Boston Book Festival

Boston Book Festival

I spent a portion of Friday night and much of Saturday at the sixth annual Boston Book Festival with about 30,000 other people, according to the organizers. I was a bit shocked by the crowds as this was my first book festival ever, but it is also nice to know I now live in a place where so many people value books and reading. One of the recurring topics at the event was research and the fictional novel.

Susan Minot

The fiction keynote on Friday night featured Susan Minot discussing her latest novel, Thirty Girls, which concerns the kidnapping of young girls from a school in Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army and a young American journalist sent to Africa to report on the abduction. The novel was born out a nonfiction article Minot wrote and hoped would lead to a public outcry. According to Minot, she never heard a peep following the article’s publication and decided to fictionalize the event in the hopes it would finally lead to that public outcry.

The conversation quickly dissolved into one audience member asking Minot how she was being a public activist, which she emphatically stated was not her role. But I was more intrigued by her explanation of how she wrote a novel about a place or a culture she is not that familiar with. (As I said, I have yet to read the novel but her explanation of how she came to write the novel makes me think the American journalist is a mirror of herself.) According to Minot, she had to find what she and the girls she was writing about had in common — empathy.

“The stakes [for these girls] were much higher. But the more I wrote the book, the more I realized suffering is relative.”

She also touched on how difficult it is place a book into someone’s hands and ask them to read about the horrible things these thirty girls have gone through. But, like me, she thinks is important that these stories get out there and explained how empathy and being able to imagine factional events help bind humans together.

Fiction with a Twist

During “Fiction with a Twist”, the panelists — William Giraldi, Ben Mezrich, and Lauren Oliver — explained their decision to write for a genre outside of the one they are known for. I have not read books by any of these authors, although I have seen movies based on Mezrich’s nonfiction books, but I have since added their most recent novels to my to-read list based on the rather humorous conversation with these authors.

“When I sit at my desk and can’t write a word, I look out at the UPS guy and think, ‘You wanna switch jobs?” — William Giraldi

One of the topics addressed during the conversation was the recent controversy surrendering Giraldi’s review of a recently published novel, which I had not heard of before the event. Giraldi stated he believes you empirically compare one novel to another based on the sentences, and I would have loved for the moderator to follow up on this statement because I am not entirely convinced every topic, every genre requires the kind of sentences Giraldi holds up as a standard of good writing. (Giraldi did give his opinion on the word “genre”, which he said had to get comfortable with because it’s kind of a bastardized word.)

A woman I know from book club joined me for the next session, “South Asian Authors”. We decided to attend this particular session because Vikas Swarup, whose novel Q&A became “Slumdog Millionaire”, was supposed to be on the panel. Unfortunately, he could not attended but we were treated to a very interesting conversation about the state of literature in Indian. Vikram Chandra explained how British colonialism destroyed the literary culture of the country because it marginalized or silenced voices yet the United Kingdom, as of late, has become a huge consumer of Indian novels.

Yet the only novels making their way from the publishing houses of Indian to readers in the UK or the United States are those written in English so other Indian voices are still marginalized. At the same time, non-English newspapers in India have a much larger circulation, reach more people, and are more aggressive in their journalist pursuits, according to Geeta Ananad, a nonfiction writer and a journalist. It was an interesting contradiction I did not expect to explore in the session, but quickly made up for the disappointment of missing Swarup.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

We had hoped to attend the nonfiction keynote by Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose massive tome on Theodore Roosevelt and journalism entitled The Bully Pulpit I loaded onto my iPod, but the line wrapped around the block multiple times and we were unable to grab a seat. (I did sneak into the book signing tent afterwards and snap a picture of her.) My book club friend and I decided to attend the “Literary Thriller” session, instead. This was the only session where authors actually read from their novels, and we both ended up purchasing a copy of Edgard Telles Ribeiro’s His Own Man.

The reading itself was intriguing, but my interest was peaked because of Riberio’s explanation of how he came to write the novel, which focuses on one man in the foreign service during a dictatorship in a South American country. Focusing on one person in a fictional novel was the only way Riberio felt he could actually examine and unpack the experience of living under a dictatorship — a topic that is, according to Riberio, not often addressed by the people of his country. His agent and a translator of novels from South America later chimed in during the audience Q&A section of the panel that although novels from South America do not address the dictatorship directly, they are all inherently political. So, obviously, I’m intrigued by this one.

Another Country

The final session I attended, “Another Country”, featured authors Rupert Thomson, Lily King, and Joseph O’Neill, whose most recent novel was longlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize. Again, the topic of research arose because each of these authors set their novel in a location (and, in two cases, time) they themselves are not familiar with.

King, whose novel is set in Papua New Guinea in the 1930s, stated that she decided to invent the tribes her characters meet because “I didn’t want to be responsible for getting details right on each tribe. There were so many other details I was responsible for”. But O’Neill stated that his two trips to Dubai to conduct research on the country confirmed what he already assumed about the place and because it is a relatively new place, he only needed five things to ground his novel in the truth of the location.

“The real facts have to be servant to the imagined facts.” — Rupert Thomson

Most interesting, though, was Rupert Thomson’s statement that although he technically wrote a piece of historical fiction, he is not interested in the genre and wrote two drafts of the novel before he did any research. Such a contrary statement to how I would assume an author approaches a novel set outside of the last decade or so.

Books for Sale

There were so many authors in attendance whose works I have read or want to read in attendance — Scott Westerfeld, Nicholas Carr, Laura Goodwin, Claire Messud, Cassandra Clare, Ann M. Martin, Jennifer Haigh, and Gregory Maguire, to name more than a few — whose sessions I would have loved to attend. But it was also fun to meet so many new authors and I had a great time at the book festival. Hopefully, I’ll learn how to clone myself and be in more than one place at a time before next year’s book festival!

Read-a-Thon Updates (October 2014)

Welcome to my read-a-thon update post! I shared my bookstack and read-a-thon plans this past Wednesday. Today, I’ll be using this post as my main site to update cheerleaders and readers on my progress, but I will also be doing quick updates on twitter. Scroll down for updates!

Updates:

Hour 1 (8:00 am EST): In my excitement over the read-a-thon, I started reading Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason on Wednesday. I thought I’d get ahead start on the novel and make it easy to jump right in this morning. Alas, the crime thriller sucked me and I ended up finishing Indriðason’s novel that night. Whoops! I do have two more novels by Indriðason on my shelf — Hypothermia and Strange Shores — so I might add one those to my stack. For now, though, I’m headed out the door to get myself moving this morning. If I lay down, I’m afraid I might fall back asleep. Since I finished Drood by Dan Simmons yesterday, I will be listening to Matilda by Roald Dahl on audio during my walk and plan to pick up Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan when I return. Happy reading to all!

Hour 4 (11:35 am EST): I’m back from my walk — ten miles, including the quick trip to the grocery store on the way back — and I’ve finished the first seventeen tracks (out of twenty-one) of Matilda. I’ll finish the audiobook as I unpack my groceries and prepare lunch. Afterwards, I’ll be picking up Homeless Bird.

Hour 8 (3:00 pm EST): I’ve finished two books since my last update — Matilda by Roald Dahl and Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan! Highly recommend both of them. I started reading The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane but started to nod off so I grabbed a cappuccino at Starbucks to get my energy levels back up and am now on page 60 of What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds. During Hours 5 and 8, I participated in the #shelfie and 140 Character Cheering mini-challenges (see my answers below).

Hour 11 (6:25 pm EST): I finished another book! I also decided to pick up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll on audio so I could get some cooking, cleaning, and cheering done, and I am now utterly convinced audiobooks are the way to go when it comes to the read-a-thon, especially for cheering. I’ve been able to leave comments on participants’ blogs and randomly tweet people encouragement while continuing to “read”. Two birds, one stone.

Hour 15 (10:00 pm EST): Fourth book is finished! I’m listening to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as I write this update — about twenty minutes or so left. I also started In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pinott, a murder-mystery that should keep me awake until I turn the last page, which I’ll dive back into just as soon as I finish this update and folding my laundry. Three hours late, but I finally answered the Mid-Event Survey below. I also participated in Dose of Darcy on the main read-a-thon page.

Hour 16 (11:45 pm EST): Big yawns here. I am a little over 100 pages away from finishing In the Shadow of Gotham, but the desire for sleep is getting stronger than the desire to find out whodunit. So I’m tucking myself into bed and maybe, just maybe I’ll wake up in time to join back in for the last hour or so. Happy reading to those who are continuing on!

Hour 22 (6:15 am EST): I’m awake! Albeit, a little bleary eyed. I’m going to try to finish In the Shadow of Gotham in the last hour and 45 minutes of the read-a-thon.

Hour 24 (8:00 am EST): I squeaked by the hair on my chiny-chin-chin and finished In the Shadow of Gotham. That means I finished six books — a very, very successful read-a-thon! (Not being in university certainly helped.) I’ve answered the End of Event Survey below. Thank you to all the organizers, hosts, and cheerleaders for making this a great event!

Where I stand overall:

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Caroll) – Finished!
  • Anne Frank and Me (Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld) — Finished!
  • Homeless Bird (Gloria Whelan) — Finished!
  • In the Shadow of Gotham (Stefanie Pinott) — Finished!
  • Matilda (Roald Dahl) — Finished!
  • The Night Quest (Fiona McFarlane) — 5/241 pages
  • What Would Mr. Darcy Do? (Abigail Reynolds) — Finished!

Mini-challenges/Memes:

Continue reading

Read-a-Thon Reads

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October is one of my favorite months in the year — the changing leaves, the crisp and cool weather. Perfect atmosphere for curling up with a good book, especially during Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon on Saturday. (Of course, I say this as the temperature climbs into the high 70s and the humidity is “ponytail weather”, according to the local weatherman.)

This is my fifth read-a-thon, but I haven’t been able to participate for the last two years due to university. (The read-a-thon is always scheduled during midterms in October and the big push towards finals in April.) I am very excited to no longer have that obstacle in my way and to be able to participate this time around. So excited, in fact, that I rejoined twitter in order to make cheering people on easier. Feel free to follow me there, if you are so inclined.

I selected seven titles — a mix of library books and from my personal collection — for the read-a-thon. Looking over my posts from the last four go-arounds, shorter books motivate me more than longer novels so I focused on those books as well as ones with a suspenseful element.

  • Anne Frank and Me (Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld)
  • Homeless Bird (Gloria Whelan)
  • In the Shadow of Gotham (Stefanie Pinott)
  • Jar City (Arnaldur Indriðason)
  • News from Heaven (Jennifer Haigh)
  • The Night Quest (Fiona McFarlane)
  • What Would Mr. Darcy Do? (Abigail Reynolds)

Not photographed is my current audiobook, Drood by Dan Simmons. I’m listening to this one for Trish’s #droodalong and have about 30 percent of the novel left. I’ll be listening to this during breaks to rest my eyes and move around.

Eight books may seem like a lot, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself to finish a certain number or read for a certain number of hours. I’m just excited to be participating once more. Happy reading to all!

Recent Acquisitions

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I spent a recent rainy Saturday morning perusing shelves, boxes, and bins at the public library’s used book sale and, in my opinion, walked away with several under-priced gems to read on the next rainy Saturday. I managed to snag all of the books photographed above save one for under ten dollars thanks to coupon I found hidden amongst adds for dry cleaners and discount oil changes.

Long time readers of this blog will recognize that I have previously read and reviewed three of the titles photographed — A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, and Mr. Darcy’s Obsession by Abigail Reynolds. I am guilty of wanting personal copies of books I have greatly enjoyed and thus is the case with the novels by Martin and Larsson. Reynolds’ books have been retitled as they have been republished and, in this case, I was not careful to double check before requesting the book off PaperBackSwap.

The other titles are ones I know I have not read, and I’ve listed them out below in alphabetical order. I was particularly excited to find two books by Alison Weir — her biographies are the gold standard, in my humble opinion — and I look forward to seeing how she handles historical fiction.

  • 22 Britannia Road (Amanda Hodgkinson)
  • A House for Mr. Biswas (V.S. Naipaul)
  • Innocent Traitor (Alison Weir)
  • The Kitchen God’s Wife (Amy Tan)
  • The Lady in the Tower (Alison Weir)
  • Necessary Errors (Caleb Crain)
  • A Poisoned Season (Tasha Alexander)
  • The Sandcastle Girls (Chris Bohjalian)
  • A Secret Kept (Tatiana de Rosnay)

Not photographed are the two books I ordered from Persephone Books last week. I could not avoid the advertised discount on a newly released Persephone Classic, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and added a memoir about apartheid South Africa entitled The World that was Ours by Hilda Bernstein to my order since it is not available at my local library. I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my first order from Persephone; they should arrive in the post any day now.

The Classics Club

After years of resistance and thinking I can motivate myself, I finally took the plunge and join The Classics Club. The last time I read a piece of classic literature, excluding my reread of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, was in March 2013, and even that was a reread of a short novel I first read in high school. Obviously, motivating myself is not going well.

Club participants are supposed to pull together a list of fifty or more books considered to be classics and both read and discuss every single title on their personal blog within a five year period. I plan to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017 simply because I rather like the idea of reading twenty-five classics each year.

Neither the club nor I have a definition of what is a classic so in addition to those titles that immediately came to mind — those big, scary titles I’ve been avoiding for years — I pulled titles from two other lists I had hoped to read more titles from by now — 101 Great Books for College-Bound Readers and AP Literature. I would also like to finish reading the complete works of Jane Austen, and reread one novel I do not think I was ready to read when I original did. (I’m looking at you, Wuthering Heights.)

I’ve structured my list below the jump in alphabetical order by title, but I have also created a spreadsheet where you can organize my list by author, order in which I added it to my list, and year originally published. Continue reading