Friday, April 29, 2011

Reading on Vacation

          Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)        Among the Missing (Ballantine Reader's Circle)        Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

What a good vacation for reading!

I started with P.S. I LOVE YOU, warnings about excessive crying notwithstanding. Set in Ireland, Holly's husband dies. She is grief stricken, but with the help of her family and friends, and letters her husband wrote to her which she found after he died, she is able to work through her grief. Touching and sweet. I didn't cry too much!

Louise Erdrich's SHADOW TAG was next. Irene keeps two diaries. One, the Red Diary, is the one her abusive, artistic husband Gil reads. The Blue Diary she keeps in a safety deposit box, in which she writes how she really feels. She uses the Red Diary to manipulate Gil. A train wreck of a relationship, well done.

Dan Chaon, one of Therapist's favorite authors, wrote AMONG THE MISSING, a book of short stories. This lesser known book came out before his novels, AWAIT YOUR REPLY, and YOU REMIND ME OF ME: A NOVEL. I haven't finished all of the stories (yet). Dark with characters that are a The story that is sticking with me is "I Demand to Know Where You're Taking Me", told from Cheryl's point of view about her husband's brothers, one of whom is in prison for rape and murder. A parrot features prominently.

MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND was the book I enjoyed the most. Retired and oh-so-proper Major Ernest Pettigrew lives in a village in England. His brother dies and he has a few things to sort out. He covets a gun his brother had and which his son, sister-in-law and niece desperately want to sell. He finds himself attracted to Mrs. Ali, an Englishwoman by birth if not by ancestry. His village may be changing due to development by an American firm. How does one remain true to who one is, and who one wants to be when (mostly) well-meaning villagers and family members don't like what one is doing?

THE POISONER'S HANDBOOK was fascinating. Each chapter covers a particular poison. Blum uses actual medical and criminal cases from the 1920's in New York City to show the hard won beginnings and development of forensic science. Intriguing.

Alas, I could not get into CHARLES JESSOLD, CONSIDERED A MURDERER. I tried. Even when I tried and had not had a margarita or two, I couldn't get into it. That was disappointing. Because of this, I needed another book for the flight home. MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS by Rhoda Janzen has been one I'd been eying for a while at the bookstore. Janzen's husband leaves her and in the very same week she is in a fairly serious car accident. She decides to spend some time with her parents, back in the Mennonite household of her childhood. She is an academic, and comes back to her strict religious upbringing with new, and often humorous eyes.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chinese Mothers vs Western Mothers

Have you read this? Featured in Time and Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, this book is getting a lot of buzz.

        Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

As it should.

This is a memoir that chronicles the joys and struggles Chua experienced raising her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu. Though married to a Jewish white man, she chose and embraced what she calls the "Chinese mother" parenting approach. Pushing her daughters to extremes, making sure they performed at the highest level in academics and music, bringing accolades to themselves - as well as to her -, she shares her "Chinese mother-ing" story.

Starting on page one, she starts out telling the reader what she never allowed her daughters to do:

"-attend a sleepover
-have a playdate
-be in a school play
-complain about not being in a school play
-watch TV or play computer games
-choose their own extra-curricular activities
-get any grade less than an A
-not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
-play any instrument other than the piano or violin
-not play the piano or violin"

Sound strict? That's just page two. Keep reading and she shares a few things she said to her older daughter while she was practicing piano:

"1. Oh my god, you're just getting worse and worse.
2. I'm going to count to three and then I want musicality!
3. If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM."

She now admits that those are extreme things to say to her child, however she spends most of the rest of the book defending her strict Chinese mother approach and, at the same time, being critical of the "Western mother" approach.

While she recognizes that some of her tactics are severe, throughout the book she firmly upholds the value of Chinese mother style parenting.

Which, I have to say, has its pros. In a chapter called "The Birthday Card", her daughter, Lulu, gives her a birthday card she made on construction paper.

" was a piece of paper folded crookedly in half, with a big happy face on the front. Inside, 'Happy Birthday, Mommy! Love, Lulu' was scrawled in crayon above another happy face. The card couldn't have taken Lulu more than twenty seconds to make."

She tells Lulu that she doesn't want that card. It obviously didn't take her much time or energy to make, and she, as the mother, deserves better than that.

"I don't want this. I want a better one - one that you've put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophie, and this one can't go in there." She continues..."I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen from my purse and scrawled 'Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!' I added a big sour face. 'What if I gave you this for your birthday, Lulu - would you like that? But I would never do that, Lulu. No - I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and eraser party favors that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.' I threw the card back."

This chapter on the birthday card resonated with me. I am a Western mother and am the daughter of a Western mother. And my adult children have been known to put less (sometimes a LOT less) than 100% effort into gifts for me. As I read this chapter, I admired Chua's forthrightness in demanding effort and respect from her children. I wished I'd had more of that forthrightness in my own parenting when my kids were younger.

As Chua asserts throughout the book, there is value in expecting children to put effort into what they do, be it music or schoolwork or a birthday remembrance.

I found her choice of title interesting...BATTLE Hymn?...Is it a battle between herself and her daughters? Or between Chinese mothers and Western mothers?

Either way, I hope that this book can help people think about their parenting and maybe decide to do things differently. Me? My children are in their 20's, but I already am more forthright with them and other children in my life than I used to be. I could stand to be a little more Chinese mother-like.

Chua? She came to a non-Chinese mother revelation. Lulu had been playing the violin, and getting her to practice had been a battle (is this the battle she's referring to in the title?) for years. When Lulu was 13, she finally decided it was more important not to fight than it was to be the enforcer. She told Lulu she didn't have to play the violin any more. This was a huge realization and revelation for her.

Chua's point is that "Western mothering" allows for too much freedom. Children with no guidance, no structure, no parameters for expectations, (most often) do not strive on their own.

I think she has a valid point. As I know from experience, "Western mothering" is not always the best.

However, I don't think "Chinese mothering" is always the best, either. I think there is value in play, in allowing children to make and learn from their own mistakes, as well as having a say in choosing their own paths.

It seems to me that rather than having it be a battle - either between parent and child or between styles of parenting - there has to be a middle ground, where parents can have high expectations of their children AND allow for play and creativity.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Winchester and The Wave

The March 11 tsunami in Japan brought Susan Casey's THE WAVE to mind.

        The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean

In it she explains and details the power and ferocity of waves, which Japan has seen all too up close and personally.

I am also revisiting Simon Winchester's CRACK AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, in which he describes San Francisco's 1906 earthquake.

        A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 (P.S.)

Winchester is engaging and thorough. Explaining San Francisco's 1906 earthquake, he talks all about global geology and plate tectonics.

In a recent Newsweek article, Winchester theorized that the northeast corner of the Ring of Fire would be where the next big earthquake occurs. He posits that this is because Japan's recent earthquake and resulting tsunami, as well as recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Chile leave the northeast corner of the Ring of Fire as the last area relatively untouched by large earthquake events.

The northeast corner of the Ring of Fire? The San Andreas fault (California) or the Cascadia subduction zone (northern California up to Vancouver, BC).

Interesting reading...especially NOW.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Contest, Books for Vacation (or not), and an Author Collaboration

There is a contest at work (see the March 14, 2011 blog post, "Scent of the Missing, Revisited")...

We're supposed to sell 100 copies of a title we choose. I chose Susannah Charleson's SCENT OF THE MISSING. We're not competing with each other, and there is no time limit on the contest. We're just supposed to handsell 100 copies. While the contest isn't about doing better than the other booksellers, I have to admit that I am a little bit pleased that (so far) I am selling the most copies! SCENT OF THE MISSING is a great book to easy one to talk about. People are interested!



In the April 1 post, "More Important Than Clothes", I talked about the books I'm thinking of taking on our upcoming vacation. Last week, a co-worker told me about his 100 book, Stephen King's NEEDFUL THINGS. I bought it based on his recommendation, and put it in my "books I'll probably take on vacation" pile.

Therapist saw NEEDFUL THINGS and told me that she thinks it is one of the creepiest of Stephen King's books, really pretty intense. Which may not be the most relaxing for vacation.

And then I went to work today and "Twyla" suggested that I not take P.S. I LOVE YOU by Cecilia Ahern on vacation because it causes much crying. "You don't want to be crying on your vacation, do you?" Well, no, not really.

So I'm not sure if either NEEDFUL THINGS or P.S. I LOVE YOU is going to make it into the suitcase. Hmmmm.

     Needful Things: The Last Castle Rock Story    PS, I Love You


I am reading HEADS YOU LOSE, by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward. Lutz and Hayward used to be a couple, and decided to collaborate on this book, even though they may be, um, less than friends. They write alternate chapters. Unlike most other books with more than one author, this one includes the emails they sent to each other at the end of each chapter, as well as footnotes they wrote in the each other's chapters.

While the story is about Lacey and Paul Hansen (brother and sister) who find a headless body on their property, David and Lisa's relationship also features as a large part of the book. As I started reading I thought it was clever, reading their comments (and commentary) as well as reading the story. And then, about 80 pages in, I thought, "Okay, I get it." It felt gimmick-y, almost contrived. Then I came to the end of Chapter 13. I read their end-of-chapter comments and the beginning of the next chapter and started laughing loud (rare for me).

         Heads You Lose

So it's working. I'm liking it. I am eager to see what happens to Lacey and Paul...AND Lisa and David!


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Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Few Books, A Few Customers

A couple of books I saw today...

Deepak Chopra has a new book coming out, did you know about this? THE SEVEN SPIRITUAL LAWS OF SUPERHEROES...there is no picture of the front cover yet, but aren't you a little curious?

and I don't know how I missed this one...

SADDLED AND SPURRED by Lorelei James...

     Saddled and Spurred: A Blacktop Cowboys Novel

"Twiggy" (also known as "Twyla") took a phone call. The man on the phone asked if she had some time. "Suuure," she said. "How can I help you?"

"Could you go look up a book for me?", he asked. "Do you have GO, DOG. GO!?"

"Yes, we have that," she said without a pause.

"Is it the 50th Anniversary edition? We need that edition."

"Yes, we have that edition," said Twiggy.

"Well, could you go and get it? And look at one of the pages?"

"Um, okay." She went and got the book.

"Could you tell me the third word on page 33?", he asked.

"Okay, let's see...the word is 'at'," she said.

"Oh, great, thanks!", he said, and hung up.

About ten minutes later someone came into the store. "Do you have any Dr. Seuss books?"

"We sure do, right this way."

"We need GO, DOG. GO!."

"Ah. Page 33?"

"Yes! We called in, but we needed the third word on the second line of page 33. Not the third word on the page."

"Right over here."

"There will be more of us, we're doing a car rally and are getting clues. The grandparents are coming in too."

Sure enough, a few minutes later, some other people came in, asking for GO, DOG. GO!.

"Bring a copy up to the front," I said. "We can make it easier."

One of the booksellers brought a book to the front. About 20 minutes later, three people, maybe in their late 60's came in. "Where are you Dr. Seuss books?", they asked.

"The one you want is right here," I said, and handed them the book.

"Oh, great! Thank you!"


And for all you curious people, the third word on the second line of page 33 of the 50th Anniversary edition of GO, DOG. GO! is "party".

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Before the Trip

I'm trying to read hardcovers before the trip, as I don't want to carry them in the suitcase on vacation. Too heavy!

I just finished UNFAMILIAR FISHES by Sarah Vowell, her latest book about the United States' annexation of Hawaii. As with THE WORDY SHIPMATES, this one is chock full of information and Vowell's acerbic take on history.

       Unfamiliar Fishes

I'm in the middle of SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell. Narrated by Ava Bigtree, second daughter of the Bigtree clan, who owns Swamplandia!, an alligator theme park. Hilola Bigtree, mother and "Swamp Centaur", star of the show, dies. A new theme park, The World of Darkness, opens in a nearby town. Business at Swamplandia! falls off and Ava, the second daughter, struggles as she and her father and siblings deal with the loss of their mother and their livelihood. Quirky, dark, clever.


After that I may have to try Tina Fey's new book, BOSSYPANTS. Another one caught my eye, HEADS YOU LOSE co-written by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward, Lutz's former boyfriend, which evidently makes for a volatile and explosive writing collaboration. Could be interesting!

     Heads You Lose     Bossypants

Lots to read!

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Customers 21

A young woman came in, long hair pulled back, wearing a navy raincoat. "I'd like to return this book. They cut the pages wrong." She put a copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest on the counter.

       The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

"Let me see," I said. "Where is it?"

"Right here on the edges. See how they are all uneven? It looks awful. Maybe you have another one that's done right?"

"Ah. Yes. That is done by the publisher, it's called a deckle edge. It's supposed to be that way. Some publishers do it that way because they think it's classier to have a deckle edge."

"What? So there aren't any that have smooth edges? This looks so bad."

"Ah, no. Evidently this publisher chose to have deckle edges, so all the copies of this book will be this way. Of course we are happy to take it back if you don't want to keep it. "

"Oh. No. Well, I want to read this. So I guess I'll just keep it."


A woman in her 40's or 50's came in, long black hair except for a striking white/grey streak of hair by her forehead.

"I need a gift card, please," she asked in an East Indian accent.

"Sure, we have some here," I gestured to the display, "and all of our designs are over here. Is it a birthday?"

"Yes." She smiled. "I'm getting 21 gifts for a 21 year old. We're doing kind of a scavenger hunt. Could I get $10 on it, please?"

"Sure. What a great idea!"


A man approached the information desk. Balding, in his 30's or 40's, t-shirt over his belly and wearing a blue jacket. "I have kind of a strange request. I hope you can help me."

"Sure, what are you looking for?", I asked.

"My wife is making a Harry Potter quilt. But we need to have pictures so she can put them on the quilt. And if you get any images off the internet, they are way way too small to use. When you blow them up, they are all distorted. Do you have anything that might have larger pictures from Harry Potter?"

"What a fun idea! Hmm, let me think. I wish our manager were here, she would be all over this. Do you know the Sylvia Beach hotel on the coast? They are redoing one of the rooms to be a Harry Potter room, so our manager was working with her to find Harry Potter things to put in there. Let's see. There is a book, I don't know if we have it in...let me check. It's all about Harry Potter and the movies, there are lots of pictures. It's called Harry Potter Film Wizardry, but unfortunately we're out of it. I could order one for you. Let's see if there's anything else.

       Harry Potter Film Wizardry

"We had a lot more around the holidays and right when the last movie came out, now we don't have as much." We went to the film section and there wasn't anything on Harry Potter. I took him over to the activity area for kids and showed him some of the Harry Potter books there. "These have some good pictures..."

       Villains (Harry Potter Movie Poster Book)     Heroes (Harry Potter)

"Hmmm," he said. "These might work."

"You also might look at entertainment magazines, they might have some photos in them. I can also order that Film Wizardry book if you'd like. You're not obligated to buy it."

"Yeah, would you do that?"

"Sure! Good luck with the quilt!"


We've had some requests for a new book...

"Do you have that new book, Valley of the Pink Caves?"

"There's a new book in that series? By that woman? Something about unicorns in caves?"

What they've wanted is Jean Auel's latest book in her Earth's Children series...

       The Land of Painted Caves: A Novel (Earth's Children)

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Friday, April 1, 2011

More Important Than Clothes

I am gathering books to take on our upcoming vacation. It's kind of fun to look at my little pile and decide if each book will make the cut and into the suitcase. For me, deciding which books I'll take is just as important, if not more so, than which clothes to take.

Right now I'm looking at five books...

SHADOW TAG by Louise Erdrich, was recommended by a friend. The main character, Irene, discovers that her husband is reading her diary. So she starts another diary, a secret one she calls the Blue Notebook. In the Blue Notebook she tells awful truths about her life and marriage. This one she keeps in a safe deposit box. In the Red Diary that her husband reads, she keeps up a charade. The friend who recommended it usually likes darker, broodier, books than I do, but this one sounds fascinating. I'm having a hard time NOT reading this one before the trip!

       Shadow Tag: A Novel (P.S.)

I also have MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND. Customers and co-workers have really liked this. Major Pettigrew, retired, lives in the English countryside, living a proper life. That is until his brother dies, and he befriends a Pakistani woman in the local village, which causes much consternation among the villagers. Fun!

       Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)

It used to be that poison was the perfect weapon for murder because it was undetectable. It wasn't until scientific discoveries meshed with criminal investigation and forensic pioneers started to be able to trace poisons back to crimes. THE POISONER'S HANDBOOK: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York sounds like a fascinating read. "Twyla" read it and loved it.

       The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

Wesley Stace wrote MISFORTUNE, the story of an orphan baby taken home and raised by the richest man in Britain. He raises the baby as a girl to replace his sister, who died in childhood. Unfortunately, the baby is a boy. How s/he grows up and deals with gender issues was brilliantly done by Stace. I really enjoyed MISFORTUNE, so was pleased to discover his new one, CHARLES JESSOLD, CONSIDERED AS A MURDERER. I don't know much about it, except that it's written by Stace. There are also blurbs on the back from Sarah Waters and Audrey Niffenegger, authors I also enjoy.

       Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer     Misfortune: A Novel

I am still mulling over taking this last one, P.S. I LOVE YOU by Cecelia Ahern. One of my co-workers and I share similar taste in books, and she loved this. She liked the movie as well (with Hilary Swank, which I haven't seen) and has reread the book several times. The main character is happily married and then her husband dies. She gets very depressed, and then finds letters written to her by her husband. That's pretty much all I know about the book, which may be enough.

       PS, I Love You

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