Thursday, June 26, 2008

The New Classics

Entertainment Weekly just released their list of the new "classics" of TV, movies, books and music from the past 25 years. Take a look at their book list. There are some fantastic books here. Anything you think is missing?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Is Google Making Me Stupid?

In the past year or so, I have had several instances of what I like to call a "reading funk." I have a hard time getting into a book, so I quit reading it. Now, I know there is no shame disliking a book and putting it down if it isn't doing anything for me. Life is too short to spend time reading a book I don't enjoy. But this seems to be happening more frequently and with books that were getting great reviews and sounded like they would be something I would enjoy. I started referring to this as a reading funk. I usually chalk it up to my mood at that particular time. Or maybe I was just tired of reading and needed a break. I even thought that maybe with all the reading I do, I am developing better taste and just don't have the patience anymore for all the junk out there. (Yea, I'm sure that's it.) But a new, and frankly frightening, possibility has come to my attention.

In this month's issue of Atlantic Magazine, Nicholas Carr has written an article called "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" which suggests another possibility. Maybe it's not a reading funk, but perhaps the way in which I read has changed. Carr writes that he has always been a voracious reader, spending hours reading lengthy articles or books. But lately he, too, has noticed his concentration starting to drift after a few pages. Reading lengthy works has become increasingly difficult for him. He has heard about similar troubles from other readers as well. He proposes that the Internet has changed the way we read. When we use the Internet, we are in a constant state of motion: reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blogs, watching videos and surfing from site to site. Most people skim sites and typically read no more than one or two pages of an article. The style of reading promoted by the Internet focuses on immediate, fast results. This scatters our attention and may be weakening our capacity for concentration and deep reading. This makes a lot of sense to me. I do spend my days skimming quite a lot of information online-news, blogs, book reviews, etc. I find myself unable or unwilling to read through lengthier articles. I even noticed that when I do want to read a lengthier article, such as this one, I just don't have the ability to concentrate long enough to read it online, so I print it out. Is it possible that I have just become so accustomed to fast, quick bites of information that my brain now has more difficulty concentrating for longer periods of time? Could this be why I am having more difficulty getting into books? That is seriously scary.

Krakauer Book Delayed

Jon Krakauer's latest book, The Hero, was scheduled to be released this October with a first printing of 500,000 copies. Krakauer is reportedly unhappy with the manuscript and has withdrawn the title from publication indefinitely. The Hero tells the story of Pat Tillman, the football star who enlisted in the Army and was killed in a "friendly fire" accident in Afghanistan. If the book does get re-scheduled for publication, it is likely it will not be released until 2009.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Such a Pretty Fat

I had a great time reading Jen Lancaster's latest memoir, Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist's Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, or Why Pie is Not the Answer. I loved Lancaster's first two memoirs, so I was looking forward to this one. In this memoir, Lancaster covers a topic that has caused considerable frustration to many people: weight loss. After a stern lecture from her doctor, Lancaster decides that it's time to stop sweating while she eats, time to stop treating her body like a fraternity party, and time to stop promising to go to the gym instead of actually going. If you've read her previous books, you know that Lancaster does not suffer from low self-esteem. She knows she is a little overweight, but she also knows she looks good. When she actually steps on the scale and realizes how much weight she has gained, she wonders when it was that she turned into Jabba the Hut. She attempts several different diets-Atkins, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers. She also decides to invest in personal training sessions at her local gym. Hoping that her trainer will be a homely girl with a hump and a skin condition, she is dismayed to find that her trainer turns out to be gorgeous-long blond hair, tan, perfect teeth, enviable figure and her name is...Barbie. Since Jen hates exercise, she tries to come up with every excuse she can think of to avoid her workouts, but Barbie keeps pushing her. (Take a look at this hilarious video clip of Jen's attempts at avoiding exercise. Note the pearls she wears while at the gym.) Eventually Jen comes to almost look forward to her workouts and is able to shed some pounds. This is not a how-to diet book. Lancaster isn't pushing any particular method of weight loss or telling us that we can loose weight too, if we just did X, Y and Z, which is refreshing. This is just her experience trying to improve herself, an issue that many of us are familiar with, but Lancaster adds her brand of humor to the story.

I believe that Lancaster is working on another book and I'm hoping we will get to hear about her move to the suburbs. She has always been a city girl ("Give me Libertyville or give me death? I choose death."). But her husband has been trying to convince her that living in the suburbs will be much cheaper than the city. At the end of Such a Pretty Fat, she tells her husband that he wins-they will move to the suburbs. I have a feeling that will make for another hilarious adventure!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Syringa Tree

Pamela Gien's The Syringa Tree was the title I chose for the Library's book discussion this month. This is a heart-wrenching novel about life in South Africa under apartheid. Six-year old Lizzy Grace lives with her parents and the family's servants in Johannesburg. Lizzy's Black nanny, Salamina, is pregnant and secretly gives birth to her baby, Moliseng, in the Grace's house. Under apartheid laws, it was illegal for Black children to live outside of the ghetto, so Moliseng is kept hidden inside the Grace's home. A horrible tragedy causes Salamina to leave the Grace home and Lizzy is distraught at the loss of her nanny. Years later, another horrible tragedy occurs that causes Lizzy to leave South Africa. Salamina and Lizzy are eventually reunited and are able to come to terms with the events in their pasts.

Most of the people in the discussion group seemed to like this novel better than I did. The majority of the novel is told by the six-year-old Lizzy. Then we have brief glimpses of Lizzy's life when she is in college and again when she is married with her own child. But I felt their were huge gaps, and I thought it would have been more interesting to follow Salamina and Moliseng's lives. But the novel does have wonderful descriptions of South Africa, and the story made for a great discussion.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

All the Latest...

For a few months speculations have been made about the topic of an upcoming memoir to be published by Simon and Schuster this summer. It turns out that Christopher Ciccone, brother of Madonna, will be publishing his memoir of his sister. Due out in July.

The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards were recently announced. The winner is DeNiro's Game by Rawi Hage. The award, which is managed by the Dublin City Public Library, is given to a work with high literary merit and nominations are made by libraries around the world.

Denis Johnson, winner of the 2007 National Book Award for his novel Tree of Smoke, will be publishing his next novel called Nobody Move in four installments in Playboy magazine. The installments will begin in the July issue and run through the October issue.

Oprah recently gave the commencement address to the graduates of Yale University. Because Oprah loves to give out free stuff, all the graduates were given copies of her latest pick, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth and another of her favorites: A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. I bet those graduates were thinking "what about the free car?"

Debbie Macomber, best-selling fiction author, has signed a deal to write 2 nonfiction inspirational titles. The first will be called Fishes and Loaves: Living in a Spirit of Generosity.

Stephen King and his son Joe Hill will publish their first collaboration, a novella titled Throttle, due out in early 2009. Movie rights have been optioned.

A great vacation for the die-hard Austen fan.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Good Eats

Confession: I am a sucker for cookbooks. I love paging through recipes, looking at the pictures of perfectly created dishes (Cookbooks without pictures? Not interested.). I also love books about food and cooking (see posts about my love for Anthony Bourdain). Over the years, I have amassed a fairly large collection of recipes and cookbooks. In my fantasies I am able to create beautiful, elaborate meals (with very little mess) that amaze my family and cause them to proclaim me the best cook in the world. True, the likelihood of that happening is zero and most of the recipes in my collection have never been attempted, but that doesn't mean I'm not always on the lookout for the next cookbook to add to my collection. A girl can dream, can't she? The James Beard Foundation Awards (considered the Oscars of the food world) were recently announced and are a great resource for reading suggestions. The winners are:

Cookbook of the Year: The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Cookbook Hall of Fame: Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert

Asian Cooking: My Bombay Kitchen: Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking by Niloufer Ichaporia King

Baking and Dessert: Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor by Peter Reinhart

Cooking from a Professional Point of View: The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine by The French Culinary Institute with Judith Choate

Entertaining: Dish Entertains by Trish Magwood

Americana: A Love Affair with Southern Cooking by Jean Anderson

General: Cooking by James Peterson

Healthy Focus: The EatingWell Diet by Jean Harvey-Berino with Joyce Hendley and the Editors of EatingWell

International: The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan

Reference: A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur's Guide to Oyster Eating in North America by Rowan Jacobsen

Single Subject: The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Wine and Spirits: Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar by David Wondrich

Writing on Food: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

Photography: The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan; Photographer: France Ruffenach

Monday, June 16, 2008

Harry Potter Prequel

I love the Internet. For a few weeks I have been hearing about this 800-word handwritten story by J.K. Rowling which sold at a charity auction for almost $50,000. The story is about James Potter and Sirius Black, and at the end, Rowling writes "From the prequel I am not working on-but that was fun!" I was disappointed that the rest of us wouldn't have the opportunity to read it, but in the age of the Internet, everything eventually ends up online. You can read the story at MuggleNet. A link is provided that shows an actual picture of the handwritten story, but I had trouble accessing it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Paddington Gets a Passport

The 50th anniversary of the beloved childrens' story of Paddington Bear is approaching. In honor of the upcoming anniversary, the author, Michael Bond, has written a new adventure for Paddington called Paddington, Here and Now. I had heard several months ago that Paddington would have a run-in with immigration in this adventure. If you recall, Paddington was a stowaway on a ship from Peru. Sure enough, Paddington will be interviewed by police about his lack of travel documents. Fortunately, the Peruvian embassy in London actually issued Paddington a passport, so he will not have to worry about future problems with the authorities.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Love Letters

For those of you that have seen the movie Sex and the City, you'll recall that early in the movie, Carrie reads love letters to Big from a book she checked out from the New York Public Library. It turns out that the book, Love Letters From Great Men, does not exist. has reported hundreds of inquiries about the book, but the closest title would be Love Letters From Great Men and Women From the 18th Century to Present Day, edited by C.H. Charles, originally published in 1924 and reprinted in paperback last year. When I looked the title up on Amazon, it shows that people who bought this item bought it with the Sex and the City soundtrack. Unfortunately we don't have Love Letters From Great Men and Women, but we do have The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time. Not only does this book have that great old library book smell that Carrie professes to love, but it also contains the letter from Ludwig van Beethoven that Big quotes to Carrie:

"ever yours

ever mine

ever ours"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pretty Birds

Scott Simon's captivating novel, Pretty Birds, depicts a period in history I knew very little about: the Serbian siege of Sarajevo. In 1992, Bosnian Serbs began their campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the Muslims. Irena, a 17-year-old half-Muslim, and her family are forced to flee their home on the Serb side of Sarajevo. They seek refuge at Irena's grandmother's apartment on the other side of the river. They survive with no electricity and very little food and water, while constantly crouching below the windows to avoid sniper fire. Irena eventually takes a job in a brewery with "duties as assigned," and ends up working as a sniper for a group of Muslim resistors. Although the story is quite grim, Simon has captured the bleak streets of Sarajevo and the feelings of uncertainty and fear as the characters venture out of their homes, hoping to avoid sniper fire. Although I didn't feel strongly about Irena, the story was strong enough to keep me involved. I have a feeling that I am not alone in my ignorance of this period in history, and while I wouldn't say that Pretty Birds is one of my favorite reads, I do feel like I have an idea of what life was like during this time.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

And the Winners Are...

The winner of the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction is Rose Tremain, for her novel The Road Home. The Orange Broadband prize is one of the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary prizes, awarded annually for the best original full-length novel by a female author of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK in the preceding year. The winner of the prize receives £30,000.

Each year the Audio Publisher's Association presents the Audie Awards for best audiobooks of the year. The 2008 awards were recently announced. Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas won for best fiction. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson won for best literary fiction. Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke won for best mystery. Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips won for best romance. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill won for best thriller. Garrison Keillor's Pontoon won for best narration by an author. Walter Isaacson's Einstein won best biography. Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!) won the humor award.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Summertime Summertime Sum-Sum Summertime

I think I am finally safe in saying that winter is officially over. We finally have consistent warm weather and it looks like it's here to stay. Yay!!! And so begin the glorious days of lounging in the sunshine while reading a great book. Back in January, I made some reading resolutions. One of those resolutions was to read a challenging book-something I've been meaning to get around to. And what better time to do it than summer! Now, what to read? I was thinking Pillars of the Earth, or maybe something by Rushdie, Dickens or Thackery. A few summers ago Oprah chose Anna Karenina for her book club and I trudged through it and absolutely hated it! I do not want a repeat of that. Any suggestions on what I should tackle?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Author Visits!!

Marlena De Blasi will be visiting the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka on June 3 at 7:30pm to sign her latest book, That Summer in Sicily: A Love Story. Marlena De Blasi is the author of the bestselling A Thousand Days in Venice, and A Thousand Days in Tuscany.

John Connolly will be at Borders in Oak Brook on June 3 at 7:30pm to read from his latest novel The Reapers.

Robert Olmstead will be at the Book Stall in Winnetka on June 4 at 7:00pm to sign Coal Black Horse, his critically acclaimed novel about a 14-year-old boy sent out by his mother to find his father on Civil War battlefield.

Ed Park will be at the Book Cellar in Chicago on June 5 at 7:00pm to sign Personal Days.

Joseph Arpaia will be at Borders in Deerfield on June 6 at 7:30pm to read from Real Meditation in Minutes a Day: Enhancing Your Performance, Relationships, Spirituality, and Health.

My friends at the Warren Newport Public Library will be having two exciting author events this month. Jonathan Santlofer will be visiting on June 7th at 2pm to sign his newest book, The Murder Notebook. Lee Child will be visiting on June 11th at 1pm to discuss his latest book, Nothing to Loose.

Katie Hickman will be at the Book Stall in Winnetka on June 9 at 12:00pm to sign her novel The Aviary Gate, about a researcher who discovers a story locked away for four centuries of a British sea captain’s daughter held captive in a sultan’s harem.

David Sedaris will be at Borders in Evanston on June 11 at 7:00pm to promote his latest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Alan Furst will be at the Book Stall in Winnetka on June 11 at 7:00pm to sign his novel The Spies of Warsaw, an intrigue set in pre-World War II Warsaw and featuring French, Polish, and German intelligence officers.

Rebecca Stott will be at the Book Stall in Winnetka on June 16 at 7:00pm to sign Ghostwalk, a novel centered on a real historical mystery filled with evocative descriptions of Cambridge, past and present, of 17-century glass making, alchemy, the Great Plague, and Isaac Newton’s scientific theories.

Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America's Soul, will be discussing and signing her book at 57th Street Books in Chicago on June 18th at 6pm and at the Book Cellar on June 19th at 7pm.

Robert Kurson reads from Crashing Through: A Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared To See at the Book Cellar on June 25 at 7:00pm.

Booker Prize winner and international bestselling author Salman Rushdie will read from and discuss his new work, The Enchantress of Florence on Thursday, July 10th at 6pm at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago. This reading is free of charge and open to the public. Mr. Rushdie will personalize the new book and sign copies of his backlist (please, no more than 2 books per person).