Reading/Blogging Slump

The past 6 weeks have been wildly unproductive in terms of keeping up with either my reading or blogging.  In addition to starting a new school quarter, I’ve been incredibly busy at work and managed to catch a pretty nasty respiratory infection that knocked me on my arse for the better part of 2 weeks.

Sadly during that time, I only managed to complete 2 books.  I started and stopped 2 others and will pick them up at a later date when I have better focus.  I dove into The Marriage Plot as soon as it arrived, but even that has been slow going.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.  <Sigh> That’s life, I guess.

Book Binge – BOMC Club

Damn you, Book of the Month Club and your “Buy 2 for $20, 3 for $30 or 4 for $40 sales.”  At least now I’m finally finished with my membership commitment and can quit and re-join in 6 months or so to satisfy my 6 books for $1 urges.  In addition to these three, I also purchased The Marriage Plot which I unfortunately have to wait another month to receive.  Blerg.  But it gives me something to look forward to. 

State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

My reaction to this one can be summed up in three words: State of Boredom. 

It has been several years since I devoured Patchett’s Pen/Faulkner award winner Bel Canto, but I can still remember the very visceral sense of disappointment I felt that such a beautifully written story was saddled with such a terrible ending.  I know from various reviews that I have read over the years that I was not alone in feeling this way.  I had hoped that State of Wonder would wipe that bad taste from my mouth.

Dr. Marina Singh, a gifted pharmacologist, is dispatched to the Amazon by her employer, a large pharmaceutical company to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of her colleague, Dr. Anders Eckman.  Dr. Eckman had been working on the team of Dr. Annick Swenson who was leading research on the development of a fertility drug that enables women to conceive children into old age. 

Patchett’s set up was intriguing but as the story progressed, I felt like the primary motivators for Dr. Singh’s presence in the Amazon took a backseat to describing the more adventuresome aspects of life in the jungle.  She vividly describes the scenes and the rituals of the Lakashi tribe amongst whom the research team is living, but I found myself just wishing that Dr. Singh would just find out what happened and get the heck out of there.  The most compelling character for me was Easter, the young deaf orphan boy for whom Dr. Singh begins serving as a sort of surrogate mother.

While the “mystery” of what happened to Dr. Eckman did not prove to be as satisfying or suspenseful as I had hoped, I thought there was great potential here surrounding the development of the so-called miracle fertility drug.  I was hoping that perhaps Patchett would tackle medical ethics and pressures associated with potentially life-changing research and that it would be handled as deftly as it was in Intuition by Allegra Goodman.  Alas, the larger ethical issue of what will become of these children birthed to women so late in life is mentioned only briefly. 

After staying up well past my bedtime to slog my way towards the end, I’m now turning to an author who has NEVER let me down to cleanse my palate of Patchett once again: Pete Hamill.

Book Binge – NYRB Classics

Like a lot of other book lovers, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to controlling my impulses in the presence of books.  Whether online or in a store, big box or independent, used or brand spankin’ new, there is something about the acquisition of a title (or a dozen) that satisfies me in a way that merely placing the title on my TBR list does not. 

Many of these books languish on the shelf for years before I finally get around to them.  But because I own them, I know that eventually I will get around to them.  I’ve been accused of being something of a hoarder because I will very rarely weed my collection and instead will just continue piling stacks upon stacks of books in whatever available nook and cranny I can find.  I’ve even started storing books in my office.  (Since the titles I buy online get shipped there, I figure it’s easier than lugging them all home and attempting to find space on my groaning bookshelves.)

I was recently given a Kindle expressly for the purpose of quelling my insatiable need to walk into a bookstore or go online and drop $100 without batting an eyelash.  I have been a bit better at controlling myself when it comes to e-books, purchasing only those titles that I feel I really have to read NOW.  But it hasn’t stopped me from binging on actual books.  Case in point: this morning I arrived at my office to find a big, beautiful box courtesy of the New York Review of Books.  12 glorious titles, an NYRB tote bag, several bookmarks and the complete NYRB Classics catalog. (NYRB = Enabler.) 

At least I can say I won’t regret this binge in the morning.  And it likely won’t leave me feeling bloated or nauseated.

The Submission

The Submission by Amy Waldman

It was with some trepidation that I decided to tackle The Submission this week.  It immediately shot to the top of my “To Be Read” list after I had read a few advance raves.  I’ve been on a bit of a “fiction using current hot button topics as the major plot point” fix for the last couple of weeks (see: Faith by Jennifer Haigh – child molestation by Catholic priests and This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman – sexting by teens) but was unsure whether this particular hot topic was one that I wanted to confront at this particular time. 

Published just weeks before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, The Submission tells the story of an anonymous competition to design the memorial that will stand at Ground Zero and the resultant maelstrom that erupts when it is discovered that the design chosen by the jury was created by an American Muslim named Mohammed Khan.

While readers may assume that this novel was inspired by the uproar surrounding the “Ground Zero Mosque” the author, Amy Waldman, reveals that this was a 4-year labor of love influenced by her experience as a journalist for The New York Times, a position in which she wrote numerous accounts of the attacks and their aftermath. 

In addition to being a taut and suspenseful account of the competition and the ensuing backlash over the selection, The Submission takes us into the minds of various parties who were impacted on that devastating day: the grieving widow who was chosen as a jury member to represent the family members of the deceased, the illegal immigrant whose husband worked as a janitor at the World Trade Center and now finds herself unable to support her American-born son, the tenacious young reporter whose investigative reportage plays a critical role in the novel’s denouement and Mohammed Khan, the ambitious and talented young architect whose memorial design inspires such passionate debate.  

Waldman deftly interweaves these various strands and creates an absorbing window into the increasingly polarized world in which we now live.  The Submission is a bold, ballsy, brilliant debut that is easily the best book I’ve read thus far this year.

And we’re off…!

For me, the beginning of September has always evoked feelings of starting over.  A new school year, a new season, a new wardrobe.  This year, I’ve decided that September is going to be the month that I finally commit myself to starting and keeping a blog.  This was a New Year’s resolution that I made for myself at the start of 2010 and like most of my other New Year’s resolutions from that year, I failed at it miserably.

To be fair, my most important resolution that I made for the year – to figure out what the heck I want to be when I grow up and take proactive steps towards making it happen – has actually been a quite successful endeavor for me.  I am 3 courses away from completing my Master’s in Library and Information Science.  You see folks, it only took me 30-some odd years to figure out what I pretty much already knew when I was 5.  I want to be a librarian.

The title of this blog is a bit deceiving.  While I do anticipate talking from time to time about my continuing studies, this blog is primarily a place for me to record my thoughts on what I am reading.  I have been an avid reader of so many terrific book blogs over the last couple of years and I believe I have finally found just the right amount of inspiration to make my own mark, even if it is just for my own sake.

Happy reading!

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