Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Twilight of Superheroes and In The Company Of The Courtesan

Other books read last weekend include:

The Twilight Of The Superheroes: Stories by Deborah Eisenberg, a short story collection that explores today's American society. She has a pretty bleak view of modern life and I was struck by the hopelessness and cynical the stories are. The story that stood out for me was Like It Or Not, in which a middle aged divorcee takes a short trip with an Italian count. The shifting perspectives show that instead of a romantic story she is still coming to terms with her lost marriage while the count is lusting after a teenaged girl on vacation. Each story illustrates the ultimate aloneness of each individual, living completely separate lives from those around them.

In The Company Of The Courtesan by Sarah Dunant is a straightforward piece of historical fiction detailing the life of a midget and his employer, a beautiful and successful courtesan in Rome. After the Lutherans take over Rome, they flee to Venice to start over. As they struggle to rebuild their lives a blind healer becomes a frequent visitor with tragic results. This novel is also based on historical events and the glimpse into the life of a courtesan is fascinating. This probably won't stay on my best list (although you never know about these things) but I did enjoy reading it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The People's Act Of Love

One of the books I read over the weekend was The People's Act Of Love by James Meeks. He has immersed himself in the history of Russia and writes about little known religious sects called castrates, Siberian prison escapees taking along their "cow" for food (also known as a newbie convict) and assorted other oddities. As I was reading this I took this to be a slightly altered or dreamlike view of reality and was startled to learn that these incidents were taken from real historical events. Having said that, there is a morose otherworldliness about this book that is appealing and very Russian in tone.

Friday, March 17, 2006

My Reading List

Today I thought I would give you the first three months worth of committee recommended reading. After reading a number of books some of these may drop off the reading list as new book treasures are found.

Abidi, Azhar - Passarola Rising
Auster, Paul - The Brooklyn Follies
Baker, Kevin - Striver's Row
Barnes, Julian - Arthur & George
Barry, Max - Company
Barton, Emily - Brookland
Branch, Taylor - At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68
Bruinius, Harry - Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America's Quest for Racial Purity
Burt, Stephen - Parallel Play
Cartwright, Justin - The Promise of Happiness
Century, Douglas - Barney Ross
Clarke, Cheryl - The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980-2005
Davis, Kathryn - The Thin Place
De Los Santos, Marisa - Love Walked In
Dean, Debra - The Madonnas of Leningrad
Desai, Kiran - Inheritance of Loss
Doig, Ivan - The Whistling Season
Dunant, Sarah - In The Company Of The Courtesan
Eberstadt, Fernanda - Little Money Street: In Search of Gypsies
Egan, Timothy - Worst Hard Time
Eisenberg, Deborah - The Twilight of the Superheroes
Flannery, Tim - The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing
Fugard, Lisa - Skinner's Drift
Gaddis, John Lewis - The Cold War: A New History
Ghosh, Amitav - Incendiary Circumstances: A Chronicle of the Turmoil of Our Time
Gibbons, Kaye - The Life All Around Me By Ellen Foster
Gilbert, Elizabeth - Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search For Everything Across Italy
Godwin, Gail - Queen of the Underworld
Goodman, Allegra - Intuition
Gordimer, Nadine - Get a Life
Grunwald, Michael - The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise
Grushin, Olga - The Dream Life of Sukhanov
Gunning, Sally - The Widow's War
Hammad, Suheir - Zataar Diva
Hirshfield, Jane - After
Horn, Dara - The World to Come
Hyland, M. J. - Carry me Down
Karr, Mary - Sinners Welcome
Kellerman, Jesse - Sunstroke
Kindred, Dave - Sound and Fury
King, Ross - The Judgment of Paris
Klinkenborg, Verlyn - Timothy or Notes of an Abject Reptile
Kurlansky, Mark - The Big Oyster
Laird, Nick - Utterly Monkey
Leavitt, David - The Man Who Knew Too Much
Liss, David - The Ethical Assassin
Makine, Andrei - The Woman Who Waited
McGahan, Andrew - White Earth
McInerney, Jay - The Good Life
McMahon, Darrin - Happiness: A History
Mda, Zakes - The Whale Caller
Meek, James - The People's Act of Love
Meloy, Maile - A Family Daughter
Merritt, William - A Fool's Gold
Migol, Agi - Look There: Selected Poems
Mitchell, David - Black Swan Green
Morgan, Ted - My Battle Against Algiers
Nazario, Sonia - Enrique's Journey
Nielsen, John - Condor
Nunez, Elizabeth - Prospero's Daughter
Nunez, Sigrid - The Last of Her Kind
Parry, Richard - In the Time of Madness
Perlman, Eliot - The Reasons I Won't Be Coming
Puchner, Eric - Music Through the Floor
Rust, Elissa Minor - The Prisoner Pear: Stories …
Sawyer, Kathy - The Rock from Mars
Seife, Charles - Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from our Brains to Black Holes
Sherrill, Martha - The Ruins of California
Smith, Ali - The Accidental
Spiotta, Dana - Eat the Document
Stargardt, Nicholas - Witnesses Of War: Children's Lives Under The Nazis
Stewart, Matthew - The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World
Tayman, John - The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai
Thane, Pat - The Long History of Old Age
Toure - Never Drank the Kool-Aid: Essays
Trussoni, Danielle - Falling Through The Earth
Tussing, Justin - The Best People in the World
Umrigar, Thirty - The Space Between Us
Vincent, Norah - Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey Into Manhood and Back Again
Vitebsky, Piers - The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia
Waters, Sarah - Night Watch
Whitehead, Colson - Apex Hides the Hurt
Williams, Saul - The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip Hop
Winter, Michael - The Big Why
Wright, Stephen - The Amalgamation Polka

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Getting Started

I have always had a passion for books so it seems inevitable that I would end up as a librarian. (Ironically, the profession doesn't allow time to read during work hours.) This year however I was honored with a two year appointment to the American Library Association CODES Notable Books Council. "The Notable Books Council of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division American Library Association (ALA), compiles a list of books selected for their significant contribution to the expansion of knowledge and for the pleasure they can provide to adult readers."

What this means for me is that I will have the sheer joy of immersing myself in books for the next 2 years. I will read as many of the hundreds of titles of note (and perhaps a few not-so-great titles) and spend time twice a year in all day meetings to discuss, debate and defend our favorites. At the end of the year we will come away with 25 books that are the best of the best. This is my attempt to keep track of the year's reading and to let friends and readers see what gets considered and how I am progressing. Of course, there is no way for anyone to read everything on the list but I will do my best.

So far the committee has identified 85 titles that have been published in the past three months that have received excellent reviews or book "buzz". As we work our way through the ever expanding list, books will appear and will also drop off. So far I have worked my way through 7 titles.

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard
The Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright
The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis
The Widow's War by Sally Gunning
Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile by Verlyn Klinkenborg
The Girls by Lori Lansens

All of these were interesting books that will appeal to wildly different types of readers. Arthur and George is a fictionalized account of a period of time in the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and one of my current favorites. The Amalgamation Polka and The Thin Place will appeal to the more experimental readers among us.

For those who like natural history Timothy, or Notes of an Abject Reptile chronicle the life of a noted naturalist from the perspective of Timothy the turtle. If you decide to read this one please note the inclusion of a glossary at the end of the book. I didn't see it until halfway through the book and struggled with some of the more specialized or outdated terms. The general consenus was that turtles don't have much to say.