Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gratitude Giveaway Winners

Thank you, everyone, who stopped by and commented, followed, and entered my giveaway.  This was my first of this size and wow!  It was crazy!  (But fun!)

I'm thrilled to announce the winners of my giveaway!  Everyone has been contacted and confirmed!

Deadly Fear by Cynthia Eden goes to .......... mary kirkland!
The Drowning City by Amanda Downum goes to .......... blodeuedd!
Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin goes to .......... PinkStuff28!
The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer by Stephen King goes to .......... .Ambur.!
Kiss Me Deadly by Trisha Telep goes to ..........Lisa McGeen!
Sea by Heidi R. Kling goes to .......... Carol (jessy.wicked)!

Thanks again for all your interest -- more giveaways to come after the New Year!

Nautical Fiction Reading Challenge Selections

As it gets closer to 2011, I'm starting to get my reading challenges in order!  For my Nautical Fiction Reading Challenge, I'm going to aim for Dinghy -- five books -- but my list is a little longer because there are so many I want to read -- I just don't know if I'll get to all of them!  Any thoughts or opinions or suggestions about my list?  Tell me!

  • Frans Gunnar Bengtsson - The Long Ships (this was discussed on an email list of mine and cited as a favorite by many)
  • Kate Brailler - The Boundless Deep (whaling and reincarnation!  Who can resist?)
  • J.D. Davies - Gentleman Captain (I've had this ARC for forever and a day)
  • Amanda Grange - Captain Wentworth's Diary (can never have enough Wentworth)
  • Cecilia Holland - The Soul Thief (Vikings!)
  • Kirsten McKenzie - Captain's Wife (I don't know how this ended up on my TBR, but there ya go!)
  • China Miéville - Kraken (I have to double check on this one, as I'm not sure it's actually nautical.  Sea monster-y, yes, but nautical?)
  • Lisa Moore - February (has an Anita Shreve sort of feel to it, I think)
  • Sena Jeter Naslund - Ahab's Wife (I'm pretty resistant to giving Naslund another chance after the disaster of Adam & Eve, but people I like love this book so maybe I need to be a big girl)
  • Jay Parini - The Passage of H.M. (Love Salem, love Newton Arvin's bio of Melville, sort of loathe the man himself)
  • Thomas Trofimuk - Waiting for Columbus (Another iffy one -- the main character thinks he's Columbus, but isn't actually a sailor...)
Any other nautical-fiction I should add to my list? 

Teaser Tuesday, Nov 30

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This weeks' teaser is from Prelude to a Scandal by Delilah Marvelle.  It's not my usual fare, but the premise really intrigued me and so far, it's not wholly disappointing.  But it's a romance novel first so I'm a little stymied by the characters and their unusual rationalization for things.  Still, the story started off with a bang and I rather like our heroine, Justine. My teaser, long as usual, is from the opening of the book.  We learn on the first page that Justine's father is an African naturalist who wrote extensively on mating behaviors - and was imprisoned for the implications of his work.

Though her father had been found innocent of conspiring to promote buggery and moral corruption, he was still caged in Marshalsea Debtors Prison due to an array of exorbitant fines he simply could not pay.  Unlike most ladies, who might have long languished beneath such scandal mongering, Justine had never been one for wilting.  Her unusual upbringing had made her worldly enough to understand that every female, no matter her genus and species, had the ability to physically coerce a male into full cooperation.

And yes, she knew just the male to coerce.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mailbox Monday, Nov 29

Seen both at The Printed Page and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox for the end of November...

I'm ridiculously behind on my mailbox bragging, which is why I've so many books -- these are my new acquisitions for the last four weeks.  All titles link to GoodReads should you want to read more about them.  Tell me what you've gotten recently and/or your thoughts on any of the books I've just received!


From Maiden's Court, a copy of O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell. 

From My Jane Austen Book Club, a copy of Bespelling Jane Austen -- signed by all the authors with a note from Janet Mullany.  And a bookmark, pen, and magnets. 

From Read All Over Reviews, a Lydia Dare four-pack!  All four books featuring the Westfield Brothers.  Have I mentioned I've recently become a little hot for werewolves?!  So this is some serious fun. 

For Review

The King's Daughter by Christie Dickason
The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway
Bound Darkly (Volume 2) by Tarrant Smith

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nautical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2011

Since JG at The Introverted Reader recommended I read Ahab's Wife; and since I see more Austen/Austen-related fiction in my future; and since I love reading challenges, I thought I'd start one of my own.

The criteria is pretty easy: if the book involves a boat, or sailing, or sailors, or Navy life -- it counts!  Once a month, I'll offer a post so folks can share reviews of their nautical-related reading.

If you'd like to participate, just sign up below!   Books for other challenges can apply to this one, and you don't have to pick your books ahead of time (but feel free to share your suggestions!).

Timeline: Jan 1, 2011 - Dec 31, 2011

Dinghy: up to 5 books
Sloop: up to 10 books
Schooner: up to 15 books
Frigate: more than 20 books

Giveaways closing today and tomorrow!

Just a reminder that the Gratitude Giveaway ends today at 5pm Eastern US.  My giveaway for Heidegger's Glasses ends tomorrow at 5pm Eastern US.  I should have winners announced on Tuesday so pop by then!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chronicle Books Haul-idays Giveaway

Post a list of Chronicle Books valued at up to $500 that you’d like to haul in, and you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing to WIN your list of books! And, one of your readers who comments on the post will win the list too!  Interested in creating your own list?  Do so here.

How can I resist?  I can't.  And I didn't.  My wife and I love food, crafts and travel -- which Chronicle does brilliantly -- so most of my list is made up of that -- although you'll see a few naughty narratives and some sober story-telling.  Comment with anything you find interesting -- if I win, one commenter wins too!

Some Austen mashups....

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen & Ben H. Winters; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith

and some gorgeous escapist fiction...

Windflower by Nick Bantock and Edoardo Ponti

as well as some sexy escapist fiction...

Smut: Volume 1 from the editors of Nerve.com; Bitten, edited by Susie Bright

a biography about a creatrix and artist...

Florence Broadhurst by Helen O'Neill

which only inspires my own artistic and creative pursuits...

Subversive Cross Stitch by Julie Jackson; Sublime Stitching by Jenny Hart; Embroidered Effects by Jenny Hart; French General: Home Sewn by Kaari Meng; French General: Treasured Notions by Kaari Meng; Get Your Sparkle On by Lindsay Cain

of course, it takes some organizing to be so creative...

Oh Joy! File Collection by Joy Deangdeelert Cho; The Handy Household Helper

but once done getting my house in order, I think we'll be ready to travel...

Ticket Stub Diary by Eric Epstein; Moleskine City Notebook New York; Moleskine City Notebook Boston

and finally, I'll want to replicate all those fabulous meals I had...

Quick and Easy Korean Cooking by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee; Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf; Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Morse; Dim Sum by Kit Shan Li; Madhur Jaffrey's Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey; Nirmala's Edible Diary by Nirmala Narine; Moleskine Passions Recipe Journal

Teaser Tuesday, Nov 23

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

As I promised yesterday, today's teaser comes from thus-far fantastic India Black by Carol K. Carr.  Now, of course, comes the hard part: what teaser to post?

As usual, my teaser is longer than two sentences but I can't resist!  In this scene, India Black is heading back home after meeting a sketchy street urchin who's helping her out with a small problem.  No spoilers in this teaser, don't worry!

It's a shame, isn't it, when a mostly law-abiding citizen and woman of property doesn't feel safe to walk the streets of London?  And after all the publicity that little snoop Dickens had brought to the needy and the homeless, not to mention the criminal class.  You think something would have been done by now about the crime rate and the appalling condition of the poor, but the politicians kept waving their Union Jacks, fretting over Ireland, swilling champagne and stuffing themselves with oysters, and couldn't be bothered.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What are you reading, Nov 22

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading, is where we gather to share what we have read this past week and what we plan to read this week. It is a great way to network with other bloggers, see some wonderful blogs, and put new titles on your reading list. Hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey.

After the last few unsatisfying reads, I'm pretty happily settled with a few tasty books:

India Black by Carol K. Carr.  From the first page I literally wanted India Black, the narrator and heroine, to be my BFF.  The opening is fantastic (I'll share a teaser tomorrow!) and so far the story is fun and fast and engrossing.  I am completely overtired at work today thanks to this book (staying up too late to keep reading!).

Valley of Dry Bones (Medieval Mystery #7) by Priscilla Royal.  As the parenthetical sub-title explains, it's a medieval mystery.  I didn't realize it was seventh in a series but I'm not feeling lost in the slightest.  It's a fast read -- I'll probably finish later this week.

Prelude to a Scandal (Scandal #1) by Delilah Marvelle.  Not my usual type of read but the set up kind of intrigued me (sex addiction in Regency England).  So far, it's fun, but I'm a little nervous that everything will be wrapped up thanks to the-love-of-a-good-woman.

All historicals, I just realized!  I have a ton of contemporary fiction in my future, so apparently I'm just going to swing between extremes!

So, what are you reading?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mistress of Abha by William Newton

Title: Mistress of Abha
Author: William Newton

Genre: Fiction (Historical)

Love/Hate?: Meh.
Rating: 2.5ish/5
Did I finish?: No, although I skipped to the end.
One-sentence summary: British colonialist is swept up in romantic reverie for the Arabia of his father's tales and follows his footsteps.

Why did I get this book?: I'm interested in the history of the Middle East.
Source: LibraryThing

Do I like the cover?: No. I mean, it is very pretty, but the novel takes place in Saudi Arabia. There is no call for a pyramid.

Did... I feel excessively grateful for the classes I took on Islamic history back in college?: YES.  There's a small map and a very brief list of major players at the beginning of the book, but hoo-boy, Newton doesn't bother explaining anything.

Did... I eventually find myself wishing my commute were shorter so I could stop reading?: YES.  When I found myself twice stopping this book with a good deal of my commute left, I decided to call a spade a spade and quit.

Review: I didn't finish this book.  I read the first 100 pages or so (120, to be exact) and the last 100 pages, and I don't think I missed anything in between.

The narration has a very odd sense to it and I can't tell if it's simply Newton's style of writing or if it's an attempt at giving the narrator, Ivor Willoughby, some personality.  The story is first person but Willoughby constantly comments on his own story.  If he says something odd to another character, he observes it; if he does something strange, he points it out.  It's slightly clunky but grows familiar as one reads on, and I found it vaguely endearing -- until it grew tiresome.  

I think the intent is for this to be a kind of epic saga -- son searching for his father - but I found it awkward and clunky and slow.  There's a lot of politics and a lot of skirmishes but the narration and storyline just bored me to no end.  And, ultimately, the story at it's root was just so unappealing to me.  I'm not a huge fan of infidelity especially when it's part of the hero's grand romance; that, coupled with the very disturbing exoticization of the slaves, concubines, and other women in this book, left me feeling pretty gross.  I'm all for a good cross-cultural romance, but when a married English officer takes on a second wife because he's all Arab 'at heart' and hates his life back in England, I find that selfish, not romantic.  The narrator is very pro-Empire and colonialisation, which is accurate for the setting of the story (pre WWII, post-Lawrence of Arabia), but as a result, it's a mixture of white man's burden and the noble savage motif.  It also feels a bit like cheap shorthand to create an epic quality to this story.  In the end, the awkward style kept me from being fully pulled in and what I did absorb turned me off.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wandering Wednesday on Thurs, 11/18

I missed Wandering Wednesday (my pseudo-meme where I share bookish links I find interesting!) to post my Gratitude Giveaway, and then today I found an interesting link I just had to share.  So, Wandering Wednesday just wandered onto Thursday.

I recently read and reviewed Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story and today my LibraryThing monthly newsletter featured an interview with Mr Shteyngart!  He talks about a few different things, including his love for Russian literature, which then made me think of this great interview I just read, between blogger Boston Bibliophile and professional translator Lisa Hayden Espenschade (who loves Russian literature, too!).  (Which then made me think of Our Tragic Universe, another book I just read and reviewed, which features a main character in love with Russian literature.)

I could probably go on for hours like this but I'm going to stop here.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gratitude Giveaways!

Gratitude Giveaways is a way to say thank you for being a blog follower!  This is an amazing blog hop full of fabulous giveaways -- see the end of this post for a list of participating blogs!

I'm giving away six books to six of my readers!

Deadly Fear by Cynthia Eden
The Drowning City by Amanda Downum
Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin
The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer by Stephen King
Kiss Me Deadly by Trisha Telep
Sea by Heidi R. Kling

I've tried to make this as simple as possible: comment on any post in November!  One comment, one entry.  Just make sure you submit your name and email on the entry form so I can contact you if you win!  For even more entries, follow me via Google Friend Connect, follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to my posts by email.  It's all optional, of course, so no pressure!  Contest is open to international followers! Ends Sunday, November 28th.

Note: If you comment on either my review of Heidegger's Glasses or my interview with Thaisa Frank, that counts as an entry in this contest and the Heidegger's Glasses giveaway!

Thank you, everyone, for stopping by and commenting!  I so appreciate it!


Other participating blogs:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Title: Super Sad True Love Story
Author:  Gary Shteyngart

Genre: Fiction (Literary / Speculative)

Love/Hate?: I liked it.  There was some hate at first, but the book grew on me.
Rating: 4/5
Did I finish?: I did -- stayed up late to do so!

Why did I get this book?: It was available as a get-it-now e-book on a day when I couldn't find anything to read.
Source: Public library
Challenges:  Support Your Local Library

Do you like the cover?: Eh -- its nothing special.  Adds to hipster feel of the book, though.

First line from book: Dearest Diary, Today I've made a major decision: I am never going to die.

Review: This book is more hip than I am so I'm probably not as swoon-y about it as I should be. Don't get me wrong; the book is good, but there were some aspects of it that didn't resonate for me.  I'll admit up front that the sexual misadventures of a 40-year old white guy aren't really going to move me much so I was feeling rather hostile toward the start of the novel.  Shteyngart's heroine, the 24-year old Eunice Park, daughter of Korean immigrants, is portrayed stereotypically, right down to her mother's broken English.  Things were a little rocky to begin with BUT as the book went on, I actually got caught up in Lenny and Eunice's story.  I kind of cared about what was going to happen to them!  And at the book's end, I was surprised to find I was satisfied and moved.

The book is set in the ambigu-future which is both hilarious and chilling.  (See my Teaser Tuesday for a snippit.)  It's sort of Tea Party-gone-mad (politically, not Alice-in-Wonderland-y) in which corporations have all merged into mega-corporations and the US government is on the verge of toppling, mostly due to an unceasing-and-expensive war with Venezuela (v shades of Afghanistan/Iraq).  Society is hypersexualized and technology -- especially social media -- has accelerated in importance to the point that every person is wired up and connected, rated and ranked by their peers.  Lenny is stuck in an era in which people read books; Eunice is acutely aware of social standing and popular culture.  They're an unlikely couple, both  motivated by selfish desires, and we watch their relationship unfold as each confesses their side of the story: Lenny, in his diary and Eunice, in long emails to friends and family.  Shteyngart's world building is fantastic: there isn't a metric ton of exposition about how things ended up the way they did and there's no learning curve for the reader.  We're immediately immersed in this hostile, aggressive, judgmental society, a bit like Lenny, looking to find our footing. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Interview with Thaisa Frank

I'm thrilled to offer an interview with Thaisa Frank, author of Heidegger's Glasses.  (I'm absolutely swoon-y over it!)

You've probably been asked this a million times, but where did the idea of Heidegger’s Glasses come from? Who was the first character to come alive for you?

I guess the first person who talked to me was Elie. Over twenty years ago, when I’d written just one collection of short stories, I heard a woman’s voice from deep below the earth. She lived in Germany during World War II and was helping people answer letters to the dead. I knew her name was Elie Schacten. I knew she looked a little like my father’s mother who had died when he was six and left two children and a husband who was a Presbyterian theologian and too sophisticated to believe in heaven. (Her name was Grace and I thank her at the end of my book.)

I could feel her claustrophobia. I also heard some of the letters. I wrote sixteen pages and stopped because I knew this woman lived in a world with so many strands only a novel could do it justice. I could even hear the length, like a few musical notes surrounded by hours of silence. But I only knew how to write short fiction. Many years later, someone told me that Heidegger had had a revelation about his eyeglasses. Wow, I thought, Heidegger’s Glasses would make a great title. I wrote the book and later realized that those first sixteen pages were the DNA for Heidegger’s Glasses. I also realized that even though they were about an imaginary world, that world was launched by real events in World War II. I hadn’t known about these events when I wrote those sixteen pages. I only found out about them afterwards, when I began to write the novel.

I see you're going to be speaking at the Museum of Tolerance about your book; had you spoken with anyone at the museum about it being featured in Heidegger's Glasses? Have you heard a response from them now that the book is out?

Strangely--as with so much of the book---I didn’t know that the Museum of Tolerance existed until after the book was done. And all I know now is that they’re excited to have me. This was an interesting book to write, because I wrote first and found out “facts” later, or in the process of writing. A lot of the facts coincided with the book, making me believe that the imagination has phalanges that stretch far into the world.

There are historical figures as characters in Heidegger's Glasses -- Goebbels and Heidegger, for example -- but are any of the main characters from the Compound historical or were they inspired by the people likely to have lived there?

There were two people helped me create the character of Asher Englehardt. One was a famous Austrian writer named Oskar Rosenkranz who lived in the Lodz ghetto. (I had seen a documentary about the Lodz ghetto after I wrote those 16 pages. And then, as if by magic, I found a book about the Lodz ghetto on a remainder table in a bookstore.) Oskar Rozenkranz was an official Scribe for the Lodz ghetto (another coincidence--I hadn’t known there were real Scribes when I heard the voice below the earth). He also wrote about ghetto life in coded diaries with an extraordinary depth of vision. His sensibility flowed into the character of Asher Englehardt.

The other person in this collaboration of character was someone I’d known in my twenties and then forgotten. But when I read his obituary in the New York Times, I realized he’d been an important force in my life, and in my sense of compassion for people in the camps. This was Stanley Adleman, whom I met long before I ever published, on a hot summer day in New York City. When I brought my broken typewriter to his Amsterdam Avenue store, I had no idea he repaired typewriters for almost every working writer in the city. I was young, in a crisis about love, and in no condition to understand anything about machines. But Stanley Adleman explained and re-explained every gear and wheel until he was sure I understood what was wrong with my typewriter and what needed to be done to fix it. Stanley Adleman seemed to hold me with his eyes and telegraphed a necessity for understanding that was so urgent, I forgot about my crisis and listened until my typewriter and its mechanisms--usually mysterious--became lucid. From the periphery of my vision, I saw blue numbers on his arm. When I left the store, I felt strangely free of concerns. And after I read his obituary, I remembered everything about him---including the fact that after that day I was never unhappy when my typewriter broke because I would be able to see him. I also realized I felt a kinship between his sensibility and that of Oskar Rosenfeld.

If you had to place an item in a trunk from your time writing Heidegger’s Glasses, what would it be?

A wonderful question. And I’ll answer it honestly.  During much of the time I was writing Heidegger’s Glasses, I was in the aftermath of a very bad divorce. I really had treasured family life even though there were great difficulties. And now I was alone with an angry teenager with a shaved head. So I supposed I would have put in the trunk things that were symbols of a time that was over: A certain stuffed animal comes to mind. My husband and I had gotten if for our son and he always slept with it, even when he was older. He was a dolphin named Monterey. I would have put Montery into that trunk.

On your blog, you mention 'the gloomy eastern europeans' as an influence. Were you always drawn to gloomy or is that something that has developed as you’ve gotten older?

I’m afraid not. I always loved Kafka, Gogol, and Schulz. But “gloomy” has a tongue in check quality to it, because Kafka, Gogol and Schulz could be absurdly funny. And then there is Landolfi, who is Italian and wrote a wonderful story called Gogol’s Wife. And The Dwarf, a brilliant novel by Lagerqvist (he won the Noble Prize in the 50s) is dark, but hilarious. There’s irony in all these works, and the healing quality that comes from being able to laugh at an absurd world as well as feel that you have fellow travelers who understand that the world is absurd.

What do you do when you’re not writing (or teaching about writing)?

I love to walk in cities. New York and Paris are my favorite cities to walk in. (I was born in New York.) Recently I was in Guanajato where walking was perilous. The streets were narrow, the old cobblestones rose up like broken teeth, and the cars always had right of way. Walking there was a constant adventure in peril---just the way walking in New York is an alliance of pedestrians, who watch the lights as carefully as drivers, and sometimes descend en masse when there’s a red light because they’ve made some silent, unilateral decision that they have right of way.

Every big city has its own dance between pedestrians and cars. I love this. And I love going to neighborhoods because they’re like different short stories. Big cities are both novels and numerous short story collections.

I also love to cook and stare into space and work out.

Read any good books recently?

I loved “Remainder” by Tom MacCarthy. It’s a sort of modern Proustian story in which an amnesiac looks at a piece of wall paper and remembers something that might actually have happened to him. Since he was given a settlement of 8.5 million pounds (on the grounds that he never talk about what happened to him) he has the money to recreate what he saw by buying a huge apartment building, making everyone relocate, and hiring actors to do what he imagines he remembers. It’s an amazing book.

My thanks to Ms Frank for her wonderful answers and to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity.  You can learn about Ms Frank and her books at her website and her blog.

Courtesy of the publisher, I have a copy of Heidegger’s Glasses to give away!  To enter, please leave a comment with your email address (U.S. or Canada, only, sorry!) before November 29th.  The winner will be contacted then.  For a chance at additional entries, be sure to comment on my review of Heidegger's Glasses!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank

Title: Heidegger's Glasses
Author: Thaisa Frank

Genre: Fiction (Historical)

Love/Hate?: Loved.  Totally one of my top 10 of 2010.
Rating: 5/5
Did I finish?:  YES.
One-sentence summary: Translators living in an underground compound write letters for the dead during the end of World War II.

Why did I get this book?: I was actually intrigued by the Heidegger connection but found the book was way more than just a look at the philosopher.
Source: TLC Book Tours

Do I like the cover?: Yes. 

Did...I find I could understand this novel despite being totally ignorant about philosophy?: YES.  There's a philosopher as a character and some lovely passages that have a sort of philosophical bent to them, but the writing and the plot grab you immediately.

Was...I reminded a little of Michael Ondaatje and Jeanette Winterson?: YES.  The book is delicate without being precious or overwrought; the essence of the story is there without being too thin or leaving the reader at arm's length.

Did...this book make me sad?: YES.  BUT IN THE BEST WAY.  I've been telling friends the feel of this book is a kind of poignant, bittersweet sadness that you want to savor a little -- not the kind of misery that ruins your weekend.  I promise.

Review:  Some where in my childhood, I remember seeing a PSA-style poster extolling the awesomeness of reading by saying you'll always remember the first time something you read made you cry.  Even though I'm a softie, I do still recall -- quite vividly -- the pieces that have moved me deeply: Kurt Schork's Reuters piece about 'Romeo and Juliet' killed on Sarajevo's Vrbana Bridge; Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body; a breakup letter from my first adult love; and now, Thaisa Frank's gorgeous novel.

That said, please, please don't let the possibility of sorrow or sadness scare you away from picking up this book.  Books about the Holocaust promise unhappiness and I steeled myself for some passages that would disgust or scare or horrify me; instead, Frank presents a story of the Holocaust in a delicate, deft way that allows pain and fear and deep sadness without making one want to jump off a bridge upon finishing.  (In fact, when I finished, I just wanted to sit with a cup of tea and sniff with a cat in my lap.  I wanted to savor the bittersweet, heartbreaking poignancy.  I'm getting teary again just recalling it!)

The premise of the story is unbelievable and fascinating: the 'Scribes', sixty translators plucked from death or trips to the camps due only to chance and their ability to speak more than one language, live in an underground compound designed to resemble a bucolic village, tasked with writing letters to the living relatives of those killed at the camps.  Managed by three SS officers who are more a part of the community than separate from it, the novel follows the events put into motion when Martin Heidegger's wife makes a ruckus about wanting to hear from a family friend, a man who was taken to Auschwitz.

Frank very quickly evokes the world of late World War II Germany, with it's mixture of grim efficiency and slavish devotion to the occult.  Heidegger and his philosophical musings stick out as cruelly self-introspective and even inappropriate (there's a particularly moving scene in which he wants to discuss Being with a man just recently escaped from Auschwitz).  What makes the story touching and human is that within this huge, horrible, sad event, she presents the small, every day battles and victories of the 'Scribes': loneliness, fear, desire, jealousy, the wish to belong, the awareness of what has been lost, surviving, finding love, human connection.  

Courtesy of the publisher, I have a copy of Heidegger’s Glasses to give away!  To enter, please leave a comment with your email address (U.S. or Canada, only, sorry!) before November 29th.  The winner will be contacted then.  For a chance at additional entries, be sure to come back on November 15th for my interview with Thaisa Frank.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesday, Nov 9

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I've got two teasers for this week!  My first teaser: a giveaway!  This Thursday I'll be reviewing Heidegger's Glasses; on Monday, I'll be posting an interview with the author, Thaisa Frank.  Comments on both will count as entries toward a giveaway for a copy of Heidegger's Glasses.  I hope you'll stop by!  (I did a previous Teaser Tuesday from it -- such a great book!)

This week's teaser is from Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.  It's a super hip book at the moment, and it might be too hip for me.  I'm enjoying it -- it's very satirical -- but it also has this fetish for Asian women thing that I find a bit gross.  (Maybe it's supposed to be satirical too?  I'm not sure yet.)

Set in the ambigu-future, the story alternates between the electronic diary of Lenny, the hero, and the emails of his love interest.  In this scene, Lenny is recounting his last days in Rome before he returns to the US.

I went to the U.S. Embassy.

It wasn't my idea to go.  A friend of mine, Sandi, told me that if you spend over 250 days abroad and don't register for Welcome Back, Pa'dner, the official United States Citizen Re-Entry Program, they can bust you for sedition right at JFK, send you to a "secure screening facility" Upstate, whatever that is.

Now, Sandi knows everything -- he works in fashion -- so I decided to take his vividly expressed, highly caffeinated advice and headed for Via Veneto, where our nation's creamy palazzo of an embassy luxuriates behind a recently built moat.  Not for much longer, I should say.  According to Sandi, the strapped State Department just sold the whole thing to StatoilHydro, the Norwegian state oil company, and by the time I got to Via Veneto the enormous compound's trees and shrubbery were already being coaxed into tall, agnostic shapes to please their new owners.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

Title: Our Tragic Universe
Author: Scarlett Thomas

Genre: Fiction (Chick Lit/Literary)

Love/Hate?: I really can't say. Both?
Rating: 4/5
Did I finish?: Yes -- I was consumed by it!

Why did I get this book?: The cover, and the font, and it was an author I'd never heard of.
Source: NetGalley

Do you like the cover?: Yes.  Quite striking, and very appropriate to the novel.

First line from book: I was reading about how to survive the end of the universe when I got a text message from my friend Libby.

Review: This is a challenging book to review: the entire time I was reading it, I was convinced I hated it; only I'd stop reading it and find myself chewing over the themes of the story or the narrator or the promise of where the novel was going.  In the end, I have to say this is a very good and well-written novel that is maddening and thought-provoking and a little bit pretty.

The story is fairly simple: our narrator, Meg, struggles with her life.  She's living with someone she thinks she might not love anymore; she writes genre fiction that embarrasses her and wants nothing more than to finish a great literary novel; her friends and family have their own particular tragedies that she can't fix.  For a while, I really loathed Meg -- she was just so ambivalent about everything -- until I realized that much of what Meg both did and wished to do really hit upon how I felt about my life and the things I wanted to do.  Meg's relationship reminded me of my first serious relationship after college, right down to the struggling for money and tip-toeing around a depressed partner (it felt so similar I started conflating Meg with me so when Meg later indicated that she's in her late 30s and not mid-20s, I kind of started in surprise).  She was remarkably compassionate when my uglier self would have been mean and she was aggravatingly passive when my bolder self would have acted.  It was a shock -- and in the end, kind of a pleasure -- to find myself so challenged by a novel I started as a throwaway.

Thomas clearly loves Dostoevsky: his works and his style of writing show throughout the story; Thomas' characters have long philosophical conversations that are both interesting and a little indulgent. (Unlike Meg and Thomas, I skipped all the rumination-ing in Anna Karenina to get to the hot affair part.) 

There's so much unanswered in Thomas' book and it's unsettling and appealing.  I usually prefer to have my stories end neatly but in this case, it was appropriate and well-done.