Friday, April 24, 2015

City of Women, Berlin

For Christmas I received two fiction books set in Berlin.  This one was the more recently published of the two but is set during WWII and the rise of the Nazis in Berlin.  Some of the sex scenes made me cringe - so weird and awkward.  Once the story got going, though, I enjoyed the book.  The narrator is not totally likable.  She is a bit standoffish but maybe that is because of her situation and current surroundings.  A good book for anyone who likes historical fiction.

2x the Cold - Winter with a Classic

"The Left Hand of Darkness" was the Winter bonus selection for our Novella group.  It was also the March selection for Women & Children First's Women's Classics book group.  So 2x the fun!  Or 2x the discussions about gender identity, other worlds and political issues.  This is one of those books I had heard about and it makes the Best of Science Fiction lists regularly.  It's a classic.

I liked learning more about LeGuin in the course of preparing for our discussion.  She is an interesting author.  This book can be a challenge at times if you are not a fan of science fiction.  Some parts of it can get long - like the journey across the ice which some of us were reading when Chicago was at its coldest.  Brrrr....

I have questions for the narrator because he tells others stories but not his own.  He mentions that he volunteered for his mission?  Why?  Was he trying to escape something?  Did he have anyone he missed?  Anyone who missed him?

Both discussion groups agreed that when this book was written it was probably really pushing the envelope but now gender issues, and questions about male/female identification, are mainstream issues.  We could have done more to discuss the political issues in the book but there was only so much time.  If you are interested in reading this book I would suggest reading it with a group to make sure you finish it and also to talk more about it when you are done.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Read this One

I loved Alan Cumming in "Circle of Friends".  It makes me laugh that he launched a men's cologne named Cumming.  (Which I just found out was made in conjunction with the person who now has the line I Hate Perfume that has an In the Library fragrance I like).  I also have seen him act in "Josie and the Pussycats" and "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion".  I wish he did more intros for Masterpiece Mystery because I love the way he sets up an episode!  I don't watch "The Good Wife" but I think after this memoir I am going to have check out more of his acting.

This is a hard book to read.  Alan Cumming is very brave to share his story so openly.  A chance to appear on "Who do You Think You Are?" helped him learn so much more about his family.  I thought the way he paralleled learning around his grandfather with his own experience with his father was very interesting.  Don't read about this book before you start it since you really need to find out what happens for yourself.  Suffice it to say that I greatly respect for Alan Cumming and am very happy that he is famous and has become successful.  He truly deserves it.  Read this, buy it for someone else, tell your friends about it.  "Not My Father's Son" is a difficult but necessary book.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Print, Electronic and Content

"Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" was the March selection for the Newberry book group.  Unfortunately, due to cold weather the book group discussion was moved and I missed it.  I can't complain too much because I was on vacation in Berlin, but still, I would have liked to talk about this book with the group.  Where to start?  This is an enjoyable book.  Read it soon, though, because it is going to be dated quickly.  Or maybe will be a funny reminder of the past.

I read this on the Kobo app and purchased the book from my local bookstore, Women & Children First.  Keep that option in mind if you have an iPad because you can download the Kobo app and read an e-book and still support your local bookstore.  Actually reading the book this way added a whole other layer to the themes the author covers.  I don't understand why people say they have to read books in paper/print.  I get the tactile sensation but, frankly, content is content.  This book wouldn't have been any better in print.  Also do I need to add another paper book to the world every time I read something?  I'm starting to think no and have been trying to use the library and Kobo more when I want a book.  Will I still buy books in print?  Sure --- and at a bookstore!!  That was a point that made me sad/mad in this book.  SPOILER ALERT - after everything that happens the bookstore closes.

Other parts of the book made me laugh because they are similar to things my company produces.  Let me tell you it's not that easy, or fast, to digitize content.  We digitize older content and it has to be done by hand by a human because of the fragile nature of the original.  Also, Google has a tendency to get bored with projects if they aren't going to make money so this idea that Google is going to digitize everything and put it online is not something I see happening.  I do like the parts in the book about Google making things easier that used to be hard and I do agree with that - especially trying to do general research for travel, eating out, restaurant reviews, researching products.  Again, I wish I had been able to talk about the book with the group at Newberry to hear their opinions on the changes in reading and formats.  Is this a good book for someone who loves reading?  I would say yes because it makes you think about favorite books or how we relate to books and the process of reading.**  Is it a good book for people who like bookstores?  I don't think so since it makes their future seem pretty bleak.

**In Berlin I saw a sticker at a bar for a book group that meets and everyone reads what they want at the same time and the same place.  The point was to get people to make reading more social and into public with others.  Interesting concept.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Similar but Different

I listened to "Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian" by Avi Steinberg on Overdrive via Chicago Public Library.  I liked this one as an audio book because of the different slang and accents.  I could have probably read it faster in print but it was entertaining while I was knitting.  While it is another prison book for me this year it is not the same as "Orange is the New Black".  Avi Steinberg is not a prisoner, he works in the prison library.  The book brings up interesting questions about working in a prison and trying to form relationships with prisoners.  Can you be their friend?  How do you not lose your humanity but still keep yourself safe in an environment that can become violent at any moment?  Plus Steinberg weaves in his Jewish education and upbringing and compares and contrasts his life with that of the people he comes in contact in the prison.  This was a good memoir and similar to "Orange is the New Black" raised issues about how a society handles people who break the law.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Off to a Great Start in 2015

I really am off to a great start with reading in 2015!  The new iPad (thanks again Mom & Dad) has allowed me to start using Overdrive from the Chicago Public Library so I have lots of books on my wish list.  Plus I am enjoying audio books more thanks to some wireless headphones.  I figure I can listen to books while I knit to "read" more and so far so good!  I also enjoy listening to audio books while I'm cooking and now I don't have to worry about chopping a headphone cord in half!

Here is how 2015 has started for me -

The "Poisonwood Bible" was the January selection for the Women and Children First's Women's Classics book group.  This was a re-read for me.  This time I enjoyed the story as much as the first time even though it got a bit long in parts because I knew what was going to happen.  The book discussion was challenging.  I wish people would stick to the content of the book.  To events and people as they appear in the book.  There are just some topics, like religious missions, that make for very tense book discussions.  However, if you have a book group this one does give you a lot to talk about!  I do remember the first time I read this book that many people (mostly men!) commented on how much they enjoyed it.  That's what you lose when people read on electronic devices - you can't book cover snoop.

I'm returning to Berlin so wanted to "read" something about the history of the city.  I listened to this one and enjoyed it although I think reading it would have helped me keep track of the names better.  In Erik Larson fashion he does an excellent job meshing a detailed historical story with something more sensational.  This book does make me want to do some research for work about the people involved.

I loved "Orange is the New Black"  I think Piper Kerman is a really good writer and she really balanced her own experience with observations of her follow inmates.  It made me think a lot about the legal system in the United States.  I have not watched the show and don't think I will because I liked the very straightforward non-fiction writing.  If you have been curious about this one read it - it's pretty fast and sucks you in and makes you think.  I checked this one out using Overdrive.

Ok, I use Danielle Steel as an example for work and she was the biggest selling author in the 80s, but, c'mon, my cat could see the plot developing in this one.  Yes, I read it in a few nights burrowed under covers and don't regret it but this one made even me think I could write a book.  I read this one on the iPad using Overdrive and found that I can prop the iPad on my chest and keep my hands under the covers right up until I have to turn the page.  Hey, it's been cold in Chicago!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Best of 2014 and Welcome 2015

Happy New Year!  Goodbye 2014.  The year had many ups and downs but, thankfully, more ups than downs.  I learned that if you don't set aside time for reading you won't read.  I had a pretty poor total this year but I can't beat myself up too much for it - just make some changes for 2015.  I received a new iPad for Christmas (yay!) so I can check out audio books and e-books from the library.  I am also going to be more vigilant about turning off the television.  It can be a time suck for sure!

Here are my Top 5 books for 2014:

1.  The Stephanie Plum Series - I knocked out six - eleven of this series in 2014.  When things were going bad in real life the series was a comfort.  There is something about returning to a book series where you know the characters.  They can become like old friends.  Books are a comfort and this series, while silly and not very challenging, was a great escape this year.

2.  The Punch - I really liked this book and think of it when I watch the NBA.  Great book - so why not read this year during March Madness?

3.  Bonjour Tristesse - So many layers.  Great book for a book group!  I need to see if the library has other titles by Sagan.

4.  Treasure Island!!! - Re-read this in 2014 for the Newberry book group.  I led the discussion and - woo boy - did we have a good time.  Lots of laughing.  And thanks to Sara Levine for providing us some questions for the book group.

5.  Nasty - I love memoirs and this one is one of the best I've read.

More reading please!  I'm pooped and need a lap for a nap.