Monday, January 30, 2012

Recent Read: The Book of William

I'm borrowing The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins from a friend who loans me many of the books I blog about. She's the same friend who was in London with me in 2010 and one of the things we did while we were there was visit the British Library to see all the manuscripts they have on display. It was really wonderful yet overwhelming to see so many original manuscripts of so many important British novels, religious texts and even handwritten lyrics that later became hit songs by the Beatles. I had some paper in my bag which was great because taking notes helped me remember later all the amazing things I had seen.

I was excited to read about one of the manuscripts I'd seen in person at the British Library, Shakespeare's First Folio. I was disappointed in Collins' book though. He jumped back and forth between the publishing history of Shakespeare's works and present-day rare book auctions, which made the narrative choppy. I kept hoping Collins would establish his own credibility in the rare book world. I know he must have some clout to have written the book but I wanted to know more about why he wrote the book, why he loves Shakespeare, why he's interested in the first publications of his work, etc. I'd hoped to hear about the journey of the First Folio I saw in the British Library. I'd hoped for more overall.

Have you read this book? Did I miss something big?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Better World Books Book Club

My favorite non-brick and mortar place to buy books is Better World Books. Their staff does a great job of making an online company feel more like the close-knit community with the personal attention you might get at an independent bookstore. Through their online presence on their website and blog, and on Facebook and Twitter they create a conversation for book lovers.

Each month, BWB hosts a book club discussion on their blog. Each quarter, BWB, headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia, hosts an in-person book club discussion for anyone able to attend. Last week, 45 of us who had read Same Kind of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moor with Lynn Vincent, met at City of Refuge, a shelter for women and children in the Vine City neighborhood of Atlanta. Some of us served dinner to the women and children who are part of the residential program. Some headed out to two areas in the neighborhood to serve a hot meal to anyone in need. Afterward we gathered back at City of Refuge to talk about this book that has homelessness at its center.

I read it over New Year's weekend and enjoyed the true tale of two men who couldn't be more different but became best friends. Ron is a fine art dealer whose wife convinced him to volunteer with him in a Fort Worth homeless shelter. Denver is the former sharecropper turned homeless man who becomes his best friend. The friendship doesn't happen overnight, though it is helped along with encouragement from Ron's wife Debbie.

In a couple of hours of service followed by a good discussion about the book and about homelessness, our group certainly didn't solve the world's problems. It was an eye-opening experience though and I'm glad BWB is the kind of company that puts events like these together that spark the discussions we all should be having. 

After the event, BWB posted a guest blog post from Ron Hall.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Author Reading: Joshilyn Jackson

Last night I went to the book release party for Joshilyn Jackson's latest novel, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, published yesterday. The event was hosted by the Georgia Center for the Book and held at the Decatur Public Library. Jackson read passages from each of her three narrators in the novel, talked about how the book came about and gave a summary since most in the audience had a just-purchased hardcover copy in their hands. One of my favorite things about when authors speak is hearing about how their books come about. Jackson said (and I love this) that characters appear to her and float around in her head, usually for years, before she ever starts writing to see what happens to them. She said she gets some of her ideas for plots and characters since she's a good eavesdropper (I love this too). More books are to come from her and I can't wait to read whatever she puts out next.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Published on: January 25, 2012
Page Count: 288
Genre: Adult Fiction
My Reading Format: Advanced Reading Copy in PDF from NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover, Amazon Kindle

My Review:

Joshilyn Jackson's fifth novel, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, like her other books, has a Southern setting. This time it's South Mississippi and more of the complicated small-town social structure and the kinds of hushed-up family secrets we've come to expect from Jackson. Challenges come around every 15 years for Ginny "Big" Slocumb, her daughter Liza and Liza's daughter Mosey. This time Liza has had a stroke and is unable to communicate to her family and investigators why the bones of a baby are buried in their backyard. The digging up of the skeleton means a exposing all kinds of things from the Slocumb women's pasts. They have to face what has been hidden for years and sort it out in a way that makes sense as they establish a new normal for their lives.

Jackson is excellent at twisting the plot around so her readers keep guessing. Her quirky characters are modern but reminiscent of Faulkner or O'Connor with their complexity, and the way their lives are intertwined with those in their families and in the communities around them. The story is told through each of the three Slocumbs' voices: a grandmother trying to hold the family together and keep her own sanity, a stroke victim whose mind is clear but whose speech is garbled, and a teenager who does much of her communicating through texts from her cell phone or with her best friend, but has lots going on inside her head. Having the voice of each of these characters is integral to giving readers perspective from three different angles to paint the whole picture.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good characterization, Southern fiction and Southern sayings (the novel is full of them). One of my favorite Faulkner quotes certainly relates well to A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

War Horse

Though I don't go to the movies very often, I have been waiting for the release of Steven Spielberg's War Horse, a movie about a British young man and his horse who both become soldiers in France during World War I. During 2010's trip to London I saw the play, and it was the most incredible production I've ever seen. The entire audience was mesmerized by the storyline, the actors and the action, and we were on the edge of our seats to get resolution. What was the most powerful part of the play for me was the lack of scenery. Battles, market days in town, life in the country and other scenes were set with minimal props and backdrops. The audience was forced to use imagination and it worked very well.

A few months later I picked up the book by Michael Morpurgo that the play was based on. It's a young adult novel and only 165 pages. I liked it, but it made me appreciate the story I saw in a simple setting on stage even more.

Last weekend I saw the movie. It was very true to the bookand play, though a few things are always eliminated or shortened up to make a movie the right length. Though the parts set on the farm in the English countryside were beautiful and made me want to visit, I still think I much preferred the way I saw it on stage. I do realize, though, that a movie without scenery wouldn't necessarily go over well.

Whether you read the bookor see the movie or the play, it's a wonderful story that I'd recommend for all.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Recent Read: The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

I was back from Christmas break with all of New Year's weekend to relax, so I started a book I borrowed from a friend and have been excited about reading: The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy. This book continues on with the theme of World War II, but this time the book's setting is all Guernsey, the same island I first read about in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. This, too, was fiction, but I liked that Leroy listed some of the sources she used to help her recreate life on this island in the forties.

The narrator and main character is Vivienne de la Mare, your average wife, mother, homemaker and friend. She became so real to me. I liked her so much because she was complex, as are many of us. She did the things that so many of us do: struggle with making decisions when neither choice is very appealing, how to parent and parent at the same time to children in different life stages, and in the face of strict authority, how much protest should one make, and how much should one go along with the rules even if the rules are wrong.

The contradictions that made Vivienne who she was are the things about her I liked the most. Not letting her daughter socialize with the occupying Germans but befriending the soldiers who took over the house next door both seemed like the right thing to do. Then later, lying to the Germans seemed like the right thing too.

I can't say too much about all of Vivienne's internal conflicts without giving away things about the book that you'll want to be surprised about if you're planning to read it for yourself. Just know that she, like so many people in wartime and at peacetime, manage just the best they can, and decisions made during wartime might not be the same decisions made during a peaceful time, and the other way around.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Book Club

Fellow reader, book club member, freelance writer and blogger Lori summed up the year in our Atlanta book club so well that I don't need to reinvent the wheel. You can read her blog post here.

Thinking of starting a book club in 2012? Read this first to guarantee success.