Now Arriving from – China

Hello Reading Fans!

How did this month of the Online Reading Challenge treat you? Did you find something really fantastic to read? Something that opened a little window of understanding of the great mystery that is China?

I’m afraid I didn’t do so well this month – I got caught up in reading other books and never came across anything China-related that grabbed my attention. These things happen sometimes (This is why I’m not very good with traditional book clubs – the rebel in me doesn’t always want to read the chosen book!) Fortunately, there aren’t any Library Police and I can simply try again next month!

I do want to draw your attention to two favorite movies set in China that deal with the ancient history of China and are deeply rooted in mysticism. Both are absolutely beautiful

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon caused quite a sensation when it first came out and you may very well have already seen it. Beautifully photographed, superb acting and a story that requires the watcher, much like the characters, to take a leap of faith makes this a film that linger long after the closing credits. A young Chinese warrior steals a sword from a famed swordsman and then escapes into a world of adventure with a mysterious man in the frontier of the nation with serious, long-reaching consequences.

Hero, starting Jet Li, was released shortly after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and may have been overshadowed by it, but it is stunning in it’s own right.  Set in ancient China, warring factions plot to assassinate the most powerful ruler, Qin. When a minor official defeats Qin’s three deadly enemies, he is summoned to the palace to tell Qin the story of his surprising victory. The martial arts scenes, beautifully, artfully choreographed, are worth watching alone but the message, about power and how it is wielded is relevant to all times and societies.

Now Arriving from: San Francisco

Hello Fellow Reading Fans!

We’re back from the City by the Bay – how was your virtual visit? Did you find a book that gave you a taste of the city?

I hit the jackpot this month and read a great book – Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Set mostly in San Francisco, the story revolves around a mysterious bookstore that is open 24 hours a day and caters to a very particular clientele. More that that it’s an exploration of old vs new, of how pen and paper (and books) mesh with and clash with technology and new ideas.

Stephanie wrote a great review of this book for the blog a couple of years ago which I suggest you check out. It gives you a great description of what the book is about (without spoilers) and why it’s so good. It’s also pretty funny – Clay’s internal dialogue is often hilarious (and very relatable) and while San Francisco isn’t an integral part of the story, it does add a lot of character to the setting. Read it – it’s sooooo good!

Bonus: if you like to judge a book by it’s cover and mostly pick up a book because of its appearance rather than what the blurb says, then you have to check this one out because the cover glows in the dark! Yep. I tested it myself and it really does glow in the dark. Kinda super-awesome.

So, what about you – did you find anything super-awesome to read (or listen to or watch) this month? Tell us!

Now Departing for: San Francisco

San Francisco, the beautiful city of fog and cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge and Victorian “painted ladies” houses. There’s a lot of history here too, from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to the site of the former prison Alcatraz. This month’s reading adventure is sure to be action packed!

As for reading choices, there seems to be a lot – I mean, a huge number – of murder mysteries and private detective stories. You can go with the classic, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (or the film starring Humphrey Bogart) or go contemporary with any of James Patterson’s titles from the Women’s Murder Club series (shelved in Fiction under “Patterson”). Also check out Locked Rooms by Laurie King or the “Nameless Detective” series by Bill Pronzini.

If murder isn’t quite your cup of tea, I’d recommend Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. This is a YA novel, a quick read but thoughtful and charming, and modern San Francisco is woven expertly into the story. (It’s also the follow-up to Anna and the French Kiss so if you read that for our month in Paris, this would be perfect for June!)

This would also be your chance, if you haven’t read it already, to dive into Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, a beautiful book about mothers and daughters, the weight of the past and the struggle to find balance between the old ways and new. Because of the large immigrant populations from China and Japan, there are multiple books that examine this clash of cultures including Lisa See’s China Dolls and Isabel Allende’s The Japanese Lover. Check our displays at all three library buildings for lots more titles.

My choice this month is Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan about a bookstore (duh) that is hiding something larger. It comes highly recommended – I’ll let you know what I think.

Now it’s your turn – what are you going to read this month?

Online Reading Challenge – “Comment allez-vous?”*

Bon jour! We’re halfway through the April Reading Challenge – have you found a good book set in Paris yet? There is no lack of excellent books (and movies) set in Paris, but if you’re still searching, here are a more couple of ideas.

For non-fiction lovers, try Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba which is about how the women of Paris survived the Nazi occupation during World War II. With few non-German men left in the city, it was the women who dealt with the Germans, making life or death decisions on a daily basis, just to survive. From collaborators to resistors, famous to ordinary, it’s a complex, fascinating story. Or try The Only Street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino who lives on Rue des Martyrs and shows you the charming, everyday world of Parisians away from the tourist sites.

Fiction readers should check out The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery just for the title alone but also because it’s a sharp look at the various lives of an elegant Parisian apartment building as observed by the concierge who is smarter and more sophisticated than anyone suspects. The Race for Paris by Meg Clayton is about three journalists who are following the American liberating forces in Normandy. If they can arrive in Paris before the Allies, they will have the scoop of their lives, but at what cost?

As for me, I’m finding the selection to be an embarrassment of riches – there are almost too many to choose from! However, my plan is to watch Coco Before Chanel starring Audrey Tautou (of Amelie fame) and to finish reading The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro but I’m also eyeing My Life in France by Julia Child. Obviously, I will be reading books about Paris long after April!

Now it’s your turn – what are you reading this month?

*”how are you?”

Halfway Home from Seattle

Hello Readers!

How is your Seattle reading going? Have you found any gems? If you’re still looking, here are a few more recommendations.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown. I’ve recommended this book many times and have yet to hear from anyone that was disappointed. At its most basic, it’s the true story about the young men who represented the US in rowing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but there’s so much more. The majority of these athletes came from difficult backgrounds made worse by the Great Depression and worked hard not only to stay on the team, but to stay in school. The bulk of the story takes place at the University of Washington in Seattle and gives you a feel for 1930s Seattle and the great shifts that were beginning in its economy and outlook. Also, the book is can’t-put-down good.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. This book is one of my all-time favorites. It’s funny and heartbreaking and beautiful. Told from the point-of-view of the family dog Enzo, it follows the story of Danny Swift as he works to become a professional auto racer. Along the way Denny falls in love, marries and has a daughter. After his wife dies, Denny must fight for his daughter. Through it all, Enzo, who wishes for opposable thumbs and the ability to speak, is Denny’s silent, loyal supporter. To be honest, Seattle does not have a starring role in this book, but Garth Stein lives in Seattle which gives the setting real authenticity.

Or go grunge, put on a flannel shirt and listen to some Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. (Did I get that right? The grunge movement completely missed me) Try Montage of Heck or Nevermind. Or try a documentary about the grunge movement such as Soaked in Bleach. Remember, you don’t have to read a book – watching a movie or listening to music also count (um, so long as it has something to do with Seattle!)

I’m still reading Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and so far, I’m loving it. It took me several pages to catch onto the rhythm of the writing – it’s told through a combination of texts, emails, letters and narrative – and figure out the cast of characters, but I caught on soon enough. I’m loving Bernadette’s snarky remarks and her brand of crazy (although I suspect there’s more going on) So far, it’s been a great read.

Now, over to you – what are reading/watching/listening to this month?

February’s Online Reading Challenge – How’d You Do?

Happy Leap Day! (And Happy Birthday Christie who is 8 years old today!)

So, how did you do with the first month of the Reading Challenge? Did you discover a great new book? Or did the Journeys theme fall flat for you? Please let us know in the comments – tell us what you read and how you liked it!

I really enjoyed this months’ theme – in fact, as I was preparing book lists and setting out displays, I kept running across more titles I’d like to read! The idea of embarking on a journey, whether by physically traveling or through emotional growth, is a powerful one. Humans are blessed with great curiosity  – what’s around the bend in the trail, what are my limits and how can I move past them, how can I build a better mousetrap? It is one of our best characteristics, and following someone on their journey – and thinking about how we would have done – is one of the best ways to feed this curiosity. After all, I’m never going to climb Mt Everest – and have no desire to – but reading about someone’s trek is still eye-opening and mind-expanding.

road to little dribblingThis month I read The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. A treat for Anglophiles or fans of dry humor or anyone curious about England both past and present, will enjoy this book. Bryson is very funny, poking fun at silly conventions and laws (which England seems to have in abundance!), despairing at the of encroachment of modern “improvements”, liberally shot through with fondness and love for his adopted country.

This is not a straight line march from south to north and, in fact, Bryson doesn’t walk the entire way (although he loves tramping through the countryside and does so frequently); this is more of a meander, from Britain’s southernmost point to the far north. Bryson and Great Britain are well suited to each other – their love for and indulgence of the eccentric mesh nicely. Bryson is an expert at digging up interesting tidbits of history and trivia and making them fascinating. He is also very, very funny in a very dry, British way.

This is a great book to dip into to quickly read a chapter or two and easy to come back to later. It’s also great for adding many more places to visit when I travel to England! Highly recommended.

wildAs a (completely unnecessary) bonus, I also worked on reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This is one of those books that I had started but hadn’t finished even though I liked it. As of this writing, I’m not quite done – I still have about a third of the book to go – but I am enjoying it a great deal.

This book is a very different kind of journey, involving both physical travel and emotional growth. After the death of her beloved mother, Cheryl finds herself floundering, repeatedly making poor choices (infidelity, heroin use, pushing away people she loves). Desperate to break out of this cycle, she latches onto the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, an arduous, long distance hike that would include desert heat, mountain snow, encounters with bears and rattlesnakes, food and water shortages and days and days without seeing another human.

Throughout the course of the book (and the hike), Cheryl thinks about her past and how it has shaped her, how the choices in her life have set her on this path (literal and metaphysical), how her grief has paralyzed her from moving forward with life. There are some cringe-worthy moments – the emotion is very real and very raw. She is also a complete hiking novice, making some terrible decisions (pack too heavy, shoes too small, the wrong fuel for her camp stove, etc etc) But the trail and the vast wilderness hone her skills; she becomes stronger with each step (both physically and emotionally), smarter and more confident. She grows into the person she is meant to be and she is eventually able to put the past aside and move on.

This all sounds very dreary and deep, but the book also has a lot of humor and light. Strayed comes to love the wilderness and describes it beautifully, she often pokes fun at herself and she meets many kind and helpful people in her journey. Her writing is fluid and natural and a joy to read. For anyone that has lost a loved one and wondered how to move on without them, this book will help make sense of that most difficult of journeys.

Those are my Journey books – what about yours? Please add a comment to this post and let us know!

Tomorrow we start with a new theme – Magical Realism! It’s going to be awesome – be sure to check back tomorrow for more information and reading suggestions.