Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Are you a habitual reader?

In the paper this a.m., there was a blurb about a new website, Habitual Reader. You can enter your profile, review books and read book reviews. They also are looking for book blogs to add to their blogroll. Also, it is associated with Komenar Publishing, so there are opportunities for writers, also. Check it out.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Review: The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

*possible spoilers

I did end up finishing this book, although in my previous post I complained that I didn't like it very much. It got interesting on page 179, long after when I would normally put a book down in disgust. I kept trudging, because I usually love the Man Booker winners so much, and I wondered if it was just my mood. Also, the writing was undeniably very good, causing me to turn down certain passages to save. But there were several things that I didn't like about the book, and that would cause me not to recommend it.

1. The characters were not very well drawn. You just don't get a sense of them. Eventually, as the book goes on, you get enough snippets here and there to put together why this person is acting this way and why that person is acting that way. But it's a long time coming. You don't get any sense at all of a characters inner world. Also, the book goes back and forth from India to New York and you are never sure when starting a chapter where you are or from whose viewpoint you are seeing the world.

2. The book is set around some sort of unrest between India and Nepal in the late 80's. The author writes the book as if everyone knows what that was all about. I had no idea what the background or issues were in this particular conflict, and I still don't!! There isn't any sort of explanation or development of the setting and activities surrounding the characters. I get some sense the Nepalis were mistreated and that is why Gyan, one of the characters, is tempted to join their side. But I don't really get any glimpses into what the background of that is, except to know that he was poor. If you know anything about this period of history, as Lotus Reads does, then I think you'd enjoy the book more.

3. It was, quite simply, boring. Nothing really happened. My emotions never got engaged. I didn't care. I think Kiran Desai is a wonderful writer and I feel bad saying my opinion of the book, but it is what it is. So to possibly atone, I'll leave you with a few quotes to show the beauty of her writing:

Biju stood there in that dusty tepid soft sari night. Sweet drabness of home -- he felt everything shifting and clicking into place around him, felt himself slowly shrink back to size, the enormous anxiety of being a foreigner ebbing -- that unbearable arrogance and shame of the immigrant. Nobody paid attention to him here, and if they said anything at all, their words were easy, unconcerned. He looked about and for the first time in God knows how long, his vision unblurred and he found that he could see clearly.

Biju hung on to the metal frame of the jeep as it maneuvered through ridged gullies and ruts and over rocks -- there were more holes in this road than there was road and everything from his liver to his blood was getting a good shake. He looked down over at oblivion, hurried his vision back to the gouged bank. Death was so close -- he had forgotten this in his eternal existence in America -- this constant proximity of one's nearest destination.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Conversations with heroes

Today I attended a lecture at the Berkeley Rep called "A Conversation with John Gottman". John Gottman is one of my heroes. For a long time, those of us who are couples therapists just went along with intuition as our guide. No one really knew what made relationships successful or not, they just went with what their intuition told them about relationships. So born were things like "active listening" in which one person talks and the other listens and repeats it back, and those types of things.

Turns out that doesn't really work for relationships. And the person who found that out - or one of them - is John Gottman. He's actually been doing research for 20 years now on what makes relationships work and he's willing to be proven wrong. He claims he can predict with 94% accuracy whether a relationship will survive or not, based on certain factors.

If you are interested in self-help books about relationships, his books are highly readable for the public. His lecture today was also highly entertaining and informative.

If you want general information about couples relationships, read "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" (you can still read it even if you are not married)

If you want information on relationships, both couples relationships and with your friends, children and co-workers, read "The Relationship Cure".

If you want to put these principles to work on your parenting, read "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child".

And if you want to read about how children affect your relationship (there is a 60% drop in marital satisfaction after the first child) and what to do about it, read his latest "And Baby Makes Three".

*cross posted on my non-book blog.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Having trouble

I'm having a terrible hard time reading "The Inheritance of Loss". This book recently won the Man Booker Prize and I have not read or seen one negative comment about it. Everything I have seen has been on a raving wild scale.

I'm about halfway through. I could never pick it up again and I wouldn't miss the fact that I didn't find out what happened. I really feel like I'm on another planet from the rest of the reading public.

Has anyone else had this reaction to this book? I was so looking forward to reading it and am bitterly disappointed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Book Meme

I used to really dislike memes, but lately, I'm kind of enjoying them. Here's a great one I found on In Spring It Is The Dawn.

Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback?

Definitely trade paperback. I like the size, the weight...everything. And I can read them in the bathtub, which is something I have a hard time doing with hardbacks.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?

Brick and Mortar all the way. I go on Amazon to check out ratings and such, but try not to buy from them. I LOVE small independent bookstores, and we're losing them!

Barnes & Noble or Borders?

Well, if I have to go to a "super" bookstore, I'd choose Barnes and Noble. Mostly because there are no convenient Borders nearby. But those superstores are all the same to me.

Bookmark or Dogear?

Both. I really try to use a bookmark. I try. But sometimes, it has to be dogeared. You don't misplace your fingers, if you know what I mean.

Alphabetize by author Alphabetize by title or random?

Random. I can't be bothered.

Keep, Throw Away or Sell?

I guess you'd call it sell. I trade my paperbacks on www.paperbackswap.com. I keep first edition hardbacks, obviously. I would never (NEVER! Are you crazy?) throw away a book!

Keep dustjacket or toss it?


Read with dustjacket or remove it?

Usually remove it. I'm just not good at keeping them nice. And if I manage to do it, my 1-year old would destroy it.

Short story or novel?

Novel. I've never been good at the short story.

Collection (short stories by the same author) or Anthology (short stories by different authors)?

I'd have to say anthology. If I have to read short stories, I'm going to snore if they are all by the same author.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?

I guess Harry Potter. I'm not really crazy loopy over either of them. I've lost touch with my inner child, I guess.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?

I always aim for chapter breaks and am sometimes distressed when this can't be accomplished. But I do have a one-year old, who doesn't always understand that I have 'two pages left' when he's poopy.

“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?

'It was a dark and stormy night'. Can't stand 'once upon a time'. I spend my life as a psychotherapist trying to convince people that life is not 'once upon a time'.

Buy or Borrow?

Buy, if it's a first edition, or if I can trade for it on paperback swap. Borrow if the library has it, and I don't have any money/credits, and especially if it's one I suspect I won't want to necessarily own.

New or used?

I love new books. But, alas, my husband is not an obsessive book lover and has requested that I not spend our children's entire college fund on books. So, I borrow. My mom buys me a BookSense giftcard each year for my birthday. And, of course, I buy used when I find a great first edition that I love.

Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse?

All three. I love Bookmarks magazine for book reviews; I live for recommendations from all my blogger friends; and I can get lost in a bookstore for hours on end.

Tidy ending or Cliffhanger?

I like tidy endings. I sometimes understand that it just couldn't possibly be realistic, but I'm still mad at being left hanging. Life is hard enough; give me a happy ending any day.

Morning reading, Afternoon reading or Nighttime reading?

I want to say ANYTIME! but that's not really the way my life works. I sometimes do get to read in the afternoon when my baby is napping. But more often than not, I read at night after they've gone to bed. Why do you think I stick to the 8 p.m. bedtime, for crying out loud?????

Standalone or Series?

Standalone, without question. I sometimes start a series, but end up quickly tiring of the same author, same formula. In fact, even when it's not a series, I often tire of reading too much of the same author.

Favorite series?

One series I haven't tired of is the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. These make me laugh out loud every single time. The first one is "One for the Money".

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?

I love "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell. It was a bookclub favorite a few years ago, but I never heard a great buzz about it. It is - see below - one of my favorite books of all time.

Favorite books read last year?

See my post of 2006 books and favorites at this link.

Favorite books of all time?

Too many to count. But among them are: Shogun by James Clavell; The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (and the sequel, Tandia); The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell; The Kite Runner and so many more.....

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two Book Reviews

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Daniel Amen: I read a lot of professional journals and books in order to educate myself, and be of help to my clients. Most of them I get from the University libraries in order to get the information without having to buy the book. Every once in a while, I get one that must have a spot on my office bookshelf. This is such a book.

This is not necessarily written for the professional. Dr. Amen educates the reader about different parts of the brain (deep limbic system, basal ganglia, etc.) and which parts are associated with which disorders. There are chapters on depression, anxiety and fear, inattention and impulsivity, worry and obsessiveness, and more. Dr. Amen gives very specific actions to take in each case, and also explains the medications and how receiving a medication that affects the deep limbic system might not work for you if, say, your problem is in the basal ganglia. He uses the SPECT scan to take pictures of a brain in action and educates about how you can specifically diagnose using this technique.

If you have - or know someone who has - a mental issue like depression that hasn't seemed to respond appropriately to medication, this might be a book to read. Me, I just found it utterly fascinating.

An Unfinished Season by Ward Just: I first heard of the author Ward Just reading Nancy Pearl's Book Lust book. I had never ever heard of him. Since that first time, it seems like I see his name everywhere. He has much newer books and ones that are more acclaimed. I can't remember why I chose this one to put on my 'to be read' list above any other. But I know I wanted to read one before I decided whether to put more of his books on the list.

I really liked this book. It was hard to read after just finishing Shantaram, which is action-packed from cover to cover. This is not action-packed. This is a character study. You know, one of those books where nothing much actually happens, but you get inside a character's head for a period of time and really get to know him.

In this case, you get inside the head of a 19-year old socialite boy in suburban Chicago in the Eisenhower era. You follow him around for a summer, getting a picture of Chicago, falling in love, working for a newspaper, and so forth. The writing is great, and I'll definitely read Ward Just again. He's a master of one-liners. Here are a couple of my favorites:

"I was astonished his shadow had followed me all this way."

"I thought it was hard in this world to know what it was you didn't know, and now there was one less unknown unknown."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The 40th California International Antiquarian Book Fair

If you live in California, and have never been to the California International Antiquarian Book Fair, you are missing out! It rotates from year to year, one year in San Francisco and one year in Los Angeles. This year it is February 16-18. It helps to be a book collector, but you needn't be to enjoy it. I just love seeing all the book dealers, and the incredibly old, expensive books on sale. And last year, I met Ray Bradbury! So that's worth the trip in itself. Anyway, check it out.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Shantaram: First Chunkster/TBR Challenge Book

Shantaram is the first book this year, counting as both a TBR Challenge book and a Chunkster Challenge book. At 933 pages, it's a whopper for sure. I've already given quite a bit of review of the book and by now you know I loved it. See my other reviews HERE and HERE and HERE.

This book is about a criminal and crime. It's about the gritty underside of Bombay, about people losing their souls to money and sin, about how people justify living like that and still believe they will have mercy, about one man's quest for freedom and what it means to him. It's violent. I don't call it gratuitous violence, because it's really necessary to tell the story. It's not a pretty world, and sometimes the circumstances and stories of the main characters life are almost overwhelming. Really, it reminded me a bit of Queen of the South -- although I didn't really like Queen, the storyline and violent content were similar, and the way the book rests on your soul for long after seems to be similar. It'll be a long time before I shake off this book. Brilliantly written, if you are the type to turn down a page when you find a beautiful passage, you'll have a trainload of dogeared pages when you are done.

Oh, and if you love Indian food, as I do, have the closest take out number handy. You'll drool like a fool all the way through the book!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Update on Shantaram

I'm now on page 722. I admit that I have skimmed more than a few pages. There is just a lot of detail about certain things that don't necessarily add to the story, although they may be important for rounding out the story or characters. For example, the main character, when learning about the illegal passport trade, learns for pages and pages all the intricacies of making and selling illegal passports. I understand why the character needs to know this, but I as a reader don't necessarily need to know all the details.

And I also admit - sigh - that I sometimes have to stop and take a few deep breaths. How can so many crazy, crappy things happen to one character? It's almost absurd. And yet, the character is a gunrunner and black marketeer working for the mafia in Bombay. So it's not like nice rosy things are going to happen to him. That wouldn't be realistic at all.

Still, I'm enjoying the book immensely, as evidenced by my quick progress. I'll share with you some favorite passages:

There's a lot of philosophizing, like this: 'Fanaticism is the opposite of love,' I said, recalling one of Khaderbhai's lectures. 'A wise man once told me - he's a Muslim, by the way - that he has more in common with a rational, reasonable-minded Jew than he does with a fanatic from his own religion. He has more in common with a rational reasonable-minded Christian or Buddhist or Hindu than he does with a fanatic from his own religion. In fact, he has more in common with a rational reasonable-minded atheist than he does with a fanatic from his own religion. I agree with him, and I feel the same way. I also agree with Winston Churchill, who once defined a fanatic as someone who won't change his mind and can't change the subject.'

And also some beautiful writing, like this: At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won't stop loving them, even after they're dead and gone. For I still love you with the whole of my heart, Prabaker. I still love you. And sometimes, my friend, the love that I have, and can't give to you, crushes the breath from my chest. Sometimes, even now, my heart is drowning in a sorrow that has no stars without you, and no laughter, and no sleep.

And this: The tears, when they come to some men, are worse than beatings. They're wounded worse by sobbing, men like that, than they are by boots and batons. Tears begin in the heart, but some of us deny the heart so often, and for so long, that when it speaks we hear not one but a hundred sorrows in the heartbreak. We know that crying is a good and natural thing. We know that crying isn't a weakness, but a kind of strength. Still, the weeping rips us root by tangled root from the earth, and we crash like fallen trees when we cry.

And if that doesn't make you want to read it, I don't know what would.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

A Poem for Thought...

Someone commented on my blog recently that my 2006 reading list didn't contain any poetry. I really don't much like poetry. I don't know why - maybe it's because I have two small kids and just don't have time to ponder or something. Anyway, to placate the readership, I will post one poem that I absolutely love. And, having just returned from my mother in law's funeral, it seems appropriate to ponder this one..

Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Friday, January 5, 2007

More to whet your appetite...

On the author of Shantaram:

Gregory David Roberts was born in Melbourne, Australia. Sentenced to nineteen years in prison for a series of armed robberies, he escaped and spent ten of his fugitive years in Bombay - where he established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers, and worked as a counterfeiter, smuggler, gunrunner, and street soldier for a branch of the Bombay mafia. Recaptured, he served out his sentence, and established a successful multimedia company upon his release. Roberts is now a full-time writer and lives in Bombay.

Well, hmmm....that's what the book is about. But it's fiction. So what's up? From an interview:

Q. When did the idea of an autobiography, with the city both as a character and as a backdrop, first strike you?

A. With respect, Shantaram is not an autobiography, it’s a novel. If the book reads like an autobiography, I take that as a very high compliment, because I structured the created narrative to read like fiction but feel like fact. I wanted the novel to have the page-turning drive of a work of fiction but to be informed by such a powerful stream of real experience that it had the authentic feel of fact.
That being said, the answer to your question is that I made the decision – to include myself in my own work – while I was on a smuggling run to Africa. I sat at a table in my favourite dive in Kinshasa, in what was then the nation of Zaire, and shared a drinking session with five other men who were all in the city as smugglers, mercenaries, and law-breakers. We took turns to tell each other our stories. When the other men voted my story the most interesting, I made the decision to stop writing from the invisible, omniscient author’s perspective, and to include myself in my work.

I'm on page 200, and it is fascinating and worth every page.... more to come....

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

New Books and Challenges for a New Year

Started reading Shantaram this morning. This is both for the TBR Challenge and the Chunkster Challenge. At 933 pages, I figure I can use it for both!! This book came out in 2003 and I've been looking forward to reading it ever since!! I certainly hope it doesn't take me the whole month to read it, but we'll see.

The first paragraph:

It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall, and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming in my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or to forgive them. It doesn't sound like much, I know. But in the flinch and bite of the chain, when it's all you've got, that freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make, between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.

Wow. Who wouldn't want to read a book that starts that way? Wish me luck! 900+ pages of it!