Reading

I read a lot more than I post. It's always interesting to me to know what other bloggers whose blogs I enjoy are spending their time reading.

  • City of Thieves: A Novel
    by David Benioff

    I could not stop turning the pages -- it's been quite a while since anything held my attention like this. First, the era of WWII is fascinating -- the struggles, the deprivation, the heartache of most of the civilized world is almost incomprehensible. And, it all happened without the internet, without TV. Can you imagine that death count being broadcast daily?

    Author Benioff bases his novel on his grandfather's stories about surviving WWII in Russia. As ghoulish as some of it is, Benioff injects humor which is sometimes a bit confusing as the subject matter is so not humorous.

     
  • Outliers: The Story of Success
    by Malcolm Gladwell

    This is such an interesting read....and throughout much of it, you'll smack your forehead and say, "well, of course". If you think success is defined by smarts or ability, this will help you see that without opportunity the formula is inadequate. And, often opportunity isn't what you think -- it can be as simple as the date of your birth or the generation into which you were born. Malcolm Gladwell himself is such a fascinating personality -- check him out on www.ted.com.

     
  • The Book Thief (Readers Circle)
    by Markus Zusak

    I could not put this book down. Although targeting a younger audience (teens), the wit and humanity of so many of the characters will stay with you long after you've finished. Here's the Washington Post Review:

    The narrator of The Book Thief is many things -- sardonic, wry, darkly humorous, compassionate -- but not especially proud. As author Marcus Zusak channels him, Death -- who doesn't carry a scythe but gets a kick out of the idea -- is as afraid of humans as humans are of him.

    Knopf is blitz-marketing this 550-page book set in Nazi Germany as a young-adult novel, though it was published in the author's native Australia for grown-ups. (Zusak, 30, has written several books for kids, including the award-winning I Am the Messenger.) The book's length, subject matter and approach might give early teen readers pause, but those who can get beyond the rather confusing first pages will find an absorbing and searing narrative.

    Death meets the book thief, a 9-year-old girl named Liesel Meminger, when he comes to take her little brother, and she becomes an enduring force in his life, despite his efforts to resist her. "I traveled the globe . . . handing souls to the conveyor belt of eternity," Death writes. "I warned myself that I should keep a good distance from the burial of Liesel Meminger's brother. I did not heed my advice." As Death lingers at the burial, he watches the girl, who can't yet read, steal a gravedigger's instruction manual. Thus Liesel is touched first by Death, then by words, as if she knows she'll need their comfort during the hardships ahead.

    And there are plenty to come. Liesel's father has already been carted off for being a communist and soon her mother disappears, too, leaving her in the care of foster parents: the accordion-playing, silver-eyed Hans Hubermann and his wife, Rosa, who has a face like "creased-up cardboard." Liesel's new family lives on the unfortunately named Himmel (Heaven) Street, in a small town on the outskirts of Munich populated by vivid characters: from the blond-haired boy who relates to Jesse Owens to the mayor's wife who hides from despair in her library. They are, for the most part, foul-spoken but good-hearted folks, some of whom have the strength to stand up to the Nazis in small but telling ways.

    Stolen books form the spine of the story. Though Liesel's foster father realizes the subject matter isn't ideal, he uses "The Grave Digger's Handbook" to teach her to read. "If I die anytime soon, you make sure they bury me right," he tells her, and she solemnly agrees. Reading opens new worlds to her; soon she is looking for other material for distraction. She rescues a book from a pile being burned by the Nazis, then begins stealing more books from the mayor's wife. After a Jewish fist-fighter hides behind a copy of Mein Kampf as he makes his way to the relative safety of the Hubermanns' basement, he then literally whitewashes the pages to create his own book for Liesel, which sustains her through her darkest times. Other books come in handy as diversions during bombing raids or hedges against grief. And it is the book she is writing herself that, ultimately, will save Liesel's life.

    Death recounts all this mostly dispassionately -- you can tell he almost hates to be involved. His language is spare but evocative, and he's fond of emphasizing points with bold type and centered pronouncements, just to make sure you get them (how almost endearing that is, that Death feels a need to emphasize anything). "A NICE THOUGHT," Death will suddenly announce, or "A KEY WORD." He's also full of deft descriptions: "Pimples were gathered in peer groups on his face."

    Death, like Liesel, has a way with words. And he recognizes them not only for the good they can do, but for the evil as well. What would Hitler have been, after all, without words? As this book reminds us, what would any of us be?

    Reviewed by Elizabeth Chang
    Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

     
  • Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
    by Elizabeth Gilbert

    Through Italy, India and Indonesia you'll laugh and cry as Ms. Gilbert makes her journey searching mostly to be enlightened, to find a reason, to connect to people and herself. When I read this, if there was anyone else (friend or stranger) within listening distance, I would cry "oh my gosh, listen to this" and then read to them. I hate it when people do that.

     
  • Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith
    by Anne Lamott

    I had forgotten how much I enjoy reading Anne Lamott but if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen 'cause she tells it like she sees it. (Heaven forbid she ever gets within spitting distance of George W.) As much as I enjoyed reading "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, this book is a little older, little wiser woman's perspective (and wicked wit).

     
  • Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
    by Daniel Tammet

    Fascinating read if you're at all intriqued by the miracle mind of the autistic savant. This is the story of Daniel Tammet who sees the world differently and has the ability to explain it.

     
  • Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table
    by Linda Ellerbee

    Claiming to be neither food writer nor chef, longtime TV newswoman Ellerbee calls herself "a recovering journalist who's traveled and eaten her way around the planet and lived to tell some tales." She's crafted a witty, easy-to-read book about food that's also a blend of autobiography, travelogue and self-help. While weaving interesting yarns about visits to such places as the Appalachian Trail, Bolivia and Vietnam, Ellerbee makes both humorous and poignant observations about ethnic food ("phô [Vietnam's national breakfast dish] beats the devil out of a bowl of Wheaties"); the task of trying to age gracefully; her relationships with friends and family; and the motley strangers she's met in her travels. Ellerbee also modestly admits to rarely eating in three-star restaurants and proceeds to describe a dish at one: "a little thingy of fried potato topped with a doodle of mashed potato and a dabble of olives and dried tuna roe.... Does this description sufficiently explain why I'm not a food critic?" As an extra bonus for foodies, each chapter ends with a relevant recipe or two. (Publisher's Weekly)

     
  • An Unfinished Life
    by Mark Spragg

    An absolutely delightful little book! The character development of Einar and Mitch is slow and easy and wonderful -- one cantankerous old cowboy with a broken heart and one horribly disfigured cowboy with a wise spirit make you want to crawl into the story and never leave. Even if this were not a movie with RR and MF, these are the faces you would automatically assign to Einar and Mitch. Can't wait to see the movie just to wallow in a little RR and MF magic.

     
  • Flyboys : A True Story of Courage
    by James Bradley

    A most disturbing book and not easy reading, but it should be required reading for every adult. There's a much deeper story here than the fate of 9 "Flyboys" whose mission it was to knock out the communications hub on the island of Chichi Jima in the South Pacific during WWII. Bradley covers a lot of territory (beginning with what America has done to its native Americans) to lay the groundwork for the inhumanity of war. Interesting and insightful.

     

     
  • The Kite Runner
    by Khaled Hosseini

    Another disturbing read. In his debut novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini provides an eye-opening account of a country's political turmoil--in this case, Afghanistan--while also developing characters whose heartbreaking struggles keep you reeled in and thinking long after you finish the book. Hosseini's prose deserves more than one read. . . ("...I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.")

     
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage Contemporaries)
    by Mark Haddon

    Christopher Boone, the autistic 15-year-old narrator of this unusual novel, relaxes doing math problems in his head, eats red-but not yellow or brown-foods and screams when he is touched. In the hands of first-time novelist Mark Haddon, Christopher is a fascinating case study.  He can only make sense of the chaos of stimuli by imposing arbitrary patterns ("4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks"). It's not exactly a funny book, yet filled with quirky humor (and some very interesting math). It's different!

     
  • The Shadow of the Wind
    by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    The time is the 1950s; the place, Barcelona. Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax's novels. The man calls himself Laín Coubert-the name of the devil in one of Carax's novels. As he grows up, Daniel's fascination with the mysterious Carax links him to a blind femme fatale with a "porcelain gaze," Clara Barceló; another fan, a leftist jack-of-all-trades, Fermín Romero de Torres; his best friend's sister, the delectable Beatriz Aguilar; and, as he begins investigating the life and death of Carax, a cast of characters with secrets to hide. Officially, Carax's dead body was dumped in an alley in 1936. But discrepancies in this story surface. Meanwhile, Daniel and Fermín are being harried by a sadistic policeman, Carax's childhood friend. As Daniel's quest continues, frightening parallels between his own life and Carax's begin to emerge. Ruiz Zafón strives for a literary tone, and no scene goes by without its complement of florid, cute and inexact similes and metaphors (snow is "God's dandruff"; servants obey orders with "the efficiency and submissiveness of a body of well-trained insects"). Yet the colorful cast of characters, the gothic turns and the straining for effect only give the book the feel of para-literature or the Hollywood version of a great 19th-century novel.

     
  • The Secret Life of Bees
    by Sue Kidd

    I loved this book, from the opening paragraph to the last, the words are strung together so beautifully you'll want to read them again and again. It's  a book about family, heartache, and unusual kindness as a child named Lily tries to peel back the layers of her life in the rural South of the 60's. Her mother's absence and the mysteries surrounding her death haunt the 14 year old. Buried within each page are acts of genuine goodness that are the foundation of this unpretentious and unsentimental book.

    In the company of the beekeepers and their extraordinary female friends, Lily slowly learns to live with her own past, to trust the beekeepers with her secrets and to navigate the pressing prejudices of the South. She learns what goodness is and how it finally survives. She earns the respect of the company she keeps and becomes a better version of herself.

    One passage I found most comforting. . ."The first week was a consolation, a pure relief. The world will give you that once in a while, a brief timeout; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life."

    The story will stay with you long after you've closed the book.