Monthly Archives: December 2010

1 : 1 Reading Challenge

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The 1: 1 Reading Challenge will span January – December 2011.

For every 1 book borrowed from the library, borrowed from a friend, newly purchased, or sent for review, then 1 book must be read off of my bookshelf. I must follow the sequence:  1 borrowed book, 1 bookshelf book (although as many bookshelf books can be read in a row, no more than 1 borrowed book may be read consecutively.)

Exceptions to the rule:

Cookbooks, craft books, gardening & home improvement. These books will be exempt from the ratio.

Sounds pretty easy right? I have this bad habit of splurging at library bookstores where books can cost as little as 25 cents. This is my attempt to preserve what little shelf space I have on my two bookshelves, both of which are already filled to capacity.

I’ll be keeping a monthly statistics log with the following information updated on the 1st of each month.

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Total number of books owned: 220

Total number of books read that I own: 82

Number of books left to read on my bookshelf: 138

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I am aware that there are many similar challenges floating around the hundreds of book blogs in cyberspace. While everyone and anyone is more than welcome to follow my model and rules, this will not be a very formal challenge. I have a bad track record with challenges. This is really just a way to motivate myself to read more of the books that I own and to be more particular about the books that I bring into my apartment to put on my bookshelf.

I often turn to the library stacks or go to my favorite used bookstores for new selections because I never want to read the books on my bookshelf. Why did I buy these books in the first place? I had an interest in them when I selected them. They went through a rather strict selection process. I usually spend about 5 minutes perusing a book before making my final purchase. As it stands, I’ve read about a third of all the books that I live with. In an ideal world, only have a third of my books should be unread.

The challenge will begin bright and early January 1st. Until then, I have roughly a week to prepare my bookshelves and myself for this challenge.

The Art of Eating In – Review

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The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir, nonfiction
Location: Brooklyn
 

Based on a highly popular New York blog, Brooklyner Cathy Erway went two years without eating out in restaurants in one of the biggest and most culinary metropolitan cities in the nation. How? She made copy-cat meals of restaurant favorites at home, learned how to forage for food and entertain friends with dinner parties during her quest to forgo convenience for quality.

I connected very strongly with this book right from the start. Cathy is a wonderful narrator. She is quirky, introspective, and her social commentaries throughout the book definitely provide some good food for thought. My biggest compliment to her writing is that she is not preachy. Let me say that again, but in all caps: SHE IS NOT PREACHY. I have read, or tried to read, far to many books about cooking and healthy eating that have just been riddled with judgement and a “holier-than-thou” attitude, and that is a major turn-off. That was my biggest qualm about Animal, Miracle, Vegetable by Barbara Kingsolver. I think I got through 2 chapters before I gave up on the entire concept.

The Art of Eating In is in a way, what I expected Animal, Miracle, Vegetable to be. After reading through her blog, Cathy’s book is not a retelling of her posts from the past 4 years. She provides a lot of unique insights and knowledge into food culture in America. She is incredibly well read, citing a number of books, writers, columnists, journalists etc, throughout the book. Each chapter has a different focus, a different anecdote and ends with two or three recipes that were discussed in that same chapter. The subtitle of this book, however is a lie. For one thing, Cathy did not learn to love the stove. She began the book with a healthy background of home cooked meals and eating-in. Although a switch from eating out to cooking in can be extreme, Cathy had an advantage because she already possessed considerable cooking skills from the start.

Since this book and the blog is written by a 20-something year old in New York, that should be definitely taken into consideration when picking up this book. She leads a single lifestyle through most of the book and a scheduling flexibility of 10pm dinners that parents do not have. She also lives in a major metropolitan city where pretty much everything you want to do or try is available at all hours of the day.

The way the book is written reminds of French Women Never Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. It has the same mix of memoir/biography/recipe/cookbook with a unique spin on youthful urban society.

Being in my 20s and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’m lucky enough to have just many foodie resources as Cathy to explore at my own pace. Food being my third favorite hobby (right after reading and knitting) I found her challenge to be interesting. Although I don’t experiment with or cook as much as I want to, I definitely don’t eat-out frequently for a challenge like this to make much of an impact on either my wallet or my waistline. I’ve stopped eating at national chain restaurants for well over a year (except the occasional Panda Express and McDonald’s cravings) and now look for places with intriguing and unique menu items — Lobster corn dogs as one example.

This is by far my favorite non-fiction book read of 2010 and I’m really glad I stumbled upon it.

The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove
 by Cathy Erway
Gotham Books, 2010
ISBN 9781592405251
320 pages

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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Review

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Age: Adult

After suffering a humiliating defeat in court against a major Swedish corporation, business journalist Michael Blomvist is sought out by one of the wealthiest Swedish families to help solve a 40 year old crime. After Harriet Vanger disappeared 40 years ago, her uncle never gave up hope and resources searching for his beloved niece. Along with the petite and tattooed Lisbeth Salander to help figure out the mystery, Blomvist tries to figure out the mystery and winds up going down a dangerous path as a result.

I’m not sure what to say about this book. The entire trilogy is on the New York Times Bestseller list. This title was published 2008, so there are more than enough online reviews floating around about it .

I have a very lukewarm opinion of this book.  I read it 1) because of all the hype and 2) it was shoved into my hands by sister demanding that I read this book. I tried to leave any expectations for this book at the door before I began reading, but the book just never clung to me. I think I spent more than a month reading it, after pausing to pick up a couple other books.

Despite the slow start, I thought all the characters were fully developed, no one was lacking in nuances and quirks. I loved Lisbeth’s interactions with Blomvist, the lone man who was able to break down her defense shields and actually become a part of her life. I wanted to learn more about the business scandal that actually started the book and was the reason for Blomvist’s fall to shame in the journalism world. Although I really loved Lisbeth’s character and Blomvist’s stubborn attitude, I felt that the book was very long and boring. The ending was also somewhat predicable since I figured out what happened to Harriet well into the book. It took ages before something actually started to happen and then it all happened at once towards the end of the book. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. I’m curious about the next two books, because I’ve heard its more history into Lisbeth’s past, but I’m not dying to read the books.

In my defense, this isn’t a genre I normally read, so perhaps this type of lukewarm opinion is the best opinion one can get out of me for a murder mystery/thriller.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson
Vintage Crime, 2008
ISBN 9780307473479
644 pages

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The girl with the dragon tattoo

Divisadero – Review

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Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

Age: Adult

Divisadero tells the the story of a widowed father raising his two teenage girls on a farm in Northern California along with the help of a young man named Coop. Spanning multiple decades, this is a story of a family divided by violence, love and passion. The story spans not only decades, but also miles. The story begins in Petaluma, takes us through the seedy gambling back rooms of Nevada and Las Vegas and into the serene countryside of France.

Divisadero means “division” and that theme is laid out through the novel in various forms. Divisions among families, among boundaries, state lines and emotional connections. The chapters jump from third person to first person, which can be a little confusing at first, figuring out who is narrating. The novel is beautifully written and the characters are  fully dysfunctional. Although the book is set during a specific time frame, it feels ageless to me. As if the events in this book could happen to anyone, anywhere and at anytime. I found the two sisters, Anna and Claire, to be incredibly boring, Anna more than Claire. Although I felt that Coop is the most interesting character in the entire book, I found the gypsy family in France to be intriguing as well. I think Ondaatje could probably write another novel based solely on Part 3 of this book.

A friend recommended this book, particularly because of the poetic prose and the descriptions of the Bay Area, which I loved, and wished there was more of. I took my time reading this book, and I think it was meant to be read that way.

Extras —

There is a great interview with Ondaajte from 2009 with Robert Haas, where he discusses the book during a Story Hour with the UC Berekely English Department.

Divisadero
By Michael Ondaatje
Alfred A Knopf, 2009
ISBN 9780307266354
273 pages

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Divisadero

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Review

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Age: Teen/Adult
Genre: Fiction
Location: Brooklyn
 

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a semi-autobiographical tale of a young girl growing up in poverty in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. Her mother works as many jobs as there are days in the week to put food on the table, while her father, full of love, is too stuck in his past musical career to provide for the family. Francie’s own needs are often pushed to the side so that her younger brother will be able to advance in his life. Although faced with hunger, and few opportunities for advancement, Francie manages to find a path from rags to riches using her creativity, intellect and love of reading to help her make the right decisions along the way.

I adored this book, and I have very few words to describe how I feel about it. I related very strongly to Francie throughout the book. Although I didn’t grow up dirt-poor the way she did, I did grow up in a struggling family. Books were my saving grace as I was too shy and awkward to have many friends. I loved Francie’s passion for not only books, but for her family and for life in general. She has a unique outlook on life that made her more mature for her years. This book is really inspirational and full of emotional ups and downs of any family struggling to ends meet.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith
Harper Perennial, 1943
ISBN 9780060736262
493 pages

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.