Saturday, October 22, 2011

24hour Readathon has begun!

Well, I've already managed to sleep through the first 4 hours, but it was much needed. Now I am awake, coffee brewing, and ready to go! I think I'll just try to update this post throughout the day.

Introduction Meme (Found at Blue Bookcase)

1)Where are you reading from today? 
I'm reading from STL, MO.

2)Three random facts about me…
-I love coffee, pasta, cheese, and Indian food, and the secondary colors
-I'm 5'10"
-I can't stand things touching my neck. Turtlenecks, chokers = impossibilities for me.

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?
Just 2 - I have The God of Small Things, which I must read in it's entirety in the next 8 hours, and Middlesex, which I'm about halfway through.

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?
Being my first time, my goal is just to devote as much time to reading and book-related things as possible. I have Book Club tonight, which should be interesting -- I'll try to tweet/blog from there.

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time?
Sooo not a veteran.

Ok! Back later!

Only on page 161 of The God of Small Things. Might have to be slightly late to book club, but I believe I can just about finish it. It's challenging to read quickly because it's a book with language best savored rather than devoured. Hope everyone else is faring well.

Just got back from book club. Managed to get to 218 or so, but the discussion went well anyway! Not sure I'm going to manage to stay awake much longer here, though.

I have learned through the comments that easy fluffy books may be the way to go for readathons in the future! Intense or intricately plotted books are not the easiest things to tackle for hours on end.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Readathon fast approaching

The Readathon is tomorrow already! In less than 9 hours, in fact. How has this come up so quickly? I hope I can participate as much as I wanted. For some reason that is completely unclear to me, I had it in my mind that it started at noon, which was fine, since I'm on call overnight & have some non-book life stuff to deal with at some point tomorrow, AND book club got moved to tomorrow night, which I couldn't really object to since it's still book-related (right? In person discussion!) and I have to reread The God of Small Things for it, in its entirety because I'm just coming off a hellish week and have had Absolutely No Time to devote to anything that wasn't stress or exhaustion related.  Anyway, it starts at 7am where I am, at which time I'll probably be awake but I'll likely have interruptions.  Hopefully not too many. That lousy real world gets in the way much too often.

I hope to participate as much as I can, but I'm new to this and not entirely sure how it works. I may do it wrong. I know I won't read for 24 hours straight - I will go to sleep at some point, being over 25 and all. (Why is it that one's ability to subsist on minimal sleep substantially diminishes in one's late 20s? Or is it just me?) As mentioned, I'll be focusing on The God of Small Things, with some Middlesex thrown in if there's time, and with a possible short story for RIP VI if I can manage it, since I haven't managed to participate in that yet. And then there's book club at 8pm, from which I am considering 'live' tweeting/blogging... My non-tweeting, non-blogging co-members would just love that, I'm sure. Or maybe it would get them online and discussing books here too. You never now. We shall see.

Hope to see you around here tomorrow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reading Buddies Discussion: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex has been sitting on my shelf for years - so many years that it's managed to sit on many iterations of my shelves throughout several moves, including across the country and halfway back. A friend of mine read and loved this book, so much so that he gave me his copy in the middle of grad school, when too many other obligations prevented me from picking it up. When Erin from Erin Reads mentioned they'd be reading it as the October Reading Buddies selection, I knew I had to join in. But, as usual, I'm a little behind the post schedule - 2 days to be exact. I wanted to get a little further into the novel before discussing my initial impressions.

I can see now why everyone has such a giant literary crush on Eugenides - his writing is rich with imagery and humor, vibrant characters, colorful settings and cultures, and narratives that sweep across generations and geography, histories and subjects with the ease of clear water flowing down a mountain stream. The beauty of the story is that although you have an idea of where it is ultimately headed, you have absolutely no idea of what will befall the characters along the way. I somehow came into this novel knowing only the very rudimentary bits of what it was about - a transgender character finding her and then himself. That's all I knew. I didn't know it started generations back, and covered the Turkish destruction of Smyna and the Greek immigrant experience...in Detroit of all cities.

Like Erin, I had the print version of the book, as mentioned, but also had the audio from the library, which is what I've gone with. And the audiobook is phenomenal. The narrator, Kristoffer Tabori, has a voice and tone to perfectly match those of Eugenides' language. The characters come alive through his enthusiastic narration - sometimes I pick up the print book to read along (being a little to visual when it comes to reading to completely adapt), but most of the time the audio is almost preferable. (I am happy to find that I read much faster than I speak, though.) Best thing about audio is that you can read while driving, while doing errands, while cleaning the house, doing laundry, working out, even with a headache that would normally prevent much reading. Another good thing: pronunciation. My inner voice no doubt would butchered the pronunciation of many of the names and Greek words. I'd have been pronouncing Smyrna incorrectly in my head the entire time had I only picked up the print version of the book.

I am only about 30% through the book, and can't wait to see what's ahead. It seems like others are enjoying it as well! I'm wondering if I'll be able to put off reading The Marriage Plot until the hype dies down or not.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant: Impressions


Wherever You Go is Joan Leegant's elegant and lyrical novel exploring the relationship between American Jews and Israel, their faith, and each other. It's told through the points of view of three separate, disconnected characters: Yona Stern, a 30-year-old single woman who is at sea in her own life in New York and travels to Israel to attempt reconciliation with her sister, now part of a settlement in the Palestinian territories; Mark Greenglass, a drug addict turned Talmud teacher who's just lost the religion that saved him; and Aaron Blinder, a young, directionless, immature college drop out who finds himself drawn into a Jewish extremist group in Israel.

The novel explores the question of Jewish faith and faith in general, and different ways Jews come to terms with their Jewishness both culturally and spiritually. We get to know the characters through their present inner struggles peppered with snapshots of the key moments from their past that led them to where they currently find themselves. Yona, an artist at heart, has been punishing herself for her betrayal of her sister, Dena, over the past decade. It becomes clear later in the novel that she is not in Israel to make amends with her sister so much as to learn to forgive herself.

In fact, all of the characters, in the end, are searching for ways to live with the decisions they've made. Mark feels perpetual guilt (is there a Jewish guilt just like there's a Catholic guilt?) that the addict girlfriend of his youth, once considered the love of his life, remains trapped in the drug-addled existence from which he managed to escape. He has a tiring savior complex about it, not realizing that she is not his to save. Aaron can't come to terms with the terrible mess he's made of his own unintentional life, and only realizes he wants to fix it after he's practically ruined it beyond repair.

Much of the novel explores the tragedies of our failures to understand each other and ourselves, encapsulated in an observation by Yona's precocious neice:

"That's the thing about animal cries," the girl said. "About any creature we don't understand. Some sounds are hostile and others are friendly, but we can't tell the difference."

Leegant's writing is descriptive and detached yet emotionally present. I've never traveled to Israel but the word-sketches and anecdotes were vivid enough to make me believe that I had. The character names also clearly have some meaning (Aaron's last name of Blinder being the most obvious), as well as Leegant's choice to refer to both Yona and Aaron by their first names and Greenglass by his last. She also depicts the dangerous effects of extremist thinking in a fresh way - and gives a face to the Jewish side of religious extremism.

If you enjoy novels that give you a glimpse into ways of life with which you are unfamiliar, I would definitely recommend this. In the end, the novel highlights the importance of forgiveness and compassion and redemption, for ourselves and others. In a dream, Greenglass learns:

To live is to make mistakes! To accumulate regrets! We should welcome our mistakes like flowers, collect our regrets and care for them, for they too sprout from good soil.

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's with all the reader formatism?

I'm sensing a growing... formatism in the book world, a new form of bookish snobbery. That is, reading formatism, aka, in which format you prefer to read. Hardcover? Paperback? Audio? ... GASP EREADER? DEAR GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU the internet seems to cry. DON'T YOU KNOW YOU ARE KILLING THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORE? AND BORDERS, RIP!

Pledges to read the printed word abound. People, including indie bookstore owners and avid readers everywhere, blame evil Amazon and the Kindle for their struggle to survive amid the rise in bookstore closings the past few years. Tumblr had this post circulating today, and probably for a while now, in which pictures of closed bookstores are depressingly lined up, possibly to shame us. "I pledge to read the printed word" says one comment. Another, "I'll never by an eReader." And lastly, "Breaks my heart to see this. Precisely the reason I pledged to read the printed word a year ago."

Readers, yes, it is devastating, tragic, even, to lose bookstores, indie and goliath alike. But, I can't help but ask: seriously? Do you actually think Amazon and rise of ebooks are entirely to blame? Have you, by some small chance, noticed anything else going on in the world over the past 3-4 years? Like, perhaps, oh, I don't know, maybe the financial meltdown and the collapse of the global economy, and the impending imploding economical apocalypse of doom the media keeps crying about? Would you consider, possibly, that some of that may have had an effect on bookstores' buoyancy battles?

Here's the thing. Despite the economageddon and our imminent deaths at the hands of the army of the undead (lurking creepily around the next corner), book sales have, according to the AAP, remained, amazingly, somewhat steady. Yes, ebook sales are increasing dramatically, and paper book sales are declining, but, really, it's not as bad as everyone is whining about:
According to Tom Allen, President and Chief Executive Officer of AAP, “The February results reflect two core facts: people love books and publishers actively serve readers wherever they are. The public is embracing the breadth and variety of reading choices available to them. They have made e-Books permanent additions to their lifestyle while maintaining interest in print format books.” (emphasis mine)
The amazing thing is that people are reading and talking about it like never before. We're tweeting about it. We're blogging about it. We're sharing on Goodreads. We're interacting with authors on all these platforms. Some are creating sites dedicated to the passion of reading.

One more fallacy in the argument of the ebook as having sole responsibility for a decline in indie sales: The library. No one is going to blame the library - where you can go borrow just about any book you want - for FREE - for the demise of the bookstore.  (Are they?) Furthermore, most independent stores now have an option to buy an ebook through their websites (using google kobo books), allowing the tech-savvy reader to both buy an ebook and support his or her favorite bookish hangout.

My own habits are anything but consistent. I have kindle books. I listen to audiobooks. I borrow books from the library. I buy physical books - hardcover, paperback, whatever. I buy them from Amazon, from indie stores, borrow from friends. I have my own complicated system* of determining in what format I will read and whether the book will be borrowed or bought.

(I was going to celebrate the growth of indie stores in the St. Louis area, which actually gained an indie bookstore three years ago and has formed it's on independent bookstore alliance that hosts awesomely nerdy things like book cruises, but this post is already stupid long (and oh look, oops, I just did it anyway - STL FTW). I was also going to compare the pros and cons of different formats (for example, here Vintage Anchor points out the joys of owning physical books), but I've run out of steam, and that's worthy of its own entire post.)

Indie bookstores are going to survive, in some form - they're just suffering some growing pains. Everything is gonna be okay, dear readers, no matter what format you prefer. You're now free to choose from more formats than ever before. Don't be a formatist. Celebrate others reading, no matter the device (or non-device).

Reading is evolving. And it's beautiful.

*Loosely based on perpetually sliding scales of disposable cash for books, strength of desire to read a book on a given day, time to read a book, availability of said book at local library, price on kindle vs. price of paperback vs. price of used copy, how awesome the physical book will look on my shelf, how much shelf space I have left, whim, whimsy, etc. Like I said, it's complicated.

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