Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ant Farm

The last few days I have been posting excerpts from a great collection of essays I just finished reading, Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich. The essays are quick-just 2 to 3 pages at most, and quite humorous.

A Day in the Life of the Swiss Army*

"All right, everyone, listen up. I'm not going to lie to you. We lost a lot of good men today. But we haven't lost the war yet. It's time to hunker down and talk strategy: Has everybody been taking care of his fingernails? Because yesterday, during the battle, I noticed that some men-in fact, a lot of men-were having trouble opening their knives. Remember, you have to dig pretty hard to get the blade out. It's not like the magnifying glass.

Okay, another thing. Yesterday, on the battlefield, there was some confusion about the location of the blade. If the logo is facing you, the blade is the third instrument on the right side of the knife. It looks like the tweezers, but it's actually the one just above the tweezers. This is really important to remember."

*From Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Love Coupons*

"-Brian? What are you doing here?
-I came to redeem some coupons.
-(reading) 'Good for one back rub'...'Good for one home-cooked meal'...Brian, I gave these to you while we were still dating.
-There's no expiration date on the coupons.
-Brian, it's been four years. I'm married now."

*From Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Animal Cruelty*

In order to learn more about animal cruelty, Simon Rich built a translating machine and interviewed several farm animals about their current situation. His interview with Cow:

"-You've been incarcerated in this slaughterhouse your entire life. How has it affected you emotionally?
-I am cow. I eat grass. Grass on ground. Me move mouth down to grass. Chew up grass.
-Do you think animal slavery will end in your lifetime?
-Eat grass, rest. Eat grass, rest. Sleep.
-Do you feel that animals deserve the same rights as human beings?
-Grass on ground. Eat it all up."

*From Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I've got a fever and the only prescription is more Tudors

I managed to get some reading done over the long weekend, and finished Alison Weir's historical fiction novel, The Lady Elizabeth. Weir has written several historical works, many about the Tudors, including The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Life of Elizabeth I and Henry VIII: The King and His Court. Her first foray into historical fiction was her novel Innocent Traitor, about Lady Jane Grey, who was declared queen of England for nine days after Henry VIII's son Edward died, before Mary was placed on the throne. I loved this novel, and have been eagerly anticipating The Lady Elizabeth. Once again, Weir has written a great story. We are introduced to Elizabeth during early childhood and follow her through life until the moment she becomes queen. As a young girl, she must deal with the tragic death of her mother, and the subsequent line of stepmothers Henry introduces. After Henry's death, as an heir to the throne, Elizabeth is subject to malicious gossip, attempts to destroy her reputation, and accusations of treason. The court is rife with greed, deceit and intrigue, and Elizabeth must keep her wits about her in order to survive. If you enjoy Philippa Gregory's historical fiction, or are obsessed with Showtime's fantastically fantastic drama, The Tudors, as I am, Weir is a writer you should not miss. Weir has signed on to write three more historical novels-two based on the Tudors and one based on the Plantagenets.

Friday, May 23, 2008

And the nominees are....

The shortlist for the 2008 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction was announced on May 15th. The nominees are:

Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart by Tim Butcher

Crow Country by Mark Cocker

The Whisperers by Orlando Figes

The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul
by Patrick French

The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House
by Kate Summerscale

The Samuel Johnson Prize is the UK's most prestigious non-fiction award. The winner will be announced on July 15th and will receive £30,000.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Books to Movies

Tommy Lee Jones will be adapting, producing, directing and starring in Islands in the Stream, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. The movie has a $30 million budget and will be filmed in Puerto Rico.

Harvey Weinstein will produce The Alchemist, based on the novel by Paulo Coelho. Laurence Fishburne will direct and star in the film.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Final Salute

One of my favorite magazines is The Week, which is a weekly publication that basically recaps everything important that happened in the news, politics, science, business, etc. over the past week. "All you need to know about everything that matters." It's quite handy, since I am usually reading a book instead of watching the news.

Anyway, The Week has a regular column called The Last Word, which usually consists of a portion of a longer article published in another newspaper or a book. This week The Last Word included a portion of Jim Sheeler's book, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives. For two years, Sheeler shadowed Major Steve Beck, a marine who serves as a casualty assistance calls officer, which means that he brings the news of a soldier's death to his or her family. Although I only read a very small portion, it was quite moving. Sheeler describes Beck's walk to the door:

"While every door is different, the scenes inside are almost always the same. 'The curtains pull away. They come to the door. And they know. They always know,' Beck says. 'You can almost see the blood run out of their body and their heart hit the floor. It's not the blood as much as their soul. Something sinks."

Sheeler describes the families Beck must visit-the initial notification, the families' reactions, the requests from grieving families, and his assistance with the funeral. We are given an intimate look at the families who have lost so much, and although the portion I read was very brief, the story moved me to tears. I am definitely interested in reading the rest of this book.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Space Between Us

Last night the Library's book group discussed Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us. Everyone agreed that this was a wonderful novel and we had a very animated discussion. The novel takes place in Bombay and centers around two women. Sera is a middle-class Parsi housewife and Bhima, a Hindu, is her servant. Although both women have very different lives and come from very different backgrounds, they both understand the joys and sorrows of motherhood and the pain of a unhappy marriage. An unlikely friendship has formed between the two women, but Sera is eventually forced to choose between her friendship with Bhima or loyalty to her social class. It is a captivating story with well-developed characters, and although it has a slower pace and several flashbacks, the story flows well and holds the readers' interest. Umrigar's descriptions of Bombay illuminate life in the slums, the crowded city streets and the calm of the ocean. Sera and Bhima's lives provide an eye-opening look at the lack of autonomy, choice and freedom women have in this culture and the constraints imposed on them by society.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All the latest...

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize, a Best of the Booker award will be announced on July 10th. A panel of judges has narrowed the list down to 6 finalists: Pat Barker's The Ghost Road, Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda, J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace, J. G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. The winner will be chosen by a vote from the public. Click here to cast your vote.

If you enjoy historical fiction, Reading the Past has a list of some great historical fiction novels, due out over the summer and fall.

Patricia Cornwell's follow up to her 2006 stand-alone mystery At Risk, The Front, will be released on May 20th. Kay Scarpetta will be back in her 16th novel this October.

Johnny Depp's brother, Daniel Depp, landed a book deal for his suspense thriller, Loser Town. Johnny Depp has a brother? Is he single?

Anchee Min, who is one of my favorite writers, has landed book deals for her next two books. The first will be a novel titled Pearl of China, which will be about the life of Pearl Buck told through the eyes of a Chinese girl. Due out in Spring 2o10. The second will be a memoir, Cooked Seed, which is a sequel to her memoir Red Azalea.

Scribner has signed a deal with Tila Nguyen, otherwise known as Tila Tequila from MTV reality show fame, for her book Hooking Up with Tila Tequila. Scribner's president said "the world cannot get enough of Tila Tequila." Seriously? Barf.

David Sedaris will be releasing his latest book of humorous essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, this June. Due to the recent scandals involving fraudulent memoirs, his book will come with a preface, labeling the contents as "real-ish." He recently talked to the Christian Science Monitor about the issue of truthiness in memoirs, saying that as long as a memoir is 97% true, it's acceptable to him.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Influential Writers

Time Magazine has released its 2008 list of The World's 100 Most Influential People. Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, and Stephenie Myer, author of the popular Twilight series, were the two authors chosen for Artists & Entertainers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Books You Should Be Reading

The National Book Critics Circle has released their Good Reads list for spring. The books are chosen from a poll taken of their members, which includes book critics and NBCC award winners and nominees. Here are the Good Reads for fiction:

Lush Life by Richard Price

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser

The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter

His Illegal Self by Peter Carey

Diary of a Bad Year by J. M. Coetzee

Beginner's Greek by James Collins

Fall of Frost by Brian Hall

Cost by Roxana Robinson

Resistance by Owen Sheers

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Book Deals!

I'm so excited to hear that Anthony Bourdain has a new book coming out which will be a follow-up to Kitchen Confidential. I think I may have mentioned my love for him, once or twice. He actually has a deal for three books: the Kitchen Confidential follow-up, a fiction novel, and a memoir of a year spent living in Vietnam, but it's the chef memoir I am most excited about.

Lauren Willig, one of my favorite historical fiction writers, has a deal for the next two books in her Pink Carnation series. Her website says the next book should be out in February 2009. Can't wait!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Author Visits!

This month is full of author events!

John Sandford will be signing his latest thriller, Phantom Prey, at the Borders on State Street in Chicago on May 9th at 12:30 pm; and again at the Old Orchard Barnes & Noble in Skokie that evening at 7:30.

Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club, will be promoting her new novel, Comfort Food, at the Old Orchard Barnes & Noble in Skokie on May 12th at 7:30pm.

Elizabeth George will be signing her latest novel, Careless in Red, which is part of her Inspector Lynley series, at the State Street Borders in Chicago on May 13th at 12:30 pm.

Chris Bohjalian will be signing his latest novel, Skeletons at the Feast, at the Michigan Avenue Borders in Chicago on May 14th at 7pm.

Augusten Burroughs promotes his latest memoir, A Wolf at the Table, at the Old Orchard Barnes and Noble on May 15th at 7:30 pm.

Dalia Sofer, author of Septembers in Shiraz, will be signing her book at the Bookstall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka on May 17th at 2pm.

Emily Giffin, bestselling author of Something Borrowed, Something Blue, and Baby Proof signs her latest book, Love the One You're With, at the Lincoln Park Borders in Chicago on May 20th at 7pm.

Simon Winchester, author of the bestselling The Professor and the Madman and A Crack in the Edge of the World, will be signing his latest book, The Man Who Loved China at the Barnes & Noble in Evanston on May 21st at 7pm.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

It's Raining Pigs and Chimps!

I apologize for my lack of posts lately. Spring is finally in the air and I have been completely unable to concentrate on reading! In preparation for a book talk I will be giving, I read two nonfiction "animal" books I would like to share with you. I was looking for read a-likes for Marley & Me by John Grogan and read The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery and Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human by Elizabeth Hess.

The Good Good Pig was a touching, fun read. The author takes in a sick piglet who is the runt of his litter and nurses him to health. The pig, named Christopher Hogwood, becomes famous around the author's small town. Townspeople bring their table scraps for Christopher's slop bucket, and children love to help give Christopher baths. Christopher frequently breaks free of his pen and is seen wandering around town, only to be brought home by the local police chief. If you enjoyed Marley & Me, this is quite similar: funny misadventures with a pet, the human-pet bond, etc. And, we learn some interesting facts about pigs. I never realized how intelligent pigs are. The hard part that I have with all these pet memoirs is what we know is coming in the end-the animal dies. They always do. Some of them, such as Ted Kerasote's Merle's Door (which is wonderful), take up quite a good portion of the book with the death, which leaves me sobbing. Fortunately, Chris's death was relatively quick, not drawn out and painful. So, thank you Sy Montgomery, for not leaving me a sobbing mess.

I picked up Nim Chimpsky because 1) I thought the chimp's name was quite humorous, and 2) I thought it would be funny misadventures with a chimp. Wrong. The story is about a chimp who was chosen to be part of an experiment at Columbia University that was supposed to shed light on how language is acquired by humans by teaching communication skills to a "humanized" chimpanzee. Nim was born in 1973 at the Institute for Primate Studies (IPS), headed by Dr. William Burton Lemmon. Just a few days after his birth, he was ripped away from his mother and sent to live with a human family in New York. Nim was raised like a human-made to wear human clothes, eat human food, and required to learn sign language skills. The family that raised Nim seemed to treat him well, but no one-including the psychologist in charge of the project, Herbert Terrace-was prepared for the amount of care Nim would require or that he would become difficult to manage as he entered adolescence and adulthood. The project was ended early due to lack of funding and because Nim was becoming more and more difficult to manage and teach. Nim was returned to Dr. Lemmon's care at the IPS. Lemmon was known to beat and electrocute the chimps in his care, in order to "dominate" them, so Nim's return to the IPS was not a good thing. When Lemmon began having difficulty funding the IPS, he sold several of the chimps, including Nim, to a medical experimentation lab at NYU that was conducting research on Hepatitis B. When word of this got out, the outrage from the public ended up getting Nim a reprieve. He was returned to the IPS until a better home could be found for him (he was lucky-the other chimps were not returned). He was eventually relocated to a sanctuary, where he lived out the rest of his life, albeit in a cage. I will admit that I read only half of this book. Because I was so appalled by this "experiment" and what happens to Nim, I could not bring myself to do more than skim the rest of the book. There were definitely some good people involved in the project who tried to do the right thing for Nim, but the decisions and actions of Dr. Lemmon and Dr. Terrace were abhorrent. People will debate endlessly about the ethics of animal experimentation and testing, and I will concede that some may provide useful results that save lives, but this experiment seemed to be a waste that only caused needless suffering of an innocent animal. The story is well told. Hess does not sugarcoat Nim's treatment and clearly points out the flaws of the project and its leaders. But this is not a Marley and Me-type book. If you are an animal lover, be prepared to get angry.