Monthly Archives: September 2009

Quickie Reviews – From Brooklyn to Mississippi

There are a few books that I’ve recently finished which are listed below with my brief review attached.  They are all newer titles that currently sit on or very near the latest best seller lists. Friends will often ask me if I have read a particular title, or for the suggestion of a solid personal or book club read. Because it takes a lot of time and thought to do a detailed review of each book, I am posting these “quickies” for your reference and perusal.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I’m not surprised Brooklyn made the Man Booker Prize longlist this year. This tight novel about a young woman who makes her way from small-town Ireland to big-city Brooklyn caught me completely off guard. I’d heard the title being tossed around quite a bit, but I’m glad I went into the story blind.

The hitch is Toibin’s simple prose which runs counter to the emotional juice fired sentence by sentence. Small movements, choice descriptions, and spare yet perfect dialogue enhance the sensitivities of each character, ultimately entangling the reader as active participant. I’m not quite sure when it happens, but you’ll see that Brooklyn: A Novel subtly morphs into Brooklyn: A Mystery which keeps you guessing right up to the last page.

*This is a an interesting literary work on all fronts. There is much to discuss in both content and form. As a book club read, everyone will have an opinion; the book begs it. If it feels slow, look for the undercurrents. As a personal read, it depends on your tastes. This is not fast-paced action as you know it, but trust that you will get involved.

Alex Cross’s Trial by James Patterson & Richard DiLallo

I haven’t read James Patterson since Along Came A Spider which was so long ago I don’t even remember it. However, when I noticed this book rocketed to #1 and held its standing, I decided to see what the fuss was about.

This is a bit tricky because while the book is made-for-movie material, its subject matter is utterly disturbing. Dealing with the KKK, white supremacy mentalities, and lynchings of the Old South, I felt nauseated reading this novel but pushed on needing to see how it would resolve. I suppose one might call it entertaining if it wasn’t so distressing, and hopefully this discomfort is the impetus behind Patterson and DiLallo’s latest work. Assuming the wrenching events in the book are research-based, this novel could be used as a teachable moment rather than mere fiction based on the historical plight of Southern Blacks.

*I would recommend this book as a personal or book club read only to enhance sensitivity/awareness toward our volatile racial history in America.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

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Filed under Alex Cross's Trial, Authors, Book Reviews, Brooklyn, Colm Toibin, James Patterson, Quickie Reviews

Sunday, Lovely Sunday

– A Weekly Post By Megan Shaffer

September 28, 2009

I love nothing more than a quiet Sunday morning. Hot coffee, quiet house, and hours to peruse the New York Times, The Detroit Free Press, and surf to my heart’s content. A book lover’s dream, Sunday holds the most current reviews, weekly bestseller lists, and articles of literary interest. Seeing as this happily takes the better part of my day, it usually isn’t until Monday morning that I can share the week’s latest and greatest with you.

COMMENTS AND CLARIFICATIONS

I wrote a Whimsy entry titled Def-initely Not Too Late about Def Poetry and the newly released Book of Rhymes by Adam Bradley. I loosely mentioned that his book “tanked” in the reviews based solely on the review in The New York Times. My apologies to Mr. Bradley for the blanket statement. I should clarify that this was my interpretation of the Time’s piece only, and stressed “review” in the singular.


Of National Interest


*BANNED BOOKS WEEK – LINK TO AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION (ALA) FOR EVENTS BOTH LOCAL AND NATIONWIDE

-It is certainly worth noting on both a national and local front that Michael Moore will release his documentary Capitalism: A Love Story on October 2nd. It was 20 years ago that Mr. Moore released Roger and Me, categorizing him as “…an irrepressible new humorist in the tradition of Mark Twain and Artemus Ward.”

-I know we are all exhausted by Bernie Madoff and stories of his unrelenting greed. Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me, gives Sheryl Weinstein’s account of her “romantic entaglement” with the ill-reputed financier. Reviewed by the New York Times as “a relationship not so much remembered as embalmed”, one wonders if the Madoff-bilked Weinstein isn’t trying to recoup her losses.

-NPR aired two wonderful interviews with Francine Prose and E L Doctorow that should not be missed. Author Francine Prose (I’ve always loved that name) discusses her incredible new project Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife while E L Doctorow digs into his writing process behind his bang-up novel Homer & Langley (yes, I caved and bought it).

Talking Head’s David Byrne has released a book titled Bicycle Diaries. A collection of   Mr. Byrne’s travel entries. I’m more curious than interested and hope to post a blog on  this book upon further investigation. See NYT’s review of Bicycle Diaries here.

Local Voice

-The Detroit Free Press has a great cover story in Sunday’s paper covering Mitch Albom’s upcoming book launch for Have a Little Faith: A True Story (see Readings and Events).  His first non-fiction work since Tuesdays With Morrie, Albom calls it “…the most important thing I’ve ever written.” All proceeds from the Fox Theatre event will go to his charity S.A.Y. Detroit.

Bestseller Lists

New York Times

Publishers Weekly

Indie Bestsellers

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Banned Books Week

It’s hard to believe that anything might be banned in today’s world. Between bawdy television shows, suggestive advertisements, and risque cinema, I honestly thought we had already broken through all thresholds of tolerance. Archaic as it may sound, there are people who still challenge books and move to have them banned.

September 26th through October 3rd is Banned Books Week (BBW). Sponsored by several literary societies and associations, BBW was designed to celebrate intellectual freedom and embrace the power of literature. The American Library Association (ALA) has a trove of information about Banned Books Week as well as compiled lists of books that have been challenged/banned over past years.

What is the difference between a banned book and a challenged book?  To lift directly from the ALA, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.”

If you think about tangling with your local librarians, think again. The following definition of intellectual freedom by the American Library Association follows:

ALA actively advocates in defense of the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.  A publicly supported library provides free and equal access to information for all people of that community.  We enjoy this basic right in our democratic society.  It is a core value of the library profession.

So really, how much does this affect me?  Did you read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini? Not only did I love this book, but empathetically learned a tremendous amount about both Afghanistan and the Taliban.  According to amazon.com’s Recently Banned and Challenged Books of 2008, it has been both challenged and removed from several high school curricula. Prep, The Lovely Bones? Maybe not high-brow literature, but are these titles worth challenging? Can you imagine being stripped of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, or Native Son just to name a few?

What this week is all about is the protection of your rights. Librarians, teachers, and booksellers go to great lengths to feature threatened books, reiterating the importance of your personal freedom to choose. This is a nationwide celebration of awareness, so check your local library and book stores for Banned Book Week events.

Post by Megan Shaffer

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Michigan Notable Books

Author and Washington Post editor Steve Luxenberg was kind enough to comment on my recent review of his book Annie’s Ghosts (see Annie’s Ghosts-Made in Detroit). At the end of my piece (which I have since changed), I questioned why he was overlooked as a Michigan Notable Book for 2009. As Mr. Luxenberg explains, “Books published in 2009 become eligible for the 2010 list, which will be announced in December…” thus, in my opinion, leaving him a top contender for next year’s list.

What Are Michigan Notable Books?

Each year, the Library of Michigan selects up to 20 published titles over the last year that celebrate Michigan people, places, or events. Stretching back to 1991, the Michigan Notable Books began as the Read Michigan program but switched its name in 2004.

Anywhere between 250 to 400 Michigan-related titles are reviewed each year. Book selections are highly competitive and are reviewed by a board of 10-16 members who come from various literary backgrounds. The program is supported by sponsors and grants handled by the Library of Michigan Foundation.

*2009 Michigan Notable Book List

Megan Shaffer

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Annie’s Ghosts – Made In Detroit

Annie's GhostsI first heard about “Annie’s Ghosts” on NPR.  A Journalist Uncovers His Family’s ‘Ghosts’ was both an interview and a book promo with author and Washington Post editor Steve Luxenberg. Half-listening while  driving, it was interesting enough for me to scribble down the title and subsequently reserve it at the library… and I’m so glad I did.

Annie’s Ghosts – A Journey Into a Family Secret must have been an extremely difficult book for Steve Luxenberg to write. It is honest in the face of dishonesty and loyal where he could have turned away. Digging into the dark corners of his family’s past, Mr. Luxenburg exhumes the complicated history of his ancestors in hopes of revealing a family secret once mentioned by his now deceased mother.

I don’t know how I was born in the Detroit area and never heard of “Eloise”. The psychiatric hospital which closed its doors in 1979 would have at best been historical information, and at worst a schoolyard jeer. One would think that an institution that once housed “nine thousand mentally ill, infirm, and homeless people” from the state of Michigan would have caught my attention at some point. However, it wasn’t until I read about Annie that I learned of its existence.

Having always eagerly described herself as an only child, Beth Luxenberg (the author’s mother) did her best to conceal a sister long hidden away at Eloise. However, after her doctor mentioned a mysterious comment to Mr. Luxenberg, the author felt compelled to prove the existence of an aunt he’d never met. With the deftness of his trade, Luxenberg tempers his unyielding journalistic skills with empathy and sensitivity as he coaxes his older relations into pasts best left forgotten.

“Pursuing the secret would ultimately lead me back to the beginning of the twentieth century, through Ellis Island to the crowded streets of Detroit’s Jewish immigrant communities, through the spectacular boom of the auto industry’s early years and the crushing bust of the Depression, through the wartime revival that transformed the city into the nation’s Arsenal of Democracy, through the Holocaust that brought a relative to Detroit and into my mother’s secret, through the postwar exodus that robbed the city’s old neighborhoods of both population and prosperity.”

And  this is exactly what Steve Luxenberg does.  As we move back in time, the anticipation builds as more pieces fall into place ultimately bringing us closer to solving this mystery. At times horrific, Luxenberg holds your hand as unbelievable truths come to light. Poignant yet informative, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Full of Detroit’s colorful history, this true mystery is without a doubt destined to be a  Michigan Notable Book.

A NOTE: When I began asking people if they had heard of Eloise, they usually talked about it as a sight for paranormal activity. When I tried to look at footage of Eloise, YouTube seemed to back that up. However, there are legitimate sites and some pretty cool information on Eloise and its remaining structures. My condolences to those of you whose relations remain nameless and faceless in the mist of Eloise.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

 

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And the Winner Is…

I don’t know how I missed it! I wait for this moment and guide my reading by the Man Booker Prize 2009 Short List hoping to read them all before the winner is revealed. Announced on September 8th, these six books were selected from the longlist of thirteen titles. Here we go:

A S Byatt for The Children’s Book

J M Coetzee for Summertime

Adam Foulds for The Quickening Maze

Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall

Simon Mawer for The Glass Room

Sarah Waters for The Little Stranger

Having won in 1999 with Disgrace and in 1983 with Life & Times of Michael K, J M Coetzee will be going for a triple crown victory, the first in Booker Prize history! How can anyone think literature is boring!?!

If you are interested in the other potential contenders, click on this Longlist. The winners will be announced on October 6th and I am way behind! I welcome any comments or recommendations you might have on any of these candidates.

If you are unfamiliar with the Man Booker Prize, it was created to promote “… the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year.  The prize is the world’s most important literary award and has the power to transform the fortunes of authors and even publishers…the prize, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.” For more info see The Man Booker site.

NLR post by   Megan Shaffer



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Sunday, Lovely Sunday

Sunday, Lovely Sunday – A Weekly Post By Megan Shaffer

September 28, 2009

I love nothing more than a quiet Sunday morning. Hot coffee, quiet house, and hours to peruse the New York Times, The Detroit Free Press, and surf to my heart’s content. A book lover’s dream, Sunday holds the most current reviews, weekly bestseller lists, and articles of literary interest. Seeing as this happily takes the better part of my day, it usually isn’t until Monday morning that I can share the week’s latest and greatest with you.

Of National Interest

*BANNED BOOKS WEEK – LINK TO AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION (ALA) FOR EVENTS BOTH LOCAL AND NATIONWIDE

-It is certainly worth noting on both a national and local front that Michael Moore will release his documentary Capitalism: A Love Storyon October 2nd. It was 20 years ago that Mr. Moore released Roger and Me, categorizing him as “…an irrepressible new humorist in the tradition of Mark Twain and Artemus Ward.”

-I know we are all exhausted by Bernie Madoff and stories of his unrelenting greed. Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me, gives Sheryl Weinstein’s account of her “romantic entaglement” with the ill-reputed financier. Reviewed by the New York Times as “a relationship not so much remembered as embalmed”, one wonders if the Madoff-bilked Weinstein isn’t trying to recoup her losses.

-NPR aired two wonderful interviews with Francine Prose and E L Doctorow that should not be missed. Author Francine Prose (I’ve always loved that name) discusses her incredible new project Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife while E L Doctorow digs into his writing process behind his bang-up novel Homer & Langley (yes, I caved and bought it).

Talking Head’s David Byrne has released a book titled Bicycle Diaries. A collection of   Mr. Byrne’s travel entries. I’m more curious than interested and hope to post a blog on  this book upon further investigation. See NYT’s review of Bicycle Diaries here.

Local Voice

-The Detroit Free Press has a great cover story in Sunday’s paper covering Mitch Albom’s upcoming book launch for Have a Little Faith: A True Story. His first non-fiction work since Tuesdays With Morrie, Albom calls it “…the most important thing I’ve ever written.” All proceeds from the Fox Theatre event will go to his charity S.A.Y. Detroit.

Bestseller Lists

New York Times

Publishers Weekly

Indie Bestsellers

Leave a comment

Filed under Lovely Sunday