Sunday, April 27, 2008

Book Review: FAR AFIELD by Susanna Kaysen

The first leg on my Orbis Terrarum Reading Challenge is complete and it was a fantastic voyage. I read "Far Afield", by Susanna Kaysen (NY: Vintage, 2002), the author's second novel, originally published in 1990 and reissued after the huge success of her memoir about time spent in a mental hospital, "Girl, Interrupted", later made into the Wynona Ryder vehicle of the same title.

"Far Afield" took me and the hero, Jonathan Brand, to the Danish territory of the Faroes Islands, a cluster in the North Atlantic, located between Iceland and Scotland. Jonathan is a Boston anthropology student doing fieldwork on this Scandinavian nation, to the dismay of his professors, who don't feel that cultures with newspapers deserve study. He perseveres and diligently studies the Faroese language, folkways and history. This meticulous preparation by the introspective and quiet Jonathan is in contrast with the other two Americans he encounters while on assignment: Wooley, another anthropology grad student (blasted luck!), whose breezy California manner and mangling of Faroese get the same local reception as Jonathan's self-conscious reserve; and Bart, the chain-smoking consumptive and presumed CIA agent, who tucks into Faroese cuisine with gusto.

Food comedy is peppered throughout the novel. Jonathan's first local contact is the outrageous Eyvindur Poulsen, a painter/politician/free spirit whose constantly tests poor Jonathan's stomach with the wildest Faroese delicacies: Spik (whale blubber), Turrur Fiskur (rotten halibut), Kjot (rotten lamb), boiled sheep's head and roast puffin). Jonathan is put off by this endless array of boiled fish and mutton and lack of vegetable accompaniments:
"Cod it was, cooked beyond necessity--beyond conscience--to a bleached stiff mass. Jonathan shut his eyes and wished for an artichoke, a little pot of hollandaise, a goose sausage, an endive salad: a roadside inn near Nimes. The last green vegetable that had touched his lips had been an Icelandic one, many weeks before. A slow cementing process was occurring inside him; each day the amount he expelled decreased in comparison to the amount he ingested. Soon, at this rate, he would lose the ability to excrete."
Brand does eventually use the bathroom and it is this most unglamorous of human functions that leads to his entree in Faroese society. Poor Jonathan clogs up the toilet in his rented flat and discovers that he must empty the septic tank. His neighbors crowd around to silently watch him dig and fill up his wheelbarrow with the noisome leavings. Old Jon Hendrik needles him first by remarking "In America, you hire people to do this, hah." Jonathan retorts with a shot about having proper sewage systems in the U.S, but Jon Hendrik reminds him that he is not home. Jonathan keeps shoveling and spits out in perfect Faroese "Vaelkomin til Foroyar" (Welcome to the Faroes). With that magical phrase and mordant acceptance of life's indignities, Jonathan is one of the gang. From then on he is invited to dinners and tea (temun), he is set up with potential girlfriends, gets a new soul-searching, bad-boy buddy, Hedin and government-rationed booze, formerly completely unavailable, is now proffered.

Warning****Plot Spoilers Ahead**********

Toward the end of Jonathan's year of study, fishing boats spot a herd of whales and Jonathan's neighbor, Sigurd, hurries the American into his patched up car for a trip over the hills to the grind, the whale hunt. The whales are herded towards the beach by Faroese fishing boats. Once the leader of the whales is beached, the others ground themselves on the shore en masse. Jonathan is staggered by this sight but has no time to jot down field notes when he is dragged into the kill by Sigurd and Hedin, and shown how to straddle the man-sized whales and sever their spines. Drunken and violent revelry at the village hall with Hedin continues all through the night.

Jonathan has finally achieved that which he carefully researched and sought; acceptance by his Faroese comrades. He has had doubts about whether to fully integrate with his new friends and stay on as a permanent resident. Much of the book contains this internal debate and his feelings of being an outsider in American society, too. The debate ends with the grind and another unsettling incident when a cat is tortured to death by a young neighbor and this is shrugged off by everyone as a old custom, something that kids just do.

The book reminded me of another great novel, Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News", with its weary, tragi-comic hero, maritime setting and eccentric characters. I recommend it to others with the high praise that my copy is staying put in my home library and will not be traveling to our used bookstore for resale.

Next on the Orbis Terrarum reading itinerary is the Czech Republic with Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". I'll report back soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In Which I Win 50 Sad Chairs

Amazingly, I won a contest. I got a great little art photography book by Renaissance Man Bill Keaggy, "50 Sad Chairs" (Pittsfield, MA: Blue Q, 2007) after trawling through his website, admiring his collection of found bookmarks . Keaggy is the author of "Milk, Eggs, Vodka: The Lost Grocery Lists of America" and has many interesting projects to check out on his mosaic of a website. His photos of rocks shaped like shoes is mesmerizing and hilarious. I think I had a similar collection when I was a young naturalist. He also generously gives out free copies of his books to his email subscribers, so you may want to emulate me and check it out.

"50 Sad Chairs" is a gem. It documents three years of color portraits of the abandoned chairs of St. Louis, Missouri, and these studies of kicked-to-the-curb keister-holders, whether upholstered and plastic, discarded from offices or homes, may look defeated at first, but the author's snappy captions show their spunk. This book would make a great gift for anyone interested in photography or design or anyone who enjoys a good relationship with their furniture. Snap one up from Keaggy's website, or if you're feeling lucky, join his email list and win one like I did. This book's a keeper, so don't look for it on the shelves at OSB, grab one for yourself.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Gardening


In celebration of Earth Day, and because I had the day off from the bookshop (we're closed Mondays and Tuesdays), but mostly because I had procrastinated quite a bit, I spent this warm day in the sunshine, barefoot and bent over, planting my spring vegetable garden. Yesterday was the back breaking part, edging my 25 x 45 foot plot with the square spade. It started out Monday morning as a 23 x 44 footprint, but I kept veering off crookedly, so there's more room to plant.

Today was a perfect seed planting morning. Our soggy soil had dried up enough to resemble chocolate cake crumbs, which I read somewhere once is the perfect loamy texture to inaugurate the garden season. I managed to get in my spinach, climbing peas, lettuce, radishes and Italian dandelions. Dandelions! Yes, dandelions, because I like my braised veggies with garlic and oil and this is some fancy Italian chicory that is a new resident in the garden bed. I already had some returning chives, Oriental poppies (from a mixed wildflower seed packet from four years ago that keep on showing up), cilantro, lemon balm, thyme and oregano. No spears up in the asparagus bed yet, but they'll follow the sun soon and then we'll get to gorging ourselves on them, roasted with garlic and herbs.

If you fall in love with your garden each year too, then here's a book I have recommended and placed in customers hands over and over again. I buy it every time I see it when I'm out book hunting, and it never fails to find a good home. I have one copy for sale at Old Saratoga Books at present, but you could also probably find a copy at your local library too if you want to "test drive" it first.

This book gem is:

Cooking from the Garden, by Rosalind Creasy (San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club 1988). A gorgeous, photograph-packed book for home gardeners and cooks to drool over. Creasy thoroughly details theme gardens: Heirloom, Native American, Baked Beans, Cajun, Asian, French, Mexican, German, etc. and offers planting advice, recipes, interviews with gardeners, and a wealth of new ways to enjoy vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. The emphasis is on vegetables and herbs that taste and look good, and you'll find plenty of new varieties to try.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Q & A with Sheridan Hay

Sheridan Hay, author of the biblionovel "The Secret of Lost Things" will be signing copies of her book at our shop on Saturday, May 3rd at 5 pm. We will be in full party mode with refreshments, live music and two art gallery openings that evening so plan to visit our historic and cultural village. Here are some interview questions with Ms. Hay from the HarperCollins U.K. edition to whet your appetite in the interim:


Did you enjoy writing The Secret of Lost Things?

Writing is difficult and takes time and discipline but it is intensely satisfying. When I look up after a day of concentrated work and realize that I've been enfolded in an envelope of time -- hours pass in one attenuated moment -- that is what I really enjoy and I came to that eventually with The Secret of Lost Things.

The Secret of Lost Things feels like a fairy tale or fable at times, at other times a compelling detective story. Did you consciously use different genres?

I was conscious of trying to write a sort of personal fable -- one girl's "myth" of her beginnings -- and that the structure of the bildungsroman was a form I wanted to employ. An exemplar of the form is Great Expectations, and I've always been taken with Dickens' ability to make "types" wholly compelling as characters. One doesn't really question, for example, the "believability" of Miss Haversham remaining in her wedding dress or not throwing out the cake after half a lifetime! I am interested in the emotional impact of theatrical "reality" -- the staged piece that none the less moves one to tears. So there is an element of the theatrical in the novel -- the characters are playing, to some extent "roles" in Rosemary's play, and the Arcade is both theatre and bookshop. The "mystery" element owes less I think to a detective genre than to my interest in Borges and playing around with truth and ideas of history.

Melville was brilliant in his manipulation of different forms and very early on was moving between genres. In Moby- Dick, he made a new form using combinations of established forms which is interesting to me.

Did you like using factual material in the novel?

I love letters and what they communicate and what they leave out. Letters are the best kind of history because they record thoughts. It was only as I sat with the material over a couple of years that I saw how Melville's lost novel and its theme of abandonment and remorse could amplify Rosemary's story of becoming herself. The factual elements of Melville's story, research into the lost novel, as well as things like the cabinet of curiosities and the arcana of collecting, meant that I couldn't wait to get to work each day, that there was always something interesting to find out about and to find a place for.

"[Australia]. That great America on the other side of the sphere...given to the enlightened world by the whaleman". What was it like to come from Sydney to New York? Do you miss Australia and will you ever return to live there?

After more than 20 years in New York, I think what I miss about Australia has less to do with what I might find if I lived there again than with what lives in my imagination. At 46, I've lived away almost as long as I lived at home. There are great advantages to being an ex-patriot but I'm never sure if the underlying sense of loneliness and isolation I occasionally feel describes my nature or my displaced condition. I have family in Australia, so I will always return to visit but I've made my life in America and have an American family of my own. In that sense I think the children of an ex-patriot become her roots rather than the more conventional way ones parents root one to geographic place. Both my parents are dead and that changed profoundly my idea of Australia as a home to return to.

Rosemary says of her mother's death "Her death had called me to my self". Have you any personal experience of such grief?

My mother died just as I began the novel and for some time I felt that in describing Rosemary's fictional anguish, I was describing my own. I had a feeling throughout that my mother was keeping me company as I wrote, and the sense of loss that pervades the novel is perhaps its most autobiographical element.

Oscar is an original and intriguing character. Did you want his ending to remain enigmatic?

Oscar, in part, stands outside the action of the novel, so having him "escape" its ending is intentional. Oscar is not touched by the lives of others but is driven by a fascination with his own subjectivity. I see this as less narcissism than retreat. He will turn up in a situation that suits his purposes. I think there are people who find intellectual immersion and the accumulation of knowledge a way to remain beyond the realities of emotional demand. The fact that Rosemary imagines he can return something on the order of affection to her is an indication of her naivete, and her optimism.

What does Rosemary learn during the course of the book?

Well, Rosemary learns many things but mostly she learns how to live free of the projections of others and a bit closer to the notion of her own truth. She is on the way to learning the hard lessons of resilience and independence, and we have to assume she gains them as the narrative is told in retrospect and the older and wiser Rosemary looks to this particular year and its experiences to illustrate those gains. She learns that the way through grief is to remember and to live as best she can. It is her imagination that saves her.

Apart from Rosemary, who is your favourite character in the novel?

I love all of them -- you have to like your characters to spend so much time with them. Lots of people have mentioned finding Geist either disgusting or repulsive but I find him neither. To me he is heartbreakingly lonely and isolated. Rosemary's encounter with him is an encounter with otherness and he stands, in a way, for the inevitability of such reckonings. A sexual encounter appeared to be the most dramatic way to depict his utter remoteness: his complete incapacity. That incapacity is something he shares with Oscar only it takes a different form. I know the scene in the rare book room is disturbing, it would have little impact if it wasn't disturbing. But it is Geist who is revealed in that scene rather than Rosemary. It is his suffering that we discover. Readers have told me that they love Lillian and especially Pearl. I imagine that's because they are both capable of loving. All the characters are flawed and sort of in disguise -- each has something to "give" Rosemary (almost like tasks in a quest) but it isn't necessarily something she can anticipate -- or want!

The theme of memory is threaded throughout the novel. Rosemary's name is the symbol for remembrance. And the Arcade functions because of the booksellers' use of memory. Do you think the new technologies will necessarily alter our use of memory for the worse?

I know they will from my own experience. Memory is internal not external and the process of recall is idiosyncratic and entirely human -- that is the point of the Who Knows? game in the novel. My way of writing is associative and depends on reading and the experience of reading. If the novel fetishizes books as magical objects, then it is certainly no more than the computer is perceived by some as an object of enchantment. Perhaps both things are true, but I wrote an old-fashioned novel because my ideas about these things are, I suppose, conservative. I don't want to witness a transition from the medium of books to some other technology and I don't see why that should be the case. It isn't either or, but both serving different purposes.

I do feel that technology is having its impact on bookselling and publishing, and the novel is an intentional homage to a sort of life I feel has largely passed from the culture. It is that feeling that makes the novel have a fairy tale aspect -- that it in part takes place in another time where things were done differently. But that elegaic quality might be intrinsic to the pastime of selling books itself: it is a business forever in decline, and its demise has been predicted for as long as I can remember.

There are many eclectic references in the novel: to Shakespeare, to Auden, to Borges and of course to Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Do you see any parallels between being a writer and being a 'collector' like Peabody?

Absolutely. I like to think about the Australian species of Bowerbirds -- they build an elaborate nest and fly around looking for shiny bits and pieces to decorate the nest and make it beautiful. If you ever find a nest it's full of bright things like tin foil and bottle caps, the odd earring, shells and even berries: sometimes hundreds of dramatically colored objects that the Bowerbird sorts through obsessively. I think my writing style is something like that. I'm on the lookout in everything I read, I see, I hear, for "shiny bits." I keep copious notes on these bits of treasure and look through my pages of fragments before beginning writing each day. That way my mind is working on associations, on the stuff of my preoccupations, on things that caught my eye in another context, while I concentrate on moving the story forward. This is exactly like collecting objects except that I'm the only one who values the bits I've found. They don't have any other value until they're strung on the thread of story.

Are you working on another novel?

Yes, an historical novel set in the middle of the nineteenth century in America and England. The novel's protagonist is a very minor historical figure, an obsessive and an unreasonable woman. She was a writer. I've been researching the book for a year and am now writing the first draft

Somebody Looks Guilty



This charming easy reader about a fat grey and white cat who trashes artful book arrangements with his feline bulk looks familiar.....

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Schuylerville Lilac Festival, May 10-11


The Schuylerville Area Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring A Gardener's Weekend with Lilacs on May 10-11 with lectures, a garden club plant sale, demonstrations and workshops on container gardening and making wind chimes. For more information check out the Chamber website.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Field Report: The Book Fair in Burlington, VT

It's been ages since Dan and I attended a book fair, as we are chained to our open shop like a quarto in a medieval scriptorium. Yesterday, however, St. John of God, the patron saint of booksellers, rearranged the heavens to allow us entry within the gates of the Burlington, Vermont Sheraton Hotel, where the Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association (VABA) was holding its Spring Book and Ephemera Fair. We were on a research field mission for the day when our kids are out of the house and we are more into rare and antiquarian books than the general stock we carry at our open shop, Old Saratoga Books.

We arrived an hour into the Fair and it was nicely crowded, although mostly with grey-haired bibliophiles. Even at the stately ages of 46 and 48, respectively, we definitely skewed the median bibliophilic age downward, but there was a sprinkling of pre-Baby Boomers buying and selling books, which bodes well for the continuation of bibliophilia.

My book mojo was primed right at the ticket booth where previous VABA Book Fair posters were for sale for a mere $1 and feature the woodcut art of Caldecott Winner Mary Azarian. I got a great bookish design of a woman reading and reclining on a divan with her cat and dog to frame for our shop.

There was a nice range of book and ephemera in a variety of price ranges at this fair. One could spend thousands of dollars or under $10 for the VABA wares and this made it all the more interesting to peruse the tables closely for store stock and my home library.

We got a couple of books about the Battle of Saratoga to replenish the always-hungry local history section from some friendly dealers at the Book Shed (Benson, VT) and Hermit Hill Books (Poultney, VT) and then Dan scored Edward Hoagland's first book "Cat Man" from poetry and first edition specialist Mark Alexander (of Alexander Rare Books, Barre, VT). "Cat Man" is a novel based on Hoagland's experience as a wild cat tamer with a traveling circus and that should be some lively reading. That's Mark on the left chatting up modern firsts with a nice customer who pointed out a poetry broadside about a trout by Raymond Carver, which of course tempted the Book Trout no end.

We picked up a book on Adirondack Style featuring the great "camps" (think palatial, not rustic Army pup tents) from Speaking Volumes, who had the best business card of the whole show with a beautiful woodcut illustration of a Victrola, bookshelves and a vase of flowers. Speaking Volumes, interestingly, advertises and sells with a Myspace page, something to think about in this Internet age and to market books and music to the GenXers, Slackers or whatever young folks are called now.

There were lots of Vermontiana, hunting and fishing titles, gardening, and books illustrated by Edward Gorey in evidence, including a Son of the Martini Cookbook I'd never seen before offered Peter L. Stern & Co. of Boston. Dan and I also enjoyed seeing many books we've had over the years and nostalgically thought about buying some back, but remembered that we can't fall in love with our wares too obsessively or we'll go out of business. He and I kept a running tag of how many copies we saw exhibited of Vermont history volume "Mischief in the Mountains" (we saw at least five) and Lynd Ward's woodcut novel "Mad Man's Drum " (three without jackets, one fully dressed).

Rachel scooped up an interesting memoir by a Vietnamese-American writer, Bich Minh Nguyen, called "Stealing Buddha's Dinner" after visiting the Asian Steppes booth (Pittsford, VT), people by husband and wife world travelers Bill and Sarah Bastick. Bill was a consummate salesman, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his books and the Asian countries they represent. He was apologetic to me in describing the book, as he had not read it himself, as he apparently has read most of his stock, but our conversation was so interesting (and an English accent doesn't hurt, either) that I just had to buy it, even as my inner cheapskate yammered on about nabbing it more inexpensively in a year or two. Most of Asian Steppes books are antiquarian books on travel and Asia, although there are a few more contemporary titles in the mix.

Dan had a great time speaking with Alex Henzel (South Royalton, VT) whose delicious collection of lurid vintage paperbacks and eccentric titles was a treat to linger over. There was a curious wooden Indian Club-shaped item in one of his glass cases and he was kind enough to pull it out to show us that it was a tourist memento that accompanied an olive wood-covered book of snapshots from Jerusalem (circa 1920s?). He unscrewed the Club and showed that one end was a hash pipe and if you squinted into the other end you saw a tiny negative with the image of a Rubenesque naked woman! The Holy Land, indeed!

The highlight of the journey was meeting Donna Howard of the Eloquent Page Bookshop (St. Albans, VT) who was wonderfully busy making sales and chatting with customers and fellow book dealers throughout the whole of our book fair perusal. I know Donna from the Bibliophile List, so I was very happy to zoom in and speak with her during one of her infrequent breaks. She and her mother and business partner, Marilyn Howard, had a nice array of jacketed vintage children's books and had customers buzzing throughout my short interview with her. Here's her photo, showing off her impeccable fashion sense with her Edward Gorey T-Shirt.

Overall, an impressive turnout for this book fair, something that was seconded by the several colleagues I queried, although a couple did mention that attendance is not like the good old days (pre-Internet). I saw lots of happy browsers with purchasers in tow, so I assume the sales were good also. Donna noted that VABA also has a Summer show, so I would be interested in attending that also, given the diverse, interesting and reasonably-priced book offerings.

After a glorious couple of hours at the VABA Fair we headed into downtown Burlington, thinking it would be easy to find lunch for my gluten-free husband, but the restaurants were in full brunch mode, with muffins, pancakes, and extra-wheat-infused artisan breads in abundance. No great dining options presented themselves after a half-hour's walk, so we drove back south. It was a hour later when we staggered into Middlebury and I and my now extremely grumpy sweetie held forth at an Indian restaurant and ten minutes before they closed for their mid-afternoon break, but we wolfed down spinach curry and basmati rice in record speed. If anyone has a good gluten-free restaurant recommendation for our next visit to Burlington, Vermont I'd be glad to hear it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Entomophagy 101

I guess I have never outgrown my juvenile gross-out fascination phase, because the moment I spied it, I had to buy "The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook: 33 Ways to Cook Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin" (by David George Gordon, Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 1988). I'm not soon planning to cook up any Scorpion Scalloppine, Cream of Katydid Soup, Pest-O (groan), Alpha-Bait Soup or any other entomological delights, (I'll leave that up to the pros) but it is really a great read.

Gordon has a breezy, funny writing style and his food stylist makes the leggiest, spiniest, most horrifying accompanying photographs. I found myself riveted to my reading with facial rictus (I know, because my muscles ached afterwards). I (and Gordon apparently) have also never lost our delight in puns, which pungently spice up this creepy, crawly smorgasbord.

If you are tempted by this paean to insectivore cuisine you'll have to procure your own copy, because I'm not selling mine. It's too much fun. You can sample one of Gordon's recipes for Sheesh! Kabobs here, with humorous cooking tips such as "Assemble each kabob, alternately skewering the insects, red pepper, and onion wedges to create a visually interesting lineup." It is just a scream.

Gordon has his own engaging website where you can read about his other science books, (now I have to buy his slug book), check out his author appearances and lectures and follow him on his travel blog, "Travels with my Ant", where you can find out how the Boston Health Inspectors wouldn't issue a permit for his bug cookery, while their Seattle counterparts mandated a cooking canopy to prevent raw insects from falling down on their brethren en flambe.

If you do want to add some insect protein to your diet and your backyard lacks biodiversity, then you might also want to check out this mail order house of horrors where you can order Antlix Lollipops (ants add a chili kick to these peppermint pops), Worm Crisps, Thai Curry Crickets, and big, juicy Mopani worms from South Africa.

If you prefer your insects alive, unchewed and behind glass, I and my family can heartily recommend a visit to Montreal's Insectarium. Several years ago this was one of the highlights of our trip North, where we were fascinated by roomfuls of shiny beetles, foot-long walking sticks and a see-through beehive. The building itself is shaped like a giant ladybug for extra child-fascination points. Here's one of the photos we took when we there. See if you can find the bug in this photo:

So, saddle up to the bug buffet...it's good for you.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Caught Reading!

There is a delightful, sociologically interesting blog, People Reading, which documents the conversations Blogger Sonia Worthy has with the San Francisco residents she catches reading each day. She is a great interviewer and notes why people are reading the books she spies them with, what favorite books they have, what books they loved as children, what books they might write themselves. It's fascinating stuff and the intrepid Worthy One certainly reaches a wide cross-section of book lovers, from toddlers to retirees, homeless folks to the well-heeled. I love this new blog find so much I've added it to the Book Trout's honorary blog roll.

As a bookseller I am happy to know that there are so many noses still into books. As Worthy notes:

Cell phones, iPods, and sudoku may continue to occupy the BART platforms, but books are everywhere, too. San Francisco, not surprisingly, is a very well read city. I don't pretend to be well read myself--this blog is more of an attempt to live vicariously through others--though I do read and I'm very interested in why we read what we do and what makes a good book good.

Vive People Reading!

Bookish Art Contest


Kimbooktu is holding a bookish art contest over at her wonderful blog about books and book accessories. She and her husband have bought a house and want to furnish their new library with a piece of artwork that is literary in nature. The contest ends May 1, 2008. Check out Kimbooktu here for more details.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Young Book Trout

My mom sent me this old prophetic photo from my pre-glasses era, so I must've been seven or eight years old. I was staged by my photojournalist stepfather into this readerly pose, ostensibly reading Trotsky's "History of the Russian Revolution" and squinting off into the ether.

I don't remember this photo shoot, but he was forever getting my brother and sister into all kinds of crazy situations, wearing worcestershire sauce on our faces to simulate dirt for evocative shots of rural, poor youth; leaping off garden walls in our pajamas for seasonal photoessays on spring exuberance; behind oversized dark glasses and wigs posing as local residents and answering the newspaper's question of the week. The purpose of this Trotskyite photo is unclear, but it did portend my future career. Still haven't read that book though.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Around the World with 9 Books


I have thus far resisted the array of reading challenges that abound on the Internet, but I find that I cannot resist Orbis Terrarum. I have always wanted to be more "well-traveled" in my reading and this challenge, which just started April 1st, encourages readers to pick nine books by authors from nine different parts of the world. I am swayed and have picked the following books to delve into by the end of this year.

1) Far Afield, by Susan Kaysen (US author about Faroes Islands)
2) The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera (Czech Republic)
3) Murder on the Leviathan, by Boris Akunin (Georgia and Russia)
4) The Harafish, by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
5) The Storyteller, by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)
6) Talkative Man, by R.K. Narayan (India)
7) The Periodic Table, by Primo Levi (Italy)
8) A Star Called Henry, by Roddy Doyle (Ireland)
9) The Dew Breaker, by Edwidge Danticat (Haitian-born author, now a U.S. citizen, but about US and Haiti)

After a long period of reading non-fiction, I am excited to wade back into the fictional pool and check out some authors that I have long meant to read. Check back for nine book reviews over the course of 2008. If you would like to join me in this global reading challenge, check out the Orbis Terrarum website and feel free to contact the Book Trout if you need some international reading ideas.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Book Trout is Genius?

I stumbled upon an interesting Internet website today and applied it to the Book Trout. The Blog Readability Test does some kind of check on the vocabulary on a blog or website and it has determined that Book Trout readers must be Genius Level. I tried out the test on my other blog, Wheat-Free, Meat-Free, and that also has a Genius ranking, but curiously, our bookstore website, Old Saratoga Books, with book listings for over 6,000 books, some of them with fairly erudite descriptions, requires one to only have a high school reading level.

blog readability test



I played around with some other websites and blogs and here's their readability rankings:

Google - Genius
Ebay - College (Undergrad)
Wikipedia - Genius
Paypal - Elementary School
New York Times - High School

Curiouser and curiouser.....