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Sunday Salon: To rant or not to rant

June 14, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reading Journal

Before I answer, or pose the question in the title of this post, here is how the day started:

This was the second weekend of the month. The weekend our library has its small warehouse sale. (Every quarter it has a HUGE warehouse sale). At first, after seeing the carnage left by those allowed in an hour early, I did manage to find a lot of books on my wish list.

Here is my tote bag packed:

405853667_1406283570_0

Here is the haul taken out and ready to be cataloged:

405852473_1406279290_0

And yes, for you intrepid souls who counted, that is twenty (20) books. As I told someone on Twitter, I am no longer measuring my library by the number of books I have, but by the tonnage.

Here is a list for those like me that need a magnifying glass the size of a small car in order to read the titles:

  • Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
  • The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett
  • The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
    (My first large print book. I wasn’t kidding about my eyesight!)
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
  • Floating In My Mother’s Palm by Ursula Hegi
  • The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
  • Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  • Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
  • Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson
  • Veronika Decides to Die by Paula Coelho
  • The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
  • The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
  • The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  • The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Now, for the “To rant, or not to rant” question.

As I’ve mentioned before, I attend these sales not simply to get cheap books. Much of the monies made at these sales go to help fund library programs that may otherwise get cut due to the tough economic times in which we live. In fact, a volunteer I spoke with told me that at the last quarterly sale held, the Friends of the Library collected just over $44,800 in sales. Considering that the majority of books sold went for one dollar apiece, that is PHENOMENAL.

You may be asking yourself, “Uhm Brat? The rant, as in the point?”

Remember when I described the carnage left behind by the early birds? It seems that online booksellers are becoming members of Friends of the Library (FotL). That way they get to attend special sales and are also allowed in an hour earlier. Which is fine. Except some of them are coming armed with scanners which tell them how much the book is worth. No big deal as it is in their best, and financial interest to get more bang for their buck – literally. They are paying a dollar per book to resell for whatever the used book market will bear. Nice for them, and nice for the library who gets all those sales.

My beef?

What about us book lovers who attend these events for other reasons?

As a volunteer suggested, I too can join FotL and get in early. That’s fine as I’ve been meaning to – however, even if I show up early, how can I compete against a scanner? I can’t browse that fast. And really, who wants to? Part of why I love these sales is the experience: to pick up the books, leaf through them, read a paragraph or too, fall in love with the writing, choosing the book in order to give it a permanent home. In addition, many times I chat about books or authors with other bibliophiles as well as share or get recommendations as we wander the aisles together.

But this is diminished, if not taken away, by the person ahead of us going through the books as quickly as it takes to run a scanner over a barcode and then placing each find into boxes. Worse are those that grab a shelf full, hoard them until they are scanned, leaving shelves in disarray and/or stacks of books that need to be restocked by a volunteer who tries to do this in small aisles full of people.

Here is my dilemma and hesitancy to rant. All this benefits the library. That is the goal of these sales and that is what is achieved. So who am I to complain about who buys these books and the methods they use to choose them?

What do you think?

Should I just grin and bear it, knowing these books are being recycled and put back into the hands of book lovers; that the goal of helping fund library programs is being fulfilled?

Or, should I request to speak with someone at the Friends of the Library and see if they would be amiable finding a compromise that would allow the booksellers to continue this practice of obtaining new stock without leaving those like me feeling disappointed and disheartened?

I just don’t know what to do.

Obviously, it didn’t affect my being able to find the books I wanted. It only affected my experience. And in saying that, it sounds a bit selfish of me to complain. Yet a negative feeling about what happened has stuck with me and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

I will continue to think on this, and hope perhaps some of you have some suggestions that may help. For those of you who do respond, allow me to thank you in advance.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend! See you next Sunday.

Review: Testimony by Anita Shreve

June 11, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

Testimony

 

 

Testimony by Anita Shreve (2008)
Contemporary Fiction, 352 pages
Little, Brown and Company Reprint Edition (May 2009)

Review copy provided by Hachette Book Group

Advisory: Scenes of a sexual nature and strong language.

 

 

I won’t try to gloss this story over or say that it isn’t what it sounds like after reading the synopsis. It is exactly what they say…and more. In fact, there really is no need to give you a lengthy synopsis, here it is one simple sentence that gives you an ample idea of what you are about to read:

Enter a world upended by the repercussions of a single impulsive action.

I would change just one thing about the above though. The main plot is about that “single impulsive action”, but there are other actions taken that contribute to the ultimate one, which when put together combust and then consume all those involved.

Another key word mentioned on the back cover is “shame”. And there is plenty to go around. But it isn’t shame that makes this novel stand out to me. Blame and guilt are the two emotions most prevalent and powerful. These two words devastate all who feel them, use them, and abuse them.

Blame is what we do when we cannot accept responsibility for our actions or are unable to accept the faults of others and offer forgiveness. Or, like the media, use them to fan the flames that just make matters worse, not allowing cooler heads to prevail and make sense of what is happening, and to do what they can to mitigate as much damage as possible.

In Testimony, some are forever shattered, one fatally. Others seem to recover, but with scars that will remain as a reminder no matter how hard they try to hide them.

…I am amazed that we didn’t have any shame. I don’t know where the shame went. I guess the alcohol takes it away. I guess that’s the point of drinking, to take all the feelings and thoughts and morals away until you are just a body doing what a body will do.

A single impulsive action. Life is made up of these moments. It is how we react to them that makes the difference, if we survive them or not, if they change us forever – or not.

Anita Shreve writes of a difficult subject and handles it well, weaving us in and out of the minds of those affected. Having them tell us the story from their point of view. Here is where the reader may falter. Each person is given a chapter and a voice. Sometimes it is in the first person. Others, second or third. When asked about this the author explains:

Originally I started writing…from the headmaster’s point of view alone, and I realized fifty pages into it that he is not privy to certain bits of information that are critical. And I began to think about the play The Laramie Project and Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying…So I thought that taking each person who had been affected…and giving him or her a voice, would be a better way to tell the story.

The author also likes to use long sentences, but I never felt them to be overly used or misused.

There was a kind of seizure then in Mike’s chest as he suddenly, from a different part of his brain, received alarming and unwanted information not unlike an air traffic controller watching several blips on his radar screen inexplicably about to collide.

Initially, I thought about formatting this review much differently. There is a Reading Group Guide included in the back and I had entertained the idea of answering some of the questions instead of what you see above. However after reading the book, and being left with some strong emotions, I couldn’t

Part of problem is that I comprehend what I read using my own set of perceptions and a societal model formed by my upbringing and education. What I get out of a story may not be the same as anyone else. This was the case when I read the questions in the back. They are excellent discussion starters, but none of them coincided with what I wanted to express to you in this review. My mind had other ideas so I acquiesced and wrote the review you see here.

How to rate this? This book is a difficult read, or will be to some; not only because of its format, but for its content. I have to be honest, I couldn’t put it down. And when I did, it never left me. It still hasn’t. For this reason, I am giving it 5 out of 5 stars.

As a bonus, here are some links that will introduce you to the book and the author.

OpenBook™ Excerpt
Listen to an excerpt
Download a Podcast
Watch the author talking about the book



Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve
is the author of 14 novels, including Body Surfing, The Pilot’s Wife, which was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, and The Weight of Water, which was a finalist for England’s Orange Prize.

Review: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

June 09, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (1993)
Contemporary Fiction, 256 pages
Picador Reprint edition (April 28, 2009)

Read for Picador Book Club:
Picador’s Twitter Account
The discussion of this book

I have an extra copy due to a shipping mix-up.
Details on how to win this are given at the end of this post.

The Virgin Suicides is Jeffrey Eugenides first novel, which seems apparent at first. However as the story progresses, so does the author’s skill with following through on a premise he lays out for the readers in the first sentence:

On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.

How do you write an entire book after telling the reader the plot from the very beginning? Well, if the suicides were simply all that this book was about, it would be pretty damn difficult. Do not simply judge it by the title, or that first sentence. This book is much, much more.

The story is told from the point of view of a group of men who feel compelled to understand the tragedy that befell the Lisbon family over a course of thirteen months when they were adolescents. To borrow from Winston Churchill, the sisters are “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” To the boys in the neighborhood, they were an alluring challenge that each wanted to overcome and comprehend:

…the five glittering daughters in their homemade dresses, all lace and ruffle, bursting with their fructifying flesh.

We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy…

The voice, or should I say voices, in this book work. And after reading what Eugenides had to say about why he did it this way, it makes perfect sense and adds to the perception of witnessing an event from a distance and all the complications which come from this:

When I wrote The Virgin Suicides, I gave myself very strict rules about the narrative voice: the boys would only be able to report what they had seen or found or what had been told to them. I think because it was my first book that helped to limit the possibilities of what I could use. It really constrained the point-of-view. Since the book was about obsession and voyeurism, and also about the things that linger in your mind from adolescence, it seemed an appropriate point-of-view
– (Excerpted from a Powells.com interview conducted by Dave Weich)

This book will not leave you with answers. No matter how much information is revealed, it isn’t enough to lead the reader, or the men, to any tangible conclusions. And this is just as it should be. Even though a work of fiction, this is how it is in real life. Suicide is no answer and has no answers; just suppositions and conjecture.

It’s very difficult to know what was in those girls’ hearts. What they were really trying to do.

In the end, the tortures testing the Lisbon girls pointed to a simple reasoned refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them, so full of flaws.

This book left me frustrated and angry. Not at the acts of the sisters, but of their parents and the community. How they reacted and failed not only the family, but themselves. No one touched by the tragedy was left the same. I felt I was reading a proverbial train wreck, knowing what was about to happen, the devastation that would follow, and powerless to do anything about it. I wanted to reach into the pages and shake sense into those who could have made a difference. It was then I realized that the author had drawn me in and touched me deeply. I also noticed the subtle change of voice and tone that indicated this was a writer to watch. This is borne out by his next novel, Middlesex receiving the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2002.

I am giving this book 4 stars out of 5. It’s good, but not a page turner and one that keeps you up all night reading. I must say, as a book club pick, this is a perfect choice as there are many aspects of the story and the characters that will provide ample material for a lively discussion.

Now. For the giveaway. Simple. Very, very simple. I hate being made to jump through hoops, so I never ask anyone interested in my giveaways to do so the same.

  • Leave a comment letting me know you’d like the book.
  • Please be sure you provide me with a way of contacting you; either by giving me your email address in the comment or giving me your blog address which clearly and easily provides me a way to get a hold of you.
  • I will choose a winner by numbering each comment/entry as I receive it and then using a random number generator to pick the winner.
  • Entries must be received by midnight June 16th Pacific Time.
  • In the past, I have only allowed Canadians and Americans to participate, however I will open this up to everyone. FYI, the shipping method I choose will be a cost effective one, and I state here and now I will not be held responsible for the book being damaged or lost in transit. (This has never been an issue, but I feel compelled to cover my backside just in case.)



eugenides130

Jeffrey Eugenides has written two novels and numerous short stories. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, Best American Short Stories, The Gettysburg Review and Granta’s ‘Best of Young American Novelists’.

Review: Unholy Domain by Dan Ronco

June 07, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

Unholy Domain

Unholy Domain by Dan Ronco (2008)
Science Fiction Thriller, 352 pages
Published by Kunati Inc.

Review copy provided by author

Advisory: Language and violence. There are also scenes of a sexual nature including rape, although none of these features put me off or made me feel uncomfortable.

 

I haven’t read much science fiction since my twenties. Even then, I was attracted to what is now called “social science fiction”. According to releases regarding this book, it is described as a sci-fi thriller, and that it is. However I would add that there are elements that clearly delve into the “sociological speculation about human society”.

The thriller characteristic is where this writer shines. But there were times I kept thinking to myself how much “meatier” in content the book could have been if some of those ‘sociological speculations’ were given more attention . Then again, if it had, how much of this would have affected the pace of the novel, which kept me turning page after page?

This is the second of three novels Mr. Ronco will be writing. I asked him to share some background about the trilogy so I could better understand his goals. Here is an excerpt from his reply:

Some years earlier, I scoped out a series of novels to expose three oncoming challenges; computer viruses enhanced with artificial intelligence (Peacemaker, set in 2012), the oncoming clash between religion and technology concerning what it means to be human (Unholy Domain, set in 2022), and the beginnings of the integration of human and artificial intelligence into a network entity [tentatively titled Tomorrow’s Children, set in 2031). Each novel is written as a thriller – packed with adventure, sex, greed, and romance – as well as realistic science and technology. The three leading characters: Dianne Morgan, a female mega-billionaire obsessed with power; Ray Brown, her onetime lover and a brilliant software architect; and David Brown, Ray’s genetically gifted son – are developed over the timeframe of the three novels into real people with their own unique values and characteristics.

Although part of trilogy, each book is written to stand on its own. My only issue with this then is the lack of character I found in two of the main ones listed above. Part of this has to come from the fact I have not read the first book. The only standout to me in this novel was Dianne Morgan, yet it was supposed to be an introduction to David and what happens when he discovers his father may have been framed.

There is a lot of potential for not simply a sequel, but off-shoots exploring the ramifications to society from the melding of technology and humanity. I couldn’t help but be reminded of I ROBOT, BICENTENNIAL MAN, and THE MATRIX while reading Unholy Domain.

I won’t mislead you, this is no work of great literary measure, but it is an enjoyable read despite its flaws.

I don’t often read other reviews until after I’ve written mine as I don’t want to be unduly influenced. I did find this one though that I feel gives a wonderful in-depth and fair review of Unholy Domain by Harry Markov.

I am giving this book 3 out of 5 Stars. If you like science fiction with a believable premise, and a frightening one at that, then you will like this book. Just be forewarned that you should read Peacemaker first, it will help in understanding the plot and characters much better than I did.



Dan Ronco

Dan Ronco’s expertise in engineering and computer science infuses each of his books with a sense of authenticity that will keep you reading, and wondering.

Never let me near a used book store. Ever.

June 03, 2009 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

Case in point.

Zephyr Books in Reno. They carry used, rare, and out-of-print books. One of the largest collections I’ve ever seen. A bibliophile’s heaven and an economic nightmare to said bibliophile’s bank account.

Well, not really, it is a used book store after all. But I dare any book lover to walk out of there without spending at least $20. Or in my case, $23.62. (Thank goodness I hadn’t emptied my coin purse as I usually do when it gets unwieldy.)

I had gone there in search of the book Father of Frankenstein written by Christopher Bram. Last night I had come across the movie “God and Monsters” and was so taken with it, I had to do some research. Happy was I to discover it was adapted from a book that received excellent reviews.

So off I went this morning to try and find said book. Was not happening.

When they told me they didn’t carry a copy, I should’ve left and gone to one of those big commercial stores. But no. I’d made the drive into town, so I thought I would at least browse around, plus I really wasn’t up for the B & N or Borders experience.

I only really hit one aisle. And that’s all it took:

The Last Town on Earth

 

The Last Town on Earth by Tomas Mullen
Historical Fiction, 416 pages
A Random House Trade Paperback

Similar to Geraldine Brook’s the Year of Wonders, this is a story inspired by a true event. Set during the 1918 epidemic, it tells of a town quarantining itself against a modern plague and the consequences of this decision.

 

Last Tales

 

Last Tales by Isak Dinesen
Short Story Collection, 352 pages
Vintage International
Vintage Books a division of Random House

This is a collection of twelve of the last tales that Isak Dinesen wrote before her death in 1962. They include seven tales from Albondocani a projected novel that was never completed.

 

 

 

The Sound and the Fury

 

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Fiction, 336 pages
Vintage International
Vintage Books a division of Random House

One of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, this novel tells of the tragedy of the Compson family. This edition follows the text as it was corrected in 1984 and includes an editor’s note regarding those corrections.

 

 

Of Love and Other Demons

 

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez
Fiction, 160 pages
Penguin Books

In the slave market in a tropical Colombian seaport, the Marquis’s 12 year old daughter is bitten by a rabid dog. Marquez’s novel of doomed love tells of the girls incarceration in a convent where a young priest is sent to exorcize the demon of her sickness, but falls in love instead.

 

 

I walked out with only four books. But as the saying goes, quality is better than quantity.

And I couldn’t agree more.

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