My Challenges (timed)

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Completed 8 of 9

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Completed 2 of 3

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Completed 2 of 4

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Completed 71 of 81

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Completed 9 of 10

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Completed 34 of 50

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 5

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Completed 3 of 5

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Completed 5 of 100

My Challenges (perpetual)

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See my list of books read here


New York Times Book Review: 6/40
New Yorker: 0/36
New York Review of Books: 0/20
Vogue: 1/16
Email: 841/1373

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

Title: Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living (a/k/a My Year of Cooking Dangerously)

Author: Julie Powell

First Published: 2005

No. of Pages: 307

Synopsis (from B&N): "With the humor of Bridget Jones and the vitality of Augusten Burroughs, Julie Powell recounts how she conquered every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and saved her soul.

Julie Powell is 30 years old, living in a tiny apartment in Queens and working at a soul-sucking secretarial job that's going nowhere. She needs something to break the monotony of her life, and she invents a deranged assignment. She will take her mother's worn, dog-eared copy of Julia Child's 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she will cook all 524 recipes -- in the span of one year.

At first she thinks it will be easy. But as she moves from the simple Potage Parmentier (potato soup) into the more complicated realm of aspics and crepes, she realizes there's more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye.

And somewhere along the line she realizes she has turned her outer-borough kitchen into a miracle of creation and cuisine. She has eclipsed her life's ordinariness through spectacular humor, hysteria, and perseverance."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: This one started off a bit rough for me, but once I got into, I loved it. The author is one of those writers who really lets her personality come through in her writing, and she's not afraid to let herself look silly. I would love to have her for a friend, although I'm not sure I could take her all the time -- I'm a quiet type most of the time and dramatic people wear me out. There were many parts of the book that had me laughing hysterically (to the point where my husband came out of his office to check on me). And the descriptions of the food made me want to run out, get a copy of Julia Child's cookbook, and throw on an apron, which is really saying something as I'm inclined to order take-out on any pretense. I would definitely read this author again and highly recommend this book.

Challenges: 999 (Dewey Decimal); Dewey Decimal (600 Technology)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Title: Catch-22

Author: Joseph Heller

First Published: 1955

No. of Pages: 464

Synopsis (from B&N): "Catch-22 is like no other novel we have ever read. It has its own style, its own rationale, its own extraordinary character. It moves back and forth from hilarity to horror. It is outrageously funny and strangely affecting. It is totally original.

It is set in the closing months of World War II, in an American bomber squadron on a small island off Italy. Its hero is a bombardier named Yossarian, who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he hasn't even met keep trying to kill him. (He has decided to live forever even if he has to die in the attempt.)

Catch-22 is a microcosm of the twentieth-century world as it might look to someone dangerously sane. It is a novel that lives and moves and grows with astonishing power and vitality. It is, we believe, one of the strongest creations of the mid-century."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: Another book that readers either love or hate, no middle ground. I'm in the love group. I found the sheer absurdity and irrationality of the characters and situations fascinating and often hilarious. In a strange way, the book is too real, or at least too real in ways that we don't want to acknowledge -- who among us hasn't found ourselves at least once in a conversation that makes no sense whatever, with someone who refuses to think (in our views, at least) logically, and you get so frustrated but there are no words to make the other person understand and so you just stand there with your mouth open and a look of complete incomprehension on your face.

Another thing I loved about this book is how honest the book is. Let's face it, people aren't always up front about their opinions and motives, even in times of great sacrifice, but we all get by because we either can't see the truth or don't want to. This is especially true in times of war. Here, the author makes readers see the truth in the characters and it makes for a lot of conflicting emotions on our part. We want/need to believe that our military is rational, efficient, organized, and self-effacing; but it's made up of humans with all their faults and humans are often irrational, inefficient, disorganized, and self-absorbed. But what's more important is that the characters' faults are our faults as well, so that when we're looking at the characters we're really seeing all the small, ugly, petty, and ridiculous parts of ourselves.

I can't recommend this one highly enough; I'm putting it on my Keep Forever shelf. There's so much in this book, I wish I had read it with a group because I'd love to get others' opinions and comments.

Challenges: Banned Books; 1% Well-Read; Lit Flicks; 999 (1001 Books); A-Z (author "H")

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Book that Changed My Life, edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen

Title: The Book that Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them

Author: Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen, editors

First Published: 2006

No. of Pages: 178

Synopsis (from B&N): With the goal of promoting literacy (and with proceeds going to the Read to Grow Foundation), here are 71 spirited testaments to the transformative power of reading from 71 distinguished contributors.

Books change lives, and if you have any doubts on that score, you need only dip into this joyous celebration of reading by 71 people who have distinguished themselves in various fields, from sports, to cooking, to journalism and the arts. In brief and lively essays, the contributors— wrestlers, actors, singers, monks, Nobel Prize winners, chefs, politicians, writers—tell about the single book that changed the way they see themselves and the world around them.

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: Many of the essays contained in this book are quite good, either involving books that I have read and agree are wonderful or I have not read and want to (including a few that I had not previously had on my TBR list, thanks editors!). I enjoy reading why a particular book matters so much to someone, especially if it's one from childhood. The only critique I have of this collection is the self-centeredness of some of the essays. Obviously, given the topic, the writers were supposed to write about themselves somewhat, but it would have been better if they had stuck to writing about books that changed them and didn't feel the need to tie it in to their own books -- it came across as needless self-promotion.

Oh, and as long as I'm at it, some of the books that have changed my life include the Nancy Drew series, To Kill a Mockingbird, the essays of Robert Fulghum, Gone with the Wind, Pride & Prejudice, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume (that book was the 1st time I ever heard of the Nazis and their atrocities), The Chamber by John Grisham (I became anti-death penalty overnight), I could go on and on and on...

Challenges: 999 (Dewey Decimal); Dewey's Books; Dewey Decimal (000 Generalities)

Blog ads and kickbacks

Bethany over at B&b ex libris had an interesting post yesterday. She asked readers whether ads on blogs turned them off and make them not read the blog anymore. For myself, I don't like a blog (or any webpage, for that matter) with lots of ads. It clutters everything up and is very distracting.

But the real reason that this post stuck out for me was the issue of the blogger making money off the ads. In particular, I'm thinking of the click-throughs for books where the blogger gets a percentage if the reader buys the book after clicking through. I don't have a problem with this -- in fact, I do it myself. If you click the title of any book on my blog, it will most likely take you to that book on Amazon. And if you buy the book, I get a percentage. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't made money off this so far and I'm cool with that. But it got me thinking. I don't need the money and I've always felt a little weird about it. So I've decided that from now on, if anyone buys a book through one of my click-throughs, I'm going to donate the money to a book-related charity (please note that this is not in any way a judgment on anyone else, it's just something I need to do for me).

I've been researching charities lately anyway, so that hubby and I can increase our giving, and the one I've come up with for this is Room to Read. It's mission is stated as follows:

"We partner with local communities throughout the developing world to provide quality educational opportunities by establishing libraries, creating local language children's literature, constructing schools, providing education to girls and establishing computer labs. We seek to intervene early in the lives of children in the belief that education empowers people to improve socioeconomic conditions for their families, communities, countries and future generations. Through the opportunities that only education can provide, we strive to break the cycle of poverty, one child at a time."

Since 2000, Room to Read has constructed 442 schools, established 5,630 libraries, published 226 local language children's titles representing over 2 million books, donated over 2.2 million English language children's books, funded 6,922 long-term girls' scholarships, and established 155 computer and language labs. Charity Navigator gives this charity 4-stars, it's highest ranking. Click here to go to Charity Navigator's full report.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

Title: The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

Author: John le Carre

First Published: 1963

No. of Pages: 224

Synopsis (from B&N): "For Leamas the espionage business has become an hermetic, enclosed world, detached from outside reality. He has watched his last agent being shot, crossing from East to West Berlin, and his death marks the end of the Circus' East German network. But Control is planning an operation against the head of East German Intelligence. And Leamas is to be the instrument, set in East one last time...."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I read this one with my book club and the word mentioned that really captures the writing style is "detached." Also good would be "spare," "sparse," or "stark." I think this worked, as I don't think you should know too much of what's going on if a spy story is effective. And I didn't have a clue. At only a little over 200 pages, I finished it in 3-4 days -- also good, I think, for the same reason mentioned. Anything more elaborate could potentially get bogged down and you'd be so lost you'd never see daylight again.

I should also say that the movie version starring Richard Burton was quite good. I saw it a while back and, even though I couldn't remember a thing about the story itself (and hence my cluelessness with the story), I remember having the same general feeling. Also, the movie was in black and white, which added to the starkness even more.

Challenges: 999 ("1001 Books"); A to Z (author "L")

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald

Title: Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure

Author: Sarah Macdonald

First Published: 2002

No. of Pages: 304

Synopsis (from B&N): "In her twenties, journalist Sarah Macdonald backpacked around India and came away with a lasting impression of heat, pollution and poverty. So when an airport beggar read her palm and told her she would return to India—and for love—she screamed, “Never!” and gave the country, and him, the finger.

But eleven years later, the prophecy comes true. When the love of Sarah’s life is posted to India, she quits her dream job to move to the most polluted city on earth, New Delhi. For Sarah this seems like the ultimate sacrifice for love, and it almost kills her, literally. Just settled, she falls dangerously ill with double pneumonia, an experience that compels her to face some serious questions about her own fragile mortality and inner spiritual void. “I must find peace in the only place possible in India,” she concludes. “Within.” Thus begins her journey of discovery through India in search of the meaning of life and death.

Holy Cow is Macdonald’s often hilarious chronicle of her adventures in a land of chaos and contradiction, of encounters with Hinduism, Islam and Jainism, Sufis, Sikhs, Parsis and Christians and a kaleidoscope of yogis, swamis and Bollywood stars. From spiritual retreats and crumbling nirvanas to war zones and New Delhi nightclubs, it is a journey that only a woman on a mission to save her soul, her love life—and her sanity—can survive."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I’ll admit it – I picked up this book for the cover. The colors just drew me in. I expected a light-hearted and irreverent Indian travelogue. It was that, but so much more. Along with highly descriptive pictures of the people and places throughout India, this book also brings the reader along the author’s spiritual journey. She opens her heart and mind to the myriad of religions practiced throughout India, including Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. While not converting to any, she shows us how all have aspects that have the potential to make followers into better, more loving and tolerant people. Throughout, both the author and the people she meets come across as generally likable, well-intentioned, capable of foolishness and fun, and occasionally ridiculous – in other words, human.

I can’t really describe it, but this book just made me feel good. I read my library’s copy, but I enjoyed this one so much that I’m thinking of buying my own, just so that I can reread it anytime I want. A refreshing and unexpected delight of a book.

Challenges: 999 (Travel); A to Z (author "M")