- Fizzy Thoughts: April 2009

FoB - Window on the World

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The second panel I attended at the Festival of Books was Window on the World. The authors on this panel were Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love), Jonathan Rabb (Rosa), Vanina Marsot (Foreign Tongue) and Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). When I saw Lisa See would be at the FoB I was all “Oooh, Lisa See, I’m going to that panel.” Later, after I was lucky enough to win a copy of Foreign Tongue from Literate Housewife and realized who Vanina Marsot was I thought “Bonus!” Then, as I was sitting there waiting for the panel to start, I looked up Muriel Barbery and realized I had read her book just a few months before. D’oh! So I was actually familiar with 3 of the 4 authors. Apologies to Jonathan Rabb, but I have yet to come across a copy of your book.

I’m still not clear what this panel was about, but all of the authors have written books set in other cultures. The conversation rambled though, and the panelists talked quite a bit about film (a topic that goes right over my head). However, before they got off on that tangent, there was some talk about other cultures. Rabb’s book is set in Berlin between the two world wars and sounds pretty noir-ish. Marsot’s book is about an American living in Paris who is hired to translate a book. She stated she wanted to write a book that shows the non-Disneyland side of Paris. She also wanted to explore how languages are different and how literary translations are done. She brought up how some phrases have no translation – and even mentioned the same phrase (stop the cinema) that Literate Housewife talked about in her review (she also has a wonderful interview with the author that I urge you to read).

Lisa See discussed her soon to be released book Shanghai Girls. Of all the books she’s written, she said Shanghai Girls is “closest to her heart,” as it is the history she grew up with. For example, her great uncle took his family back to China for a visit. While there he arranged marriages for all of his sons, even the youngest who was 14. Some of these wives are still alive 70 years later and speak maybe 10 words of English. They’ve lived very insular lives in China City, the China Town created in LA (by the same person who thought up Olvera St.) and built with leftover props from the movie The Good Earth. She also heard stories from Hollywood growing up…she drew on all of these details while writing Shanghai Girls.

Muriel Barbery apologized in English for her English, and then answered all of her questions through a translator. What was interesting though is that the translator did not have to translate the English to Muriel…she only translated her French responses. At one point, she explained that she was heavily involved in the translation of her book, as it was translated to English and then given to her for review and input. I’m guessing that she actually has an excellent grasp of English, but is still unsure of her verbal skills. Since I was watching her face during the translations, I’m afraid I didn’t take too many notes. She did say that her first book (which incidentally, mentions the concierge from The Elegance of the Hedgehog) is currently being translated into English.

At some point after this the conversation detoured into film and I pretty much had no idea what anyone was talking about. So, this would be the end of my synopsis.

I’m still fascinated by the authors on this panel (well, except for Jonathan Rabb…sorry again) but I was a bit disappointed in the actual panel. The next panel, however, was a different story. Tune in tomorrow for what made the last panel on Saturday so exceptional.


FoB - Social Media Panel

So yes, like a total dork I took notes at all of the panels I attended at the Festival of Books. This is because I am so not an auditory learner, and I tend to forget things as soon as I hear them. So over the next few days I will be sharing all of my (somewhat disjointed) notes from the various panels.

First up, the Social Media panel. This was the first panel I attended on Saturday morning. Moderated by Andrew Nystrom, from the LA Times, this panel consisted of Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek fame, and who is evidently one of the hottest things on Twitter…since I’m a total rube, I was clueless not only of his fame but even of his existence), Otis Chandler (founder of Goodreads) and Sara Wolfe (dance columnist for the LA Times and a really good example of the stereotypical ditsy artsy persona).

Given the topic, there was a big push to tweet during this panel. Unfortunately, I had no internet connection, so no tweets from me. Which is okay, because I’m a lousy multitasker, anyway.

Otis Chandler started off by stating that reading is broken. He said when it comes to reading your ideas are locked in, not shared. Goodreads tries to change that…he sees it as the equivalent of discussing American Idol at work the next day. He wants to create social peer pressure to read.

Wil Wheaton responded to the idea that social media contributes to dumbing down and short attention spans. He sees Twitter as a communication tool…it’s like instant messaging, but you choose what you want to read and respond to and link to. He uses social networking and self-publishing to reach more people. He also mentioned that he heard Twitter grew by 90% in March.

Sara Wolfe talked about Facebook and how she uses it to connect to the dance community. She also talked about constellations and constellating and how she really didn’t understand Twitter…at which point I’m afraid I tuned her out. Oh…except at one point she mentioned her colleague who gives tests on Twitter. Huh? Her predilection for the word constellation in various real and made up forms was too distracting. In fact, she sent our group into giggles at one point. She also talked about the dance community and dropped names as if we all knew what she was talking about. Which we didn’t. If we could have voted her off the island, she would’ve been gone.

Wil Wheaton mentioned that it is important to remember that what you put online is there “until the lights go off on Planet Earth.” I thought this was an excellent point.

Otis Chandler said he started blogging to remember what he had read, which I so identify with. He went on to say that unlike watching a movie, reading is a commitment. He sees Goodreads as an addition to social media. With the “what page are you on” feature, you can share thoughts about a particular part of a book. Wil added that as an author, he likes this feature, because then he can see what pages people are talking about in his books. You no longer have to be in the same room with someone to have a connection and share your thoughts.

Andrew Nystrom stated that it is important to listen to others on social media and remember that it is not all about you. Wil added that the users own social media, not the marketers. The people who ruin it will show up sooner or later, so it’s up to the users to block or not follow or report spam.

I really enjoyed this panel. I especially liked listening to Otis Chandler share his thoughts on Goodreads, since I use it (sporadically). Wil Wheaton was also quite entertaining; I can see why he is such a popular figure. Like I said earlier, if we could have just voted Sara Wolfe off of the island, it would have been even better.

For other notes and thoughts on this panel, check out the posts from my fellow attendees:

Lisa at Books on the Brain
Trish at Hey Lady!
Tracy at Shelf Life
Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Natasha of Maw Books
Florinda at The 3 R’s Blog
Amy of My Friend Amy


to FoB or not to FoB

Sunday, April 26, 2009

If you have read any of these blogs (Tracy at Shelf Life, Trish at Hey, Lady, Whatcha Readin'?, Lisa at Books on the Brain, Amy at My Friend Amy, Ti at Book Chatter and other stuff, Natasha at Maw Books Blog, Florinda at The 3 R’s, Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty and her husband Anjin) you’ve probably heard by now that I spent the weekend at the Los Angles Times Festival of Books (hereafter to be referred to as FoB).

I’m still exhausted.

Later this week I’ll be posting about all of the panels I attended, but today I’m going to compare the FoB to the only other large book event I’ve been to, the Book Group Expo (BGE) in San Jose.

First, the FoB. This event is truly massive. While I knew there would be thousands of people there, I underestimated how exhausting it is to be in that big of a crowd. The FoB is a mix of author panels (maybe 20-30 each day to choose from), event stages (with chefs, music, children’s entertainment, and Bob Barker to name a few) and hundreds of vendor booths (everything from food to books to crafts to Dianetics to people with a cause). The FoB takes place on the UCLA campus, and it is spread out, so there is a lot of walking (good), but also much elbowing of your way through crowds (bad…at least for this small town girl).

BGE, on the other hand, is a much smaller event. With only a few hundred attendees, it is contained within a small area of the San Jose Convention Center. There are author panels (called salons) and vendor booths, but it is all on a much smaller scale.

I would say the FoB focuses on books while BGE focuses on reading. This is a sweeping generalization, but I think it’s a good way to characterize the two events. Since the FoB is in Los Angeles, there were lots of celebrity authors (Alyssa Milano and Henry Winkler to name just two) and speakers, as well as a large number of LA-based authors. I’m also guessing a large number of attendees were there just to see these speakers, or for the events in the children’s area or on the cooking stage. There were also a large number of authors I had never heard of (this isn’t a bad thing; I’m just mentioning this to compare it to BGE).

Since BGE targets book groups, the chance of knowing many of the authors is greater. You certainly do not have to be in a book group to attend (I’m not, and I’ve enjoyed both years that I’ve attended). BGE is a more intimate experience. The salons are smaller (in one case last year, there were only 20 of us) and you feel like you are part of the discussion. Both events allow for questions, but at BGE the chance of an author remembering you when you later have your book signed is much greater. There is also the occasional opportunity to engage an author in conversation. I’d say BGE is an enjoyable experience, and for book bloggers, it is potentially more productive if you are looking to make connections with authors. Last year at BGE, there was also some representation from the publishing industry. However, that might not continue (it’s not really geared towards publishers) so I wouldn’t plan on attending for that reason. However, I didn’t really see the publishers at FoB, either.

Since I live equal distances from both events (it’s a 3 ½ hour drive to UCLA and a 3 hour drive to San Jose) and I live in an area with a deplorable lack of bookish events, it is totally worth it for me to attend both (hey, I live in California…we’re used to driving!). And unless something comes up, I do plan on going to the FoB again next year. But I look forward to BGE even more.

So…you all need to join us this year! The highlight of FoB was meeting some of my fellow book bloggers. And now Trish and I are campaigning to get more of you to attend the Book Group Expo. Check out the Book Group Expo website to subscribe to updates and find out when it will happen. We’d love to see you there



Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
6 hours, 26 minutes (audio book)

Another audio book! This one was fun to listen too...and I've never even considered myself a fan of economics. In fact, I loathed statistics in college, and since both involve numbers and complicated thinking, this really could have gone either way. I was actually bummed that the audio book ended so soon.

So a journalist (Steven with a v) and an economist (Stephen with a ph) meet. V discovers Ph has some pretty radical and interesting ideas, resulting in this book. And okay, so it probably didn't happen exactly like that, but you get the idea.

Then, they make the audio book, and V narrates it. Which is cool, because he throws in some asides about the authors. He also makes a good narrator, and I like it when the authors narrate their own work (as long as they manage to do a good job...and so far, I haven't had to fire anyone for lack of narrative skills. Although Toni Morrison's voice is almost too beautiful...I lose myself in the sound and then end up losing the story.).

Whoops, got sidetracked. So...

Some of my favorite (and by favorite I mean intriguing, make you go hmmmm) things from the book:

  • The idea that Roe v Wade is responsible for the decrease in violent crime. (And this is NOT an invitation to debate abortion in the comments...we will NOT go there on this blog. Don't make me delete you.)
  • Names as predictors of your destiny - and the two brothers...one named Loser (for reals!) who grew up to be a cop and the other named Winner who grew up and ended up in jail.
  • Why you won't get rich trying to break into the upper echelon of a crack gang. Interesting side note here...the sociologist who is featured in this story has a book out now. I saw the book at Borders the other day, and it's about how he spent years studying this crack gang. The book is Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh. If you ever forget, like I did, just google crack gang sociologist...it's the first result.
There are also discussions on popular baby names, overly zealous parenting and the Ku Klux Klan. This is definitely not your stuffy boring economics text (sorry economists) from college.

I'm actually a bit reluctant to make a blanket recommendation on this one, because I'm sure some would find it boring, others might think the findings suspect, and others would just go WTF? However, if you like the occasional non-fiction book, hate economics but think freakonomics is the coolest word, and like out of the box thinking, then hey...give it a whirl.


Open Me

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Open Me
Sunshine O'Donnell
June 2007
225 pages

I had high hopes for this one. The premise is so different:

A debut novel about a young girl at the center of the secret world of professional mourners, where women are trained extensively and paid handsomely to attend the funerals of strangers.

Mem is a wailer, a professional mourner hired to cry at funerals. One of the few remaining American girls in this secret, illegal profession, Mem hails from a long line of mourners, including her mother, a legendary master wailer hired for the most important funerals in her hometown of Philadelphia.

Though Mem is to eventually become a renowned wailer herself, she at first struggles with her calling. She is a girl who cannot make herself cry, and though her mother loves her fiercely, she must use ancient, emotionally abusive, cultlike rituals to train Mem to weep. When Mem emerges as the greatest wailer that the profession has ever seen, her infamy brings with it unwanted attention, especially from the authorities.

Interweaving poetic prose and artifacts spanning six thousand years and seven continents, Open Me is an utterly original novel about mothers and daughters, dark underworlds, and the play between fact and fiction.
(from bn.com)

I still think this is an interesting concept for a book. And Mem's story was fascinating. But I wanted more. More of her training, and her dreams, and more about the weirdness of life with wailers. I thought the book bogged down in the spots where the author switched to poetry and legend. The background felt disjointed and too ambitious. I would have liked more of a focus on the characters, and less on the creation of a mystical profession. More show, less tell.

But that's just me. Lately I'm finding myself drawn more to the characters in a story. I remember when I could never really pinpoint whether I preferred characters or plot...however, right now, I can definitely say...I'm all about the characters.


A Long Stone's Throw

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Long Stone's Throw
Alphie McCourt
first published November 2008
10 hours, 57 minutes (audio book)

First there was Frank (you know, the dude who wrote Angela's Ashes). Then there was Malachy (who I haven't read, and therefore can't name a book off-hand, although I know he's written a few). Now, there's Alphie, the baby of the McCourt family, who felt compelled to add his two cents to the family lore.

Thing is, Alphie can write. He can also narrate (I listened to the audio book), although he does sound a wee bit like Elmer Fudd on occasion. That proved to be a bit of a distraction at times, as it made me giggle, especially when he said fewocious.

Alphie starts his story in the middle, after he immigrates to the US from Ireland. The first third of his story focuses on his struggles to find work, gain a green card, and figure out what he wants to do with his life. Then, he flips back to the beginning, telling of his childhood spent mostly in poverty in Ireland. Finally, he moves back to the US and his adult years and his ongoing search for a career and stability. This last third dragged at times, especially since Alphie's life turned pretty mundane. The story also came to an abrupt halt, although honestly, it could have ended a few hours prior.

I can understand his need to tell his story, since his brother's have received much acclaim. Thing is, I'm not sure his story needed to be told. As I said before, he does have a way with words, and that (and the few songs he sings in the audio version) made this reasonably entertaining.

Also, thanks again to Kathy for the contest in which I won my copy of this audio book. I'm still new to the world of audio books, and I'm having fun trying out different books. I'm finding I do much better with non-fiction...for some reason it's easier for me to concentrate and follow. My current audio book choice is A Mercy, and I'm failing miserably at staying focused and understanding the story. In fact, Toni's about to be tossed aside for Bill Bryson.


age progression photos

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I promise I haven't given up on talking about books. I just haven't felt like writing up the reviews lately. In the meantime...

I've had a few twitter conversations lately that inspired this post...about teaching, and badges, and what co-workers do when you turn 40.

Last night bethany asked if I was a teacher. Once upon a time, I was. This is what I looked like when I first started working for the county, right after I quit teaching. This badge cracks me up...could I look any more teacher-like? I keep it around for the entertainment value.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we were getting new badges (there were actually two badges in between these two, but they usually confiscate the old when they issue the new one. The above badge is therefore contraband). And sorry for the blurry pics...the iPhone didn't want to see me that up close and personal. I was actually laughing for this second picture. And personally, I think I've lost the teacher look. So here I am 12 years later...

Yesterday, in honor of the big 4-0, my lovely and kind coworkers made me a new badge:

Amazing how suddenly the iPhone decided to focus. Hmmph.


and the party continues...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Best cake ever...

I had a marvelous birthday...thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes. You all are the best!

So let's continue the celebration by picking another winner in the Party Like It's Your Birthday mini-challenge/giveaway. Remember, this giveaway continues throught the end of this month, so it's not too late to join!

This week our lucky winner is...


Yippee!! Congratulations Care! Will you email me with your address please?

If you lot are at all curious about what the presents are, well, you'll just have to wait until the recipients have opened said presents. Because I'm in charge, and there will be no peeking! :-D

**Formatting issues compliments of blogger.



Well, I guess there's no escaping the fact that I'm 40. Although Hamburger assures me I can stay 29 if I want.

I started celebrating early, since April is a popular birthday month (both at work and around the blogosphere). Since I share my birthday with the son of one of my best work buddies, and she's therefore a bit occupied today, yesterday my co-workers took me out for lunch. Yay! Then they gave me a bunch of black balloons. Boo! They are floating above my cubicle, like a black cloud.

On a positive note, the lovely Chartroose wrote the sweetest post just for me. And Care is baking me a pie. Okay, so she's really baking it for her husband, but she mentioned me in the post, so I'm claiming a piece. :-D Thank you both for remembering me and posting such fabulous birthday wishes.

And my mom has promised to deliver "a sweet treat for anyone with a sweet tooth & if this doesn't do it they have a real problem & should seek out sweets anonymous." My mom raised two kids with vicious sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) and fantastic mom that she is, she indulges us.

I guess there are a few advantages to 40, after all.


Teaser Tuesday

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"I imagine he'd had a bad experience on a plane back in the war, but when I asked him about it, all he'd say was he had a friend once who wanted to fly, and when he tried, his friend, him, he fell to earth.

Old men speak in riddles, nieces, but if you listen carefully, they might have something important to tell you."

From Through Black Spruce, by Joseph Boyden

I found this book when I was wandering through the bookstore yesterday. Despite never having heard of it, or the author, I bought it, which turned out to be a very good thing. I am loving this book!


Too hot to blog

Monday, April 20, 2009


Days of Remembrance and The Book Thief

Sunday, April 19, 2009

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
— Elie Wiesel

Today marks the beginning of the Days of Remembrance, when the US commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. This year’s theme is Never Again: What You Do Matters.

Did you know that the word genocide did not exist before 1944? Raphael Lemkin formed the word to describe the Nazi policy of extermination of the Jews and other targeted groups. Genocide was formed by combining geno (Greek for race or tribe) and cide (from Latin for killing). For Lemkin, genocide meant "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves." In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which made genocide an international crime. In the Convention, genocide is defined as:

any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

For more info on the Days of Remembrance and genocide, visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Although I finished the following book earlier in the month, I thought it appropriate for today’s post.

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
550 pages

“I am haunted by humans.” -Death

Why am I quoting Death? Because he is the narrator of The Book Thief. And I must say, he does a damn good job of narrating.

Liesel Meminger is being sent to foster care when Death first encounters her. In the course of her journey young Liesel steals a book. Later, as a foster child living with Rosa and Hans Hubermann, Liesel steals her second book from a pile of burning books (it’s Nazi Germany…do I need to say more?). From there, she moves on the library of the mayor’s house. Liesel is subtly abetted by her beloved foster father Hans, her best friend Rudy, and even the mayor’s wife. Since life in Molching Germany in the early 1940’s is harsh and scary, books provide Liesel with an escape and a purpose. As the war escalates, Liesel reads to others in bomb shelters, kitchens and basements.

The story of the book thief is told alongside the story of WWII and the Holocaust. However, the book does assume some knowledge of both events, as Death provides more biting asides than he does historical lessons.

At 550 pages, I did find the book a bit long. I think the book could have stood a bit of a heavier hand with the red pencil. Especially since Death is not shy about telling you what’s coming. And it’s also a bit odd that Death never divulges what happened to Liesel’s mom. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious, but still, you’d think he could fill in a few blanks. After all, he has to know.

Still, this is a book worth reading.


Lit Vogue

Saturday, April 18, 2009

This one goes out to all the readathoners...

Lit Vogue, inspired (and aided and abetted by) maDAWNna of She Is Too Fond of Books

Read, read
Read, read

Go with the flow
Go with the flow

Come on, read
Let your eyes move across the page, hey, hey hey
Come on, read
Let your mind merge with the book, you know, you can do it

Look around everywhere you turn is bookstores
They're everywhere that you haunt
You try everything you can to resist
The lure of books that you want

When all else fails and you long to be
Something better than you are today
I know a place where you can get away
It's called a bookstore, and here's what it's for, so

Come on, read
Let your eyes move across the page, hey, hey hey
Come on, read
Let your mind merge with the book, you know, you can do it

All you need is your own imagination
So use it that's what it's for
Go inside, for your finest inspiration
Your dreams will open the door

It makes no difference if you're black or white
If you're a boy or a girl
If the story's good, it will give you new life
You're a superstar, yes, that's what you are, you know it

Come on, read
Let your eyes move across the page, hey, hey hey
Come on, read
Let your mind merge with the book, you know, you can do it
Come on, read
Let your mind merge with the book, you know, you can do it

Reading's where you find it
Not just at school in English Lit
Plot is in the story
That's where I find the glory
As long as it's not too gory
So get on over to the book store.

Come on, read
Let your mind merge with the book, you know, hey, hey, hey
Come on, read
Let your mind merge with the book, you know, you can do it

Read, read
Read, read
A book
A book
Read, read

Read, read
Reading's where you find it
Read to succeed
Read, read
Reading's where you find it
Go with the flow

Edgar Allen Poe and Stowe
Dickinson and Defoe
Maya Angelou, Jack Kerouac
On the cover of a trade paperback

J.K. Rowling, Stephen King
Both are the real thing
Murakami and the Gages
Roald Dahl, words from sages

They have style, they write pages
Anne Rice earned good wages
Anne, Emily, Charlotte, too
Jane Austen, we love you

Ladies with an attitude
Fellows that were in the mood
Don't just stand there, let's get to it
Read a book, there's nothing to it

Read, read
Read, read

Let your eyes move across the pages
Ooh, you've got to just
Let your mind go with the flow
Ooh, you've got to

Let your eyes move across the pages
Ooh, you've got to just
Let your mind go with the flow
Ooh, you've got to

Let your eyes move across the pages
Ooh, you've got to just
Let your mind go with the flow
Ooh, you've got to

Let your eyes move across the pages
Ooh, you've got to just
Let your mind go with the flow


More presents

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I should be writing up some reviews to post. Or thanking all of the bloggers who have given me some lovely awards over the past few weeks. Instead, I'm going to opt for a short post and choose another winner from the virtual birthday party...

Yay!! Eva is another April birthday baby (we're everywhere), so random.org obviously knows what's going on out there in the real world.

There's still plenty of time to join in the fun (and the possibility of winning a birthday present), so head over to the original post to check out the details and sign up.

And congratulations to Eva...please email me your address!


Teaser Tuesday

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"My advice," Milly says, pointing a fork, "is always find a man who wears polyester. It's a fabric you can trust on a man."

From Precious, by Sandra Novack


Words in a French Life

Monday, April 13, 2009

Words in a French Life
Kristin Espinasse
May 2007
304 pages

Evidently this book is taken from blog posts, as the author has a blog, french-word-a-day.com. Each short chapter is based on either a French word or phrase, and the author then tells a short story featuring her life in France or her family. Often, the story involves her continuing struggle with the intricacies of the French language.

This is an entertaining book, although some of the stories are a bit out of context, especially since the book/words are not in chronological order. Also, there is no pronunciation guide (although occasional tips are offered), so some knowledge of French would be helpful.

I bought this book a few years ago, and I’m not really sure why. Maybe I thought it would offer a distraction to the frustrating beginning Italian class I was most likely taking at that time? Whatever it was, I started it, but never finished. Literate Housewife’s post about her new found interest in France prompted me to pick the book back up, quickly read it, and then send it off to someone who will most likely appreciate it way more than I did.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if I learned anything? The only word or phrase that has stuck with me is beurk…gross!


The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Anne Fadiman
September 1997
341 pages

This is weird, because I feel like I’ve already written a review for this book. I just can’t find it. So maybe I haven’t and I’m just hallucinating.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down was a book I had heard mentioned at various child welfare trainings over the past few years. After I read Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris, I realized that she was the author of this book. Given that the two books are nothing alike, I was finally curious enough to give it a shot.

And wow. This book should be required reading, since it shows how incredibly important cross-cultural training and understanding is. Because this book shows what can happen when people (even those with the best of intentions) don’t understand intrinsic beliefs of other cultures.

The book is set in Merced, which is located in the Central Valley of California. Merced has the largest population of Hmong immigrants in the United States. (And by the way, the Hmong are featured in Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, Gran Torino. Two thumbs up on that, too.) The book will explain, in detail, who the Hmong are, and what brought them to the US, and to Merced in particular. The story of the Hmong alternates with the story of one particular Hmong family, the Lees. Lia Lee, their young daughter, spent years in and out of the emergency room of the county hospital in Merced, due to what the doctors diagnosed as epileptic seizures. However, for the Hmong, Lia was believed to have suffered from a sudden fright, causing her soul to leave her body. Because her soul has left, the spirit is able to catch her…and she falls down.

Because the medical personnel have little to no understanding of Hmong beliefs, and because the Hmong have little to no understanding of Western medicine, what results is years of misunderstanding regarding Lia’s health, treatment, and needs. The doctor’s believe Lia’s parents are providing inconsistent care (mainly because they do not administer the prescribed medications correctly), while Lia’s amazingly devoted and doting parents believe that the medicine is bad. At one point, one doctor feels compelled to make a report to child welfare, and Lia is removed from her parents and placed in foster care.

Anne Fadiman did an incredible amount of research, and portrays both sides of the story with equal respect. She also gives enough background so that the reader understands the Hmong worldview…by the end of the book, everyone’s actions make perfect sense, which is part of what makes this story so compelling.


Odd Coincidences

Friday, April 10, 2009

I have two books sitting on my desk at work. Thirteen Reasons Why, because it’s soon to be signed by the author, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, because my boss wanted my opinion of the book (which I haven’t read yet). Since I read the ARC of Thirteen Reasons Why quite a while ago, I’ve never really paid any attention to the cover of the book (even though it's been sitting on my desk for the past week). Until I happened to glance at it and noticed the quote on the cover: “A mystery, eulogy, and ceremony.” –Sherman Alexie, best selling author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.

What are the chances? And I feel like Sherman Alexie just sent me a message that his book really should be moved to the top of the TBR pile.


World Made by Hand

Thursday, April 09, 2009

World Made by Hand
James Howard Kunstler
317 pages


In The Long Emergency celebrated social commentator James Howard Kunstler explored how the terminal decline of oil production, combined with climate change, had the potential to put industrial civilization out of business. In World Made by Hand, an astonishing work of speculative fiction, Kunstler brings to life what America might be, a few decades hence, after these catastrophes converge. For the townspeople of Union Grove, New York, the future is nothing like they thought it would be. Transportation is slow and dangerous, so food is grown locally at great expense of time and energy, and the outside world is largely unknown. There may be a president, and he may be in Minneapolis now, but people aren’t sure. Their challenges play out in a dazzling, fully realized world of abandoned highways and empty houses, horses working the fields and rivers, no longer polluted, and replenished with fish. With the cost of oil skyrocketing—and with it the price of food—Kunstler’s extraordinary book, full of love and loss, violence and power, sex and drugs, depression and desperation, but also plenty of hope, is more relevant than ever.

I really like the concept of this book. After war, the loss of oil, and disease ravage the United States, the residents of Union Grove have reverted to an agrarian society. Without electricity, their lives are intensely physical. In order to survive, the residents of Union Grove will need to learn to rely on each other and band together to keep their town from falling apart. The book is not as depressing as it sounds, and the reader is left with a feeling of hope at the end. However, there were a few things that bothered me that I just can’t let go of.

  • The bad guys were the stereotypical biker gang, albeit without bikes. They were tattooed and played songs by Nirvana and Metallica. Our hero, on the other hand, played folk music and spirituals (in fact, I couldn’t help but think of the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? as I read this book…it seemed very appropriate). It was very obvious that someone does not like rock, or even alternative, music. As one character states after listening to a rendition of the Nirvana song "Smells Like Teen Spirit": “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world could just forget some of those really awful songs?”
  • It was often hard to ignore the fact that the author has an agenda. It’s obvious that he sees this future as having a good chance of happening, especially in the early parts of the book when he reflects on the world that was. It gets a bit tiresome.
  • Mary Beth Ivanhoe, the “precious mother” of the New Faithers, the cult-like group that comes to town. What the HELL was her purpose in the book?!? She isn’t mentioned until the last part of the book, and even then she only gets a few pages. The whole scene was weird and out of place, and I don’t get it. And don’t even get me started on the hives.
  • Jane Ann. Jane Ann is the wife of Loren, the town’s pastor and Robert’s best friend. Robert being our main character. Jane Ann and Loren seem to be husband and wife in name only, and Jane Ann turns to Robert for sexual comfort. That was a little weird, too…and at the end, something’s going on with Jane Ann, but do we find out what? No. Everyone else got an ending, but not Jane Ann. Actually, Mary Beth didn’t either, but since she only popped in for a brief howdy, that I can understand.

Obviously, someone needs to read this book so they can enlighten me on a few things. Despite my quibbling over some disturbing tendencies, it’s not at all a bad book. Or a downer. It’s an interesting proposal for our future. It’ll also make you want to learn a bit about cooking, gardening, and homeopathy…you know, just in case.



Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Christina Meldrum
May 2008
410 pages

First, the cover. I love this cover. I think it is a perfect representation of Aslaug (the main character), and the events at the beginning of the book, and the whole mood of the book. It's just perfect, in a creepy kind of way.

Second, the book. I loved it, too. It was so much more than I expected. In fact, the whole second half of the book was a big surprise, in a "I really wasn't expecting that" kind of way.

Third, the story:

Aslaug is a young girl raised in almost near isolation by her mother, Maren. Maren has taught her daughter about botany and languages, but has also severely limited her exposure to society and most other areas of learning. They live on the outskirts of a town in Maine, in a cabin with no electricity. Aslaug dreams of escape, but is also devoted to her emotionally abusive mother. When her mother dies, Aslaug is forced to interact with society and find her way in a world she knows almost nothing about.

There is way more to the story than that. But talking about it would ruin the story, although the secrets are divulged through the book, as the story is told alternately from Aslaug's point of view, and the testimony of witnesses at a trial. There is no grand revelation at the end, but the book takes some unexpected twists, and delves into the realms of religion, and family, and reality.

Although marketed as a book for young adults, I think this book is incredibly sophisticated. In fact, I think it would make for an excellent book club discussion, since the familial relationships are just whacked. It also includes some pretty interesting information on religion...ancient religions, ancient Christianity and modern Christianity, as well as ideas around virgin births. Plus, there are a lot of fascinating botanical facts (and wow...there are three words I never expected to string together). For example, the title, Madapple, is another name for the poisonous plant and hallucinogen jimsonweed, which plays a key role in the book.

I know this book made the rounds last year, but if you missed it and were at all interested in reading it, I'd really encourage you to give it a chance. I'd offer to send you my copy, but I don't think my library would appreciate it.


Did someone say presents?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Since 6 people have joined the birthday party, I thought it was time to hand out a present. I consulted with my guru, who had this to say:

There were 6 items in your list. Here they are in random order:

betty and boo's mommy

Timestamp: 2009-04-08 03:30:09 UTC

That means Betty and Boo's Mommy is the winner of the first present. Which is just perfect, because she turns 40 this month, too! You can read about her lovely birthday here. Congratulations!! Please email me with your address and I'll pop your gift in the mail.

As for the rest of you, there's still plenty of time to join the party, and I still have plenty of presents. Rumor has it there might even be a Poppet in someone's future.


Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

“Of earth, we see all.
Below, the many spines of Mesopotamia: her plates long buckled into mountain ridges, hoary and high; rivers and streams, silken kraits that line the land in silver and blue; the undulations of skulls buried beneath the desert floor, one after one after one, like the nodes in history’s back: benighted, elapsed, in dissolve.”

From The Age of Orphans, by Laleh Khadivi


Weekly Geeks 2009-13

Monday, April 06, 2009

This week's Weekly Geeks gives us two options. To be a kid, or a poet. And since I'm much more juvenile than I am poetic, I'm going with the first option.

Option A: Be a kid!

You could read a picture book (or two or three) and share what you read.
Write up a post sharing your favorite books from childhood
Write up a post about reading together with your child(ren)

Shortly after reading that, I read a post on Eden's blog. Eden is a fellow Slow Traveller, and also a kindergarten teacher. And she posted a picture of this book:

Is that not one of the cutest covers ever? I thought it would be fun to read this for Weekly Geeks.

So I went online to see if my local library had the book. And they did! After I about fell out of my chair in shock, I boogied down to the library and checked it out. Unfortunately (but fortunately for me) there was not a single child in the kid's section, so I didn't have to wade through a bunch of short people to find my book. Which was hard, because they don't alphabetize in the kids section. The horror! All the A's are together, and all the B's, and so on, but otherwise, they're filed by height. Can you tell it's been many years since I've hung out in the kid's section?


This book is adorable. I love the illustrations, especially those of poor little Camilla who turns all sorts of colors and patterns and other icky things.

You see, Camilla Cream likes lima beans. But she won't eat them, because she's afraid it will make her look weird to the other kids. Because really, who likes lima beans? (I certainly don't.) Unfortunately, Camilla is so concerned about what other people think of her that she breaks out with a bad case of stripes. Before you know it, she is breaking out with other things. When her class recites the Pledge of Allegiance, Camilla's stripes turn red, white and blue, with the addition of stars. Very patriotic, but a bit of a class disturbance. The doctors are a bit clueless, but they prescribe some pills. After taking the prescribed pills, Camilla wakes up to this:

From there, things just go from bad to worse. When the doctor says it could be a fungus, Camilla sprouts fungi. They mention bacteria, and well...you can just guess what happens. Finally, with a little help from a wise woman, Camilla realizes that she needs to be true to herself. After eating her beloved lima beans, she is cured of the stripes and once again looks like a little girl. And even though her classmates think she's a bit weird, she keeps on eating lima beans.

This was so much fun. Really, I should hang out in the kid's section of the library more often.


Party like it's your birthday

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Because it's April I'm hosting another mini-challenge for the Dewey's Books Reading Challenge. What's so special about April, you ask? Well, it's my birthday later in the month, and since I'm going to be 40, I decided to drown my sorrows by inviting you all to take part in a birthday party. Yes, there will be presents. And there could be cake, but I'm afraid you'll have to supply that part on your own. Unless you can figure out how to slice a virtual cake....I made it nice and big so there should be plenty to go around.

Please, no comments on the fact that I'm short 39 candles.

So how are we going to hold this communal birthday party? You all are responsible for the entertainment. All you have to do is write a birthday post. It can be a story about a favorite birthday memory, or some good birthday advice, a poem, that picture we all seem to have of our face smeared with our first birthday cake, heck...use your imagination! Just make it festive, because I need all the help I can get with distracting myself from the thought of turning 40. After you've posted your celebratory post, come back and sign Mr. Linky. In return, I'll randomly pick winners on various days throughout the month, and the winner will receive a present. But no peeking...the presents are a surprise (and no, they aren't all books, although I'm sure the book closet will make a few appearances). Oh, and party crashers (in other words, those of you not participating in the Dewey's Books Challenge (although you should think about jumping in....the books are fine!) are welcome.


No joke

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

As promised, today I (okay, the random orgainizer) chose a winner from the list-makers.

Congratulations to raidergirl3, who just won a (hopefully soon to be signed!) copy of Thirteen Reasons Why! Here's some celebratory confetti...

Stay tuned, because tomorrow there will be a new mini-challenge. This time anyone can play...and there will be lots of presents.


Weekly Geeks 2009-12

This week's Weekly Geeks revisits one of Dewey's original ideas. It's an idea that I loved the first time I read it. And I love it still.

1. Write a post encouraging readers to look through your archives (if you have your reviews in a particular place on your blog, point them there), and find the books that they have also written reviews. Tell them to leave a link to their review on your review post. For example, I've written a review for Gods Behaving Badly and Jane Doe leaves a link to her review of Gods Behaving Badly in the comments section of my review.
2. Edit your reviews to include those links in the body of the review post.
3. Visit other Weekly Geeks and go through their reviews. Leave links for them.
4. Leave a note somewhere on your blog to let people know this is your new policy.
5. Write a post later this week letting us know how your project is going!

However, I know me, and the chance of this happening is slim. You see, I've tried. I asked a couple of times for people to leave links to their reviews. And they did. But then I forgot to go back and edit my posts. To quote a wise man, "d'oh!"

Fyrefly even developed this spiffy new search tool to facilitate the process. (And yes, I'm trying to impress with the big words. Either that, or I've been hanging out at work too much.) I think this is just the neatest thing, but I'm sure I'll get to the end of my review and be so excited that I've finished that I'll promptly forget to search for reviews.

So really, this week's Weekly Geeks is just an opportunity for me to confess one two of my failings as a book blogger...my laziness and my forgetfulness. :-D However, I'll definitely be appreciating all of you all's hard work!

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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