa Lutz's sequel to The Spellman Files, The Curse of the Spellmans, will also be out this month. I enjoyed both of these mysteries (both firsts in a planned series) and am looking forward to meeting up with these characters again. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong will also be out this month. This novel won the Man Asian Literary Prize a few months ago and has gotten great reviews.

Here's to staying warm with a good book!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wrapping up 2007

The end of a year always culminates in lists: lists of the best ______ of the past year, lists of resolutions and lists of things to do in the upcoming year. Take a look at some titles that made the cut for the best books of 2007.

The National Book Critics Circle, Amazon, Bookmarks Magazine, Publisher's Weekly, and of course, the supreme leader of book reviews, the New York Times, have all published their picks for best books of 2007. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, Falling Man by Don DeLillo, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid, Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (a National Book Award winner), A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu and Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill are just a few of the fiction titles that seem to keep popping up on multiple lists. Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, World Without Us by Alan Weisman and Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner (another National Book Award winner) are the popular non-fiction titles.

Did you read anything from these lists? I'm ashamed to say that I've only read a few. But, in my defense, I have many of these books on my shelves at home. I have just been so busy with other books that I haven't made it to these yet. I'll get there, eventually. At least I feel vindicated in buying these books. What were some of your favorite books from 2007? I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns and Gail Tsukiyama's The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, which I did not see on any of these lists, unfortunately. I also enjoyed Rhys Bowen's new series Her Royal Spyness, Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir, Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott and Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster. And of course, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Stay tuned for a list of books to read in the upcoming year!