What I’m reading

As this winter drags on forever, I’ve started to dig further and further into my bookshelf and Google Reader, and have found some pretty cool things to read.  Here’s what I’ve been picking at lately – what about you?

  • Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg – I just started this and it’s already making me seriously think about the kind of world us women are setting up for ourselves.  Is calling something “work-life balance” and putting those two words at odds with each other any different than calling one movement “pro-choice” and the other “pro-life”?  Did I judge my classmates too harshly for decisions I would have applauded had they been male, even in our women-dominated college?  Am I really sitting at the table?  I’m definitely going to keep thinking about this – let me know what you think of her ideas.
  • This article about how Downton Abbey is just a retelling of Fiddler on the Roof.  OR, is Fiddler just the best way to tell the story of modernization, cultural understanding, and the inevitability of pissing off your parents?
  • The New York Times section that features MY SISTER, Kat (see the Judge John Hodgman piece on the far right).  This page is kind of a mish-mash of weirdness, but the important thing is that a) Kat got into the NYTimes magazine (beating me even though it’s part of my five year plan!) and b) that she won her argument with her friend.
  • This article that simplifies just how crucial the Supreme Court’s ruling on Prop 8 could be.  I still can’t believe that decades after we had the same exact argument about interracial marriage, people still have to fight to be with the people they love and have that relationship recognized by the government.  So ready for us to grow up as a nation and start treating people as we say we do – “with liberty and justice for all.”  Follow the case on HRC’s website for up-to-date information.

Reading List

Books du jour:

  1. Appetizer: The Amazing Journey of American Women by Gail Collins, which I pick up randomly to see how us gals will get further in life.  This book was a little hard to get into, but now it’s really rolling.  The section on how washing machines changed the role of women forever and the part about the role of women (and the roles women were denied) in the Civil Rights movement literally made me gasp out loud.  I bet the people on the train with me would have been shocked to know I was making such faces about history rather than over a racy love story.
  2. Main course: Thursday Next and the Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde.  I’ve read this series before years ago, but now that I’ve picked it up again, I can’t put it down.  It’s literary dorkiness at its finest: a kind but more sour than sweet detective protecting books from terrorists and inadvertently changing the course of history.  It stars the Cheshire Cat, Ms. Havisham, Captain Nemo, and is ripe with political drama as well as literary puns (at one meeting, everyone is waiting in vain for Godot).  I have “accidentally” stayed up until 2 or 3 am reading this series.
  3. After dinner: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.  I’m usually too “full” to pick this one back up, especially because it’s so heavy.  But it’s fascinating, and incredibly well written.  Diamond goes into great detail about why the history of the world unfolded the way it did, and answers questions I never even thought to ask.
  4. Dessert: we finish with a sweep dollop of the latest Cosmo and Glamour, updating me on the latest news on women’s health, the best dress deals, and how to do anything better.

And a new book related obsession: GoodReads.

Kat introduced me to this website where you keep track of the books you’ve read and what you thought of them, make a list of the ones you want to read next, and offer reviews to help readers like you find their next indulgence.  It’s really interesting to see what other people thought of books you loved and hated, and how you compare with your friends.  Anju noticed that “we started out as the same person with the exact same taste in books, and then somewhere around middle school, something went very very wrong.”  Now, we only overlap on the classics, while my bookshelves are riddled with romances, memoirs, and crime dramas, and hers are filled with sci-fi and post-colonial novels.

If you’re on Goodreads, find me!

[Shout-out to Jen whose latest post reminded me that I had bookish things to share.]

Can a book save your life?

The right book can make you laugh, make you cry, make you scared of every shadow or inspire you to try something new.

But can a book save your life?

It works for Thursday Next in The Eyre Affair, which I was reading just last night.  She’s left for dead but saved by a copy of Jane Eyre placed in her breast pocket that catches the bullet and leaves her with only bruised ribs.  It’s the perfect literary moment oft-repeated in books and film – but how realistic is it, really?

That’s what the guys at Electric Literature wondered.  So they put the latest and thickest books to the test to see how they would fare against a handgun.  Watch and see if you still want to put your faith in paperbacks and hardcovers.

As much as I hate to see books destroyed, I love this.  I just want to throw a few more solid classics in there to see the results.  And maybe my college Con Law book, while we’re at it.  I feel like the quality of the cardboard and the density of the paper must factor in there somewhere, and I don’t want to give up on the power of books just yet.  Sequel, please?

Books, glorious books!

As the sunlit hours grow shorter, the appeal of curling up on the couch under a quilt with a good book and the a (dvd) fire roaring grows.  This weekend, an overdue book led me on an adventure that satisfied all my bookworm needs.

I headed downtown for the first time in weeks to return Homer and Langley (a great book about humanity, hoarding, and brotherhood, based on a true story) to the Boston Public Library.  The BPL is host to some great free events and interesting exhibits, so I dropped off my book and wandered around.  And that’s when I saw it; a sign bearing two of the greatest words in the English language:

Book Sale!

Eureka!  I found my way to the basement of the McKim building where I landed in my own sort of paradise – a room full of library cast-offs and used books, all going for a buck or two (for hardcovers).

I found thrillers, travel books, an advance copy of a novel about what would happen if Jesus ran for President, stacks of identical books that were clearly book-club fodder once upon a time, and a collection of Dickens’ books that was missing all my favorites but was sitting next to a copy of “The Little Peppers and How They Grew,” which made me happy.

I ended up with an eclectic collection for a mere $7 – a Girl Scout Handbook from 1958 (Hey Mom, I can make a yarn doll with it!), a book about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, “Other Statues of Boston” (which, to be honest, I purchased because I loved the extremely strict stickers on the front which decree that it is NOT TO BE TAKEN FROM THIS ROOM, but it’s actually really interesting,) a short self-exploration/ chick-lit novel, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I’ve always intended to read.  It also falls into a class of book that I think should only be purchased used, a class that includes Atlas Shrugged (save your money…), and On the Road (this book deserves to travel before it lands on your shelf).

This amazing event happen every two months, on the first Saturday from 10-4 in the BPL Central Library’s McKim Building.  The dates for 2011 have already been posted:

  • February 5
  • April 2
  • June 4
  • August 6
  • October 1
  • December 3

Look for me there – now that I know about this event, there’s no way I’m missing another one!

PS:  If you’re a die-hard, you can even volunteer at the event by emailing CWFBPL@hotmail.com.

The Power of Paper

My latest edition of Glamour arrived in the mail yesterday, and I have spent most of the afternoon curled up on the couch, reading about holiday hairstyles, how to ask for a raise, and tips for stellar homemade tomato sauce.  I’ve folded down page corners, ripped out the excessive perfume ads, and skipped over the makeup tips (because really, who has time?).

I could have googled everything I wanted to know that’s within these pages or I could have read it weeks in advance on Glamour‘s website, but I didn’t because there is something special about holding that paper in your hands, something that you can’t accomplish on this glowing screen.

Having paper to hold onto – whether it’s a newspaper, letter, book, or magazine – feels so much more substantial and meaningful than anything electronic reading devices.  There are no batteries that can die, no need for internet connectivity, no corners to fold and pages to tear.  With a great book, I can pass it on to a friend immediately without worrying about file compatibility.  I can stick it in my purse, use it as a doorstop, wrap it and give it away for Christmas.  Can you do that with a complicated URL?  I don’t think so.

I also hold fast to the belief that printed articles are better researched and better written (ironic, I know, to be making this point online).  People are more accountable for their words when they are on paper instead of just online, and while I appreciate the various content of online newspapers (like the Huffington Post), it just doesn’t have the same level of credibility in my book.

Not everyone can afford these paper versions of culture, and I’m glad ideas are reaching a wider audience through advancements in technology.  But at the end of the day, I will keep buying my good old paperbacks, preferring bookmarks to power buttons and page turns to clicks.

(And for the record, I follow this rule myself and have kept a written journal for the last 19 years, so even my daily thoughts aren’t just in cyberspace.)