Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kissing Frogs Before Finding the Prince!

That old saying, which I never really followed (why not just wait for the prince?) can certainly be applied to books! I've found that I often have to struggle throught five or six before I even find one worth writing about. Then I miss writing and feel like I need to show up here anyway to let you know what's happening.

First up, I reviewed a gothic romance (so not me, but a lot of fun) called The Seance for Library Journal and am currently suffering through a compilation of short stories that are so tedious I want to cry. More on those after publication of the reviews.

I just finished Maryellen's recommendation Finding Nouf, a first novel by an American woman, Zoe Ferraris, who lived in the Middle East and whose experiences there may have informed this novel. Though just a basic murder mystery, and a pretty far-fetched one at that, what holds the reader's interest here is the plight of the female medical examiner, a professional and a feminist, working in a male - only world where even eye contact between her and her boss is forbidden. Imagine trying to work in such a delicate field, ensconced in a burqua, wary of every interaction with a male client and still trying to maintain credibility as a scientist?

Katya Hijazi is a delightful heroine. Investigating the death of her fiance's sister, she enlists the aid of the wealthy family's friend Nayir, a shyly conservative Muslim. As the two grow closer to the perpetrator of the crime they also disguise burgeoning feelings for each other. It's a pleasure to watch the delicate dance between Katya and Nayir as they slowly break with Saudi traditions in an attempt to be true to their own humanity.

I haven't had to drive that far lately and apologize to Andrea for keeping her cd book overdue. Luckily we staff members can't be sent to the collection agency! At least, I haven't pushed it yet. By now everyone in the world must know that Curtis Sittenfeld's new book American Wife is supposed to be a "fictionalized" version of the life of Laura Bush. Don sent me the link to an interview with Sittenfeld on the Terry Gross show http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95670394

Gross implies in her interview that Sittenfeld might have gone too far by depicting our fictionalized Laura, named Alice Lindgren in the novel, as having had an abortion. Sittenfeld protests that, after all, this is a work of FICTION. Well, Curtis, you can't have it both ways. I think it's a tad disingenuous to encourage publicity and talk about your book by saying it's about LB and then, when someone takes you up short and says, hey, that's not fair to imply that LB had an abortion, turn around and say, "but it's FICTION."

Personally, if I had ignored all the advertising, I probably never would have made the Alice/Laura connection (though I'm only halfway through the book). Now that I know the connection I can't enjoy Alice's growing love affair with the fictional George, Charlie Blackwell. Everytime they make love I get an awful visual that just won't go away!! Yuk, can you can imagine?

The writing, though, is quite wonderful and the coming of age time frame is my time frame as well, so I "get" Alice and enjoy watching her growth as an independent person, even under the tough pressure from Charlie and the rest of his high-powered family. I'll stick with it til the boys from Baltimore threaten to come break Andrea's knees in which case I'll have to give it up to the next cutomer on the wait list.

I've got to go begin my apple pie now before the day gets away from me. Have a wonderful holiday everyone. We have SO much to be thankful for, don't we?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Little Gem

OK, the election is over and I'm back to books full time. Last week I finished a novel that is so light, sweet and entertaining that those who of you who are more than familiar with my reading habits will be shocked. If you're looking for a break from noir and blood-pressure-raising political books take a gander at Beginner's Greek, a debut novel by journalist James Collins. He's such a romantic!

The premise is that two "single, but looking" professional adults happen to be seated next to each other on a cross-country flight. Peter and Holly form an immediate connection, bonding over Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, so Holly rips out a page of her book, scrawls her Dad's phone number on it (where she'll be staying for the week) and hands it to Peter as they rush away to separate cabs. Naturally, Peter loses the paper.

Three years later, in a less than satisfactory relationship but commited to a marriage of convenience, Peter meets Holly again in New York and voila, she's married to his best friend Jonathan. How he obsesses. He's so focused on Holly and Jonathan that he doesn't even realize that his betrothed, Charlotte, is actually in love with someone else as well! It's all very Shakespearean and a great comedy of manners ensues.

Though I said the book is "light" I should perhaps say that it has a light touch. It's actually very deep in its perceptive examination of human nature, communication, love vs. friendship, office politics, fate, timing, you name it. If Collins seems to exaggerate a bit to make a point it's done in such a clever, roundabout way that you can't help but have a smile on your face all through your reading. This is a truly enjoyable book. I was ready for it, especially after slogging through half of Joyce Carol Oates' The Gravedigger's Daughter. Oy vay! I gave it way longer than Nancy Pearl would have - at least 20 miles worth of walking and listening before I caved in. I only kept on because I had met Oates at a conference last year and owned an autographed copy of the book which I can now, in good conscience, donate to the Friends as I probably won't be going back to take another look. Unless I decide that Oates should be read rather than listened to. Now that I think of it, the reader's voice (Bernadette Dunne) also drove me crazy in Choi's A Person of Interest.

Normally, I enjoy stories of the immigrant experience. Amy Bloom's Away was an exceptional book. I also reviewed Rose Tremain's The Road Home for LJ and found it wonderfully appealing and uplifting. Oates wrote this book, though fiction, about her grandmother Blanche Morgenstern, so I'd hate to believe that Oates' family was as unsympathetic and downright unsavory as the fictional Schwarts who fled 1930's Germany for upstate New York.

Language and cultural barriers assault the Schwart family. Resentment simmers unabated in Jacob Schwart's heart, this man who was respected and educated in Germany but who now digs graves for a pittance and lives and raises his family in an old stone carriage house on the grounds of the cemetary. His wife Anna fears everything in this new world and gradually succumbs to a form of agoraphobia. One by one, Rebecca's brothers leave for greener pastures and Rebecca's bright, inquisitive mind languishes under her mother's fear of education and her father's bitterness.

I know it isn't fair to write this without reading the entire 582 pages so perhaps one of you will do it for me and let me hear from you about how wonderful Rebecca's life turns out. You know it's pretty bad when things begin getting better after she becomes orphaned!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Breathing Easier - Thoughts on the Election

I rather doubt my ability to express the joy, the sense of peacefulness and safety, the pride that I have in being an American right now at this transformative moment in time. All the words have already been used by pundits around the world but one gal, interviewed in Grant Park the other night, said she felt as if "the weight of the world had been lifted off her shoulders." That about says it. Poor Barack. Talk about high expectations!

My friend Maria says that she walks around with her head held higher. I swear that when Don and I went for our walk yesterday, people were friendlier to us. It might be my imagination but, somehow, I think not. I watch our customers come into the library and imagine how proud half of them feel. A couple from England asked me if I could get them some Obama memorabilia for their daughter in London. Phone calls and emails have been coming in from friends and realtives from Washington state, to Arizona to Ohio and Massachusetts. At 11pm Tuesday evening Don poured 2 flutes of champagne. My sister called from Massachusetts crying. He poured a third glass and we toasted long distance.

I think the most poignant moment might have been on Sunday. We were in Ft. Lauderdale where my stepmother Edith was breathing her final breaths under the loving watch of her 2 daughters and the Hospice nurse. We took turns reading over the obituary for final changes and decided to add that Edith, a life-long, ardent Democrat, though initially a Hillary supporter, had cast her final absentee ballot for Barack Obama a few days before slipping out of consciousness.

In terms of race relations in our country, I'm sure it goes without saying that this is probably one of the most significant events of my lifetime. NBC did a particularly excellent job of reminding us that it wasn't so long ago that dogs and fire hoses were set upon black citizens who tried to vote in the South. Can it really be that that was actually in the '60's? I read that a relative of Emmett Till's was in the audience in Grant Park. Can you even imagine what was going through her mind? I doubt it.
That said, I'll be so overjoyed when we can look at Barack Obama and see him, not as an African American man, but simply as an American man, who ran for and won the presidential election in 2008.

More about books next post. I've got lots to talk about.