Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Monstrosity Gazette: A weekly smattering of all things literary...

Bookish Quote of the Day:

"A room without books is like a body without a soul."


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Today in Literary History...

On this day in 1948, J. D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" was published in the New Yorker; in the same magazine, on the same day in 1953, Salinger's "Teddy" also appeared. These are the first and last selections in Nine Stories (1953), Salinger's only collection. "Bananafish" introduces Seymour Glass, one of the many that Salinger would cast in the Holden mold and predicament.

For more literary history, please visit Today in Literature.
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Literary Pic of the Day:

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Book on my Radar:

by Amy Greene
Knopf, 2010
304 pages
Historical/Literary Fiction

Summary in a Sentence:

Follows the lives and experiences of one family from the time of the Great Depression to the twenty-first century, centering around Myra Lamb, a young girl who has the extraordinary talent of connecting with animals and people around her.

Read the Review:
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Interesting Links to Peruse:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See book cover historical fiction
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
by Lisa See
Random House, 2005
272 pages
Historical Fiction
Personal Copy

Summary in a Sentence:

Friends Snow Flower and Lily find solace in their bond as they face isolation, arranged marriages, loss, and motherhood in nineteenth-century China.

My Thoughts:

I can't believe I waited so long to read this book. Shame on me. This book was wonderful, lyrical, entertaining - all the makings of a great novel.  I was transported to 19th century China as I read the words of Lily and her experiences with footbinding, marriage, and her lifelong friendship (laotong) with Snow Flower. Chinese women in this period of China's history lived a rather secluded life, almost always separated from men. They even had their own written language, nu shu, which is spotlighted throughout the novel.

The aspect of the novel that most affected me were the detailed descriptions of the footbinding process that most Chinese girls endured in the early years of their lives. This process was incredibly painful and basically handicapped the women's physical movement for the rest of their lives.

Question for my readers: Did See's descriptions of footbinding remind you of any Western traditions -- crazy things we are willing to do in the name of beauty?

You might also like:
Other Reviews:

(Apparently I'm the only person living who hasn't read this one! I'm just listing a few reviews here, because way too many people have read this for me to list everyone...)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge and Non-Fiction Challenge

Note the word perpetual in the title. This loophole is what permitted me to sign up for yet another challenge -- it's no pressure with no deadline! And, seriously, pretty much every book in the Einhorn imprint is on my wishlist anyway. So, here we go...

This challenge is the brainchild of a few of my favorite bloggers (I found it at Beth Fish Reads) and currently includes 14 titles. For full rules, guidelines, and sign up info, visit here.

Here are some of the titles I'm especially looking forward to for this challenge:

  • Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan- David Loogan finds his violent past catching up with him after his friend and boss, Tom Kristoll, publisher of the mystery magazine David works for, is murdered and David becomes the prime suspect, and, as more bodies are found in circumstances that match the plots of some of the magazine's murder stories, David must prove his innocence before he is arrested or becomes the killer's next victim.
  • The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming- An elderly antiques dealer must revisit his past when an old photograph brings back haunting memories and the woman in the photograph, math prodigy Cheri-Anne Toledo, claims she knows the way to the lost Kingdom of Ohio and holds the secret to changing the fabric of the past.
  • The Postmistress by Sarah Blake- The lives of two women in a small Cape Cod town are impacted by the radio broadcasts of Frankie Bard, an American journalist in London who hopes that by revealing details of World War II she will encourage the United States to take up the cause.
  • The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees
I'll link my reviews here as I write them...

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I read quite a bit of nonfiction, so I figure this challenge is a no-brainer for me. Click here for complete rules and sign-up info.

I'm going for six books, but will most likely read many more. I'll post here as I review them.

  1. Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger Dies at 91


Salinger, iconic author of The Catcher in the Rye, died Wednesday at age 91. 

Read the full article here.

I first read Catcher at the ripe old age of 24. When did you first experience the world of Holden Caulfield, dear readers?

Wading Through My Wishlist

Recent additions to the Great Monstrosity that is my wishlist....

Polish-born Kramer, president of the Holocaust Resource Foundation at Kean University, was a teenager when her family and others hid from the Nazis in a secret bunker, rescued by a former housekeeper and her husband, a reputed drunken anti-Semite who turned out to be an avenging angel. Kramer's extensive recollections range from a liaison that threatened the household and daily squabbles in the tomblike underground quarters where food was scarce to their fear of discovery by the Nazis and the shock and desperation of learning about relatives and friends who had been killed. Her sister was sold out by a neighbor boy for a few liters of vodka. This vividly detailed and taut narrative is a fitting tribute to the bravery of victims and righteous gentiles alike.

Cleopatra, or Kleopatra as her name is spelled in Greek, inherited little from her father, Ptolemy XII, other than his Macedonian profile and the throne of Egypt. Where he was obese, indolent, and self-indulgent, the young queen was cunning, ambitious, and ruthless. Ptolemy, through gross mismanagement and a series of disastrous financial alliances with Rome, had alienated the Egyptian people to the point of rebellion. After his death, Kleopatra was exiled by her brother/husband and his cabinet. First novelist Essex focuses on Kleopatra's early years and on her Greek origins. The Greek-speaking Ptolemy pharaohs neither knew nor cared about the customs of Egypt, but Kleopatra learned the Egyptian language, something no Ptolemy had done before. In return, the Egyptians gave her their support in her struggle to wrest the throne from her brother. (Found via The True Book Addict)

Seven hundred years ago, a Spanish doctor named Arnold of Villanova wanted to make a baby. He put semen in a womb-shaped vase and waited. The result was disappointing. We can shake our heads at the naivete of believing sperm contains teeny-tiny human beings just needing the proper place to grow. But physician and medical journalist Randi Hutter Epstein is here to tell us in "Get Me Out," her engrossing survey of the history of childbirth, that even with all of today's whiz-bang technology, "we are still in the dark about so many things that go into making babies."  The history of childbirth is filled with grief as well as joy, and not all the stories amuse. Later, the author raises questions about the moral, legal and medical consequences of the growing -- and little-regulated -- fertility industry. The description of doctors watching over frozen, sperm-filled vials echoes, however faintly, the story of Arnold of Villanova and his vase. Childbirth has come a very long way since that experiment, but perhaps not as far as we would like to think.

What do you say, readers? Sound good/bad? Have you read any of these?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday : This Book Is Overdue!

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

In an information age full of Google-powered searches, free-by-Bittorrent media downloads and Wiki-powered knowledge databases, the librarian may seem like an antiquated concept. Author and editor Johnson is here to reverse that notion with a topical, witty study of the vital ways modern librarians uphold their traditional roles as educators, archivists, and curators of a community legacy. Illuminating the state of the modern librarian with humor and authority, Johnson showcases librarians working on the cutting edge of virtual reality simulations, guarding the Constitution and redefining information services-as well as working hard to serve and satisfy readers, making this volume a bit guilty of long-form reader flattery. Johnson's wry report is a must-read for anyone who's used a library in the past quarter century.
This title will be released on February 2, 2010.
What's your "waiting on" pick this week? Leave your link here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Songs about Librarians

Hey, readers. Just popping in for a moment to share this link with you. I'm always on the lookout for fun stories involving librarians, and this one definitely qualifies. From Frank Zappa and Green Day to Saint Etienne and My Morning Jacket, check out these songs that feature libraries and librarians.

Mixtape: 10 Best Songs about Libraries and Librarians

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Monstrosity Gazette: A weekly smattering of all things literary...

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
– Italo Calvino

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Today in Literary History...

On this day in 1670 English playwright William Congreve was born. His "comedy of manners" toasted and tilted at the "gala day of wit and pleasure" enjoyed by those who lived in the inner circles of power, or wished they did -- "men and women of quick brains and cynical humours," says the Cambridge History, who talk "with the brilliance and rapidity wherewith the finished swordsman fences."

For more literary history, please visit Today in Literature.

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Literary Pic of the Day:

Beneath the Lion's Gaze
by Maaza Mengiste
W. W. Norton (Jan. 11, 2010)
305 pages

Summary in a Sentence:

Hailu, a physician, his wife Selam, and their two grown sons, Dawit and Yonas, face the trauma of the 1974 revolution in Ethiopia in their own ways, with Hailu being ordered to report to jail for aiding a victim of state-sanctioned torture, Yonas struggling to protect his wife and daughter, and Dawit becoming active in the fight.

Read the Reviews:

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Interesting Links to Peruse:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife
by Diane Ackerman
Norton, 2007

Summary in a Sentence:

Relates the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, zookeepers at the Warsaw Zoo, who helped save the lives of approximately three hundred Polish Jews during World War II by housing and feeding them on zoo grounds and teaching them how to "pass" as Aryan.

My Thoughts:

Ackerman pulls from Antonina Zabinski's extensive memoirs of her experiences in World War II Poland and from her own research on the topic to tell the story of the hundreds of Jews that passed through this particular stop on the Polish Underground. Although this book is highly informative and at times extremely touching, I found it hard to feel fully engaged. I don't really know why this is; I'm extremely interested in the Holocaust and I'd read some great reviews on the book. Initially, I thought maybe I had hit some sort of wall and have read too many books on the subject, but then remembered that I had just recently read and loved a new book on one of the most famous figures in Holocaust history, Anne Frank. I felt that the book was slightly rambling and didn't really stay on topic as I expected it to. Ackerman's research certainly shines through, although at times her attention to detail is perhaps too great. I struggled to finish this one.

~ This book counts towards the Four Month Challenge  and the Take Another Chance Challenge ~

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Other reviews:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wading Through My Wishlist

Recent additions to the Great Monstrosity that is my wishlist....

~ Found at Passages to the Past ~

 What if the old maid of Amherst wasn’t an old maid at all? Her older brother, Austin, spoke of Emily as his “wild sister.” Jerome Charyn, continuing his exploration of American history through fiction, has written a startling novel about Emily Dickinson in her own voice, with all its characteristic modulations that he learned from her letters and poems. The poet dons a hundred veils, alternately playing wounded lover, penitent, and female devil. We meet the significant characters of her life, including her tempestuous sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert; her brooding father, Edward; and the Reverend Charles Wadsworth, who may have inspired some of her greatest letters and poems.

~ Found at Book Nut ~

In The Year My Son and I Were Born, Soper takes us along on her personal journey through Thomas’s tumultuous first year—as she strives to balance the loss of the child she thought she would have with loyalty for the baby she actually holds in her arms. Can she love Thomas for himself? Can she protect him from the world’s insensitivity—andfrom her own doubts?
Ultimately, Soper escaped her downward spiral of despair and emerged with newfound peace. Antidepressant therapy restored her equilibrium, and interactions with friends and family brought needed perspective. But the most profound change came through her growing relationship with Thomas. His radiant presence shone through her outer layers of self, where fear and guilt festered, and reached the center of her very being—where love, acceptance, and gratitude blossomed in abundance.

For his 65th birthday, acclaimed novelist Michael Mewshaw took a 4,000-mile overland trip across North Africa. Arriving in Egypt during food riots, he heads west into Libya, where billions in oil money have produced little except citizens eager to flee to Europe or join the jihad in Iraq. In Tunis, Mewshaw visits an abandoned Star Wars movie set where Al Qaeda has just kidnapped two tourists.
Ignoring U.S. Embassy warnings he crosses into Algeria, traveling through mountain towns and seething metropolises where 200,000 people have died during more than a decade of sectarian violence. Searching for the tombs of seven monks murdered by Islamic fundamentalists, he reaches a village where six more people have been beheaded the day before. When he interviews a repentant terrorist responsible for 5,000 deaths,  In the end, the reader, like the author, is immersed in a fascinating adventure that’s sometimes tragic, often funny, occasionally terrifying and always a revelation of a strange place and its people.

Your turn, readers: Sound good? Bad? Have you read any of these already?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday : Last Nocturne

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

What could make a successful, happily married man take a gun and shoot himself? What made a young artist on the brink of fame throw himself to his death?
These are the questions facing Chief Inspector Lamb and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Cogan. Neither victim left a note behind to explain what drove him to take his own life, and it appears that nothing untoward had occurred in the weeks preceding their deaths. Having briefly met both victims, Lamb struggles to connect the impression he gained of the men with their final actions, and his close attention pays off when a postmortem reveals some surprising results.
With one case now looking like a suspicious death, Lamb looks for links between the two men. All paths seem to lead to the enigmatic figure of Mrs. Isobel Amberley and a mysterious event that took place one winter’s night in Vienna.

This title will be released on February 16, 2010.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week? Leave your link here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Books By Theme: Doctor as Author

As some of my readers may recall, I recently read and reviewed a wonderful autobiography of neurosurgeon Katrina Firlik and her experiences in the operating room (Another Day in the Frontal Lobe). Curiosity got the better of me and I thought I'd go digging around for more doctors who moonlight as authors. Here are the fruits of that search...

As I Live and Breathe
by Jamie Weisman

A memoir in which the author, born with a rare defect in her immune system, looks at illness and medicine from her dual perspectives as both a patient and a doctor, discussing the fickleness of disease, and the real desire of both patients and physicians for restored health.

One hundred days : my unexpected journey from doctor to patient
by David Biro

The author, a doctor in New York City, tells the story of his life-threatening struggle with the rare disease paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, or PNH, discussing, among other aspects, his bone marrow transplant.

Raising Lazarus
by Robert Pensack

This memoir by 43-year-old psychiatrist Pensack is really three stories in one: his battle to survive HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), a usually fatal hereditary disease of the heart muscle; the struggle to retain his sanity; and his simultaneous efforts to complete medical school. Accounts of heart failure, near-death episodes and months of waiting for an available replacement heart, followed in 1993 by the suspenseful, prolonged surgery at University Hospital in Denver, recovery, and beginning of what Pensack hopes will be a new life make for wrenching and engrossing reading.

Complications: A surgeon's notes on an imperfect science
by Atul Gawande

The author, nearing the end of eight years of training in general surgery, contemplates the nature of modern medicine, discussing the fallibility of doctors, the mysteries and unknowns of medicine and the struggle to know what to do about them, and the issue of uncertainty.

My own country : a doctor's story of a town and its people in the age of AIDS
by Abraham Verghese

Infectious disease specialist Verghese is a Christian from subcontinental India who earned his M.D. in Ethiopia, and living in various cultures has helped him to be open-minded toward and supportive of his patients, who currently are the veterans and civilians living in and around Johnson City in east Tennessee. His book covers the five years in the latter 1980s when AIDS began to make itself felt in the area and during which he treated gays, victims of tainted transfusions, and infected spouses.

What books would you add to this list?

*For more themed list fun, check out Listless Monday over at One Librarian's Book Reviews.
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