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Sunday Salon: the Independence Post

July 5, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comI had to give a shout-out for my country’s birthday, didn’t I? :D This has been a much better reading week than last, since it included five five-star reads in a row! So let’s get talking about them, shall we?

route66adTo pick up from last week’s Sunday Salon, I read A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Dariaux and loved it, as you can tell from my review. Then I finished Tony Perrottet’s Route 66 A.D.. This was a very interesting travelogue; Perrottet decides to follow the Ancient Roman tourist trail. He mixes chapters of Roman history and culture with chapters from his own trip, which he’s taking with his pregnant girlfriend. You can tell he’s used to backpacking-style trips, so he and his girlfriend find themselves in some amusing places and situations (well, amusing for the reader!). Meanwhile, the parts about Ancient Rome are engagingly written and kept me interested. While the beginning of the book felt like too much history, after that there’s a good balance between history, travel, and Perrottet’s personal reflections (obviously, impending fatherhood occupies his mind). Perrottet is strongest at character sketches; the various people he meets along the trip, and many of the Ancient Romans he’s discussing, spring to life. I’d say his ability to bring the actual places to life is weaker, and the ending was rather abrupt, but it’s still a solid read. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in travelogues, quirky ancient history, or planning a trip around the Mediterranean (they visit Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt).

the-thing-around-your-neckNext up, I opened Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. She’s one of my very favourite authors, so I had high expectations. For the most part, these were met, although like any collection it had its weak moments. There are twelve stories, and judging from the ‘credits,’ page, all but one had been published before, so they span quite a few years in her writing career. They also confirm that she is an incredible, talented writer, and I had no hesitation giving the book five stars. While the stories always felt complete, I often fell in love with the characters she created and wished there were whole novels about them! I plan on discussing my favourite stories tomorrow, so if you’re curious look for that. And if you haven’t read Adichie yet, you need to.

AGoldenAgeThen I finished A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam. Set in Bangladesh during the war of independence, I adored everything about this book. The setting was brought wonderfully to life; from the smells and tastes, sights and sounds, the feel of wearing a sari, I lived in Dhaka with Rehana (the protagonist). The writing was stellar, including the opening line:

Dear husband,
I lost our children today.

The characters all felt so real, especially Rehana (we’re in her head for the whole book). The plot made me want to race through the story, to see how everything would work out. And then there were the issues: motherhood, love, war, honour, survival. I didn’t know anything about the book going into it, except the setting, and I think it’s better that way. So I’m not going to tell you any more details. But you should definitely, definitely pick this up. The whole experience was just exquisite; I was perpetually torn between being pulled along faster and faster by the narrative and trying to slow down so that the book wouldn’t end as soon. It’s Anam’s first novel (published in 2008), and I only hope she’ll write much more.

oaxaca journalContinuing the awesome-writing streak, I picked up Oliver Sacks’ Oaxaca Journal. Sacks is one of my favourite nonfiction authors, the one I recommend whenever I meet someone who ‘never reads nonfiction.’ This book felt a bit more raw than his others; he explains in the introduction that he always keeps journals while travelling, and he decided not to edit it much before publishing. I think that really works; I felt like I was inside Sacks’ brain as he explored Oaxaca, Mexico with a bunch of fern enthusiasts. And his brain is a wonderful place to be! There are musings on plants (of course!), his fellow travellers, the Mexicans he meets, the landscape and history of Oaxaca, and it’s all written in such a refined, curious, intelligent tone. As if all of that weren’t enough, there are sketches of some of the ferns! (Certainly I’m not the only one who adores botanical sketches.) I loved this one so much that as soon as I finished, I had to go put another Sacks on hold (his memoir, Uncle Tungsten). Also, it’s part of a National Geographic travelogue series, so I’ll be looking into the other titles!

tokillamockingbirdAnd then I reread To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. What is there to say about such a book? I’ve never heard of anyone who didn’t like it, whether they read it as required reading in school or for fun as a child or adult. It one of those ‘must read before you die’ books that is perfectly written in every particular. It was fascinating rereading it, since last I read it (for fun, we never read it in school) I was 11, so younger than Jem for half of the book. It’s a book I could happily reread for the rest of my life.

Next up was another awesome nonfiction book: Deborah Blum’s Ghost Hunters. I already wrote a gushing review.

solitairemysteryThe last three books I’ve read this week weren’t as rave-worthy, but I still enjoyed them. Inspired by my first reread, I then turned to Jostein Gaarder’s The Solitaire Mystery, a book I really enjoyed when I was 13. It’s a philosophical fable kind of book (by the same author as Sophie’s World), and this time around it just felt too heavy-handed for me (although not in the same league as Coelho). I still think all of the things with cards are clever (especially the calendar! 52 cards in a deck=52 weeks in a year), but I found myself rolling my eyes more than once. And the ending felt a bit too haphazard. That being said, I know when I first read it, I was really curious about how everything would turn out, so perhaps people reading it for the first time (who don’t know the ending!) even as adults would enjoy it. Have any of y’all read it as an adult? What did you think?

betsyandthegreatworldI put Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace on hold on a whim, and I didn’t realise it was a children’s book until I received it. I have a theory about children’s books (vs. YA). The ones that I first read as an actual child and reread now, I still love and adore. But the ones I read for the first time always feel a bit too juvenile. So I might stick with children’s book rereads from now on! Anyway, Betsy is a 21-year-old aspiring American writer who spends a year abroad (beginning in June 1914) in Europe. I loved how perfectly Lovelace captured the whole excitement-depression-excitement cycle of living abroad. And Betsy was cute. But it lacked the complexity that would have made it marvelous. Still, my ten-year-old self would have loved this one.

rayinreverseFinally, I read Danial Wallace’s Ray in Reverse. Of Wallace’s four novels, I’ve now read three. And while this was very well-written, it didn’t have that magical spark the other two did. Wallace is still one of my favourite authors, though; I’m chucking this one up to him experimenting. And even less-awesome Wallace still writes a solid four-star novel! It’s pretty much like a novel-in-stories; Ray has died, and then each chapter looks at his life, moving from death back to birth (the last episode occurs when he’s around 9). While some of the same people are in more than one story, and of course the chapters build on each other to create Ray in the reader’s mind, each one could still stand alone. I thought the format was very interesting, because it mimics how we get to know people. First, we know them as they are in the present, and then as we hear more stories about their past, our idea of them becomes fleshed out. Of course, unlike in real life when people choose what stories to tell, Wallace has chosen episodes that, for the most part, are unflattering to Ray. I didn’t like him much as a person (although I liked some of the other people in the stories), which was part of why I didn’t adore this book. Also, it didn’t have a Southern Gothic feel to it, as I’ve come to expect from Wallace. Still, I’m glad I read it because Wallace’s story-telling power is as strong as ever: he sucked me in immediately, and the way he chose to conceal and reveal things about Ray was masterful. Part of what makes Wallace a favourite of mine is his willingness to trust the reader and leave some things ambiguous, which makes this novel really strong despite Ray himself (and I know Ray was supposed to be a flawed person…I just didn’t care for him or how he dealt with those flaws. What can I say? I’m judgmental sometimes.).

And there you go! Now I’m off to get back to my current reads: Country of My Skull, Shadow of the Silk Road, and A Suitable Boy. You can always read my thoughts about them in the side bar if you’re curious!

47 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2009 6:34 am

    I really need to read something by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m so bad, I haven’t yet. I’ve got her on my list, but somehow I just haven’t gotten to it. Stupid 400+ TBR pile…

  2. July 5, 2009 6:37 am

    “And if you haven’t read Adichie yet, you need to.”

    I knooow! I promise to pick up Purple Hibiscus soon.

    Just yesterday I was looking at my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird on the shelf and thinking I should reread it. It’s definitely a book I’ll return to again and again.

    So the one you’re missing is Big Fish? It’s SO good! It’s quite a bit different from the movie – a sparser story, I guess – but oh, the writing, and the bittersweetness, and the ambiguity…it’s lovely. Actually, I think that if you take the writing alone it’s my favourite of his.

  3. sdechantal permalink
    July 5, 2009 7:06 am

    You have been busy! I have not read To Kill a Mockingbird yet… I think that is so odd. Most of the mandatory reading the kids had in school, I did not. I am a little bitter about that… ha ha

    Now I have to read all the greats on my own – but maybe it is better this way, I will appreciate them more if they are not forced down my throat! :)

    One Persons Journey Through a World of Books

  4. July 5, 2009 7:23 am

    And that is why I love to read your blog…you choose excellent books to read!

    I’m dying to read the new Adichie, but it is not even at my libraries yet.

  5. July 5, 2009 7:32 am

    I read The Solitaire Mystery in college, after reading Sophie’s World. I didn’t like it as much as Sophie’s World, but I don’t really remember why…I wasn’t keeping track of my reading back then. I should re-read it now, 15 or so years later, and see how I feel about it.

    I read most, if not all, of the Betsy-Tacy books when I was a child and LOVED them. The one you picked up is one I’m not sure I read (I lost interest when she grew up), but maybe this series is also due for a re-read.

  6. July 5, 2009 7:56 am

    To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book. I read it for the first time this year and it became a favorite. I was dissappointed that I hadn’t read it before.

    I have heard nothing but great things about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, yet I haven’t read anything by her yet. I do have her on my TBR list. I have to see where I can sneak her book in my reading list.

  7. July 5, 2009 8:45 am

    I have not read anything by Adichie (nor had I heard of her!) as yet, so thanks for the introduction and the recomendation.

    ah, the Betsy Tacy books…they were absolute favorites of mine when I was between 10-12 years old :)

  8. July 5, 2009 9:00 am

    You had an amazing week! The books you mentioned are very interesting. I haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird since high school. I’d love to re-read it now! Thanks for visiting my blog today!

  9. July 5, 2009 9:11 am

    Can I just say how impressed I am that you’ve read so much in a week. I usually do two or three books and think I’ve really been reading.

    I must get the new Adichie for Short Story Sunday.

  10. July 5, 2009 9:58 am

    Love the Adichie stories too. Had the opportunity to see her on Thursday night and she was amazing. With the most soothing and lovely voice she read large sections from two stories in the collection. Quite a treat!

    Today I am reading all over the place looking for a little closure on too many unfinished books. Please visit me to enter my Buy a Friend a Book week giveaway? Happy reading!

  11. stacybuckeye permalink
    July 5, 2009 10:15 am

    Wow! five five-star reads in a row is making me a little green :) Love To Kill a Mockingbird. It is one I could read over and over again, too, and it’s been too long!

  12. July 5, 2009 10:27 am

    Goodness, that’s so great you had so many amazing reads this week! I love Sacks a lot, and I like botanical sketches a lot (even though I’m terrible at them myself.) And confession: I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird. Am I too old to read it for the first time now?

  13. July 5, 2009 11:01 am

    I can’t believe how many people haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird!
    Looks like you had a great week. I haven’t read that Gaarder book, so far I’ve started Maya and Sophie’s World and gave up, but I absolutely loved The Rigmaster’s Daughter

  14. July 5, 2009 11:43 am

    Wow! What an amazing list of reading, Eva! I’m especially interested to get my hands on Route 66 A.D.! It’s been far too long since I read anything related to a travelogue, and I absolutely love them. Thanks for a list of winners!

  15. July 5, 2009 11:44 am

    I think I’m due for a re-read of To Kill a Mockingbird. I haven’t read it since my freshman year of high school.

    I still remember the class project I did for that book. A friend and I decided to make and decorate cookies of every character in the book. The only problem was that we didn’t know how to make homemade icing. We used up her mom’s granulated sugar (oops) then realized we needed powdered. I don’t know how we messed up the powdered sugar batches, but we did. When we finally got it right (when her mom finally came home to the disaster in the kitchen) we stayed up until 3am decorating the cookies.

    We had eaten so much of the frosting unintentionally while decorating (it would leak out of the icing tube and we’d eat it) that neither one of us could even look at the cookies without turning green. We did get an A though. :)

  16. July 5, 2009 1:59 pm

    It sounds like you were on a reading high! 5 5-star books in a row is awesome!

  17. July 5, 2009 2:06 pm

    I’m so looking forward to reading The Thing Around Your Neck. And now want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird, too.

    Re: Jostein Gaarder, I read Sophie’s World when I was fairly young and while it didn’t blow me away, I really enjoyed it. I tried reading other Gaarder books more recently (I think around 3 years ago), and never got to finish one as I had the same reaction as you here. I don’t know, as an adult, I definitely was consciously critical of the overtness. A little subtlety could’ve helped.

  18. July 5, 2009 2:25 pm

    You’ve had a great week! I must read Adichie soon, and A Golden Age sounds wonderful. I’ve looked at it at least a couple of times in the bookstore – next time I’ll have to bring it home!

  19. Jenny permalink
    July 5, 2009 2:52 pm

    Children’s and YA reads that are just as good when you’re an adult are few and far between… but they do exist. I keep trying! Thanks again for the wonderful review. I always feel slightly faint when I see what you’ve accomplished in one short week. :)

  20. July 5, 2009 4:25 pm

    Eva – What a great reading week! Now I have to add A Golden Age to my list and Oaxaca Journal and Ghost Hunters sound very intriguing.

    I know what you mean about “To Kill A Mockingbird.” I read it a couple of years ago with a group of 6th graders. It was amazing. Have a good week!

  21. July 5, 2009 5:00 pm

    Okay sweetie, you’re undoubtedly sick of hearing this, but your Sunday Salon posts are just killing me!!! I’ll be surprised if I don’t add at least five of those books to my wish list.

    I never read To Kill a Mockingbird until high school, but I had Annie read during 5th grade…it was such a perfect book for us to use for school. And she fell in love at first read, too. You know, like you, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone who didn’t fall in love with that book.

  22. July 5, 2009 5:05 pm

    Amanda, you should put her close to the top! :)

    Nymeth, do! :p As I mentioned on Twitter, I purposely saved Big Fish for last. Can’t wait to read it! :D

    Chantal, I didn’t read it for school, either, but for fun. You should read it!

    Debbie, you’re too sweet. :)

    Lexi, I didn’t realise there were other Betsy books!! That explains the abrupt ending, lol.

    Monique, I feel that way about some classics: why did I wait so long?!

    Becca, she’s marvelous; I’d recommend starting with a novel. But a lot of her short stories are available online, so you could get a feel for her! Like I said to Lexi, I didn’t realise this was part of a series.

    Lisa, Mockingbird is definitely worth a reread!

    CB, I bet you’re a more productive citizen than me though! :D


    Stacy, it was pretty awesome!!! Of course, it makes the reading that follows it pale in comparison.

    Shannon, I’m awful at botanical sketches too. :/ You’re definitely not too old for To Kill a Mockingbird! Go read it! Now! ;)

    Katrina, I know: but there are classics (like The Color Purple) that I haven’t read. I’ll have to check out The Rigmaster’s Daughter: thanks!

    Andi, I just got into travelogues this year, but I think they’re my new favourite genre. ;)

    Alyce, that’s a great story!! Oh English projects. I made a mini-guillotine once for a tale of two cities out of wood and a cleaned soda can. The blade dropped and everything!

    BermudaOnion, it was awesome. :D

    Claire, I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt that way about Gaarder. That’s the danger of rereading old favourites.

    JoAnn, I hope you love it!

    Jenny, I’m better at enjoying YA; prob because I’m still pretty close to teenagehood. ;)

    Gavin, I’d love to read it with kids!

  23. July 5, 2009 5:54 pm

    Route 66 A.D. sounds good. I’ll have to check it out.

    I’m not much of a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. To be honest, I’m indifferent to it.

  24. J.S. Peyton permalink
    July 5, 2009 6:16 pm

    It always just amazed at how quickly you finish books! You finish them while I’m still thinking about reading them! He, he. I have That Thing Around Your Neck on my TBR shelf right now. It’ll be my first Adichie book. After that I’m sure I’ll want to devour everything she’s written, which I probably should have by now.

    I also want to read A Golden Age. I head about before it even came out, but oddly enough I’ve never even gotten around to purchasing it. I plan to remedy that soon.

  25. July 5, 2009 6:39 pm

    I am so looking forward to Adichie’s new book. I loved Half of a Yellow Sun, and enjoyed Purple Hibiscus, so I’m so excited to read this! Glad you’re enjoying it so far :)

  26. July 5, 2009 10:29 pm

    Eva, consider me the one person who doesn’t love To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s terrible of me, I know, but I read it in ninth grade and just wasn’t blown away by it. I don’t know if it was the style or what, but I didn’t tumble hopelessly in love with it which I realize is anathema to most book bloggers but it’s the truth. I also didn’t care much for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but I could see how people who enjoyed TKAM would really like it too, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to add it to your TBR pile!

    Generally I’m not a non-fiction reader, so perhaps I’ll have to try out some Sacks. Thanks for the rec!

  27. July 5, 2009 11:51 pm

    wow a lot of 5 star reads in a row.
    Well, I didn’t quite like To kill a mocking bird. Now you know someone who doesn’t like it :) I read a long time back actually but I’m thinking of re-reading it and see if I feel the same way about the book now.

    I didn’t know there was something like NatGeo Trav. series. I’ve got to look into it.

  28. Mary permalink
    July 6, 2009 11:54 am

    Two of my favorites – Mockingbird and Oaxaca Journal — both read and reread and both with a sigh and smile and tears when they’re over each and every time.
    Sacks’ — Anthropologist on Mars was my first a couple decades ago — I think of parts of it every week when my world gets a little too close. Oaxaca Journal (I spend at least two weeks a year there) is a marvel.
    Others on your list — I’m calling Epilogue to get them ordered.
    Thanks, Mary
    Steamboat Springs, Colorado

  29. July 6, 2009 12:14 pm

    Yay for a fantastic reading week! I agree about To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s hard to believe anyone could not love it (and strange that your school didn’t assign it!). I really need to reread it soon.

    I’m anxious to hear how you’re getting on with A Suitable Boy! I haven’t taken the plunge yet. I want to see what you think first. :D

  30. July 6, 2009 12:58 pm

    Wow! You did have a good reading week! Speaking of travelogues, I just started Shadow of the Silk Road. I’ve got a heavy week at work and I just KNOW it will cut into my reading time and am so enjoying Silk Road that I want to play hooky and just read :o)

  31. July 6, 2009 2:29 pm

    Uenohama, I think you’d enjoy Route 66 A.D.

    J.S. Peyton, lol! I’ve slowed down right now though; I’ve barely read in the past couple of days. I have no attention span for books right now! Yay for Adichie and A Golden Age! :)

    Gentle Reader, I can’t wait to see your review. :D

    Steph, perhaps a rereading is in order? I’m not sure if I would have loved it reading it for school or not. I really enjoyed the McCullers I read, “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe,” so thanks for the rec!

    Violet, wow! I’m surprised! I didn’t realise there was a NatGeo series either until I was checking out the cover of the Sacks.

    Mary, I’m glad I’m not the only one!

    Meghan, I moved around quite a bit in school, so I probably just skipped years (I had to read “Romeo and Juliet” and Great Expectations twice). I’m not too far into A Suitable Boy, but so far it’s super-readable!!

    Terri, I’m about 100 pages in, so we’ll have to chat about it. :D

  32. July 6, 2009 8:44 pm

    Now I’m *really* looking forward to The Golden Age! I love this:” was perpetually torn between being pulled along faster and faster by the narrative and trying to slow down so that the book wouldn’t end as soon.” I felt this way about Half of a Yellow Sun–wanting to know what was going to happen and being propelled throughout the story but wanting to savor every bit of the writing.

  33. July 8, 2009 9:35 am

    I’m glad you loved A Golden Age! I have it here in the TBR piles.

    Oh, how I loved the Betsy books as a young girl. I read them all over and over and over. I can see they wouldn’t be terribly satisfying reading now, so it’s probably best to keep them in my past.

  34. July 8, 2009 7:54 pm

    I should re-read some of the classics on my shelves – you’ve got me interested in picking up TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD again!

  35. July 23, 2009 7:11 am

    I LOVED Maud Hart Lovelace when I was younger.


  1. Women Unbound: a New Reading Challenge « A Striped Armchair
  2. Travel by Books: 2009 Wrap-Up « A Striped Armchair
  3. South Central Asian Authors « Diversify Your Reading
  4. Black African Authors « Diversify Your Reading
  5. West African Authors « Diversify Your Reading
  6. Assembling My Atheneum: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie « A Striped Armchair
  7. Assembling My Atheneum: Oliver Sacks « A Striped Armchair
  8. Days of Death, Days of Life by Kristin Norget (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair
  9. Assembling My Atheneum: National Geographic Directions « A Striped Armchair
  10. Biophilia by Edward Wilson (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair
  11. Travel Book Suggestions? | A Striped Armchair
  12. A Golden Age – Tahmima Anam | Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity

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