Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Devil in White City, at Long Last

The Devil in the White City
The Devil in the White City  
Erik Larsen

Apparently when Chicago hosted the World's Fair in 1893 it was a big freaking deal. Who knew? (Ok, I bet a lot of people knew, but clearly I was not one of them).

Larsen's book lays out exactly why the fair was such a major production, the immense efforts it required, the staggering obstacles that had to be overcome to have a dazzling spectacle succeed so well.

The parallel plot revolves around early American serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes. Holmes took advantage of the large, transient crowds drawn to the fair to engage in a hobby a bit less wholesome than riding the Ferris wheel.

All in all, the book was engaging and well written. The only part that bothered me was there was lots of undiluted privilege being flung around. Of course, it's not like I wrote down any examples, like a good book  blogger would do. Also, I probably shouldn't have waited eighteen years to finish writing up my thoughts before posting them... Anyway! Read it! And read these other books while you're at it:

Want more like this? Try:
  • Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie. Those scenes when Carries first arrives in Chicago, when the city is still comprised largely of vacant lots, sprang to mind as I read about Chicago and the Fair being constructed.
  • Upton Sinclair, The Jungle. Chicago was known for its meatpacking, another bit of gruesome business.
  • Kevin Davis, Defending the Damned. Meet some modern Chicago killers, and those that defend them. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Salon: Hanging out with My "Little"

The Sunday Salon
Good Sunday, all!

I just got back from work this morning (yay, First Appearance hearings!), am watching a bit of the Melissa Harris-Perry Student Town Hall, and am looking at the piles of laundry that I need to wash and put away.

Later today I'm having my first one on one excursion with my new little sister. I am a new big sister with the Big Brother Big Sisters organization, and I am super excited about it. I have three nephews, but none of them live very close to me, and no nieces. Before I went to law school I taught high school, and loved being around young people. Even in law school, I made time to talk to high school students about their rights during interactions with the police. Since graduating, I have not had the opportunity to do much with young people. Big Brothers Big Sisters sounded like a great way to be a mentor to a young lady.

Two African American young men laugh as they bowl
Volunteer to Start Something
If you can commit at least 4 hours a month, I encourage you to explore the possibility of being a "Big." The organization especially needs people of color and men. MEN, please! My local organization has a TWO YEAR waiting list for little brothers to be matched, because there are so few men volunteering. According to BBBS, "more than 70% of our children waiting for a Big are boys, but only 3 out of every 10 inquiries to volunteer come from men.I know that volunteering in general is something that skews female, but this is so important. Ladies, if you've got a man in your life (significant other, brother, father, friend, whatevs), why don't you pass this on. Give your guy someone to go shoot hoops or play video games with. Seriously.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox for the moment and ask for help of a different sort: My little sister is eleven years old, African American, and has some self esteem issues and some trouble relating to her family. She likes school, and does like to read. I would like book suggestions that would be appropriate and interesting for someone meeting that general description. I've just met her briefly once, so I don't know what she's read or what she's liked, so I may be asking this again based on information that I gather :-)

What are some good books an 11 year old would enjoy?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Updated Fairy Tales

My Mother She Killed Me,
My Father He Ate Me
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me
Edited by Kate Bernheimer

I first heard about this collection well over a year ago. The title was great, and it had selections from authors I'd been meaning to read for awhile (ahem, Neil Gaiman). I bought it shortly after, during one of my last visits to the Strand before I left New York. I started it back then, but mainly just flipped through it, picking out the stories that sounded interesting, leaving the rest for later.

Well. Later has finally come, and I'm kinda wishing it hadn't. Turns out I read most of the good stories during my first go-round. A lot of the other ones felt like the author was trying to hard to evoke a theme, without really spinning a story. One of the great things about traditional fairy tales was they could be read on many levels - kids could get them, and adults could find elements to appreciate, too.

There were some very good selections. Amiee Bender's "The Color Master" was excellent - an engaging story with a touch of magic and a sense of foreboding lingering in the background. Stacey Richter's "A Case Study of Emergency Room Procedure and Risk Management by Hospital Staff Members in the Urban Facility" probably wins the award for longest title, and is a fun tongue-in-cheek re-imagining of "Cinderella."

Neil Gaiman's story was good. It's the tale of a girl whose sister turns into an orange monster, and it's written in the form of the girl's answers to some unknown questions of an unnamed interviewer. It definitely intrigued me enough to read more by him (I just picked up Neverwhere from the library today).

Honestly, though, it's hard to judge the good stories on their own. Are they truly good? Or are the others so alike and so subpar that anything slightly original or interesting stands out like a shining beacon?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Salon: What to read next?

Good say, fellow Saloners.

I've managed to slog through the last couple stories in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. I've been reading it this past week, and while some of the stories are good, a lot of them are NOT. Fortunately, the last story was pretty good, so I didn't finish it and then hurl it across the room :-)

The other book I read this week was The Road, and I'm wondering why I let it sit on my self so long before I got to it. Yes, it slogged at times, but it was so well written that I didn't mind.

I'm trying to decide what to read next. I still have my half-read copy of Midnight's Children laying around somewhere. I also need to read more for my classics challenges. I think I need something quick and simple, though. I put a library hold request on Divergent, but the wait time is 17 days. grrrr.

There are a couple books making eyes at me: Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl's memoir, and Remains of the Day. Have you read either? Any thoughts?

Just because I'm curious: How do you choose what to read next? Do you have a method, a list from which to choose, or you just pick what suits your mood?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Link Round Up

I've been reading some great articles and posts around the interwebz lately, and thought I'd share some with you all. Nothing like sharing the love!

Libraries: They're about builing stronger, more just communities Well. I'm a lawyer, and a library lover, so of course I think this is fantastic: "This fall, Pro Bono Net is producing four national training webinars for public and public law librarians about free, online resources for people with legal needs. The Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series kicks off this Thursday, Sept. 13, with an overview of the legal information needs among low-income Americans and why libraries are essential partners in access to justice."

O. Henry postage stamp
O. Henry Pardon Application This post is from a Texas law blog I like. The blogger has been on a mission to posthumously pardon O. Henry, short story writer extraordinaire. "The pardon petition idea first bubbled to the surface after President Obama quoted the great writer last year while pardoning a pair of Thanksgiving turkeys in an annual ritual that IMO makes a mockery of  executive clemency powers. The Constitution's framers considered a pivotal check and balance to excesses of the criminal justice system. In Federalist Paper #74, Alexander Hamilton wrote that, "The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel." In modern times, though, executive clemency, especially at the federal level, has itself become a cruel joke to those who seek it."
Interested in signing your name in support? Here's the petition.

The (Imagined) Woman Reader and Male Anxiety Jenny McPhee writes "Male anxiety about the woman reader is as old as reading itself. In Belinda Jack's new book The Woman Reader, she meticulously explores the manifestation of this anxiousness historically. Some men encouraged and cultivated their women readers: Ovid created characters such as Byblis and Philomela to show his empathy for the female plight. Others, such as Lucian and Juvenal, wrote biting satires expressing their disgust for literate and intelligent women.... Rousseau, in his Émile: or, On Education, wrote that women should read and "cultivate their minds" but only enough to please their husbands. The eighteenth-century writer Samuel Richardson had an extensive female readership and kept up correspondence with them, often asking for their input and opinions. "My acquaintance lies chiefly among the ladies," he wrote, "I care not who knows it.""
If you want to read some of McPhee's fiction, I recommend No Ordinary Matter, which I read and reviewed earlier this year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Poetry After 9/11

Book cover, showing a view of lower Manhattan from the New York Harbor, showing the Twin Towers still standing.
Poetry After 9/11
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets*
Edited by Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians

As with all poetry, this collection is not something to rush through. Especially with this collection, there is an intensity, even with the more lighthearted pieces.

Alicia Ostriker writes in the introduction, "Not many of the voices in this book are solemn. Now do they repeat. Like an explosion, the poems fly out in all directions from an ignited core.... This book is a portrait of the New York temperament, a tangle of cynicism, pride, humor, compassion, and of course confusion. Plus the capacity to absorb hurt and rebound."

One of the more lighthearted pieces was Paul Violoi's "House of Xerxes," which describes a scene that it a cross between the Olympic Parade of Nations and the best of Paris is Burning. Here's the first stanza:

Here come those splendid Persians!
We were expecting fireworks
And here they are!
Short bow, long arrows,
Colorful long-sleeve shirts
Under iron breastplates -
Nice fish-scale pattern on those breastplates.
Just the right beach touch, very decky.
Quivers dangling under wicker-worky sheilds,
A casual touch, that.
And those floppy felt caps
Make it very wearable, very sporty.
Huge amounts of gold,
A killer-look feel
But it still says A Day at the Shore.

There are, of course, poems that deal more directly with the attack, such as Ostriker's "The Window, at the Moment of Flame":

and all this while I have been playing with toys
a toy superhighway a toy automobile a house of blocks

and all this while far off in other lands
thousands and thousands, millions and million

you know - you see the pictures
women carrying bony infants

men sobbing over graves
building sculpted by explosion -

earth wasted bare and rotten
and all this while I have been shopping, I have

been let us say free
and do they hate me for it

do they hate me


My favorite line in the whole collection, and maybe one of my favorite lines, period, came from Charlie Smith's poem "Religious Art"

I press hard with my feet
against the earth and
call this fighting back

Every day.

*This book was sent to me by the publisher, Melville House

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Classics Club: September Meme

September's task, courtesy of The Classics Club, is to "pick a classic someone else in the club has read from our big review list. Link to their review and offer a quote from their post describing their reaction to the book. What about their post makes you excited to read that classic in particular?"

I need all the excitement I can get as I gear up to read Rebecca. Jillian's review provided that spark:
In those last eighty or so pages I felt the dark curl of London shadowing the pages, the rain of a 1930s night beating the panes of the glass in sheets. The sense of doom that one cannot help but feel watching Maxim — well, I can’t say what he is doing without ruining it for others!
I'm so afraid this book will be tedious, but Jillian's over-the-top-enthusiasm reminds me not to take this - or any other venerable "classic" - quite so seriously.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Palace in the Old Village

A Palace in the Old Village
A Palace in the Old Village
Tahar Ben Jelloun

Mohammad, a Moroccan man living in France with his family, suddenly realizes that he is facing imminent retirement. He is forced to stop working at the auto factory where he's been employed for the last 40 years, ever since he emigrated from his beloved hometown in Morocco.

He considers retirement a form of death, Indeed, he worries over the fate of others who, seemingly healthy and full of life, quickly passed on when it was time for them to retire. He wonders - what will fill his days now that the factory has no more use for him? What is his purpose? Surely his children will look after him?

Mohammad will not live out his years aimlessly. He returns to his village to fulfill the ideals he was brought up believing in with all his heart. He will build a great house, give glory to his God, and live surrounded by his children. Yes, even his daughter who married that Italian Christian.

Unfortunately, his children are "Frenchies" through and through. Their adopted homeland has laid its claim on them.

Despite the very specific setting, the themes in The Palace in the Old Village are resoundingly universal. Generation gaps, family clashes, fear of outliving your usefulness. For such a slim little novel, there's quite a bit to work with.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely folks over at the Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is
Top Ten Books on my Fall TBR List

So, I really need to step up my challenge reading, or I'm not going to finish by the end of the year. If I put them at the top my my to be read list, I'll get to them quicker...right?

Beloved, Toni Morrison. A reread.

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. This on scares, me, to be honest. I really don't know why, but it's always been one of those books I think I'm not going to like. I'm planning on taking a deep breath and diving in.

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton. This is probably cheating, since I've already started it! (it's good).

The Remains of the Day, Kazou Ishiguro. I just picked up a copy of this on sale, so I need to read it. I love the cover, which certainly helps me want to pick it up.

Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters. I just put in an inter library loan request, so hopefully it doesn't take too long to arrive.

Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway. I haven't read any Hemingway in far too long.

Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehernreich. Another book that's been on my shelf, unread, for far too long.

Divergent, Veronica Roth. Something fun and quick. And something I can borrow from a friend. Free is good!

Black Boy, Richard Wright. I just read two books by Zora Neale Hurston, a contemporary of Wright's with supposedly completely different views of the racial issues of their time. It will be interested to make comparisons.

Midnight's Children, Salmon Rushdie. This really should be the book I'm most looking forward to finishing, as I started it months ago and then abandoned it. Not because I didn't like it, just because, well, I don't know why. I'm going to finish it!

Do you have any suggestion as to where I start? What are you looking forward to reading for fall?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Salon: August in Review

In August I made a real effort to step up my reading. I went from 6 books in July to 11 in August, which I think is pretty good. I also made sure I read some translated books, since I hadn't read one since  Miral  in May. All this reading means that I need to step up writing reviews!

So far this month I've started two books, Age of Innocence and Hemingway's Boat. Both of them are good so far, but completely different. I haven't read any Edith Wharton in awhile, and I'm wondering why. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but I'm really enjoying her observations about New York society. I'm thinking September is going to be a month focused on the classics, since I still have a ways to go on the Back to the Classics challenge.

Here's my August breakdown:

11 books total
5 fiction                45%
6 nonfiction          55%
7 female authors  64%
2 translated           18%