Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Devotion by Dani Shapiro

This book, a memoir about finding faith and hope in a tragic world, absolutely exceeded my expectations. It profoundly moved me, leading me to ask questions about the strength of my own faith, what faith does for me, and the nature of God.

One thing I often worry about before reading memoirs like these is that I'll come across harsh criticism of organized religion. I'm a Mormon, and my church (officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) seems, to most people, very strict and all-encompassing. (And I love it that way.) A lot of writers about faith these days seem to scoff at the idea of strict obedience and are determined to find their own way, picking out bits and pieces of different religions according to what makes sense to them. Shapiro, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family, actually has a lot of respect for this kind of religion with a lot of rites, symbols, and rules. Although she's become mostly assimilated, she still tries to incorporate Judaism into her life, and I loved that. I was fascinated to read about Shapiro's relationship with Judaism and her determination to keep it in her family, even though she had mostly abandoned the beliefs about God that she had been taught growing up.

Bout of Books 11 Sign-up

Bout of Books

Bout of Books is almost here! I need another readathon before school starts, so this comes at a perfect time. I'm joining in--are you? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

In my opinion, some of the most wonderful books in the world are books about books. And this book was no exception. A summary, written by me:

Wendy and Jack, a married couple, have always talked about someday owning and operating a used bookstore--and they've finally decided to live their dream. They purchase an old house in the small town of Big Stone Gap and open a bookstore right away, without any experience or know-how except a love of books and people. As they traverse the trials of running a bookstore in a small town, they also find unexpected joys in their new life's work. 

Have you ever dreamed of owning a bookstore? I totally have, even though I know it's the most unrealistic thing in the world and I probably wouldn't love it as much as I think I would. So living vicariously through Wendy and Jack's experience is my best option. Welch doesn't try to make running a bookstore sound easy--she and her husband go through some tough times and have to solve some interesting problems--but she still keeps the book lighthearted, focusing on the benefits of owning a bookstore. This book was certainly a fun read, but it also made me think about how and where I buy my books. Most of us book lovers have contemplated the question of whether e-books are going to eventually overcome print, but Welch also brought my attention to big online sellers of print books (cough, Amazon). Welch pointed out that buying books online is what's putting bookstores out of business because they can't compete with online prices. It made me reconsider the way I buy books (although honestly, I hardly ever buy books anyway--unless they're for school--because I'm a poor college student. But, you know, someday). 

To anyone who loves books and especially those who have dreamed of owning a bookstore, I would absolutely recommend this book. It makes me want to visit all the used bookstores in a fifty-mile radius and buy out all their inventory. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

I expected to like this book. I couldn't imagine not enjoying a book about a restaurant critic for the New York Times who is so determined to expose the truth about fancy restaurants that she dines in disguise. (And yes, it's nonfiction.)

And Garlic and Sapphires exceeded my expectations. Not only did it provide descriptions of meals and life as a New York Times restaurant critic, it also addressed the issues that Reichl faced. Halfway through the book, I was beginning to be a bit sickened by the idea of someone criticizing minute details of ridiculously luxurious meals. I'm not trying to be one of those self-righteous "children are starving in Africa" people, but it just seems wrong to be critical of a $100 prepaid meal while you're being waited on hand and foot.

I was surprised and pleased that Reichl tackled this issue. She didn't want to become the pretentious NY Times restaurant critic, trusting all too thoroughly in her own importance as the "Princess of New York" (as Reichl says). Near the end of the book, she has an experience that I think illustrates perfectly what a restaurant critic ought to consider her mission: She eats in an expensive restaurant that serves truly terrible food and has horrible service, and notices that a young couple at the table next to her seem to be the sort of people who have saved up for a fancy meal. Unfortunately, the service and food are so terrible that they can't enjoy their time. She insists on paying for their meal: "Let me pick up your check. Take the money you were going to spend here and go to another restaurant. A good one." When they protest, she says, "It's sort of part of my job. What I'm supposed to do is make sure that people don't waste their money in places like this. . . ." A restaurant critic isn't supposed to spend her time basking in her power, being as judgmental as possible to make herself feel more knowledgeable and important. She should be the informed voice that can help those of us who can't eat fancy meals every day (like me--and like most people) make good decisions when we do go out for special occasions.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July Classics Club Meme

Other than the readathon, I've been all about the reviews lately (and I have about five more waiting to be published. What's up with my habit of writing posts and then not bothering to publish them these days? Weird). Which is awesome, and I'm so proud of myself, but it's always fun to change it up. I haven't done a Classics Club meme in a while, and this one caught my attention:
Have you ever read a biography on a classic author? If so, tell us about it. If you had already read works by this author, did reading a biography of his/her life change your perspective on the author's writing? Why or why not? Or, if you've never read a biography of a classic author, would you? Why or why not? 
Why yes, I have--actually, I've read a few. Most of the biographies of classic authors I've read haven't been particularly memorable; I read them for the information and appreciated it at the time, but the biography itself didn't stand out. The one that immediately sprang to mind was Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence, which inspired the movie "Becoming Jane."

I liked the biography because I thought it was written well and it was actually a good book--imagine, a biographer that actually tries to make his book interesting--but also it gave me a lot more perspective on Jane Austen. Prior to reading Becoming Jane Austen, I didn't know a lot about Austen herself, other than that she lived and wrote at the beginning of the 19th century and never married. But learning about her certainly did change my perspective on her novels.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Day 9


Books read today: Wives and Daughters, Marie Antoinette
All books finished: Refuge, When Did I Get Like This?, The Reader

11:30 am: I've had a busy morning, and an even busier day planned, so I don't know how much reading I'll really be able to do. I have read a couple chapters of Wives and Daughters, though. It's getting interesting! It's fun to get into a classic that's so easy to read.

10:00 pm: Well, as I predicted, it hasn't been much of a reading day. However, I did read another chapter of Marie Antoinette, which means I'm basically halfway done! Which also means that I finished all my goals for the readathon! Yippee! I'm pretty proud of myself. I even went above and beyond, finishing three books instead of just the two I was planning. Tomorrow, the last day of the readathon, probably will be another slow reading day (I have family in town), but I'm proud of what I've accomplished so far.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wicked Wildfire Readathon: Day 8


Books read today: The Reader
All books finished: Refuge, When Did I Get Like This?, The Reader