The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

Even now, weeks since I’ve finished reading Tom Rachman’s novel, The Imperfectionists, I’m not sure what to make of it. I picked it up off of a table that was buy two, get the third free (I’m a sucker for those sales!) because it was the only one on there, aside from the two I had planned to buy anyway, that I did not already own. The cover was enticing, with unusual lettering and a tied newspaper at the bottom; however, when I flipped it over to look at the description on the back I found nothing but several additional glowing reviews. A little irritated at the arrogance of designing a book cover such as this, I reluctantly bought it with the other two and let it sit on my shelf for a few weeks.

I picked it up out of desperation, really, since I had created a wish list of books for my birthday and Christmas, and felt that all of the titles on that list were off-limits until after those had past. As usual, people like to get me one book, or maybe two if I’m lucky, but try to stick to presents not on my list because everyone thinks “everyone gets [me] books.” That is fine with me because if I had it my way, I would own a houseful of books and wear goofy old t-shirts instead of the professional clothing that I’m required to wear for work. Alas, my friends and family pretty much keep me looking nice with sweaters and scarves and I appreciate it beyond words, but it still means I spend around 6 weeks each year not buying the books that I most want and then kicking myself for not purchasing them regardless of the list when I only get one or two from the list. To get to the point, I was about three weeks in to the dreadful six to eight week no-book-buying part of the year and I had finished all of my new books…except for The Imperfectionists.

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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Having focused on modern and contemporary American literature, I was amazed to find that I had somehow overlooked Colum McCann’s writing until only recently. I’d heard of Zoli, and have been meaning to read it for many years now, but it has somehow never made it home with me. It’s supposed to be one of the best historical fiction books about Gypsies in World War II Europe, and after reading Let the Great World Spin I cannot wait to get my hands on McCann’s other books.

With an entirely new time period, cast of characters, and tone, Let the Great World Spin ultimately tells the tale of an unnamed thrill seeker who, on a quest for bigger and greater challenges, finds himself walking, running, dancing, and laying on a tightrope suspended over 100 stories in the air between the twin towers. The novel strives to reveal the slowly spreading reactions of the audience as it spreads from street corner to street corner, then to the news reports on tv,  into the court house, and then into the minds and narratives of the bustling city of NYC. The slowness of people to recognize what was happening above their heads reminded me of just how ingrained it is for us to view the world in view limited to people and shaped by our expectations/definitions of normal. The thrill seeker, by placing himself in an unexpected space, is arguably challenging the confines of the human view and also challenging the assumption that what he is doing is actually a performance. If it is out of the scope of view of his audience, I find myself re-thinking his motives and, yet again, who this adrenaline junkie is and why he has worked so hard for this single stunt.

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Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Colin Meloy is a name you are probably not familiar with, but for any Decemberists fans out there, Meloy is the lead singer. I first hear of this book on the Design*Sponge blog, and decided it was a must have based on Grace’s brief review. I found it difficult to set down the book once I began reading and ended up reading it through the night on my birthday. It was a delight to be pulled in to such an interesting place and story with such ease; I curled up with a blanket and a cup of hot chocolate and began reading at 10:30 and looked up after a while only to find that my hot chocolate was cold and it was 3:00 in the morning. I had no idea that many hours had passed, but if the saying ‘time flies when you’re having fun,’ I was definitely having fun!

Wildwood is a coming of age story that reminded me of the best aspects of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and Madeleine L’Engle’s the Wrinkle in Time quintet, and still manages to be a lovely and unique story. In addition to this fantastic combination of some of the books I remember most fondly from my childhood, Wildwood charmed me with the beautiful illustrations scattered on pages throughout the book. I don’t often seek out illustrated stories, but the craftsmanship that went in to these illustrations really impressed me from the beginning. The inside cover has a detailed map of the story’s world, but Meloy’s storytelling is good enough that it isn’t necessary to see the map to be familiar with the area. The style of the illustrations and map is demonstrated nicely on the sleeve of the book, but as interesting and nicely done as it is, I find the smaller illustrations embedded within the story much more appealing.

As for the story itself, the main character, Prue, must venture in to the Impassable Wilderness (aka the I.W.) in order to rescue her younger brother who has been abducted by birds. Similar to Narnia, the Impassable Wilderness is inhabited by speaking animals that have organized themselves in to governments/fractions, but there is conflict brewing and Prue finds herself in the middle of it. The Impassable Wilderness is a place that is enchanted in such a way that humans are not supposed to be able to wander in, but Prue’s journey teaches her about family, responsibility, and something new about herself along the way.

I think this novel is something than could be appreciated by young readers and adults alike, especially is you’re looking for an engaging, imaginative, and indisputably well-written story. For people interested in artistic illustrations and a flashback to the books of a bygone era, this is a book to add to the shelves. I have no doubt that this will be a book to share with friends and families for many years to come. I hope you enjoy it!

Lucky Peach

First and foremost, let me apologize for the long delay in new posts. Visiting family for Thanksgiving left me sniffling and feverish for about two solid weeks; when I finally recovered, I got so wrapped up in my long reading list that I am only now convincing myself to part from my books long enough to get back to writing.

That being said, I have been reading a lot of awesome books and quarterly magazines which means I will have many excellent recommendations in the very near future. First up on my list, is McSweeney’s newest publication, Lucky Peach. I happened across issue two in my local grocery store by pure chance, and am incredibly happy that I bought it based purely on the magazine’s subtitle: “A Quarterly Journal of Food and Writing.” I rushed home and barely finished putting the groceries away before sitting down and reading the magazine from cover to cover. However, I will say this: the cover of issue two was definitely a little discouraging, but not enough to deter me from buying the issue anyway.

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The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

I rarely trust people who urge me to run out and by a whole series of books because I’ll not only be unable to put them down once I start reading, but I’ll be desperate to keep reading as soon as I finish these books. Today, however, I am going to be that person. Suzanne Collins has created one of the most engaging and though-provoking worlds that I have ever encountered. Add to this the incredibly interesting, somewhat unlikeable, and at times tragic characters that react so believably and yet often unexpectedly to the plot and the The Hunger Games series is among literary giants in the top tier of fiction that I have read.

Suzanne Collins has said repeatedly in interviews that the concept for these novels was born out of flipping channels between reality shows and news reports of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add in a dash of mythology (Theseus) and viola, we have a spark that rekindled my ability to and love of getting completely absorbed in a series. I think the idea of merging and/or juxtaposing reality tv and war reports, two very socially complicated things, would create an interesting and challenging discussion in and of itself, but Collins takes it to a new level. She has created this dystopian future in which there are, essentially, twelve towns (districts) completely isolated from each other and one all-powerful capitol that create the country of Panem. Once a year, during the harvest festivals, the capitol unites the country by collecting two “tributes” from each town to compete in the Hunger Games which are televised and required viewing for every citizen. I will not explain the many questions that the above sentence probably raises, because to say more is to detract from the phenomenal, moving experience of reading the novels.

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Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

I have long enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations, and was thrilled to finally sit down with his book: Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.). Admittedly, there are plenty of moments that caused me to cringe, but there was also a lot of interesting information to be gleaned about the insides of the restaurant business (at least as he portrays it).

The book is hilariously outspoken and treads a line between conversational and a series of stories thoughtfully strung together. I loved that so much value was placed on the sanctity of a chef’s personal organization of his station/workspace. When I was in college one of my biggest pet peeves was roommates changing the way the kitchen was organized. The ability to cook efficiently is certainly not as important at home, but on a tight schedule it certainly helps; even more than that, however, knowing where things are without needing to search through drawers and cabinets to find what ingredient or utensil that you need makes cooking a much more enjoyable experience!

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Design*Sponge is a blog that evolved into a pretty major design magazine online. I was enjoying my October issue of Bon Appetite and came across an interview with the blog’s/magazine’s author, Grace Bonney. The brief interview was enough to convince me to check out the sight and order the newly-released book, Design*Sponge at Home, on the spot. Over the past two weeks I have enjoyed the “Sneak Peek” pictures of the home decor choices made by artists, designers, and Design*Sponge contributers as they strive to make their homes beautiful, comfortable, and inviting all on a budget. I think that last part, the budget aspect of this book and blog is what has caused Grace Bonney’s blog to become what it is today.

I grew up in a “fixer-upper” house and I had the epitome of do-it-yourself parents, so while interior design and home decor may not have been on my radar formally, I spent a lot of time witnessing its effects. When I was in third grade we painted a wall with black chalkboard paint (it was way harder to erase stuff back then!); when I went away for a weekend dance competition I came back to find a huge hole in the wall between the kitchen and dining room (it became a lovely breakfast bar); when my sister and I graduated from sharing a bed to bunk beds, we put in windows that covered two walls of the room; when we put the house on the market, we painted the living room a golden color (it looked horrible before it dried!) and re-upholstered the couch to compliment the new wall color. I won’t say I showed a natural inclination to it…honestly I couldn’t believe my parents would paint the walls a burnt golden color…but now that I’m on my own and trying to decorate my own home (albeit an apartment for now), I appreciate the braveness it took to do bold things like that with our home. Looking back, I love what I learned from those times and what I enjoyed about Design Sponge at Home is that it provided a lot of ideas that seem far more doable than the big projects that my parents undertook. I am grateful for stepping stones while I bide my time in apartments and this book (and blog) are overflowing with great everything. You like do-it-yourself projects? Check out the DIY column on the blog or the entire section of ideas and instructions in the book. You want some awesome ideas on ways other people decorate their homes with flea market and Goodwill finds? Check out the Sneak Peak column.

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Great House by Nicole Krauss

I anxiously awaited the paperback release of Great House: A Novel by Nicole Krauss and the instant I bought it the instant I found it on store shelves. I absolutely loved The History of Love and was sure that I would feel the same about Krauss’ other works too. For the most part, this was an accurate guess on my part, except that I might not have fallen in love with The History of Love during my first reading of that novel; despite a memory that indicates otherwise, I find it likely that it was probably the second or third time through that I really learned to appreciate the incomplete/withheld, multi-narrator, often childishly naive story telling.

Great House: A Novel plays with similar narrative techniques. Where The History of Love unites children and their widowed mother’s translation work with an elderly Jewish refugee fled to America in the 40′s and with a friend entrusted with the elderly man’s manuscript of a novel which the friend published later under his own name, Great House brings together a lonely, divorcée American writer, an antiques dealer in Jerusalem obsessed with obtaining the original furniture from his father’s room destroyed by the Nazis, and a man desperate to know more about his wife who was a powerfully silent writer. Joining these three very different story lines is an immense desk, towering over every room it resides in and filled with drawers of all sizes, some of which have been locked since it’s original owner entrusted his son with a key to a single drawer. Rather than being continuously bought and sold, this desk is given away, loaned, and stolen; all of which echo the ongoing exploration of the inheritance and haunting of loss passed down from parents to child. The inheritance is made larger than life in this desk and is not limited to a single family or part of the world, but rather disperses across the globe with every writer adding their own confessions of doubt, tears for the lost, and news of destruction.

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Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing

As far as cookbooks go, Andrea Reusing‘s Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes, is the cream of the crop. Rather than containing an overwhelming number of recipes that require lots of advanced technique and special tools, Reusing approaches cooking in much the same way I do—cooking is about enhancing the experience of eating fresh, quality ingredients, not masking the taste of vegetables in a mess of spices and sauces. In a lot of ways, this cookbook can be read as a carefully crafted food journal, with dates, stories, and incredible photographs; however, it contains a lot of good advice and technique tips as well.

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Let me preface this by saying that historical fiction is, by far, my favorite genre for novels. (The same is not necessarily true for poetry and film though.)

Elizabeth Kostova’s novel, The Historian, is in the upper echelon of the historical fiction genre; the story is woven together with strands of psuedo-historical and anthropological research of folklore.Couple this approach to story telling with an array of eastern European backdrops  and the resulting novel is quite mesmerizing. However, before I delve too far into the accolades of this novel,  I must admit that my expectations for this novel and what it actually is proved very different. I was outraged that just a well-written historical novel could bridge so quickly from a study of eastern European folklore to a fantastical story of vampirism. And yet, despite this jarring merger, the convincing characters and impeccable pacing lulled me back into the grips of this riveting tale.

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