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Posts from the ‘Reviews & Reviewers’ Category

Celebrate the “Jonathan Franzen” Milestone

Okay, see, when I started this blog, I had big-ga aspirations.
I wanted, like, seven people to read it.
I was really ambitious.

Then I got downright kooky when I learned that book reviewers actually got the books BEFORE the general public did. (How naive am I? Maybe I thought they worked extra quickly?)

And I decided: “That would be cool. My goal is to get an up and comer and review it before those hot cakes at the NYT do.”

I would be like cutting-edge blogger girl. Not like the slacker-who-is-a-blogger-girl.

True story: I now have Jonathan Franzen’s new book in my hands, labeled ‘Advance Reader’s Copy’. Right there on the cover.

It might as well say: “Rock on blogger girl”.

PEOPLE, THIS IS EXCIIIIIITING.
(right owen meany?)

MY FRIEND KATHLEEN AT GGPFB GAVE ME THIS CHERISHED COPY SO THAT I CAN DO A REVIEW.  IT’S BECAUSE OF THIS BLOG, THIS NUTTY BLOG THAT I NOW GET A SNEAK PEAK AT FREEDOM.

THE CORRECTIONS WAS WRITTEN TEN YEARS AGO.
NEARLY 10 YEARS AGO PEOPLE.

THE AVERAGE BOOK SNOB IS JUST WAITING, WAITING, WAITING FOR THIS BOOK TO COME OUT ON AUGUST 31st. AND I GOT IT IN JULY. JUUUUU-LLLLY.

DO YOU KNOW HOW SECRETLY HAPPY THIS MAKES ME?

EXCEPT NOT EVEN SO SECRETLY HAPPY BECAUSE ALL OF YOU KNOW ABOUT IT?

100 PAGES.
DELICIOUSLY GOOD.
LIKE A BIRTHDAY.

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3 Online Book Clubs: Hers, Mine, & One to Skip

This month, I am partnering with Kristen at her vibrant, active community over at Motherese to host her site’s first online book group. We will be discussing Christine Carter’s book: “Raising Happiness.” I saw Christine speak in the Bay Area last week and she was fabulous. Check out the initial review here. Join us!

We will be discussing:
Chapters 1-3 the week of April 12th
Chatper 4-6 the week of April 19th
Chapter 7-9 the week of April 26th and
Chapter 10 + Q&A with Christine the week of May 3rd

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For March’s book group here at BookSnob we read The Vagrants, by Yiyun Li. I have invited two of our community members to join me and share their thoughts. The Vagrants is a poignant, beautifully written story–but it is not for the faint hearted. Read on:

From Mary of Deland, Florida:
If it had not been for my commitment to this book club, I would not have finished “The Vagrants.”  The unremitting grimness and pervasive violence of the story wore on me.  The older I get, the less inclined I am to put such experiences into my consciousness; it seems that the world at large delivers more than enough of them.

As if to italicize this story, I read a news account today of a town in China where 21 bodies of babies were found in the local river. What kind of country is this?  To paraphrase one commenter, it is the “ideological equivalent of Thunderdome.”  This is clearly the same country that Yiyun Li writes about. There is no doubt that she is a capable writer, but I would have been much more at ease with other subject matter.  Perhaps that is more of a reflection on me than on the author.

And From Jazzy of Seattle, Washington:
First, I must say that I loved the writing.  The longer sections where we meet the characters, one by one, were like short stories.  The stories become more interconnected and each time we return to a character, we understand more about them.  A few times there was a change of pace and the focus would pull back and scan quickly through the lives of many characters.  For example, I loved page 167-8 where we float from Dafu weeping into his pillow in the hospital, to multiple other people lying in bed in Muddy River, and lastly, to Mrs. Hua dreaming about her seven daughters.  It was a complete change of rhythm and I thought it was very effective.

This is what I love most about fiction:  I learn and understand more by experiencing through a novel than by reading newspapers or textbooks.  Now that I’ve finished reading The Vagrants, I want to learn more about this era in China.  I don’t think I understood it very well on a political level, and I certainly had no idea about the human suffering that went on. The poverty and harsh reality these people had to endure is unimaginable.  I marked this about Teacher Gu:  “He tried not to think about what happened outside his home – the only way to live on, he had known for most of his adulthood, was to focus on the small patch of life in front of one’s eyes.” (p. 99)

I loved Mr. & Mrs. Hua and poor Nini.  I have to include this quote because it summed up so much about Mrs. Hua, who is such a kindhearted woman:  “Once a mother, always a mother, he said, his voice reproachful, but Mrs. Hua, knowing the same could be said of him as father, only sighed in agreement.  A child losing her parents became an orphan, a woman losing her husband a widow, but there was not a term for the lesser parents that those who had lost their children became.  Once parents, they would remain parents for the rest of their lives.”  (p.222-223)

Towards the end of the book, Kai remembers something her father used to tell her:  “It takes all sorts to make a world, dragons and phoenixes along with snakes and rats”.  By this time we have met all sorts.  Some of them have broken our hearts.  This is not a book I would have discovered on my own.  I feel very fortunate to have found it.  Thank you!

Other BookSnobs reading The Vagrants, what would you add to the review?

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Finally, you technorati will have seen the hoopla around the bright idea of “One Book on Twitter”—under the #1b#1t tag. Wow, this seems like an opportunity to bring my full BookSnob heat! I get a bit skittish if a book even hits the New York Times Bestseller list (as someone on my site wisely said, if the general population loves it, can it really be that good?) Am I wrong or is a book being voted on by a big mass of people on Twitter an incredibly bad idea? Needless to say, I’m NOT in.

What Our Nightstands Say About Our Marriage

Okay, I admit it.
I did it.

I have been reading the Book Bench, the New Yorker’s book blog rather regularly.
But there was one piece that continually caught my eye–The Subconscious Shelf.

Simple enough premise: readers email in a photograph of their book shelf and the bloggers over at the New Yorker ‘analyze’ it for fun.

Seems like a lot less commitment than a tarot card reader in a strip mall, right? And a walk in the park next to couples therapy, dontcha think? So in a fit of brazen, spontaneous craziness, I thought: Why the hell not? I impulsively snapped two pictures of his and hers night stands and mailed that puppy in.
(Woops, Hon. Forgot to ask you…)

I chuckled at my computer. It seemed wonderfully distracting. And creative and even funny for those nutty New Yorker folks over there (these people are having fun, good god, let’s not discourage them!!) I also am not afraid to tell you that a week went by and I had rejection dejection, thinking: “dammit. they are not going to pick me.”

But they did! they did!

And the results are in!
Darn. I guess I have lost all individuality to my marriage. And apparently my identical night stands make me a nerdist conformist. And, yes, the awful truth…my spouse and I are in a terrible symmetry of cohabitation!!! Check it out.

Well, there really isn’t a his and hers book pile. And she’s right, the books do just go back and forth. But truly the most important part: (the New Yorker said it!) a marriage between readers is the happiest of marriage.

Hon? Please don’t worry, we are gonna make it….
And we can cancel that palm reading for Thursday, Sugar.

As they say on their blog:
Want your bookshelves analyzed? E-mail a photo with your name and location to bookbench@gmail.com.

As they don’t say on their blog:
Don’t be a chicken.

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You’re Funny. Book Reviews Just Aren’t.

Look at all those responses on what books people find funny!
You are funny people, people.

If you are all relatively funny, why is there no such thing as a funny book review? Are professional book reviewers decidedly unfunny? Or do their editors say to them: “Whoa Jim, your kind of off the reservation with this humor. Could you tone it down chief?”

These are weighty questions.

I’m sorry, I thought books was a form of entertainment. We take what we read seriously, but not ourselves too seriously. Right?

The reviews I read are generally (1) terribly long (2) void of the coveted punchline and generally (3) safe and dry.

Well, I’ll take safe and dry in a thunderstorm.
But in a book review, well, it kind of sucks.

Okay, I suppose it all depends on what you are looking for in your book review.
Here’s what I am looking for in my book review: 1. Finding new stuff I don’t yet know about and 2. A quick take on whether it’s worth reading.

But Mr. and Mrs. Book Reviewer, you don’t do that. No, you do not.
You speak in euphemisms and cloudy language littered with buzzwords. The Guardian even made fun of you today, inviting people to play Book Review Bingo. Do you understand this? It means you talk a lot of crazy book reviewer nonsense.

I think Tina Brown is on to something with The Daily Beast–with her straight shooting tagline: “Read This, Skip That.”  Yep, Tina girlfriend, I am with you on that. (Although your choices in books stink, surprisingly. Weird.)

On Sunday, when I open the New York Times Book Review, I fantasize about reading something like this: “It is obvious that the author has incredible talent. Unfortunately, she apparently locked it away in the closet when she was writing this book.” Or maybe: “This book made me so crazy with appreciation I stopped an old couple at Costco and insisted they buy it.” It’s sad. Mostly because I need to work on my fantasies.

Listen. Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert (example: him recently interviewing Rebecca Skloot of Henrietta Lacks) are not going to win any literary criticism awards. But it’s books meets fun. And sometimes I kind of cringe when the author really keeps trying to talk about the book and doesn’t realize that Colbert is royally teasing. But at least it’s entertaining. That’s a place I like to be.

Every BookSnob I know personally names friends and families as their first source for books. Because your sister will say: “Blech. Stunk.” or your friend will start talking really fast and pounding the table as her coffee spills and says, “No, no, you have to read it. Really, it was awesome.”

But the reviewers, they leave me safe, dry, and, obviously, slightly bothered.
Maybe I am just hanging out with the wrong people, people.

What reviews do you read (by individual or publication) or do you mostly rely on friends and families recommendations?

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