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?





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.





If on a winter’s night a traveler

25 10 2008

I finally did it. For many, many years (read: since high school), I have wanted to read this book. It sort of jumped off a bookstore shelf at me one day, shortly after I’d read Franny and Zooey for the first time (if that is imaginable) and I was fascinated. I loved the name, I loved the tone of the first few pages, I loved the mysterious Italian author. For some reason, however, I wound up reading two other Italo Calvino books before even purchasing If on a winter’s night a traveler. And once purchased, it sat on my bookshelf for another year or so, until, finally, I read it a couple weeks back.

I’ll just say it was worth the wait. In true Calvino form it was beautiful, slightly crazy and totally modernist. It was an experiment of interweaving 10 different novels, which were experienced through a unifying story (the alternate chapters) of an unknown “reader” and his love interest “the other reader.” It was experimental, and I will say it is not my favorite Calvino work, but it was thought-provoking and enjoyable. And after all, you gotta love a good story about a traveler.





Downs and Ups

17 04 2008

This post is a combination of two categories I started and then neglected. It’s a list and book review in one. After a brief explanation:

Last week was a hard one for me. I have blogged before about the joys of travel writing, but there are many unjoys to it as well (and it goes without saying that being able to make up words goes under the joy column). Since I’ve been back in New York there have been many of both, and last week marked a period of frustration with the struggles of worming my way into the giant clique that is the editorial world.

I found out I had a connection to the Editor in Chief of my dream publication and immediately drafted an email to said editor, only to hear back the following day in a two line email that thanked me for my interest in the publication but unfortunately this editor was too busy for even the briefest of informational interviews. This was disheartening for many reasons, not the least of which being that part of the reason I love the publication so much is that the editor seems like such a cool person. Needless to say I ended the week feeling rather glum.

And so a list of things that are annoying and crappy:

  • Editors who don’t remember what it was like when they weren’t editors and knock your favorite publication down a rung or two.
  • Being a waitress with a Master’s degree.
  • Allergies.
  • Sitting next to a man on the subway who is picking his nose.

And to balance it out, a list of things that helped me out of the weekend blues:

  • An exceptionally warm and lovely Saturday with music, a saint bracelet, and the smells of spring.
  • The nice man at Barnes and Noble that let me exchange my large photography book (which I bought online for my thesis much longer than 14 days ago) for the three very exciting books I got instead: Swann’s Way, Up in the Old Hotel, and Poet in New York.
  • A surprise encouragement email from a friend and one of the most inspiring women I know (who, it should be told, has had her share of travel adventures, and also has a fantastic sense of style).
  • Lo Tengo Torrontes, the wine I brought to my own pity party. I bought it because it was $9 and from Argentina, but it turns out it was quite good, a little fruity without being too sweet. And it has a label with hologram tango dancers.
  • Friday Night Lights. (I’m obsessed. I admit it.)
  • My good buddy J.D.

This last is the book review part. Because, though I’m still in the middle of several other books, I dropped everything thing this weekend to return to Franny and Zooey. I’ve read it so many times there are parts I know by heart, but I keep going back to it. It’s a once a year thing, I guess, and it’s also what I do when I’m feeling really bad. And every time it helps, and every time I notice something new. This time, for example, I realized how ridiculously funny Zooey Glass is, and how much Mrs. Glass is my mother.

But mostly I just love it because it’s a story about love, about a family supporting each other and about loving what you do. Because I could never say it any better than Salinger, I’m just going to go ahead and quote what Buddy Glass writes to his brother Zooey (who is, incidentally one of those characters I wish were real because I’d like to be friends with him): “Act, Zachary Martin Glass, when and where you want to, since you feel you must, but do it with all your might.”

I have two fragmentary comments about this quote, the first being that only Salinger (or the Glasses) can over-italicize and pull it off, and the second is that if I replace “act” with “write” I have me some pretty strong inspiration, especially when you throw in the Fat Lady. (No, I won’t explain the Fat Lady. Read the book and find out who she is.)

And in addition to all these things that have always made this book great, there is the additional fact now that it is about New York, or a New York family. And it may sound bizarre, but I think it might be one of the reasons I always wanted to come to New York. I simply had to see the city that made the Glasses. So reading it this time around not only provided the above inspriation. but filled me with the distinct and comforting instinct that I came here for good reasons, and that I am in the midst of greatness, even if it’s fictional.

And on that note, a 1961 review I found from the New York Times—by John Updike, no less. It’s “cool factor” was slightly diminished by the fact that it’s a bit infuriating, but I still think it’s a fun find. Also interesting is that I never even dreamed that Franny might be pregnant. Those who haven’t read the book, I warn you not to think too much about what Updike says, because, frankly (and in my expert opinion), he’s way off. I have always liked “Zooey” better, and it’s because of, rather than in spite of, the great Glass world. And with that, I close my rant. In the words of Buddy (from my other favorite novel Seymour, an Introduction): “Go to bed. Quickly. Quickly and slowly.”





Unexpected Happy Ending(s)

27 03 2008

Today’s post was supposed to be the first of my book(s about travel) review series. It will be, but not in the way I’d intended. It seems I got sidetracked.

Yesterday’s New York Times UrbanEye email alerted me to the Happy Ending reading series, which held a reading last night at (surprise) Happy Ending Lounge in the Lower East Side. Yes, the bar’s name refers to its seedy past, when it was an “erotic massage parlor.” I’ve never been downstairs but imagine that the self-described “1960’s Las Vegas” vibe must pay more homage to its former incarnation than the sophisticated red velvet booths on street level. Either way its sign-less facade on a deserted street feels a bit speakeasy-esque.

But last night was about the reading series, which was not only phenomenal but particularly apropos given my upcoming (as in—yikes!—next week) writing group meeting, for which I’ve done nothing, except decide (another yikes! for good measure) that it’s finally time to let go of those novel chapters I’ve been hanging onto since college. But the evening was brimming with talent, and, as luck would have it, inspiration. Happy ending number two. But enough about me…

Amanda Stern hosts the music and reading series at Happy Ending on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month (summers off), where readers gather to sip complicated (but delicious) cocktails from Happy’s long list while singers sing and writers read. Each reader must take some sort of public risk while the singer of the evening has to get the audience to sing along to one cover song. (Supple-voiced folk singer Kelley McRae, whose own songs render chills, sang En Vogue’s Giving Him Something He Can Feel but the audience was a little shy—or just too entranced by her voice.)

Artist Matthew Bokkam read from his 2006 project “The New York City Museum of Complaint,” a tabloid/newspaper he created of letters of complaint compiled from the New York City municipal archives. The gist of his findings: New Yorkers complain. About everything. Just last night we heard from a man requesting that Mayor LaGuardia champion the right of burlesque dancers to be more, well, burlesque, and from a woman who had a list of complaints longer than my ever-growing to do list (odd thing was many of her would-be outlandish hardships—like not having heat—were things I’ve experienced). Bokkam’s risk, as an act of sympathy for said women, was to read her letter with a quarter stuck up his nose. Well done. (Un)happy ending number 4.

And now for the book review portion of this post, even if it’s not the book review I initially intended, nor even one I’ve yet read. Tod Wodika read from his newly published novel with the elaborate title, All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well about a mixed up historical re-enactor who takes his re-enacting a little too seriously. Not only well-written but utterly hilarious. I was so excited by the 10 minutes he read that I can promise a more thorough review to come. In the mean time, suffice to say it’s travel enough in its jumps from modern to Middle Age worlds. And if it has a happy ending, all the better.

And one last thought that proved to be an unexpected delight of an evening. I got to speak with Amanda afterward about my latest project, and not only was she excited but willing to partake. The project being that of bringing a part of my beloved Litquake, otherwise known as San Francisco’s amazing, stupendous literary festival, here to New York. More on that one later. For now, it makes yet another happy ending (so many that I’ve lost count).