The Sunday Salon: January 17, 2010

Good morning!  I hope it’s bright and sunny where you are!

In  Southern California we are bracing ourselves for a MAJOR WINTER STORM!  Take cover!  There may be some rain!  I might not be laughing about this a week from now, but when the weather forecasters cry wolf a few times, and the major storm ends up being a few sprinkles.. well, let’s say I’m a bit unimpressed with the warnings.  We’ll see.  Right now it’s sunny, the sky is a brilliant blue, and the only clouds I see are high and fluffy.  But they are moving pretty fast, so.. hmmm.

Today was supposed to be our parent/child book club meeting day, hosted by me, but my oldest has strep throat.  I almost made her go to school on Friday (another one who’s always crying wolf) but she seemed a little warm and listless and had a miserable attitude so I let her stay home.  Later I saw that her throat was inflamed so we went to the doctor.. he said it was viral and to go home and give her Motrin.  But then last night she spiked a high fever and her throat was bright red, so we ended up in the ER for several hours, and she got a shot of penicillin.  Now my husband has a sore throat.  Good times!

I’ve spent some time this morning going through our pictures for Sheri from A Novel Menagerie’s Beautiful Baby pet photo contest.  We have so many that it’s hard to decide what to submit.  She’s having consolation prizes for most humorous and best personality so I’m thinking of entering one of these, rather than the standard “beauty” shot.. tell me what you think:

Where is everybody? Who wants to play with me?

What's THIS? A new pet in the house?

Well, she smells pretty good. Maybe we can be friends.

As for reading, I’m about 2/3rds of the way through both U is for Undertow and American Rust.  I’m usually a one book at a time woman, but I’d left “U” in my car one night and didn’t feel like going out to get it, so I started American Rust and haven’t put it down since. Wish I had a team of people to raise my children, make my meals, do my laundry, clean my house, and shop for me so I could just read read read in my free time.  Wait..I need another me!  I need a wife!! Ha Ha.

What are you reading this weekend?  I hope you all have a wonderful day and a great week!  Thanks for stopping by Books On The Brain.

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Book Review: When The Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka is a book I accidentally read twice.  Has anyone else ever had that kind of lightbulb moment, when things start to sound vaguely familiar?

For me that rarely happens because I generally get rid of my books after I’ve read them.  They go to friends or off to the library; I keep very few.  But for some reason I kept this one, and it only took 11 pages for that reading lighbulb to go on with a scene so vivid and visual and unforgettable that at first I wasn’t sure if I’d seen it in a movie or read it in a book (this book).  I had to read a little bit further to realize that yes, I’d read this before, probably when it first came out in 2002.

It is spring of 1942, in the early days of WWII.  Evacuation orders for over 100,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast have been posted.  Japanese AMERICANS who’ve done nothing wrong; who love baseball and school, who own stores and homes and little white dogs, whose only crime is their ancestry, are suddenly enemy aliens and ordered to leave their homes to reside in internment camps far away.

This book is about one family’s experiences.  Told in sparse, simple prose, it focuses on the small things, the quiet details.  It feels bare.  Direct.  Subtle.  Sad.

The first chapter is told from the mother’s perspective.  The father has been taken away for questioning late at night, months before.  Taken away in his slippers and his bathrobe, with the neighbors peering out from behind their curtains.

Now the mother (never named) is making careful and necessary preparations for the rest of the family to leave their home in Berkley, California, not to join the father but to be taken to a different place. She’s packing up the house, making painful decisions about the pets, waiting for the children to come home from school.  She doesn’t know where they are going or how long they’ll be gone or who will live in their home while they are away; she only knows that they have to go and can only bring what they can carry.

The next chapter is from the perspective of the eleven year old daughter, on the train and then later on a bus toward their destination in Utah.  It’s hot and they are bored, cranky, sad.  Their minds drift to other places.

The next two chapters are told by the 8 year old son/brother during the family’s time at camp and are filled with a kids view of the heat, the white dust, the cold, the hunger, the boredom, the thin walls, the cramped quarters, the lines, the barbed wire, the armed guards, the censored letters, the longing for old times, the wondering about friends at home.  Finally they do return home but things are not the same, will never be the same.

The very end of the book, after the father’s homecoming, is a political tirade that seemed unnecessary and tacked on.  The stark realities of the family’s experience and the injustice of it all is a potent enough political statement all by itself.

At 144 pages, When the Emperor Was Divine is an understated, extremely well written book with a poetic feel that pays close attention to detail and focuses more on feelings than on actual events during this painful and ugly period in our country’s history.

I loved this book and highly recommend it for anyone over the age of 12.  It’s a keeper.

Summer Reading Series: Two Years, No Rain Discussion Questions

flower summer seriesHello Summer Readers!

Our August Summer Reading Series selection is Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens.  Shawn will be popping in to answer any questions you might have, so leave your questions in the comments.  Here is a synopsis of the book, and following are discussion questions that I’ve dreamed up. Please feel free to leave your answers here, or add your own questions.

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An earnest journey from heartache to heartthrob and all the emotions along the way; at once an old-fashioned love story and a cautionary tale of self-reinvention.

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming… 

SO READERS- let’s get the discussion started! These are just a few questions to get you thinking- you don’t have to answer them all. Please feel free to respond to each others answers, too.

1.  The book opens on the day Andy’s wife is moving out of their house.  His wife has cheated on him repeatedly, yet he feels the divorce is his fault.  Is it?

2.  What kind of husband was Andy?  What kind of brother/brother in law/friend/uncle is he?

3.   Is an emotional affair as damaging to a relationship as a real (physical) affair?  

4.  Some reviewers have referred to this book as “dude-lit”, or chick lit with a guy as the main character. Would you agree?  What was this like as a reading experience? 

5.  What factors are instrumental in pulling Andy out of his funk, both emotionally and professionally?  (i.e. working out, encouragement from friends, having Hannah around, etc.)  What kinds of things help to pull you out of a rut?

6.  Andy’s new job on Andy’s Magic Carpet gives him a measure of fame that he is unaccustomed to.  What did he learn about himself as a result?

7.  What role do the Jasons (Andy’s twin and Hill’s husband) play in the book for Andy?

8.  Did you find the characters likeable?  Who did you like the most?  The least?

9.  Did you enjoy the weather metaphors in Two Years, No Rain?

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Two Years, No Rain! PLEASE try to avoid major plot spoilers in the comments, for people who haven’t yet read the book.  If your comment is spoiler-ish, put the word SPOILER first before leaving your comment!

These summer book discussions have been so fun!  You can check out our earlier discussions for Beach Trip in June and All We Ever Wanted Was Everything in July.

Thanks for reading along with us this summer! xoxo, Lisa and Mari


If You Feed Them, They Will Come

Put three kids in a dinghy in Newport Harbor with a couple of stale hot dog buns, and every pelican, seagull, and duck within a 2 mile radius shows up!  Pretty soon the seals arrive too. 

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LA Times Festival of Books and Bloggers!


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Natasha, Amy, Tracy, Ti, Jill, Trish, Lisa

Natasha, Amy, Tracy, Ti, Jill, Trish, Lisa

This weekend I attended a super-fun two day event, the LA Times Festival of Books. That would have been exciting enough for a book geek like me, but what made it super-fun (as opposed to just regular fun) was getting to meet some of my blogger friends in real life.  What a treat!

The plan was to meet in front of the UCLA book store.  As I wandered up to the steps in front, I immediately recognized Jill from Fizzy Thoughts and Ti from Book Chatter from the pictures on their blogs. Hugs all around.  Then pretty soon Amy from My Friend Amy wandered over after passing by and glancing at us suspiciously two or three times, then Tracy from Shelf Life walked over with a big smile, and pretty soon we were all laughing and talking.  Jill and I went to get coffee (she was so nice and gave me a book I’ve been wanting to read- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson- who I would see on a panel later in the day).  When we got back, we saw that Trish from Hey, Lady! (also my partner in TLC Book Tours) and Natasha from Maw Books had arrived.  I spilled my coffee while hugging Natasha (I was mortified and so glad it spilled on me rather than on her cute white jacket!). Trish was telling the story of why she was a little late, complete with colorful adjectives and funny anecdotes and facial expressions and hand gestures.  For those of you who might have been wondering- yes, Trish really is THAT cute and excitable and funny in person!   It was interesting to see how much everyone’s personalities really shine through on their blogs.

Jill and Florinda

Jill and Florinda

The first panel of the day for most of us was the Social Networking and New Media panel.  The very organized Ti had made a spreadsheet for us showing which bloggers were attending which panels.  We knew that Wendy from Musings of a Bookish Kitty and Florinda from 3R’s blog were supposed to be there, but we couldn’t find Florinda and we didn’t know what Wendy looked like.  We were in a big lecture hall and I was standing up looking around and joking that we should call out “Literary Feline!  Where are you?” when I felt a tap on my arm from the woman seated next to me.  “I’m Wendy” she said in this tiny kitten-y voice.  She’d been right beside us the whole time!  We found Florinda just a couple minutes later (she was easy to spot from her picture on her blog, and because we knew she was short height-challenged) and were able to all sit together.

tweet, tweet

tweet, tweet

That panel was a good one, with Otis Chandler (founder of Goodreads.com), Wil Wheaton (author, blogger, twitter-er, and actor from Star Trek: TNG), and Sara Wolf (dance critic-she was out of place).  Otis said he had a theory that reading was “broken” and that in starting Goodreads he had hoped to make reading more of a social experience and provide a place where people could talk to each other about books.  He said we’ve all experienced social pressure to watch tv (like when everyone is talking about who got kicked off American Idol, and if you don’t watch you feel out of it).  He wanted to try to make that true with books, and gave examples like “All the cool kids are reading Twilight”.  

Wendy and Anjin

Wendy and Anjin

The following question was posed to the panel: “What does social media (Twitter) do to readers attention spans?”  Will answered by saying he blames the dumbing down of society on TV, not technology.  Something Will said really resonated with me as a member of the blogging community- “You don’t have to be in the same room with someone anymore to share an experience.” He was referring to internet communities and conversations that go on in places like Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.  I think our group could all agree with that!  Another question came up about placing limits on and policing social media- having rules- filtering out spam.  Will and Otis discussed that, saying with social media, users “own” it, they make the rules and define how it will be.  Marketers want to tell us what to do on social media i.e. “Here’s how you can profit if you use it my way”, which is precisely why they fail and are seen as spammers. People will use Facebook and Twitter in a way that’s fun for them and ignore the rest.  Meanwhile, the third panelist didn’t seem to have much of a grasp on what Twitter actually is, and was busy talking about the “constellations” in her dance community on Facebook, and how constellating is so great.  Constellating???  Ok….  

Lunch

Lunch

After a quick lunch together, we went our separate ways to the various panels.  Trish, Natasha, Amy and I attended Problem Child, which was a panel with Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Winter Girls), Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole-graphic novel), Jacquelyn Woodfin (Hush, Locomotion, Peace Locomotion) and Suzanne Phillips (Burn).  Laurie Halse Anderson said she “feels so lucky to be able to wake up, listen to the voices in her head, and write down what they say.”  The moderator said that one thing their books had in common was that they all have a really strong, immediate narrative voice.  One comment I jotted down from this panel was that most YA-middle grade novels have a “problem child” because they need a central conflict to make the book interesting, but the characters in these books go way beyond the norm.  We’re talking about eating disorders and cutting, mental illness, kids with real issues. This was a great panel but I had to leave early in order to get to my next panel on time, because there was no way I was going to miss seeing Lisa See!

Lisa meets Lisa

Lisa meets Lisa

Several of us went to Fiction: Window on the World with Lisa See (Shanghai Girls, Snow Flower, Peony in Love), Jonathon Rabb (Rosa, Shadow and Light), Vanina Marsot (Foreign Tongue), and Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog)  and her translator.  

I’m a huge Lisa See fan.  She talked about Shanghai Girls, set in both Shanghai and Los Angeles, and said it asks the question “How do we define home?  Is it where you grew up, or in the place that you make?”  An excellent question for a midwestern transplant like me.  She spoke about China City in LA from 1937 until the mid-50s, how it was built to look like a real Chinese city with a mini-Great Wall of China surrounding it, but how much of it was created from Hollywood props and sets.  

Lisa meets Vanina

Lisa meets Vanina

I’m also a new fan of Vanina Marsot, having just finished her book Foreign Tongue a week ago (review coming soon!). I was completely enthralled by it!  Vanina said she wanted to show the non-Disneyland version of Paris, a real city where real people live, not vacation-land. Her protagonist Anna, living in Paris with dual French/American citizenship, is translating a book from French to English.  It’s an examination of both cultures, how things are expressed in both languages, and how some things don’t translate well.  She shared an expression that French mothers use with their children that translates literally into “Stop your cinema”.  Those of us with little drama queens immediately knew what she meant!

Muriel Barbery brought along a translator and was utterly charming.  Jill and Tracy had both read The Elegance of  the Hedgehog and were really excited to see her.  Tracy mentioned later that she had a “girl crush” on her, and I can totally relate.  She was elegant in that effortless French way, hair pulled straight back into a sleek chignon, minimal makeup and jewelry, yet still looked stunning.  She spoke in French and while I couldn’t understand a word, her smile and laugh and sweet tone spoke volumes.  I wanted to buy her book and get it signed but they’d sold out. I did, however, get to say hello at the signing.  She’s adorable.

img_2747I gushed and babbled all over Lisa See!  She signed my beat up ARC of Shanghai Girls (coming out in May) and said that she remembered me from our book club conversation last fall.  Then I gushed and babbled some more all over Vanina Marsot.  She was surprised that I’d already read her book.  I told her the publisher had sent it to me, and that I was a blogger.  She said, “Oh, do you know Jennifer?”  I said, “From Literate Housewife?”  She nodded, and said, “Yes, isn’t she wonderful?”  I, of course, agreed with her (Hi, Jen!) and told her I’d enjoyed her interview on Jen’s blog and loved the pictures. Whatever else I said is a blur.  Did I mention I gushed and babbled?

Amy, Tracy, and I blew off our 4th panel of the day in favor of walking around in the beautiful sunshine, picking up some freebies (mostly bookmarks), and talking. Amy did some shopping and bought gifts for her mom and sister (that’s her with Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark).  

Trish and me

Trish and me

We all met back at the UCLA bookstore, where Trish was once again a teensy bit late, but with good reason, and was oh so excited to tell everybody about the panel she’d attended (she is so darn cute.  I just love her!)  

Then we headed over to Jerry’s Deli in Westwood for dinner.  This is getting really lengthy, so let’s just say a good time was had by all.  Here are a couple pictures from our evening together.  Around the table, starting on the left, we have Trish, Ti, me, Amy, Florinda, Wendy’s husband Anjin, Wendy, Natasha and Jill.  In the last picture, taken outside, we have (left to right) Jill, Natasha, Ti, Florinda, me-Lisa, Wendy, Trish, Amy.  

I went back to the Festival on Sunday for Day 2, but just attended one panel (a middle grade fiction one) with my daughter and did a little shopping.  I picked up some books for my kids and stopped at the Vroman’s booth for The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer (he was on a panel Saturday that I didn’t see, but other bloggers loved!) and The Elegance of the Hedgehog (I was so glad they had it!)  I’ll tell you about my kids’ “adventures in book signing” in another post.

Thanks to all my wonderful new friends for making this a really special weekend for me.  It was a thrill and a pleasure to meet you all and I hope we can do it again next year!

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Sunday Salon: Scenes from a Stay-cation

With the kids on spring break this week, I didn’t get a whole lot of reading done.  I reviewed one book (Shanghai Girls) and read another one (Foreign Tongue– not yet reviewed), but that was it.

I did, however, have a blast with my girls!  We couldn’t go away (dad had to work) but it’s easy to have a stay-cation when you live in the LA area!  

Along with swimming at a friend’s pool, riding bikes, seeing the Hannah Montana movie, having a sleepover, and dinner with cousins, we did some tourist-y stuff.  On Thursday we went to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, explored the shops around the Kodak Theatre and did some people watching in Hollywood, had lunch at Johnny Rockets, and had churros on Olvera Street.  Then yesterday we went to the planetarium at Griffith Park, watched my brother (an AV guy) work on a Capital One commercial downtown with the vikings (“What’s in YOUR wallet?”), and took in the sights at the Santa Monica Pier.  We had a great time, as you can see from the pictures!

Back to reality- school and work- tomorrow, but we made some nice memories..

 

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Teaser Tuesdays – 4/7/09

tuesday-tMiz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

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music-teacherMy teaser this week comes from page 66 of The Music Teacher by Barbara Hall, which I just received yesterday from Algonquin Books (haven’t started it yet).

“For me, it all started in the second grade, when the class was auditioned for the school band.  That was back in the day when there was such a thing as a music program in public schools.”

Oh, how well I can relate to this teaser!  In California, budget cuts have decimated the schools’ music and art programs.  Our school sent home a notice this week that the limited music program we had this year is now officially terminated for next year.  No music.  No art.  Lots of state testing, though!