Sunday, September 27, 2009

Traveling Bibliophiles?

One would assume that if you're reading this blog then you too are a bibliophile of the highest order. What do we do when we travel fellow book lovers? We go to bookstores. We go to libraries. Funny how we can leave the work of librarianship behind but we can never leave the librarian behind. I've never been to a city, no matter who I travel with, that we don't always want to check out the public library and a bookstore or two. What a kick I got when I reverently entered the National Library of Athens, taking in the odors of musty books and ancient walls only to see students and researches using our old familiar Dynix catalog system. How we miss it.

I mentioned our wonderful experience at Eleftheroudakis with the bookseller, Kostas, in Athens but did I tell you that we sent a note of appreciation to the bookstore and received a delightful response from Sonja and Ivan who run a fantastic website and blog (which I've linked to on the left side of the page) called The Bookstore Guide. If, in your travels, you happen to come upon a bookstore so outstanding and fun that you can't keep it to yourself, please email them or post to their blog and they would love to feature it there on their site.

Back to books. I mentioned that I was listening to The Angel's Game by Zafon but I didn't rave about it enough. This is a book, much like Shadow of the Wind, that really grows on you. Book lovers - this is a must read. The author has such reverence for the written word and has created so many wonderful characters whose lives revolve around books.
He's also given us the feisty heroine, Isabella, a 17 year old who aspires to be a novelist and who ingratiates herself with the recluse author David Martin, becoming his most devoted friend. They are witty, clever, talented and united in trying to release David from a pact he made with the devil, a publisher who may or may not be a ghost, the illusive Andrea Corelli.
This novel has all the earmarks of a true Gothic novel, which I normally wouldn't care for, but it's so intelligently done and includes some modern twists so that you find yourself just suspending disbelief and going with the flow. Just for the fun of it, why not give it a try.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

So, did he write it?

This is probably a terrible suspicion, brought on by all the media coverage of the delays involved in publishing Pat Conroy's latest novel, South of Broad. It's on the NY Times best seller list and we still have long wait lists at the library but I've had customers returning this book with much the same feelings I've had. The uneven writing - now I truly understand what reviewers mean when they use that term - lends one to suspect that someone helped Conroy write this book. Someone, I might add, without his talent since last night, at about page 400 and something, I hit upon the Pat Conroy I knew and loved from previous novels; glorious language, insight and appreciation of the small beauties we encounter each and every day.

I'll admit, because it was Conroy, I deliberately ignored the infamous "rule of 50." The first fifty pages of this book are flat out poorly written. The conversations throughout don't have an ounce of credibility to them. These characters don't talk the way regular people do. The parents and child narrator Leo, don't interact in any way remotely believable, though certainly the way one would love to see parents and kids respond to eachother. Mom, a nun who left the convent to marry Leo's dad, is a supposedly hard-ass school principal, yet she lets her son and his buddies make decisions that affect policy. Hmmmm - not in my lifetime!

Leo, the only nuanced character in the book, finds acceptance with a motley crew of stereotypical friends (the flamingly gay Trevor Poe and his blatantly promiscuous sister Sheba, the uptight southern snob Chad Rutledge and his wife Molly, the requisite black couple, police officers Ike and Betty and the orphans Niles and Starla) in his South Carolina high school after being institutionalized over a nervous breakdown after his older brother Steven commited suicide. The story line goes back and forth over twenty years of friendship and heartbreak as the friends draw together and apart depending upon what's driving their needs at the time.

Still, I'll admit, what normally keeps me in a sprawling saga of this type is whether or not I care about the characters and what happens to them. The bottom line is that somehow, yes, I do. I'll be curious to see how many book groups pick this up for discussion as I notice there's a reading group guide at
Agree? Disagree? Let's talk.....

Monday, September 21, 2009

A relaxed Sally - Yes I Can!

Yes, I did it. Now I can share more photos of Greece. Oops, I forgot, I'm supposed to be talking about books but I'm still on vacation in my head. Don took this photo of me at the Temple of Poseiden in Sounian, a two hour local bus trip south of Athens along a coastal highway that looked a great deal like the Amalfi coast but not as upscale.

I should have mentioned what a great afternoon we had in a 7 storey bookshop in Athens that I had read about on a blog. Don was looking for a light read - mystery or espionage - that would give him a feel for the politics and people of Greece. Kind of what Donna Leon does so well for Venice. We chatted with Kostas for ages and what a well read, interesting young man he was. He and I had read all the same things and were just having a ball talking books all over the board. Very eclectic taste. Anyway, he came up with a book, The Late Night News by Petros Markaris, which Don just couldn't put down and now that we're back I've checked our library and sure enough, we have two other titles in our system and I've already got them on hold. If I can catch up on the ironing I might even get to it!!
We sent an email yesterday to the bookstore to compliment them and their fabulous employee and to also give Kostas my blog address.

I read in a book review magazine that one of the writers wanted folks to send him letters, not about the books they've loved, but about the ones they couldn't finish. People are having a ball with it and true confessions have been coming in from all over the country. I thought it would be fun if you readers sent me some titles you just couldn't get into and try to explain why. Premiere winner so far seems to be Love in the Time of Cholera. I'll second that!

Can we talk about South of Broad????? Do you really think Pat Conroy wrote this? I'll go into my impressions tomorrow after I look for more photos to upload. This is fun.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Can I Go Back Please?

I used to think that a two week vacation was a luxury of the highest order and, at the end of it, I was always ready to hit the ground running. Am I aging? For whatever reason, I can't seem to get it together since we've gotten back from Greece. I could have stayed much longer if my burgeoning tummy could have taken any more feta cheese!
There's a glorious freedom in going to bed without any pressure about what's happening the next morning. Eat dinner at 10 with the locals? No problem. Sleep til 10 and then read in bed. Perfetto! I even hesitated to book a day trip to Delphi just because I didn't want a wake up call at 7. (glad I didn't cave in to that)

More than the issue of rest though, is the growing unease, a sense that I don't really belong in this country anymore. The respite from the news, the deliberate avoidance of newspapers while in Athens worked for a while but Don kept teasing me with his iphone and sure enough, one evening as we sipped our wine on the balcony of our villa overlooking the bay at Heronissos he took a quick peek at the headlines. That was the day that our illustrious educators had decided that it would be detrimental to our kids to let them hear the president of the United States tell them to get ahead in school, follow their dreams and excel. Wow, subversive! I simply hung my head and cried.

We met a lovely duo, two women from Birmingham, England, with whom we felt a kinship on many levels and had some delightful talks with. They asked us, ever so politely, "what's wrong with you Americans?" We had no answers. Now Don's just come in to tell me that Nancy Pelosi broke down in an interview yesterday about the vitriol that's being spewed in the right wing media. I went online to see how she handled it and what she said was absolutely so correct. Who knows what kind of unbalanced people are out there just waiting for the right moment to do violence.

This brings me to the books that Library Journal sent for me to take on vacation. Two books and two reviews. I was feeling the pressure. As you know, I can't say too much until the reviews are published but I'll just mention that one of the books was ok, well written but peopled with characters I didn't like enough to spend vacation time with. The other - oh! Go right out and get yourself on the wait list for Barbara Kingsolver's latest - first novel in 9 years - The Lacuna. I couldn't put it down. Fair warning, her politics are as left wing as mine. She may actually be a little more hopeful though.

I finished Jeffrey Deaver's The Bodies Left Behind, one of the best cat and mouse games I've ever read - I mean, listened to. Whew! This is a stand alone, not one of his Lincoln Rime books. It begins with a bang and doesn't let up and introduces one of the pluckiest, toughest new heroines I've met in a long time. One wonders, if put in a similar situation, outrunning two gunmen in a state forest at night, how much of our Girl Scout training we'd remember and utilize. Brin McKenzie did it all. See if you can guess who the real bad guy is!

I'm also listening to Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Angel's Game, a prequel to the well loved Shadow of the Wind, which I had the distinct pleasure to read while in Barcelona two years ago. Much of the action takes place on and about the Ramblas and it reminds me of our time in Athens and how similar the Plaka area of that city is. Don and I would stroll out for supper around 9pm and after a carafe of the local wine - never buy special - and a youvetzi or moussaka, we'd walk hand in hand smiling at everyone. No Greek? No problem. We made lots of friends. Can you think of any American city at all - maybe Miami? - where everyone goes out after dinner just to stroll the streets, peer in trinket shops, pick up fresh flowers or a baguette for breakfast?

It's such a different life. In Italy it's called the "passagiata" and it happens every evening. School? Doesn't seem to matter. Fathers and kids work the corners selling their wares to tourists, friends greet eachother and every conversation sounds like an argument with the gesticulating hands and loud voices. But don't you dare expect to buy anything at 3 in the afternoon. Except for the restaurants, all is closed and the siesta is still sacrosanct. No wonder Europeans have a greater life expectancy!! Not to mention health care - but that's another story.

I'll see if I can load a few pictures here in the next couple of days. You'd think I'd be better at this by now, wouldn't you?