Sunday, January 31, 2010

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

This lovely book is a quiet and understated look at the immigrant experience. The author uses wonderfully minimal language and a humble tone to tell the engrossing story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman who is sent to live in Brooklyn in the 1950s. There are no job opportunities for Eilis in her small Irish town, so her older sister Rose, who wants a better life for Eilis, works with a visiting priest from America, Father Fludd, to find Eilis a job and a place to lodge in Brooklyn.
When Eilis arrives in America she finds herself living in a boarding house run by Mrs. Kehoe, another Irish immigrant. Suffering terrible bouts of homesickness, she dutifully goes to her job at Bartocci’s department store and attends classes in bookkeeping at Brooklyn College. The routine of her life stems the sadness that overtakes her, but the routine is broken when she meets Tony, an Italian plumber, at a dance. Experiencing her first relationship, Eilis finds happiness, but events in Ireland soon draw her back to her homeland. Will she stay with her family in Ireland or return to the land that has molded her into a confident, capable woman?
Toibin is a master of drawing the reader into Eilis’ world, whether it’s the slow pace of her life in Ireland or the heat, bustle and noise of Brooklyn.
His writing style is straightforward and pristine, uncluttered of useless description or unnecessary commentary. For instance, the departure scenes (when Eilis leaves Ireland) are unusual for the way they’re written. Toibin doesn’t write about the good-byes between Eilis and her family members – they are skipped over. I found it disconcerting at first, as I’m not used to this type of sparseness, but I can see that this strategy was more effective that gushing accounts of crying and sadness. Over the course of the novel I came to love Toibin’s style.
As for characterization – it is fabulously nuanced and layered. No character is all good or all bad and their actions can’t be predicted. Eilis is a well-rounded and fascinating character and Toibin does a marvelous job of depicting her shifting and fluctuating thoughts and opinions. Tony, Eilis’ boyfriend, is one of my favorite characters in the novel and I loved discovering his character as it is slowly unfolded for Eilis as well as for the reader.
I could go on for quite a while about this amazing book. It would be the perfect novel to discuss with someone (hint, hint). I absolutely loved everything about it and will definitely read more of Colm Toibin.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Big Read Audio CDs

The Big Read is a countrywide program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. It is similar to the One Book, One Community event where a community reads the same book and comes together to discuss it. Each Big Read book has an accompanying radio program and I recently discovered that my library has these programs on CD. At only around 30 minutes each, the programs contain excerpts from the book (read by a celebrity), comments from scholars and authors, a brief bio of the author and appropriate musical selections. This week I listened to the programs on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and My Antonia and today I started A Farewell to Arms. I love listening to these! It is fascinating to hear about the backgrounds of these famous novels and to hear about the lives of their authors and what events influenced them and in turn influenced their work. It feels like I am back in college in my literature classes. I feel energized and excited by literature after listening. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the program on My Antonia the best – it was very moving. I did cry. And now I must read My Antonia all over again! If you get a chance to hear any of these programs, do. They’re really quite wonderful. You can listen to all of them on the NEA website.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The White Garden by Stephanie Barron

Think of a lazy Saturday afternoon when you don’t have much going on. You start flipping through the tv channels and come across that hit movie from a couple of years ago that you never saw in the theater, but now, as you have nothing else to do, you lie down on the couch to watch, for what you know will be two hours of mediocrity, filled with stereotypical characters, impossible situations, yet which will provide you with a few genuine laughs and semi-suspenseful moments. The White Garden by Stephanie Barron is the literary equivalent of that movie.
Jo Bellamy is a 30-something gardener who’s been commissioned to recreate the famous white garden originally cultivated by Vita Sackville-West. A few months before she leaves for England to study the garden her beloved grandfather Jock commits suicide. In a crazy twist of fate, her grandfather’s death is connected to Sissinghurst, the home of V S-W and to the supposed suicide of Virginia Woolf, V S-W’s one-time lover. While in England, Jo unenthusiastically researches the garden. She also starts digging around to find out information about Jock’s time at Sissinghurst and happens upon a forgotten fragment of a diary written by Virginia Woolf. Enter Jo’s employer who is scheming to bed her, a sexy Sotheby’s employee, a beautiful, yet cruel English professor, and a madcap race ensues to discover the truth about Virginia Woolf and her death.
Like that afternoon film, this is extremely enjoyable in the moment, yet it is ultimately unsatisfying. I did truly enjoy the characterization, but the plot is so unbelievable that it had me gnashing my teeth. And as always when portraying real people in a fictional setting the author gambles on the result being believable, which in this case was only slightly successful. Read this if you are looking for an interesting take on Virginia Woolf, her husband Leonard, and the rest of the Bloomsbury set, or if you want a fast and amusing way to spend an afternoon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cousins Read Has Moved!

We've moved house - you can now find us here. Please update your RSS reader with our new address!

Friday, January 22, 2010

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me won the Newbery award on Monday. On Wednesday evening I was fortunate enough to read this lovely and engrossing novel.
It's the 1970's and Miranda Sinclair is twelve, a single child of a single mother, living in NYC. When the book opens she is perplexed by her best friend Sal's abandonment of their friendship. However, it doesn't get her down for long and she quickly becomes friends with two classmates, Annemarie and Colin. Miranda's contentment is suddenly disrupted when she begins receiving mysterious notes from someone in the future, someone who predicts events in Miranda's life before they happen. While the reader tries to puzzle out who these notes are from, the plot moves along with Miranda's adventures. Throughout, she keeps her fears about the notes hidden, until an unexpected ending reveals all.
Miranda is a wonderful character; fearless yet cautious, respectful, but a tad rebellious, a normal girl who experiences an extraordinary event. The other characters in the novel are also wonderfully real and believable. There are many themes introduced in the book and there are lots of issues to discuss with any child who reads this. The chapters are short and it's written in a straightforward style, perfect for reluctant readers. The time travel aspect should interest readers who might not otherwise be enticed by this story. A true gem, this is fully deserving of the Newbery award.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Many book bloggers have mentioned this novel as being brilliant, so I decided to read this Pulitzer winner over the weekend. My feelings were mixed. I can't say that this was an enjoyable read because the suffering of the various characters is rendered so realistically that it was painful to read, but the writing is very luminous and wonderful to read.

The book contains the stories of 3 different characters; Virginia Woolf in 1923, Mrs. Dalloway in the '90s, and Laura Brown in 1949. Each narrative details a day in the life of each woman much as the novel Mrs. Dalloway, written by Virginia Woolf, does. Though I have yet to read Mrs. Dalloway, I gather that the writing style is also quite similar - a stream of consciousness style that slips over and around the thoughts of the characters as they go about their day. Each character faces death in this novel and there doesn't seem to be any joy at all to look forward to or past happiness to dwell on. I found the whole thing horribly depressing! The best part, in more ways than one, was the ending. The author allows a small glimmer of hopefulness to scuttle through the cracks. Why do people love this novel so much? It must be the writing. I thought it was unbearably ambiguous and too full of despair for my liking and, aside from the Virginia Woolf character, I really had no sympathy for anyone else in the novel. Reading this wasn't a complete waste of time, but it wasn't an experience that I would want to repeat.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

"Oryx had been a younger child, often pushed to the side, but suddenly she was made much of and given better food than usual, and a special blue jacket, because the other village women were helping out and they wanted her to look pretty and healthy. Children who were ugly or deformed, or who were not bright or couldn't talk very well - such children went for less, or might not be sold at all."
- from Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Saturday, January 16, 2010

When I Was 19 - January

A few weeks ago, my dad reminded me that I had some boxes in my parents' storage closet that had been left there when I moved to Austin - almost 10 years ago! I brought two of the boxes home with me and, while rummaging through, found a reading log I kept from the age of 19 through 22. Some of the books I remember quite well and some I have absolutely no recollection of ever reading. I thought it might be amusing to list those books here on our blog. So, here is what I read in the month of January from 1993-1996.

January 4, 1993 - Italian Days by Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
January 12, 1993 The Radiant Way by Margaret Drabble
January 3, 1994 - In the Shadow of the Crown by Jean Plaidy
January 5, 1994 - Coming Home Crazy: An Alphabet of China by Bill Holm
January 19, 1994 - The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World ed. by Peter Clayton
January 6, 1995 - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen ( my only reading of this novel - maybe it's time to read it again?)
January 20, 1995 - The Firm by John Grisham
January 21, 1995 - The Pelican Brief by John Grisham (I remember having absolutely nothing to read at this time and so I turned in desperation to these books owned by my dad)
January 19, 1996 - Alicia: My Story by Alicia Appleman (no recollection - who is Alicia?)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Remarkable Creatues by Tracy Chevalier

As soon as I read the premise of Remarkable Creatures a few months ago, I knew it was a book for me. Set in the early 19th century, this novel revolves around the lives of two very different women who are brought together through their love of hunting fossils. I've always had an interest in and fascination for fossils and love reading about geology. 

Mary Anning is a young girl who's family makes the majority of their living by finding and selling fossils in the seaside town of Lyme Regis. Elizabeth Philpot is one of three spinster sisters who are sent to live in Lyme Regis when their brother marries. Elizabeth, looking for something to occupy her time, takes to the beach to look for fossils and there befriends Mary. As the years progress and Mary discovers more and more important fossils, including ichthyosaurus and plesiosaurus, her world opens up to embrace scholars from around the country who come to meet and learn from her. Elizabeth lingers on the fringes of Mary's ambitions, protecting her and rescuing her family from various disasters. Soon, however, one of Mary's scholars comes between them and their friendship is torn, perhaps never to be repaired. Told in first-person by Mary and Elizabeth in alternating chapters, we get a sense of each character's thoughts and experiences apart from each other. Elizabeth's voice is much stronger than Mary's and, I felt, more authentic. I found myself enjoying the chapters told in Elizabeth's voice and being jarred when Mary's chapters arrived. I did find Mary to be a fascinating character, however, and was intrigued to discover that both she and Elizabeth really existed. This novel is based on true facts and people, which I should have known as I think Chevalier often uses history as the basis for her novels. Anyhow, I wasn't blown away by this book - it was merely pleasant. I wasn't convinced that their friendship was as important to either of them as the author makes it out to be and I really think Mary's voice was off.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.

  • Let the book fall open to a random page.

  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.

  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

  • "Upstairs in my room I sat for a few minutes, allowing my head to catch up with what my heart had already decided. Then I drew the curtains to dim the room, and arranged cushions under my bedclothes so that anyone peeking in would think they were seeing my sleeping form." 
    From Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

    Another paranormal teen romance, Beautiful Creatures, is a cut above the rest. With a Southern Gothic flavor and a male narrator, this novel had more to interest me than the average supernatural thriller.
    Ethan Wate, our narrator, is sixteen and has lived in Gatlin, South Carolina his whole life. Gatlin is everyone's stereotype of the small Southern town; Civil War obsessed, sports obsessed, conservative, with a hint of voodoo underlying it all. It's the first day of school and Ethan wakes from a strange dream about a gorgeous, green-eyed girl who is in some kind of trouble. Later that day he meets the new girl in town, Lena Duchannes, and recognizes her from his dream. The plot then follows the budding relationship between Lena and Ethan and his discovery of the sinister dark side of his hometown. Lena is not accepted by the majority of townspeople and Ethan chooses to turn his back on them and bond with Lena, who he learns has a secret. On her sixteenth birthday she'll participate in an incredible ceremony that will determine the path the rest of her life will take. I won't say more, but it involves a choice between light and dark. The chapters count down the days until her birthday and follow Ethan's and Lena's efforts to extrapolate her from this ritual. Essentially a classic tale of the struggle between good and evil, with a sweet romance thrown in, Beautiful Creatures is chock full of side-plots that enliven the novel and engaging characters that enhance its Southern flavor (including a character called Marian who is a librarian). My only irritation with the novel was that the authors tried to cram almost too much into this book and it therefore was much too long. I think it could have been chopped by about 100 pages and been just as effective. Also, the ending bordered on the ridiculous and nearly ruined the entire book for me. The writing was not as well-constructed as in the bulk of the book and it was almost  laughable at times. Overall, I enjoyed this novel and I found it to be extremely readable. I'm not surprised that it ended up on several "Best Books of 2009" lists.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

    I used to be a mad inhaler of all British mystery novels. I loved Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, and P.D. James especially. For a couple of years now, though, I've really cut down on the amount of mysteries I read, but I will always read the latest P.D. James. The woman is a master of the genre and a wonderful writer. This latest non-fiction book by Baroness James is a short history and discussion of the detective novel that she wrote to raise funds for the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The first half of the book summarizes the history of detective writing (the first true detective novel: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins), and details the importance of the Golden Age of mysteries to the development of the genre. Her discussion of the four big female names of the Golden Age - Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayres, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh - is very enlightening and spurs me to want to read more about these ladies. The second half of the book discusses the elements of the detective novel including setting and viewpoint and the future of detective fiction. This half is not as strong as the first and it seems that James really enjoyed writing about the historical aspect of mysteries and didn't really care much for writing about the current state of the genre. However, she does provide some tidbits about her own writing and style that are interesting. For instance, she doesn't know how to use a computer and still writes all of her novels by hand. Despite the letdown of the second half of this book, I found it an engaging way to spend my time at the car dealership waiting for my oil to be changed. I don't think it will rekindle my love of reading mysteries, but it did provide some nostalgic reflection, 

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    My Only Reading Challenge This Year

    Reading challenges really don't work for me. I NEVER manage to stick to them. I am a spastic reader and must go where my whims take me. That is why I am so happy that I've found a reading challenge to join that is not too rigid and that I am sure I can complete. I've joined the 2010 Pub Challenge. All that's required is to read 10 adult fiction or non-fiction books throughout the year that are published in 2010. Last year I had a goal of reading more new books and started out strong. I think I did pretty well. I believe that it is important for librarians to read new books to be able to discuss with patrons the hot books of the moment and to suggest titles when asked for recommendations. So, this challenge is a good one all around! Read more about the challenge here.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    Reading Resolutions for 2009

    I do have some reading resolutions for 2009. I'll list them according to priority.

    1. Read my scriptures every day and STUDY them at least 2 days a week.
    2. Re-read Love and Logic Magic for ages 2 through 6. Sarah is running me ragged these days and I'm just tired of yelling and being a grouch.
    3. I also would like to read more of the books I already own before I buy anymore!

    I think 3 is plenty considering I've made so many other resolutions this year! The overall purpose of my goals is to waste less time reading empty calorie books. This does not include such masterpieces as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but you know the kind of books I'm talking about.

    Happy New Year!

    Happy New Year, everyone! Do you have any reading resolutions for 2010?

    I have a few:

    I want to start the year by reading the latest biography of Louisa May Alcott.
    2. I want to buy fewer books and read the ones I already own.
    3. I'd like to read more!
    4. Finish Middlemarch sometime in the first half of the year.
    5. Read more young adult fiction.

    6. Continue reading Victorian fiction.
    7. Read a few more non-fiction books than I did la
    st year.

    To start 2010 I went on a book buying spree. This is what I came home with:

    To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
    Mrs. Dalloway
    by Virginia Woolf
    Barchester Towers
    by Anthony Trollope

    The Warden by Anthony Trollope
    The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope
    Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
    Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
    Adam Bede by George Eliot
    The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    Let the reading commence! I hope everyone has a wonderful reading year!