Thursday, March 29, 2012

Favorite Fiction: Modern Fairy Tales

   The term "modern fairy tales" can mean many different things.  From rewritten versions of well-known tales to new stories that mimic the fairy tale style, it's hard to narrow down this literary genre.  So I've decided to include a mix of books and authors that could be classified as "modern fairy tales."  Some are based on traditional tales and some are merely inspired by them, but they all include elements of magic or the supernatural and are reminiscent of the folklore/fairy tale genre.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Favorite Fiction update:

 It looks like the first Favorite Fiction topic will be Modern Fairy Tales. Thanks to everyone who voted on Hooked Bookworm's Facebook page!  Your input is much appreciated.  First Favorite Fiction post coming sooooon!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley

    "Why did the flushing toilet take two centuries to catch on?  Why did strangers share their beds?  And why did rich people fear fruit?"  Such are the questions that Lucy Worsley addresses in her new book, If Walls Could Talk.  Worsley's research visits an assortment of subjects - "from sauce-stirring to breastfeeding, teeth-cleaning to masturbation, getting dressed to getting married."  This book will bring out the shameless voyeur that's in all of us and, like me, you might find yourself captivated by accounts of medieval birthing techniques and completely engrossed by the history of the bathroom.

   If Walls Could Talk explores the history of the room - specifically the bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen to reveal "what people actually did" in these domestic spaces.  Worsley's findings are incredibly fascinating and the book is very readable.  I was not quite as transfixed by the kitchen and living room chapters as I was with the bedroom and bathroom chapters, but then again, who wouldn't be more entertained by the evolution of underwear than the story of the dishwasher?  Even so, I really enjoyed reading this book as Worsley traces the history of domestic life from pre-medieval times to present day amenities.  It's almost like taking a tour of historical English homes and castles without ever having to leave the couch!

   If Walls Could Talk is a book that would appeal to just about everyone's taste in some way or another.  Elements of history, interior design, sociology, gender studies, and plain old curiosity fill the book's pages, as well as dozens of photos that add a whole new dimension to the text.

   Those familiar with Worsley's work in the U.K. might know that she also hosts a BBC television series of the same title.  I have not seen the show yet, but after reading the book I feel compelled to get ahold of its visual companion.  Lucy Worsley is a great researcher and historian, but what makes this book so fascinating is her talent for storytelling.  If every history text book were written by Lucy Worsley, we'd see many more children listing "historian" and "curator" as their future occupations.

Overall Rating:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Introducing: Favorite Fiction

Coming Soon:

Favorite Fiction will be a regular segment here at Hooked Bookworm where I will list "favorites" from specific categories or genres.  Options for the first installment include:

Favorite Fiction: Women Authors
Favorite Fiction: Modern Fairy Tales
Favorite Fiction: Classics

Cast your votes in the comments section below or on Hooked Bookworm's Facebook page this week!  The first segment will be revealed by Friday.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Binge in Atlanta

Despite all the talk that bookstores are in decline, they are alive and thriving in Atlanta, Georgia!  My husband and I recently took a trip to Atlanta for a couple of days and while I was there I visited as many bookstores as I possibly could (of course).  My budget is limited and I was only there for 2 days, so I couldn't get everything on my list or go to ALL the bookstores in the area (unfortunately), but here's what I managed to acquire on my Atlanta book binge:

Threats - Amelia Gray
     -Purchased from Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, GA

The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Emily M. Danforth
     - Purchased from Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, GA

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
     - Purchased from Barnes & Noble in Little Five Points (Edgewood shopping center), GA

The Last Nude - Ellis Avery (signed copy)
     - Purchased from Charis Books and More in Little Five Points (Atlanta), GA

Annabel - Kathleen Winter
     - Purchased from Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, GA

Straight - Hanne Blank (signed copy)
     - Purchased from Charis Books and More in Little Five Points (Atlanta), GA

A big thanks to my sister-in-law, Gala, for showing us around the Decatur/Atlanta area and guiding us to these great bookstores!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bed by David Whitehouse

   David Whitehouse's debut novel tells the story of Malcolm (Mal) Ede, a very bold, quirky young man who, on his 25th birthday, decides to never get out of bed again.  Despite his eventual weight gain of hundreds of pounds, Mal sticks to his decision.  Soon he becomes a local celebrity and folks line up outside of the Ede family's house to catch a glimpse of massive Mal.  His health quickly deteriorates, but Mal's mother couldn't be happier to have her son need her in such an obvious, physical way.  She spends her days cooking meal after meal for him, and as he gets bigger and bigger, Mrs. Ede adds bathing her son's massive body and cleaning his bedsores to her list of daily duties.  Meanwhile, Mal's father has retreated to the attic where he spends day and night tinkering with mysterious inventions, and Mal's ex-girlfriend, Lou, is still in love with him and waiting for him to drag his gargantuan body out of bed so they can resume their relationship.

   Mal's bizarre story is narrated by his younger brother, who simultaneously despises and adores his strange sibling - mostly because he's in love with Lou, and Lou just can't seem to get over Mal - no matter how many ways he rejects her.  The eccentric story of the Ede brothers spans more than 40 years and is told through short little vignettes with an ending that is just as abrupt and peculiar as the novel's opening lines:
Asleep he sounds like a pig hunting truffles in soot.  It isn't snoring, more of a death rattle.  But for that it is a quiet morning, the morning of Day Seven Thousand Four Hundred and Eight-Three, according to the clock on the wall. (p.1)

The Ede family purchased a clock to measure Mal's bedridden days in hopes of motivating him to get up.  But 20 years in, when the book begins, Mal is "an enormous meat duvet"... "every rise of his chest triggers a seismic shudder through the room."

   Bed doesn't lack for descriptive imagery but there is a lot of it, and by the end of the novel, many of the images and metaphors have been repeated too many times to be effective any longer.  Whitehouse goes on for paragraphs about the enormity and repulsiveness of Mal's body, which is sometimes quite impressive and sometimes superfluous - but it does appropriately reflect Mal's story.

   David Whitehouse is obviously a good writer, and I think with a little more practice and discretion he could write an amazing novel.  But for me, Bed was not amazing.  The story was interesting enough to keep me reading and some of the imagery is very memorable, but it lacked a sense of unity and purpose.  When the book was first released, Janet Maslin from the New York Times said: "Mr. Whitehouse’s great talent for outlandishly clever description is not matched by a gift for storytelling."  I agree.  I wasn't very impressed with Bed, but David Whitehouse is talented and definitely someone to keep an eye on for the future.

Overall Rating:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

You might want to listen to this...

If you follow Hooked Bookworm on Facebook, then you've probably already seen this. But either way, it's so cool I'm posting it twice. Yesterday Flavorwire posted audio recordings of some of the world's most beloved authors reading their work aloud.  The collection includes recording from authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, J.R.R. Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor, and Virginia Woolf. It seriously gave me goosebumps, and if you want in on the goosebumps, check out the full post here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On the Horizon: Looking Forward to New Fiction

It's sunny and 75 degrees in East Tennessee today, which means I've got Spring Fever.  I've also come down with a bad case of Spring Reading Fever, which means I want to read EVERYTHING!  It's hard not to feel this way when there are so many great new releases on the horizon, so I thought I'd put together a little list of new releases I'm looking forward to this spring.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

   At a newspaper column in 1930s New York City, letters arrive every day seeking the advice of "Miss Lonelyhearts."  While some people are looking for relationship advice ("but no boy will take me because I was born without a nose"), and others need birth control tips ("I have 7 children in 12 years"), they all have one thing in common - they are all miserable and hoping that Miss Lonelyhearts can offer sound advice to solve their problems for good.  But what most of the public doesn't know is that "Miss Lonelyhearts" is really just a bored young man who is just as unhappy as they are.  The rest of the novella follows Miss Lonelyhearts as he explores various paths to fulfillment, namely sex, alcohol, and religion.  But unfortunately, these attempts only lead him to varying degrees of more misery and unhappiness.

   Published in 1933, Miss Lonelyhearts is a bleak satirical commentary on the increasing level of social and personal disillusionment in post-depression America.  Despite living in New York City with an ongoing connection to and dialogue with the public through his newspaper job, Miss Lonelyhearts feels increasingly isolated and detached from the city that so desperately seeks his advice.  Determined to make one final attempt at human connection, he reaches out to an unlikely companion and learns a moment too late that his sense of social responsibility has only led him down a path of self-destruction.

   Nathanael West died when he was just 37, but spent most of his writing career exploring his cynical perspective on American culture, which he is famous for today.  Coming of age during wartime and writing during the Great Depression, West's bleak view of America was certainly justified and is exemplified through Miss Lonelyhearts.  The novella is less than 100 pages, so it can be read in one sitting, but it feels much more epic than its length suggests.  West's book is both hilarious and devastating, embodying the dichotomy of his America - a place of endless pleasure to distract us from our fate of lifelong misery.  I know.  It sounds awfully whiny and broody, but when you think about all the desolation and suffering West witnessed in his short 37 years (WWI, The Great Depression, the beginning of WWII), his perspective of America was understandably tarnished.

Overall Rating:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Queenpin by Megan Abbott

   Megan Abbott's 2007 novel, Queenpin, is a throwback to the hard-boiled, noir mysteries of the pulp fiction heyday.  You can practically smell cigarette smoke and whiskey fumes wafting right out of the pages.  In the novel, a young woman (our nameless narrator) is recruited by a notorious female mob boss, Gloria Denton, into the dangerous and seedy world of money laundering and illegal betting.  Everything is just swell with our narrator and her new job - until she gets distracted by a man, that is.  It's a classic rookie mistake and she knows it, but she had no idea how severe the consequences would be for letting down her guard.  Gloria quickly introduces our lusty protagonist to a world of cruelty and violence that she never could have imagined.  It's a dog-eat-dog world in noir crime fiction, and our anonymous narrator must quickly learn how to hold her own before she finds herself cold and toothless in a shallow grave.

   Noir fiction is a quickly-disappearing literary genre, but if anyone can cause a resurgence in popularity it's Megan Abbott.  Last year I raved about her most recent book, The End of Everything, and I'm not at all surprised by how much I enjoyed this book.  It made me want to put on red lipstick, light up a cigarette and rough somebody up.  Gloria Denton is sexy, mysterious, and cool, but she's also completely ruthless and merciless - and our narrator can never quite decide if she loves her or hates her.  Either way, she is terrified of what Gloria is capable of.

   But pretty soon, Gloria's protégé becomes a little more confident in her own abilities, and Queenpin boils down to a question of reluctant loyalty or blatant betrayal.  Megan Abbott's writing is well-crafted, creative, and darkly nostalgic.  Pulsing with seduction, violence, and suspense, Queenpin should be at the top of the list for fans of nouveau noir.

Overall Rating:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Hollywood Sign by Leo Braudy

   Before Hollywood became a place of red carpets, glitz, glamour, and celebrity sightings, it was a quiet little suburban town on the outskirts of Los Angeles.  It was marketed to home buyers as a "miniature Eden" and  "Utopian community" - a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life.  It's hard to imagine a quiet, serene version of Hollywood, California - a place that is now a cultural icon and landmark - but Leo Braudy's book takes us back in time to a forgotten era of the city's history.

   Once upon a time, around the turn of the 20th century, Hollywood was an anonymous dot on a California map without a movie star in sight.  In fact, Leo Braudy says "there was no premeditated effort to make Hollywood the center of the west coast film business, let alone the American film business generally" (p. 26).  But in 1911, the first movie production companies began opening in Hollywood and, well, the rest is history - a very fascinating and little known aspect of American history.

   An entire book about the history of a sign might sound excruciatingly boring, but I assure you, The Hollywood Sign is entertaining and very readable, because it's not just a book about a sign - it's about the origins of America's romance with fame, fortune, scandal, celebrity, and iconicism.  As Braudy says, "Hollywood is a complicated place," and it always has been.  From the early, quiet days of the "Hollywoodland" housing development to the modern American monument that it is today, Braudy's book charts the tumultuous and intense history of one of the most famous cities in the world.

Overall Rating:

Friday, March 2, 2012

I'm Down by Mishna Wolff

   When you hear something described as "Black and White," it is often synonymous with the idea of something that is definitive or objective.  But for Mishna Wolff, the terms Black and White are anything but definitive - they are confusing and emotionally charged terms.  Mishna and her family may have been legally required to check the "Caucasian" box on official paperwork, but her single father made it clear from an early age that their family would identify with Black culture.  Anora, Mishna's younger sister, fit right in with the kids in their low-income, all-Black neighborhood, but Mishna was never quite able to blend in the way her sister did.  In fact, she stuck out like a very white, very sore thumb.  She wasn't a good dancer, she was terrible at Basketball, and her musical preferences rarely included R&B or Hip-Hop.  But Mishna's father was convinced that they were a Black family, so he did everything in his power to convince his daughter to "get with the program," or rather, get "down."

   I'm Down is a book about racial and cultural identity, but it's also about Mishna's strained relationship with her father.  Because she was "painfully white," she spent a great deal of time trying to impress her Dad, who thought that his children should develop the exact same sense of identity as his own.  But Mishna, unlike her sister, was never able to seamlessly blend into their Black community, and as a consequence, she was never able to blend in with her own family.  This caused declarations failure, disappointment, and even accusations of racism - all directed at a very young and very stressed out Mishna.

   But despite John Wolff's frequently voiced disappointment in his own daughter, all she wanted to do was please him, which often meant pretending to be someone she wasn't.  I'm Down is a very funny and entertaining memoir, but it's also heartbreaking and probing.  When your sense of self clashes with your family identity and cultural identity, it's impossible to determine what is "Black and White."  Wolff's memoir begs the question: Why is it so important that we choose one over the other?

Overall Rating: