Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday Intro: The Interestings

On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time. They were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony. Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly even a freak, had been invited in for obscure reasons, and now she sat in a corner on the unswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance. The teepee, designed ingeniously though built cheaply, was airless on nights like this one, when there was no wind to push in through the screens. Julie Jacobson longed to unfold a leg or do the side-to-side motion with her jaw that sometimes set off a gratifying series of tiny percussive sounds inside her skull. But if she called attention to herself in any way now, someone might start to wonder why she was here; and really, she knew, she had no reason to be here at all. It had been miraculous when Ash Wolf had nodded to her earlier in the night at the row of sinks and asked if she wanted to come join her and some of the others later. Some of the others. Even that wording was thrilling.
The Interestings
by Meg Wolitzer

I started listening to The Interestings a few days ago. Meg Wolitzer is a new-to-me author, and the premise of the novel sounds very appealing. Initially I was unsure about the narrator, but got used to her reading after 30 minutes or so. I also picked up a paperback copy and have decided to make this a read/listen combination.

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge. 
The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken. 
Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.
What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Sunday Salon: Post-Readathon Edition

Good morning! I hope all you Readathoners out there had a great time yesterday. Although I couldn't join in, it was such fun to see random tweets, posts, and Instagram photos throughout the day. I'm thinking I should add the October event to my calendar now.

The big news this week is that I FINISHED MIDDLEMARCH! The plan was to devote the entire month of March to my last Classics Club Spin selection, but I soon realized it is not a book you can rush. After nearly two months, I can say I enjoyed this all-encompassing novel very much, but not quite enough to declare it a favorite.

On to the the rest of it...

The scene//  8:00 AM. A quiet, gloomy Sunday morning... snowflakes in the air. My husband has been in NYC for the past several days (meetings and a visit with Daughter#1), the twins are still sleeping, and I'm sipping my second cup of coffee.

Reading//  I started The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt on a whim last Sunday evening. At the halfway mark, I'm marveling at the author's prose and general intelligence.

Listening//  After finishing Middlemarch, I seem to be at loose ends. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer is ready to go, but I'm wondering if it might be better in print. I've had very good luck with nonfiction on audio lately, so am also considering using an audible credit for Five Days at Memorial.

Watching//  It's been a cold, rainy week... not at all conducive to reestablishing my outdoor morning walks, so I've started watching Orange is the New Black on my iPad while on the treadmill. Each episode is just under an hour - perfect for a brisk walk. The treadmill is extremely boring, but the show keeps me engaged and walking.

In the kitchen//  I was not especially inspired this week. We had leftovers from a big Easter dinner early in the week, went out one night, and I haven't cooked much since my husband went to NYC. The girls and I visited Wegman's for take-out yesterday.

Planning//  One final trip to Florida. We'll fly down Wednesday night, meet with the contractor on Thursday, and spend a couple days packing up the kitchen and preparing for the project. We left a car there in December, so we'll be driving it back home next week.  Our exact route has yet to be determined, but we may visit Charleston or Savannah, Williamsburg, VA , some Civil War battlefields... and I hear Costumes of Downton Abbey  is a current exhibit at Winterthur in Delaware.

Later today//  A drive to the train station to pick up my husband, them maybe steaks on the grill.

How was your week? Any big plans for today?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Easter Bread, in Photos

Many happy childhood memories began in my grandmother's kitchen. Every spring I looked forward to helping her bake our traditional Easter Bread. She used an old family recipe which came with her from Italy. Over the years, I have taken on the role of official Easter Bread baker. A day or two before Easter, I get up early to begin the process - mix, rise, bake, cool, frost, deliver. This year I made plain loaves, but next year look for twisted loaves with pastel-colored Easter eggs.

With inexact measurements and decades of scrawled notes and spills, this is not a recipe which can be easily shared. Basically, it's a sweet bread with golden raisins and citrus. I found a post offering more particulars at The Italian Dish. Have you ever made Easter Bread?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (audio)

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
by Piper Kerman
narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Tantor Audio, 2012
11 hours and 14 minutes
source: purchased during audible's last BOGO sale

Publisher's summary:
With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money 10 years ago. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to 15 months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187-424 - one of the millions of women who disappear "down the rabbit hole" of the American penal system.

From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules, where the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailer is constantly and unpredictably recalibrated. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Orange is the New Black offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison, why it is we lock so many away, and what happens to them when they're there.

My thoughts:
I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure out that the television series Orange is the New Black is based on a book, but once I did it was only a matter of time before the book made its way into to my hands or in this case, ears. When I discovered Cassandra Campbell was the narrator, it made my decision to listen a no-brainer.  I can't remember the last time eleven hours passed so quickly. For several days, I packed my schedule with tasks that could be accomplished while listening. My house hasn't been this clean in ages!

Orange is the New Black is a memoir about life inside the Danbury correctional facility as experienced by a thirty-something upper middle class, white, Smith College alumna while serving mandatory time for a drug conviction nearly ten years after the fact. {She delivered a suitcase containing drug money.} Most of us will never endure an experience like this, but are naturally curious.

Once you get past the circumstances of her crime (talk about bad choices!), it's easy to relate to Piper Kerman.  Out of place among the other inmates, she is able - after a few missteps - to learn the unwritten code of conduct that governs daily life. She discusses everyday challenges  - friendships among inmates, job assignments, prison food, recreation, visiting hours, loss of freedom, and personally humiliating security measures. I was especially impressed with small kindnesses shown by other inmates and their ingenuity in making what they needed out of what was available.

Kerman also shares her experience in dealing with "the system" and relating to guards and councilors.  Most appalling to me was the utterly ineffective discharge planning (can't think of the proper term, so falling back on my healthcare vocabulary here).  The inmates desperately needed help with the basics of finding shelter and employment, but that type of training was not to be found in the programs which were offered.

About the series:
I've watched three episodes so far this week. At just under an hour, they're perfect for a brisk walk on the treadmill. The series seems to follow the book fairly closely, but has been sensationalized for television. I'm enjoying the addition of other inmates' backstories, which were not addressed in the book.

Bottom line: 
This book will more than satisfy any curiosity you have about life behind bars. Give it a try!

My rating:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday Intro: The Summer Without Men

Sometime after he said the word pause, I went mad and landed in the hospital. He did not say I don't ever want to see you again or It's over, but after thirty years of marriage pause was enough to turn me into a lunatic whose thoughts burst, ricocheted, and careened into one another like popcorn kernels in a microwave bag. I made this sorry observation as I lay on my bed in the South Unit, so heavy with Haldol I hated to move. The nasty rhythmical voices had grown softer, but they hadn't disappeared, and when I closed my eyes I saw cartoon characters racing across pink hills and disappearing into blue forests. In the end, Dr. P. diagnosed me with Brief Psychotic Disorder, also known as Brief Reactive Psychosis, which means that you are genuinely crazy but not for long. If it goes on for more than one month, you need another label. Apparently, there's often a trigger or, in psychiatric parlance, "a stressor," for this particular form of derangement. In my case, it was Boris or, rather, that Boris was having his pause. They kept me locked up for a week and a half, and then they let me go. I was an outpatient for a while before I found Dr. S., with her low musical voice, restrained smile, and good ear for poetry. She propped me up - still props me up, in fact.
The Summer Without Men
by Siri Hustvedt

On Sunday evening, I planned to sample a few pages of several books on my kindle before deciding what to read next. I began with The Summer Without Men, and those few pages somehow turned into forty.

Hustvedt's writing style was immediately engaging and I felt drawn to the main character (we are close in age, although far apart in circumstances). I have high hopes for the women with who will become Mia's summer companions, too.

Summary (from goodread)s:
Mia Fredrickson, the wry, vituperative, tragicomic poet narrator of The Summer Without Men, has been forced to reexamine her own life. One day, out of the blue, after thirty years of marriage, Mia’s husband, a renowned neuroscientist, asks her for a “pause.” This abrupt request sends her reeling and lands her in a psychiatric ward. The June following Mia’s release from the hospital, she returns to the prairie town of her childhood, where her mother lives in an old people’s home. Alone in a rented house, she rages and fumes and bemoans her sorry fate. Slowly, however, she is drawn into the lives of those around her—her mother and her close friends,“the Five Swans,” and her young neighbor with two small children and a loud angry husband—and the adolescent girls in her poetry workshop whose scheming and petty cruelty carry a threat all their own. 
From the internationally bestselling author of What I Loved comes a provocative, witty, and revelatory novel about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old question of sameness and difference between the sexes.
Have you read Siri Hustvedt? I have a feeling I'll be reading much more of her work.

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Boys in the Boat by David James Brown

The Boys in the Boat 
by David James Brown
narrated by Edward Herrmann
Penguin Audio, 2013
14 hours and 25 minutes
source: library

Publisher's summary:
Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together - a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times - the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant.

My thoughts:

Who would guess a book about crew could be so exciting?  Before beginning, despite living on a lake where local college crew trains and the coxswain's voice is frequently heard drifting across the water, I knew next to nothing about rowing. In addition, I wasn't especially interested in learning more. So when I received an audio review copy, I promptly donated it to the library. Glowing reviews began to appear soon afterwards and lingering suspicions that I'd made a mistake grew.

When my book club decided to read The Boys in the Boat, I borrowed my previously donated copy, began to listen, and found myself completely enthralled by the end of the prologue. As the blurb notes, one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, is at the emotional heart of this story, but the book includes so much more. The reader/listener gets to know the coaches and the other men in the boat. We witness their hard work, dedication, determination, and, most importantly, learn what it means to function as a team.

I also enjoyed the book's strong feeling of time and place - from the economic hardships of the 1930's and pre-war tensions, to the college crew scene with its historic traditions and rivalries. The descriptions of the actual races, whether on New York's Hudson River or for Olympic gold in Berlin, are among the most exciting passages I've experienced on audio. At times, it felt like I could scarcely breathe! I must mention my delight at the passing mention of Louis Zamproini (from Unbroken), too.

This book would be a great fit for fans of crew or the Olympics, of course, but I think it has a much broader appeal and would encourage anyone interested in adding more nonfiction to their reading mix to give The Boys in the Boat a try!

A note on the audio production:
Edward Herrmann has an excellent voice for nonfiction. I found his performance here, as in Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand, to be perfectly paced, engaging, and exciting, without being overly dramatic.

As always with audio nonfiction, be sure to take a look at the print edition, too. You won't want to miss the photographs.

My rating:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Defending Jacob

1 | In the Grand Jury 
Mr. Logiudice:  State your name, please.
Witness:  Andrew Barber
Mr. Logiudice:  What do you do for work, Mr. Barber?
Witness:  I was an assistant district attorney in this county for 22 years.
Mr. Logiudice:  "Was." What do you do for work now?
Witness:  I suppose you'd say I'm unemployed. 
In April 2008, Neal Logiudice finally subpoenaed me to appear before the grand jury. By then it was too late. Too late for his case, certainly, but also too late for Logiudice. His reputation was already damaged beyond repair, and his career along with it. A prosecutor can limp along with a damaged reputation for a while, but his colleagues will watch him like wolves and eventually he will be forced out, for the good of the pack. I have seen it many times: an ADA is irreplaceable one day, forgotten the next.
Defending Jacob
by William Landay

I haven't read a good mystery in ages, but already suspect this will be a real page-turner. I also can't remember the last time my book club chose to read one (surely we must have once or twice), but Defending Jacob is our next selection. I'm hopeful we'll find enough to discuss.

Does the intro make you want to keep reading? If you've read this one already, do you think it will lead to a good book club discussion?

Summary from Goodreads:
Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student. 
Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive. 
Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sunday Salon: Palm Sunday Edition

The scene//  8:00 AM... and home again! We left three week ago in the dead of winter and returned yesterday evening to find that spring is finally here. Sure we still have a few lingering snow banks, but the ice on the lake was breaking up and this morning it's entirely gone. I'm celebrating with a cup of hazelnut coffee.

Reading//  I finished The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman and The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon. Both were wonderful. Yesterday I started our next book club selection, Defending Jacob by William Landay.

Listening//  You guessed it - Middlemarch, still. I'm over 80% done and loving it... but it's one long book, folks.

Watching//  Foyle's War. I borrowed the first season from the library in Florida, watched a couple of episodes with my father-in-law, and am totally hooked. I'll continue watching via Netfllix.

In the kitchen//  After three weeks away, there isn't much of anything in the refrigerator or on the pantry shelves. A trip to Wegmans is my highest priority today!

Blogging//  I've missed you all and can't wait to get started again! With plenty of reviews to write and countless blogs to visit, it may take all week to catch up.

Planning//  A remodeling project in Florida. I spent much of the last week meeting with contractors, selecting cabinets, tiles, granite, etc.  One more trip in early May and we'll be ready to get started, but I'm a little nervous about not being on site while the work is done.

Loving//  Spring in Central New York. I opened the windows last evening for the first time since November.

Later today//  We'll have Palm Sunday dinner with my parents and siblings. I can't wait to see everyone!

It's finally time to change the blog header again. Happy Spring!


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