1 03 2010

It’s surprising, really, how happy this makes me. It was passed along the Litquake chain, and it makes me want to visit Colombia. I’m amazed at the creativity and determination people can have, and the little ways they can make a difference. Because it’s already so beautifully stated, I will just quote the story. It comes from Ayoka, which, incidentally, is a pretty incredible organization in itself, a non-profit that’s tasked itself with giving voice to grassroots initiatives like the one that follows:

For the past ten years, Luis Soriano, a teacher in the small town of La Gloria, Colombia, has been following the same ritual. Every week-end, he gathers his donkey in front of his house, straps on the “Biblioburro” pouches to its back, and loads them with a selection of books from the eclectic collection he has acquired over the years. Off on his mobile library, he travels into the hills and through the fields to the villages beyond where children await his visits impatiently. He firmly believes that bringing books to people who don’t have access to them can improve the country and open up possibilities for the future generation of Colombia.

The video is a must see, and the full story tells that this has happened in other places worldwide. It makes me feel lucky, and incredibly inspired.

Reading The Great Gatsby in West Hollywood

18 02 2010

I admit that I’m something of a California snob. I love the state, but there are parts of it I don’t love so much. The stretch between San Diego and Santa Barbara (namely, the LA area), in my opinion, leaves much to be desired. This partly stems from a running joke with Southern California college friends, and is partly a very realistic distaste for the crowded, smoggy, suburban sprawl that is much of Los Angeles.

I’m definitely more a San Francisco hippy than a valley girl. That said, I have some fabulous friends who live in (and actually love) LA, and their presence there had me making the occasional visits, though these days my New York residence means that trips to California are generally limited to the northern part, where the majority of family/friends reside (insert part legitimate/part sarcastic aw shucks here).

All this aside, I just discovered a very good reason to visit one of my least favorite parts of LA: in the congested, celebrity (and tourist) infested “village” of West Hollywood F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glitzy jazz age is returning in all its frenetic glory, at least for a few days. During the month of March, National Endowment for the Arts presents The Big Read: The Great Gatsby, complete with discussion groups, a walking tour of Fitzgerald’s LA, and much more.

Words I rarely utter: how I wish I could visit West Hollywood next month.

Treehouse Hotels (Yes, Really)

15 02 2010

I’m beginning to plan a trip to Costa Rica, and during a perfunctory initial search for country highlights, I discovered this interesting article from the Anchorage Daily News, of all places, about actual resorts in treehouses. It plays, I suppose, to the current travel climate: travelers looking for luxury without settling for canned resorts and chain hotels. Plus the whole eco-tourism thing, of course, though this is slightly oxymoronic, perhaps, given that actual trees must be used to create these “sustainable” treehouses. At any rate, I supposed it’s still preservation, and it’s an interesting idea—I mean, I’d have no problem staying here.

I thoroughly enjoy these unique accommodation experiences. Having stayed in a bell tower in Austria and a castle in Germany, I previously thought that such stays were limited to the youth hostel set, but it seems that folks with more grown-up tastes can have similar experiences, sans dorm rooms and down the hall bathrooms. If you’re one of those grown -ups (I’m not sure I am yet, though I’ve definitely graduated to the private room if youth hostels are in my future), check out this cool new book, Bed in a Tree, a survey of 27 unique beds in, well, trees, as well as other crazy spots—think igloos and gypsy wagons, and trains (oh my).

More Salinger, Please

3 02 2010

My sanity seems to have been a sufficient sacrifice to appease the travel deities, for trying as the trip there was the weekend (all 13 hours of it) turned out to be pretty outstanding. But more on that later. For now, some more words (mostly not my own) on that very wordy, very revered writer who passed away last week. Yes, I am still in mourning. No, I have not been dawning all back (save for an unfortunate packing error that led to such a get-up on Saturday night). Beyond that, however, I am more than ever hopeful that the coveted rights that the recluse so closely guarded may be released and crazy fans like myself will get more of what we crave.

There is a letter, written by Salinger in 1957, suggesting that it’s likely the rights to Catcher in the Rye will be sold, but frankly I agree with the man when he says in that same letter that the novel is a “novelistic novel,” with scenes that might make great movie shots, but an overall dependency on Holden’s voice, a problem I can’t believe could be resolved by narration throughout. Would I see the movie if it were to come out? Of course, just as i am anxious to the Howl, but the reader in me is more anxious to see the writing that comes out of hiding now that the master is no longer protecting them. Sure you can dig through the archives of The New Yorker for old stories, but that’s not quite the same as holding a book of the (or better yet, of never published works) in your hands to read over and over. I keep my fingers crossed.

Until then, a roundup of some of the cool stories I’ve come across since last week. I’d like to underline my love of Esquire—I know it’s a men’s magazine, but I find it so smart and entertaining (generally smarter and more entertaining than most women’s magazines I know), and I also appreciate that it was one of the first magazines that showcased the work of Mr. Salinger, along with a series of other phenomenal writers. Check out this great Salinger bio, an early Holden story and a very cool early letter from Salinger to the magazine. New York Magazine also published an interesting piece on him and because there are too many to choose from, a list of the Salinger tributes on the magazine that pretty much made the man, The New Yorker. I will, no doubt, be one of the nerds who goes out and purchases this week’s issue. And then, I promise, I’ll stop the Salinger talk. For now…

Farewell Jerome David Salinger

28 01 2010

Yesterday nine people contacted me to alert me that my J.D. Salinger has passed away. I suppose that’s evidence of my abounding obsession for the notoriously reclusive and unbelievably brilliant author. He’s best known for the cult classic Catcher in the Rye, a great teen angst novel that captures his chatty style, but by far not his greatest work (in my humble opinion).

He was, however (and unfortunately for his readers) reticent, leery of the press and stopped publishing well before he should have (in my humble opinion). In any case this enigmatic, magnificently intelligent man created a world which I loved, a family of geniuses who have entertained me and taught me and kept me company, since I discovered them in high school.

And so, on this day, I thank Salinger for introducing me to the Glass family, and to the Fat Lady, and to levels and schools of thought that have entertained and sustained me over the years. His are the words one wants to read over and over. He’s mapped New York and he’s inspired obsession in many more than myself.

There is a part of me that’s hopeful that now more of his elusive works will be available. that in his death I may experience more of his genius. But, in respect for his character, only a small part. The rest of me just considers Buddy Glass’s words at the close of his ode to his brother, Seymour, an Introduction: “Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of holy ground to the next. Is he never wrong?”

Farewell, Mr. Salinger. Best of luck on your new piece of holy ground. And thanks.

Summer Reading List, Take Two

16 08 2009

NPR’s reading list got me thinking about the nature of summer reading. Bookworm that I am, summer has always represented a time to catch up on the books I didn’t get to read during the school year, and now it’s just as good a time as any to read all those books I’ve always wanted to read, but do so outside, soaking up the sunshine (or, as in the case of this summer, inside, listening to the rain). Anyhow, in honor of summer reading, a list or two of my own…

What I’m Reading This Summer

  1. Devil in the White City: a look back at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, examining the man responsible for building it and the man responsible for destroying the lives of many who visited it. It’s fascinating not only for the mystery but for the grandeur of the fair and for all the “new” things introduced there (Wrigley’s gum, the Ferris Wheel…) It’s a trip back in time and a great read.
  2. In Our Time: Uplifting? No. One would hardly call this light summer reading. And yet the nature of Hemingway’s short, succinct sentences lends something to the nature of the quick summer read. The original New York Times review in 1925 credits “every syllable” as “count[ing] toward a stimulating, entrancing experience of magic.” And it is so. Not to mention, Hemingway is always a good read for the traveler because he does such a good job of evoking the true experience of Americans and natives abroad, even if the fact of it being in another time makes it seem another place altogether.
  3. Nine Stories: I know, I know, enough with the Salinger already. But the truth is, for me, there will never be enough Salinger. And these stories, with their heavy ideas and light, ironic and generally humorous tone, are the perfect summer reading, especially if you live in, are visiting, or simply love New York.
  4. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Bill Bryson is great any time reading, but especially great subway reading because it doesn’t get much lighter than this. And yet the man is so insightful that you don’t have to feel guilty about reading “light” (like I did when I became oddly engrossed in—and simultaneously, it must be noted, horrified by—a Danielle Steel novel one summer. Bryson’s notes on returning to the U.S. after living abroad for 20 years are simply hilarious. Just be careful about reading in public. You will certainly find yourself laughing out loud.

Favorite Reading of Summers Past

  1. The Poisonwood Bible: it’s a little on the heavy side, but lovely and endearing and altogether engrossing, the tale of a family of missionaries and their experience in the Belgian Congo, as seen through the eyes of the wife and four daughters of a fierce evangelical Baptist. It’s not only a glimpse into another world, but a story of female strength and solidarity.
  2. Harry Potter…: What can I say? I’m fresh off of seeing the latest movie, and, well, they’ve gotten me through many a summer.
  3. The Human Comedy: It’s strange really, because I recall very little about the plot of this novel, except that it follows a young boy (Homer) as he delivers telegrams and struggles to survive in the small fictional town of Ithaca, CA. I do, however, recall sitting by the pool engrossed in said novel and thinking of it every time I hear the word “Ithaca.” Perhaps it is time to get reacquainted…
  4. The Great Gatsby: I know it seems like a cop out, but in my mind this remains a quintessential summer novel, possibly because of the colorful, raucous summer it portrays, but more because I can clearly recall the summer I first read it. It was the summer before heading off to college, when I realized that I’d made it all the way through high school without ever reading this classic work. Every time I see the cover, really, it takes me back to the floor of my bedroom, on a hot summer day, reading “and so we beat on…” Perhaps that was the beginning of my obsession with New York…

Summer Reading List from NPR

13 08 2009

This morning on while getting ready for work and getting my daily NPR fix, I heard children’s author Lesley Bloom give her picks on summer reading for young adults. There are some winners there, a few I’ve read and a few I now want to read. I subsequently found myself entrenched in NPR’s seemingly endless maze of book lists, and have all-to-quickly amassed a summer reading wish list of my own (even though summer is nearly over). The short list:

  1. The Photographer: a combination of graphic novel/photojournalism about a Doctors Without Borders team entering war-torn Afghanistan. Bizarre, yet fascinating.
  2. The School of Essential Ingredients: about an unlikely group of cooking students, who, the write-up assures, you’ll want to spend your lunch hour with. That line sold me.
  3. Woodsburner: historical fiction (my favorite kind of book) that re-creates the Thoreau’s historic burning of 300 acres of the Concord Woods one year prior to building his cabin on Walden Pond. It’s said to be a look at American freedom, and I’m guessing it may make an easier summer read than Walden itself.
  4. Oh! A Mystery of Mono No Aware: a travel book about the adventures of a young L.A. native in Japan, caught in the mystery quest for an ancient Japanese concept. The book itself is said to resemble a work of art, which is an added bonus.

There were many others of interest on these lists, but for brevity’s sake (and since summer is all-too-quickly coming to an end) I stop at four, and I think they pretty much run the gamut. They enlighten, provoke thought and yet can still be read on the beach or train or wherever the summer may take you. Ah, summer reading, what would we do without you?

Literary Mayhem

12 05 2009

So it turns out working a “real job” means much less time for things like blogging (not that I’m complaining). However, most of my free time lately has been devoted to yet another labor of love. The second Lit Crawl NYC is taking place this weekend and it’s going to be leaner, meaner and a whole lot of fun. We have real programs this time around (I just sent them off to be printed) and real sponsors  and Jack and Jane, the brilliant masterminds behind Litquake, will both be participating.

Plus, people are talking. Just yesterday, we were in The New Yorker. Go us!

I’d go on gushing, but, alas, I don’t quite have the time. Check out more at and if you’re anywhere near Manhattan on Saturday, May 16, you’d be missing out if you didn’t make your way down to the East Village to crawl a bit.

Book Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman

27 03 2009

I just realized that my book group book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, is due back at the library today, but I have to write about it before it goes back to the shelf. It is not the sort of book toward which I would ordinarily gravitate. And yet I’m obsessed with it.

It’s a horrifying and riveting true tale of an EHM, an “economic hitman” whose job it is to convince developing countries to take out massive loans that will leave them indebted to the United States, allowing the latter to then call upon these countries for their pound of flesh—money, oil, UN votes or sundry other benefits—whenever necessary. It’s a system author John Perkins describes as “the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever known.”

The book is well-written and truly thought-provoking. It also had me seething at many, many moments, especially reading about how much the government is tied up in private business and how many government decisions—such as the 1989 invasion of Panama (which President Bush called a way of ending Noriega‘s dictatorship and Perkins calls “an unprovoked attack on a civilian population”)—were based on business concerns (oil, disputes over who should control the Panama Canal,…). I know that I shouldn’t be surprised, and in many ways I’m not. I am horrified nonetheless. While there were points when I alternately felt sorry for Perkins because he felt trapped in this system and annoyed at his justifications of his own involvement, I realize that the good of his experience is that this book could come from it. And hopefully this book will enlighten and help to end the cycle.

On top of that, I must say that I loved it for the travel journalistic qualities it had about it. Perkins visited some fascinating places and describes them vividly, along with his interactions with real people there, and real glimpses into the cultures of these places. It was refreshing that, amid all the gloom and doom of discovering what a monster your country is, you get inside glimpses at the indigenous cultures of Ecuador or a puppet show (dalang) in a tiny town of Indonesia. It also made the U.S. actions all the more despicable.

For me, ultimately, the book is about memory. It’s about the writing of history, how we write it and also how we read it, and, most importantly, what is left out. By telling his story, Perkins helps to reclaim a little of that history, but the most important part of reclaiming history, it seems, is to learn from it.

Bookmark This Bar

27 02 2009

Midtown Manhattan is, for the most part, a no man’s land when it comes to interesting places to dine or drink. I’ve recently, however, discovered Bookmarks, a smart little lounge atop the Library Hotel. I give fair warning now: when I visited this bar the other night the service was not so hot. But what it lacks in character, it makes up for in charm. Some may call the book theme kitchsy, but I, book nerd that I am, adored it. The list of unique (and extra strength) cocktails is long, and all bear the names of literary greats. Dickens has one, as does Hemingway (which, by the way, happens to be misspelled). I actually had my first taste of absinthe in a drink called, appropriately, the Oscar Wilde.

On the one side the mahogany-walled writer’s den has a working fireplace to defrost the brain on those cold winter nights. On the other side, the poetry garden invokes a seaside artist summer home, the type of retreat creative types need for relaxation and fresh ideas, if, of course, by retreat you mean a view up at the big buildings of Midtown. But somehow that is refreshing and idea-sparking in itself.

Bookmarks is located on the 14th floor of the Library Hotel, 299 Madison Ave at 41st St, (212) 204-5498