Monday, June 28, 2010


Ian McEwan's 2001 Atonement is probably his most widely read and critically acclaimed novel. It was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, has been adapted into an Academy-Award nominated film, and is beloved by readers all over. I absolutely loved about 95% of the book, but in the very end I was left a little disappointed, especially after the near-perfect The Child In Time, the only other McEwan I've read to date.

We are introduced to the Tallis family in the summer of 1935, when 13-year-old Briony is excited to see her older sister Cecilia and brother Leon, home from college, and her cousins Lola, Jackson and Pierrot, who are visiting while Aunt Hermione has a tryst in Paris. As the weekend begins, she witnesses a flirtation between Cecilia and Robbie Turner, the son of the Tallis' charwoman who has grown up with the Tallis children and is also home from college. Robbie is head over heels in love with Cecilia, and determines to tell her that evening. When he does so, and Cecilia reciprocates, their moment of shared passion is misunderstood by young Briony. Later in the evening Lola is assaulted; Briony mistakenly accuses Robbie, ultimately sending him to jail.

The next part of the book overlays the brutal detail of Robbie's experience fighting in WWII with his and Cecilia's love story. It is beautiful and powerful and the contrast is wonderfully executed. From there, we learn of Briony's experiences, eschewing school and her family and entering into the nursing profession as her personal attempt to atone for her crime against Robbie and her sister.

The book is so well crafted, so well written, and the story so wonderfully conceived right until that point, I had every intention of raving about it and reporting that the attention lavished upon it is well deserved. Unfortunately, the last section bothered me. In the last few pages, we learn that the entire book was a novel penned by Briony, that it was the umpteenth re-write, and that the events may or may not have happened as written. It felt gimmicky to me. Casting it as a novel within a novel, but only sharing that information at the very end; telling the reader that some - but not all - of the preceding events were accurate, while others were Briony's embellishments or inventions... I didn't think McEwan needed the trick to make the reader feel the desperation or futility of Briony's quest for atonement. Almost all of the book was truly lovely, and I will read more by this author, but I didn't love Atonement the way many people do.

Up next: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the next book up for the Fearless Readers. I'm also reading Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Questionnaire of Reading Habits, part 2

12. Paperback or hardcover?
I virtually always buy trade paperbacks since I carry a book with me all the time.

13. At what point do you give up on a book?
If I absolutely hate a book when I'm 50 pages in, I will consider quitting at that time. I usually make a call around a third of the way in. That said, I should probably abandon more books than I do; there was no reason to finish either To The Lighthouse or Rabbit, Run.

14. How do you find about new books and authors?
I read a few writing blogs, and I keep track of a bunch of "Top 100" lists. I keep a few titles in a list on my Blackberry for times when I'm in the bookstore and need inspiration. The Fearless Readers book club is great for introducing me to new authors and books, too!

15. Best reading-related memory?
16. Worst reading-related memory?
I'm not sure what either of these are going for, but one of my most vivid reading-related memory was in about the seventh grade. I was reading Erich Segal's Love Story and cried during the line. The other kids in school made so much fun of me for crying over a book!

17. What was the last book(s) you bought?
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

18. What was the last book you checked out from the library?
It's been so long I cannot even remember.

19. On average, how many hours a week do you spend reading?
Probably about 8-10 hours reading books, and another 8-10 on newspapers and magazines.

20. Are you a fast or slow reader?
People consider me to be a very fast reader, but I really take my time and concentrate and enjoy the act of reading itself. And I don't even know how to skim.

21. Do you sometimes read more than one book at the time?
Since I keep one book in my bag, I keep another one by my bed - there is nothing worse than getting on the train at the end of the day and realizing I have nothing to read. I have to make sure they are very different types of books, though. Right now Atonement is in my bag and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, a collection of Murakami short stories, is by my bed.

22. Are you what Stephen King refers to as a Constant Reader, or are there periods where you don’t read at all?
I am a constant reader.

23. What’s the longest you’ve gone without reading?
Maybe a few days?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Questionnaire of Reading Habits, part 1

Here's a reading meme I found on a book review blog I enjoy... I'd love to read your answers, too!

1. How old were you when you learned how to read?
I was pretty young; I was definitely able to read before I turned five.

2. Were you a big reader growing up?
In absolute terms I would have been considered a pretty big reader. Compared to the other kids in my class, I was voracious.

3. Are there any books that left a big impression on you as a kid?
I still remembered the words to The Monster at the End of this Book when I bought it for the Bug last year. Childhood books that remain dear to me today include The Velveteen Rabbit and Little Women.

4. Favourite genres? (Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction? Do you have a soft spot for horror, sci-fi, or romance?)
I read mostly literary fiction, and sample virtually every sub-genre. I try to mix it up to include current books and the classics, diverse authors and even a sampling of short stories.

5. Top 5 favorite authors.
This list is constantly evolving, though I would have to say right now it includes Fyodor Dostoevsky, Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, William Faulkner and Haruki Murakami.

6. Top 5 favorite books.
Another constantly evolving list, currently topped by The Brothers Karamazov, The Master and Margarita, Beloved, Brideshead Revisited and War and Peace.

7. Where do you prefer to read?
I can read just about anywhere, and I carry a book wherever I go. I read on the train during my commute home (in the mornings I read the newspaper) and I try to read a few pages before bed as well. Sometimes I read during lunch, while waiting in line, on the subway, during pedicures or at the bar while waiting for a friend.

8. Do you like to eat or drink something while you read? If so, what are your foods and beverages of choice?
I'll have a beer on the train from time to time, but I'm not a particularly great multi-tasker so I don't usually do anything else while I read.

9. What do you typically wear when you read? (I swear, I don’t mean this in a dirty way. My mind is a pure as the first snow of the year – before it gets contaminated by dog poo and engine exhaust, that is. ) Casual wear? Pyjamas? Jeans? Something more elaborate and stylish?
Who the hell cares?

10. On average, how many books do you read a month?
Only about 2-3.

11. How do you get hold of the books? Do you buy them at a bookstore, visit an online store, borrow from a friend or family member, or do you use the library?
I buy almost all of my books, and almost always from a bookstore because I like to browse. I had a fabulous independent bookstore until recently, the staff of which was an excellent resource. Now I research my books online and keep a to-read list on my Blackberry for times when browsing doesn't yield inspiration.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Don't be afraid!

The last meeting of the Fearless Readers was a little light on attendees with a grand total of two. None of the people who had actually wanted to read Lamb was there, so we spent all of two minutes on it:

Angie: "So, what did you think."
Aldina: "I didn't hate it as much as I expected to. I guess if your expectations are low enough..."
Angie: "Your favorite part was the jew-do, right? Tell me it was."
Aldina: "Um, no. That was awful."
Anyway, we did have a lovely time catching up, which was great fun! And, we chose the next book: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Regarded as one of the best modern novels to come out of Africa, it's a classic that appears on rankings galore: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, Time Magazine's Top 100 English-language novels, The Novel 100, the Radcliffe Top 100 and the Guardian Top 100. It's short but challenging, and should be great for discussion.

Please consider this an open invitation - anyone who reads, and is fearless enough to show up and get bookie with it, please join us! We're looking at July 13 (I believe) at the Black Sheep in New York City. Interested?? Yay!!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

French Quarter, New Orleans

Right on the heels of Mima and Boppie's postcards from New Orleans, we got one from Aunt Jessie, visiting the same city with a bachelorette party:

Why the delay in posting, you ask? Simple. The Bug loves mail. When we get postcards (or cards, letters, thank you notes, invitations, etc.), I read them to the Bug. Then, she stashes them away somewhere. If I don't get a postcard scanned right off the bat, it can disappear for weeks.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Steamboat Springs get-away

Joker and I had a really nice time at Steamboat Springs, Colorado - two nights together without the girls! We stayed in a really comfy place, ate amazing food, enjoyed beers by the river, rode bikes, visited the hot springs... and would have hiked a bit if the trails hadn't still been snowed in.

The drive up the Poudre River Canyon is stunning, one of the most scenic in Colorado. Not far from Ft. Collins is one of Colorado's coolest outdoor music venues, Mishawaka Amphitheatre.

Just outside of Steamboat the beautiful 283-foot Fish Creek Falls. Several trailheads converge at the base of the falls; the view is absolutely worth the short walk to both the upper viewing platform and the old bridge at the base of the falls.

We drove home through some of the most spectacular ranch country I've ever seen. Located on between the Front Range and the Western Slope, the dirt road through the tiny town of Rand provide a unique vista: flat, arid ranch land surrounded by tremendous mountains.

Spring was a fabulous time to visit Steamboat; we are both looking forward to returning to experience the other seasons, too!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


The subtitle of Christopher Moore's Lamb, "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal", is about as clever as this complete waste of time gets. Incredibly, more than 600 people on Amazon rave about it, and it's got a 90% positive rating on Facebook's Visual Bookshelf application. This should tell you nothing about the book, but it does say a great deal about the pedestrian reading habits of mainstream America.

Biff was Jesus Christ's best friend back in the day, and he's brought back to life by an angel who wants him to write his version of what happened between Jesus' birth and death. This leads to a bunch of super lame exchanges between the angel and Biff, between which he recounts his story. According to Biff, he and Jesus traveled to Asia, lived with each of the three wise men for a spell, made up the theory of evolution while talking to the Yeti, created Judo (more precisely, "Jew-do", or kung fu for Jews, I shit you not), and had a great deal of witty repartee with hookers and hobos and each other.

This book is terrible. If it's not the worst book I have ever read, it's second only to Ishmael, the story of a talking monkey who hates farmers. However, if you do choose to read it, and especially if you find anything whatsoever redeeming about it, please join us at book club next Tuesday, June 15.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


So apparently I'm a huge Jane Austen fan, something I never expected to be the case. After my thorough enjoyment of Emma, I was excited to read Persuasion, Austen's final novel and perhaps her tightest narrative. It is a pleasure to read, characteristically witty, and there's even a bit of suspense until the end.

Anne Elliot is the second daughter of the pompous and arrogant Sir Walter Elliot. Her older and prettier sister is cut from Sir Walter's mold, as is their youngest sister Mary. Anne, however, took after their late mother, and is interesting and generous, intelligent and kind. Eight years before the events of the book, her father, sister and family friend had convinced her to reject the marriage proposal of a poor sailor, Frederick Wentworth, though she loved him dearly. Since then she has struggled with that decision, never again falling in love, rejecting all subsequent marriage proposals because of her continuing love for Wentworth, and wondering what would have happened if she had given him her hand.

When financial hardship forces Sir Walter to rent out his estate, Anne is reacquainted with her former love. Now Captain Wentworth, having received promotions and compensation for his success in the Napoleonic Wars, is a wealthy and desirable man who has neither married nor forgiven Anne for what he saw as her weak-mindedness. He enters into a flirtation with both of Mary's sisters-in-law, which comes to a head after young Louisa suffers an injury on a trip to Lyme. Enter William Elliot, Anne's cousin and the heir to Sir Walter's fortune, who fixates on Anne as an eligible bride and the key to securing his inheritance. The action moves to Bath, and though you know Anne is going to get the man, you're not quite sure which one it will be.

Anne Elliot differs from Austen's other heroines on a couple of counts. She is "past her prime" at the ripe old age of 27, and she has a strong sense of morality rather than a steadfast reliance on propriety. The entire novel is seen through Anne's eyes, and her inner dialogue so clearly illuminates her personality the reader is completely immersed in her story. I'd highly recommend it to Austen devotees and neophytes alike.

Next up: Atonement by Ian McEwan

Monday, June 7, 2010

Colorado visit

We spent last week in Colorado - the girls absolutely adore the farm and my parents and Aunt Jessie (who came out, too) - and the highlight for Joker and me was a two-night trip to Steamboat Springs... sans girlies! I'll post some photos tonight - it is absolutely beautiful, and so relaxing to get away for a few days.

Also of note...

  • The Bug is still there for a few days of solo time with her grands. We actually got on the plane to come home without our 3-year-old daughter. Yes, I cried. But she is having a fabulous time, and I'm pretty sure she thinks that the farm is a camp. Mima flies her back on Wednesday, not that I'm counting the days or anything.
  • The Bolder-Boulder. I ran a 9:35 pace (which wasn't too bad considering my trick knee) but by the important numbers I completed 15 high fives, ran through 5 sprinklers and was hit by 1 Super Soaker. And there is something to be said for a race that gives a free beer to every competitor.
  • The Bunny's first tooth popped on Memorial Day. Plus, she's really close to crawling.
  • Consistent with our zoo tradition, we spent a day at the truly superior Denver Zoo. Bonus points for the soft-serve ice cream.