Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Always something to be learned

I am a sucker for learning  - in all its forms. It's one of the reasons I so enjoy reading. 
While I certainly learn a lot reading nonfiction, there's much to be gleaned from fiction as well.
And I don't only mean the things a reader learns about the human condition.
I spend some time this weekend with Anne D. LeClaire's "The Lavender Hour."
It's the story of a woman spending some time sorting out her personal issues, who decides to give back by volunteering with Hospice. It's through her relationship with a man at the end of his life that she discovers much about herself.
LeClaire has crafted a complex "heroine" in Jessie. And Lavender Hour is ripe for book club discussion, both in its structure - Jessie narrates the flashback - and in the actions of its characters.
Would you have made the same choices Jessie did? Is she too attached? Do the ends ever justify the means? How much control do we/should we have at the end of our lives?
I had some interesting conversations (sadly in my own head) on these issues.
But I also learned a bit about the art of making jewelry from human hair.
Jessie has developed quite a niche business creating jewelry from hair. Some is sent to her by women about to undergo chemotherapy, other locks come from mothers wanting keepsakes of their children.
As Jessie says:
When I sat at the braiding table and wove the strands into their intricate pattern, a deep serenity often settled over me. I knew I was part of a history and craft that spanned continents and centuries.
Hair jewelry can be traced back not just to the Victorian age but even further, to the Middle Ages and as early as the Europeans and in ninth-century Japan.
 Fascinating. I read up on how hair jewelry had some roots in Scandinavian countries and gained some popularity in the United States during the Civil War and was intrigued by photos of human hair jewelry. I even learned how you can tell if fibers used are hair.

But I don't think I have the patience to be making these pieces anytime soon, despite the helpful instructions.

Did you stumble upon something fascinating while reading a work of fiction?

Let me know, until then, it's on to the next book ...
 - Tricia Ambrose @triciaambrose

Friday, January 27, 2012

LitSoup: What are you reading right now?

This month's LitSoup question:
What are you reading right now?

I posed this question to the newsroom, and these are the responses I received:

Jean Bonchak:
Reading “Spontaneous Happiness” by Andrew Weil. What’s good about this book is that Weil is not extreme in any of his viewpoints. He balances medical, holistic and spiritual aspects for achieving happiness in what is a very common sense approach. Should we be kick-up-your-heels happy all the time? Nope. He suggests staying in touch with the center point inside each of us where a safe, knowing contentment exists. Of the many self-help books out there that can be self-serving, preachy or just “way out there,” this one hits its target well.

Nicole Franz:
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn:
Been going through several of my Patrick McManus books, including “The Grasshopper Trap” and “Never Sniff A Gift Fish” while in my deer-hunting blind. McManus is the country’s most renowned outdoors humorist and many of his books are short essays taken from his days as a columnist for such well-known sportsmen’s magazines as “Field and Stream” and “Outdoor Life.” Oh, and I finished over the holidays Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol.”

Larece Galer:
Right now I’m reading "Axis Sally: The American Voice of Nazi Germany" by Richard Lucas. The book caught my attention for two reasons, the first being World War II has always held a fascination for me and the second reason Mildred Gillars a.k.a. Axis Sally was raised in the Ashtabula/Conneaut area. The book traces her journey from small town Ohio to Germany and eventually back to the U.S. to face charges of treason.

Rachel Jackson:
Children of the Storm, an Amelia Peabody mystery by Elizabeth Peters
Along with – for no apparent reason other than it was on my friend’s bookshelf not being read – “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera and the current issue of Outside mag.

Janet Podolak:
I'm reading Pearl of China by Anchee Min. It’s a wonderful fictionalized account of Pearl Buck and her childhood friendship with a Chinese girl as both are growing up in China at the turn of the last century. Pearl, daughter of a Protestant missionary family, became almost more Chinese than American during her childhood and had a real empathy with Chinese peasants that later showed up in her Good Earth, a book that won both Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. I’ve been so enthralled with Min’s account that I can wait to read Hilary Spurling’s biography of Buck, “Burying the Bones” Pearl Buck in China.

Tracey Read:
“Double Dexter” by Jeff Lindsay

Cheryl Sadler:
This is a safe space and we're being honest, right? And I have courage to admit this because former N-Her Angela Gartner did so in October. I'm reading "New Moon" by Stephenie Meyer because I like easily digestible fiction and I need to know what the obsession with this series is all about. So far, I can't figure it out. Books aren't very well written. Characters are lame. I'm not interested in either Edward or Jacob, and I think Bella is annoying.
I'm also reading "Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get" by Ken Doctor, which is much more intellectually stimulating. And I was partway through "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" when the ebook expired on my Nook, so I'm kind of forever on the waiting list.

Matthew Skrajner:
One of the gifts I received for Christmas was “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN.” I haven’t been able to really sink my teeth into it yet, but I’m working my way through it. I don’t read too many books, instead just continually read things online (AKA the Twitter effect). But this one has kept me interested.
I’ve also been reading an unhealthy amount of the A.V. Club, the entertainment website run by The Onion. More than any other website I’ve come across, they give huge amounts of space to long, in-depth interviews that you just can’t find anywhere else. The recaps with each show’s creator of the most recent completed TV season’s of “Community,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Louie” have been filling a few hours of downtime the past few days.

This post is part of a LitSoup, a monthly feature on The Book Club compiled of contributions from the newsroom. Send an e-mail or tweet with your suggestions for future LitSoup topics.

-- Cheryl Sadler | CSadler@News-Herald.com | @nhcheryl


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Celebrate Charles Dickens' 200th birthday

An email from The Morgan Library & Museum has me wondering how quickly I can plan a trip to New York City.

News release from The Morgan:
February 7, 1812: Charles Dickens is born in Portsmouth, England…

On Tuesday, February 7, 2012, any Morgan Library & Museum visitor who mentions Dickens’s birthday will receive FREE ADMISSION in celebration of the great writer’s bicentennial year.

The Morgan is currently showing Charles Dickens at 200, an exhibition that captures the art and life of a man whose literary and cultural legacy ranks among the giants of literature. On view are the original manuscripts of A Christmas Carol and Our Mutual Friend (a portion of which Dickens retrieved from the wreckage of a train crash), letters, books, photographs, and original illustrations. The exhibition is on view through February 12, 2012.

-On Tuesday, February 7, Morgan visitors who mention Charles Dickens’s birthday will receive complimentary admission.
-Free admission applies to every exhibition at the Morgan, so after viewing Charles Dickens at 200, visitors are welcome to explore the rest of the museum.
-No rain checks, please! (Dickens’s bicentennial comes but once, after all…).

Learn more about the exhibit Charles Dickens at 200, or view some of the exhibit online.

The Morgan is at 225 Madison Ave.:

View Larger Map

-- Cheryl Sadler | CSadler@News-Herald.com | @nhcheryl


Monday, January 16, 2012

Half the title is right in book detailing 1992 Duke-Kentucky game

When TV shows air highlights of great finishes in NCAA basketball tournament history, they usually include moments like Michael Jordan's game-winning shot for North Carolina against Georgetown in 1982 and Lorenzo Charles' buzzer-beating dunk for North Carolina State a year later. They always finish with Christian Laettner.

The Duke senior made one of the most famous shots in basketball history in 1992 when he sent the Blue Devils to the Final Four with a jumper from the foul line after a length-of-the-court pass from Grant Hill. This also seems to be where college basketball's heyday stopped, because it's rare to hear about a team since then being held in the same regard - not even the Fab Five and Michigan, which Duke defeated for its second straight NCAA championship that season.

That makes one half of the title for the new book, "The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball," by ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski accurate. The game featured an amazing ending, and it was at the end of the era when players stayed in college for more than one or two years. With Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Jamal Mashburn, the game featured all-time college basketball players.

The second half of the title -- the claim that it changed basketball -- is a hook the book didn't really need.The shot is so famous that anyone who follows any level of basketball either remembers the game or has seen it on YouTube (it's been 20 years, so if you want to feel old, today's high school players weren't alive).

The book tells the story from each team's perspective, alternating between the two. For Duke, it starts with mini biographies of Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Christian Laettner and Brian Davis. For Kentucky, it starts when the Wildcats were nearly given the death penalty by the NCAA and Coach Rick Pitino was lured away from the Knicks in 1989.

It goes into the homes of potential recruits to show how the teams were put together. Then it goes inside practices and games -- the methods Kentucky strength and conditioning coach Ray "Rock" Oliver used to get players in shape will make you tired just reading them -- leading up to the game, which was held March 28, 1992 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

The recounting of the game is only about 25 percent of the book. But it includes the perspective of almost everyone involved, including the referees and the TV broadcast crew. The scenes after the game are telling, especially inside the tearful Kentucky locker room.

Part of the suspense is waiting for Wojciechowski to explain how the final play and those 2.1 seconds changed basketball. But it never happens.

The book continues with the Blue Devils on to the Final Four, where they win the national championship, and concludes with the participants reflecting on the game.

Perhaps it doesn't explain how those 2.1 seconds changed basketball because they didn't. They changed the lives of the people involved, but not the sport. In the mid-1990s, the best players began jumping from high school to the NBA, or staying in college for a couple years at the most. Teams lost their identities because they weren't together long enough like Duke or UNLV in the early 1990s.

But that wasn't a result of Laettner's shot or the Duke-Kentucky game. It just so happened that one of the greatest college basketball games ever played happened right before America's powerhouse teams turned into turnstiles on the way to the NBA.

The misleading hook aside, "The Last Great Game" is a must-read for college basketball fans. It tells readers a lot about the character of the players involved and the excitement and emotion in the arena that night. Kentucky nicknamed four players on that year's team "The Unforgettables." That's an apt description for the game, too.

- Howard Primer

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (with video)

Since I got my Nook, I've been voraciously scanning CLEVNET's emedia site for reading material. I came across "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" (Random House Reader's Circle Deluxe Reading Group Edition) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows on a top-read list, so I put my name on the waiting list and had my usual giddy reaction when I got an email notifying me I could check it out.

The historical fiction is told through letters among the main characters. That's all. No dialogue, no additional text -- just letters. I had come across this before (in "The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters" by Elisabeth Robinson), so I adjusted to the format fairly quickly. The story is set in London shortly after World War II. Writer Juliet Ashton begins corresponding with members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and decides she has to go to the island.

This is where the book should get interesting, but I didn't find it that way. The letters continue, and the story becomes kind of predictable. I guess I just wasn't interested enough in the characters to care about what happened.

Part of what drew me to selecting this book was the time period in which it took place. But the really sad stories of the war came too late. I had already lost my investment in the story when I learned of the really awful things some of the characters went through.

The "deluxe" part of the book is the annotations throughout. Instead of having footnotes, like in a traditional book, the ebook links text to annotations in the back. Below, a video of me demonstrating how the annotations work (or watch here):

I didn't use the annotations much. Maybe I would have enjoyed the story more than I did if I had read through all of that background information to add context to the characters' situations. But I felt like the lengthy notes took away the momentum of the letters.

-- Cheryl Sadler | CSadler@News-Herald.com | @nhcheryl

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I alternated liking and disliking "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer with each chapter.

"Extremely Loud" tells the story of young Oskar Schell, whose father, Thomas, died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Thomas had a habit of setting up puzzles and scavenger hunts for Oskar to solve, and Thomas' death has created one more question that Oskar feels he must find the answer to.

The book structurally reminded me a lot of "Everything is Illuminated." While Foer focused on Oskar in the present time, he jumped back to narration from Oskar's father, grandmother and grandfather. Similarly, in "Illuminated," the main character carries the plot of the story, though the author visits his ancestors to develop background.

Unfortunately, I find this to be the major fault in both of the books. I'm so interested in what Foer has to say with his characters in present time, but I am so BORED with earlier characters. I loved Oskar's journey in "Extremely Loud," but I found myself struggling to get through the chapters about his grandmother's early life.

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" the movie hits theaters Jan. 20. I'd like to see it, because I'm under the assumption this is actually one movie I'll like better than the book.

-- Cheryl Sadler | CSadler@News-Herald.com | @nhcheryl

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Monday, January 9, 2012

In celebration of books

Came across this today and just had to share. Hope it brightens your Tuesday.

- Tricia Ambrose @triciaambrose