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Posts Tagged ‘bookshelf’

On my bookshelf – 4

Or more accurately, ‘On my bookshelf two weeks ago’. The giant Habibi has long been returned, as have The Ayatollah Begs to DifferSharp Objects and the two Jo Nesbo’s that I borrowed – The Snowman (not in the picture) and The Leopard. I loved and devoured Nesbo’s Headhunters, which also happened to be my first Nesbo, wisely recommended by a Nesbo fan as a great first book. Which it was, but it also set my (high, in any case) expectations for his other works, in my case, all part of the Harry Hole series. I liked The Redbreast, but found The Snowman a tad predictable, and The Leopard, wildly unpredictable, though a bit tedious and too long for my taste.

Also not in the picture are some young-adult diary fiction – Cabin Fever (Book 6) and The Ugly Truth (Book 5) from the Wimpy Kid series, and my first foray into the Dork Diaries series – Tales From a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Book 1).

After ignoring literary fiction for months (if not years), I’m finally reading some – The Marriage Plot (currently reading) and the mysteriously titled IQ84. For my non-fiction dose, I have The Status Syndrome (currently reading) and Columbine. This year, my reading has featured a lot more fiction than before.

The investment book, though technically on my shelf is more for the husband. Although I might just give it a try.

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My Goodreads Challenge widget informs me that I have completed 39 out of the 60 book target that I set for myself this year. We’ve just stepped into the second half of this year (already!) and I am about 9 books ahead of schedule, which is heartening. But beyond the numbers, 2012 has been happy reading so far. I’ve ventured into series and authors that I haven’t explored before, relying more than ever on the community of readers to help me select, more often than not, very good reads.

This past June was a month of mostly food memoirs and mysteries. Come summer, reading lists sprout everywhere, telling you how you ought to spend your time at the beach or at the porch. I don’t prefer to read at the beach or the porch and I don’t believe in seasonal reading lists. My reading does not peak in summer, does yours?

Last summer, NPR recommended Blood, Bones, & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, memoir of East Village’s Prune restaurant owner and chef Gabrielle Hamilton. Prune, apparently has a cult following, a bit like, but very different from Shopsin’s, the diner which enjoys a particular type of cultivated reputation. Hamilton’s writing style is also quite unlike Kenny Shopsin’s (whose Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin I read earlier). Although, in hindsight, they both do share a proclivity to employ, what are usually considered, un-pretty words. Hamilton, whose bohemian childhood and exotic French mother, sounds like she would fit right into The Glass Castle, starts out in the food industry cleaning and waitressing, and graduates to corporate catering. Making 600 identical devilled eggs is not necessarily adequate training to become the chef (and the owner) of a restaurant, but this is what Hamilton does when she has some kind of an epiphany while inspecting a dump of a deserted restaurant. While food does feature prominently in her memoir, Hamilton herself and her singularly unconventional life choices attract a good amount of spotlight. Her writing, I must say, is mostly impeccable.

I also read Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table, which was pleasant and engaging. The tag Food Memoir can include a wide variety of works, that share one theme, food, whatever their other themes may be. In Reichl’s case, Tender at the Bone is a bittersweet coming-of-age story of a girl who understood her love for food very early in life.

Earlier this year, NPR also Maureen Corrigan at NPR recommended some works of mystery. Among them were Charles Todd’s The Confession and Anne Perry’s Dorchester TerraceBoth are period mysteries, The Confession is set in early 20th century, and Dorchester Terrace in the late 19th century. While the blurbs of both of these books are enticing enough, I can’t say they lived up to all the high praise.  The authors of both books are more interesting. Charles Todd is actually the pen name employed by an American mother and son writing team. The Confession, a squeaky clean novel, doesn’t dwell as much on period descriptions, as does Dorchester Terrace. 

A few months ago, after watching Kate Winslet’s masterful performances in Revolutionary Road and The Reader, I set about watching some of her earlier, less popular roles. Winslet, it turns out, made her screen debut in a 1994 New Zealand movie, Heavenly Creatures, which is based on the real-life relationship of two troubled teenage girls in the 1950s, who together bludgeoned one of their mothers to death. After a term in prison, one of them took the name Anne Perry and took to writing historical detective fiction. Unfortunately, and not for any reason related to Perry’s past, it does not look likely that I will be reading more of her works. The slow, armchair type mystery of Dorchester Terrace held little appeal for me. But Perry does seem to have chosen her genre well – it really did feel like it was written in the late 1800s.

After being very impressed with Wenguang Huang’s The Little Red Guard, I looked for more books that would talk about Communist China, especially the Mao era. This June, I read Li Cunxin’s Mao’s Last Dancer. I was a little confused about the book – it read like good fiction and on the front cover it says ‘Based on a true story’. Heck, I thought it was a true story. It certainly was a good story – poor peasant family, son selected to study ballet, childhood indoctrination, becomes very proficient, learns about the West, feels betrayed by ‘glorious communism’, defects, and becomes quite the superstar. I also enjoyed reading about ballet, having had no idea that it was studied seriously in an Asian country (Russian influence, of course). An inspiring story, I hope it qualifies as non-fiction.

The books I read last most definitely qualifies as fiction. Solid, well-crafted police procedural with a surprising theme. In Right as Rain, author George Pelecanos introduces detective Derek Strange. Middle-aged, tough, and black. I haven’t experienced much diversity in detective fiction. There are some women alright, but mostly detecting is the turf of men, white men apparently (at least on my bookshelf). Strange is my first black detective, and this brilliant book delves into being black, and into racism. And then, surprisingly on NPR again, I found Pelecanos talking about crime and race in the DC area, where his works are set.

I’m not really interested in writing books about racists. I’m much more interested in people who don’t think that they have any kind of those bad feelings inside of them, they deny it.

A black cop is killed by a white cop, in what appears to be an accident. Strange uncovers what really happened, as he navigates  racial tensions, personal relationships, and the streets of DC. I’m going back for more Pelecanos.

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On my bookshelf – 3

Actually, I still have two books from last time’s pile that I haven’t got to yet, but when has that stopped me from filling up my shelves again?

This visit to the library yielded a rather fiction-heavy collection, relatively speaking, of course. My last few books have taken me, each, the better part of a week to finish. So, I decided to lighten things up and indulge in some Wimpy Kid, which delivered the easy reading the series promises (less than two hours!) and I believe I did laugh out very loud a few times. Also not in the picture above, is The Shanghai Moon (no relation to the Jackie Chan starrer that pops up every time I google the book), my first Lydia Chin/Bill Smith book. Entirely satisfactory.

I am currently nearing the end of The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, which is Kevin Roose’s account of the semester he spent at Liberty University, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s baby, and the largest fundamentalist Christian university in the United States. Roose, whose background is definitely liberal (he transfers to Liberty from Brown), intends this experience as an exercise in participative journalism, necessitating a fair amount of deception. Also, Roose’s timing is uncanny – he records an interview with Falwell just before he (Falwell) suddenly dies.  Thus far, it has been highly entertaining reading, and I am endlessly amazed that this book is actually the work of a nineteen-year old.

Dealing with the same theme as Coming of Age in Mississippi, is Maya Angelou’s highly acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, that I am looking forward to. I also have two Ruth Rendells on my shelf – A Judgment in Stone (which I had to place a hold on)  and In Sickness and Health (which I randomly picked off the shelf at the library). The last mystery on the pile is Maisie Dobbs, my first Jacqueline Winspear, which along with The Shanghai Moon were recommended by Oprah’s Book Club.

Onto books that are certain to take me longer – Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chefthe memoir of New York based chef, Gabrielle Hamilton. With weightier subject matters are, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade, which I am sure was recommended in The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (which I read last year and loved), and Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (with a sufficiently self-explanatory title).

An exciting pile, as always.

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On my bookshelf: February 2012

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