Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Buzz

  • It’s always big news in the book world when Oprah announces her latest book club pick. This month’s choice, A New Earth, is an interesting departure from the usual fiction books Oprah selects. As of publication, the book is #1 (and #19) on Amazon’s bestsellers list. Oprah’s magic continues. (The #3 and #4 book is also an Oprah selection: The Pillars of the Earth. In fact, at least 10 of the top 25 are books/authors featured on Oprah. I'm starting to suspect mind control.)
  • Eric Weiner continues to make the rounds promoting The Geography of Bliss. Not only was he featured on Nightline this week, but he even appeared on my local NPR station. (My copies of Bliss and People of the Book are finally available at the library. Now, if it would only stop snowing, I could leave the house to fetch them.)
  • Yes, People of the Book was once again featured in this week’s The New York Times Sunday Book Review section. (My goal is to finish the book this weekend so I can let you know if it is worth all the hype. I mean, wouldn’t you trust me over the The New York Times?)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Revolutionary War on Wednesday

I planned to write a review of another book tonight but ended up taking a reading detour. I spent the evening with my seven-year-old niece reading Mary Pope Osborne’s Revolutionary War on Wednesday.

Fortunately for the niece, she inherited the reading gene. Unfortunately, she also inherited the obsessive gene. Revolutionary is the 22nd book in the Magic Tree House series, and she refuses to read any other books until she completes the entire series. Sound familiar?

Jack and Annie, the hero and heroine—if you will—of the series, travel through time and experience historical events. In this case, they find themselves at the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War.

My niece is obsessed with the series, so obviously Osborne is doing something right. I also appreciate that the books are both educational and entertaining—without being overbearingly informative.

Revolutionary takes place as George Washington crosses the Delaware on Christmas day 1776. The book does not try to encompass the entire war—after all, it is an early reader—but provides a glimpse into one historical moment.

On the other hand, the book's suggestion that two children convinced George Washington to attack the Hessians is rather disturbing. Can Jack and Annie really take credit for history? And would their history books then reflect their interference? Am I taking this too seriously?

Aside from the time-travel dilemma, I recommend this series to anyone with young readers. I just hope I can control myself and not run to the library to check out the first 21 books in the series.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Boyfriend List

Ruby Oliver enters therapy to combat panic attacks in E. Lockhart’s The Boyfriend List. As part of her counseling sessions, Roo creates a “boyfriend list,” naming every boy she’s been involved with—whether he was officially her boyfriend or not. Each chapter discusses a different boy and what Roo’s relationship with him (or lack thereof) reveals about her character.

The young adult book is frank, including about sexuality, and likely reflects the thoughts, feelings, and activities of many young—and not so young—women. For example, Roo pretends to enjoy anime and cross-country running to please a boy. She also longs for an attractive boyfriend in order to validate her own self worth.

More than anything, this book makes me consider my own “boyfriend list.” Who would appear on that list? And what would my interest in him reveal about my personality?

  • A*: I have an incredibly loyal (or is it stubborn or maybe hopeless) heart. Before entering fifth grade, I recorded in my journal that I would meet the love of my life in Mr. Harris’s class. I “fell in love” my first day of fifth grade and those feelings persisted (off-and-on) for the next twelve years.
  • B: I have a type. I'm attracted to tall, skinny, dark-haired, innocent boys. Exploring the meaning of this type might be irrevocably damaging to my psyche, but I'll make a go of it. Perhaps I like tall guys because they actually make me feel small-ish. And maybe I’m attracted to innocent-acting boys because I hope they won't be jerks (unfortunately, this is not true).
  • C: I can be worn down and won over by persistence—even if I have no actual interest in a boy or anything in common with him.
  • D: I can’t resist attractive, young, European men—even if they work in frozen food stores.

Please excuse the tangent, but any book that makes me evaluate my own life is an unequivocal success. Of course, I now expect to read about other boyfriend lists in the comments section.

*Ha, you don’t actually expect me to publish real names, do you?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mansfield Park

ITV is not BBC and should stop trying to be. Jane Austen simply cannot effectively be condensed into 90 minutes. Mansfield Park—much like Persuasion—suffers from over-condensation. The story moves so quickly that characters and relationships cannot be developed properly—and significant chunks of the story (i.e., Fanny’s return to her family in Portsmouth) don’t even make the cut.

I did not reread Mansfield Park because I didn’t want to judge the film too meticulously. Or maybe it's because I have little desire to reread the book. Although it sounds blasphemous, I don’t love the novel—or Fanny Price. Austen’s Fanny has little spunk and personality, and nothing draws me to her (or cousin Edmund for that matter).

The Masterpiece Mansfield Park tries to rectify Fanny’s personality deficit by casting the perky Billie Piper. San Francisco Chronicle describes Piper’s Fanny as a "street urchin," and I tend to agree. In London last fall, I caught a bit of Piper on ITV’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Piper is much more convincing as a prostitute than an Austen heroine. Her Fanny practically stalks Edmund, desperately needs a hairbrush, and gives little reason for Edmund, Henry Crawford, or the viewer to love her.

My criticisms are not derived from an innate sense of purism. I am a fan (one of the few) of the 1999 film adaptation. The movie is anything but faithful to the original, including a subplot about slavery. Yet, the film is humorous and Frances O’Connor’s Fanny is witty and intelligent. The pacing also effectively portrays Fanny’s relationships with Edmund and the Crawfords. (Can you tell I rewatched the movie this morning?)

Thus far, I haven’t been overly impressed with The Complete Jane Austen. I am hopeful Emma and Sense and Sensibility will blow me away.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac suffers not from amnesia but split-personality disorder. Gabrielle Zevin’s book can’t decide if it wants to be an authentic teen drama or a popular teen romance.

After a fall down the stairs at her high school, Naomi wakes to discover she has forgotten the last four years of her life. Unfortunately, those four years include her mother’s affair, her parents’ divorce, and her own romance with the school’s star tennis player.

The amnesia plot device is very Days of Our Lives, but at times the book rises above its soap opera origins. Naomi’s reactions as she relearns of her mother’s affair and her own sexual relationship with a boy she now finds unappealing feel authentic. The book also addresses issues such as suicide, depression, and drug use.

Yet, Zevin seems unable to settle on the book’s genre. The moments of authenticity are belied by love triangles straight out of an ’80s’ teen flick. A book that could have given insights into modern-day teen angst instead ends up as a glorified episode of General Hospital.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Buzz

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bad Kitty

The title of Michele Jaffe’s first young adult novel was almost enough to scare me off—and I certainly received several snide comments about reading a book called Bad Kitty.

Fortunately, I did not let the title deter me, and I was able to enjoy a rather delightful young adult novel. The light and humorous tone of the book borrows heavily from the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (complete with a dictionary at the end). Although not nearly as charming as Georgia, Jasmine Callihan is a smart and charismatic heroine.

And unlike Georgia, Jas solves mysteries. The teenager dreams of being a forensic scientist and finds herself caught in the middle of a murder plot. She is intelligent and funny and surrounds herself with clever friends (who make some rather crude and off-color remarks) and a hot romantic interest.

Mostly, though, I was drawn to Jas because she reminds me of me. Scary, I know. Either it means Jas acts like a 30 year old or I act like a 17 year old. I suspect the latter. Here are a few things we have in common:

  • Jas and I both suffer from “British Accent Stupidity Syndrome.”
  • We both randomly throw in French words. It is a très enchanting habit.
  • We both enjoy using slashes to describe things—for example, my current upsweep hairstyle is trailer/prom.
  • We each have fathers who are “thwarters.” Thwarters do their best to change their daughters’ plans: “English majors are a dime a dozen. Why don’t you try law school.”

The book is entirely over the top, and the final scene is almost too unbelievable to stomach. But I couldn’t resist Jasmine Callihan’s charms. Now I have to wait until the fall for the second book in the series. I am très impatient/antsy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Northanger Abbey

I regret rereading Northanger Abbey before watching the PBS film adaptation. The movie is absolutely delightful, but I felt continually distracted by inconsistencies and errors—particularly at the film's end.

If I hadn’t reread the book, I would have loved the movie unconditionally, considering it a fun little romp through Bath.

Felicity Jones’s Catherine Morland is young, trusting, and naïve. The movie makes it clear Isabella Thorpe is Catherine’s opposite. After all, Catherine is always modestly clad, while her best friend wears bosom-revealing dresses—a sure sign of a loose and deceptive young woman.

JJ Feild also makes an attractive and charming hero as Henry Tilney. He is a humorous, clever, and irresistible suitor, and I could easily fall in love with him (or maybe I already have).

Not too surprisingly, given its entertainment value, the movie focuses on Catherine’s novel reading, using dream sequences to reveal the books’ effect on her psyche. In a major deviation from the book, the film uses Catherine’s overactive imaginations to explain Henry’s apparent coldness towards her and her expulsion from Northanger Abbey.

Another jarring moment is an entirely fictionalized scene implying a sexual relationship between Isabella Thorpe and Frederick Tilney. Such a relationship could be implicit in the novel, but it certainly is not as explicit as the film suggests.

Northanger Abbey is not as faithful as I would like, but the film is excellent fun and far superior to last week’s adaptation of Persuasion.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Northanger Abbey

In preparation for the latest film adaptation of Northanger Abbey (Sunday on PBS), I reread the book.

I haven’t read Northanger Abbey for several years. With the passage of time, my mind had warped its content. In my memory, the book consists mainly of Catherine Morland’s fantastical daydreams, which are induced by an overdose of gothic novels. My most vivid memory is of Catherine as the Tilneys’ houseguest. Somehow, she deduces General Tilney murdered his wife.

Now that I’ve reread the book, I realize Catherine’s fantasy is only a small part of the book. In fact, a majority of the story takes place in Bath as Catherine socializes with the Thorpes and the Tilneys.

I remembered Northanger Abbey as pure satire, mocking the gothic novels Catherine so heartily embraces. Yet, the book actually addresses many of the same social issues covered in other Austen novels.

Northanger Abbey explores the themes of economics and class distinctions as relationships are created and destroyed over money. Catherine is a sweet and innocent girl, content to follow the mores of society. She learns, though, that not everyone has similar integrity. Isabella Thorpe and Frederick Tilney are reminiscent of the Willoughbys and Wickhams in other novels.

Northanger Abbey isn’t exactly the fun and delightful book I remembered, and it ranks last on my Austen chart. Yet, it is still far superior to most books, and I can’t wait for Sunday night to watch the new film adaptation.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Book Buzz aka Resolution, Week #2

Apparently, the book to be reading is Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book. This week I read a positive review about the book in USA Today, a not-so-positive one in The New York Times, and heard a less-than-complimentary review on NPR. Amazon has it listed as one of its “Best Books of January,” and it appears on Amazon’s bestseller list at #23. Unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough after hearing about the book because I’m fifth in the library’s queue.

I was a bit surprised to see Andrew Morton’s Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography is the top selling book on Amazon. I’m not surprised readers are interested in gossip and speculation. I am surprised that anyone still cares about Tom Cruise. He’s just so passé.

A potentially interesting read from The NY Times this week is Bernard Schlink’s novel Homecoming (translated from German by Michael Henry Heim). According to the review, the book wrestles with the question of history, specifically how modern-day Germany reconciles itself with its past. Readers of this blog will already know a similar question of heritage consumes me.

Finally, I must mention the slew of awards for young adult and children’s books:

Of course, the book I must read is The Wall. I’ve also added The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian to my list because the book is raking in awards.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Blue is for Nightmares

Although I swore off young adult series, I still have a few trickling in that I put on hold at the library before the new year. Laurie Faria Stolarz’s Blue is for Nightmares is one such book.

The novel's heroine, Stacey, lives at a boarding school, has visions, practices Wicca, and wets her bed.

Clearly, she’s an unusual character.

Yet, I was surprised by how mildly her friends and schoolmates react to her oddities. Stacey has nightmares about her best friend and roommate, Drea, being murdered. But Drea (and others) unhesitatingly believes Stacey’s visions and readily accepts her spells and séances. Wouldn’t teenagers find Stacey just a little bit weird?

(And making Stacey a bed wetter is a bizarre twist.)

I was also put off by how insincere the relationships and friendships are between the characters. On the other hand, maybe such shallowness is accurate. I haven’t been a teenager for many, many, many years.

I have no desire to read the other books in the series. However, I was intrigued enough with the book’s mystery that I wanted to know what happened. Who was Drea’s stalker? And would Stacey ever learn to control her bladder?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Golden Compass

I was sitting blissfully in a Sunday School class a few weeks ago when several class members started on a terrible tangent. For some reason (it related to the lesson in no way), a few middle-aged women mentioned how evil Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass is (both the book and the movie version) because it promotes an anti-God message. Oh my.

Nothing makes me want to read a book more than having someone tell me not to. First, I don’t like to be told what to do (it’s a bit of a problem). Second, I do not advocate censorship. Third, I particularly despise when people try to censor a book (or movie or television show) without ever reading the book (or watching the movie or television program).

I am not a Philip Pullman fan. I read his Sally Lockhart series as a preteen, and it did not sit well with me. As such, I've had no desire to read any of his other books. However, I had to know for myself what all the fuss is about.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I have to ask: what is all the fuss about?

I did not love the book, and I have no desire to read the rest of the series. However, my apathy towards the book has nothing to do with religion. I can’t speak about the other books in the series (since I haven’t read them), but nothing in The Golden Compass struck me as anti-God.

For a young adult novel, though, I found the pacing of Compass too slow and the book at least 200 pages longer than necessary.

I didn’t feel engaged in the story until halfway through (about 200 pages in), and I had to force myself to read that far because I was simply bored by the fantasy world Pullman creates. I did not care about Lyra, her daemon, or the adults surrounding her.

Fantasy fans may enjoy this book, but I had difficulty embracing a world where all humans have a daemon, or animal, connected to them—apparently a representation of their souls. I do not care for talking animals (though I did have a minor crush on Disney’s Robin Hood as a child). And parallel universes leave me cold.

As such, I can only recommend this book to fantasy lovers and anyone who wants to rebel against the religious right.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Although this is technically a reading blog, I find it more than appropriate to comment on Masterpiece Theatre’s new series The Complete Jane Austen and particularly last night’s adaptation of Persuasion.

My first introduction to Persuasion was the 1995 BBC film featuring Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. Inspired by the movie, I read the novel for the first time on a train ride through Scandinavia. I was immediately smitten with Jane Austen’s final novel, and it remains among my top three.

Naturally, I looked forward to the new ITV adaptation, so let me start with the positives:

#1 Rupert Penry-Jones is delightfully attractive.

#2 Please see #1.

As you might guess, I was horribly disappointed by the adaptation. The film’s pacing is so frantic it never allows a sense of character development. Anne Elliot is reacquainted with her former love Captain Wentworth. Practically a moment later, he declares his love for her. At what point did they reconnect? How did they fall back in love? And why?

I had a similar feeling about Anne’s relationship with Mr. Elliot. They meet, and suddenly they are supposed to be on the brink of engagement. Yet, the film completely glosses over their relationship’s development.

Anne Elliot, as portrayed by Sally Hawkins, is absolutely insipid. In every scene with Captain Wentworth, she simply stands with a vacant look and an open mouth. Why would Captain Wentworth fall in love (or re-fall in love) with someone clearly lacking intelligence and passion? Granted, Anne weeps as she writes in her journal and when she believes Captain Wentworth is engaged to Louisa Musgrove. Yet, Captain Wentworth never sees this side of her nature.

I must also mention the movie contains the most painful love scene in the history of film. Captain Wentworth stands woodenly as Anne slowly and awkwardly moves in for the kiss. Is he punishing her for rejecting him eight years earlier? The scene is so horrible I could watch it repeatedly.

Immediately after finishing PBS’s Persuasion, I watched the 1995 version. Amanda Roots’s Anne is a fleshed-out character. She has intelligence and humor despite being bullied by her family. She and Captain Wentworth engage in lively exchanges, and they clearly never fell out of love with each other. This adaptation is far superior in every way. It’s almost like comparing a Jane Austen novel with a Nora Roberts romance (sorry, Nora Roberts fans).

Friday, January 11, 2008

Something Rotten

Compared with other young adult mysteries I’ve read recently, Alan Gratz’s Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery has a lot going for it.

The book is an updated version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Horatio Wilkes visits his high school buddy, Hamilton, in Denmark, Tennessee. Hamilton is a mess because his father has recently died and his mother has married his uncle. He has a girlfriend, Olivia, whom he has alienated.

Gratz does a good job of giving this classic tale a modern twist. However, he does take certain liberties with the story. Not only is Horatio the hero of the book, but Hamilton’s inconsistent behavior is explained with an alcohol addiction. Although most of the storyline and characters are there, the book is more mystery and less tragedy.

Like many YA novelists, Gratz has created a hero who is unlike any teenage boy I’ve ever encountered. I am not referring to Horatio’s quick mind and ability to solve mysteries. I can suspend my disbelief in these cases.

However, I cannot believe a teenage boy would make references to Shakespeare (beyond the obvious Hamlet ones), Roman poets, and even allusions to lines in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I also doubt most young adults would appreciate or pick up on these references.

Not only is Horatio apparently a literary savant, but he is also about 60 years old. The modern teenager—who loves his cell phone, iPod, and PS3—references The Dukes of Hazard, Beavis and Butt-Head, and Howdy Doody. Even I am too young to have watched most of those shows.

Overall, though, Horatio is an engaging—though rather impertinent—young hero, and I look forward to reading future books in the series.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After

I only somewhat liked Sorcery and Cecilia, and I did not like The Grand Tour. So why did I put myself through reading the third installment of Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevemer’s trilogy? Clearly, I am insane.

Like Sorcery, The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After is written in epistolary form. Cousins Cecilia and Kate correspond with each other (along with occasional, inane missives from their husbands).

I was initially intrigued by Wrede and Stevemer’s writing experiment. The authors exchange chapters without knowing what the other will write. However, in Mislaid, it is clear they have no idea where the plot is going or if they want to have a plot at all. Instead, the book absolutely plods and meanders.

This lack of purpose is obvious as the cousins write about their children. They mention what they ate. They include long descriptions of trains. Real life is boring. I read fiction to escape the inanities of life—not to suffer through them.

The book’s plot and pace doesn’t pick up until well past 200 pages. By this time, though, I had little interest in what would happen.

Unfortunately, the book—which could have been interesting (I mean, it has magic and Regency England for goodness sakes)—is tedious to the end.

The dénouement is actually the biggest offender of all. A few short pages explain away everything that happens in the 300 previous. It is like Hercule Poirot revealing the details of the crime—minus the charismatic Poirot and Agatha Christie’s writing ability.

The best I can say about this book is that it is over. And there isn’t a fourth in the series.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Resolution, Week #1

Last week, I resolved to read The New York Times Sunday Book Review section on a weekly basis and to follow the Amazon bestseller list. Here are some items of interest (at least to me):

  • This week’s Book Review focuses exclusively on texts related to Islam. The books range from The Suicide of Reason about radical Islam to Islamophobia. I am continually amazed that in the 21st century, Americans openly fear and discriminate against religious groups. (Though I may not agree with him politically, I have been shocked and disappointed by the obvious prejudice shown against Mitt Romney and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) We tend to fear what we don’t understand, and I applaud The Times’ effort to promote texts about Islam. I am anything but an expert on the subject. However, I can attest that I have nothing to fear from the Muslim women I work with in Afghanistan. It is much easier to be prejudiced against an unknown group than a known individual. I will now step off my soapbox.
  • As of midnight EDT, the #1 bestseller on Amazon is Eat, Pray, Love. I have not read this book, nor am I a fan of Oprah or her book suggestions, but I am impressed and awed at her ability to mention a title and make it an instant bestseller. If I ever write my book, I hope Oprah finds it.
  • The #2 book is Ready, Fire, Aim. Since it is only the second week of a new year, I’m not too surprised a book about making money fast is on the bestsellers list. Just today, I expressed my desire to be independently wealthy (or maybe it was a desire not to work). If I believed that get-rich-quick philosophies were sound, I might check out this book.
  • Along the same lines, 7 of the top 20 book are about dieting. I just love wishful thinking. I, of course, am going to eat right and exercise this year. Starting tomorrow. Honestly.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thursday Next

It took me practically the entire day to do it, but I finally finished Thursday Next: First Among Sequels.

Thursday is Jasper Fforde’s fifth novel in the Thursday Next series (and the sixth Fforde book I’ve read to date). I was blown away by The Eyre Affair, amazed at Fforde’s creativity and dexterity as a writer.

I still enjoy his writing, but some of the bloom has faded from the Thursday Next series. I don’t know if this is because I have become accustomed to Fforde’s style as a writer or if he has become more complacent with his success.

This is not to say that Thursday is not a delightful and well-written book. The novel is likely superior to 99% of other recently published fiction. However, reading the series is like watching a favorite TV show. In time, the episodes simply can’t compare to earlier seasons—yet they still outshine most other series on television (think Veronica Mars season two, House season three, and the current season of The Office).

Fforde is still incredibly creative, and I am flabbergasted by his imagination. For example, the scene where a piano unexpectedly drops into the Bates’ house in Emma, causing all the characters to speculate over its origins, is just plain brilliant.

Thursday Next is still a strong series, and I hope Fforde reflects back on his roots for the sixth installment.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Due Dates

I should be able to post a book review today. However, I’ve gotten myself all muddled up because of due dates.

Libraries are fabulous, and I am a huge fan and patron of my local one. I have a problem, though, with overloading each time I go to the library—I pick so many books that I can’t possibly finish them all during the three-week checkout period.

I have three books due within the week and one I’ve borrowed from my sister’s boyfriend. I have been trying to finish them all at the same time, which, I’m discovering, is an impossibility.

Of course, I interrupted all these books to read the disappointing Pandora’s Daughter. If you consider how many pages I’ve read, though, I really have finished an entire book for today’s blog. Come on, humor me.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Pandora's Daughter

I’ve started the new year by reading meaningless fluff. I fancy myself a serious reader, but I’m also not a book snob and enjoy an occasional dose of popular fiction. One author I always read is Iris Johansen, so I looked forward to her latest release: Pandora’s Daughter.

Perhaps it’s time for me to find another popular author to follow. I became a Johansen fan because she creates a nice blend of mystery, thriller, and romance. And her novel The Face of Deception scared the pants off me (fortunately, not literally).

I’ve noticed in her last few books, though, Johansen has started focusing less on “realistic” mysteries and more on the paranormal. For example, Megan Blair, the heroine of Pandora’s, is a “Listener.”

Even after finishing the novel, I’m a bit unclear about what a Listener is. All I know is the book contains several confusing passages as Megan hears voices. I read popular fiction because it’s brain candy, and Pandora’s breaks the rules with bewildering sections.

I must be more of a traditionalist than I imagined because I prefer my romantic thrillers to be romantic thrillers and my sci-fi to be sci-fi (and I deliberately avoid sci-fi at almost all costs). I know Johansen has a history of including fantastic elements in both her romances and mysteries, but I long for the days of Eve Duncan and her forensic anthropology.

As a side note, the photo of Johansen on Pandora’s dust jacket is so fabulous it makes the book almost worth checking out (I tried, unsuccessfully, to find the picture online).

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ambassador of the Dead

I have already broken my resolution to expand my reading selections. Askold Melnyczuk’s Ambassador of the Dead is exactly why I made the resolution in the first place.

Nick, the book’s narrator, lives in two worlds. As the child of immigrant parents, in this case from post-WWII Ukraine, Nick straddles the new world and the old.

Most of the story, though, concentrates on Ada, a contemporary of Nick’s parents. Nick tells her story—both what happened in Ukraine before, during, and after the war and what she experiences as an immigrant in New Jersey.

Ada believes she sees and speaks to family members who were killed during the war—thus making herself an ambassador of the dead.

I enjoyed the book—though the content is certainly not enjoyable—but I'm starting to show the signs of overdose. Melnyczuk is a fine writer. Yet, as a self-proclaimed aficionado of the genre (Ukrainian immigrant literature), nothing about Ambassador of the Dead stands out from the rest. The story feels familiar—as if I have read it many times before.

The book does raise several important questions: how do we live with the past? How can those with dark pasts (survivors of war, genocide, famine) function in the new world? And what is our responsibility towards past generations?

As I mentioned, though, I am in danger of an overdose. These books have penetrated my subconscious, and on some level I’m starting to believe my own family history resembles those of the immigrants in these books (which it certainly does not—though it is equally as scandalous in its own way). I have to change topics before I lose my identity permanently.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year’s Reading Resolutions

I need to make some resolutions. I could stand to lose a few pounds (okay, more than a few) and want to earn some travel money. But this is a reading blog, so I’ll spare you any more of my failures and dreams to focus of reading resolutions. After reviewing the list of books I read last year, I’ve decided I need to make some changes:

  • Resolution #1: Broaden my reading. Of the 83 books I read last year, 10 (12%) were about the former Soviet Union (FSU), 57 (69%) were young adult or children’s novels, and 31 (37%) were a part of a series. Clearly, I need to expand my horizons. I won’t stop liking young adult novels, and my interest in the FSU won’t magically disappear; however, I resolve to read books on other topics, and I will in 2008.
  • Resolution #2: Broaden my reading. Did I already write this? Last year, I only read 13 (16%) non-fiction books. In 2008, I resolve to read more non-fiction. I suspect, though, all the books will probably be about the FSU. I can’t help myself.
  • Resolution #3: Stay current. Twenty-one (25%) of the books I read in 2007 were published in 2007. Actually, I’m rather pleased that one-quarter of the books I read were new. I resolve to continue this trend in 2008—and maybe raise my percentage to 26%.
  • Resolution #4: Stay current. Gosh, I'm redundant. Not only do I need to read newly-published books, but I also need to stay up-to-date on what the masses are reading. I resolve to check Amazon’s bestsellers list on a biweekly basis to update my “to read” list—and maybe even read a book or two on it.
  • Resolution #5: Stay current. Not only do I want to read popular books, but I also need to stay current with the literary conversation. I resolve to read the New York Times Sunday Book Review section on a weekly basis. I probably won’t read every book (okay, I can’t possibly read every book) they review, but I can read some books. If I want to be taken seriously as a reader, I need to read seriously.

So, dear readers, what are your reading resolutions for 2008?