East by Edith Pattou

East is the story of a girl named Ebba Rose who, at the age of fifteen, is visited by a white bear and asked to go with him in exchange for her sister’s health and her family’s well-being. Adventuresome and willful, she agrees and is led to a castle of stone where she is kept for months. Every night, Rose is visited by someone- only she has no idea who or what, because just before his arrival every night the lamps are extinguished and impossible to re-light. She thinks it’s the white bear, only it’s too small. Perhaps one of the troll servants around the castle? She doesn’t know, but the mystery is driving her mad.

East is a 500-page adventure novel for young adults. I’ve owned it since I first read it, in fifth grade. After seven years, I remembered basically nothing (I’m pretty sure I’ve mixed it up with The Golden Compass in the past- the books share a lot of the same elements), so I decided to reread it. Despite it’s length, the book goes quickly. Despite the fact that adventure isn’t really my thing, I enjoyed it.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints- primarily Rose, as she’s the heroine, but also by her elder brother, Neddy, who is stuck at home worrying about her and being unable to move on until she returns; there’s a little bit of her father in the beginning and the end; the Troll Queen, who’s behind it all; and even the White Bear himself, in short, clipped lines, almost like poetry. Because of all these conflicting viewpoints, a lot of backstory is revealed to the reader before it is revealed to Rose. This is dangerous because it could make the reader impatient with Rose, but Edith Pattou does it in such a way that the story runs smoothly, and the heroine comes out looking all the more clever when she does catch up.

The book is good, quick, and escapist. I enjoyed it and I’m glad to have it in my library.

In other news, I’ve recently become completely smitten with the concept of book trailers. I included one in my review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but I’ve recently found these two which I think are fantastic. Here’s one for The Book Thief:

If you haven’t read this, do. It’s amazing.

This one is for A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. A few weeks ago I asked my librarian to order this for me, but it was so new no one had it. I should inquire again.

Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a preview for the movie adaptation of this novel (coming out at the end of this month) which, before, I’d never heard of. The trailer freaked me out in a weird way, where I was also impossibly intrigued. The trailer mentioned that it was based on a book, and oftentimes I can read about things that I couldn’t watch, so I decided to go for it. It was even available at my own library, not inter-library loaning necessary!

The book is a first-person account of the life of a boy named Kevin Khatchadourian, told by his mother in letters to his father, several months after Kevin unleashed fire on his schoolmates at age fifteen. The novel is meant to be an exploration on the nature-versus-nurture question- basically, how much of Kevin’s blow-up was Eva’s fault? Would things have gone differently, had she been a different sort of mother?

The novel is told through a series of letters, and is a pretty good representation of why I’m not fond of novels told through letters. I feel like the way people communicate through letters in novels is not how they do it in real life. Considering that each chapter was a letter, and each chapter could be over twenty pages long, it didn’t feel like Eva was writing letters to be mailed off. It felt like she was writing a novel for an audience of one. At the very end of the book, though, something unpredictable is revealed and it all makes sense. I commend Lionel Shriver, because once I read this final bit, the way Eva was writing felt perfect. There was a reason behind it.

I thought this book was fantastic. Admittedly, it is 400 pages and the first 100 or so weren’t very gripping, it made a complete heel-face turn and was utterly fascinating for the entire rest of the book. I did not want to put it down. I spent far too many nights sitting up thinking, “You are going to be so tired at work in the morning” and not being able to stop.

The message, nature-versus-nurture, is a subtle undertone of the entire thing. It’s never addressed outright, but Eva’s guilt over the events is clear enough to put your mind to it. It’s true that she is not the best mother in the world, but it was also clear, from the moment of birth, that Kevin was not a normal child. It’s hard to say where his nature came from, but where both are involved, the book very neatly refuses to answer this question. At inspection, it feels like there’s nothing much Eva could have done differently. At closer inspection, she really wasn’t a very positive force in Kevin’s life and perhaps being born to a different mother would have changed him.

I enjoyed this book immensely and yes, it is going on my list.

Here’s the trailer that started it all. After reading the book, I’m even more nervous to see the movie, but now I know that I almost definitely will. I can’t let the story go that easily.

Published in: on September 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

On the day Willie Upton returns to her childhood home of Templeton, New York, the monster of Glimmerglass Lake dies. Willie (short for Wilhelmina) is home at the end of an affair with her professor from Stanford, which ended abruptly when his wife confronted them. Now she’s home, to the surprise of her disappointed mother, who returned home, pregnant, at eighteen when she learned that her parents had died in a tragic car accident.

Vivienne Upton was perfectly happy living life high as a kite, loving love and burning her bras until she received a notice of her parents’ deaths and returns home- pregnant. She’s always told her daughter, Willie, that the father was just some random hippy from some random orgy or something. Now that Willie is home with problems of her own, however, Vi decides to tell her the truth- her father is not one lucky hippy, but a man from Templeton who claims to have some bloodline connection to Marmaduke Temple, the founder of Templeton five generations back, from whom Vi and Willie are immediately descended.

It’s a lot to take in. Willie is outraged that her mother has kept this secret from her for so long, and now determines to discover who her father is while also trying to solve her own problems and keep a friend afloat.

The book was fantastic. It completely held my interest, the writing was glorious- there are authors every once in a while who just have such a command of language that I want to bow at their feet- the characters were sympathetic, every one of them. Every other chapter was narrated by an ancestor of Willie’s as she researched and discovered their story. Meanwhile, the book is sprinkled with photos, etchings, and prints of Willie’s relatives and constantly revised family trees filling in the generations she hadn’t really understood.

Meanwhile, in the background (subtle and unobtrusive), there are scientists and tourists in Templeton trying to figure out where exactly this bizarre lakemonster came from. Affectionately named Glimmey, the monster is a creature that most Templetonians knew was there, without having any conclusive evidence. I thought it was very clever how the historical characters, every once in a while, would mention the monster. Finally, the creature has died. At the end of the book, all the threads are tied very skillfully together. The ending is hopeful.

I’m already halfway through my next book- I can hardly put it down. I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

(Also, I’m adding this one to my list.)

Published in: on September 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill

Alright, I’ve been putting this one off. First, though.

On our second day in Boston, Mother and I had a cannoli and some chocolate cake for breakfast in Little Italy, and then walked to the Science Museum. After that our day was unstructured, and our plan was to return to Little Italy for dinner and then ride the T to Fanieul Hall, where we would wile away the hours until it was time to return home. When it was actually time to board the T, though, we looked at our map to find out which line to get on, and Mother and I ran into a disagreement.

You see, I felt (wisely) that we should get off at the same stop we’d been using, by the Aquarium, as from there it was less than a five minute walk to Fanieul Hall. Mother thought she saw a little orange T the looked remotely closer and therefore would mean less walking on our tired feet, and she was so opposed to walking that she pushed and pushed that we take this line, so we did.

We did not arrive remotely close to Fanieul Hall. We found ourselves in Downtown Boston (according to some signs, I think), and just sort of started to walk. I was in the middle of berating Mother for her foolishness because we were surrounded by tall, old buildings and I didn’t see any way Fanieul Hall could be in the middle of this mess, when I abruptly cut myself off with a shrill cry of, “Books!” which was an indication that I had just seen an ornate sign reading, “Books.” A few steps further down the sidewalk was a little standing sign with an arrow that pointed us down the perfect little alleyway and towards a second-hand bookstore. I photographed what I felt to be one of the prettiest things I’d seen in Boston thus far:

We went inside and stayed for an hour or so. I found, for a combined price of $10, a paperback copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with all of the original illustrations and a beautiful watercolor cover, barely used, and a copy of The Thirteenth Tale, which I’ve heard a lot about and now sits on my pile.

But let me show you my favorite thing about this bookstore:

When I have my own bookstore, there will be at least one Cat in Residence. (And at least one will be named Dewey.)

The less interesting part of our story involves getting on the T to south station and making it to our bus on time and, marvelously, running into a waiter from our favorite Chinese restaurant- proving that even in Boston, it is a small world after all.

On the bus, I finished my book.

The Man in the Picture is a ghost story I first heard about from Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. At the time I was really in the mood to be spooked, and when this one came in for me at the library I was pleasantly surprised by it’s tininess. Considering how long all books have taken me to read in these past few months, I don’t think I can be blamed for that. Proving my point, this supertiny book STILL took me almost a week to read.

The Man in the Picture is about a graduate student in English named Oliver, who is hearing the story from his old professor Theo of a haunted painting, one that hangs in Theo’s office and seems to snatch the lives of those who own it. The history of the painting is explored, though never so far back as to who originally painted it or why it has this mysterious curse.

To be honest, I felt the book lacked substance and it didn’t scare me at all. Of course, I read it in 10-page snatches right up until the final 40 pages, which I finished on the bus, so I never really sank my teeth into it. Mom read it shortly after I finished it, in one sitting, and she found it a bit creepy. Still, unsatisfying, with a predictable ending.

I’m already about 100 pages into my next book, which I think I’ll be able to praise a bit more. The plot is interesting, there’s substance up the wazoo, and the writing is rare and splendid. That will come in a week or so, at this rate. (I work a lot.)

Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 9:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Great House by Nicole Krauss

Hi there! So everyone on the East Coast (or at least New England) definitely felt the effects of Hurricane Irene this week. In our house, we lost power for two days. My family basically had nothing to do but read and play poker (by candlelight when it got too dark). And work; I still had to go to work the day after the storm.

Never again will I take for granted the ability to flush a toilet without fear, to cook when you want food, or to scroll Tumblr when you’re just too lazy for anything else. Even though I like the occasional power outage, four or five hours is basically my limit.

In the middle of this, praying the power would come back before Wednesday, Mother and I prepared for our planned trip to Boston. We would only stay one night and we would hit as many touristy destinations as possible. Meanwhile, I finished this book, and started and finished my next book during the six total hours we spent on a bus between Augusta and Boston. More on that in my next post.

I read Great House on recommendation of my trusty librarian, who, knowing that I absolutely loved my first Nicole Krauss novel, informed me that the library’s book club was reading this one for September, and encouraged me to come along. The meeting isn’t for three more weeks, so I’ve no idea what the general consensus on this book was, but… Well, I didn’t really like it. And partly to blame is the fact that I did not get it at all.

It’s almost a collection of stories- each chapter has a different narrator and it’s not readily apparent how any of them are connected. And when you look a bit deeper it’s still not apparent. Occasionally a character will make a brief appearance in two chapters and you’ll go, “Is that the same Daniel Varsky?” (I’m always suspicious of this.) The inside-flap-summary of the book talks about this ominous desk that you meet in the first chapter, and you expect it to be the recurring character, but even the desk only appears in two or three of the stories.

Another problem is that I wasn’t at all interested in half of the stories, but there was one that I found absolutely riveting. If this story had been extended to novel-length, I would have read it gladly. It was of two siblings, Yoav and Leah, who had been raised always moving around. Their father was very wealthy, an antique’s dealer, and he taught them to only trust in each other- as long as they were together, they would be fine. The result is two reclusive adults living in a giant house (possibly the “great house” of the title), with all of their necessities taken care of, rarely venturing outside. Then, someone encroaches on their world- the narrator of the story, a girl who falls in love with Yoav.

That chapter I found interesting. But for the most part, I was rather humdrum about everything. I didn’t particularly care for it. I’ll probably keep my head down at the meeting (if I go to the meeting, if I’m not working that night) as I clearly have nothing insightful to say at all.

Review for my next book coming up!

Published in: on September 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Wings of Dawn by Sigmund Brouwer

I think it’s because I now work so much that it’s been taking me so long to finish books.

Wings of Dawn is about a young boy named Thomas who grew up in a monastery in small part of England. Until he was eleven, he was looked after and taught endlessly by his loving nurse, Sarah, who gives him knowledge of science, history, anatomy, and language. Thomas is taught to read and learns that books are the greatest treasure in the world. As he grows, however, he is also taught that all of this knowledge is for a purpose: one day, he will have to go to a kingdom called Magnus and conquer it from it’s reigning lords- who killed Sarah’s parents, the previous rulers of Magnus.

When Thomas is eleven, Sarah dies, and he is left to his own devices in that little monastery with three corrupt monks his only companions. Finally, when he is fourteen, he decides that he’s ready, but he can’t go alone. Though Magnus is a great walled fortress, impossible to win with an army of the king’s best men, Sarah has told Thomas that he can take it with only one knight. He finds this knight on the gallows, about to be hanged for thievery alongside a grimy little pickpocket and a mysterious deaf and mute girl. Using a magnificent trick, Thomas frees the knight and is about to be on his way when a strange old man tells him to take the other two as well, for they will ensure him safe passage into Magnus.

I have a history with this book. I first picked it up to read in sixth grade- it’s a YA novel, according to placement in the library, but I can’t imagine any person younger than fifteen being able to read and fully understand everything that happens on these pages. Regardless, I borrowed again a year later- I was twelve or thirteen- and finished it, and passed it on to my brother and sister. But we’re all quite precocious.

This is the sort of book I don’t expect to like. I think my initial attraction to it was a visual thing- it’s a very thick book in tones of dark blue and purple, and always stood out amongst the other, more reasonable-looking YA books. Kings, spies, knights in shining armor- they’re not really my thing. Yet at the tender age of twelve-or-thirteen, I read all 432 pages of this book and have never really forgotten it.

It’s also one of those annoying books where you know way more than any of the characters- thanks to third person omnicience- you know exactly where everyone stands while for 400 pages everyone is going, “WHERE DOES HE STAND?!” and it’s frustrating but also fantastic. The book is obscure- Winthrop is the only library in Maine that has it- but wonderful.

Published in: on August 24, 2011 at 11:21 am  Comments (1)  
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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

Hi, there. It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. I am as aware and as frustrated by this as you are (probably more so). To be honest, I’ve had an excruciatingly hard time finishing a book for the past two weeks. I don’t know what it is, but I sent about six books back to the library unfinished- a couple unstarted, because I didn’t have the patience. Where I usually try to hang on to a book for 100 pages, I’ve recently only been able to read for 20 before I get fed up with an uninteresting book.

Finally I found one that I actually wanted to finish, but I didn’t have the time. Or energy. I’ve been working a lot recently, and actually doing a lot with people I don’t work with, and I’ve been able to read perhaps a chapter a day since last Wednesday. I’ve also been trying to see movies that people push at me, and I was inspired to be a bit crafty with a pair of jeans.

So this is the book that I was actually able to finish. The copy that I read from didn’t have a cover, so I’m breaking my usual rule about posting the exact copy that I read; mine was just a black hardcover. It’s a very recent publication, though, and I think this might actually be the only cover out there:

I was hoping to break out of my funk by returning to a genre which has, an overwhelming amount of time, served me well: memoir. I found a book which sounded kind of like a dream, and it reminded me of those fantastic, escapist memoirs I’ve been enamored with. It’s not a foodie book, but it does cater to my other favorite hobby: reading. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is about a mother of four boys who decides to read one book a day, for one year.

There’s a lot of backstory to this decision; her beloved older sister has recently perished to cancer. Nina hopes that be indulging heavily in their shared refuge of books, she will be able to accept her sister’s loss and her continued presence. Specifically, she looks for books that she could have shared with Anne-Marie.

Personally (perhaps because I have three of them, one being a twin), I am completely enamored with sisterhood. I love the idea of sisters, and the fact of them, and that even though they know you in and out they’ll still be seen in public with you. I’ve never been in love (and I don’t know if that would actually change anything, but), the most meaningful relationship in my life right now is the one between me and my sisters. So right at the beginning of the book, when Nina is describing life with Anne-Marie’s illness and eventual death, I felt her pain so sharply I couldn’t breathe. I very nearly cried. I don’t know how to explain it except that while I was reading, Anne-Marie was Emma. Or Julia. Or Sarah. I felt for Nina because I could imagine myself in her situation, with my own sister in pain. Dying.

Then there was the reading. Nina Sankovitch is the epitomal bookworm; raised from childhood with books in her life, and then repeating these lessons with her own boys. A woman who actually could read a book a day for a year without ever needing to throw it down and do something else, who could read an entire novel in one day and still have time for a life with her family (admittedly, she didn’t work during this year).

After a few chapters, though, something annoying became very apparent: she would turn every single book into some kind of metaphor for her life. In some way, it would teach her a lesson that would help her move along. To say this was ‘annoying’ is not entirely accurate, but after a while I would come across her, “My year of reading was traveling across the ocean with a tiger,” and I would just kind of roll my eyes. I’m impressed that she could find so much from her books, but it got a little tedious. However, there was quite enough substance in this to keep the reader going. The book was really more an analysis of love, life, and grief than it was a story with a plot.

The flashbacks were the most interesting part of the book. Every few pages, something would relate to something else; a lesson she read in a book would remind her of a lesson her father had learned in Poland during WWII. She would link kindness to kindness; pain to pain; adventure to adventure; this was the most story-like part of the book, since a flashback is a story. If that made any sense at all.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book. Oh, and I found this interesting: she started off her year of reading- the very first day- with The Elegance of the Hedgehog. And I was just like, “Hey, I read that!” I was pleased. She followed up shortly with a Dick Francis book (my mom’s favorite author), and Watership Down (my brother’s favorite book). Small world, I think.

Next, I’m flashing back to middle school. There’s this book I first tried to read- and couldn’t finish- in sixth grade. Then in seventh grade (age eleven, or thereabouts), I borrowed it again, read it through, and loved it. So I borrowed it last week from the library; I hope it’s as good now as it was then.

Hector and the Search for Happiness by François Lelord

Hector and the Search for Happiness is a short book about a successful psychiatrist who finds himself dissatisfied because many of his patients, though there is nothing significantly wrong with their lives, are simply unhappy, and he can’t seem to fix them. Hector becomes very interested in happiness and how it works; what makes people happy and why is it seemingly unachievable by so many of his otherwise healthy patients? One day, Hector decides to go on a vacation- he will travel across the world, trying to figure out what makes people happy.

His search brings Hector through a busy metropolis in China, an unspecified country in Africa where people have very little, and the imaginary country of More, where there is more of everything. He meets a young Chinese woman and falls in love, a man who moved to Africa so he could farm harmful substances without risking arrest, a professor of happiness studies, and a monk who, despite everything, laughs quite a lot.

This is a quick novel- I got the large print edition (I’m not entirely sure how that happened, as I don’t particularly like reading large print books), and it was still under 200 pages. The writing is somewhere between novel, fairytale, and documentary. There is very little dialogue and a lot of, “Djamila told Hector about the time that~” etc. Generally it’s not a style that I find interesting, but in this case it seemed fitting- even the large print seemed suited to the book after a few pages.

Most importantly, this is a book that makes you think. Hector is trying to unravel the secrets of happiness. As he travels, he takes notes in the form of lessons, such as “Lesson no. 15: Happiness comes when you feel truly alive.” and “Lesson no. 7: It’s a mistake to think that Happiness is the goal.” (We’re not actually supposed to understand Lesson no. 7, I think. Hector doesn’t.) So it’s a very interesting book to read. It reminds me of this book one of sisters bought for another of my sisters, The Pig of Happiness, which is essentially about this pig who decides to be cheerful all the time and try to see the good in everything, and eventually his cheer rubs off on the other pigs. One of Hector’s lessons is, “Lesson no. 23: Happiness means making sure those around you are happy.”

I enjoyed this book because I enjoyed Hector’s perspective on happiness. I feel like it might be a good one to reread at some point. And, since it is very quick, I suggest you give it a few hours of your time. I think it’s worth it.

Published in: on August 1, 2011 at 10:26 am  Comments (1)  
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Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

This has been a big week for me: landed a second job and got my driver’s permit. Here’s hoping I warm up to driving, because it would be kind of terrible to hate something that I’ll undoubtedly have to do quite a lot of in my life. I care more about having the job, anyway.

So, for those interested, in the Winthrop area, I’m now a waitress at Tubby’s, and you should all come and see me. I enjoy this job much more than housekeeping (I’m not giving that job up, by the way- I’m keeping them both). Even if I hated the activity of waitressing (which I don’t), this job is still preferable because there are people around me. And, of those I’ve met so far, every one of my coworkers is very cool.

That’s all.

Oh my god. I was completely rational about writing this review up until the last fifty or so pages of the book, which came completely out of nowhere and blew me so far away that I can’t even think right now. Geeze. Deep breaths, okay.

Everything is Illuminated is a very strange book by Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, about a young man (also named Jonathan Safran Foer) who’s recently been given a photograph of his grandfather, standing with a woman named Augustine, who reportedly saved him from the Nazi’s during WWII. This took place in Ukraine, in a small nothing town known as Trachimbrod or Sofiowka. Sixty years later, Jonathan returns to Ukraine to try and find Augustine and Trachimbrod.

To help him on his quest is Alex, another young man from Ukraine who speaks a stilted sort of intelligible English, and will act as his translator. They’re accompanied by Alex’s grandfather (also Alex), who will act as their driver, and Sammy Davis Junior, Junior, Alex Sr.’s “seeing-eye bitch.” Go ahead and work that one out.

The story is told in three styles. The current action- the story of Jonathan searching for Augustine in the present day- is narrated by Alex, who is writing it as a book. This is portrayed in Alex’s excessively formal English, which was jarring at first. You get used to it quickly.

The second part is the story of Trachimbrod in the 1780’s-90’s, beginning on the day Trachim B’s wagon went into the Brod River- Trachim’s body was never recovered, but he became a legend to the village and they would celebrate him every year on Trachimday. Somehow from the wreckage, a baby was found- a young girl, eventually adopted by the “disgraced usurer Yankel D” and named Brod. This is the book Jonathan is writing.

The third part of the story is told through letters that Alex writes to Jonathan, after he has returned to America and they are both writing their books. Presumably, Jonathan is writing back to Alex, but we never see his letters. Alex tells Jonathan about his family- his brother Little Igor, whom he thinks the world of; his grandfather, who has become obsessed with Augustine; his father, who is strict and cold; and his mother, whom he only wants to be close to. Meanwhile, Alex comments on Jonathan’s story- paralleling, in many places, exactly what the reader is thinking of the action.

This is just a curiosity- but I felt, very sincerely, that this story took place in the exact same universe as The History of Love. I’m not sure how to explain this, except that I felt certain that while Jonathan and Alex were hunting down Augustine, Leo Gursky was biding his time in New York, watching his son from afar. I’ve never had this feeling with a book before. It’s odd, but I’ve never come across another novelist who writes like Nicole Krauss, except Jonathan Safran Foer- in my head, they automatically click (it’s only one of life’s perfect ironies that they’re actually married).

So this book is odd, but it was also incredibly gripping. I enjoyed reading it- though there were a few moments around 180 pages in that it slowed down a bit, it only became that much more amazing when he revealed the truth of everything. All I could think was that this was one of the most mind-bending, unbelievable, powerful things I had ever reader. I was in awe of was JSF did with the ending. I spent the last fifty pages or so just trying to breathe evenly around my accelerated heartbeat (though there easily could have been, there were no liquid tears).

As far as JSF goes, I thought that this book was much better than his other (which I liked quite a lot, so). If you have even the slightest amount of time, read this book. I’m going to add this to my rec list and buy a copy for myself, that’s how highly I thought of this book. That’s all I can say.

There’s been a movie made, starring Elijah Wood. I watched the trailer, and to be honest, the tone of the movie looks very different from the tone of the book. The movie looks much more fun- odd in a Sunshine Cleaning, Little Miss Sunshine kind of way. I have to say that I’m not sure I would watch it in conjunction with the book, but as a movie it looks interesting. Here’s the trailer, if you like:

French Dirt by Richard Goodman

Guys, don’t live in Maine. I know everyone talks about the brutal winters, but this summer is killing me. It’s been above ninety (about 32 degrees Celsius, for my not-American readers) regularly between the hours of eleven and eight. The air does not cool down until the sun disappears over that horizon. And it was in this weather that a friend and I decided to make the hour-long drive from Gardiner to Albion in a beast of a monster car that lacked air conditioning.

We were going to Albion to visit my sister, who works on a farm, outdoors, all day. So I’m going to stop complaining right about here, as I sit typing on my computer directly under a ceiling fan on ‘hi’.

From Albion, we drove to Banger (which is almost longer than the drive from Gardiner to Albion, but at least we were on the highway- I spent the entire time lying in the backseat with my feet out the window) to go to the mall. For those unaware, I am a rigorous saver of money. I’m very good at not spending money on what I don’t need. Emma, my sister, was determined that I spend some of this hard-earned dough, so she took me to a book store. Specifically, she took me to the Borders in Bangor.

I have a system when it comes to buying books: I very rarely buy a book I haven’t read, because I’ve discovered with startling consistency that I’m much less likely to read it, finish it, or like it if I spend money first. I don’t understand exactly, but it means that I spend a lot of time at the library (there’s something nobody knew. Shocker. Also, what’s the verb form of the word ‘patron’? I don’t think I’m patronizing the library, but I might be). If I read a book and really like it, then I’ll go spend money on it. So yesterday at Borders, I finally bought myself a copy of Water for Elephants. It’s nice to have.

Let’s talk about Borders. I’m sure most of you are aware that the entire superchain has recently gone out of business. Right now, everything in their stores is at least ten percent off, and many things are marked down even further. I was surprised when I heard their initial announcement about closing one third of their stores, but I was shocked when I heard that they were all going down.

I would like to state right now that what I’m about to say is entirely unresearched, and if I’m completely wrong in my ignorance, feel free to comment. I’d be happy to discuss this, but I’m not researching right now. I’m sleep deprived and I will bite you.

I think that Borders’ downfall is the fault of ereaders. But not just ereaders; also Netflix, and iTunes. With our relatively new ability to bring everything to us in the blink of an eye, superstar bookstores are feeling the pressure.

So are independent bookstores doomed? I don’t think so, but I can’t really explain why. Basically I think there’s a big enough percentage of people who really want these places to stay open. A few might fall through the cracks here and there, but for the most part I think they’re safe because they fill a little niche market.

Is Barnes & Noble about to go down? No, because they’ve cashed in on the ereader market. I remember the first time I entered B&N and saw the hardcover table replaced with a Nook station I was absolutely horrified, but now I’m mostly indifferent. I’m not about to switch to an ereader, in any case. B&N is safe because they’ve marketed the most popular ereader out there, and they’re making good money off the sales of Nooks and eBooks.

About an hour ago, I didn’t know if Borders had actually attempted to cash in on the eReader revolution. I had assumed not, because I’d never heard of an eReader developed by Borders, but a quick search on their website quickly corrected me. Borders did make an eReader- it’s called Kobo. It sells for almost the same price as the Nook and Kindle, but for some reason it never took off. As I said, I’d never heard of it.

So, to sum this all up, I don’t think the downfall of Borders is the bird in the room that signals death. I think Borders’ failure is Borders’ folly.

French Dirt is a book my father gave me a few months ago, right in the middle of my foodie-memoir spree, attesting that “gardening seems like the next step.” The book is a memoir by Richard Goodman, who took a year with his girlfriend, Iggy, to stay in a village known as St. Sébastien de Caisson, population 211. They rented a quaint little stone building with two stories, a fireplace, and friendly neighbors. Soon, Richard finds himself falling in love with the strong, earthy gardeners that fill the village, and dreams of having on himself. At the end of the year, he’ll return to New York City, and the possibility of his creating a garden to rival what he’s seen will all but vanish. Generously, a friend gives him the land he needs to get started. It’s a small patch in the middle of a larger field, located near a healthy stream. He works.

At first, this seemed like the first sort of quick read that I would be able to get through quickly after being unable to finish a few novels previously. Indeed, I read the first half or so in more or less one sitting. After that, though, my pace stuttered to a painful crawl. I could say I was busy, because I probably was, but I managed to read about twenty pages in three days, and my interest was waning. Yesterday, my bookmark fell out somewhere around the 130-page mark, and I didn’t both to find my exactly place again. I picked up at page 155, and finished it a few hours later. It’s a slim novel, only 201 pages, with unusually wide margins. It is a quick read.

However, just because it didn’t keep me attached doesn’t mean the book is without merit. I think that if you were interested in gardening, you would find this book as interesting and inspirational as I find any of my cooking books. Richard’s accomplishment- he did create a thriving, impressive garden in the south of France, despite having next to no experience, a brutal summer, and conflicting opinions flying at him from every direction- is worthy of praise. He writes about it with passion and affection and a fun tone that makes the book an enjoyable read. I wish that I could care a little more about his success.

Richard also writes very warmly about everyone he met in France- he literally liked every single one of them, and he tried to get to know them all closely. In a village of only 211 people, it was’t entirely difficult, and everyone was willing to lend him a hand where they could. Everyone has a history and a garden. Everyone has time for a chat and food to spare. It was very friendly, very quaint. It can make one nostalgic for France, even if you’ve never been there.

Okay, next on the list is a book I got from the library because I need something to read while all of my out-of-states books take their sweet time getting here. This one (French Dirt) actually came from my pile of books that I own and which is oft neglected because I can’t stay out of the library for more than three or four days. The pile is getting smaller, because I never add to it and very occasionally subtract from it.

Goodnight, Wesley. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.

Published in: on July 23, 2011 at 7:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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