Friday, January 30, 2009

Author Visits!

Check out a few of the great authors coming to the Chicagoland area during February:

On February 5th at 7pm at the Warren Newport Public Library in Gurnee, Steve Berry will sign his latest thriller The Charlamagne Pursuit. Berry has had several bestsellers, including The Templar Legacy and The Alexandria Link.

On February 7th at 2pm at the Anderson's Books in Naperville, Susan Elizabeth Phillips will sign her latest romance novel What I Did For Love.

On February 12th at 11:30, the Lake Forest Bookstore will be hosting an English Tea with bestselling author Alison Weir. Weir is well-known for her biographies of the Tudor dynasty, and has recently begun writing historical fiction. Contact the bookstore for pricing and reservations.

On February 17th at noon, the Book Stall will be hosting a lunch in Winnetka with Stephanie Kallos, who will speak about her new novel, Sing Them Home. Contact the Book Stall for pricing and reservations.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike, 1932 - 2009

The prolific writer John Updike died yesterday at the age of 76. Updike is best known for his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit At Rest, and Rabbit Remembered) which chronicled the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. Updike won the Pulitzer Prize for Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest. His most recent novel, The Widows of Eastwick, was published in 2008 and is the sequel to The Witches of Eastwick. Updike published more than twenty-five novels and more than a dozen short story collections, as well as poetry, art criticism, literary criticism, non-fiction, essays and children's books.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Interpretation of Murder

In 1909 Dr. Sigmund Freud made his only visit to the United States. Jed Rubenfeld's novel The Interpretation of Murder supposes that the events that occurred during Dr. Freud's visit explain why he never returned. Just before Freud's arrival in New York, a young socialite is found murdered. Shortly after, an attempt is made on another young socialite, but she is able to escape. The trauma of the attack, however, has caused the young woman to have amnesia. Dr. Stratham Younger, one of Freud's followers, is asked to analyze the young woman in hopes that it will help her regain her memory. This sounds like an interesting plot, but unfortunately Rubenfeld clutters the story with too much focus on Freud's sexual theories, thoughts on the meaning of Hamlet, a side plot involving Carl Jung, and a convoluted resolution. The result is a disjointed story that unfortunately was a disappointment.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sarah's Key

We've had a rush on Tatiana de Rosnay's novel Sarah's Key lately. It was originally released in 2007, but the recent paperback release in late 2008 must have sparked more interest because we can't keep it on the shelf. I've had this on my to-read list for a while, but since so many of our patrons seem to be reading it (and liking it), I decided to move it to the top of my list. Most of the feedback that I've heard is that this is a novel you can't put down, and I would agree. I was up well past my bedtime because I was so engrossed. The novel alternates between the present and 1942. In Paris in 1942, thousands of Jewish families were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Sarah's family was one of them. When the police came for Sarah's family in the middle of the night, Sarah hid her little brother in a secret cupboard, thinking she would return shortly. But when she realizes that they will not be returning home soon, she is distraught over her brother. Julia, a journalist, is writing an article commemorating the 16th anniversary of the 1942 roundup. Through her research, she finds that her family has a connection to Sarah, and she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Sarah and her brother. This is a great story with short, alternating chapters that keep the plot moving swiftly. The resolution was not what I was expecting, which was refreshing and kept the novel from becoming trite. A great read for fans of historical fiction or those just looking for a good story.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

All the latest...

Verizon Wireless will support rivals of Amazon's popular electronic reader, the Kindle, allowing users to download material such as books and newspapers wirelessly from its network. Although Verizon declined to name the company's e-reader partners, they say that competitors are out there and are expected to be on the market in 2009.

The Chicago Underground Library has opened a permanent location at 2129 N. Rockwell St. in the Congress Theater building. The Library's collection focuses on material produced by small presses or independent publishers in the Chicago area. The collection includes zines, comics, perfect-bound novels, chapbooks, newsletters, art books, magazines and pamphlets. The Library is open on Saturdays from 1-5pm.

The Seattle Public Library offers some suggestions for reading resolutions that I think I'm going to incorporate into my own. Some of their resolutions include:
  • Reread a book I loved as a child.

  • Read a classic from high school that I've been avoiding.

  • Read a book of poetry.

  • Read a book written in the year I was born.

  • Read a play.

  • Read a book written by a non-American.

Library Journal has some suggestions for the year's best teen books for adults:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Vol. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Bog Child by Shiobhan Dowd

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And the winner is...

Borders announced the winners of the 2008 Original Voices award. Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo won the fiction award. Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss won the nonfiction award.

The 2008 Costa Book Awards were also announced. Sadie Jones's The Outcast won the first novel award. Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture won the novel award. Diana Athill's Somewhere Towards the End won the biography award. Adam Foulds's The Broken Word won the poetry award.

The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction announced its 2009 nominees: Elizabeth Abbott's Sugar: A Bittersweet History, Tim Cook's Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1917 – 1918, Volume Two, and Ana Siljak's Angel of Vengeance: The "Girl Assassin," the Governor of St. Petersburg and Russia's Revolutionary World.

The Mystery Writers of America announced the nominees for the 2009 Edgar Awards. The nominees for best novel are: Missing by Karin Alvtegen, Blue Heaven by C.J. Box, Sins of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno, The Price of Blood by Declan Hughes, The Night Following by Morag Joss, and Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz. You can view the rest of the nominees here.

The nominees for the Dilys Award, given by the Independent Mystery Bookseller's Association, are: Trigger City by Sean Chercover, The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler, Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, and The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow.

And just to be different, Citizen Reader has announced her picks for the Worst Books of 2008. Included on her list are Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded and Oprah's latest pick, David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

Monday, January 19, 2009


All the reading I was doing about rats last month got me thinking about garbage. If garbage attracts rats, and rats are a problem, how big of a problem is garbage? I've never thought about it before. The garbage truck comes to my house every week and picks up my trash. I have no idea where it goes, and frankly, I never gave it much thought. So I thought it might be interesting to find out how much trash we produce and what exactly happens to it. It turns out that there are quite a few books on garbage. Elizabeth Royte's Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash and Heather Rogers's Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage provide a fascinating, yet scary, account of the history of garbage, the paths our garbage takes, and the issues we face today. These books are chock full of "did-you-knows" that you can use at parties. For example, did you know:
  • The average American throws away 4.5 pounds of garbage per person, per day.

  • 88% of U.S. products are used once and thrown out.

  • 67% of America's household waste stream could be composted.

  • The liners that are required for new landfills are only good for about fifty years. And the EPA requires landfill owners to monitor a landfill for only 30 years after its closure.

  • Dumps from the Roman Empire are still leaching today.

  • The garbage industry in New York was controlled by the Mafia for many years.

While both books share much of the same information, Royte's book is a more personal look at garbage. She spends the year analyzing her own trash, following garbage men (and women), and visiting landfills and recycling centers and she infuses much of the book with personal antidotes. Rogers's book sticks to the facts and does a better job of clearly detailing the history of trash and the current issues. Although both books provide more information than most people will ever want to know about garbage, they are interesting and eye-opening. I can't wait to get started composting.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Invisible Women

Qanta Ahmed's memoir In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom is a fascinating account of life in Riyadh for a working woman. Ahmed is an Englishwoman and a doctor, who had been living and working in the United States. When her visa expired and was not renewed, she decided to take a job working in a hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Although raised in a Muslim family, Ahmed's family was not strictly devout and because they lived in England, Ahmed had never experienced living under Islamic law. When she gets to Riyadh, the male escort that is required to get her through customs is the first of many injustices she faces as a woman in this country. One of her first tasks is to buy an abayah, which covers the whole body except for the face, feet and hands. She is required to wear this any time she is in public, including while she is working. Female patients also remain covered while in the hospital. Ahmed, used to giving her opinion, was met with hostility from her male colleagues if her opinion differed from theirs. Aside from the working conditions, Ahmed describes her experiences of everyday life in Saudi Arabia, such as taking a trip to the shopping mall and attending parties (with only women). Although most of us are probably familiar with Saudi Arabia's treatment of women by now, it is still, nevertheless, a subject that continues to astonish me. Definitely worth a read.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Start your Tivos!

PBS's Masterpiece Theater will be showing some BBC adaptations of great classic novels over the upcoming months.

Last Sunday, January 4th was Part 1 of Tess of D'Urbervilles. Part 2 will air this Sunday, January 11th. Don't worry, if you missed Part 1 you can watch it online.

January 18th and 25th will be Parts 1 and 2 of Wuthering Heights (a new adaptation!).

February 1st and 8th will be a rerun of Sense and Sensibility.

February 15th and 22nd will be Parts 1 and 2 of Oliver Twist.

March 15th and 22nd will be Parts 1 and 2 of David Copperfield.

March 29th and April 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th will be Parts 1 through 5 of Little Dorrit.

May 3rd will be The Old Curiosity Shop.

Sigh...How I love the BBC.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

Since I'm doing the read-athon this year and raising money for Room to Read, I decided that I would start out the year by reading John Wood's (the founder of Room to Read) book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children. All I can say is: Wow. What an inspiring book to start off the new year! John Wood was an executive with Microsoft, and in my opinion, on the fast track to burn out. While on a trek through Nepal he was invited to visit a local village school. Aside from the fact that the school was too small to accomodate all the children, there was a stunning lack of books in its library. Just a few book were all the library had, including a worn out copy of a Danielle Steel novel and a Lonely Planet travel guide. Not really appropriate for school children. John made a promise that he would return with books for the school and that promise turned into a life-changing event. John ended up leaving Microsoft to focus his efforts full-time on raising funds for schools and libraries throughout the developing world. What I really enjoyed about the book was John's description of what it is like to actually start a charity like this. I had no idea how difficult it is to get one up and running and maintain it. It gives you a whole new respect for people that do this. This is one of those books, like Mountains Beyond Mountains or Three Cups of Tea, that will just amaze, inspire and humble you. If you haven't read these three books, stop what you are doing and go get them right now.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Jewel of Medina

I finally got the chance to read Sherry Jones's controversial novel The Jewel of Medina, the fictional account of Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. I've mentioned the controversy before, but Wikipedia has a good summary of the events surrounding the book's publication. The reviews of the book have been pretty scathing. Aside from the complaints of its historical inaccuracy, it has been called soft-core pornography, a "second-rate bodice ripper" and a version of chick lit. The reviewer from the New York Times referred to Jones as inexperienced and untalented, and the prose as lamentable. Ayaan Hirsi Ali (author of Infidel and co-creator of the documentary of Muslim women that resulted in the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh) says that the novel is too easy on Muhammad and doesn't inspire young Muslim women to imagine that there is a reality beyond subjugation.

My impressions? This is simply another mediocre historical fiction novel. As far as accuracy, I know nothing about Aisha or Muhammad or about that time period, so I have no way of judging. But that's why it's historical FICTION. I'm guessing that the number of historical fiction novels that are completely accurate is quite small. If you don't like that, then get a biography of Aisha. Accuracy is a plus in historical fiction, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. I think the novel is successful when it inspires you to get the facts; read a biography. Was that the case here? Eh. Not so much. As for the novel being a bodice-ripper and soft-core pornography, I'd say that's a bit of an exaggeration. There are some low-key sex scenes, but nothing close to a bodice-ripper. It barely made me blush. As for the lamentable prose, that is, unfortunately, right on. She refers to sex as the "sting of the scorpion's tail" and an embrace with her father as "a coffee-and-cardamom embrace." Ugh. It was a little off-putting. The description of life in Medina, the language, customs, etc. was so-so. But Aisha is an interesting character and the story was engaging and entertaining. Bottom line: entertaining but not exceptional.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Books to look forward to...Or not.

Lynne Cheney will write a biography of James Madison. The book will be published by Viking in 2011.

Veterinarian Nick Trout, author of Tell Me Where It Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon, has signed a deal to write two more books, due out in 2010 and 2011.

Augusten Burroughs's (of Running With Scissors fame) mother has decided to get in on the action with a memoir telling her side of the story. A Place To Come Home To will be based on her diaries and will recount her abusive marriage and her descent into psychosis.

Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, has just published her second book Things I've Been Silent About, a memoir of her childhood in Iran.

Ben Mezrich, author of Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, which was made into the popular movie 21 starring Kevin Spacey, will be publishing his next book in the fall of 2009. The book will be about the Harvard students who founded Facebook and Harvard's Final Clubs (I had no idea what Final Clubs were, so here's a nice little Wikipedia description). Kevin Spacey's production company will be adapting the book for film.

David Wroblewski, author of Oprah pick The Story of Edgar Sawtelle has a deal to write the prequel to Edgar Sawtelle, which will detail the history of the Sawtelle family and the history of the fictional breed of dog featured in the book. The prequel will be the second in a planned trilogy.

Laura Bush's memoir will be published by Scribner and is due out in 2010.

James Patterson apparently decided that dominating the fiction bestseller lists was not enough and recently added a nonfiction book to his corpus with Against Medical Advice. He will be publishing another nonfiction book in November titled The Murder of King Tut.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Why we suck

I've never had much interest in Denis Leary. He has always seemed loud and obnoxious, so I never paid him much attention. But I saw him on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart recently, promoting his new book Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid, and it sounded like it might be good for a few laughs. The book is quite funny. Leary takes his turn at poking fun of everything that is wrong with our society, including celebrities, reality TV, Dr. Phil, the Catholic Church, children, and the way parents are raising kids today. He warns in the preface that this book will offend everyone in some way. And he's right. Even I felt my hackles rising when he writes that women should be at home with the kids instead of focused on a career. But I also agree with much of what he says-he just says it in a much funnier manner than I ever could. My favorite chapters included Your Kids Are Not Cute, Self-Esteem This and Grande Vente Mocha Oprah Chai. It's definitely a funny read, but like he says, if you don't have a sense of humor and you can't laugh at yourself, then you are not going to like this book.