Sunday, September 19, 2010

Read while staycationing

And thus another staycation disappears down the drain. I took last week off expressly planning to work on stuff, and I did, which is good, but I am lacking that sense of accomplishment somehow. I guess that's what you get for spending your week off in front of a computer. Granted, this was a Mac, not a work PC, and I was in my pajamas, not a skirt, but still. It was a little blah. The books I had brought home for the week were also "good but not great," like my week in general. Ha! I almost caved and went out and bought Mockingjay, but I knew if I did I would get nothing done. Then, when I got back to work, a library copy of Mockingjay was waiting for me - yay! So hence no blogging thus far this week - too busy at work, and then coming home to Katniss.

And so, here's what I did read last week, in between preparing class lectures and some other stuff:

The news where you are by Catherine O'Flynn: Like her first novel, What was lost (which won the First Novel prize at the Costa Book Awards in 2008, was long listed for the 2007 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the Orange Prize for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award - whew!) O'Flynn's latest book explores a fascination with spaces: the spaces that demarcate home to us, and the spaces that make us feel alternatively welcome or alienated.

The news where you are tells the story of Frank, a tired, middle-aged regional news anchor - at the time of the story, Frank is suffering from what could be mid-life angst, but seems to be a more permanent condition. He is obsessed with the past: his architect father's Brutalist architecture (about to be demolished), his mother's unhappiness, his former colleague's death in a hit-and-run accident. He is particularly preoccupied with the weight of remembering: what mark has his father left on the world, for instance, when he spent his life consumed with architecture, and his designs are now being obliterated? (As a side note, this book made me more sympathetic to, and appreciative of the vision of, Brutalist architecture, than I thought I ever could be!)

The jacket summary tells us that it is Frank's daughter, Mo, who pulls him out of this rut he is in, but I think Mo merely provides a bit of comic relief. Frank pulls himself out, really, as he watches everyone around him (Mo, his mother, his wife, and others) find something to anchor them into the present, and to take with them from the past.

Grosse Pointe Girl: Tales from a Suburban Adolescence by Sarah Grace McCandless: Even though Shelf Renewal sang its praises, I abandoned this one. It had a lot going for it: 80s nostalgia, dysfunctional families, suburbia, twisted female friendships ... and yet. Somehow it seemed to be caught between a YA and an adult book, which could be ok, I guess, except that the book's confusion about its identity was bugging me. I also just got plain bored: it could have been the reportage-style language, or the same-old, same-old adolescent problems in a far-from-unique voice, or just a case of "wrong book at the wrong time," but I gave up. Life is too short. The illustrations were a nice touch, though: they reminded me of the illustrations in Nancy Drew books.

Writing Reviews for Readers' Advisory by Brad Hooper: A useful and highly-readable introduction to writing book reviews. Hooper covers all the basics (difference between book reviews, lit crit, and annotations; basic elements of a review - What is the book about? How good is it?), and peppers the text with examples from his own reviews, reviews by others that he likes, and fabricated examples of poor reviews. I loved his inclusion of phrases to never use in a review: well-written, readable - noted! I also enjoyed his section on review-writing workshops in a public library setting; an excellent idea that I will bring to the two readers' advisory committees I sit on. Side-note: I don't know what Booklist or ALA editions do in their production line, but the cover of this book was oddly soft and almost textured; strangely lovely!

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery: IMPAC shortlist guilt at work, plus this was one of Maylin's picks. Just started this, and sadly temporarily abandoned it for Mockingjay. I was about 70 pages in - the book is a bit of a slow start, but it's getting more interesting now. One of the main characters is a precocious young girl, who is bored with life and has a plan to commit suicide on a certain day; another is the "janitor" in the young girl's apartment building in Paris, and she is a brilliant reader of philosophy and literature; the third main character has yet to appear....

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