Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Link Roundup: Little Things I've Learned

I'm working on writing up my thoughts about three or four books right now, but none of them are ready to post, so it seems like a good time to share a few links I've liked--and learned from--recently.

link roundup 3Rs Blog

For years, I struggled with the fear that admitting I didn't know things would make people think I wasn't all that smart. It's been a long, tough struggle to understand that "knowledge" is a different thing from "intelligence," and that sometimes what's smart is questioning, not answering.
"I'm not as strong in other areas and I need to be aware of my weaknesses. Sometimes I need help with those areas and asking for help is not a weakness, but not being aware of my weaknesses or doing anything to strengthen them is one."
--from "Why I Ask Lots of Questions And Think You Should, Too" by Karen Ballum at BlogHer

But sometimes we just have to learn from experience:
"There is no substitute for feeling 'known.' I get him and want to learn more. He gets me and likes what he gets...Likes and dislikes can be learned. When someone gets you they tap into your soul in a way that can’t be taught. When we can do that and both of us feel like we’ve gotten the better end of the deal, we’ve got something that will stick."
--from "Six Things I've Learned From Being Married Three Times" by Lisa Page Rosenberg at Smacksy

And sometimes we're just not going to get the questions answered:
"I have these moments when I just want people to tell me what to do...I’ve asked people I respect for advice on this and they have punted back to me. It’s up to you. There’s no right thing. This is right, but it’s hard too. Sometimes, I wish to abdicate the responsibility of making decisions about little things and big, but this is just part of adulthood and an important part."
--from "10 Important Things I’ve Learned" by Aidan Donnelly Rowley

This last thing isn't a life lesson, but as I'm getting ready to exercise some shelf control in a few weeks, I was excited to learn about LibraryThing's new "Take Inventory" feature

screencap LibraryThing inventory

I think this could be very helpful in my Great Big Book Purge project. If you're a LibraryThinger, do you think you'll find this feature useful?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

From My Inbox: Punny Business

Here's a little wordplay for your Tuesday, courtesy of my uncle who still emails me stuff like this every now and then. He knows I love bad puns--not that there's any other kind. If you share my feelings about them, I hope you enjoy these! 

dog using words from Princess Bride
Judge Winchester of the Word Police
 I'm reading a book about anti-gravity.
I just can't put it down.

I did a theatrical performance about puns.
It was a play on words.

What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary?
A thesaurus.

A cartoonist was found dead in his home.
Details are sketchy.

I changed my iPod's name to Titanic.
It's syncing now.

I used to be a banker, but then I lost interest.

England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.
They told me I had type-A blood, but it was a Type-O.

I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.
I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.

This girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.

When chemists die, they barium.

Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn't control her pupils?

Broken pencils are pretty much pointless.

I dropped out of the Communism class because of lousy Marx.

Venison for dinner again? Oh deer!

Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.
I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.

Jokes about German sausages are the wurst.

How does Moses make his tea?
Hebrews it.

I didn't like my beard at first.
Then it grew on me.

All the toilets in New York 's police stations have been stolen.
As of now, it appears the police have nothing to go on.

judge dog judges disapprovingly
Judge Winchester renders judgement on this silliness

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Slowdown, June 21: Picturing Bookish Thoughts

It's the first day of summer! It's Father's Day! And it's a great weekend to do this thing:

#flashreadathon weekend June 19-21

I spent some time flash-reading yesterday afternoon, finishing one of my books-in-progress and making some headway on another. Today really should be a review-a-thon for me--I can't join the one next weekend, because I'll be away, and I'm a good three or four reviews behind right now--but I think I might rather just do more reading.

I shared a few bookish thoughts to the blog's Facebook page this week, and I thought I'd re-post them here today. They're all potential discussion fodder in addition to being cool images.

Here's a statement (via):

book hoarder sidewalk chalk tinhouse

Do you agree? And does this mean I really don't have to go all modified-KonMari on my TBR shelves after all? And here I planned a staycation week in July to tackle that project! Oh well--even with this reassurance, I have decided that the purge is going to happen.

Here's a question (via):

bookmark dogear $5orlessbookstore
Original caption: "There are two kinds of readers. Which are you?"

I am definitely the kind on the left. I'm all about the bookmarks. What about you?

And here's one that I don't think requires further comment (via):

reading damages ignorance randomhouse FB community

How are you spending this first weekend of summer? Are you damaging some ignorance today?

Sunday Slowdown 3Rs Blog

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Talk: THE ODD WOMAN AND THE CITY by Vivian Gornick (via Shelf Awareness)

Vivian Gornick
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (May 19, 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 0374298602 / 9780374298609)
Nonfiction: memoir, 192 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (June 9, 2015). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

book review THE ODD WOMAN AND THE CITY Vivian Gornick memoir Shelf Awareness

At times The Odd Woman and the City, Vivian Gornick’s collection of reflections on her decades of life as a New Yorker, feels rather impersonal for a book subtitled “A Memoir.” However, memoir is not necessarily synonymous with autobiography, and instead, the essayist and former Village Voice reporter is more interested in impressions, opinions and vividly drawn vignettes of urban life than in assembling facts and dates in chronological order. Her approach is absolutely personal, even when her subject matter is less so.

The Odd Woman and the City is strewn with scenes of everyday New York City—street scenes, subway scenes, coffee-shop scenes—in which Gornick is both participant and observer. Many of these anecdotes have a very particular feel: encounters with friends and contemporaries are shaded with an awareness that the city where they grew up and came of age is now the city where they are getting old. Bits of the ongoing, twenty-year-long conversation she’s had with her friend Leonard are woven through the book, frequently leading into or out of longer discourses on literature, history, or city culture.

In one of those literary discussions, Gornick describes a novel as “all voice, and very little plot.” It’s not meant to be disparaging, and the same summation might be applied to The Odd Woman and the City. A compelling voice can keep a reader engaged even when the narrative wobbles; Gornick doesn’t really attempt to build a narrative here, but she certainly has the voice. Moving easily between the intimate and the grand scale, this is memoir as conversation—an intelligent, rambling, provocative conversation, accompanying a long walk across New York City.

A memoir of self-discovery and the dilemma of connection in our time, The Odd Woman and the City explores the rhythms, chance encounters, and ever-changing friendships of urban life that forge the sensibility of a fiercely independent woman who has lived out her conflicts, not her fantasies, in a city (New York) that has done the same. 
Running steadily through the book is Vivian Gornick's exchange of more than twenty years with Leonard, a gay man who is sophisticated about his own unhappiness, whose friendship has "shed more light on the mysterious nature of ordinary human relations than has any other intimacy" she has known. The exchange between Gornick and Leonard acts as a Greek chorus to the main action of the narrator's continual engagement on the street with grocers, derelicts, and doormen; people on the bus, cross-dressers on the corner, and acquaintances by the handful. In Leonard she sees herself reflected plain; out on the street she makes sense of what she sees. 
Written as a narrative collage that includes meditative pieces on the making of a modern feminist, the role of the flaneur in urban literature, and the evolution of friendship over the past two centuries, The Odd Woman and the City beautifully bookends Gornick's acclaimed Fierce Attachments, in which we first encountered her rich relationship with the ultimate metropolis.
Opening Lines:

“Leonard and I are having coffee at a restaurant in midtown.

“’So,’ I begin. ‘How does life feel to you these days?’

“‘Like a chicken bone stuck in my craw,’ he says. ‘I can’t swallow it and I can’t cough it up. Right now I’m trying to just not choke on it.’

“My friend Leonard is a witty, intelligent gay man, sophisticated about his own unhappiness. The sophistication is energizing. Once, a group of us read George Kennan’s memoir and met to discuss the book.

“‘A civilized and poetic man,’ said one.

“‘A cold warrior riddled with nostalgia,’ said another.

“‘Weak passions, strong ambitions, and a continual sense of himself in the world,’ said a third.

“‘This is the man who has humiliated me my entire life,’ said Leonard.

“Leonard’s take on Kennan renewed in me the thrill of revisionist history—the domesticated drama of seeing the world each day anew through the eyes of the aggrieved—and reminded me of why we are friends.”

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Book Talk: IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume

Knopf (June 2, 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 1101875046 / 9781101875049)
Fiction, 416 pages

A version of this discussion was previously published as a "From My Shelf" feature in Shelf Awareness for Readers (June 12, 2015). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review and compensated me for the feature they received and posted.

book discussion IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT Judy Blume fiction 3Rs Blog

That pre-flight safety advisory probably feels a little more ominous to someone who’s had some personal experience with the “unlikely event” it cautions about. As Judy Blume’s novel In the Unlikely Event opens, Miri Ammerman is nervously boarding a flight to Newark. She is returning to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey for a ceremony marking the thirty-fifth anniversary of the three successive plane crashes that occurred there during the winter she was in the ninth grade...and hence the nerves. Granted, plane crashes are unlikely. Three in a row, in the same town, is unfathomable. The city of Elizabeth knows all too well it's not impossible.

In the Unlikely Event is Blume’s first novel for adults in over 15 years, but it’s been on her mind for more than five decades. Like Miri and several other characters in the novel, Blume was an Elizabeth, New Jersey teenager when, in fact, three unrelated airplane disasters between December 1951 and February 1952 killed over 100 people, closed down Newark Airport for nearly a year, and frightened and confused an entire city.

Blume has long been beloved (and occasionally banned) for her children’s and young-adult fiction. In the Unlikely Event is only her fourth adult novel, and while she’s not known for historical fiction with multiple viewpoints and dozens of characters, it’s less of a departure than one might imagine. Yes, it’s about how a town is affected by a series of disasters, but more than that, it’s about how everyday life goes on despite those disasters, and about how the personal dramas and concerns of teenagers tend to occupy most of their attention, regardless of what’s happening around them (or what decade it is).

Miri and her friends talk and speculate about the crashes, but they also talk about boys. They go on dates, fall in love, and fear accidental pregnancy. They worry about their families and argue with their parents. They are growing up in uncertain times and trying to make sense of them. These are things that Judy Blume has always written about, and what we have here is indeed, as the publisher's blurb puts it, vintage Judy Blume.

In the Unlikely Event vividly evokes its mid-century, New Jersey/New York setting. The facts of the plane crashes are well-researched and seem to be accurately depicted. The interactions between both Blume's teen characters and their elders feel honest and authentic, and the essence of this novel lies in that--the events that resonate most here are the events that are not unlikely at all.

In her highly anticipated new novel, Judy Blume creates a richly textured and moving story of three generations of families, friends and strangers, whose lives are profoundly changed by unexpected events.
In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. 
Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on. 
In the Unlikely Event is vintage Judy Blume, with all the hallmarks of Judy Blume’s unparalleled storytelling, and full of memorable characters who cope with loss, remember the good times and, finally, wonder at the joy that keeps them going.
Opening Lines:

"Even now she can't decide. She thinks about flipping a coin. Heads she goes, tails she stays. But isn't indecisiveness an early sign of mental illness? Didn't she cover a story about that a few years ago? Or is it that she's conflicted? Conflicted is better than indecisive. Why is she thinking this way? A voice inside her head says, You know damn well why.

"She steps up to the bank of phones inside the departure lounge and dials her fifteen-year-old daughter, Eliza, at school, but gets her machine. She supposes it's good news that Eliza has gone to her early-morning class. She'll try her again when she gets there. if she goes. Otherwise she'll call from home.

"She's still weighing the pros and cons an hour later when the flight to Newark is announced and the first-class passengers are invited to board. She feels the panic rising--the dry mouth, the pounding heart, the urge to run. The moment of truth. Once she gets on the plane there will be no turning back. A hot flash washes over her body. For god's sake, not now, she tells herself, wriggling out of her coat, as sweat pools between her breasts. She takes a deep breath, grabs her carry-on, and heads for the gate. She's going to do this. She's not backing down."

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Slowdown: Shelf Control--or, (Some of) Everything Must Go

sunday slowdown 3Rs Blog June 14 2015
I feel like I don't need to read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for myself--I've come across so many people who have read it and shared what they got from it that it's been distilled pretty well, and I think there's been some osmosis. And what I've absorbed has me pretty certain that I'm not about to go all-out on the KonMari Method, but I can see some merit in the concept.

I can't really find much to object to in the principle of holding on to only the possessions that "bring you joy," can you? Living your life surrounded only by things you truly love sounds ideal...but many things that sound ideal don't quite work out that way in the real world.

That said, I did my most recent closet-cleaning a few months ago with KonMari in mind; I got rid of three bags of clothes, and most of what I kept has actually stayed organized. I'd do it again...although if I understand correctly, I wouldn't have to if I'd done it properly and by the book (pun definitely intended) the first time. (That's what I mean about not going all-out, I suppose.)

bookshelves August 2013 3Rs Blog
See? Spaces!
It's the books that are keeping this on my mind. Too many of the ones on my shelves have been unread for too long, and that is NOT bringing me joy. I'm coming around to the idea that this could be the summer of cutting my bookish losses, admitting that a lot of my TBR is truly WNR (Will Never Read), and packing them up for the book drive.

I did a big book purge two years ago, before we moved into this house and put in the wall of bookshelves. Those shelves had spaces then. They really don't now. I want them back.

bookshelves June 2015 3Rs Blog
It's all too much.
It's not just the physical space considerations, though--it's also the psychic ones. It's feeling overwhelmed by the choices at hand (which also confirms that my fear of running out of things to read truly is a thing of the past). It's feeling guilty about reading the newest books that come in while so many have been waiting years for their turn. It's feeling frustrated that I don't even look at the books on those shelves for days--weeks--at a time, which is why the idea of a free-range-reading summer seems so appealing. These feelings all mingle with the reluctance to do all of the "un-cataloging" in LibraryThing that really should be part of any serious book-purge project I do, but I think they're starting to pull ahead of it.

I'll never winnow down to the 100 books or less that Kondo supposedly says are the most anyone needs, though, and I don't even want to--that's just crazy talk, and I'm fine if the number that's left is still much higher than that. I'm not even considering getting rid of my "keeper" books, since I've already decided after reading them that they were sources of joy. What I'd like to be left with are the books that I'm still excited that I want to read, and that's more important to me than the number.

Even after our Seattle trip, I've got plenty of available vacation time (twelve years in the same job can do that for you). I'm asking for a week off later this summer, and I'm going to use it to clear off my bookshelves. Maybe I'll even spend some of it reading. I'll keep you posted.

I have questions!

How do you keep your books from taking over your life? ("I get them all from the library" is a valid strategy, but honestly, I'm not going to try that one.) What's worked for you? Have you tried the KonMari method?

And...what are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Talk: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK by Anna North (via Shelf Awareness)

Blue Rider Press (May 19, 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 0399173390 / 9780399173394)
Fiction, 288 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (June 9, 2015). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

book review THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK Anna North fiction

Anna North’s second novel, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, has the intentional feel of a documentary. The title character comes across as subject more than protagonist, revealed through the perspectives of others and her work with them rather more than through her own actions…and that’s probably how she would have wanted it.

The cult filmmaker who called herself Sophie Stark spent her youth struggling to express herself in words. Soon after arriving at college, she picked up a video camera, taught herself to use it, and found that what she wanted to say was best conveyed through images--and via the stories of other people. Her first film, a quirky documentary about a player on her college’s basketball team, opens the door to a filmmaking fellowship in New York City. She discovers her next projects there--revealed from the stage at a storytelling showcase in Brooklyn and shared privately by a musician while they made a music video together--and the movies she builds on these stories begin to attract a following. Stark’s work becomes known for a rough-edged beauty and intimacy, the latter of which comes from the blurring and overlap between her romantic partners and collaborators, and neither of which easily translates to the larger, less personal scale of Hollywood moviemaking.

As the novel moves between several narrative voices, Sophie Stark emerges from the recollections of her collaborators: Allison, the Brooklyn storyteller who becomes her girlfriend; Jacob, the musician and her eventual husband; Daniel, the college basketball player; and Robbie, her brother, whose video camera started everything. In telling of their experiences with her, each of these characters reveals parts of their stories that Stark’s films never told. A fascinating, provocative portrait of the artist as seen by her subjects, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is as compelling and challenging as the movies she made.

Gripping and provocative, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is a haunting story of fame, love, and legacy told through the propulsive rise of an iconoclastic artist. Sophie Stark begins her filmmaking career by creating a documentary about her obsession, Daniel, a college basketball star. But when she becomes too invasive, she finds herself the victim of a cruel retribution. The humiliation doesn’t stop her. Visionary and unapologetic, Sophie begins to use stories from the lives of those around her to create movies, and as she gains critical recognition and acclaim, she risks betraying the one she loves most. 
Told in a chorus of voices belonging to those who knew Sophie best, The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is an intimate portrait of an elusive woman whose monumental talent and relentless pursuit of truth reveal the cost of producing great art.
From Chapter One:

“When Sophie first saw me, I was onstage. This girl Irina who I lived with at the time had organized a storytelling series at a bar in Bushwick, and after a couple weeks of watching I decided I wanted to tell a story too. I wasn’t like the other kids in the house; I’d never assumed I’d be an actor or a writer or anything creative. When I was growing up, everybody figured I’d stay in Burnsville, West Virginia, and have some kids. But there I was in New York and for ten minutes I could make people listen to me and treat me like I was important. The theme that week was “scary camping stories.” I was wearing my only pretty dress, a blue halter with a full skirt that I’d bought for seven dollars at a vintage store, and I got up onstage after some girl talked for twenty minutes about seeing a possum. Here’s the story I told, the one that started everything for Sophie and me.”

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