Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Talk: THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY, by Gabrielle Zevin

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin via indiebound.org (affiliate link) The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
Gabrielle Zevin (Twitter) (Facebook)
Algonquin Books (April 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 1616203218 / 9781616203214)
Fiction, 272 pages
Source: Purchased e-book (iBooks)

Gabrielle Zevin is better known as a YA author, but her novel for adults, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, has been getting a lot of attention from the Book People since its publication in the spring. It’s understandable. Book People are often drawn to stories about Book People, and a novel about the owner of a small independent bookstore, a publisher’s sales rep, and what’s found in the wake of the loss of a rare and valuable book of poems wasn’t likely to escape their notice. It didn’t escape mine, although it was the attention more than the story itself that spurred me to read it.

I know many readers who have been thoroughly charmed by this novel. It’s understandable. But I have to confess that although I found The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry pleasant enough reading, its charms didn’t seem to work on me.

That said, there are passages in the novel that, as a Book Person, I quite appreciated, including this one that could sum up my overall response to it:
“Who are these people who think a book comes with a guarantee that they will like it?”
Others reminded me of conversations and correspondence with other Book People:
“They had only ever discussed books but what, in this life, is more personal than books?” 
“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, What is your favorite book?” 
“(T)he only thing worse than a world with big chain bookstores was a world with NO big chain bookstores.” 
“A place is not really a place without a bookstore.”
My point is that I get the Book People appeal. My regret is that I didn’t find enough other appealing elements in The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Perhaps I misinterpreted the title, which had me expecting more direct, deeper connections to be made between familiar literature and the lives of Zevin’s characters. I’m pretty sure I expected more depth and insight, period.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry could be a fine choice for a Book Person’s summer-reading list. It’s quick, it’s light, and offers many enjoyable tidbits for those who love the reading life, but I don’t feel that it adds up to much more than the tidbits, and I was hoping for a little more substance.

Book Talk THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY on The 3 Rs Blog

Rating: 3 of 5

Other opinions, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
A.J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly. 
And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world. Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.
Opening lines:

“On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes. ‘Island Books, approximately $350,000.00 per annum in sales, the better portion of that in the summer months to folks on holiday,’ Harvey Rhodes reports. ‘Six hundred square feet of selling space. No full-time employees other than owner. Very small children’s section. Fledgling online presence. Poor community outreach. Inventory emphasizes the literary, which is good for us, but Fikry’s tastes are very specific, and without Nic, he can’t be counted on to hand-sell. Luckily for him, Island’s the only game in town.’”

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"I should be folding laundry..."

Wordless Wednesday badge at The 3Rs Blog

...on this Wordless Wednesday, but I'd rather watch people enjoying the beach, like they were this past weekend along the Pacific Coast Highway just south of Point Mugu.

Beach collage July 2014 on The 3Rs Blog

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Talk: ARTS & ENTERTAINMENTS, by Christopher Beha (Shelf Awareness)

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENTS by Christopher Beha, via indiebound.org Arts & Entertainments: A Novel
Christopher Beha (Facebook) (Twitter)
Ecco Press (July 1, 2014), trade paper (ISBN 006232246X / 9780062322463)
Fiction, 288 pages

A version of the following was previously published as a Starred Review in Shelf Awareness for Readers (July 15, 2014)Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

In his second novel, Arts and Entertainments, Christopher Beha (What Happened to Sophie Wilder) shifts his setting from the world of writers to that of unscripted reality television, but those worlds aren't really as different as they might seem. They're both about crafting stories; they just use different tools to do it.

When he left St. Albert's School, "Handsome Eddie" Hartley thought that he and his girlfriend Martha Martin both had long careers of acting out other people's stories ahead of them, but he was wrong. Fifteen years later, Martha is a household name with a hit TV drama, while Eddie is back at St. Albert's, halfheartedly teaching drama and struggling nearly as hard to start a family with his wife, Susan, as he once did with his acting career. And a struggling schoolteacher who happens to possess a sex tape he made with his ex-girlfriend, who has since become a huge TV star, just might have a way to pay for his wife's infertility treatments.

When Eddie sells his old video of Martha to an internet entrepreneur, he's not thinking about any consequences other than funding his and Susan's efforts to have a baby. He certainly never imagines that they'll lead to a high-risk pregnancy played out on social media and reality TV, or that his role of a lifetime will be an edited-for-broadcast version of himself.

Beha's sharp observations of crafted, carefully produced versions of private lives becoming public property resonate in an time when it sometimes feels like a life unexamined by other people isn't a life properly lived...or worth living, for that matter. Arts and Entertainments is indeed entertaining, but it's also a thoughtful examination of how we shape our own stories.

Fiction review: ARTS & ENTERAINMENTS by Christopher Beha on The 3 Rs Blog

Book description, from the publisher's website
"Handsome Eddie" Hartley was once a golden boy poised for the kind of success promised by good looks and a modicum of talent. Now thirty-three, he has abandoned his dream of an acting career and accepted the reality of life as a drama teacher at the boys' prep school he once attended. But when Eddie and his wife, Susan, discover they cannot have children, it's one disappointment too many. 
Weighted down with debt, Susan's mounting unhappiness, and his own deepening sense of failure, Eddie is confronted with an alluring solution when an old friend-turned-Web-impresario suggests Eddie sell a sex tape he made with an ex-girlfriend, now a wildly popular television star. In an era when any publicity is good publicity, Eddie imagines that the tape won't cause any harm—a mistake that will have disastrous consequences and propel him straight into the glaring spotlight he once thought he craved. 
A hilariously biting and incisive takedown of our culture's monstrous obsession with fame, Arts & Entertainments is also a poignant and humane portrait of a young man's belated coming-of-age, the complications of love, and the surprising ways in which the most meaningful lives often turn out to be the ones we least expected to lead.
Opening lines:

"'You know who I saw on TV last night?' John Wilkins asked the small group of old friends surrounding him. 'Dr. Drake.'

"They'd been drinking in the St. Albert's library for less than half an hour. Eddie was surprised it had taken even that long for the name to come up.

"'The show's in syndication,' he said. 'It's on every day.'

"'Not Dr. Drake,' Wilkins clarified, as though the distinction should have been obvious. 'Martha. She was on Entertainment Daily talking about her new boyfriend, Rex Gilbert.'"

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

What's What in the Sunday Salon, July 20, 2014

What's What in the Sunday Salon July 20 2014 at The 3 Rs Blog

What I’m reading
  • in print / on screen
I haven’t quite finished The Leftovers yet, but I’m trying to do so before I go out of town on Thursday–I hate traveling with a physical book that’s more than half-finished. It’s less of an issue with ebooks or audiobooks, since they don’t take up space in the same way, but I’m not sure I’ll have even reached that point in The Interestings by then, given that I’m triple-booking it at the moment. I have one more August release to review for Shelf Awareness, and I’m wavering over whether to bring it with me. On the one hand, I’d rather not travel with obligatory-review books either, but on the other, it’s a short essay collection and those usually do make for good travel reading.
  • on audio
I feel like I did the audiobook equivalent of binge-reading with The SIlkworm, which I finished on Friday morning and plan to write up either today or tomorrow. There were some ways in which I didn’t like it quite as well as The Cuckoo’s Calling, but those have nothing to do with the series’ central premise and characters, which are the main reasons I plan to stick with this series.

For years now, I’ve preferred to consume my genre entertainment in TV shows and movies rather than books, but audiobooks seem to be changing that a little, and I’m not sorry that they are.

What I’m watching

Speaking of genre TV, we’ve been on a steady diet of three episodes a night of Supernatural on Netflix this past week, and not getting the least bit tired of it. That said, a few days away from the TV might not be a bad thing…

What I’m writing

I paid tribute to some of my “blogcestors” in a Throwback Thursday post that I updated and repurposed for BlogHer’s Selfiebration question about blogging “family trees,” and I’ve loved the conversations it’s prompted here, on Twitter, and in the Book Bloggers Google+ group. All I have planned for the week ahead here is book reviews, which we all know rarely foster that kind of conversation.

What caught my eye this week

The combination of a busy few days at work and trying to read two to three books at the same time means that my blog-reading has been off-pace this week, so I really don’t have links to share today. I’m also not participating in this weekend’s Mini-Bloggiesta, but I think some of the Mini-Challenges look good and I may tackle them at some point later on. I have a feeling I may be more inspired after next weekend.

What Else is New?

BlogHer Conference 2014 10th Anniversary Selfiebration

I will be in San Jose for BlogHer’14 this Thursday through Saturday. It’s the tenth-anniversary conference, and my first time attending since 2010 in New York City. I remember a few years when the annual flagship conference sold out months in advance, but this year’s event, even with an attendance cap of 2500, still has some openings if you can make it to the Bay Area with just a few days’ notice. Please let me know if you’re going to be there, because I’d love to see you!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Shaking the (Blogging) Family Tree--Throwback Thursday #Selfiebration

When I started thinking about Jenna's latest BlogHer #Selfiebration question, "What Does Your Blogging Family Tree Look Like?", I was stumped.

BlogHer 10th Anniversary "Selfiebration"
"Your Blogging Family Tree" via BlogHer.com

I've been blogging for nearly seven and a half years, and the paths I once shared with many bloggers have diverged, or dead-ended for one reason or another, along the way. Then I realized that one thing about having blogged for so long is that at one time or another, I've probably mentioned some of those who helped form me as a blogger...whether they know it or not.

For Throwback Thursday, I'm shaking the tree with an update of a post from my second Blogiversary, in March 2009.
  1. Your influencers/"blogcestors"? RT @FireMom: What Does Your Blogging Family Tree Look Like  http://bher.co/ZU1e  #selfiebration#blogher14
  2. @florinda_3rs I *LOVE* the term "blogcestors." That's perfect.#selfiebration #BlogHer14
  3. @FireMom Thanks! Twitter character limits force ingenuity & word coinage :-).(And I really need to ponder my "blogcestors"!)#Selfiebration
(NOTE: All blog links in the following are those currently used by these bloggers, and may not be the ones they had back in the day.)
"Gosh I didn't even know there was such a thing as Mommy blogs. I am very focused in my blog reading on book blogs I guess."
--comment from Lenore, March 2009 (before she was Lenore), on a link-roundup post

I was never that focused. My interests are pretty wide-ranging, and so is my blog reading. On the Internet, I'm a bit of a wanderer, but I've found "homes" among two communities: the "book bloggers" and the "mom bloggers." I launched this blog two years ago today over seven years ago, and it seems to me that much of my second blogging year was spent building community ties.

I'd known about blogs for a few years before I started one, although I didn't personally know anyone who had one other than my son, who started and stopped a few during his university years. But I was seeing blogs becoming a component of some of the websites I regularly visited, and it made me curious to explore them. I actually started, and then killed, my first blog several months before The 3 R's was born, because I had no idea what I wanted to do with it.

Book reviews were my reason for starting this blog (so I could remember things about what I read, mostly), and at that time, I didn't even realize how many other people were blogging about books. I started looking for them not long after, though, and finding them through activities like the still-active (as of last month) Booking Through Thursday, the long-gone MotherTalk blog tours, and Sassymonkey's book posts on BlogHer. Slowly I discovered the book bloggers, and through them, I found more...and more...and others found me. It was a while before I truly felt like part of the group, though, and as is the case with so many things related to the book-blogging community, it happened at least partly because of Dewey, thanks to her starting the Weekly Geeks activities and giving me the opportunity to host a Bookworms Carnival. The other big catalyst for my sense of belonging to this community was participating in Book Blogger Appreciation Week, during which My Friend Amy became a friend of so many of us.

If there's a "typical" book blogger, it's not me, and that's part of why I haven't always been sure I should call myself a "book blogger" at all. There are bloggers who only post book reviews, reading memes, and book-related news; you can find those things here, but you'll find a lot of other content too, whether you're looking for it or not. What I love about being among the book bloggers is that it turns out that a lot of us aren't "typical" after all, and it's a very welcoming environment. We're giving each other stuff to read--how could that be bad?

On the other hand, one of the first sites where I participated after I began blogging was Work It, Mom!, so the blogging moms weren't a big surprise to me, and I sought them out. Seeing myself in that community was more of a surprise, though, since I was even less of a "typical" mom blogger than I am a book blogger. My kids were older--two aren't even "kids" anymore--and I'm LONG past the trials and tribulations of early motherhood, a period which also gives birth to many blogs. However, "mom" is one part of my identity that will never change, and I was excited to become part of the Los Angeles Moms Blog during its "soft launch" phase in the fall of 2008. (The LA blog was under the umbrella of the Silicon Valley Moms Group of regional moms' blogs, which folded in July 2010.) The first bloggers I met face-to-face were part of this group, which gave me another outlet for writing and exposed me to the whole mom-blog-marketing thing, with its opportunities and its pitfalls. But the best thing it did was help someone who always felt like "the misfit mom" finally feel like she had a moms' group of her own, for a while.

Throwback Thursday: My Blogging "Family Tree" on The 3 Rs Blog

Over time, bloggers in both of these communities have come to feel like family to me... and there's more blending and crossover between them than you might realize. I know book bloggers who are moms, even if they don't often blog about their families. I know blogging moms who love to read and talk about books--and not just books for their kids. My favorite bloggers in both groups are probably the ones who, like me, are a bit less "typical"--the ones who can't help bringing a bit of themselves and their lives into their book reviews, and the ones who have something to say about the world at large as well as its effects on their families.

Thank you all for helping form me into the blogger I have become, whether you knew it or not.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Blue

As seen from Virgin America flight 404 to New York City, May 27, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Talk: GOLDEN STATE, by Michelle Richmond

GOLDEN STATE, by Michelle Richmond, via indiebound.org Golden State: A Novel
Michelle Richmond (Twitter) (Facebook)
Bantam (February 2014), Trade paper (ISBN 0385343280 / 9780385343282)
Fiction, 304 pages
Source: Purchased ebook (iBooks edition, ISBN 9780345532404)

Southern-rooted, San Francisco-based Michelle Richmond was my “Must-Read Author Discovery” of 2008 thanks to her novels The Year of Fog and No One You Know, but I’d lost touch with her a bit until her latest novel, Golden State, was published earlier this year. Certain elements here will be familiar to those who’ve read this author’s earlier works: a San Francisco setting, characters with ties to the Deep South, a deep bond between sisters, and a romantic relationship strained by a tragedy involving a child. However, despite all those similarities, Golden State is not a reworking of a story Richmond has already told.

Golden State takes place on one exceedingly eventful day in the life of Dr. Julie Walker, a physician at the VA hospital in San Francisco. She’s turning 40 and signing divorce papers, after having spent one last night with her soon-to-be ex-husband. Her unmarried younger sister is about to give birth. It’s the day that Californians are voting on whether to secede from the United States—which could leave Julie out of a job. It’s the day that she finds that she has caused a hostage situation because local upheaval over the secession vote delayed her getting to work…and that situation will force her to deliver her sister’s baby. As Julie tries to manage her sister’s labor and the hostage-taker’s demands, she reflects on her long and complicated relationships with both of these people, and how they factored into the breakdown of her marriage.

The California-secession angle could be the basis for some fascinating speculative fiction, but here it’s ultimately just that, an angle–a relevant one, but not as critical to the overall narrative as it seems like it will be early in the novel. I’d actually like to read that story, but it’s not the one Richmond’s offering here, and I’m not exactly sure I’d want her to be the one to write it—I’m not certain it would play to her strengths. Her strengths lie in character development and the depiction of complex relationships, and those are deployed quite effectively in Golden State, providing a framework for insights about fate, choices, and how our lives become what they are.
“But the thing about reinvention is, no matter how much you change everything on the outside, you still know where you came from. You’ve still got all that stuff from middle school clanging around in your system. It’s almost like you’re living a double life, just waiting to be caught. Waiting for someone to walk up to you and say, ‘I know who you are. Enough with the charade.’" 
“’We become so accustomed to the patterns we create for ourselves,’ he said, his voice full of excitement. ‘We become so used to the way things are—scientifically, cosmically, personally—that we can’t imagine things being any other way. But there’s always another way. Common wisdom is, don’t buy a lottery ticket, because no one wins the lottery. But here’s the thing: someone always does win the lottery.’" 
“I never expected to find myself here, on the edge of the continent—forty, childless, possibly jobless, with broken bones and a broken marriage, citizen of a broken country. But here I am, and I must make something of it. That’s really the only choice one has: make something of it, or don’t—a choice my mother failed to make after my father died, a choice my sister has completely embraced.”
Richmond effectively balances an account of the tension and suspense of one particular day–and between an impending birth and a disgruntled, gun-wielding veteran, there are literally life-and-death stakes here–with an exploration of the emotional connections, conflicts, and personal histories underlying them. Golden State is involving and affecting, and was a welcome reminder of what I discovered in Michelle Richmond’s fiction years ago.

Rating: 4 of 5
Other opinions, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Book Talk: GOLDEN STATE by Michelle Richmond, at The 3 R's Blog

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
Doctor Julie Walker has just signed her divorce papers when she receives news that her younger sister, Heather, has gone into labor. Though theirs is a strained relationship, Julie sets out for the hospital to be at her sister’s side—no easy task since the streets of San Francisco are filled with tension and strife. Today is also the day that Julie will find herself at the epicenter of a violent standoff in which she is forced to examine both the promising and the painful parts of her past—her Southern childhood; her romance with her husband, Tom; her estrangement from Heather; and the shattering incident that led to her greatest heartbreak. 
Infused with emotional depth and poignancy, Golden State takes readers on a journey over the course of a single, unforgettable day—through an extraordinary landscape of love, loss, and hope.
Opening lines:
"The reception area of the tiny hotel is eerily empty. On the desk, a coffee mug smeared with red lipstick sits beside a small televi- sion, the volume turned up high, blaring news of the vote. Eleanor’s mug, Eleanor’s lipstick. Famously difficult Eleanor.

"I leave my crutches behind and use the rail to pull myself up the stairs. At the top, I turn left. The first room is empty, the door open to reveal two twin beds, an old dresser, blood on the floor.

“I continue along the hallway. The second door is closed. Room 2B. Heather’s room. Early this morning, while I was still sleeping on the couch of a radio station at the other end of the city, my phone began to vibrate. It was Heather, texting: It’s time. It seems like a life- time ago.”