Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shades of Mediocrity

After one week of a relatively acceptable amount of activity, it seems that the blog is gathering dust again. You want to know why, you say? Well, you're probably not actually saying that. It's most likely that you care not at all, but if you thought that your lack of caring would be followed up by my own non-disclosure, you must not know me very well.

The first reason? Why, last week was Fair week. Yes, that's right, Fair with a capital F. My town has a rather ginormous fair (wait, I mean Fair) that traditionally takes place the last week of September. It traditionally rains for most of said Fair week, but not this year. So, I didn't stay home too much last week. As a matter of fact, by the end of the week I was hoping it would be possible to get a new pair of feet and maybe a new stomach to go with them. The Fair is about the biggest thing that ever happens in my town - I may have mentioned that it's huge and for one reason or another, my school district was one of a couple that actually had a whole week off for the Fair. I mean, now doesn't that seem pretty major? So yes, lots of Fairgoing and devouring of mercilessly deep fried food proved a major disruption to my reading and my blogging, which I don't regret in the least, which is not to say it wasn't somewhat of a relief to finally arrive at the weekend during which I got to cuddle up with a book or two and stay inside when the rain finally did arrive.

The other reason? Mediocrity. Everything that I've read lately has been uh...just okay for me. Not terrible. Not great. And certainly not inspiring of the lengthy contemplative reviews that have become my trademark. I feel like this happens to me all too often where I'm just stuck in a "nothing extraordinary" reading rut wherein nothing I read provokes a strong reaction one way or the other. The books are far from bad enough to put down without finishing but not good enough to feel especially rewarding when I finally flip the last page. The unfortunate thing is some of said books that I would describe as mediocre are pretty well-liked among readers and bloggers. So I guess I'm just the odd reader out with them. Anybody else get mired in this feeling of reading mediocrity? I'm starting to wonder if it's the books at all or if it's just me...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." - Anne Frank

That's a bonus quote because I'd intended to write this post earlier, but as usual, my best intentions are uh...only intentions. Nonetheless, I have been combing the blogosphere evangelizing about this book to anybody who will listen because I think it's a book that everybody should read. Daoud Hari's The Translator was a great book about what's going on in Darfur. In my humble opinion, Halima Bashir's Tears of the Desert is better. Please read one or both of these books, especially if you don't know much about what the world continues to allow to happen in Darfur despite promises of "Never again."

When Halima Bashir leaves her small, isolated Zaghawa village for school in a neighboring larger town, it doesn't take her long to figure out what she wants to do with her education. Bashir dreams of being a medical doctor who can return to her village and help her people. Despite growing tensions and racial discrimination between the majority black Africans and minority Arabs of Sudan, Bashir's intelligence and hard work combined with her father's love and support enable her to follow her dream to university in Khartoum. After attaining her degree, she returns to her village and to the town where she originally attended school where she serves as a trainee doctor, but life as she knew it is already changing.

Rumors are afoot of deadly groups of Arabs fighting a "Holy War" against black African "infidels," and as Halima helps to treat everyone regardless of color or creed who arrives at the accident and emergency ward of the hospital, the growing danger and atrocity become all too apparent. When she dares to speak out to a newspaper reporter about the things that she sees even in the most vague terms, beating and interrogation soon follow. But it is not until she is assigned to head a clinic in another remote village that the truly dire circumstances of the violence the Arabs are unleashing in Darfur really begin to reveal themselves.

I can't say enough about Tears of the Desert. After the first chapter, I was entirely taken in, basking in Bashir's rich early memories of her family, her village, and her childhood. Each of her relatives and friends is so well described and her love for them so obvious that it almost feels like knowing them personally. Bashir's tales of growing up paint her as an outspoken smart and strong girl who won't accept anything less than her due who reaches adulthood as a smart, strong, and stunningly courageous woman determined to help her people and her homeland despite great personal risk.

One could hardly expect a book about such a difficult topic to be so compulsively readable, but this one is. Make no mistake, parts of this book are gut-wrenchingly difficult to read, but Bashir's honesty and unflinching attention to detail is entirely necessary. Bashir's is a powerful and an important tale and is fully equipped to be a significant part of showing people what is going on in Sudan and motivating people around the world to do their part to stop it.

When I finished it, I was definitely fired up to take some action against what's happening in Sudan, and I certainly hope books like Tears of the Desert and The Translator will inspire many others to do likewise. If you want to get involved, you can. For starters, buy this book. You'll get to read a great book and Part of the proceeds the authors earn from it will go toward increasing awareness and helping the refugees forced to flee Darfur. You can also visit Save Darfur and sign their petition or donate. Also, of course, there's still a little more time to get involved with Natasha's month of Reading and Blogging for Darfur where even doing something so small as leaving a comment or two can make a difference, so if you haven't checked out what she's doing yet, please check it out now before September ends!

Interested in reading another review?

Diary of An Eccentric

Friday, September 19, 2008

One Last Quote

Hey, it's Friday, and I almost forgot the quote, but I didn't! That's seven days of quotes, people. I'm proud of myself. This one's from Maggie O'Farrell's After You'd Gone, which is a fantastic book. The quote is a tad lengthy but it's making its second appearance on Leafing Through Life because, for some reason or other which I am far too tired to contemplate at the moment, I really really like it.

"Today I am bothered by the story of King Canute. (...) The story is, of course, that he was so arrogant and despotic a leader that he believed he could control everything - even the tide. We see him on the beach, surrounded by subjects, sceptre in hand, ordering back the heedless waves; a laughing stock, in short. But what if we've got it all wrong? What if, in fact, he was so good and great a king that his people began to elevate him to the status of a god, and began to believe that he was capable of anything? In order to prove to them that he was a mere mortal, he took them down to the beach and ordered back the waves, which of course kept on rolling up the beach. How awful it would be if we had got it so wrong, if we had misunderstood his actions for so long."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Waste Your Day!

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." - e.e. cummings

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Still Haven't Failed at Weekly Geeks!

I've made it to Wednesday...or, at least, my blog did.

"We are all failures; at least, the best of us are." - J. M. Barrie

Hope you're having a good week!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ellington Boulevard by Adam Langer

"Every person on the streets
of New York is a type. The city is
one big theater where everyone
is on display." - Jerry Rubin

In Ellington Boulevard Adam Langer captures the enormity of New York City while at the same time making it seem like a small town where each person is only a few people removed from knowing the others. The novel revolves around a flat and each of the characters that is inadvertantly connected to its sale during the New York City real estate boom. First, there is Ike Morphy, a jazz clarinetist who hears music in even the most mundane activities of the city, the original owner of the flat who returns from six months in Chicago nursing his sick mother to find his apartment being sold out from under him. The would-be buyers are Rebecca Sugarman, overachiever editor of the American Standard and her deadbeat English Lit graduate student husband Darrell who can't seem to muster the motivation to finish his dissertation and graduate. The seller is the son of Ike's former landlord, selfish and self-righteous Jew, Mark Masler. The broker is Josh Dybnick a failed would-be New York actor who has found that he his best and most successful acting gig has been simply being a real estate broker. These are just a taste of all the characters that inhabit this book.

Surprisingly, this overabundance of characters isn't overwhelming in the least.
This is because, despite the vast number of them, Langer fully inhabits each of his characters. In Langer's capable hand, each character evolves into a three dimensional person that readers can nearly imagine meeting on the streets of New York. They aren't all lovable or even likeable, but it's hard not to recognize their reality and their humanity. Ellington Boulevard is driven entirely by its characters and their foibles as they count down the days until closing on apartment 2B.

At its heart, Ellington Boulevard is a book about artists and dreamers and a New York City that at once attracts them with its promises of a rich environment for artists and for dreams coming true while squashing their dreams beneath the unfortunate daily realities that living there entails. Each of the characters seems to struggle with a constant push and pull between their art, their dreams, and the possibility that New York exudes and their labors under the heavy financial burden that the city exerts upon them. In Langer's New York, there is a constant question of whether people will follow their hearts or whether they will sell out to the highest bidder, and readers will wait with breath held to see which of Langer's characters will choose which path.

The only thing that took away from this book, in my opinion, was the lack of traditional dialogue. Paragraph breaks and quotations are at a minimum which makes the book a bit slow going to start because it seems very dense. Once the first few pages are past, however, any struggles stemming from Langer's non-traditional style disappear as the story takes you in. Langer's New York is beautifully rendered and filled with big characters that capture the imagination. His love for and understanding of the forces that drive New York City shine through and make Ellington Boulevard a captivating read.

He still loves the sense of possiblity that permeates every building and block. He loves the view of the Hudson from Riverside Park, loves watching the ducks paddle in the Central Park pond, loves the almost-too-pungent scent of gingkos on Manhattan Avenue in the summer. He loves watching his dog's tail wag when he pulls Ike toward Strangers' Gate. He loves the sounds of baseball games in Morningside, mah-jongg tiles on 107th Street, playing cards outside the Frederick Douglass Apartments, the subway underfoot, the flutter and clang of the flags atop the Blockhouse -- every bit of it is music.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Don't Like Mondays

It's a dangerous business going out your front door.
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.
- Unknown

Say, if you've been living in a cave for the past few weeks, I suppose it's possible that you haven't heard about Book Blogger Appreciation week. Well, it starts Monday with all sorts of festivities including a mind numbing amount of giveaways of books and other good stuff on My Friend Amy and a plethora of other participating book blogs. Check out the following for details on giveaways that will soon ensue, and be sure to head over to My Friend Amy to keep up with all the cool stuff going on in the book blogosphere in connection with BBAW throughout the coming week.


If you follow along for the festivities of BBAW at My Friend Amy, you will find many chances to win LOTS of goodies! Like what? Well have a look below. All of these things will be given away between September 15-19. There will be a huge variety of ways to win them and giveaways will be announced constantly throughout the week. So be sure to check in often!

A HUGE thank you to Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group USA, Harlequin, The B&B Media Group, Shera of SNS Blog Design, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, Catherine Delors, Pamela Binnings Ewen, Andromeda Romano-Lax, Ceceilia Dowdy, Sormag, Book Club Girl, Savvy Verse and Wit, Cafe of Dreams, Fashionista Piranha, and Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?.

Daily Raffles:
Monday--Books and Chocolate sponsored by My Friend Amy and Hey Lady! Whatcha' Readin?
Tuesday--Books and Going Green sponsored by My Friend Amy
Wednesday--Books and Coffee sponsored by My Friend Amy
Thursday--Books and Charity sponsored by My Friend Amy and Fashionista Piranha
Friday--Books and Movies sponsored by My Friend Amy

Win a Book Club Girl Hostess Survival Kit!
Do you find it's your turn to host book club and not only do you not know what to serve but you don't know what books to offer up for the next month's selection?! Let Book Club Girl come to your rescue with the Book Club Girl Hostess Survival Kit.

One lucky winner of the kit will receive:

* A basket of cheese, crackers, cookies and wine for up to 12 people
* 5 great book group books to vote on for your group's next pick. And Book Club Girl will then donate 12 copies whichever book is chosen for your entire group to read.
* 12 Book Club Girl mousepads to give out as party favors that night
* 12 Book Club Girl bookmarks to mark everyone's favorite passages
* 12 Book Club Girl coasters to protect your coffee table from all those wine glasses!

TWO SORMAG Goody Bags containing books and more!

A Special Pamper Me Basket from Cafe of Dreams!
From Avon Foot Works
~ Inflatable watermelon shaped foot tub
~ 3.4 FL oz Watermelon Cooling Foot Lotion
~ 3.4 FL oz Watermelon Exfoliating Foot Scrub
~ 12 count Watermelon Effervescent Foot Tablets
~ An ARC of So Long At The Fair by Christina Schwarz
~ A variety of Hot Chocolate and Tea mixes

A pre-made blog template from SNSDesign!

A Subscription to Poetry Magazine from Savvy Verse and Wit!

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors
The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings Ewen
The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax
John's Quest by Cecelia Dowdy
Confessions of a Contractor by Richard Murphy
Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer
Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley
A Tale Out of Luck by Willie Nelson with Mike Blakely
The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
Exit Music by Ian Rankin
The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik
Gunmetal Black by Daniel Serrano
Isolation by Travis Thrasher
The Miracle Girls by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt
Every Freaking! Day With Rachell Ray by Elizabeth Hilts
Dewey by Vicki Myron
The Shiniest Jewel by Marian Henley
Keep the Faith by Faith Evans
The Book of Calamities by Peter Trachtenberg
A is for Atticus by Lorilee Craker
After the Fire by Robin Gaby Fisher
Mike's Election Guide by Michael Moore
War as They Knew It by Michael Rosenberg
Fixing Hell By Col. (ret.) Larry C. James
Wild Boy: My Life with Duran Duran by Andy Taylor
The Last Under-Cover: The True Story of an FBI Agent's Dangerous Dance with Evil By Bob Hamer
Border Lass by Amanda Scott
Insatiable Desire by Rita Heron
Hungry for More by Diana Holquist
Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
Trespassers Will Be Baptized by Elizabeth Emerson Hancock
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Trish Ryan
Never Surrender by General Jerry Boykin
Dream in Color by Congresswoman Linda Sánchez, Congresswoman Loretta Sánchez
Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton
Cobain Unseen by Charles R. Cross
Doing Business in 21st Century India by Gunjan Bagla
Branding Only Works on Cattle by Jonathan Salem Baskin
Launching a Leadership Revolution by Chris Brady, Orrin Woodward
How to Hear from God by Joyce Meyer
Knowing Right from Wrong by Thomas D. Williams
Pope John Paul II: An Intimate Life by Caroline Pigozzi
Pure by Rebecca St. James
He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobson
So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobson and Dave Coleman
Move On, Move Up by Paula White
The Rosary by Gary Jansen
Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts
The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
Right Livelihoods by Rick Moody
by George by Wesley Stace
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
Trunk Music by Michael Connelly
Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh
Dead Boys by Richard Lange
The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters by Lorraine Lopez
Sisterchicks Go Brit! by Robin Jones Gunn
Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky
With Endless Sight by Allison Pittman
Harlequin Titles: To Be Announced

Many other blogs are giving away books and prizes for BBAW as well! You can see the links to all of these giveaways here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Blogging Without Remorse

If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read "President Can't Swim". – Lyndon B. Johnson

That's one day of this week's Weekly Geeks down! It's the other six I've got to worry about now. That's right, Dewey proposes that we share a quote every day this week.

There's something I just love about this quote other than the total relevance it has for politicians (and rather many of the people who spend a lot of time in the public eye). That's not why I chose it, though. I chose it because there's something I feel like I can relate to in it. That feeling that no matter what or how much you're doing you're not doing quite enough.

I realized this week that I've been making this blog into a burden and letting it sit heavy on my shoulders. This makes me think that maybe I need to do a sort of second look at my motives and figure out what it is I'm doing here and what it is I intend to keep doing here. A rehashing that, perhaps, has little to do with the inderminate "you" who may be reading this right now and more to do with getting things out on the table for myself.

I started this blog almost a year ago, and I'm honestly surprised that I've stuck with it this long. I'm not particularly known for my stick-to-it-iveness in the face of more "extracurricular" activities. I started this blog for but one reason. I was bored. Last year at this time, I had no job. I'd just moved, and I didn't have a very demanding social life either. I missed using my brain. I missed the joy I took from writing. So, I thought, what if I just start trying to review every book I read just to see how it goes? I anticipated doing it in some sort of internet vacuum that doesn't exist. I didn't start this up thinking, "Hey, I gotta go out and get some readers. If nobody comments, then I'll be lost and feel unloved and unpopular." It was just a personal project. But then, much to my surprise people did read it. People who like books a lot. People who write books and saw their books reviewed here and liked what they saw. People looking for new sort of way to market books. Unwittingly, I was on the radar.

Suddenly, my focus changed. I began to think things like "I must post this week so that the people who read my blog will keep reading" or "If I don't have a book review done this week, what kind of poor excuse for a book blogger am I?" or "If I don't get around to participating in this or that blogosphere event then people will just forget that I'm here at all." Soon, my blogging became all about other people and stopped being about me. It started being another responsibility heaped on top of many I'm trying to balance instead of something I was doing just for the joy of doing it.

So...I'm refocusing. Not quitting, certainly not that. I love books. I love talking about books. I love the people I've met through this blog. I love the book blogosphere and finding people who are more like me than most of the people I know in real life. I love receiving comments and I love giving them. I just don't like the pressure I've created for myself to maintain a "good" book blog by the standards of everyone else, and I'm ready to settle for whatever it is that I can accomplish with the time I've got within the parameters of what I can do while still enjoying what I'm doing.

This is not to say that I will renege on commitments that I've made or anything like that - merely that I will get around to things when I get around them. I have a job, a family, a social life, and places to be that aren't in front of the computer. If I can't post this week, that's okay. If I have to mark the posts in my feed reader "all read," I won't be happy about it, but I won't feel bad about it either. I guess I'm just trying to say that from here on out, I've determined not to feel any guilt and not to make any apologies about blogging. Nobody wants to hear that anyway, right? This post is for me. This blog is for me first. If other people enjoy it and benefit from it or get a kick out of "knowing" me through it, then that is a great bonus. But then, if you all pack up and move on to other blogs, never to leave me a comment again, I'll probably be bummed about it, but I'll survive. If my Technorati authority plummets and the new hits on the stat counter fade away and the internet forgets that I exist, it'll be okay, because I'll still be here doing what I enjoy when I enjoy it, even if I'm back in my imaginary internet vacuum.

Having been thus relieved of my self-packed emotional baggage, I hope to be a better blogger than ever, mostly because I won't have to live up to my own lofty rules and expectations which are so much more difficult than anybody else would even think of putting on me. Ah, I'm feeling refreshed already.


But wait! I've come up with a brilliant way to balance the me-fest that this post (this blog?) has become. Something I've been meaning to blog about since I heard about it, but am just now getting to. Hopefully, you've all heard about it by now, but if you haven't, allow me to share. I happened by Maw Books Blog the other week to find that this month Natasha is reading and blogging for a cause. That cause is to help the people of Darfur and to inform more people about the genocide that is taking place there. There are any number of ways that you can help ranging from something so simple as leaving her a comment to linking to her from your blog or even volunteering to donate a penny per page that she reads this month to organizations committed to doing something about Darfur (something I'm happy to say that I will be doing). Please if you've got an interest in this at all, click on the picture to learn more about the genocide in Darfur and what you can do to help.


Monday, September 1, 2008

A Tranquil Star by Primo Levi (As always, with brief personal interlude)

Argh, the book reviews that need writing are piling up. The working full time is going...well, I wish I could say that it was going pretty well, but as it happens, last week wasn't what I would call the best. But, I should be getting a pretty decent paycheck, I have today off for the holiday, and this week is a new week, right? I spent most of the weekend down in Hershey, PA on an unexpectedly vacationish vacation after plans to go visit a friend fell through. So, I had a jolly good time riding ridiculously ridiculous roller coasters, devouring chocolate and other choice food items, perusing ginormous gardens, and shopping. My college roommate and I survived and enjoyed our vacation quite a lot, especially given its impromptu nature and our sometimes inability to do things that other functional grown-ups seem to do with relative ease. I'm quite proud of us, as a matter of fact.

Well, now, I've got a Penguin classic for you. Blog a Penguin Classic sent me A Tranquil Star to read and review, and I'll admit that I had a moment of book review stage fright as I sat down to write this. I mean, it's not just going to be here on my humble blog, it's going to be on their site, too. So, I went to read a few of the other reviews. Suffice it to say, that I now feel a little better about it.

A Tranquil Star is a collection of some of Primo Levi's unpublished or lesser known short works. Having only read a bit of Levi's more notable Holocaust-related writing, I was surprised at these clever and occasionally downright funny pieces of fiction with a satirical bent. The stories in this collection range from the macabre "The Death of Marinese" in which a prisoner of war conspires to sabotage his truck full of captors if he is to die anyway to "Buffet Dinner" an offbeat piece in which a kangaroo attends a dinner party.

Levi's stories are populated with unlikely and imaginative scenarios from a world in which book characters exist only for as long as they are remembered; to a world in which higher level office workers are charged with inventing causes of death for people whose dates of death have been randomly pre-determined; to a fictional country struggling under the burden of censoring its writers and artists that eventually finds that those best suited to the work of censorship are animals, most notably, chickens.

In the introduction, Ann Goldstein quotes Levi as writing, "In my opinion, a story has as many meanings as there are keys in which it can be read, and so all interpretations are true, in fact the more interpretations a story can give, the more ambiguous it is. I insist on this word, 'ambiguous': a story must be ambiguous or else it is a news story." This collection is a mere 162 pages long, but ideally should be read slowly to realize the many layers of meaning with which Levi has imbued even the shortest story. Each story is only a few pages in length, but Levi's writing leaves endless possibility for contemplation and interpretations of all kinds. To those who take their time with it, Levi's writing will reveal its rich humor, its deft social commentary, and its keen insight into human nature itself.