Your 2013 Holiday Shopping Guide

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s official: the gift-giving holidays are upon us. Hanukkah has already started.  There are trees and ornaments and lights and wreaths EVERYWHERE.  And I have already heard my all-time favorite song four times today.

As everyone knows, today is the biggest shopping day of the year.  So, in honor of Black Friday, I created a holiday shopping list of books you can give to your literate friends and family members:


The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

16065595The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Andrew Sean Greer
© 2013

I have a prediction: Rachel McAdams will play Greta Wells in the movie adaptation of this book.  I know that’s a completely random thing to say, but bear with me.

I just saw the trailer for the new movie, About Time.  About Time is about a kid who can time-travel at will.  If something goes wrong, he can go back and fix it.  If something goes well, he can relive it.  It stars Rachel McAdams as the sweet and lovely love-interest of the aforementioned time traveler.  If you haven’t yet seen the trailer, here it is: Continue reading

The Engagements

16071736The Engagements
J. Courtney Sullivan
© 2013

When I got engaged, I knew exactly what my ring would look like.  I had made very clear to my then-boyfriend (now-husband) that I wanted a round solitaire diamond set high on a thin platinum band.  I gave specific limitations on size (I have small hands and didn’t want a big diamond that looked gaudy or ostentatious on my little fingers, and I wanted to be able to wear it anywhere—in court, on the metro—without feeling uncomfortable).

This may sound princess-y and unromantic.  But it is certainly not unusual.  I have friends who designed their own rings.  Others picked out the exact ring with which their boyfriends proposed.

In fact, I know very few people who were surprised with a ring they knew nothing about.  For better or worse, diamond engagement rings are the norm these days.  And while they are (or are supposed to be) a symbol of undying love and fidelity, there’s not a lot of romance surrounding them anymore.  The proposal is (we hope) surprising and romantic; the ring is not.

Continue reading

City of Thieves

UnknownCity of Thieves
David Benioff
© 2008

If you’ve watched Game of Thrones (and I hope you have), then, perhaps unbeknownst to you, you’re familiar with author David Benioff’s work.  Benioff is one of the show’s executive producers, showrunners, and scriptwriters.  Along with his partner, D.B. Weiss, he has written a majority of the episodes, which are adapted from George R. R. Martin’s novels.

In addition to writing Game of Thrones, Benioff has written several screenplays (TroyThe Kite Runner, Wolverine) and three books (The 25th Hour–for which he also wrote the screenplay adaptation, the shorty story collection When the Nines Roll Over, and City of Thieves).

As an aside: he’s only 43 years old (um, when did I get so old that it became OK to say that someone is only 43?), and he’s married to Amanda Peet.  The dude is doing all right for himself. Continue reading

The Flamethrowers

The Flamethrowers
Rachel Kushner
© 2013

When I was in Madrid last month, my favorite museum was not the often lauded Prado, but the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, which has an incredible collection of 20th century art.IMG_2626

The Reina Sofía is best known for being home to Picasso’s Guernica.  It has a ridiculous, dazzling, delightful array of mostly Spanish art with tons of works by Picasso, Dalí, Miró, and Gris.

But on the first floor of the Reina Sofía there is a collection entitled “From Revolt to Postmodernity (1962-1982)” that is a little less my speed.  Included in this collection are works like The Nominal of Three (To William of Ockham) by Dan Flavin, which consists of “a succession of vertical cool white fluorescent tubes in a 1, 2 and 3 sequence, arranged on a wall.”  There is also Magnesium Copper Plain by Carl Andre, which is “thirty-six pieces of magnesium and copper, alternating eighteen pieces of each metal, laid in an overlapping fashion on the floor.”  Other pieces in the collection include videos of performance art, Spanish experimental art, and a piece described as a “plastic sound” work. Continue reading

Why The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Is So Controversial (and Why You Should Read It Anyway)

parttimeindianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
By Sherman Alexie
Art by Ellen Forney
© 2007

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award in 2007.   But I didn’t hear about it then.  Before this past summer, I’d never heard of it.  I first read about it in this article on The Atlantic Wire.  It made the news in August, because the book, once required summer reading for incoming sixth graders, had been banned by a New York public school.

Fox News’s fair-and-balanced headline read: “Complaints reportedly force NYC school to remove book on masturbation from summer reading list.”  According to New York Daily News, which first reported the story, the mother who complained about the book said, “It was like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for kids.”

I used to be a public-school teacher.  And I can tell you from first-hand experience that a “book on masturbation” would never make the cut for a public school’s required summer-reading list.   So, I was curious.  And skeptical.  I decided to do a little more research.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is no stranger to controversy or to  being banned in schools (for a detailed description of some of the bannings and the purported reasons therefor, click here).  Since 2010, it has been on the American Library Association’s list of the ten most frequently challenged books every year.  Last year, it was the #2 most banned and challenged book.  Why?  “Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.” Continue reading

The Girl You Left Behind

The Girl You Left Behind
Jojo Moyes
© 2013

On Monday, German authorities confirmed the discovery of over a BILLION dollars worth of Nazi-seized art hidden in an apartment in Munich.  Over 1,500 pieces, including works by Chagall, Picasso, and Matisse, had been cached away behind the wall of the messy, drab apartment for decades.  If you haven’t heard or read about the story, check out this one-minute clip:

(For more details, you can read this article in The Wall Street Journal).

As mentioned at the end of that Newsy clip, the original owners (or their heirs) are seeking the return of at least 200 of the pieces found in the cache. This will likely spur loads of legal battles regarding the provenance of the art and its rightful owners.  Historically, battles about art seized or stolen during war are lengthy and costly.  Some end with the return of works to their original owners (like this one, where a German court ordered a museum to return a rare poster collection to the son of its original owner, ruling that a failure to return the posters would “perpetuate Nazi injustice”).  But, many times, the original owners are never able to get the art back (this article describes the legal battles fought and technicalities relied upon by New York museums to keep art that has been claimed to have been stolen).

Continue reading

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt
© 2013

Donna Tartt does not write short books.  She writes ridiculously loooooooong books.

You may have gleaned that, generally speaking, I am not a fan of ridiculously long books.  Most of the time, when a book is too long (like this one or this one), it just means there’s a lot of extraneous crap in there that could have been cut out.  Too long usually begins at about 400 pages and goes on (and on and on and on and on and on) from there.

There are, of course, exceptions.  Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, which (as I’ve mentioned before) is really great and is on my list of books you should read, clocks in at nearly 600 pages.  So, I began The Goldfinch with an open mind.  In fact, I was really excited to read it. 

Unfortunately, my worst fears were realized. Continue reading