Saturday, August 27, 2016

August in Review

August isn't quite over yet, but my reading for the month pretty much is. Because I went on vacation this month, I didn't do quite as much reading as I thought I would. I don't know about anyone else, but whenever I go on vacation, I think, "This is great! I'll be able to read at least three books while I'm gone!" and I'm lucky if I read one.

This month, I actually stuck to the reading theme my sister and I decided on (New York Times bestsellers). My sister also told me it's okay if I read advanced reader copies, since it's work-related, so you'll see some of those mixed in with my list, too. Here's what I read this month.

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth 
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
End of Watch by Stephen King
We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun 
Wrecked by Maria Padian
Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

The best thing I read this month, by far, was Caraval. It doesn't come out until January 2017, and if you haven't already added it to your to-be read list, you need to. I don't read much fantasy, but Caraval made me fall in love with YA fantasy again (other YA fantasy novels have done that before--mainly, Laini Taylor's series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters).

What did you read in August? Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Southern Literature

The American South has long been seen as the focus of the country’s Civil Rights Movement, carrying with it the stigma of poverty, racism, and anti-intellectualism. Yet the region has also produced a disproportionate number of intellectuals, poets, and writers, possibly because of the complicated and layered identities each Southerner holds within him- or herself. The South has begotten some of our nation’s most important authors, including prize winners like William Styron, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison, Harper Lee, and that titan of American letters, William Faulkner...a reminder that the South cannot be defined solely by its failings; it is also responsible for shaping the minds of countless thinkers who offered to American literature essential insights about not only their region but the world at large.
~Tyler Coates, The 50 Best Southern Novels Ever Written

Southern literature has certainly had its ups and downs, or popularity followed by backlash. Just since the last century, it had its only Nobel Prize for Literature winner, William Faulkner in 1949.  What might be called the heyday of Southern Gothic began in the 1930s and stretched to the 1990s, featuring some of the most famous names in American literature. There has been a swell of interest surrounding writing about the South almost once a decade, from Gone With the Wind to All the King's Men to A Streetcar Named Desire to In the Heat of the Night to Deliverance to Fried Green Tomatoes, and, most recently, The Help, as the publication as a book turns to the drama of making the movie - and the downside is usually issues about the world portrayed within. Just last year, The New York Post declared "'Gone With the Wind' should go the way of the Confederate flag"; The Help ignited similar controversy. Beloved author Harper Lee's long-awaited second book, Go Set a Watchman, with its more difficult portrayal of the upstanding Atticus, was said to have "diminished" her legacy. The September 2016 issue of Vanity Fair features an article called "The Literary Battle for Nat Turner's Legacy", a thoughtful and piercing history of William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner - published to much lavish praise for its portrayal of the title character in 1967, but no longer a staple of syllabuses and roundly dismissed by many African-American activists. Even in 1968, Styron was called upon to debate his book with actor and activist Ossie Davis, in a debate moderated by no less than James Baldwin. One of the issues with Styron's "form-bending" opus that had already come to light was this one:
Styron had miscalculated. His "common history" was narrower than he knew. He'd had superb historical advisers such as C. Vann Woodward, the great Yale historian of the South, and Robert Penn Warren, who had recently published a powerful book, Who Speaks For the Negro?, based on searching interviews with civil-rights leaders. But Styron has overlooked another part of the story that was familiar in the African-American world; Nat Turner's standing as a mythic figure, celebrated "in pageants during Negro History Week...a magnificent forefather enshrined in the National Pantheon beside the greatest heroes of the Republic..."
Many Southern writers have "come under attack for being politically tone-deaf," but as, Sam Tanenhaus asserts in his Vanity Fair article, "...The Confessions of Nat Turner may be Styron's most significant work, having accomplished the rare feat of meeting a traumatic moment with a story powerful enough to create a culture war."

Some of us at abcreads have family from the Southern states, and have enjoyed reading books set in the region, most recently Lee Smith's memoir, Dimestore: A Writer's Life. We like the way she sums up Southern culture:
Some things never change. Some Southern food will never go out of style, no matter how much it may get nouveau'ed. And large parts of the South still look a lot like they used to - the Appalachian coal country where I'm from, for instance, and the old Cotton Belt. A layer of cultural conservatism still covers Dixie like the dew. As a whole, we Southerners are still religious, and we are still violent. We'll bring you a casserole, but we'll kill you, too.
We hope to capture some of the best in Southern literature, redolent of both casseroles and death, with this list of recommended Southern reads mostly taken from "The Crowded Canon of the South" by Hal Espen, as featured in The Southerner's Handbook: A Guide to Living the Good Life by David DiBenedetto and the editors of Garden & Gun - a delightful compendium of Southern manners, slang, hobbies, and more. These books can be "like bellying up to a twenty-four-hour all-you-care-to-eat-buffet overflowing with decay, destruction, exploitation..." and more, so read at your own risk!

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; A Death in the Family, & Shorter Fiction by James Agee

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor

Look Homeward, Angel: The Story of a Buried Life by Thomas Wolfe

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

A Long and Happy Life by Reynolds Price

Those Bones Are Not My Child By Toni Cade Bambara [eBook]

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

True Grit by Charles Portis

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? by Padgett Powell

Father and Son by Larry Brown

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions by Daniel Wallace

Cane by Jean Toomer

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Oral History by Lee Smith [eAudiobook]

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Dogs of God by Pinckney Benedict

The Ballad of Frankie Silver by Sharyn McCrumb [eAudiobook]

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston

For more about Southern literature, check out South Toward Home: Travels in Southern Literature by Margaret Eby, or try a search of Southern States - Fiction. For more on Southern culture - especially food, because in our opinion that's another great way to soak up a regional way of life - try also The Southerner's Cookbook: Classic Recipes to Feed the Soul, by the same authors, Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler's Journey Through the Soul of the South, or try a subject search of Southern States -- Social life and customs.  


The wonderful, terrible Gone with the Wind [A.V. Club] 

Finding humanity in Gone with the Wind [Atlantic]

The Evolution of Southern Gothic [Huffington Post]

Why southern gothic rules the world [Guardian]

100 Must-Read Works of Southern Literature [Book Riot]

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New & Novel: Author Biographies

You think you know the story so well. It’s a mansion inside your head, each room just waiting to be described, but pretty much every memoirist I’ve ever talked to finds the walls of such rooms changing shape around her. There are shattering earthquakes, tectonic-plate-type shifts. Or it’s like memory is a snow globe that invariably gets shaken so as to shroud the events inside.
~Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir

We confess to a deep curiosity into the lives of the authors we read. How do they do it? What are their lives like? Coupled with our current reading material, Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir, this curiosity fuels our latest booklist. Mary Karr has so many wise and wonderful quotes about great memoirs - of which her splendid best-selling The Liars' Club is one of our favorite example of the genre - that we wish we could just list them here and call it a day. However, as Karr herself might admonish us, good blogging, like good memoirs, should be "art, a made thing. It’s not just raw reportage flung splat on the page."

While we can't promise all the memoirs and biographies listed - there's a healthy crop of them out at the moment - meet Mary Karr's high standards of being "held together by happenstance, theme, and (most powerfully) the sheer, convincing poetry of a single person trying to make sense of the past," we hope there are a few to pique your interest. We elected to include a few biographies amongst the memoirs because we found the subject matter so interesting.

Without further ado (or Mary Karr quotes), here's a list of some of the newest memoirs and biographies of authors in the library catalog - from an author who moved to another country and wrote her memoir in a new language to a friend's memories of the late, great Nora Ephron to a daughter writing about life as the child of a graphic novelist and the art director of the New Yorker, there's an embarrassment of riches waiting for your perusal!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Eating Your Words: Adventures in Food Etymology and History

There are very few men and women, I suspect, who cooked and marketed their way through the past war without losing forever some of the nonchalant extravagance of the Twenties. They will feel, until their final days on earth, a kind of culinary caution: butter, no matter how unlimited, is a precious substance not lightly to be wasted; meats, too, and eggs, and all the far-brought spices of the world, take on a new significance, having once been so rare. And that is good, for there can be no more shameful carelessness than with the food we eat for life itself. When we exist without thought or thanksgiving we are not men, but beasts.
~M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Sometimes we feel like we need a dictionary to go to a restaurant. What's a reduction? Is pork belly the same thing as bacon? Why has the food been deconstructed? Or, we're eating something, and we think, who first thought up preserving food and how many people died before they got it right? When was yeast first used to make something rise, and how was that property of yeast discovered? We have been cooking for centuries, though ingredients and diets have changed over time, but who originally  thought up all these cooking techniques?

Well, some of these questions are now answerable, and you need look no farther than your library catalog for some of those answers. You could start with browsing the Larousse Gastronomique, but that's a big book, covering a lot of ground - you might be better served by something more specific, such as one of the following books featuring food etymology and/or history:

Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language by Ina Lipkowitz

Tasty: The Art and Science of What We Eat by John McQuaid

Eatymology: The Dictionary of Modern Gastronomy by Josh Friedland [eBook]

The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst

The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Recommended Audiobook Narrators

A narrator can make or break an audiobook. Tone, inflection, accents, ages, pronunciation, intensity – so many moving parts need to come together to form the perfect narration. A good narrator can bring the words to life and fire up your imagination, all while keeping you engaged and giving you a completely new and unique experience with your favorite book.
~Adam Sockel, "Great Audiobook Narrators"

Finding a good audiobook reader can be a challenge. One of the first ones we tried almost put us off for life: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, a favorite book, narrated by Lisette Lecat. Lisette Lecat is a highly recommended reader who also reads The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, but in reading Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, she attempted to mimic children's voices, and the result was creepy and annoying. We didn't listen to any audiobooks for a good while after that, sure we would only find heartache with bad readers.

In the fullness of time, though, working in a library surrounded by audiobooks and getting recommendations from customers frequently, we dipped our toe into the world of audiobooks again - we're here to tell you that nothing makes chores such as washing dishes go faster than audiobook accompaniment. We tend to be suckers for accents - Sushi for Beginners (Irish), Good Omens:The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (British), and The Distant Echo (very thick Scottish accent, occasionally impenetrable but worth spending time deciphering for the quality of the reading) are three of our absolute favorites - and to dislike readings "by a full cast" (one voice is plenty, so long as they are not doing peculiar vocal tricks - sometimes listeners have issues with men mimicking women's voices, for instance), but really, you have to make those kinds of decisions for yourself. One person's dream reader can be another person's nails on a blackboard - we once complained of Anne Lamott's flat narration of her own work, only to have it vehemently defended.

Some audiobook readers are legendary: Jim Dale's Harry Potter audiobook renditions are beloved (though Stephen Fry reads Harry Potter across the pond, where his renditions are equally beloved) and Simon Prebble seems to get universal kudos, for instance. But sometimes you are looking for a particular thing from a reader - some people think you get more depth from authors narrating their own books (we think Neil Gaiman and Maya Angelou are tremendous readers). Or sometimes people are take umbrage with the gender of the narrator - though, apparently, "research suggests both men and women tend to trust male voices more." Actors are increasingly employed as voice talent, if you are looking for a reader with proven acting chops - Emilia Fox reads a lot of Agatha Christie, Kate Winslet reads Matilda, and Colin Firth lent his voice to The End of the Affair. And, of course, there's the continuing debate about "Does Listening Count as Reading?" - in our opinion, it most certainly does.

We have compiled a list of recommended audiobook narrators as suggested by Book Riot, with some additions of our own. Do you have any favorite narrators to add to the list? Any vocal tics by audiobook readers that drive you crazy? Let us know your take on audiobooks in the comments!

Recommended Readers

Wil Wheaton

Kate Scott

Käthe Mazur

Finty Williams

Fiona Hardingham

January LaVoy

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Kyle McCarley

Grover Gardner

Donada Peters

Dion Graham

Juliet Stevenson 

Stephen Fry

James Marsters 

David Tennant 

Ron Perlman 

Davina Porter 

Tim Curry


Golden Voice Narrators [AudioFile]

Audie Awards [AudioFile]

10 Audiobooks That Are Worth Getting For the Voice Acting Alone [io9]

10 of the Best Narrator and Audiobook Pairings of All Time [Goodreads]

Read Me a Story, Brad Pitt [Slate]

The Podcast That Tells Ingeniously Boring Bedtime Stories to Help You Fall Asleep [New Yorker]

Photo attribution: Jeff Daly, Audio Book Concept (for iStock)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Featured Author : Victor Pelevin

For two decades now, his work has been a beacon of light on the cultural life of a country whose history is difficult and whose socio-economic situation is far from ideal.  Creating the myths and legends of the new Russia, Pelevin mixes the Strugatsky brothers with Stanislav Lem and marinates them in Jorge Luis Borges. This turns out to be a winning combination for works of the fantastical satirical genre, books that are deep, poisonous, funny and endlessly inventive, revealing, explaining and commentating on the reality we read about in the newspapers.
~Alexander Genis, "At 50, Victor Pelevin creates myths for the new Russia"

Victor Olegovich Pelevin is a Russian fiction writer, not widely known in the West, whose works have won the Russian "Little Booker" Award, among other honors, and whose first novel Omon Ra was noted as one of the best books of 1996 by Newsday and Spin. He studied engineering before he came to writing. Pelevin has been described as "a laconic, shaven-headed semi-recluse with a fashionable interest in Zen meditation and an attachment to dark glasses" by at least one interviewer. Buddhism, he says, helps him escape "all the junk of modern living" - he does not describe himself as a Buddhist, but he has traveled to South Korea to study with monks.

His books have been so popular in Russia that they get traded at nightclubs, but despite his wide fanbase he has also been polarizing - some Russians call him "a fraud." It's been said that his books "are based on a single philosophical principle: according to this, our world is just a series of artificial constructions, in which we humans are doomed to forever wander around blindly, searching in vain for the ‘real’ reality" and that he is "Russia’s answer to Thomas Pynchon, crossed with Kurt Vonnegut." He lists as his influences Mikhail Bulgakov, Franz Kafka, Herman Hesse, and Robert M. Pirsig.

In Translation

Omon Ra

The Sacred Book of the Werewolf 


Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Year of Reading: Take Two

Last year, my sister and I decided to do a reading challenge from August 2015 through July 2016. This year, we're doing another challenge, from August 2016 through July 2017, but we're changing the way we do it just a little. It was really hard for me to stick with our reading themes last year (during most months, I didn't stick with the themes at all), so this time, we're not going to read quite as exclusively. Here are our themes for this year's challenge.

August: New York Times bestsellers (from any year)
September: Read at least one LGBT book
October: Read at least one Stephen King book
November: Read books that are set in countries other than the United States, or that are written by authors who reside somewhere other than the United States
December: Read books that have been made into movies or TV shows
January: Read books by women authors
February: Read at least one classic love story
March: Read books with green covers
April: Read at least one book that is about animals or that has an animal as the main character
May: Read eBooks and audiobooks
June: Read book series
July: Read books from the Goodreads Awards lists (from any year)

I'm really looking forward to this reading challenge because it's not as strict as it was last year, and because I think we've done a great job diversifying the types of things we're going to read. It should be much easier for me to actually stick with the themes this time around.

Are you participating in any reading challenges this year? Let us know in the comments!