Monday, November 30, 2015

Black Friday Adventures at the Used Bookstore

Turns out, I can do it all. On Black Friday, I #optedoutside, got deals on-line and shopped local. I also recycled and ate leftovers. I basically saved the world in less than 24 hours. My best friend was with me for the holiday weekend and we took our usual trip to McKays (used bookstore) after a walk in Percy Warner Park. I also brought my 4-year old and told her she could have two books. She said three books and walked out with five books. I had some books to trade but didn’t need any books so I walked out with eight.

I love going to McKays and it never disappoints for entertainment value.  I started going to McKays while I was at UT-Chattanooga and was so happy when they opened here in Nashville. My Mother-in-law lives in Chattanooga but refuses to go alone so I take her when she visits. My MIL is an avid reader but only of one genre. She reads Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Steve Martini, Brad Thor and Brad Taylor, etc. She’s also read the Bourne books more than once. I thought she would be devastated when Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn died but she just responded with, “yes, I heard about that”. Could it be that they desensitized her to their own death?

She always has books to trade and always disappointed in the trade credit. She doesn’t want to pay more than $1 for a book but wants to get her money’s worth in trade. She never remembers book trade protocol and procedures. There is panic and awkwardness and me debating on whether or not to help or just watch. She goes to her author sections and can’t remember if she’s read the books or not. She will look at my books and wonder where I came up with these selections. She usually makes it through the check-out but flounders in the cart return.

My other two guests: my best friend who doesn’t have time to read but still loves books and my daughter. I prefer to not have her with me but Lexi is a natural born shopper and a good kid. She picks out her books and then has some sort of imaginative game that keeps her in constant motion until she eventually has to poop. Every. Single. Time.

On this visit to McKays, I went with some classics that have been on my to-read list. Pride and Prejudice—I’ve watched the movie countless times and love all the things Bennet and Darcy but never read the book.  I also chose The House of Mirth and The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I picked up Atonement but immediately returned it to the McKays box in my closet. I wondered why it was familiar to me and suddenly had a flashback to my Mom saying “this is a sucky ending” and other critical words to my movie selection process.

Crazy Ladies is a book by Michael Lee West and I remember it being so funny. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it but it was a favorite of mine along with my Mom and Aunt.  It’s a dramatic southern family and I believe one of the main characters named Dorothy would fake faint just like my Aunt Dot would do in times of stress (and a crowd of witnesses).

Book Club introduced me to Jane Gardam and Old Filth. I read the other two books in that series and just read a great review of a book called The Queen of the Tambourine. I was very happy and lucky to find this one.

Several friends have raved about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so I picked it up, too.

My last book is Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I read The Paris Wife (Hemingway’s first wife) last month and loved it. So I want to read this one to compare.

Have you read these books? Do you have a favorite book store?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Need a break from turkey?

Is everyone in your family not on tip-top behavior at Thanksgiving? Is your 85-year-old uncle attempting to engage you in conversation about "those great Stephanie Meyer books"? I'm here to help you escape! (Mentally. I can't actually get you out of there.) Read these articles on your phone while you pretend to check the weather.

Like a good podcast on a road trip? Or for ignoring those around you, earbuds in place? Take a look at these 25 bookish podcasts. There's something for everyone here, from Disney to Drunk Booksellers.

PureWow offers some entertaining stories, including one from Grantland (RIP, Grantland) on the great Jan Hooks and a conversation between Gloria Steinem and the Notorious RBG.

From the LA Times, a few Thanksgivings in fiction. No matter how your day goes, these books will make you glad that no one got shot before lunch and that your mom does not own a brothel in the next town over.*

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

*If your mom owns a brothel in the next town over, or indeed in any town, I sincerely apologize. There's a lot to be said for the entrepreneurial spirit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Desert Island Discs

I read a book about the wonderful Mary Berry* a few weeks ago. The author mentioned her turn on a BBC Radio 4 show called Desert Island Discs, on which guests choose eight recordings they'd take with them to a desert island. Then, the podcast app on my phone stopped working. I downloaded a new app called Overcast, and, lo and behold, it has archived episodes of Desert Island Discs.

Coincidence? I think not.**

I downloaded several episodes featuring the most important people in London. Of course, I mean Colin Firth, Jeremy Irons***, and Patrick Stewart.

serious actors acting serious

Today I listened to an episode featuring the great Patrick Stewart. Having lost his hair when he was 18, he has clearly handled great adversity before and a desert island poses no great challenge. He is a very serious actor and of course, chose serious music: Benjamin Bitten, Leonard Bernstein, and Fats Waller, among others.

His voice is very soothing and English, and when I finished listening...friends, I felt smarter. I urge you all to give this podcast a listen! It really is great fun.

Do any of you have podcasts that you regularly listen to? Waiting on season two of Serial?

*I could talk about the Great British Baking Show, but really, that deserves its own post.
**Desert Island Discs was probably on my old app and I just didn't notice. Shhhhhhh.
**Jeremy Irons recorded the Westminster Abbey audio tour, so he may be the most important person in London.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Today's book thought

"I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything; and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates." 

--Sarah Vowell, Lafayette and the Somewhat United States

Friday, November 13, 2015

Reading Relationships

I once worked with a girl that I affectionately named, The Hyena. The name was given because of her ear-bleeding laugh. She had a boyfriend that resembled a hostage situation more than a relationship. It bothered her immensely that he did not enjoy to read. So, she would buy him books that she thought he'd enjoy and then insist they read together in complete silence. To make matters worse, it would be on the weekend and during football games. This plan never worked and he finally escaped.

I got married eight years ago and did not mind that Nate was a sporadic reader. He mostly read Tom Clancy novels and liked to have a book when traveling. He read Medici Money prior to and during our trip to Italy and it was like having the inside scoop everywhere we went.  He asked for Freakonomics one Christmas and would read political books that put me to sleep just by reading the title.

Nate doesn't understand how I can finish one book and immediately pick up another or how I can stay up for hours because I MUST finish a book. You know what I'm not ok with in our reading relationship? He faces me while I read at night. His eyes are closed and it's like he's sleeping (he's not) and this drives me bonkers. No way would The Hyena tolerate this behavior.

Nate's reading picked up when his running buddies raved about Born To Run. I bought it for the next holiday. He would cringe, gasp, laugh and have dramatic sighs while reading this each night. I read it next with the same responses and then forced all my other running buddies to read it, too. This started a quest for crazy runner books. We read books by Scott Jurek and Dean Karzanes (ultramarathoners). A person that runs 50-100 mile (or more!) races has plenty of issues to fill up a book.

Two years ago, I had a great idea that we should read The Hunger Games series and watch the movies. He agreed and it was fun to discuss the books, watch the movies and look forward to the Mockingjay releases. Unfortunately, I let one nugget of info slip and was banned from reading the third book before him. He's a vault and I'm a spoiler.

A few other books that I have recommended and he gave high praise: A Spy Among Friends (very interesting and lots of facts), River of Doubt (about Theodore Roosevelt), American Sniper (total man book) and Empty Mansions (history and money).

Our next reading adventure begins this Christmas when we start the Harry Potter series. I assume it's never too late for Harry Potter. We watched the movie marathon last New Year's weekend and decided this would be good for us to do together and also a good Christmas present. Thanks to Costco for the discounted box set.

Hyenas do not make great co-workers but thanks to her, I am very content with reading while he watches MLB games from April to November and using my booklight when I know he needs to sleep. He never complains about how much I read or how much I spend on books. Most importantly, he doesn't appear to be in a hostage situation so I'll just carry on.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Reading Recap, or Come at Me with Those Holds, Library!

I caught up with my library holds! (I deleted a few of them, but still...caught up.)

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore
Sweet, nutty Drew Barrymore. But nutty in a good way. 

The saddest line in the book: "When I was 14 and wanted to start my life over..." We all know that Drew had her share of troubles when she was younger and was emancipated from her mother at 14 years old. But just to think of a 14-year-old being on her own and being better off is astounding. I felt the most kinship with her during the "Klutz" chapter. I, too, fall over invisible things. Ken always points to the picture of a falling person on "wet floor" signs and says, "Look, you're on that sign!" 

Drew reads this audiobook, and I recommended it. Note: She is an AC-TOR and that definitely comes through in the book. If she's telling a story where she screamed in real life, she screams in the book. Be warned, all ye with earbuds. 

The Hours by Jillian Cantor
This one falls solidly into my "borrow" camp. The protagonist is Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's neighbor, Millie. Millie's husband, Ed, is Russian and, therefore, suspect #1 in the Red-Scare 1950s. It was a good story, but nothing remarkable. It made me want to read a nonfiction book about the Rosenbergs. 

How We Got to Now looks at six areas that are integral to how we live: glass, cold, cleanliness, sound, light, and time. This book makes complicated topic really readable, and I enjoyed it. And I feel smarter! 

My favorite bit of trivia from this book: Around 1855, Chicago was raised ten feet. Like, they-jacked-up-the-buildings-and-ran-a-sewer-system-underneath-them raised. Because the city was at almost the same level as Lake Michigan, all of the waste went...nowhere. Gross. Johnson writes, "In 1860, engineers raised half a city block: almost an acre of five-story buildings weighing and estimated thirty-five thousand tons was lifted by more than six thousand jackscrews." Whuuuuuut? 

Slade House by David Mitchell
What a great, creepy book! It's small but powerful (238 pages, but the physical book isn't even as large as a trade paperback), with short stories that all tie into Slade House--which is haunted. I was a little confused during the first story, but once I got the rhythm of the book in the second story, it all came together. Put it on your TBR list for next October...or for any time you need a little unsettledness in your reading life.

(I read the ebook, but the paper book is enchanting...a bright yellow cover with no dust jacket (I hate dust jackets) and a cutout on the front. So cool.) 

Corrupted by Lisa Scottoline (Rosato and DiNunzio #3)
Let's face it, this series isn't highbrow literature. Or anybrow literature. But I like it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

October Book Review

October was a good month of reading. I started off with Liane Moriarty's Three Wishes and The Last Anniversary. Three Wishes was her first novel and you can definitely tell. I enjoyed it but glad it wasn't the first of hers that I read. Next was The Last Anniversary. I liked all the characters and a bomb drop on the last page was fantastic.

I finished Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy in October after reading 20 pages per day for what seemed like months. It was very interesting and I learned a lot about the Queen along with mental illness during that time period.

The Book Club choice was The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. This was a great story and provided a great deal to discuss and questions to ask. Unfortunately, my perfect attendance streak ended (January 2012-September 2015 RIP). An additional Book Club outing was planned to see Adriana Trigiani speak at the Nashville Public Library. I put the pressure on to read Big Stone Gap and Big Cherry Holler before the event. They were good stories but I hate small country towns. I'm from the crappiest small country town and scarred for life because of it so I'm comfortable in being judgmental. I really enjoyed hearing Adriana speak--very funny and entertaining. She talked about her new book, All The Stars In The Heavens, and it made me want to read it along with biographies of Loretta Young and Clark Gable, too.

I read a "mommy" book called, Hands Free Life. There were some good points to it but I would not recommend it. Every other paragraph contained "tears ran down my face". I looked up reviews on Goodreads to see if I was the only one. One review suggested making a drinking game out of every time she said, "tears ran down my face". Ha! Glad to know it wasn't just me! Nothing like a bad self-help book to remind you that you are doing just fine!

I saved my favorite book for last. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The Goldfinch stayed with me for many months and it was so good that I neglected my family while on vacation in Phoenix to read it. I loved this dark and disturbing book as well. Donna Tartt has convinced me that she is a genius in too many fields and I also have a concern for her extensive alcohol and drug knowledge. Oh well, it makes for great reading.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Hip Hop Hamilton

I read a story about some Broadway actor/producer who picked up the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton while on vacation. He found the story so fascinating that he created a musical around it. And he used hip hop as the musical genre because that would be the music of the revolution.

While I’m no theater connoisseur, I do love history and 1990s hip hop. But, I also owned the Milli Vanilli cassette tape, so I am well-acquainted with the idea that something that sounds too good to be true can indeed be.

Regardless, I went to go see “Hamilton” on Broadway with some friends (who heard about this play and wisely decided we should get tickets and go to it before it exploded in popularity).

If you haven’t heard of this play, The New York Times has covered it well, and CBS Sunday Morning did a profile on "Hamilton" back when it was an off-broadway show. 

Basically, it’s a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton. But, while the costumes and storyline are true to the time, it's performed by a multiethnic cast who sing/speak in hip hop, all with the energy and excitement of the Revolution. 

The musical style changes when appropriate -- for example, when King George makes an appearance, his music has the flavor of 1970s British Pop, appropriately out of touch with the revolutionaries. And, Thomas Jefferson sings R&B more than hip hop – because, well, he did basically miss the late 1780s in America and was a little old school compared to Hamilton and crew. Other people can explain this better.

Sounds interesting? It is. The writer/director/star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has a multitude of musical influences in his life, and they merge perfectly to create the atmosphere that feels like a revolution on stage.  When Alexander Hamilton sings, "I'm young, scrappy and hungry/just like my country,” you believe it.

Miranda won one of the McArthur “genius grants” this year.  He’s the real deal. He even used Chernow as a consultant on the play.

The casting is fascinating -- as they say, it's the story of America yesterday told by the America of today. You can’t get hung up on anyone’s ethnicity – it doesn’t matter. Aaron Burr is African-American. Alexander Hamilton is Latino. The actresses playing the Schuyler Sisters definitely don’t have the same parents in real life. But none of that matters watching the play.

The actor who portrays the Marquis de Lafayette in the first act and Thomas Jefferson in the second act blew me away. In Act I, his Marquis portrayal includes rapping in a French accent. At the beginning of Act II, he brings the house down in one of my favorite moments: Thomas Jefferson singing "What did I miss?" as he returns from France. 

Did I mention there are two rap battles between Jefferson and Hamilton debating American policy? One is all about incurring states’ debts, and it ends with a refrain of Madison and Jefferson teasing Hamilton with "You don't have the votes!" What better way to encapsulate the fights and teasing on Capitol Hill? You need to read these lyrics

I learned so much about our ten dollar founding father during the play. Sure, I knew he was shot by Aaron Burr and he started the federal reserve, but he was also part of one of America’s first sex scandals and the founder of the Coast Guard. Hamilton is so much more than the duel death he is often reduced to in popular history.

What else can I say? Let me just repeat the opening line from The New York Times review of the show: Yes, it really is that good. 

Also, if you go to the play – or are just in New York City – members of the cast (and/or special guests) often do a little mini-show outside the theater before the ticket lottery. Many of them involve Lin-Manuel beatboxing for someone to rap. Just go on YouTube to search for #Ham4Ham videos. To get a flavor of the excitement of the show -- and of the Ham4Ham experience -- here's a great video couplet. There are three sisters (the Schuyler sisters) who are prominent figures in Hamilton's life (he marries one of them). They are almost like Destiny's Child on stage. Amazing. 

First, here are three of the actors who have played King George lip syncing the Schuyler sisters' big intro song at a #Ham4Ham performance outside the theater (the woman who pantomimes Aaron Burr's intro rap is one of the actresses who plays a sister):

And here’s a New York Times video of part of that song (but it doesn’t capture the energy on stage):  

Also, you should at least listen to the cast album. Questlove was a producer. What else do I need to say?

P.S. Our great blog leader, Melanie, has already given me a great list of what to read now that I’ve seen the play. But, if you have time, read the links to the Times stories in this post -- the ones on Miranda and the play are beautiful. The first one includes reflections from Sondheim, Chernow, and others.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What I'm Reading Right Now, or When All Your Library Holds Come in at Once

When it rains, it pours, but at least it's pouring books. Here's what I'm reading and listening to for the next few weeks:

Reckless: My Life as a Pretender by Chrissie Hynde (audio)
I started listening to this one after our own KMS mentioned it in the first blog post. Wow. Whenever you think that rich, famous people have it made and have happy lives, listen to a memoir. Hynde calls herself dumb so many times. Even when she got a good grade in a high school class, she says, "There's an outside chance I was actually good at calligraphy, but I doubt it."

As she matured and as things started to come together for her musically, she began to sound more confident. I'm almost finished with this one, and it's been really interesting. The trivia she throws in is great--like that "brass in pocket" is a bit of slang she heard when someone needed to borrow money.

Wilkie Collins: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd (audio)
I've only read one Wilkie Collins book--The Woman in White--but this biography whets my appetite for more. Collins, who had Charles Dickens as mentor (after a fashion), kept two households with two women (and married neither of them) and was a feminist before feminism was cool. 

Fun fact: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker's oldest child, James Wilkie, is named after Wilkie Collins.

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Stacy Schiff, I'm going to forgive you for Cleopatra*. This retelling of the Salem Witch Trials is quite interesting.  

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore (audio)
Y'all know how I love a celebrity memoir. The only thing that would make this better is if I could read something that goes with it, like when I read Laura Ingalls/Mary Ingalls/Nellie Olesen's memoirs all in a row. (Summation: Mary was a real bitch. And Laura, really, who divorces Bruce Boxleitner? Come on. Only Nellie's book made me like her more.)

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani (audio)
This one's next in the audio queue. 

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Career of Evil is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series. I like mysteries, and so often the prose is cringeworthy even when the story is good. But this series isn't like that, and I'm enjoying this one as much as the first two.  

Slade House by David Mitchell
Mitchell's last book, The Bone Clocks, made me very paranoid about keeping photos and music in the Cloud. Will this book introduce a new paranoia? Wait and see!

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
Fictionalized Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? Yes, please. 

What are all of you reading? Have you read any of these? 

*Cleopatra was only the second univerally hated choice in my Nashville book club. (The first being The Tattooed Girl. I will never read another Joyce Carol Oates book.)