Thursday, April 4, 2013

Top 5 books on my reading radar this week

"There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page and closing the book."
– Josh Jameson

I'm just coming out of a literary drought. For well over a month no book had managed to catch my interest for more than a few minutes at a time. While it happens every now and then, it's still an incredibly frustrating experience because it makes me feel half complete. Which is absolutely sappy and mawkish sounding, I know, but I don't know what I am without the bookish love. I associate the act of reading with so much of who I am - fangirl, geek, blogger, reader, storyteller, etc. - that to feel like I've lost the ability to enjoy it is to feel like I've lost those other parts of myself. Even if only temporarily. While I'm not quite back to devouring everything that moves (and lots of things that don't), I'm in a better headspace about it. I give you: Top 5 books on my reading radar this week (mostly new, with a few not-so-new thrown in for good measure).

Here's a question: How do YOU get through a reading drought?

The unchangeable spots of leopards / Kristopher Jansma
An inventive and witty debut about a young man's quest to become a writer and the misadventures in life and love that take him around the globe From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable--yet hopelessly earnest--narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer. From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma's irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian's enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma's narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies. As much a story about a young man and his friends trying to make their way in the world as a profoundly affecting exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards will appeal to readers of Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad with its elegantly constructed exploration of the stories we tell to find out who we really are.

  • "Jansma's characters deftly explore the blurred lines between fact and fiction, discovering the shades of truth that lie in between." (Publisher's Weekly)
  •  "Jansma explores how events are shaped into a work of fiction while also showing how we weave the reality of our lives into our own personal narratives. Ultimately, he's concerned with discovering the truth of the self that lies both within and beneath that narrative. A smart, searching debut about art and identity." (Library Journal)
  • "...readers will detect riffs on Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Truman Capote, Bob Dylan, Tolstoy, Salinger, Borges, Kipling, and many more. To add to the droll, romantic, and boldly creative sorcery of it all, Jansma riffs on plagiarism as the new American art form and ponders the paradoxes of literary fame. A first novel with the strength and agility of a great cat leaping through rings of fire." (Booklist)

If on a winter's night a traveler / Italo Calvino ; translated from the Italian by William Weaver
Italo Calvino's masterpiece combines a love story and a detective story into an exhilarating allegory of reading, in which the reader of the book becomes the book's central character. Based on a witty analogy between the reader's desire to finish the story and the lover's desire to consummate his or her passion, If On A Winter's Night A Traveler is the tale of two bemused readers whose attempts to reach the end of the same book--If On A Winter's Night A Traveler, by Italo Calvino, of course--are constantly and comically frustrated. In between chasing missing chapters of the book, the hapless readers tangle with an international conspiracy, a rogue translator, an elusive novelist, a disintegrating publishing house, and several oppressive governments. The result is a literary labyrinth of storylines that interrupt one another--an Arabian Nights of the postmodern age.

Tosca's comment: Not a new book at all. In fact, I believe it was published somewhere around the late 70s. I was catching the train home last night and was flicking through Dougas/Lee's futuristic Romeo and Juliet: The War (GAH such beautiful artwork, and I cried at the ending of this version when Shakespeare's had left me unmoved and even more cynical about relationships, oh boy) when the couple in front of me started talking about Calvino's novel. Being the nosey person I am, I took note of the book and requested it first thing this morning. It was something one of them said that made me want to read it, something like this: "It's the opening line. The book refers to itself. TO ITSELF."

All that is : a novel / James Salter
An extraordinary literary event, a major new novel by the PEN/Faulkner winner and acclaimed master: a sweeping, seductive, deeply moving story set in the years after World War II. From his experiences as a young naval officer in battles off Okinawa, Philip Bowman returns to America and finds a position as a book editor. It is a time when publishing is still largely a private affair--a scattered family of small houses here and in Europe--a time of gatherings in fabled apartments and conversations that continue long into the night. In this world of dinners, deals, and literary careers, Bowman finds that he fits in perfectly. But despite his success, what eludes him is love. His first marriage goes bad, another fails to happen, and finally he meets a woman who enthralls him--before setting him on a course he could never have imagined for himself. Romantic and haunting, All That Is explores a life unfolding in a world on the brink of change. It is a dazzling, sometimes devastating labyrinth of love and ambition, a fiercely intimate account of the great shocks and grand pleasures of being alive.

  • "The number of characters who parade through the book can frustrate, and Salter's choice to render, for a chapter, a well-known character anonymously was unnecessary. But Salter measures his words carefully, occasionally punctuating his elegant prose with sharp, erotic punches." (Publisher's Weekly)
  • "The many sex scenes are doleful; the pegs to world events wobbly. Yet resonant passages bloom, including one that captures the book's subdued spirit: The landscape was beautiful but passive. The emptiness of things rose like the sound of a choir making the sky bluer and more vast." (Booklist)

Tales of the city / Armistead Maupin
For more than three decades Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has blazed its own trail through popular culture--from a groundbreaking newspaper serial to a classic novel, to a television event that entranced millions around the world. The first of six novels about the denizens of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane, Tales is both a sparkling comedy of manners and an indelible portrait of an era that changed forever the way we live. A naive young secretary, fresh out of Cleveland, tumbles headlong into a brave new world of laundromat Lotharios, pot-growing landladies, cut throat debutantes, and Jockey Shorts dance contests. The saga that ensues is manic, romantic, tawdry, touching, and outrageous.

Tosca's comment: I've never read Maupin's Tales of the City. It popped up in conversation with a friend, who then gave me a copy of the first book as a gift. It bounced around in my bag for a few days and was my faithful 'go to' public transport book. (You know the thing, right? Where you keep a book handy for those moments when you're stuck on a train or a bus). Those trips were spent startling fellow passengers with loud guffaws of laughter. When I realised that I was nearing the end of the book I slowed down. So much so I haven't picked it up at all in the last week. I'm not quite ready for the first book to end. I'm finding Maupin's writing hilarious, and quite exquisite. It's a nice 'welcome back' to the joy of reading. (Does that sound a bit wanky?).

Tomorrow there will be apricots / Jessica Soffer
Two women adrift in New York an Iraqi immigrant widow and the latchkey daughter of a famous chef find each other and a new kind of family through their shared love of cooking. Lorca, a sensitive and troubled thirteen-year-old, spends hours poring over cookbooks, seeking out ingredients for her distracted chef of a mother, who is about to send her off to boarding school. In one last effort to secure her mother's love and prove herself indispensable, Lorca resolves to replicate her mother's ideal meal. Victoria, an octogenarian Iraqi immigrant, teaches cooking lessons. Grappling with grief over her husband's death, Victoria has been dreaming of the daughter they gave up forty years ago. Together these two women a widow and an almost-orphan begin to suspect they are connected through more than a love of food.

  • "While the plot is thin and the prose dense, there are moments of charm and an ending that reveals the story to be more tightly wound than it appears." (Publisher's Weekly)
  •  "Readers of domestic novels like Julia Glass's The Whole World Over or Joanne Harris's Chocolat will enjoy this charming book, which is as hopeful as its title." (Library Journal)
  • "The slow pace of the developing story sometimes tests the reader's patience but nevertheless offers fully realized, multidimensional characters who invite empathy and compassion." (Booklist)

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