Our blog about books, authors and reading

April's Books Plus

National Poetry MonthIn April, as poets have for centuries, we'll celebrate poetry. For our next Books Plus discussion program, we'll be highlighting sonnets - one of the shortest and most versatile of poetric forms. Did you know what King James I, Prime Minister William Gladstone, American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, President John Quincy Adams, and Edith Wharton all had in common? They loved to write sonnets!

Now you don't need to compose any of your own, but if you have a favorite that you'd love to read aloud, please come and share. Or sit back and let language flow around you.  We'll explore this little song's history, discuss its variations, how contemporary poets have made it their own, and why a sonnet is still a sonnet even if it doesn't rhyme.

We hope you can join us this coming Sunday, April 7 at 2:00 p.m. in discovering anew one of our best creations--the sonnet.  All are welcome and refreshments are provided. More information about this and upcoming Books Plus discussions below.

Read more »

The Fault in Our Stars

ISBN: 
9780525478812

This young adult novel by the popular John Green fell into my arms at the YMCA. An exercise buddy suggested that I read it; she was turned on to it by her teenage son. The novel opens at a cancer support group in a church.  Because it's set in Indianapolis some of the landmarks will be familiar. A 16 year-old girl suffering from stage IV thyroid cancer is returning at the insistence of her Mom. "Go out and meet somebody" her mom suggested and without any hope that she will, Hazel does. 

Asked to speak about what she's thinking, Hazel describes how everyone on earth is going to die. It is the only end we can expect and that we have. Her speech is more philosophical and much more eloquent but totally lacking in hope. Afterwards, handsome Augustus who's on the mend from osteosarcoma - 80% chance of survival--tells her he likes what she said.  Not only that but she looks like Natalie Portman. Augustus and Hazel have a mutal friend, Isaac, who is about to lose an eye from another form of cancer.  

Hazel can't leave the house without her oxygen tank. Her prognosis is poor; it's not a matter of if but when. Her parents are extremely kind and protective. She overhead her mom say once that when Hazel dies, she will no longer be a mom.

If The Fault in Our Stars sounds depressing, amazingly it isn't. Green has created a sardonic, wise beyond her years, poetry-loving heroine with an edgy sense of humor. She finds a soul-mate in Augustus who has already lost one girlfriend to death. Hazel holds back. She doesn't want to die and be another "exploding torpedo" in his life. Read more »

Classics as Graphic Novels

Interested inHound of the Baskervilles revisiting an old favorite classic in a new way?  Consider the graphic novel version of your old familiar favorite novel.  I recently read The Hound of the Baskervilles reimagined as a graphic novel by Ian Edginton and was pleasantly surprised.  This is the famous story of Sir Charles Baskerville who has suddenly died and Henry Baskerville, his nephew and the heir to his estate.  Henry is being warned of danger that might befall him as he takes ownership of the manor on the moor.  Sherlock Holmes and Watson travel with Henry to the moor to investigate the threat, made complicated by an escaped murderer, jealousy, mysterious family dynamics, and a possible hell hound. The characters were visually well represented including Watson, Dr. Mortimer and Mrs. Stapleton.  They mystery, though well known, has enough twists and turns to keep any reader going. The visual look and use of color does well to represent the haunting and atmospheric feeling of the moor and the danger lurking everywhere. For fans of dense novels, there is still quite a bit of dialogue which is slowed down further (for a modern reader!) by the original style.  I really loved the look of this graphic novel edition which often reminded me of an animated movie. Read more »

Beasts of Burden

Beasts of BurdenMaking yourself read outside your comfort zone can end up with some total misses and some excellent surprises. In all likelihood I would have missed Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites, a graphic novel about a talking pack of animals that solve supernatural mysteries in their seemingly sweet suburban neighborhood of Burden Hill. That description wouldn't peak my interest, but also doesn't do the graphic novel justice either.
The storytelling is episodic, in that there are chapters that are a complete story into itself which makes for a fast read. There is a pack of animal friends, all dogs and one orphan cat who start uncovering supernatural cases in their neighborhood. They eventually become apprentices in the Wise Dog Society to further their training in fighting these evil forces. The supernatural stories cover a wide range from an evil coven of cats, a rain of mutant frogs, werewolves, magical earthen golems, ghosts, and more. Read more »

The Violinist's Thumb

ISBN: 
9780316182317

OK, I selected this book based solely on its title, but boy did I luck out. What an incredibly gifted writer Sam Kean is.  In The Violinist's Thumb: and Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code, he translates dense scientific concepts into lucid, beautiful prose.

He also knows how to tell stories. The first chapter contrasts the biographies of two of DNA's discoverers, Mendel and the less well-known, Johannes Friedrich Miescher, who because he studied fish slime had to work in very cold conditions so that his material would not deteriorate before he could examine it. And who knew that Mendel joined a monastery so he could secure a university education? His passion for raising peas taught us so much about human inheritance.

This book tackles and at least partially answers many of life's great questions including: Why did it take eons for life to become complex? What is our most ancient DNA? Why do humans have no more DNA than so many smaller, less complex creatures?  Why did we almost become extinct?  Why did we break away from monkeys? Is the impulse for art conveyed by our DNA? Why are identical twins not identical? Read more »

The Count 2012

Book ReviewsEvery year VIDA Women in Literary Arts conducts a survey to count female author representation in major literary periodicals.  This survey isn't about quality or good reviews, but just about the representation, number of reviews or general press coverage that women authors are getting.  The results can be viewed through a wide variety of lenses, but the graphs are admittedly a little shocking.

It would be interesting to know how the publishing numbers break down, but a quick peek at the New York Times Best Sellers hardcover list of the top 16 titles shows an exact 50/50 female to male representation.  Which to me (unsing completely unscientific methods) shows that books written by women are just as popular or being read in the same numbers as books written by men.  Read more »

Of Spies and Literature

ISBN: 
9780385536820

Do you like spy novels? Ones that mix in politics and love?  If so McEwan's Sweet Tooth is for you.

It's set in the rollicking early 70s in England - a time of drugs, rock and roll, miniskirts, and--on a more serious note--women's entry into careers en masse. It tells the story of Selena, a bright vicar's daughter who loves to read and read fast.  Her mother, in the only moment of life- dissatisfaction she's ever expressed to her daughter, advises Selena to go to Cambridge and study math so she can have a challenging career. Selena, being the good older daughter, follows her mom's advice and gives up studying literature for something better career-wise.

But Selena's real education begins the summer after college.  An older tutor she meets through a boyfriend soon becomes her lover. In the process he teaches her about food, wine, politics, international relations, and how to read the newspapers for hidden facts and government policies. He's grooming her for a role in M15, the spy service.  But then Tony leaves her abruptly after an argument so Selena goes to London and does find a job with M15. Read more »

New to Me Only 3(+) Years Later!

Visit From the Goon SquadI try to stay familiar with new books coming out, but also keep a list (on goodreads.com) so I don't miss anything great either.  I recently read two great books that either were published in 2010 or enjoyed a resurgence in 2010.  These two books don't have too much in common, but I missed them then, maybe you did too!

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is a complicated contemporary novel that follows many different characters, but centers around Bennie and Sasha, who work in the music industry. We meet both of them at different points in their lives, from teenagers to older parents and the novel stretches from the Bay Area, to NYC, to Africa and Naples. Each chapter focuses on a particular character at a specific time and place with no real instruction to the reader on the how and why. Through the strength of Egan, this doesn't break down the narrative. I really enjoyed all of the voices, varied narrative structures, and cried during a chapter told as a powerpoint told by a 14 year old character previously un-introduced. This book is risky, edgy, intellectual, unafraid of emotion, and requires a lot from the reader.  With all that said, it was also highly enjoyable! Read more »

The Colour of Milk

ISBN: 
9780062245823

if missing capitals drive you crazy, this may not be the book for you. however, i hope you will try it because the colour of milk brims with a young girl's voice. despite the fact that she lives on an english farm and does back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk under her brutal father's command, mary still possesses a sense of wonder at the world.

the time period covers the years of our lord, 1831 and -32. throughout this compelling novel, mary repeats over and over "this is my book and I am writing it in my own hand". you'll have to finish it to understand why these words resonate.

mary shares the harsh farm work with her mother and three sisters. violet sneaks off at night for sensual adventures in the hay loft. (mary discovers this when she goes out to press her head against the cow she loves dearly and almost the only creature who gives her any comfort). whenever she is not working, beatrice holds a bible in her hand, but when she recites what is inside it, mary notices that she's holding it upside down. hope suffers from the same bad temper as their father and dreams of living in her own house with a rich husband. Read more »

March Books Plus

ImageOur March Books Plus will be special because Wendy Rubin will be leading a discussion on the book so many Bloomingtonians are reading, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Not only is it our 2013 One Book One Bloomington selection but it's a dystopian novel that focuses on the treatment of women.

This novel offers so many interesting questions to discuss, what makes a theocratic society, can women really be revered when they are policed by men, and how does dividing women into hierarchies based on their domestic tasks affect society. It's basically a book about good and evil. In one passage, Margaret Atwood said, "The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you've been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil." Read more »

Syndicate content