Monthly Archives: March 2011

Spring Fling

Welcome Spring, you ever elusive and far too fleeting season. Bearing that in mind, I better hurry. The snow is melting, the gutters are flooding, the grass is growing…those long, dark, quiet stories are to be shelved and exchanged for brighter, livelier, impassioned reading.

Here we go…

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

A manic millionaire, flees Danbury(Yep, that Danbury) and jumps on a plane to Africa. Soon after, he has separated from friends and is somehow charged with bringing rain to a drought-suffering African village. Every page is replete with obnoxious amounts of laughter, desire,tragedy,cultural conflict(often to comic effect) and…congestion. A must-read for any and all who have suffered through the dreariness of winter and seriously doubted the presence of sunshine.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

A beautiful book of warm, quiet moments. Like a ray of sun slowly creeping over you during the first warm day of spring. Read and savor every page of this short, evocative gem. For books set on an island, Jansson has Defoe beat.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

Don’t let the autumn bit confuse you. Set on the manmade trading post of Dejima, right alongside Nagasaki, Mitchell’s novel is a long, absorbing, romantic and occasionally dizzying novel with an enormous cast of characters making their way across a wide swath of chronology and a tiny bit of land. He imbues Dejima with a Dickensian depth, noting the stench of ordure carried by the wind, the crunching of ground underfoot, the portentous creaking of weathervanes, and the tinkling of a harpsichord with an attention wavering somewhere between glee and obsession. Dejima is where East and West meet, and where fortune is made and, for most of the novel, lost. Read it and be transported.

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

The ultimate novel for the rambling soul. Sorry, Mr. Kerouac. Bolano’s story of two lovetorn, creatively congested poets in search of a missing poet in the Mexican desert manages to capture every facet of life, from the dissolute youths, distraught adolescents, wise and embittered elderly and even the dead, make this a must-read. Read it slowly….like any road trip, the journey isn’t about where you’re going but how you get there.

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

Some writers publish a couple books and then hit their stride. Some writers come out of the gate with crushing amounts of talent, sharp prose, wonderful characters and a way of seeing the world which remains unchallenged. Guess which category Woolf fits into. With the title serving literally and metaphorically, Woolf’s first novel takes place on a boat bound for South America, and at various stops along the way. A novel of transit and travel doused in myth. Something extraordinary and disorienting takes place among these pages. A must-read. Oh yeah, you meet a young Mrs. Dalloway too.

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

A chronicler of all things earthly. She wrapped huge concerns,desires,passions,fears,anxieties,beliefs,yearnings,etc. in small intricate poetic giftboxes. This is a woman who celebrated seasonal shift from a small room in Amherst and changed the world.

and finally….

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

There was nothing like it before, and there’s been nothing like it since. You were probably forcefed it in class. Forget that. Buy a copy, sit under a tree, and let go. The next time you look away from the page, it will be with new eyes.

Happy spring, people. We deserve it!


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A Literary Challenge: Read More Women!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you should read more books by women. Yep, it’s true. I need to, you need to, we all need to. After you read these books, you need to talk about them. Those of you in a position to, you need to review them.

Here’s why: Women Writers are not getting reviewed as often as men.

It’s just embarrassing. Why isn’t women’s writing getting more attention? Why is it even labeled as women’s writing? Good writing is good writing.

Regarding the subject heading, take this challenge to read more women authors and read a couple titles from the recently released long list of nominees for the 2011 Orange Prize. On April 12th, the shortlist will be announced and dutifully reported here. The award, which in the has past has gone to notables such as Marilynne Robinson, Barbara Kingsolver, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, Lionel Shriver and others, will be announced in June.

According to The Orange Prize for Fiction, the UK’s only annual book award for fiction written by a woman, celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing throughout the world.

Without further ado, the longlist (courtesy of

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Room by Emma Donoghue

The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi

Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan Recent winner of 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The London Train by Tessa Hadley

Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson

The Seas by Samantha Hunt

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna

Great House by Nicole Krauss on the New Yorker 20 Best Writers under 40 list

The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht Reviewed to great acclaim in recent publications, on the New Yorker 20 Best Writers under 40 list

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Repeat it Today with Tears by Anne Peile

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell on the New Yorker 20 Best Writers under 40 list

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Swimmer by Roma Tearne

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Start reading these books. These are voices speaking to and of our time. Don’t you want to hear what they are saying?


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Places to go, Books to read

Lots of great happenings in the literary world! Click on one of these for equal parts new knowledge and distraction. Also, a good dose of fun.

The Huffington Post offers a double whammy: Literary Late Bloomers and the follow up to Frequent Rereads.

If you aren’t keeping an eye out for it, take a look at the Morning News’ Tournament of Books. Smart people, great books, a contest unlike any other.

Have you heard of Pym? Using Poe’s one novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, as a launchpad, Mat Johnson crafts a fascinating, funny and complicated consideration of race.

In light of Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir, which I recommended a couple posts back, the Book Beast takes a look at five indispensable food memoirs.

The Millions takes a look at three underappreciated, wonderfully experimental and exciting European Novels.

East Egg is on it’s way out. Daisy Buchanan’s house is set for demolition.

Jane Eyre is coming back in a big way. This new movie adaptation is stirring up lots of buzz. Start with the book, and make sure you get your tickets for the marshy, multiplex marvel.

All for now!


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Are you experiencing “small dull smears of meditative panic?” If so, read this book.

Do you want to read a really good book? Yeah, of course you do. Are you short on time? Probably. I’ve got the perfect book for you. Don DeLillo’s Point Omega. Don’t let its size mislead you. In those 117 pages, DeLillo doesn’t have a single extra word. Lapidary seems like too much of an understatement. This is one of those rare books that is so good but you wouldn’t want it to be any longer. It’s powerful, overwhelming and fascinating in its construction. What’s it about? Good question. It’s about movies, politics, the funny tricks time plays on you, the meaning of art, the complications of relationships, the Iraqi War, city life, desperation, unhappiness,uncertainty, and above all, the power of the mind. It’s a must-read. Though you could easily finish it in an afternoon, like all unsettling things, it will linger in your mind for a long while. Take the risk. It’s well worth it.


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In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb

Happy March! Let the literary madness commence. It’s a pretty stellar month for non-fiction releases. Here are some of the tops:

Conversations with Scorsese by Richard Schickel

With awards season over, you may be done with movies for a bit. But, save some room for the tasty morsels of cinematic genius which are guaranteed to fall from these pages.

Blood,Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Move over, Anthony Bourdain. There’s a new cutthroat chef in town, and this lady’s got you beat. Wielding an MFA from the University of Michigan as deftly as a set of her knives, Hamilton’s book is fierce,funny, well-traveled and unyielding. A must-read for anybody who cooks, or eats, for that matter.

Unfamilar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

If you haven’t read her, just stop now and fix that. Whether taking a tour of assassination hotspots,detailing her experiences with radio, or spending some time thinking about the Puritans, Vowell takes on Americana with a sharp mind, a high voice and a ferocious wit.

Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn

Call me awesome. One man on an Ahabian quest to find thousands of lost bath toys finds out much more than he bargained for, and travels the world’s waters in the process. Amazing and Unique. Just one thing: When you come in to buy it, you have to request it by the full title.

Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf

Read this, and you will never look at a garden, a textbook, or currency the same way again. Wulf weaves a fascinating look at a group of people we assume we know everything about, and promptly adds a lot more knowing to the already large pile of known. These guys loved their garden, and you will too by the time you finish this book. Exciting, fascinating, and maybe even…inspiring.

No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf by Carolyn Burke

The Little Sparrow gets a big book. Burke’s biography of, I am biased–the greatest French singer EVER, is nuanced and objective. Her deft consideration of Piaf’s tragic life posits the tragedy alongside the accomplishments rather than 304 pages of triste text. A must read for all fans, and a wonderful introduction for anybody interested.

Get reading!


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