About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

EXTRA! EXTRA! Book Sale Haul

Still slogging through Hot, Flat, and Crowded, but I interrupt this blog to report on our family's trip to opening day of the Friends of the Library Book Sale last weekend.

For those of you not from around these parts, the Book Sale is truly a thing to behold. Yeah, pretty much every public library has an annual clear-out-the-stacks book sale, but this one's different. Their URL is just www.booksale.org. and believe me, it's the gold standard. People camp out overnight for the privilege of being first in line on opening day -- no joke. Yours truly arrived at 5:30 on a Saturday morning -- 2.5 hours before the doors opened -- and was #103 in line. (Yes, they make you sign in and get a number.) The Friends of the Library organization owns its own warehouse -- the event is far too big to hold in the library itself -- and when we got there, the tents stood shoulder-to-shoulder for the better part of a city block. We're not nearly that hard-core, but we did bring our camp chairs. The bagel shop around the corner opens extra-early for the occasion, and I'm mighty glad they do; if I'm up before dawn on a Saturday, that extra-large cuppa hazelnut hits the spot, and my first bagel in 6 months was well worth the wait.

We were even blessed with mild weather for the occasion. I love the fall, but October mornings in upstate New York are a crap shoot. There've been years when I hauled my Bean parka out for the occasion, and/or when I couldn't feel my toes by the time 8 am rolled around. Not this year, though; I didn't even need my gloves.

Nor did I need a bag. Believe you me, the Book Sale volunteers are organized; the first thing you see when they let you in is a mammoth stack of cardboard boxes, yours for the taking to cart your haul away. And Mrhazel, though never a Boy Scout, was nonetheless prepared, with a backpack for himself and several cloth shopping bags to go around. I took a bag just in case, but resolved not to use it; I figured if I limited myself to what I could carry just in my arms, I couldn't get into TOO much trouble. Right? Well, you've gotta remember that a) I used to work in a library, and b) I've been trolling bookshelves and stacks for as long as I can remember ... so what I can carry in my arms isn't too shabby:

[photo coming soon]

One True Thing, by Anna Quindlen (New York: Random House, 1994). I'm sure I've picked this one up numerous times and just not gotten around to reading it. (If I read it years ago and forgot it, I'll be embarrassed, but hey -- that's why I started my book blog.) Chick lit, for sure, but if I remember what I've heard about it, fairly compelling and engaging at that.
Summary: "A mother. A daughter. A shattering choice. From Anna Quindlen, bestselling author of Black and Blue, comes a novel of life, love and everyday acts of mercy."
Trinity, by Leon Uris (New York: Bantam, 1977). Probably the oldest of the novels I selected; I distinctly remember my mother reading this in hardcover when I was a little girl. Not a title I went in looking for, but long one that's been in the back of my mind as a book I might like to read some day. When I saw it on the paperback table, I figured, "Hey, it's gotta be worth a buck."
Summary: "The 'terrible beauty' that is Ireland comes alive in this mighty epic that recreates the Emerald Isle's fierce struggle for independence. Trinity is a saga of glories and defeats, triumphs and tragedies, lived by a young Catholic rebel and the beautiful and valiant Protestant girl who defied her heritage to join him."
The Bean Trees (New York: Harper & Row, 1988) and Pigs in Heaven (New York: HarperTorch, 1993), by Barbara Kingsolver. Because I chew through books so quickly and share a modest-sized home with 2 other bibliophiles, I'm pretty picky about what books I actually want to own. I read a ton, sure, but for the vast majority of books, once is enough. Before I'll actually commit to adding a title to my library, I need to either read a borrowed copy and know for certain that I'll want to come back to it again and again or know the author and/or subject matter well enough that it's unlikely to disappoint. These titles pass both tests. I adore Kingsolver's work in general, and have a special soft spot for these books in particular; they were my first introduction to a favorite author, and The Bean Trees was the book I read on the morning of my wedding. (OK, truth be told, I read the same page for about half an hour, but the seed was planted and I did come back to it later.)

The Bean Trees, [readers] found a spirited protagonist, Taylor Greer, who grew up in poor rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when Taylor heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time she arrives in Tucson, she has acquired a completely unexpected child and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots."
"[In Pigs in Heaven] Six year old Turtle Greer witnesses a freak accident at the Hoover Dam, leading to a man's dramatic rescue. But Turtle's moment of celebrity draws her into a crisis of historical proportions that will envelop not only her and her mother, Taylor, but everyone else who touched their lives in a complex web connecting their future with their past."
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984). Here's one that's been on my wish list for a long time, but also serves a sneakier motive: it's (so I've been told -- I haven't yet read it myself) an accessible but thought-provoking piece of literary fiction that just might appeal to advanced middle-school aged readers. Just sayin'.
Summary: "The greatly admired and bestselling book about a young girl growing up in the Latino section of Chicago. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous, this novel depicts a new American landscape through its multiple characters."
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith (New York: Harper Collins, 1943). OK, guess this beats out Trinity for the "oldest book" title by quite a bit. I read this one years ago but don't think I ever owned a copy; it satisfies several of my favorite literary cravings (historical fiction, poverty/ social class, and coming-of-age stories), and falls into the same advanced middle-school camp as Mango Street. Yowza.
Summary: "The American classic about a young girl's coming of age at the turn of the [twentieth] century. ... The Nolans live in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn from 1902 until 1919. Their daughter Francie and their son Neely knew more than their fair share of privations and sufferings that are the lot of a great city's poor. Primarily this is Francie's book. She is a superb feat of characterization, an imaginative, alert, and resourceful child. And Francie's growing up and beginnings of wisdom are the substance of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."
The Reader, by Bernard Schlink (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997). I don't know why exactly I chose this one, but it was in spite of rather than because of the movie tie-in photo of Kate Winslet on the cover. Really.
Summary: "Hailed for its coiled eroticism and the moral claims it makes upon the reader, this mesmerizing novel is a story of live and secrets, horror and compassion, unfolding against the haunted landscape of postwar Germany. When he falls ill on his way home from school, fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. In time she becomes his lover -- then she inexplicably disappears. When Michael next sees her, he is a young law student, and she is on trial for a hideous crime. As he watches her refuse to defend her innocence, Michael gradually realizes that Hanna may be guarding a secret she considers more shameful than murder."
The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett (New York: New American Library, 1989). Never read any of Follett's books before, but he's got a new one out that's been getting some press, and again, I love me some sweeping historical sagas. (See also "hey, it's worth a buck" under the Trinity entry.)
Summary: "A story of passion and idealism, which describes a group of men and women in the Middle Ages whose destinies are fatefully linked with the building of a cathedral."
The Tortilla Curtain, by T. Coraghessan Boyle (New York: Penguin Group, 1995). Love, love, love Boyle, and this is probably my favorite of his books. It was also the first I remember reading. Like the 2 Kingsolver titles above, it's taken more than a decade, but I finally took the plunge and brought a copy home.
Summary: "Candido Rincon, 33, and America, his pregnant common law wife, 17, are two Mexicans who enter the United States illegally, dreaming of the good life in their own little house somewhere in California. Meanwhile, they are homeless and camping at the bottom of the Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles, in the hills above Malibu. Another couple, Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, have recently moved into a gated community on top of Topanga, in order to be closer to nature yet close enough to the city to enjoy those amenities. Kyra is a successful real estate agent while Delaney keeps house, looks after Kyra's son by her first marriage and writes a regular column for an environmentalist magazine.

"The two couples' paths cross unexpectedly when Candido is hit and injured by Delaney, who is driving his car along the suburban roads near his home. For different reasons, each man prefers not to call the police or an ambulance, and Delaney soothes his conscience by giving Candido '$20 blood money,' explaining to Kyra that 'He's a Mexican.' From that moment on, the lives of the two couples are constantly influenced by the others."
Diary of a Bad Year, by J.M. Coetzee (New York: Viking, 2008). Coetzee isn't quite a favorite author yet, as I've only read one of his other books and that probably wasn't the best place to start. He is, however, an acclaimed South African author and Nobel laureate. Giving this one a try and adding it to my collection didn't seem like too much of a stretch. If I can't stand it, the Book Sale does accept donations.
Summary: "In this brilliant new work of fiction, J.M. Coetzee once again breaks new literary ground with a book that is, in the words of its main character, 'a response to the present in which I find myself.' Diary of a Bad Year takes on the world of politics -- a new topic for Coetzee -- and explores the role of the writer in our times with an extraordinary moral compass. At the center of the book is Senor C., an aging author who has been asked to write his thoughts on the state of the world by his German publisher. These thoughts, called 'Strong Opinions,' address a wide range of subjects and include a scathing indictment of Bush, Cheney, and Blair, as well as a witheringly honest examination of everything from Machiavelli and the current state of the university to music, literature, and intelligent design, offering unexpected perceptions and insightful arguments along the way. Meanwhile, someone new enters the writer's life: Anya, the beautiful young woman whom he hires to type his manuscript. The relationship that develops between Senor C and Anya has a profound effect on both of them. It also changes the course of Anya's relationship with Alan, the successful, swaggering man whom she lives with -- and who has designs on Senor C's bank account. Through these characters, Coetzee creates an ingenious literary game that will enthrall readers and surprise them with its emotional power."
The Painted Drum, by Louise Erdrich (New York: Harper Collins, 2005). Erdrich is one of those authors I've danced around quite a bit, but don't know if I've actually read. Shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 2009, Native American themes ... sounds good to me.
Summary: "When a woman named Faye Travers is called upon to appraise the estate of a family in her small New Hampshire town, she isn't surprised to discover a forgotten cache of valuable Native American artifacts. After all, the family descends from an Indian agent who worked on the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that is home to her mother's family. However, she stops dead in her tracks when she finds in the collection a rare drum ... especially since, without touching the instrument, she hears it sound.

"From Faye's discovery, we trace the drum's passage both backward and forward in time, from the reservation on the northern plains to New Hampshire and back. Through the voice of Bernard Shaawano, an Ojibwe, we hear how his grandfather fashioned the drum after years of mourning his young daughter's death, and how it changes the lives of those whose paths it crosses. And through Faye we hear of her anguished relationship with a local sculptor, who himself mourns the loss of a daughter, and of the life she has made alone with her mother, in the shadow of the death of Faye's sister."
The Alchemist, by Paolo Coehlo (New York: Harper One, 1993). So sue me; I fell for the hype. I'm curious, and again: it's gotta be worth a buck.
Summary: "An Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasures found within."
The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003). Right up there with Coetzee, another highly acclaimed author I've only just begun to discover. Unaccustomed Earth was so gorgeous it blew me away, so I don't expect I'll be disappointed here.
Summary: "The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Names for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name. Lahiri brings great empathy to Gogol as he stumbles along the first-generation path, strewn with conflicting loyalties, comic detours, and wrenching love affairs. With penetrating insight, she reveals not only the defining power of the names and expectations bestowed upon us by our parents, but also the means by which we slowly, sometimes painfully, come to define ourselves."
Straight Man, by Richard Russo (New York: Vintage Books, 1997). Russo's one of those authors on my Kingsolver list. Ever since reading Empire Falls on a long-ago business trip to Baltimore, his name on the jacket is enough to convince me a book will be worth reading. My only trouble here was deciding which one of his novels I wanted to take home. Can you guess what I'll be looking for in the picked-over discount bins on brown bag weekend?
Summary: "Russo's protagonist is William Henry Devereaux, Jr., the reluctant chairman of the English department of a badly underfunded college in the Pennsylvania rust belt. Devereaux's reluctance is partly rooted in his character -- he is a born anarchist -- and partly in the fact that his department is more savagely divided than the Balkans. In the course of a single week, Devereaux will have his nose mangled by an angry colleague, imagine his wife is having an affair with his dean, wonder if a curvaceous adjunct is trying to seduce him with peach pits, and threaten to execute a goose on local television. All this while coming to terms with his philandering father, the dereliction of his youthful promise, and the ominous failure of certain vital body functions. In short, Straight Man is classic Russo -- side-splitting and true-to-life, witty, compassionate, and impossible to put down."
My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult (New York: Atria, 2004). A guilty pleasure about which I refuse to truly feel guilty. Yes, Picoult's a bit formulaic; I won't buy her books new or in hardcover, because they're not worth the precious shelf space ... but say it with me, it's worth a buck. Heck, for the bonus parent-tween bonding potential, maybe it's even worth two.
Summary: "Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate -- a life and role that she has never challenged ... until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister -- and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves."
How Rude! The Teenagers' Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out, by Alex J. Packer (Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 1997). Even my little-known quirks betray my inner nerd. Specifically, I've always had a weakness for etiquette books and columns. I've been a Miss Manners fan since my age was in the single digits. I'm That Person who actually looks up proper attire for an evening wedding when the need arises. (Yeah, I need to get out more.) This was the first of my new-to-me Book Sale books that I actually cracked open when I got home, and while it's probably a bit dated (no mention at all of cell phone/ smart phone technologies, Facebook, etc.), it's still hilarious.
Summary: "A humorous but practical guide to good manners and social skills, discussing such areas as family life, behavior in public, manners in school, and clothes."
Not shown above: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. II, by Julia Child (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), which I felt compelled to buy after watching Julie and Julia last weekend (sadly, I couldn't find Vol. I). Also, a book of short fugues and preludes for piano by Bach, because I do play now and again and was feeling ambitious that day.

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