Lynn Reads a Book
This blog reflects Lynn Rosen’s comments on books she’s read and on happenings in the world of book publishing. You can purchase Lynn’s book recommendations at Barnes & Noble (we especially recommend Lynn’s store in Philadelphia!) or at your nearest indie bookstore. Wherever you choose to shop, we ask that you please support a bricks & mortar bookstore. They need your support! Shop local!
Lynn’s been reading lots of books these days. In fact, she’s been gobbling them down so fast she almost can’t remember them! But here’s a quick summary of recent reads. As a member of the implementation committee of the “One Book, One Jewish Community,” in Philadelphia, I’ve been reading many books with Jewish themes. I enjoyed a thriller by Charles Belfoure called The Paris Architect. Set in Paris during Nazi occupation, it follows a Christian architect who, against his will, becomes involved in creating hiding places for Jews. It’s very suspenseful in a way that at times reminded me of the anxiety I felt watching the brilliant film “Inglourious Basterds.” Also for the “OBOJC” committee, I’m reading a new novel by Nomi Eve. Henna House, set in Yemen in the 1920s, tells the story of a character named Adela and the passions and trials of her Jewish community. I’m also reading All I Love and Know by Judith Frank about a gay couple in Northampton, MA, whose life is thrown into upheaval when one of the men’s brother and his Israeli wife are killed in a suicide bombing, leaving them to raise their children. For my “Hot Off the Press” class, in which we read brand new literary fiction, I just read Mona Simpson’s new Casebook. It tells the story of a family’s divorce from the point of view of the fourteen-year-old son. He begins spying on his mom to find out if she’s talking to her best friend about them letting their young sons watch “Survivor,” and winds up learning much more than he bargained for. I loved how the authorlooks at love, family and divorce from this point of view. You may know Simpson for her best-known novel, Anywhere But Here, about a mother/daughter road trip. There’s ever so much more on my summer reading list, including a few classics, some Young Adult books (have not yet read The Book Thief!), a new novel called Perfect by Rachel Joyce, who first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I really enjoyed, and some non-fiction about authors: The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia...read more
I’ll share this statement from the National Book Foundation: Maya Angelou (1928-2014), Recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 We join the world in mourning the death of Dr. Maya Angelou, recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community in 2013. Writer, performer, and political activist, Dr. Angelou died Tuesday after a long illness at her home in Winston Salem, N.C. She was 86. Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation says, “We share the gratitude of so many for Dr. Angelou’s contributions to literature, human rights, and social justice. Her legacy is one that all writers and readers across the world can admire and aspire to.” In her acceptance speech at the 2013 National Book Awards Ceremony, Dr. Angelou said, “For over 40 years, imagine it, I have tried to tell the truth as I understand it.” Watch Maya Angelou’s acceptance speech: http://vimeo.com/80091024 More on Maya Angelou and her 2013 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community: http://www.nationalbook.org/literarian.html#ma...read more
Richard Powers’ new novel, Orfeo, is a story of a composer in his 70s who, throughout the course of the book, recalls key moments in his life. The book is filled with detailed descriptions of the music he listens to along the way. It’s a book that begs for a soundtrack and, in fact, it turns out that several industrious readers have created Orfeo playlists that can be downloaded and appreciated along with this brainy well-written book. As far as ancillary materials for the newest novel from the youthfully prolific Helen Oyeyemi, I would like to request that someone create an accompanying anthology of the wide range of folklore, mythology, and other literary sources drawn on by the author to build her fantastical tale Boy, Snow, Bird. The main frame of the book is a modern retelling of Snow White. She’s dispensed with the dwarfs and the poison apple, but step-mothers and other recognizable tropes abound in the story of a girl named Boy who grows up to become step-mother to a girl named Snow, and then who gives birth to another girl named Bird. Along the way, the reader will find a witch with a snake for a heart, a mysterious shadow girl with bloody hands, references and allusions to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, poetry by Christina Rossetti, the Greek Fury Alecto, and much more. The book, as it examines questions of identity and appearance versus reality, also weaves in a powerful look at racism in our society and at the status of civil rights in the 1950s and 60s. It also throws in some gender politics at the end, but oh, how I wish she hadn’t gone there. But, no spoiler am I. Grab yourself a copy of Boy, Snow, Bird and take the magically real journey...read more
Helen Oyeyemi, author of the new novel Boy, Snow Bird, gave a reading last week at the Free Library of Philadelphia. She is bright, charming, and upbeat, and here’s one thing she said that really stayed with me: “I don’t have a sense of a single culture. I’m just basically made up of books and pieces I read.” How I love that! I feel the same way. Do...read more
In a review in The New York Times of a new book by novelist Richard Powers, critic Jim Holt asked: Is it premature to talk of the “Powers Problem”? He goes on to explain that the novels of Richard Powers, eleven in all, often tend to be called “cerebral.” Powers is clearly an intellectual, and he writes about weighty, complicated subjects such as genetics, artificial intelligence, and game theory. His latest book, the recently-published Orfeo, tells the story of Peter Els, a retired composer in his 70s who returns to his love of chemistry, builds an in-home lab, and begins manipulating the DNA of bacteria. His lofty goal: to implant music into the cells. However, when he is accidentally discovered by law enforcement, they view his experiments as a terror threat, sending Els on the run. The book contains complicated, lengthy passages that use highly-technical language to explain details of how both chemistry and music work. Hearing this, does it make you run for cover? Or does it intrigue you and make you want to read the book? I like intellectual novels. I like to be challenged while I’m reading. After reading early reviews of this book and seeing that the critics seemed to think that Powers provided excellent storytelling that was not overwhelmed by too-heavy technical or scientific detail, I decided to read the book, and I loved it. I was moved by the story of Peter Els, and found him to be a very real, flawed character with a touching story, whose motivations I could understand. I selected the book for my “Hot Off the Press” class to read. In this class, a group of passionate readers gather, under my guidance, to discuss works of recently-published literary fiction. I looked forward to our discussion of Orfeo. I was moved by the book; I cried upon reading the final pages, something I rarely do these days with a book. I was surprised to find my class had a very different reaction. They were not happy. They did not enjoy the detailed musical and scientific passages. They are smart people and smart readers, yet they felt overwhelmed, put off. One likened reading the book with its descriptions of avant garde music to an unpleasant experience she had had attending a concert of John Cage’s music. Another asked with irritation: “Who is he writing for?” It’s a valid question. If the smart and engaged readers in my class can’t wade through this material, who can? Do you need a degree in science or music to read this book? Why does the author put so much detail in that he has to know most of his readers will not understand? Does this in any way enhance the book? I didn’t understand everything I was reading. I confess to skimming some of the technically descriptive material. But not much of it – I really did try to read it, and I tried to understand it as best as I could. I learned some things, and, especially in the parts about music, what I most learned is how much I don’t know. Reading the author’s words describing how his character, the composer Peter Els, listens to music, describing what he hears when he listens, describing what he thinks about when he composes music,...read more