Friday, March 27, 2009

A Brief Escape

We're off to Puerto Rico! My husband has a three day conference and my parents are staying with the twins, so the two of us are taking our first child-less trip (not counting a few overnight getaways) since 2002! It's been quite some time since my parents have dealt with teenagers, but they were very good at it then and feel up to the challenge now.

I will be taking along a few books:
The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever (I'm loving this book)
The Shack by William Paul Young (for my April book club meeting)
Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick (it looks really good and a girl needs options!)

I hesitated at just three titles, but then remembered my copy of The Wapshot Chronicle actually contains all the novels of John Cheever. That should be enough to last until Wednesday. Now it's time to think about what clothes to pack...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Best Bad Book?

Today's Booking Through Thursday question, suggested by Janet:
The opposite of last week’s question: “What’s the best ‘worst’ book you’ve ever read — the one you like despite some negative reviews or features?”

My answer to this question is one, I suspect, will pop up a few times today. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown certainly isn't a very well-written book, but I found it to be an entertaining page-turner. I read it when it was newly released so, when it was the hot topic of conversation at cocktail parties, I was able to add my two cents.
Another book that comes to mind is Jemima J: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans by Jane Green. This was an enjoyable beach read, even though it got mixed reviews.

Click over to Booking Through Thursday to see more responses...or play yourself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

The Witches of Eastwick
by John Updike
1984, Alfred A. Knopf
307 pages

In the months following John Updike's death, I've sensed a renewed interest in his work. The Witches of Eastwick has been on my shelf for years, and this seemed like a good time to pull it down and finally read it.

From the back cover:
In a small New England town in that hectic era when the sixties turned into the seventies, there lived three witches. Alexandra Spofford, a sculptress, could create thunderstorms. Jane Smart, a cellist, could fly. The local gossip columnist, Sukie Ridgemont, could turn milk into cream. Divorced by hardly celibate, the wonderful witches one day found themselves under the spell of the new man in town, Darryl Van Horne, whose strobe-lit hot tub room became the scene of satanic pleasures.
To tell you any more, dear reader, would be to spoil the joy of reading this sexy, hexy novel by the incomparable John Updike.

Obviously, these blurbs are meant to sell books, but The Witches of Eastwick isn't quite as raunchy as this one makes it sound. However, it didn't quite deliver on the "joy of reading" either.

From the outset, it's clear the witches are not popular with other women of the community.
"...I don't know why these women bother to go on living, whores to half the
town, and not even getting paid. And those poor, neglected children of
theirs, it's a positive crime." pg. 127

As strange activities occur at the Van Horne mansion, tension between the witches and the community mounts.
"When she tossed the ball up, it became an egg and spattered all over her
upturned face, through the gut strings. Sukie threw down her racket in
disgust and it became a snake, that had nowhere to slither to." pg.

Newcomers to the mansion crowd lead to doubts, suspicion, more spells and an unfortunate resolution.

There are, however, passages that are vintage Updike, including a couple of my favorites:
"Certainly the fact of witchcraft hung in the consciousness of Eastwick, a lump.
a cloudy destiny generated by a thousand translucent overlays, a sort of
heavenly body, it was rarely breathe of and, though dreadful, offered the
consolation of completeness, of rounding out the picture..." p.210

"It [witchcraft] had the uncertain outlines of something seen through a
shower door and was viscid, slow to evaporate: for years after the events
gropingly and even reluctantly related here, the rumor of witchcraft stained
this corner of Rhode Island, so that a prickliness of embarrassment and unease
entered the atmosphere with the most innocent mention of Eastwick."

Unfortunately, there weren't enough passages like these and the book failed to live up to my expectations. In The Beauty of the Lilies will remain my favorite Updike novel and perhaps someday I'll read the Rabbit novels. I will pass on The Widows of Eastwick, Updike's final novel and sequel to Witches, released last summer.

My rating for The Witches of Eastwick is 3/5.
This book is my second read for My Year of Reading Dangerously challenge.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - The Wapshot Chronicle

Teaser Tuesdays, hosted my MizB at Should Be Reading, asks you to:
Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you're getting your teaser from...that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you've given. Please avoid spoilers!

My teaser is from page 56 of The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever:

"Coverly knew that he had offended his father but guilt would have been too exact a word for the pain and uneasiness he felt and this pain may have been aggravated by his knowledge of the conditions of Honora's will. The sense was not only that he had failed himself and his father by bringing a cookbook to a fishing camp; he had profaned the mysterious rites of virility and had failed whole generations of future Wapshots as well as the beneficiaries of Honora's largess-... "
Visit here to play along and read more Teaser Tuesdays.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mammon and the Archer by O. Henry

It's Monday again...and time for a third installment of Short Story Monday. The decision to choose an O. Henry story came from a comment Molly made last week. She enjoys Short Story Monday because it introduces her to stories other than the O. Henry and Guy de Maupassant she generally teaches her 9th graders. Now I must have read "The Gift of the Maji" in high school, but I have no recollection of it. So, I decided to re-visit O. Henry with one of his lesser-known stories.
Mammon and the Archer opens with the line:
"Old Anthony Rockwell, retired manufacturer and proprietor of Rockwell's
Eureka Soap, looked out the library window of his fifth Avenue mansion and

It's written with a tone of cheerful cynicism emphasising the pleasures of money and setting up an ideological battle between love and money. Mammon (and I had to look this up) is wealth regarded as evil and the object of greedy pursuit. The archer, of course, is Cupid. Anthony's son, Robert, is bemoaning the fact that the love of his life will be leaving for Europe before he has the opportunity to reveal his true feelings.

Anthony represents wealth in the story. He makes his position clear:
"I bet my money on money every time. I've been through the encyclopaedia down to Y looking for something you can't buy with it; and I expect to have to take up
the appendix next week..."
Love is championed by his sister, Ellen:
"... Aunt Ellen, gentle, sentimental, wrinkled, sighing, oppressed by
"Oh, Anthony," sighed Aunt Ellen, "I wish you would not think so much of
money. Wealth is nothing where true affection is concerned. Love is

O. Henry's stories are famous for surprise endings. Mammon and the Archer is no different. Just as you think the story is wrapping up, a surprise twist grabs the reader adding to the delight of the story.
Read the entire story on-line here, then visit The Book Mine Set to see who else is participating in Short Story Monday this week.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Audio Favorites

Carrie at Books and Movies wrote a great post about her favorite audio books last week. It got me thinking about the role audio books play in my reading.

I discovered audio books in 2002, a year I spent an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel of my car. My main source of audio books then was the public library. Late in 2003, I became member of and have had a membership ever since. My time in the car has decreased considerably, but my audio book habit has continued. My listening preference is fiction (occasionally even a best-seller I wouldn't pick up and read), but I've also enjoyed lighter non-fiction and memoirs.

Here are some of my favorites:

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

-an outstanding collection of short stories very effectively read by two different narrators

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
-a collection of stories about life in a small Maine town, each featuring an appearance by larger-than-life character Olive Kitteridge
-the narrator's Maine accent contributes to it's audio success

Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
-examines the problem of illegal immigration by putting a 'face' on both sides of the issue

-an elderly man recalls his younger years travelling with the circus
-effectively done with two readers

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
-a very unusual love story with a literary twist
-read by multiple narrators

-very funny essays about growing older and other feminine issues
-read by the author

Digging to America by Anne Tyler
-two very different families meet at an airport while picking up their adopted Korean daughters and form a life-long friendship

-a father delivers his set of twins and gives up his Downs Syndrome daughter without his wife's knowledge

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
-sprawling novel set in 1950's Niagara Falls...typical JCO

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
-a child is conceived specifically to be a bone marrow donor for her older sister
-a riveting, Picoult formula story read by multiple narrators

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright
-Giller Award winning epistolary novel depicting the lives of two sisters during the depression
-this is the novel that got me hooked on audio books

And finally, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

For some reason, Blogger won't let me upload a picture, but this is one book where the reader makes the experience!

What audio books have you enjoyed?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Reading Thing 2009

Spring is finally here and Katrina at Callapidder Days has come up with the perfect challenge to celebrate the season! Spring Reading Thing 2009 is a fun, low-pressure challenge that allows each participant to select a reading list and set personal goals. It begins today and will end on June 20.

Since I am a slow reader, and because I've been spending almost as much time blogging as reading lately, my goals are relatively modest. Two books a month is manageable, so here is the list I'll choose from.

1. The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever
2. The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
3. The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield
4. The Shack by William Paul Young (April book club selection)
5. May book club selection (we only choose one book at a time)
6. June book club selection
7. one non-fiction book

Additional goals include:
1. read at least one short story per week and participate in Short Story Mondays
2. listen to three audio books
3. whittle down my stack of New Yorker magazines

There will be a wrap-up post in June to let you know how I've done. Visit Callapidder Days if you'd like to sign up...and add some springtime your blog with the adorable button!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - 3/19/09

It's Thursday! Here is today's question, suggested by Janet:
“What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?”

Since I don't finish unenjoyable books, I had to go all the way back to high school to come up with my worst 'best' book. The most painful read of my life is, without a doubt, Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. Finishing this book was absolute torture! It may even be at the root of my aversion to 'war books'.

The worst 'best' book that I didn't finish is probably One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I've attempted it twice but just can't seem to get through it. I just don't 'get' magic realism.

Visit today's Booking Through Thursday to check out what everyone else is saying.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - 3/17/09

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and asks you to:

Grab your current read.Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! Please avoid spoilers!

My teaser:

"In the dark corner of the public omnibus taking him back to Paris, Laurent put the final touches to his plan. He was almost certain of getting away with it. He was filled with a heavy, anxious feeling of joy, joy at having accomplished the crime."

From: Therese Raquin by Emile Zola, page 64 of the Penguin Classics edition

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Swimmer by John Cheever

There wasn't going to be a Short Story Monday post this week. Therese Raquin has been so enjoyable that I didn't want to stop for a story. But, as I was perusing some blogs on Sunday morning, I came across Sam's review of The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever. It sounded so appealing that I had to read Cheever - now. None of his novels are on my shelves, but I did find a story in my Norton Book of American Short Stories.

The Swimmer was published in 1964 and may be Cheever's most famous short story. It opens memorably with the line:

"It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, "I drank too much last night." "

We meet the main character, Neddy Merrill:

"He might have been compared to a summer's day, particularly the last hours of one, and while he lacked a tennis racket or sail bag the impression was definitely one of youth, sport, and clement weather."
While at a party, Neddy decides to swim home across Westchester county following a route (named Lucinda River, after his wife) of swimming pools with short portages in between.

"Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew he would find friends along the way; friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River."

It is a gorgoeus summer day and Neddy's main thought is how to avoid having a drink at each friend's pool without being rude, as this would delay his arrival at home. However, about half way there, a storm occurs and later, people aren't quite as glad to see him.

"I'm swimming across the county."
"Good Christ. Will you ever grow up"
"What's the matter?"
"If you've come here for money," she said, "I won't give you another cent."

Time seems to have passed - leaves are falling and the wrong constellations appear in the sky.

"Looking overhead, he saw the stars had come out, but why should he seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had become of the constellations of midsummer? He began to cry."
The journey has become surreal. Time has become warped. When Neddy finally does reach home, the narrative takes on the feeling of a ghost story. I was very taken with this story and will definitely be reading more of John Cheever.

If you're interested, you can read the entire story here. To see who else is participating in Short Story Monday, click over to The Book Mine Set.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth
by Jhumpa Lahiri
2008, Alfred A. Knopf
333 pages

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is the first book completed for My Year Of Reading Dangerously challenge. Short stories have seemed 'dangerous' since high school, but this year I'm making an effort to include more in my reading. Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of eight short stories; the last three are connected by character and have the feel of a novella. The book's epigraph, from "The Custom-House" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, provides the title and sets up a common theme.

"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted
and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn out
soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their
fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed

One or more character from each story is indeed on unaccustomed earth, yet the immigrant experience is not really what these stories are about. Instead, it serves as a backdrop to larger, more universal themes of love, relationships, and communication. Lahiri's prose is crystal-clear and full of wisdom and insight.

Each story is something special, but my favorite is the book's title story. Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father. Since the death of her mother, Ruma has felt a duty toward her father and considers asking him to move in. Her father, however, has a new relationship that has been kept secret. During the course of his visit, Ruma's father transforms the backyard into a beautiful garden. The project provides him an opportunity to form a strong bond with his young grandson and to strengthen his relationship with Ruma. The ending of this story was an uplifting expression of love and acceptance.

I highly recommend this collection even if, like me, the short story is not a form that you feel completely at home with.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Basketball Classic: Syracuse wins in 6 OT

Absolutely amazing! Last night at the Big East Tournament quarter-finals in Madison Square Garden, arch-rivals Syracuse and UConn put on a show that will be talked about for generations. The longest game in Big East history took all of regulation, 6 overtime periods, and nearly 4 hours, for the Orange to emerge with a 10 point victory at nearly 1:30 AM. You've gotta love March Madness...and it doesn't get any better than this!

You can read more about the game here. The photo is also from the Post-Standard.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - March 12

It's Thursday! Tami inspired this week’s question:

What book do you think should be made into a movie? And do you have any suggestions for the producers?
Or, What book do you think should NEVER be made into a movie?

The first thing that comes to mind is one of my all-time favorite books, Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety. The story centers around two couples that meet during the Depression and follows them through the course of a life-long friendship. It doesn't sound all that exciting, but it contains the most stunning character development I've ever read.

Another possibility is the Benjamin Black (John Banville's alter ego) crime thriller series featuring pathologist Garret Quirke. Christine Falls and The Silver Swan would make exciting films!

The second part of the question, which book should never be made into a movie, resulted in an "oh, wait a minute" moment. My answer is the same as part one! Movies made of books I love are often a disappointment and I'd rather not risk it with Crossing to Safety.
You can play along or read other answers to today's BTT here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring is in the air...

It's nearly 50 degrees and the sun is shining! Snowbanks still stand in shady areas, but I can see brown grass along the shoreline. Ice is beginning to melt, and the ice fishermen have been gone for a week. I know better than to think this is spring, but it sure feels like it today!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Short Story Monday

Well, here first short story post. I'll preface it by saying that ever since high school, I've steered clear of short stories. They seem to demand more of the reader and, often, I've felt like I'm not up to the task. Recently, however, two collections of short stories have found their way into my reading. Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth (review to be posted this week) and Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge (my review and book club meeting posted earlier) were both outstanding and have me re-thinking my stance on short stories.

The Norton Book of American Short Stories has been on my bookshelf for a few months now. Twin A used it for her English class short story unit and told me I should take a look... "There are some really good stories in there, Mom."

As a test, I decided to choose a "short" short story by an author that is familiar to me. At just three pages, "The Story of An Hour" by Kate Chopin fit my criteria. It is about a woman who receives word of her husband's death in a train accident and chronicles her emotional state for the following hour. The story was written in 1894, five years before The Awakening was published, and is obviously the work of the same author. It (very) briefly explores a woman's sense of identity as it relates to her marriage .

"She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands
folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed
and gray and dead. But she saw beyond that bitter moment a long procession of
years to come that would belong to her absolutely. And she opened and spread her
arms out to them in welcome."

Saying more will spoil the story, but you can find it here and read it for yourself in just a couple of minutes.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Classics Challenge

I've come to the conclusion that joining even a single challenge can be risky. After signing up and clicking the first Mr. Linky, it gets easier and easier to do it again.

The Classics Challenge, hosted by Trish, is impossible to resist! You can join at one of three levels, books may overlap with other challenges, and you can adjust your list at any time.
How's that for making it easy to succeed? You can find all the other details here.
I've decided to do the classics snack and read four classics between April 1 and October 31.

My list (subject to change) includes:
1. Therese Raquin by Emile Zola (reviewed 4/8/09)
2. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
3. The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield (reviewed 5/20/09)
4. Summer by Edith Wharton
5. Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple (reviewed 9/26/09)
6. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (reviewed 10/29/09)


When the books are completed, I will post links to the reviews. There is also a bonus round,
where you read a book that may become classic, that I hope to join.

Thank you, Trish, for hosting this challenge!

I am a Marilyn!

Have you seen this one yet??
I found it at Caribousmom.

Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else?
Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz

I am a Marilyn!

"I am affectionate and skeptical."

Marilyns are responsible, trustworthy, and value loyalty to family, friends, groups, and causes. Their personalities range broadly from reserved and timid to outspoken and confrontative.

How to Get Along with Me
* Be direct and clear
* Listen to me carefully
* Don't judge me for my anxiety
* Work things through with me
* Reassure me that everything is OK between us
* Laugh and make jokes with me
* Gently push me toward new experiences
* Try not to overreact to my overreacting.

What I Like About Being a Marilyn
* being committed and faithful to family and friends
* being responsible and hardworking
* being compassionate toward others
* having intellect and wit
* being a nonconformist
* confronting danger bravely
* being direct and assertive

What's Hard About Being a Marilyn
* the constant push and pull involved in trying to make up my mind
* procrastinating because of fear of failure; having little confidence in myself
* fearing being abandoned or taken advantage of
* exhausting myself by worrying and scanning for danger
* wishing I had a rule book at work so I could do everything right
* being too critical of myself when I haven't lived up to my expectations

Marilyns as Children Often
* are friendly, likable, and dependable, and/or sarcastic, bossy, and stubborn
* are anxious and hypervigilant; anticipate danger
* form a team of "us against them" with a best friend or parent
* look to groups or authorities to protect them and/or question authority and rebel
* are neglected or abused, come from unpredictable or alcoholic families, and/or take on the fearfulness of an overly anxious parent

Marilyns as Parents
* are often loving, nurturing, and have a strong sense of duty
* are sometimes reluctant to give their children independence
* worry more than most that their children will get hurt
* sometimes have trouble saying no and setting boundaries

Which female icon are you? Take the quiz here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - March 5

Today's Booking Through Thursday question:

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet.
What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

On first glance, I though this was an easy question and one that I have a stock response for:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. When the new translation was released a couple of years ago, I ran right out and bought it in hardcover...just couldn't wait for the paperback. I was finally going to tackle this monster! As I sat down to read, I discovered the book was very awkward and cumbersome and would require months to complete. (Time to think about a Kindle, again!)

Returning to the question, I began to think "best book" by what standards? Here's where I decided on personal enjoyment. I may not love War and Peace. In fact, books that have war as the backdrop rarely make it to my 'best of' lists.

So, the best book I haven't read may be The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. The Moonstone was one of my favorites of 2005 and this sounds just as good. It even fits into the challenges I've signed up for. It's time to move it to the top of the tbr pile!
What is the best book you've never read?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Book Club Meeting: Olive Kitteridge

Around the same time I was raving about Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout here, I was also singing its praises to my book club. As a result, it was chosen as our February selection and last Friday was meeting day. From spring through Christmas, we meet at member's homes, but in the dead of winter, when roads and driveways become difficult to navigate and available parking is diminished by mountains of snow, we move to the local coffee shop. After purchasing our coffee, lattes, or tea, we made our way upstairs to the meeting room.

There was a relatively small crowd - just 6 of us. One member got called to sub at the elementary school, another received a last minute phone call from her MIL requesting a ride to a doctor's appointment, and one more was home with a sick child. What was remarkable about this particular gathering, though, was that everyone had read the book. After a brief period to catch up with each others lives, we started with the standard "Did you like the book?" before quickly moving on to a more in-depth discussion.

Initially I was relieved that nobody disliked the book (I always seem to take it personally if a suggestion of mine is panned by the group). The first part of our discussion focused on Olive herself - not being a particularly likable character, reminding one member of her mother (!), and even drawing a few laughs as we recounted some of Olive's escapades. We agreed that the author had done an excellent job of showing how Olive's character was able to grow and adapt. We talked about Olive's family and characters that made a guest appearance in just one story. We cited out favorite/least favorite stories and several memorable passages.

A good amount of discussion was spent on the structure of the book...the fact that it was not just a collection of short stories, nor was it a true novel. This was what put a couple people off, but it was something that really stood out for me. The short stories were, in fact, related and occurred over a period of time showing Olive as a young wife, mother and math teacher and, eventually, as a retired widow. Events were not necessarily connected as a novel would be, rather the reader was given each story as a snapshot and left to piece them together and fill in the blanks for herself.

We did come to the conclusion that the reader of the audiobook greatly added to my personal enjoyment (her Maine accent was perfect). I only checked the book out of the library to go back and reread favorite passages. While I was disappointed that the others did not come to love the book as I did, I was also relieved there was no strong criticism.

This completes challenge #10 of the 2009 mini-challenges.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Six Word Sunday

I saw the Six Word Sunday idea at Dolce Bellezza and thought I'd play along.

A greeting found on Sanibel's beach...


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