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Archive for the ‘books’ Tag

Lost and Found   Leave a comment

libraryii

I lost my library card.

It’s one of my most important forms of identification. I’ve held in my hand far more often than my driver’s license or my passport.

I knew the card was easily replaceable, but I’ve had this particular card for 27 years. Before that I had the one issued to me when I was in high school, but I had to relinquish it when I changed my last name. I was attached to the card as much for the length of time it’s been in my possession as for the access it’s provided to feed my imagination and my intellect.

I’d removed the card from my wallet just before a trip out of the country; I knew I wouldn’t be checking out any books in a Mexico City library because I suspected it wouldn’t be accepted anyway. One of my first stops upon returning home was to my local branch. Fortunately, my license was accepted as alternative ID for the book I wanted. Yet, I worried. I couldn’t remember where I’d placed the card.

purse spew

I went through my wallet multiple times; I ransacked my purse – just in case. I searched drawers, underneath piles of papers and books. I ended up organizing the clutter around my computer.

I wondered if I’d left in it the car. I hadn’t. I rearranged more untidiness. I opened one more drawer.

The next best thing to finding something that’s been lost is that sometimes it results in a little bit of cleanup.

library card

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Street Cred   1 comment

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Full disclosure: I’m a John Irving fan. However, at around page 39, in Avenue of Mysteries, I wondered if he’d lost his touch. Before I knew it, I was on page 100 and realized I had nothing to worry about Irving’s storytelling mastery.

Fourteen-year-old Juan Diego and his younger sister, Lupe, are dump kids in Oaxaca, Mexico. That is, they live and work among the trash heaps where garbage is sorted, saved and burned. Through books he’s salvaged, Juan Diego has taught himself to read and learn English. He also serves as translator for Lupe, whose words are unintelligible to everyone else. What she lacks in comprehensibility, she compensates for in her mindreading ability. She’s no fortune teller. Although she has a sense of what will happen, she knows peoples’ histories.

The narrative moves between Juan Diego’s youth and his adult self, a successful writer living in the U.S., who visits the Philippines. Juan Diego’s dreams reveal his past: the dump, the Catholic Church, his mother (the prostitute and cleaning woman for the church), the would-be priest from Iowa and the circus, among many other elements. It wouldn’t be John Irving without the numerous components and the way they intersect.

As he travels, Juan Diego’s state of mind is manipulated by the medication he takes and forgets to take, as he meets Miriam and Dorothy, introduced as mother and daughter. The relationships with the women and a former student are complicated and interesting, but not nearly as engaging as Juan Diego’s earlier life.

Avenue of Mysteries
Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2015
460 pages

Three’s a Charm   5 comments

books

Thanks WordPress for letting me know this is our third anniversary. I don’t have a book or restaurant to review right now, but I did make my 275th post earlier this week.

The traditional gift to commemorate three years is leather. Hhmmm. Sounds like I need to get a book to celebrate!

Thanks WordPress, but more importantly, thank you readers! It’s nice to know I have followers who aren’t related to me, although I am very grateful to those who are for being so consistent in your love and support. I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading. Here’s to three more — at least!

A Book for Booklovers   1 comment

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is the literary equivalent of a triple chocolate dessert. It’s rich, nuanced and meant for those who love chocolate, or in this case, books.

A.J. is an ill-tempered man running a bookstore on an Atlantic coastal island. The store does a brisk summer tourist business. Otherwise it’s a slow, quiet livelihood for A.J., whose wife has been dead for almost two years. But, he’s not old. He’s not even middle-aged. He is, however, a snob, particularly when it comes to literature, and he’s set in his ways, such as they are, as a lonely and often rude man.

Parts of this novel are entirely predictable, but in all the right spots. A.J. meets someone, actually three someones, who change his life: Amy, a publisher’s sales rep; Lambiase, the local police chief; and Maya, the two-year-old child abandoned in his shop. Despite some unsurprising turns, Zevin writes with humor and poignancy. She also displays a knowledge of books.

The relationships also allow A.J. to accept the greater world around him, for better and worse. It helps that the three persons who share his life are book nerds. Lambiase, who is only ever referred to by his last name, is the last to jump on board as a reader. His evolution from a by-the-rules cop is fun and warm. It’s A.J.’s connections to Amy and Maya that resonate the loudest through their shared passion for pages that need to be turned by hand.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2014
260 pages

Unlocking Secrets   3 comments

thirteenth tale

When I mentioned to a friend that I was reading Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, she was surprised it was new to me. It is, after all, a book for booklovers and a mystery, two aspects I find appealing. There is also a sense of the gothic, which typically doesn’t grab me. Yet, I had trouble putting the book down.

This story within a story is compelling on many levels. There’s Margaret Lea, a reclusive woman whose companions are the books in her father’s antiquarian bookshop. Although close to her father, her mother is distant, practically absent from family life. Margaret had a twin sister who died at birth, an event from which Mrs. Lea never recovered.

Margaret receives a letter from Vida Winter, considered one of Britain’s most prolific and beloved authors. Despite her popularity, Vida has creatively maintained her privacy. However, in poor health she summons Margaret to write her biography. In the process, dark secrets emerge.

Each character is transformed through the story telling. Margaret becomes softer as she learns about Vida’s mysterious and startling past. Vida, whose strength diminishes day by day also begins to demonstrate warmth and concern. The more Vida reveals about herself and her dysfunctional family (long before the term was coined), the more engrossing the tale becomes.

Vida tells about the twin sisters, Adeline and Emmaline, and just when the reader is certain to have determined who is who and what is what, Setterfield adds more ingredients into the tantalizing mix.

The Thirteenth Tale
Four Bookmarks
Washington Square Press, 2006
406 pages

 

Half a Review   Leave a comment

 

Luminaries

I’ve written once before about giving myself permission not to finish a book. I usually make the decision within the first 50 pages. I just stopped after 360 pages of Eleanor Catton’s 830 page tome, The Luminaries. The strange thing is, I will probably finish. Someday. Not now though; I have too many other books on my nightstand, and the library copy I’m reading is already overdue.

I can’t say it took me more than 300 pages to get into the 2013 Man Booker Prize winner, but it was no easy trek to make it that far, which is not even halfway.

The tale begins in January 1866 when Walter Moody arrives in a New Zealand mining town seeking his fortune. His first night in town finds him among 12 men ready to discuss a series of events to which they are all directly or tenuously connected. Catton pays meticulous attention to detail. Each character is exhaustively described from appearances, mannerisms, likes, dislikes, self-perceptions and reputation. Moody and company aren’t the novel’s only characters: a few women of mystery and ill-repute and several men who have either died or gone missing are also fastidiously introduced. Yet.

The relationships through business, friendship and happenstance actually do make for an interesting story. Hidden gold, lost fortunes, prejudices and the association of the characters is a maze. while easy to follow from one possible explanation only to be thwarted by another, is eventually, and finally, enthralling. I just hate to have library fines.

The Luminaries
Undecided on Bookmarks
Little, Brown and Co., 2013
360 pages of 830

Hashtags and Characters   Leave a comment

I have a Twitter account, but don’t tweet. Reading Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal by Nick Bilton did nothing to encourage me to embrace this social media leviathan. I was curious about Bilton’s book because I teach an Internet Media class. Undeniably, Twitter has a huge role in how society communicates. Journalists around the world demonstrate its use as a significant tool to report news. I appreciate that. However, it’s disconcerting that stories, whether personal or professional, can be condensed to 140 characters or less.

Nonetheless, Bilton’s book, while not as objective as expected from a New York Times reporter, provides insight into Twitter’s short history. All of the major players and how they became part of the little blue bird’s universe are introduced. Although many others are featured, the focus is on the four identified as Twitter’s co-founders: Evan “Ev” Williams, Jack Dorsey, Christopher “Biz” Stone, and Noah Glass. Bilton is sympathetic in his account of Glass’s involvement, which was short lived. Williams and Stone are profiled in a positive light compared to Dorsey who’s mocked for his Steve Jobs-wanna-be approach and his alone-at-the-end-of-the-day consequences.

The manner in which the story’s told is appealing. Starting in 2010 with Williams about to announce his departure as Twitter’s CEO, Bilton then offers the true beginning in 1997. The account is similar to a mystery without the murder, but plenty of intrigue and backstabbing. The reader knows what’s going to happen, but not necessarily how.

Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
Almost Four Bookmarks
Portfolio/Penguin, 2013
302 Pages