“Beautiful Creatures”

March 30, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments

Guilty pleasure alert!  Beautiful Creatures is the book Twilight should have been.  If you loved Twilight and just haven’t been able to hit that spot since then, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl are going to do their best to reach it.

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While the two books are remarkably alike in many ways, I don’t think the authors set out to accomplish that particularly.  There are: fated high school romances in which one partner comes from an occult family; a strongly realized regional atmosphere; black cover art; many hundreds of pages; and generally that certain something that tends to generate rabid fans.  The most important difference is that Beautiful Creatures is better written.

I have two nitpicks that I simply feel bound to share.  One is that there is a crossword puzzle motif that tends to indicate the authors aren’t big puzzle solvers.  For instance, in this book, “8 down” would mean the word had eight letters, rather than that it’s the eighth clue.  Why not just say “eight-letter word meaning x“?  The other nitpick is a major scene involving Civil War reenactors supposely using live rounds in battle.  And that’s just silly.

“The Unnamed”

March 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Posted in Fiction | 5 Comments

Then We Came to the End was one of my favorite books of 2008, so when I heard Joshua Ferris had written a new one, I started hopping around in my chair.  I love him.  Now I can tell you two exciting things:  One, The Unnamed is possibly even better, and Two, he’s already writing a new book for us.

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I listened to this book on audio, and Joshua Ferris reads it himself.  You know sometimes when the author reads, it’s flat and lifeless, even when the book itself is brilliant?  Well, Ferris is fantastic.  I could hardly bring myself to finish because I couldn’t stand for it to be over.  Normally I listen to books while doing chores and bustling around the house, but I found within minutes that I would need to sit perfectly still and savor every word.  So I would lie in bed at night, in the dark so as not to bother Rocket Scientist, and listen to only one hour at a time.

No way am I going to spoil anything about this book for you, but I will say it’s the story of a man with a mysterious illness and how it affects him and his family.  It’s also a fine piece of existential philosophy.  It’s heartbreaking and mysterious and really beautiful.


March 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

If you haven’t read anything by Po Bronson, you may as well start with his newest, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.  He’s an innovative thinker with an endearing emotional openness.  He’s one of the few authors I treasure so much that I withhold his books from myself, so I don’t read through them all too quickly.  I like knowing there are more discoveries in wait.

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I’m only a pseudo-parent, so I have a certain amount of anxiety.  Am I doing it right?  When you’re a step-mom, you sort of have to figure that if the kid doesn’t turn out well, everyone will blame you.  On the other hand, if she does, you’re the last person who would get any credit.  I was pleased, after reading this book, to see that some of my instincts have actually been on target.

Here are some things you will learn:

  • It’s harmful to praise your children too much, especially to tell them they’re smart
  • High school driver’s ed classes increase traffic accidents
  • Lying is a developmental milestone
  • Teenagers are far less emotionally damaged by arguing than parents are
  • It’s better to conduct marital disputes in front of the kids than to hide them
  • Babies will learn to talk more quickly if you touch them or smile whenever they make a sound

There’s more, and naturally none of this stuff will seem believable until you read the studies from whence the information was drawn.  If you spend much time around kids of any age, this is a must-read.

“The Wrong Mother”

March 15, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments

I wish I could remember who recommended The Wrong Mother to me, because thanks are in order.  Sophie Hannah has written more than just a heart-stopping suspense thriller, but what should prove to be a really controversial book in the best possible sense.

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Part of the story revolves around a diary – hopefully I can discuss this without spoiling the book – written by a mother who despises everything about motherhood.  I’m only a step-parent, but I can absolutely guarantee that if you have children of your own you are going to have strong feelings about these passages.

If you like mysteries and suspense novels, you’ll most likely love this.  Even if you don’t, though, read this, because it’s definitely not your average airport book.

“A Friend of the Family”

March 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Posted in Fiction | 6 Comments

This is going to be one of the best reads of 2010.  I say this confidently, knowing it’s only March.  Trust me, drop everything and grab Lauren Grodstein’s A Friend of the Family.

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Gosh, I don’t want to spoil anything for you – there are two mysteries in this book filled with dark foreboding.  I will say it’s a tragedy about a man brought down by his own flaws.  Grodstein’s elegant, measured prose somehow gallops along; I read this book in one five-hour sitting.  I’ll bet a dollar this will be made into a movie, and most likely a great one.

OverDrive Media!

March 9, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Audio Treat, Book Services | 13 Comments

Once again I’m probably the last person to stumble across something everyone else already knows about.  Anyway, I figure if I rave about my library’s digital audio book service and you’re already using it, you can rave with me.

I bought my first iPod last fall – my parrot chewed up my husband’s headphones, so I took the opportunity to get my own and swap earbuds with him.  I was also listening to a lot of audio books on this sad old CD player I bought at Goodwill for $15.  A coworker kept telling me about all the great books he was downloading for free, and finally I thought I would check it out.

It turns out that my local library offers OverDrive Media, and so does the San Francisco library!  The two libraries have different collections, so I have a Wish List on both.  Technically I could check out five books at a time from each, but who can listen to so many?  You can choose either a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day checkout period, depending on your library, though the book will stay on your device until you remove it.  I go for the shortest period I can because I can go through an 8-hour book in two days, and I once found myself stuck with no books and a three-day wait before I could check out any more.

Okay, it’s actually fairly complicated.  You have to find out if your library offers digital audio, then you have to download the software, then you have to download the books, and worst of all, you have to figure out how to delete the books once you’re done listening.  They do take up quite a bit of room.

The good news is, comparatively few patrons must be using this service, because there’s a much faster turn-around on hot new books.  For instance, right now I’m downloading Last Night in Twisted River, and if I’d waited to read it, I would have been #94 on the holds list.  Also, as we all know, library audio CDs are perpetually scratched and damaged, while the digital audio is clear.  An iPod will also hold your place between listens – some audio CDs only have chapter breaks every 10 minutes.

Downloading books is pretty quick, but transferring them to the iPod takes about 90 minutes for an 8-hour book.  A 24-hour book like Bridge of Sighs, which is currently on my player, took over 5 hours – but you can do it track by track.  It’s best to set up while you’re doing other things on the computer so it can run in the background.

How to Delete OverDrive Media Audiobooks from your iPod:

I had a heck of a time figuring out how to delete the books once I’d read them, because they wouldn’t show up under Audiobooks in my iTunes.  I’m going to spell out the instructions here for anyone else who has had (or will have) similar problems.  Synch your iPod and click on your device in the pane on the left.  Then look on the Summary tab under Options and check the box for “Manually manage music and videos.”  Click the arrow next to the name of your device back in the pane on the left, and a little menu will appear, including an option for Audiobooks.  You can delete your audiobooks track by track.  Pretty simple, but amazing how not-obvious it is and how many confusing dead ends come up in a Google search!

Reading Too Much?

March 4, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 15 Comments

How do you know when you, or someone you love, reads too much?

  • Moss is growing on the back of your head.
  • Your hands refuse to unbend from book-clamping position.
  • You lose circulation from the waist down.
  • Neighborhood children run screaming when you get the mail, because they think you’re a witch.
  • It’s been so long since you watched TV that you think X Files is still running.
  • Librarians visibly react when you walk in – either in pleasure or fear.
  • You know instinctively how to find a book because you memorized the Dewey Decimal system so long ago.
  • You think in text.
  • Audio books take up more space on your iPod than music or photos.
  • When someone asks if you’ve seen a movie, everyone recites along with you, “No, but I read the book.”
  • You anticipate the Booker and Pulitzer award announcements but can’t tell the Super Bowl from the World Series or the Grammys from the Emmys.
  • When you move, it’s a given you’ll have more boxes of books than clothes or cookware.
  • Your computer is nearly a decade old but you’re saving for the next-generation e-reader first.
  • The bar code sticker is wearing off your library card.
  • There is a designated space on your bookshelf for library books.
  • You track your reading on a spreadsheet.
  • You keep any kind of list of books read or to read.
  • You know the meaning of the acronym TBR and sigh when you hear it.
  • There are books stacked next to your bed.
  • There are books stacked in your bathroom.  (Hi Grandma!)
  • You would consider purchasing a device that allowed reading in the shower.
  • When reading while eating, you’re more likely to let your food go cold than leave your page unturned.
  • When you pick up a book, the dog runs over because he knows it’s couch time.
  • You read standing up.
  • You read while walking.
  • You’ve read during sex.  Or wished you could.

Can you think of any I missed?

Dubious Memoirs

March 2, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Posted in Book Blather, Memoir | 4 Comments

What do you do when a contested memoir makes the news?  A few years ago we learned that A Million Little Pieces was partly fabricated.  I just finished listening to A Long Way Gone on audio, and somewhere during the final disk I learned that some of the facts were in dispute.

I’ve written before about problems with memoirs.  Chances are good that at least one person involved in the story will disagree violently with the author’s interpretation of events.  That doesn’t mean the author is wrong.  Other people in the story may have been in an altered state, may be in total denial, might not have been there, may misremember or have very poor recall in general, may misunderstand what the author is trying to say, or may simply have a bone to pick for some reason.  Say someone writes a memoir about being raised by a drunken, abusive child molester, and it’s all true – is the parent going to stand up and say, “Yeah, I did it”?

On the other hand, just where is the line between memoir and fiction?  It’s wrong to present fiction as truth, we all seem to agree on that.  What if you wrote a memoir and presented it as a novel?

News media uphold a certain standard of fact-checking before they will publish a story.  When caught in an error, they will publish a correction.  Book publishers are not held to the same standard.  One suspects that they may regard a controversial memoir with delight, because it can only serve to drive up publicity and thus sales.

I reviewed The Night of the Gun some time ago, and to my mind this is an ideal format for a memoir.  The author realizes his memories of a particular event do not jibe with those of his friends, so he sets out to interview people he knew at that time in his life to try to get the most accurate picture possible.  He was doing a lot of drugs at the time and recognized that his recall might be faulty.  What emerges is an absolutely terrific, mind-blowing book.

The author of A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah, seems to be taking the position that he has a photographic memory (he elaborates on this in the book) and that thus everything he wrote has to be true.  The power of his story would not have been reduced if he had presented materials to support his recall of events.  On the contrary, it would have built his case.  If only 5% of his story turned out to be true, it would still be enough to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis of child soldiers.

I think dubious memoirs would not be such a problem if the reading public showed a greater taste for hard-core nonfiction.  As long as we need a memoir or a novel to draw our attention to something newsworthy, we are going to continue to see scandals of accuracy.

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