October 30, 2011

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

I always try to start a trip with a travelogue.  It's part tradition and part superstition; if I'm reading about someone else's fabulous trip, mine is more likely to be exciting.  Though Oregon and Italy are half a world apart, somehow it seemed apropos.  So I started my week away with Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, settling into my uncomfortable airplane seat and opening to page one.

And mostly, I was not disappointed.  Though this travel memoir was light on the adventure, it was filled with excellent writing and poignant moments involving communication between people who lack a common language.  In the book, Anthony Doerr and his wife move to Rome  after he is awarded the Rome prize, which entitles the winner to a year spent writing at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Rome.  The couple bring their infant twins, Owen and Henry, along with all the parenting paraphernalia that accompanies small children.  Much of the book is filled with Doerr's wonder at the things his sons will do: try to eat electrical plugs, stay up all night crying, and reduce old Italian men to cooing, teary-eyed friends.
It's the puzzle of Rome that mesmerizes: its patience, its stratigraphy, Tiber mud gumming up the past, wind carrying dust from Africa, rain pulling down ruins, and the accumulated weight of centuries compacting everything tighter, transubstantiating all stones into one (84).
This sentence alone demonstrates Anthony Doerr's way of turning mundane sights into beautiful words.  Mud, dust, and rain may not sound appealing, but in his hands even the worst weather in Italy seems poetic.  Though it isn't as fast-paced as other travel books, Four Seasons in Rome is filled with great writing and an honest portrait of a fascinating city.


Four Seasons in Rome © Anthony Doerr and Scribner, 2007. 

October 21, 2011

Greetings from Oregon!

I left my copy of Harry Potter y las Reliquias de la Muerte in my car in the parking lot at the Albany airport, with all but the last two chapters read.  In the end, it was too heavy to justify carting around in my carry-on for only a half-hour more of reading. 

For the trip I took four books:

Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school and loved it, but it's been a few years and my memory of it is fuzzy.  Plus, I have a mass-market copy that weighs about a quarter of a pound - perfect for taking on a trip.  Since I always love reading travel books while I travel, I started the plane ride with Four Seasons in Rome.  I'm almost done with it now and am eyeing the other books in the pile.

Tomorrow is the Read-a-thon, and I've decided I won't be able to participate.  I'll be out with my family for most of the day and my internet here is pretty limited.  A part of me still wants to try to participate, even if it's just for a few hours (this is the part of me that has had October 22 marked in my planner for months).  But I've decided that it would be too selfish of me to be distracted all day while I'm with my family. 

Good luck to everyone who is tackling the Read-a-thon, and I'm going to make sure I participate fully in the next one.

October 16, 2011

Bookish Postcards #6

Have you ever heard of Moomins
I hadn't until I got this postcard from Finland.

Postcard received through Postcrossing.

More bookish postcards:
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

October 13, 2011

Beauty and the Book Cover

Have you ever been browsing the shelves of your local bookstore and felt a rush of immediate love-at-first-sight?  I don't mean the cute bookseller behind the counter - though for a bookworm there is something kind of sexy about a person who spends his or her days among the shelves.  No, I'm talking about that new book, hardbound and beautiful, that catches your eye from the Staff Recommends display or the Classics secion.  It's gorgeous, it's whimsical, it makes you want to buy it without even knowing what it's about.  It's that rare and fantastic phenomenon:  Cover Lust. 

I moved into a new apartment recently and was therefore obligated to reorganize my books (please, don't twist my arm).  While sifting through them, I rediscovered the beautiful cover art in my collection.  Here are some of my favorites:


This Perrenial Classics edition of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God is just stunning.  It's the first book I thought of when I decided to make a post about beautiful cover art.  The drawing is gorgeous, and the golden flowers along the bottom edge catch the eye and reflect the light.  Illustration and cover design by Robin Bilardello.

October 11, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is part autobiography, part writing instruction.  Stephen King is the author of so many bestsellers that it seems almost expected for him to have written a book about writing.  Yet this small book is not at all a how-to for those aspiring to make millions off their writing.  Instead, it is a straightforward, completely honest look at his own writing and the ways in which it has influenced his life.  No frills or dishonest you-can-make-it pep talks included.

The book's first section - titled "C.V." - is a brief collection of King's memories and early experiences with writing.  He writes about the growing stack of rejection letters he received as a young man (and the spike he impaled them on) and the valuable lessons he learned about conciseness (one helpful rejection letter told him that the second draft should contain 10% fewer words than the first).  At first the C.V. section seems tedious, a too-long appetizer before the main course, but as King's memories unfold, his humor and honesty become enchanting.  The subjects he writes about are varied, sometimes funny and sometimes sad.  But all of them are interesting, and he does place a few small gems of writing wisdom among his stories about his family, his struggle with addiction, and the laborious path to the publication of Carrie

October 8, 2011

In Which I Return to My First Love...

.
...HARRY POTTER!

I've had the Spanish translation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on my shelf for ages and am finally going to read it.  I picked it up earlier this year and read a few chapters, but quickly got distracted by other shiny things (most likely Game of Thrones).  And now it's been months and it's just languishing on the bottom shelf of my bedside table, dusty and unread. 

This is a new experience for me, as I'm reading a story in translation that I've already read in the original language.  So it won't be a simple reread, as I'll be evaluating the translation as I go.  Already I've discovered that humor doesn't quite translate in the Spanish edition.  Fred and George aren't quite the riot they are in English.

October 1, 2011

A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

[N.B:  George R.R. Martin writes at the beginning of A Dance with Dragons,  "Rather than being sequential, the two books are parallel... divided geographically rather than chronologically."  Since the fourth and fifth books were originally conceived as one volume, I am reviewing them together.  If I reviewed them separately, there would be a lot of But I just want to know what's happening to Arya! and Where is Tyrion, already?!

The fourth and fifth volumes of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series pick up right where the third installment ends.  Immediately, the reader is thrown into the world of Westeros, where war seems unending and betrayal seems to come as often as the dawn.  There are only three contenders left for the Iron Throne - Stannis Baratheon, the king of the Iron Islands, and little Tommen, too young to rule himself.  And across the seas Daenerys Targaryen sits in her conquered city, having made freedmen of slaves and enemies of their masters.  As she struggles to control her dragons and their growing appetites, a prospective ally turns threat and seeks to take the throne first.