Saturday, October 31, 2009

RIP IV Challenge Wrap-Up

Happy Halloween! Before I don my black cape, witch's hat, and pick up my broom to head out for some spooky fun, it's time to wrap up the RIP IV Challenge. Since horror is a genre I usually steer clear of, it was a relief to learn the challenge included mystery, thriller, suspense, and gothic.

Peril the Third was my chosen level of participation. It asked that you simply test the water by reading one book from any of the subgenres mentioned. I love sensation novels and chose to read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. You can find my review here.

I was also tempted by the Short Story Peril. All stories came from The Virago Book of Ghost Stories and were posted for Short Story Monday. You may click on the title to read my post.

"The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell
"The Villa Lucienne" by Ella D'Arcy
"The Station Road" by Ann Bridge
"Roaring Tower" by Stella Gibbons
"Redundant" by Dorothy K. Haynes

Thanks so much, Carl, for hosting this challenge. I had a great time and have already started a list for RIP V!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Classics Challenge Wrap-Up

The Classics Challenge 2009 is complete! I participated at the 'snack' level (as opposed to entree or feast) which required four books to be read over the six month period. My classic snack included:

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield (reviewed 5/20/09)

In these, I found a stunning psychological portrayal, a story of oppression from societal roles, an Austen-like domestic drama teeming with raw emotion, and the quintessential sensation novel. It's impossible to choose the one I liked best, but look for at least a couple to appear on my year-end list of favorites.

Thank you so much, Trish, for hosting this challenge!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins
Everyman's Library, Alfred A. Knopf 1991
609 pages

*originally serialized 1859-1860 in All The Year Round

Wilkie Collins has been getting a lot of blogger attention lately. Between Carl's RIP IV Challenge and Simon's Sensational Season, Wilkie seems to be everywhere! And beginning November 2, The Classics Circuit tour will feature Wilkie Collins every weekday through December 11.

The Woman in White is the quintessential sensation novel. These novels are designed to make the reader feel shock, disbelief, horror, suspense, fear, and sexual tension. They rely upon unexpected twists and turns of plot and often feature deathbed confessions, family secrets, mistaken identity, inheritance, bigamy, and villains.

From the front matter of my edition:
"Still unsurpassed as a masterpiece of narrative drive and excruciating suspense, The Woman in White is also famous for introducing, in the figure of Count Fosco, the prototype of the suave, sophisticated evil genius. The first detective novel ever written, it has remained, since its publication in 1860, the most admired example of the genre."

The Woman in White opens when Walter Hartright, walking back to London around midnight, encounters a woman dressed all in white. Hartright is about to begin employment as an art tutor to the young women (half sisters) at Limmeridge House, and is shocked when the mysterious woman mentions it by name. He later learns that a woman matching this description has escaped from the lunatic asylum.

This book is pure plot! It's probably best to begin knowing the types of elements which may be encountered, but not much more. There are wonderful passages, quotes, and character descriptions throughout the novel. I posted a couple of 'teasers' here and here.

The Woman in White doesn't feel like a six hundred page novel. The pages turn quickly and will surely keep you engaged until the wee hours of the morning!




Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Bloggy Birthday!

Lakeside Musing is one year old today! It's been a year since I clicked on the blogger website, chose the name Lakeside Musing, and tentatively published my first post, entitled "And we're off..."

Who knew where it would lead? I wasn't certain what the focus would be, or if anyone would ever read it. I jumped for joy at the first comments, and was thrilled to get a follower!

One year later and blogging has added another dimension to my life. I've read some great books based on your recommendations, rediscovered short stories, read my first graphic novel, joined some challenges (even completed a few!), found a group of blogs that I peruse with my morning coffee and would be lost without, and, best of all, have made some wonderful friends!

Thank you all for reading, commenting, and encouraging. It's been quite year!


Teaser Tuesdays - October 27

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Here's how it works:
-grab your current read
-share two teaser sentences (avoid spoilers!)
-be sure to include the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their tbr list if they like your teaser
-leave a comment with your link at Should Be Reading

My Teaser:

"That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day." (page 84)

Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens

When I marked this passage, I didn't realize how perfectly it fits with the cover!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Still More Virago Ghost Stories

Another Short Story Monday, and my adventure with The Virago Book of Ghost Stories continues. This is a wonderful collection, arranged chronologically and spanning a period of 150 years. There are two contemporary stories (1980's) to talk about this week.

"Ashputtle: Or, The Mother's Ghost" was written by Angela Carter in 1987. It opens:

"A burned child lived in the ashes. No, not really burned - more charred, a little bit charred, like a stick half-burned and picked off the fire; she looked like charcoal and ashes because she lived in the ashes since her mother died and the hot ashes burned her, so she was scabbed and scarred. The burned child lived on the hearth, covered in ashes, as if she was still in mourning."

One paragraph in, and I was wondering if this story was really for me! But since it's very short and an author I'd been wanting to read for quite some time, I persevered...and I'm so glad I did! The story is simply magical and reads like a fairy tale.

"Her mother was dead and buried but still felt perfect, exquisite pain of love when she looked up through the earth and saw the burned child covered with ashes."

The story tells how the mother's ghost won't rest until her child is safe and cared for. I loved it!

"Redundant", written by Scottish horror/supernatural writer Dorothy K. Haynes (1918-1987), is the final story in the collection. It tells of Hamish, a hapless man who goes through life taking the jobs that nobody else wants.

'Taken' was perhaps the wrong word. It implied choice, and Hamish never chose anything. He simply accepted what was left.... Sooner or later every job he took would end. He was never fired, or angrily dismissed; he was too well-meaning for that. Simply, he was made redundant, but not nobly redundant, with a handsome settlement as a reward for years of service; merely unwanted after a period so short that there was no time for benefits to accrue.
When Hamish becomes ill and dies, his ghost assumes the job as driver for "the death coach". The ghost really likes the job but, in death as in life, Hamish becomes redundant once again. While this story was pleasant enough to read, it was not particularly memorable .

Visit John at The Book Mine Set to see more Short Story Monday posts.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

TSS: The Day After

Good morning. Is anybody out there today? It's "the day after" and I suspect many bloggers will be ignoring both books and computers today as they recover from the read-a-thon. Since it coincided with Parent's Weekend at my daughter's college, I missed out on the fun.

It's been a good reading week. As you can tell from my Short Story Monday post, I'm still enjoying The Virago Book of Ghost Stories. Look for the final installment tomorrow!

I finally finished The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. It was a real page-turner, but seems like it took forever to complete. A popular blogger choice of late, I'm struggling to come up with 'an angle'. Hopefully inspiration will strike and there will be a post toward the end of the week.

My review of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks was posted on Friday. She is the next speaker at the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series, and my book club is preparing for her talk.

On the audio front, I've listened to the first couple CD's of Great Expectations (in the car) and am thinking about downloading an additional title to my ipod for walking. Do you ever have two audiobooks in progress?

And finally...the latest issue of Bookmarks magazine arrived in my mailbox last week. No fewer than fifteen books have been added to my wish list as a result, including:

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias
Love and Summer by William Trevor

After my walk today, I'll be choosing another story from The Virago Book of Ghost Stories and then starting We Have Always Lived In the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

Will you be reading or recovering today?


Catching up with Awards

It's another rainy fall day, but much sunshine has been spread around through awards this month! I'll just take a moment to say thank you...

First is the Honest Scrap Award.
It comes from Heather at Gofita's Pages. The Honest Scrap Award is for those bloggers who write from the heart. I met Heather through the Everything Austen Challenge (she's done an amazing job!), and always enjoy visiting her blog for book reviews, movie reviews, and so much more!

The Splash Award is given to alluring, amusing, bewitching, impressive, and inspiring blogs. This came my way from Kim at Chapter Chit Chat. I just 'met' Kim this fall and really enjoy her blog! From the reviews, to the memes and other fun happenings, it's always fun to visit. She's currently working her way through a book I loved - The Count of Monte Cristo.




The Lemonade Award is a feel good award that shows great attitude or gratitude. Kals from At Pemberly gave me this award. Kals is another blogger I met through the Everything Austen Challenge. Don't you just love the name of her blog? She recently celebrated a birthday (a day she shares with my twin sisters!) Stop by and say hello ...and check out her costume for the Pemberly Ball!




This last award was actually from September (I'm further behind than I thought!) and also came from Heather at Gofita's Pages.

Blogs that receive the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated.

Thank you Heather, Kim, and Kals for thinking of me. It's been my pleasure to get to know each of you through your blogs. Instead of passing these awards on individually, I'd like to acknowledge my friends participating in the read-a-thon today. Whether you're reading, cheerleading, hosting, or involved in any way at all, these awards are for you! Good luck and have fun...

To wrap up, I also wanted to mention that an awards page is in the works. There will soon be a link on the sidebar that will take you to a page displaying all of these lovely awards. I hope you're all enjoying the read-a-thon, and look forward to participating myself in April!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
by Geraldine Brooks
Penguin Books, 2001
304 pages

My book club is reading Geraldine Brooks in November. She is the next speaker for the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series and, rather than reading a specific book, members are choosing one of her many works to read in preparation. Several of Brooks novels sounded interesting, but my choice was made based solely on availability. Year of Wonders was purchased for a dollar at last summer's library book sale.

This historical novel takes place in 1665-1666, during The Great Plague. The Plague travels from London, via a bolt of fabric, to an isolated mountain village. The villagers, under the influence of their young minister, make the extraordinary decision to quarantine themselves in hopes of preventing further spread of the disease. The story is told by Anna Frith, a housemaid to the minister and his wife.

As every household is affected by Plague, Anna and the minister's wife Eleanor, tend the sick and attempt to comfort the living. Faith begins to weaken, and the villagers resort to every means imaginable, including murderous witch-hunting, in an attempt to banish the disease. Anna faces death in her own family, yet emerges as a strong heroine. Though the subject matter is grim, to say the least, Anna's strength of character and resolve are truly memorable.

The story is based around actual events and the tremendous amount of research involved is plainly evident. Although historical fiction has not been one of my preferred genres, I enjoyed this book very much and now plan to include more in my reading.

A little background information will also be helpful before hearing Brooks speak next month. She began her career as a journalist, and was a correspondent at the Wall Street Journal for eleven years. Her first two books, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women (1994) and Foreign Correspondence: A Penpal’s Journey from Down Under to All Over (1995) are nonfiction.

Brooks then turned her attention to fiction. Year of Wonders, her debut novel of 2001, was a Notable Book of the Year for The New York Times. Her second novel, March, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006. People of the Book is Brooks' latest novel, published in January 2008. It was an instant best-seller and won both the Australian Book of the Year Award and the Australian Literary Fiction Award in 2008.

Born and raised in Australia, Brooks lives with her husband, Tony Horwitz, and their sons in Massachusetts. Much more information can be found on her website. The Rosamond Gifford Lecture series continues on November 9.

(photo by Randi Baird)


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's On Your Desk Wednesday

I've been tagged....
Two weeks ago, Lisa from Books Lists Life tagged me in the What's On Your Desk Wednesday meme. Here are the rules:

What's on your desk Wednesday? is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Sassy Brit of Alternative-Read.com. Check her blog out each Wednesday for the post titled What's on your desk Wednesday?

You can do one of two things or both!

Grab a camera and take a photo of your desk! Or anywhere you stack your books/TBR pile. And no tidying!
Add this photo to your blog.
Tag at least 5 people!
Come back here and leave a link back to your photo in comments.

OR

List at least 5 BOOKISH things on your desk (I'm thinking your TBR pile or books you haven't shelved...)
List at least 5 NON BOOK things. (I'm thinking some of some of the more unusual items on your desk/table?)
Tag at least 5 people to do the same.
Come back here and leave your link, so we can come and visit your blog. Or add your answers in the comments if you don't have a blog.

Since I blog from the chair in my favorite corner, that's what is shown in the photo. I love this spot! There are windows on each side that let in plenty of sunshine, I can see what's going on both inside and outside, and the chair is very comfy, too!

The bookish items include:
1. my current read on the table
2. a couple of library books on the windowsill
3. The Virago Book of Ghost Stories, also on the windowsill (can you can see the lovely bookmark sent by Book Psmith peeking out of the top?)
4. moleskin notebook under current read
5. the latest New Yorker magazine

Non-book items:
1. my coffee mug...it's almost empty!
2. the "Queen" pillow... a Christmas gift from my husband
3. pens
4. reading glassed tucked into a cute Vera Bradley case (I've reached that age!)
5. small post-it note flags

I'm not going to tag people, but would love to see where my favorite blogs originate. Please let me know if you decide to play along!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - October 20

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Here's how it works:
-grab your current read
-open to a random page
-share two teaser sentences from somewhere on the page (avoid spoilers!)
-be sure to include the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their tbr list if they like your teaser
-leave a comment with your link at Should Be Reading

My teaser:

I hugged my grief; it was all I had. Nothing could heal it; it was a deathless wound.
Alas! the bitterest lesson I have since learned is how gently and remorselessly Time steals even our deepest wounds from us. (page 304)

"Roaring Tower"
by Stella Gibbons


Monday, October 19, 2009

More Virago Ghost Stories

The Virago Book of Ghost Stories is still supplying plenty of Halloween-themed reading. This week, I've moved ahead another forty years, to the late 1930's, and selected works by two new-to-me authors.

"The Station Road" by Ann Bridge was originally published in 1936. It begins:
There was a little pause when the last speaker finished. We sat round the fire, each occupied with his own thoughts; the mind of each seeking its own solution of the problems raised by the uncanny story to which we had just listened.

I was immediately reminded of Henry James' The Turn of The Screw, which also opens around a fire with the telling of a strange tale. The similarities may not extend much further, but an outstanding ghost story was already anticipated. Bridge did not disappoint. A mysterious evening visitor, a deserted road, a train station, a murder, and a warped time dimension combine to deliver a chilling story.

Next up was "Roaring Tower" written by Stella Gibbons (author of Cold Comfort Farm) in 1937. This story is about a young woman sent away by her parents to visit an aunt in Cornwall, in hope that she will forget an inappropriate attraction.

The passions which invade a heart at nineteen, like a beautiful menacing army, seem faded and small enough if one looks back on them after a lapse of fifty years, as I am doing now, but on the late summer morning I describe, as I waited with my parents under the dome of the railway station, no heart could have been fiercer, and yet colder, than mine. One voice, which I should never hear again, sounded in my ears, and one face, which I had promised to forget, filled my eyes.

The ruin of the Roaring Tower, surrounded by beautiful rose bushes, captures her imagination after hearing a strange sound emanating from deep within. This story involves village lore, a large bear-like monster, a fall into the tower, and a questionable state of consciousness. It proved to be another wonderfully atmospheric Halloween read.

Next week, the last Monday before Halloween, I'll be reading a more modern ghost story from the same collection. Visit The Book Mine Set to see more Short Story Monday posts.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

TSS: a kindle, a college visit, and a sick kid

Good morning, saloners! It's been quite a week. A Monday holiday has a way of throwing things off, and Columbus Day proved to be no exception. The long weekend was a treat, but then the rest of the week's work had to be fit into just four days.

It was fall break for Daughter #1, and she came home with a kindle! It belongs to one of her professors, who loaned it to her for a project. (She later told the professor her mother was more excited to see the kindle than her!) An evening out for Daughter #1 provided the perfect opportunity for me to try it. It's the first time I've seen a kindle 'up close and personal'.

Picking it up, I was surprise by how thin and lightweight it was. Reading directions has never been one of my strong suits, so I went straight to the home page, picked out A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, and started to read. The font was too small (oh, my aging eyes!) and it wasn't immediately obvious how to increase the size, so I headed back to the homepage and spent a little time perusing the owner's manual.

Once the font size was adjusted, reading was much easier, but I was distracted again wondering whether the whispernet would work (an old map placed us just out of range). The connection was successful and within seconds, amazon's offerings were on the screen. One wrong click, however, and a book was ordered on the professor's account! I managed to delete and credit before it downloaded, but that proved how dangerously easy it is to get books.

Back to reading for a little while longer, and then decided to figure out the dictionary function (which was also incredibly easy). I didn't try to highlight or make notes on someone else's kindle. My understanding is that these are semi-permanent.

By this time, my eyes were tired and starting to feel the strain. This rarely happens while reading, and took me by surprise. Since the kindle isn't backlit like a computer, I'd read that eyestrain is unusual. The experiment ended and the kindle was put to 'sleep'.

Do I want a kindle?

I'm not sure. Reading a book is much more enjoyable, but the kindle would certainly have a place for travel. I'll consider purchasing one before the next major trip, but doubt it will appear on my Christmas list .

Also this week..

The twins are high school juniors. Monday I drove Twin A three hours to attend one college's Fall Open House program. Guidance counselors strongly urge students to consider applying early decision. But in order to do that, visits need to be completed before senior year. Let the process begin!

Twin B had a GI virus Thursday and Friday, and stayed home from school. Saturday both girls took the PSAT exam.

Needless to say, this has not been a very productive week. My only review was a ghost story, "The Villa Lucienne" by Ella D'Arcy. I finished Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, and will post a review later this week. The Virago Book of Ghost Stories provided the rest of my reading material for the week. Less than 100 pages to go in The Woman in White, but I just wasn't able to get to it last week. Guess what I'm doing today...

Hope you all have a relaxing Sunday. What will you be reading today?


Thursday, October 15, 2009

BTT: Weeding My (Book) Garden

Today's question:
We’re moving in a couple weeks (the first time since I was 9 years old), and I’ve been going through my library of 3000+ books, choosing the books that I could bear to part with and NOT have to pack to move. Which made me wonder…
When’s the last time you weeded out your library? Do you regularly keep it pared down to your reading essentials? Or does it blossom into something out of control the minute you turn your back, like a garden after a Spring rain?
Or do you simply not get rid of books? At all? (This would have described me for most of my life, by the way.)
And–when you DO weed out books from your collection (assuming that you do) …what do you do with them? Throw them away (gasp)? Donate them to a charity or used bookstore? SELL them to a used bookstore? Trade them on Paperback Book Swap or some other exchange program?

My answer:

Just like the garden, my bookshelves require weeding. Although they don't get the attention as regularly as the garden, it is still a necessity.

I tend to think of it as part of my spring clean-up. Books accumulate faster over the winter, so each spring the collection gets weeded. My husband and I are both readers (although his collection is mostly history), and space is the primary motivator. It's hard to buy new books when there isn't anywhere to put them!

Books that get weeded are those I won't read again, those I don't think my daughters will read, and books that have no special sentimental value. This criteria is not foolproof and, once in a while, a mistake is made. Among this year's "weeds" was a copy of Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress (a book I read years ago with my book club and enjoyed, but didn't love). Last week, Twin A selected it from her list of this quarter's AP Lang free reading choices, and we ended up buying another copy at B&N on Sunday. At least I got to console myself with a pumpkin spice latte!

The spring clean-up books are packed in boxes or bags and donated to the library. The Friends of the Library will sell them at their annual used book sale. My goal each year is to donate more than I purchase. This year, I'm happy to report, that goal was met!

Read more answers to this question at Booking Through Thursday.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"The Villa Lucienne" by Ella D'Arcy

It's back to The Virago Book of Ghost Stories for this week's short story post. The clock has been turned ahead almost fifty years from Mrs. Gaskell's suspenseful tale, "The Old Nurse's Story". This week's story is "The Villa Lucienne" by Ella D'Arcy. Here are the opening two sentences:

"Madame Koelegon told the story, and told it so well that her audience seemed to know the sombre alley, the neglected garden, the shuttered house, as intimately as though they had visited it themselves, seemed to feel a faint reverberation of the incommunicable thrill which she had felt - which the surly guardian, the torn rag of lace, the closed pavilion had made her feel. And yet, as you will see, there is in reality no story at all; it is merely an account of how, when in the Riviera two winters ago, she met with some friends to look over a furnished villa, which one of them though of taking."

Upon finishing the story and rereading the first paragraph, it's apparent this opening is also the perfect review. I wondered how it had come to be included in a collection of ghost stories, when there is only a passing mention of a woman (or ghost) seen by a child, that remains unseen by the adults. What the story does, however, is paint a series of very vivid images which rapidly shift between great beauty and eerie, cool darkness and unease.

Ella D'Arcy (1856? - 1939) was a regular contributor to The Yellow Book Quarterly, where "The Villa Lucienne" appeared in 1896. Her writing was said to be influence by the "New Realism" of naturalistic French fiction. Her stories often show a psychological realism and an unsentimental treatment of character and situation that critics have compared to Balzac and Zola.

D'Arcy's descriptions were, for me, clearly reminiscent of Zola. Although this story is representative of this "naturalistic fiction", I am surprised at it's inclusion in a collection of ghost stories. It can be read in its entirety here.

Fall Festival Recipe Exchange - Pumpkin Bread

It appears this will be one of those weeks where everything is a day late! I'll blame it on yesterday's Monday holiday (Columbus Day in the US) and the fact that I was out the door by 6AM to drive Twin A to a college open house three hours away. By the time I returned a little over twelve hours later, I was just too tired to put together an intelligible sentence!

While I was out, Amy, of the My Friend Amy fame, hosted a Fall Festival Recipe Exchange. It sounds like Amy loves autumn just as much as I do, and nothing says fall to me like the smell of warm pumpkin anything (bread, pie, lattes)! Today I'll share my recipe for pumpkin bread from Kopp's Canteen restaurant.

The Canteen, a family-owned restaurant, was a Central New York landmark for decades. It closed a couple of years ago and the building was demolished just a few weeks ago. In its prime, The Canteen was famous for chicken and biscuits and pumpkin bread, the latter appearing in the bread basket all year long. Their family recipe was printed in the local newspaper, and I have made it my family pumpkin bread recipe, too!

Kopp's Canteen Pumpkin Bread

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup water
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves

-combine sugar, oil, and eggs; beat until well mixed
-sift together flour baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices
-add to the egg mixture, alternating with the water
-stir in pumpkin and walnuts
-pour batter into two greased 9x5 and one greased 8x3 bread pans

Bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes

Sunday, October 11, 2009

TSS: An Evening with Khaled Hosseini

(Photo courtesy of Syracuse Post-Standard, Mike Greenlar)

The Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series kicked of its 15th season last Tuesday evening. Eight members of my book club were among the 2000 gathered to hear what Khaled Hosseini would say as he sat with his friend, Iranian author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in Farsi), for the 90 minute conversation. Topics included his previous books, the writing process, his recent trip to Afghanistan, his next novel, and even how he met his wife! There was also time set aside for audience questions.

Dumas started the conversation by making reference to the early days of their friendship. When Hosseini recalled how they spent evenings trying to figure out ways to get book clubs to read their books, the audience erupted in laughter. How times have changed! While writing The Kite Runner, Hosseini, a medical doctor, was working full time as an internist. He would rise before 5 AM and write for a few hours before seeing patients. The early hours were never a problem. Hosseini was excited about his writing. He couldn't wait to get back to his characters and see what would happen next.

Writing is now a full-time occupation. When asked about the pressure of two previous bestsellers, Hosseini talked about getting into a "mental bunker" and "walking the streets with his character". What happens with the book then becomes irrelevant. He sits at the computer in a "questionable state of hygiene" and, on the best days, finds there is no filter between his thoughts and the computer.

Hosseini spoke of writing many drafts for each novel, and likened it to moving into a house. The moving van drops off all your stuff, but it takes a long time to rearrange the furniture and hang the pictures before you're finished and ready to receive guests.

A good deal of time was spent on political, rather than literary, topics. Hosseini was very animated, almost always talking with his hands. This wasn't surprising considering he had recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan (where he could not use his name). Hosseini works as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and has established a charitable foundation to benefit organizations working with women and children.

Hosseini was reluctant to say much about his third novel. Two stories have been discarded (both around 80 pages), but he has hit upon a third and feels this idea will stick. He would give no hint about the plot, but did mention the inspiration came from this photograph that appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine many years ago. No publication date was mentioned.

Our group was energized, to say the least, at the end of the evening. We hated to get into two separate cars for the drive back to our town. We wanted to continue talking together! The November lecturer will be Geraldine Brooks, and I'm sure we'll be going out for coffee afterwards.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Club Meeting: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

At our September meeting, my book club discussed Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Since I haven't written about the book, I'll direct you to Molly's review for some background. Many bloggers have read and reviewed Speak, but it was Molly's review that prompted me to finally read the book.

Nine of us met for coffee at a member's home on a gray, rainy morning. She surprised us with muffins and fruit salad. After some catch-up conversation, mostly centered around our high school and college aged children, we quickly moved on to the book discussion.

First, we noted what a departure this was from our usual reading fare. In ten years, we have never chosen a YA title. Speak made the cut, in part, because it appeared on the 11th grade summer reading list (a few of us have 11th graders) and because I picked up a copy for a dollar at last summer's book sale and brought it to a meeting (a book physically present always seems to have a better chance of "winning").

Our next discovery was that everyone had read the book! This may not be remarkable for most groups, but it is worth noting when it happens to us. Several members tend to abandon books that are too long, too hard, or too depressing. Perhaps we should periodically include YA selections!

From there, it was on to the book itself. We were all impressed that Anderson really seemed to get it right. How could someone over 30 capture the high school voice and concerns so perfectly? We saw flashes of our children's experiences, and had many of our own brought back as well. The unanimous consensus was that none of us wants to go back!

Not only did Anderson get the voice, she hit nailed the location. Anderson graduated from the high school in a neighboring town, and we couldn't help but laugh at lines like "The sun doesn't shine much in Syracuse, so the art room is designed to get every bit of light it can." Her description of the cold and winter weather rang true, too. I'm not sure if the mascot controversy she wrote of actually occurred, but her old high school's teams are still known as the Hornets. However, I, thankfully, have not heard the chant "We are the Hornets.... the horny, horny hornets!"

For a little in the way of plot background, the main character, Melinda, was raped at a summer drinking party. She called the police, who descended upon the party, but never reported the rape. Melinda became an outcast at school the following year, and eventually stopped speaking.

The majority of our discussion focused on the self-esteem of teenage girls and the intense peer pressure present in the high school. A couple members had an edition with extra material, including an author interview in the back (I did not). In it, Anderson noted that in talking with readers about the book, she was shocked to discover that most teen-age boys have little understanding of rape or it's consequences. She said several boys raised the point that it wasn't actually rape because Melissa didn't object (not seeing the problem in her being too drunk to protest). We also spent quite a bit of discussion time on this issue, as well.

Overall, we loved the book and had a very stimulating discussion. In the end, we realize that, as parents, the most important thing we can do is strive to maintain the same level of involvement and communication with our own teens as we had when they were younger. We all need to keep speaking!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays - October 6

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Here's how it works:
-grab your current read
-open to a random page
-share two teaser sentences from somewhere on the page (avoid spoilers!)
-be sure to include the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their tbr list if they like your teaser
-leave a comment with your link at Should Be Reading


My teaser:

"The Plague is cruel in the same way. Its blows fall and fall again upon raw sorrow, so that before you have mourned one person that you love, another is ill in your arms. Jamie was crying bitterly for his brother when his tears turned into the fevered whimpering of the ill." (page 80)

by Geraldine Brooks

Monday, October 5, 2009

"The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell

As promised, this month's Short Story Monday posts will come from The Virago Book Of Ghost Stories. The book is arranged chronologically so, if the stories are read in order, the reader can see how ghost stories have changed and developed over the years. "The Old Nurse's Story" is the second in this nearly 500 page edition. Next week, I'll fast-forward fifty years and see if I can spot some changes.

My experience with ghost stories is limited, but "The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell is now among my favorites. It contains all the ingredients for a good tale (orphans, family secrets, sibling rivalry, love, jealousy, tyrannical father-figures), but Gaskell also adds in a few Gothic features (an old manor house with a locked-up wing shrouded in branches, some bad weather, over-wrought emotions, and a child-ghost) and creates real winner!

"...it was a very strange noise, and she had heard it many a time, but most of all on winter nights, and before storms; and folks did say, it was the old lord playing on the great organ in the hall, just as he used to when he was alive; but who the old lord was or why he played, and why he played on stormy winter evenings in particular, she either could not or would not tell me."

"...would I leave the child that I was so fond of, just for sounds and sights that could do me no harm; and that they had all had to get used to in their turns? I was all in a hot, trembling passion; and I said it was very well for her to talk, that knew what these sights and noises betokened, and that had, perhaps, had something to so with the Spectre-Child while it was alive. And I taunted her so, that she told me all she knew, at last; and then I wished I had never been told, for it only made me afraid more than ever."

The story is not horrifying (as I found "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson), but rather a good, chilling, suspenseful ghost story.

"The Old Nurse's Story" was published anonymously in the 1852 Christmas issue of Charles Dickens' magazine, Household Words. You may read the entire 23-page story here.

This story served as my introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell. I'm looking forward to reading Cranford within the next couple of months and, hopefully, Wives and Daughters sometime next year.

For other Short Story Monday posts, click over to The Book Mine Set.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

TSS: an abbreviated Sunday Salon

It's another early Sunday morning for me. There's a chill in the air, the sun is trying to shine (we've hardly seen it in at least a week!), and the coffee is poured.

First, a quick recap of the week...
Open houses two evenings at both girls schools, plus another dinner meeting left very little time for blogging or reading this week. Highlights include a review of the audio version of Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and my Ten Book 'bucket list'. Hopefully the coming week will be a little more productive!

This Sunday Salon post will be abbreviated so I can spend the morning reading. The Woman in White is wonderful, but it's been sadly neglected this week, and I really must finish! There's also short story post from The Virago Book of Ghost Stories that needs to be written.

I'll be back at the computer later this evening to catch up with posts. In the meantime, enjoy your Sunday....and let me know what you've been reading.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Audio Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

by Chris Cleave
Narrated by Anne Flosnick
Tantor Media
10 hours 40 minutes


There has been a very curious marketing strategy surrounding Little Bee by Chris Cleave. Since it is a "truly special story", the publishers don't want to say what happens, however enough needs to be divulged to entice the reader. Then, once you've taken the plunge and read it, you are directed not to say what happens because "the magic is in how the story unfolds".

In an effort to save their marriage, British couple Andrew and Sarah O'Rourke travel to a Nigerian beach, where a series of horrific events entwine their lives with 14-year-old Little Bee. The story, told in alternating voices of Sarah and Little Bee, begins two years later when Little Bee arrives on their doorstep outside London.

The reader does an excellent job, both as Sarah and with Little Bee's African accent. Her voice immediately suggested (to me, anyway) a dreamlike, lyrical, almost surreal tone, which I felt periodically throughout the rest of the novel. It was particularly evident when Little Bee reflects on certain themes: "Trouble is like the ocean: It covers two thirds of the world."
Little Bee's sense of wonder also comes through clearly when trying to think how she can possibly explain certain aspects of British life to "the girls back home".

Little Bee was a very absorbing audiobook, and one that I can recommend...but really, why all the secrecy?

Note: This book is titled The Other Hand in the UK.

Friday, October 2, 2009

10 Books to Read Before You Die...

This meme, hosted by bookalicio.us, has been making the rounds this week. I've adapted it and made my own personal bucket list. These are the books I simply must read:

1. Emma by Jane Austen (my last major Austen novel, and I'm 'saving' it)
2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
3. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
4. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
5. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
6. Possession by A.S. Byatt
7. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
8. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
9. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
10. A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

As you can see, most of these are big, fat books and it seems they keep getting put off for that reason alone. Perhaps a personal challenge is in order? I'm already thinking about next year...some adjustments in challenge joining, book buying, and reading selections may be ahead. Stay tuned.

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