Sunday Salon

TSS: Reality versus the Grand Plan

sunsalon1Today everyone seems to be posting their top 10 books and/or their reading stats for the year. I just realized, much to my chagrin, that I only read 34 books in 2012. Oh well. It was a pretty bad year for reading, and it was a pretty bad year in general. I don’t think I’m alone in encouraging 2012 to make haste. Nobody seems unhappy to see it go.

The turn of a calendar page feels more important to me this year than it has in a long time. While I am making a few (very simple) personal goals around fitness and career for 2013, I’ve decided not to plan too much when it comes to reading. Not striving for a number–although I certainly hope to do better than 34, but my reading seems to have slowed to a crawl. I may simply aim to read 52 books, one per week, and then again, I might not. I have a few other guidelines: reading from my own stacks, re-reading some old favorites. I’m not going to make any lists of what I think I’d like to re-read most, or which books from my stacks are calling me now. Instead, I’ll most likely follow my mood. I just bought myself a nice big batch of books, and I still have plenty of tempting titles on my shelves. There’s a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction for me to read as well. I will commit only to one thing: In 2013, I WILL read Wolf Hall.

As far as blogging goes, my two goals are primarily to comment more and to post more frequently. As I said above, I’ve become a terribly slow reader, and especially in the first few months of the year, all the books I have to read are chunksters all over 600 pages. But just because I don’t have anything to review doesn’t mean I can’t get out there and visit. As for posting, I may simply post more about reading and fewer reviews. I’ve never tried talking about a book while I’m reading it, at least not here on the blog, but the more I think about it, the idea appeals to me much more than writing a review that sums everything up. Instead, I might discuss as I go, and then do something like a quarterly review. (Wait–that sound suspiciously like a plan, doesn’t it?) I also hope to continue my album project, and to reorganize the blog a bit.

How about you out there? Any grand reading plans?

I’ll be back on New Year’s Day with the first of several posts to share my new books. I hope all of you have a happy and safe New Year. Here’s to 2013!

TSS: Link Love 11/18/12

sunsalon1Happy Sunday! I hope everyone’s day is going well. Around here we have some shopping and housework to do to get ready for family visiting for the American Thanksgiving holiday later this week. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to squeeze in some time to read my new copy of Alice Munro’s latest story collection, Dear Life. Last week was busy work-wise and I didn’t collect as many links as I would have liked, but here are a few things of interest I found. Enjoy!

  • Some book reviews make me want to read the book, and some book reviews make me want to follow the reviewer. If I didn’t already follow Teresa at Shelf Love, then her review of Swimming Home would certainly make me want to start doing so.
  • The Cue Card reviews Neil Young’s autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace. Based on this review, I am putting this in line right behind Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.
  • It’s difficult for me now to imagine a time, as little as five or six years ago, when I didn’t read any mysteries. The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul, reviewed over at Alex in Leeds, sounds right up my alley: “From the very beginning you need to unpick the story and look beyond what the characters are saying. Everything is ambiguous.”
  • This story collection, An End to All Things, by Jared Yates Sexton, sounds unusual and intriguing, based on the review over at The Literary Man blog: “Despite his direct address to the reader, Sexton doesn’t have an arrogant tone. He doesn’t believe that his authorial insight is any more important than the reader’s. What he does have, however, is the desire to start a conversation with his audience, and to open their minds to the reality that everyone either fears the end of things, or is numb to this fear.”
  • I don’t know about you, but I spend so much time typing these days that my handwriting has gotten pretty atrocious. This book—Whither Handwriting?—explores the loss of the art of handwriting.
  • Have you checked out Bloom Site? Created by The Millions contributor Sonya Chung, it’s a site dedicated to authors over 40. I was especially interested in the Q&A with Donald Ray Pollack, who I heard in this interview on NPR’s Fresh Air earlier this year and whose books Knockemstiff and The Devil All the Time are on my wishlist.
  • Here’s a short but terrific interview on writing fiction about the Iraq War with two 2012 National Book Award finalists, Ben Fountain and Kevin Powers.  (Shameless self-promotion: You can read my thoughts on Fountains’ Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk here.)
  • Finally, from Bourbon & Pearls, a little non-bookish but quirky something to make you smile.

The Album Project

Not exactly going strong, but still committed! I listened to:

  • Aladdin Sane, David Bowie. Favorite tracks: “Drive-In Saturday” and “Panic in Detroit”
  • Almost Famous, soundtrack. I love this movie for many reasons, which I’ll share in a forthcoming post.
  • American Beauty, The Grateful Dead. Favorite track: “Box of Rain,” which is why I bought the album. I was never a Deadhead, but watching Lindsay Weir dance alone to it in her bedroom on the sadly short-lived Freaks and Geeks drove me to buy the whole album.

Books purchased:

None, nada, zilch, zero.

Books added to wishlist:

All right folks, that’s all I’ve got. Have a great day!

TSS: Link Love 11/11/12

sunsalon1Happy Sunday everyone! I hope you’ve all had a great day today. For your evening reading pleasure, here are links to some bookish (and not so bookish) things I read this week:

Roberta at Books to the Ceiling reviews Midnight in Peking. This book piqued my interest after I read The People Who Eat Darkness this past summer. Looks like another chilling, interesting read.

With the National Book Awards coming up on November 14, Slate talks about the scandal in 1962 when the award went to first-time author Walker Percy for The Moviegoer. (Confession: I have this book, but I still haven’t read it. Ahem.)

Flavorwire lists 10 great authors we should all stop pigeonholing. The list includes Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, and Jack London, just to name a few. Who would you add to the list?

As a distraction from all the election stuff this past week, the L.A. Times posted some of the most interesting book covers of 2012.

Pencils out, people! The Guardian posted this quiz on great American novels. You have five minutes–and no looking at each other’s answers!

What book do you think is the greatest teen novel? Flavorwire lists 10 novels to replace The Catcher in the Rye as the greatest teen novel.

I want to go to there.

Book Riot lists bookish conversations they never want to have again. Topics include e-readers versus books, book critics versus bloggers, and genre discussions. I nodded so vigorously in agreement with this post that I think I pulled a muscle in my neck.

In a weekly Huffington Post series, authors discuss places they like to read.

Interested in making a mixtape (er–playlist) for someone? All Songs Considered tells you how to put songs together without looking like a creepy stalker.

This is just funny. Go ahead and click. I promise, no tricks. Just funny.

Long-Awaited reads month buttonAna and Iris are declaring January 2013 “Long-Awaited Reads” month. I don’t know about you but I have a stack of long-awaited reads to choose from, so I’ll definitely be joining in the fun. This isn’t a challenge, just a fun way to brighten up January and get some books off the TBR pile.

If you’re like me and your working space is covered with notebooks, sticky notes, and other bits of paper with phrases and lists all over them, you’ll appreciate this article in The New York Times about seminars that cover the history of note-taking.

I loved watching this video of Cheryl Strayed interviewing Anne Lamott. Strayed is clearly a super Anne Lamott fangirl–she actually gushes, which is actually what I would do if I were anywhere near either one of them!

Do you keep a notebook or journal? Take a glimpse into this 16-year-old girl’s world. If you stopped writing down those fleeting thoughts and inspirations, this may encourage you to start again. (Just do everyone a favor and do NOT refer to it as “journaling,” okay?)

The Album Project

Things got off to a rocky start with Abbey Road, but I pushed ahead:

  • Achtung Baby, U2-  My favorite U2 album. Favorite song: “The Fly.”
  • After the Gold Rush, Neil Young –  Favorite song(s): “Tell Me Why,” “When You Dance I can Really Love,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”
  • Aftermath, The Rolling Stones – Favorite songs: “Paint It Black,” “I Am Waiting”
  • Al Green’s Greatest Hits, Al Green – Favorite songs: “Here I Am,” “Love and Happiness”

(What? You didn’t think I was going to subject you to reading my thoughts on every single album? Oh, no.)

Books purchased:

A Naked Singularity, Sergio De La Pava (One of The Millions top 10 books for October 2012)

Books added to wishlist:

I added a lot of books this week, so I’m only sharing a few. I can only remember sources for some of them, but if you’ve read/reviewed any of these and do (or don’t) recommend them, please share in the comments.

Have a great week!

TSS: Link Love 11/04/12

sunsalon1For today’s Sunday Salon post, I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon with Teresa and Ana (and many others) and share some fun links I’ve found throughout the week. To me, the best part of blogging is having a community, however large or small, with whom to share things. Let the sharing begin!

I’ve been a big fan of Richard Russo ever since I read Straight Man back in 1996 or so. He has a new memoir about his mother, Elsewhere, which sounds terrific.

Many, many people are fans of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and many, many people are fans of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and her “Dear Sugar” column. Read Rubin’s interview with Strayed about happiness.

Iris has a great review of my second-favorite Nick Hornby novel, Juliet, Naked.

In Joe Queenan’s interview with NPR, he talks about his new book One for the Books, reading 125 books a year, and still having time to write his own.

Vasilly asks, “How soon is to soon?” when it comes to compiling “Best of” lists for the year…and the Publisher’s Weekly list that prompted her question.

Dennis Lehane talks to The New York Times about what he’s reading.

Teresa over at Shelf Love reviews what looks to be an interesting read about the struggle to control Central Asia.

Finally, Book Riot lists its readers Top 50 Favorite Novels. Some surprises on there!

And just for fun, my bookish activity for the week:

Books purchased:

Alice Munro, Dear Life: Stories

Dan Chaon, Stay Awake: Stories

Books added to my wish list:

Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth: A Novel (Also read his thoughts on the novella as form in The New Yorker)

Dennis Lehane, Live by Night

Edwin O’Connor, The Edge of Sadness (Recommended in the Lehane interview with The New York Times)

Jami Attenberg, The Middlesteins

Have a wonderful Sunday!

TSS: Small Island, Small World

sunsalon1This has been a strange year so far. Not only have I not had much time to post here, I have not had much time to read. Most days I get only about 20 minutes or so before bed, and that’s only if I can keep my eyes open that long. I did manage to finish a couple of books in the last two weeks, though, so that’s something…but not really given that one of them, Shanghai Girls, I started sometime last December. Ahem. And now I am trying desperately to finish C.J. Box’s Blue Heaven, which I actually started last summer. Anything to squeeze in a few more books before the end of March to at least attempt to meet my goal for the TBR Double Dare. Of course, this pressure is all internal. I’m happy about it actually, because it makes me focus where I should focus: on my own books.

As far as Shanghai Girls and Small Island, I can easily recommend both; however, Shanghai Girls is incredibly sad, and Small Island…well, racism is never an easy subject, ever. Both books actually deal with racism, and it’s ugly in both cases. And interestingly enough, although both books are set around the time of World War II, they both deal with subjects that are lately in the news every night: immigration and racism. It’s a pitiful fact that this is the case. While I realize we have progressed some, sometimes I wonder if the progression is real, or if people have just gotten better at hiding their prejudice. Or perhaps I should say, I wonder if people HAD gotten better at hiding their prejudice, because it seems to suddenly raising its ugly head in ways I could not have imagined a decade ago.

Shanghai Girls deals with the racism Chinese immigrants faced in this country in the mid-Twentieth century. Many Chinese came here looking for opportunities to help their families in China, and after the Japanese invaded China in 1937, many people came here to escape the war, only to find that 12 years later they would be unable to return to China under the Communists–and face suspicion here of being Communist spies. Hailing from Texas, I grew up around Mexicans my whole life. I moved to Georgia over a decade ago. As you might know, Georgia does not share any borders with Mexico. In 2010, someone running for state office promised to “protect our borders.” Protect them from what? Immigrants from Alabama? All those crazy South Carolinians? Perhaps they forgot, as well, that so much of our economy depends on people crossing the border to find a better life. They pick the fruit and vegetables sitting your fridge (or at least they did–Georgia farmers are now regretting their support of conservative candidates who promised to pass strict immigration laws, because they can’t find anyone to pick their crops). But fear is a powerful thing. Make people believe they are under a vast threat and promise you can protect them…like, say, telling the Germans that the Jews wanted to take all of their jobs, so that soon no Germans would be able to find work.

I bring this up because it illustrates a relevant point, both in the two books and in what’s happening in our country right now: people are driven and easily manipulated by fear. By fear of what, I do not know. I hear a lot of blathering about Christians losing their rights and being oppressed, when everywhere there’s evidence of the contrary. The white, Christian man seems to be having a heyday. If not, then how could laws be passed forcing women to have transvaginal ultrasounds? If not, then how could this bumper sticker be proudly displayed on people’s cars? If not, why do people want to build fences along the Mexican border? If not, why are there people who still insist that President Obama is a Muslim? (And so what if he was? What happened to religious freedom? If you’re so threatened by someone else’s religious beliefs, perhaps you should question what makes your own faith so shaky and threatened by the idea of beliefs that are different from yours.) If not, why did a white man in Florida shoot a young black man for walking down the street with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea? (And I promise you, if the shooter had been black or Hispanic, he would have had cuffs slapped on him faster than you can say “hoodie.”)

I tend not to talk politics with people in person, and I generally don’t say anything about it here on the blog either. But I am simply appalled, and I cannot sit still and pretend nothing is happening. I’m not interested in starting arguments or attacking parties (I believe there are racist liberals and progressive conservatives). I’m simply saying, by themselves, both of these books made me cringe. Given the parallels between what happens in these books set in the 1930s and 1940s and what I see on the news today…it made me want to crawl under the bed and not come out.

I’ll simply close with the wise words of Airman Gilbert Joseph, RAF in Small Island, and leave it at that:

‘You know what your trouble is, man?’ he said. ‘Your white skin. You think it makes you better than me. You think it give you the right to lord it over a black man. But you know what it make you? You wan’ know what your white skin make you, man? It make you white. That is all, man. No better, no worse than me–just white.’

TSS: Schedules, challenges, and so forth

sunsalon1Hello! My poor blog has been gathering dust and cobwebs the last week and a half while I try to catch up with work. Every time I think I am getting close, something comes along to throw me off track again, even if for a good reason. Last weekend I was supposed to work, but we ended up selling all of our bedroom furniture on Craig’s List. We have had it listed for months, and the Friday night before we got an email from someone asking if he could come see it at 9:00 the following morning. We said sure, thinking that he likely would either not show up or would show up and say he needed to think about it. Imagine our surprise when he looked at it and said he’d take it. He didn’t even haggle over price. An hour and a half later, he drove away with the bed we had woken up in that very same morning. Luckily we had our replacement furniture picked out, because we have a guest coming in a few weeks so we needed to get everything purchased and set up. By 9:00 Sunday night, we had all our new stuff in place. I still need to do a bit of decorating and we need something for the walls, but other than that we are set. But I didn’t get a lick of work done, so that put me several more days behind.

The point of this story: no blogging, no commenting, and not much reading, which isn’t good for a book blogger. I’m way behind on my TBR Double Dare reading list, and I’m not sure I am going to read 8 books by April 1. I’ll be lucky to finish Small Island and maybe read one or two more. I’m a short way into Alice Munro’s The View from Castle Rock, and I’m still reading The Night Circus, which I have out on two-week loan from the library. It has to go back Wednesday and I can’t renew it, so I’ll probably end up paying late fees. All of the other library books that I’d had out from my hold list went back to the library with spines uncracked (by me, anyway). I’ll just have to read them later. I do think I’m going to make a better go of just sticking to books I have in my possession for a while. I really do have a lot of good books just sitting on my shelves, something I noticed when we were moving things around last week.

Today it’s beautiful outside, and I would rather be running, but I am sneaking in this quick blog post before I start working. I guess I should have said, “I would rather be reading” or “I would rather be blogging,” but it just wouldn’t be true. It’s perfect running weather out there. Anyway, work it is today, and then tonight the Academy Awards. I haven’t seen half the films, especially the ones likely to win, The Descendants and The Artist. We did watch Hugo last night, and even though we liked it and thought it was well done, we agreed it’s not necessarily award-worthy, at least outside the special effects department. A sweet story, though, and well done. If I had my way, Midnight in Paris would win everything it’s nominated for, die-hard Woody Allen fan that I am. I really do think it was terrific, although can somebody tell me why Rachel McAdams doesn’t fire her agent? She was great in Midnight in Paris; I think she’s hiding some real talent behind all the other dreck she chooses. Maybe she just has terrible taste? If she’s not careful, she’ll end up as one of those actresses who only does Lifetime movies.

Happy Sunday everyone! I hope you all have a terrific week. Do something crazy on Leap Day, but don’t do this:

TSS: Plagiarism

sunsalon1Happy Sunday everyone! I hope you all had a great week. I actually managed to get one book post in this week, for The Postmistress, so now I’ve only got two more to write this week and then I’ll be back on track. Work is still super busy, but I feel like I have a better pace and more focus. The biggest challenge this week will be getting back to the gym, something I haven’t been super regular about since, oh, September? I am lucky to get three days in lately…hopefully going at a scheduled time will help.

I’ve been thinking about writing about plagiarism for a while. A few years ago at the start of my extended blogging break, several bloggers were locked in a heated argument over whether one blogger had plagiarized the review of another blogger. I’m not trying to be mysterious by not naming names–I wasn’t involved in any way, the argument didn’t involve bloggers I read regularly. I wonder, do you look for other reviews of books you have read and reviewed on your blog, to see if anyone’s “stolen” your content? I admit, I do not. But honestly, that’s not the sort of plagiarism I had in mind, anyway.

When I decided to start the blog again, I took a look at my dashboard and noticed that two posts of mine in particular got a lot of hits. Both were about short stories; one was about “Tandolfo the Great” by Richard Bausch, and the other was about “The Harvest” by Amy Hempel. In fact, I would sometimes get up to 20 hits a day on the Amy Hempel post. As a former college instructor, I started to wonder about this. I don’t think either of these authors enjoy widespread popularity, except among fans of the short story and aspiring writers…and college instructors, especially those teaching creative writing or Twentieth century American fiction.

The fact the Hempel post got so many hits bothered me so much that I took it down, and I’ve considered taking down the Bausch post as well because it still is one of my top posts. I certainly can’t prove that anyone has plagiarized what I’ve said in either post–nor do I believe anything I’ve said might be worth plagiarizing. But I cannot help but worry, and this whole thing just made me think of blogging on a whole new level. Maybe some of you have already considered this, but given that I write mostly about contemporary fiction that’s not taught in schools, I hadn’t ever given it much thought.

The other thing that made me think about this was a Tweet I saw a few weeks back (From Iris, perhaps? I apologize for not remembering exactly who it was.) about a commenter who had read a review of a book, but then wanted to know, could the blogger explain the book’s theme? This set off all sorts of red flags for me. Here’s what I pictured: student in front of the computer, trying desperately to write a paper that’s due now about a book that he or she hasn’t even bothered to crack the spine on. It made me wonder, are blogs the new CliffsNotes?

A lot of the bloggers I follow read classic literature, and many of them write thoughtful, insightful reviews of the books they read. And I wonder, do any of them (of you, actually) worry that their posts are being fashioned into papers for English (or American) Literature 101? Of course, if it’s happening, I suppose there’s nothing anyone can do. But it still gives me pause.