Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Genre Reading Group recap

These short stories did not find us short of words!

It was a varied group, with some of us enjoying the format and our selections and others not finding the same satisfaction. There were old stories, new stories, happenings on far-flung shores, and some not too far from our own doorsteps with characters we feel like we know or to whom we may even be related! The short story, when done well, is like a scrumptious little picnic basket unpacked at leisure and enjoyed at the same pace. When not done well, or to the reader’s taste, it can be at best annoying and at worst infuriating.

How do you feel about this format? What are some of your favorite books or authors?

Our discussion centered on the following:

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
From Publishers Weekly
A writer of Munro's ilk hardly needs a hook like the intriguing title of her 10th collection to pull readers into her orbit. Serving as a teasing introduction to these nine brilliantly executed tales, the range of mentioned relationships merely suggests a few of the nuances of human behavior that Munro evokes with the skill of a psychological magician.

Lucky Girls by Nell Freudenberger
From Publishers Weekly
Freudenberger saw her first story, "Lucky Girls," published in the New Yorker's 2001 debut fiction issue and subsequently received a reported six-figure sum to round out the collection with a bunch more (at that time unwritten) works. The gamble has paid off, at least from a critical perspective: the five long stories in this collection are thoughtful and entertaining. Most take place in Asia and feature Americans living abroad.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Nigerian-born Jesuit priest Akpan transports the reader into gritty scenes of chaos and fear in his rich debut collection of five long stories set in war-torn Africa.

Crash Diet by Jill McCorkle
From Publishers Weekly
In this peppery, potent collection by McCorkle ( Ferris Beach ), 11 memorable women, ranging from high school student to retiree, confide details of troubled relationships. Without fail, their voices, hopes and sorrows hit the mark; it's easy to empathize with them and to uneasily recall moments when our own lives have mirrored theirs. Optimism and sorrow are here in equal measure.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Thirteen linked tales from Strout (Abide with Me, etc.) present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection.

Any book by Ellen Gilchrist
Winner of the 1984 National Book Award for Fiction for her collection of short stories, Victory over Japan, Ellen Gilchrist has been declared “a national treasure” by the Washington Post for her various works, which at present constitute a collection of twenty-three books. She has received numerous other awards for her work, as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in Fiction. A Mississippi native, she currently lives in Fayetteville (Washington County) and is a faculty member at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
From Publishers Weekly
The rituals of traditional Indian domesticity, like curry-making and hair-vermilioning, both buttress the characters of Lahiri's elegant first collection and mark the measure of these fragile people's dissolution. Frequently finding themselves in Cambridge, Mass., or similar but unnamed Eastern seaboard university towns, Lahiri's characters suffer on an intimate level the dislocation and disruption brought on by India's tumultuous political history.

The Dog of the Marriage by Amy Hempel
From Publishers Weekly
"[W]as there anybody who wasn't here to get over something too?" wonders the narrator in the sublime "Offertory." Not in this book, Hempel's fourth collection (after 1997's Tumble Home), as unnamed narrators struggle with breakups, disillusionment, loss. Though it's not the most accessible of collections, it's deeply affecting, as Hempel paints a fictional world that is sharp and lonely but also marked by beauty and unexpected generosity.

Follies by Ann Beattie
From Publishers Weekly
Odd but subtle coincidences, missed connections, strained family relations—these are the major dynamics in Beattie's latest collection of nine stories and a novella.

Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates
From Publishers Weekly
As evidenced in this collection of nine stories, Oates's imagination is still fertile, feverish and macabre. These females are killers, either by their own hands or through manipulation. To be sure, they have provocation: abandonment, betrayal, abuse, the loss of reason to passion or obsession.

The Southern Woman by Elizabeth Spencer
From Publishers Weekly
Every good Southern writer interprets the essence of existence in that region in a distinctive way, and Spencer, whose career has spanned 60 years, is one of the most distinguished of a group that includes Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor. Her fiction is as much a record of 20th-century American life as it is particularly "Southern" in cast. The largest section of this new collection of her work is devoted to her stories set in the South, and the social themes are finely wrought.

Four Short Stories: A Great Storyteller at His Best with Drawings by Henri Matisse by W. Somerset Maugham
The stories in this volume were published in the late 20’s and early 30’s in various magazines and small volumes. They were collected in this work in 1970. Maugham writes of the darker parts of human existence: adultery, murder, suicide, alcoholism, and the like. His stories are beautifully written, but depressing.

East and West by W. Somerset Maugham
Volume 1 in The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham. Volume 2 is titled The World Over. This is an epic body of work. There are 30 stories in the book, bringing it to nearly 1000 pages. Dense, complex, dark, and delicious.

March's topic is travel writing so pick a book and make plans to join us! Call or email me for more information!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Group Reminder!

The Genre Reading Group meets next Tuesday, February 23rd at 6:30pm to discuss short stories! Bring your favorite book of short stories and tell us about it!

Our normal meeting space will be unavailable as volunteers work hard to prepare for the Friends of the Emmet O'Neal Library Annual Book Sale so we'll be meeting in the Administrative Conference Room on the second floor! Just drop by the Reference Desk and we'll show you the way!

March's topic will be travel writing, so prepare for armchair adventure! Interested in joining the most fun book group in town? Give me a call and I'll give you all the details!

Happy reading!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Coming Soon: Sale! Sale! Sale! Sale!

Mark your calendars and make plans to attend the Friends of the Emmet O'Neal Library Annual Big Book Sale February 26-28, 2010! The Friends have been working hard to collect and organize books for all ages & interests at "Can't Be Beat" prices!

Come and get a SNEAK PEEK at the EOL Friends' Members Only Annual Preview Party on Thursday, Feb 25 from 6:30pm-9pm. $25 membership donations will be available at the door that night!

For the rest of the weekend, the sale hours are as follows:

Friday, February 26 10am-5pm
Saturday, February 27 10am-5pm
Sunday, February 28 1pm-4pm

Special thanks to Sirote Supports and Western Supermarkets!

The Emmet O'Neal Library is located at 50 Oak Street Mountain Brook, AL 35213. For more information, call 205-879-0459!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hammett Prize Nominations

The International Association of Crime Writers awards The Hammett Prize annually for literary excellence in the field of crime-writing, as reflected in a book published in the English language in the U.S. and/or Canada. The winner receives a "Thin Man" trophy, designed by sculptor Peter Boiger.

The nominees for 2010 are:

Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott

Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

The Long Fall by Walter Mosley

The Way Home by George Pelecanos

The last really exciting mystery/thriller I read was Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island. This spooky, almost gothic, tale details the investigation of U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels and his partner into the strange disappearance of a patient at a hospital/prison for the criminally insane. As their investigation gets closer to the truth, everyone becomes more sinister and guilty and Teddy despairs of finding the truth before it's too late. This book has also been made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley and will hit theaters next Friday, February 19, 2010.

What was the last really great mystery/thriller/crime novel you read?

Happy reading!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Genre Reading Group Recap!

The GRG met last Tuesday night to discuss Pulitzer Prize winners, fiction and nonfiction. Everyone present agreed that this category was much more pleasant than our experiences with the National Book Award. Members read a very broad range of books, see for yourself! (review material pulled from Amazon.com)

In three newly democratic countries in Eastern Europe (East Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland), communism's former victims and jailers are struggling to make sense of their history - and sometimes rewrite it. In this groundbreaking, stylishly reported book, a journalist travels across the battlefields of memory and asks: Who is guilty? How shall they be punished? And who is qualified to judge them in states where almost every citizen was an accomplice? Seeking the hard answers to these questions, Tina Rosenberg tells of conscience and complicity, courage and optimism.
(The reader made particular note of the wealth of primary source material the author includes in the form of interviews and stories from people there on the front lines of the transition from communism in these countries)

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
This fictionalized autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, captured in Daisy's vivacious yet reflective voice, has been winning over readers since its publication in 1995, when it won the Pulitzer Prize. After a youth marked by sudden death and loss, Daisy escapes into conventionality as a middle-class wife and mother. Years later she becomes a successful garden columnist and experiences the kind of awakening that thousands of her contemporaries in mid-century yearned for but missed in alcoholism, marital infidelity and bridge clubs. The events of Daisy's life, however, are less compelling than her rich, vividly described inner life--from her memories of her adoptive mother to her awareness of impending death. Shields' sensuous prose and her deft characterizations make this, her sixth novel, her most successful yet.
(This brought another, more recent, biographical fiction novel to the discussion: Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses, about her maternal grandmother. Readers may remember Walls' other book, a memoir, The Glass Castle.)

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
From Booklist *Starred Review* “Hell. We’re always alone. Born alone. Die alone,” says Olive Kitteridge, redoubtable seventh-grade math teacher in Crosby, Maine. Anyone who gets in Olive’s way had better watch out, for she crashes unapologetically through life like an emotional storm trooper. She forces her husband, Henry, the town pharmacist, into tactical retreat; and she drives her beloved son, Christopher, across the country and into therapy. But appalling though Olive can be, Strout manages to make her deeply human and even sympathetic, as are all of the characters in this “novel in stories.”

The Hours by Michael Cunningham
The Hours is both an homage to Virginia Woolf and very much its own creature. Even as Michael Cunningham brings his literary idol back to life, he intertwines her story with those of two more contemporary women. One gray suburban London morning in 1923, Woolf awakens from a dream that will soon lead to Mrs. Dalloway. In the present, on a beautiful June day in Greenwich Village, 52-year-old Clarissa Vaughan is planning a party for her oldest love, a poet dying of AIDS. And in Los Angeles in 1949, Laura Brown, pregnant and unsettled, does her best to prepare for her husband's birthday, but can't seem to stop reading Woolf. These women's lives are linked both by the 1925 novel and by the few precious moments of possibility each keeps returning to.
(The Virginia Woolf chapter of Jonah Lehrer's Proust was a Neuroscientist returned to my mind again and again as I read this exquisite little book. It was also made into a movie starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Stephen Dillane.)

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Like most of Richard Russo's earlier novels, Empire Falls is a tale of blue-collar life, which itself increasingly resembles a kind of high-wire act performed without the benefit of any middle-class safety nets. This time, though, the author has widened his scope, producing a comic and compelling ensemble piece. There is, to be sure, a protagonist: fortysomething Miles Roby, proprietor of the local greasy spoon and the recently divorced father of a teenage daughter. But Russo sets in motion a large cast of secondary characters, drawn from every social stratum of his depressed New England mill town.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist's answer: geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas. Yet his survey is binocular: one eye has the rather distant vision of the evolutionary biologist, while the other eye--and his heart--belongs to the people of New Guinea, where he has done field work for more than 30 years.
(The reader noted that while the book was very interesting, the National Geographic documentary based on this work is superb!)

February's topic is short stories so grab a book and come tell us about it on February 23rd at 6:30pm. I have a selection of PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction-winning authors pulled so feel free to have a look or browse our short story collection!

Happy reading!

In Which Katie Discusses Her Foray Into The 100+ Book Challenge ...

Hey There Friends!
So I started off the 100+ Reading Challenge with a bang in January. Here's what I read:
  • The Exception by Christian Jungersen - an EXCELLENT thriller/mystery - it left me wondering at the end what really happened!)
  • The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom- purported to be a horror novel, this was so terrible I am not sure I can even count it, except that I did read it :(
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - loved, loved, loved this book. It was a little bit of an adjustment to get used to her writing style, but really, this was one of my favorites.
  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave - The Bookies read this for our January book. I think everyone really enjoyed it - I certainly did! This was one of those books that I listened to and the reader was great. She did accents for the different characters and really made them come to life.
  • The Vikings: A History by Robert Ferguson - this was strictly a history of the Vikings - there were many exciting bits full of sagas and battles and ritual. There were also plenty of boring bits. I liked it though! Also? I know A LOT about the Vikings now ...
  • The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin - this series (The Mistress of the Art of Death) has become one of my favorite new mystery series to read and recommend. The main character is a 12th century forensic anthropologist. Which, of course, is an anachronism which is why she is called the Mistress of the Art of Death. She is a great character, smart and strong and very much a feminist (for the 12th century, of course). I love it! The mysteries are always exciting and the reader for these audios is FANTASTIC!
  • Grave Goods byAriana Franklin - see above. AND there is a brand new book out in this series which I canNOT wait to read!
So, this brings my 2010 reading total to 7 books - only 93 more to go to reach my 100 book goal for the year.

Here's what I am reading now and planning for the rest of this month:
Okay - gotta go work so I can read ;)
Have a great February everyone!