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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reading What Other People Want You To Read

How many times have you been told to read a certain book? By your best friend, your boyfriend, your mom. They all have something they want you to read. Most likely it's their favorite book, maybe something awesome they just read. And most likely, you haven't read it because, if you're anything like me you have completely different tastes in reading than your best friend, boyfriend, and mom.

And I don't mean to imply that I somehow think I have better taste in books than the people I share my life with... it's just different. Anyhow, people are forever suggesting things for me to read and I am forever putting them off. What really makes it tough--more so than the divergent reading tastes, is the massive pile of to-read books already in line. So, most of the time I tend to smile politely and make vague promises of picking the book up after I finish the next three on my list.

But then there are other times, times when one day I finally find myself reading someone's recommendation and loving it. I mean, at the expense of all other things in my life- television, eating, showering- loving it. And suddenly, I completely ignore my patiently waiting to-read pile and read every last thing this person has ever recommended to me in a fit of sheepish acknowledgement of their obviuously superior taste in reading.

It's been one of those moments for me lately. I finally got around to reading The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. A good friend read it last year, and bugged me, and bugged me, and bugged me about it. She loved it, and she was sure I would love it too. Well, she was right. It's phenomenal. Just so interesting and different (it's my March Staff Pick, 20% off all month, if you're interested, at the Ravenna store only). Each thoughtful essay in this collection is an examination on empathy-- how we feel for others; how our pain, and the pain of those around us fosters understanding and connectedness. Jamison explores such fascinating and expansive topics that the subject matter alone is enough to reel you in. But it's her experimental form and innovative command of language that are the real stars here. It's a new favorite. It's hard to read this and not be altered, moved, awed ...maybe even a better person. Super smart. Super good.

So after The Empathy Exams, I moved on to the next book my friend read and would not stop recommending. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I barreled through it, until about 45 pages from the end. At that point, I put it down for two days. I was so in love with the characters, I couldn't face leaving them. It's been a long time since I felt that way about a book. Loved it so much I couldn't bear to finish it. Seriously, Americannah restores my faith in the humanity of human beings.

And I know, I know, it isn't as if either of these books is a sleeper hit. Americannah was Ravenna's second best seller of 2014. And The Empathy Exams is a New York Times Bestseller. I just never would have read them if I hadn't finally given in the recommendation. So, now, I'm moving on to her next recommendation, The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. Hey, if my friend says it's good. It's good.

Maybe I won't discard all of my to-read pile, but I'm certainly going to be a little less dismissive of all those recommendations I get. Never know when someone's going to suggest my new favorite book.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Books Into Movies

Now that the Oscars are behind us, what in the movie world do we have to look forward to? Well, fear not, there are a ton of  books that are being turned in to movies this year. Here's a sampling:

Serena by Ron Rash
The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena is new to the mountains—but she soon shows herself to be the equal of any man, overseeing crews, hunting rattle-snakes, even saving her husband's life in the wilderness. Together this lord and lady of the woodlands ruthlessly kill or vanquish all who fall out of favor. Yet when Serena learns that she will never bear a child, she sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. Mother and child begin a struggle for their lives, and when Serena suspects George is protecting his illegitimate family, the Pembertons' intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel as the story moves toward its shocking reckoning.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Stalin's Soviet Union is an official paradise, where citizens live free from crime and fear only one thing: the all-powerful state. Defending this system is idealistic security officer Leo Demidov, a war hero who believes in the iron fist of the law. But when a murderer starts to kill at will and Leo dares to investigate, the State's obedient servant finds himself demoted and exiled. Now, with only his wife at his side, Leo must fight to uncover shocking truths about a killer-and a country where "crime" doesn't exist.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
Emma Bovary is the original desperate housewife. Beautiful but bored, she spends lavishly on clothes and on her home and embarks on two disappointing affairs in an effort to make her life everything she believes it should be. Soon heartbroken and crippled by debts, she takes drastic action, with tragic consequences for her husband and daughter. In this landmark new translation of Gustave Flaubert's masterwork, award-winning writer and translator Lydia Davis honors the nuances and particulars of Flaubert's legendary prose style, giving new life in English to the book that redefined the novel as an art form.

For more books into movies, here's a nice list.
And make sure you read before you watch! 

Monday, February 9, 2015


Emily M. at Ravenna has been ruminating pretty hard on de-cluttering lately. Here are her thoughts:

I grew up with a ridiculous amount of stuff. But somewhere in grad school, I began wonder why do I have all this stuff if I am not using it? -- especially when I was about to move across the country again. Long story short, it was a process but I have found minimalism unexpectedly freeing.

A hard item for me to let go of is books. If I had kept every book I was given, acquired, or bought, I would have well over 3,000 -- and these are all books that I like, mind you, not throw-aways! In the end, I kept the books I knew I would want to reread every few years and a few reference books. Despite the fact that books are my life, I have pared them down to under a hundred. (Yes, it is possible.)

So, how did I do it? The books below helped a lot, but for the most part, I came to realize that a book is only awesome if it's read. If it just sits there for twenty years unopened on a shelf it is almost, disrespectful to the book. A book is meant to be read. 

What are the best titles for the aspiring simplifier/minimalist? 
Our number one seller is The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo 
Many of us on staff have read it and have used Marie Kondo's advice -- on what books to keep or sell back. Some of her methods, I've never heard before (and I have read many, many blogs and articles on simplifying and decluttering). Her main philosophy is, if it does not give you joy then get rid of it. Though she may be crazy and a bit obsessed (it's one thing to have gratitude toward your possessions and another to verbalize it to them every day), she gives some great, thoughtful advice. http://www.thirdplacebooks.com/book/9781607747307 

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life by Francine Jay gives minimalism a more realistic approach. From the cluttered closet to the overbooked schedule, Jay lays out that neccesities are going to change from person to person and from season to season. Nevertheless, if you aren't using an item on a regular basis or might use someday, then you probably don't need it hanging around; the hard part is finding the courage to let it go. http://www.thirdplacebooks.com/book/9780984087310 

Tiny Homes Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn  and Tiny House Living: Ideas For Building and Living Well In Less than 400 Square Feet by Ryan Mitchell are more for people who want to live in tiny homes (as in, they have already simplified to the extreme). But the awesome thing here is that the pictures are very inspirational and you get to read a whole variety of people's stories on why they decided to minimalize -- everyone has such a different story! (If you are a fan of these architectural books, don't forget to try Dee Williams' The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir.) 

Simplifying, decluttering, and minimalizing may not be everyone's cup of tea. Perhaps you just want to do a bit of spring cleaning and need help getting started; or you're sick of staring at clutter that you don't know what to do with, or you want insight of why on earth anyone would want to get rid of all of their precious world possessions that took years to acquire. No matter, these books can help point you in the right direction.
-Emily M.

Monday, February 2, 2015

New Release Tuesday: Short Story Edition

New books, new books, new books! Lots of short stories (YAY!). And lots of paperback (YAY!).

New Hardcovers:

Get in Trouble: Stories  by Kelly Link

She has been hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction” and by Neil Gaiman as “a national treasure.” Now Kelly Link’s eagerly awaited new collection—her first for adult readers in a decade—proves indelibly that this bewitchingly original writer is among the finest we have.

Hurricanes, astronauts, evil twins, bootleggers, Ouija boards, iguanas, The Wizard of Oz, superheroes, the Pyramids . . . These are just some of the talismans of an imagination as capacious and as full of wonder as that of any writer today. But as fantastical as these stories can be, they are always grounded by sly humor and an innate generosity of feeling for the frailty—and the hidden strengths—of human beings. In Get in Trouble, this one-of-a-kind talent expands the boundaries of what short fiction can do.

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

From the bestselling author of High Fidelity, About a Boy, and A Long Way Down comes a highly anticipated new novel.

Set in 1960's London, Funny Girl is a lively account of the adventures of the intrepid young Sophie Straw as she navigates her transformation from provincial ingénue to television starlet amid a constellation of delightful characters. Insightful and humorous, Nick Hornby's latest does what he does best: endears us to a cast of characters who are funny if flawed, and forces us to examine ourselves in the process.

New Paperbacks:

City Beasts: Fourteen Stories of Uninvited Wildlife by Mark Kurlansky

In these stories, Mark Kurlansky journeys to his familiar haunts like New York’s Central Park or Miami’s Little Havana but with an original, earthy, and adventurous perspective. From baseball players in the Dominican Republic to Basque separatists in Spain to a restaurant owner in Cuba, from urban coyotes to a murder of crows, Kurlansky travels the worlds of animals and their human counterparts, revealing moving and hilarious truths about our connected existence. In the end, he illuminates how closely our worlds are aligned, how humans really are beasts, susceptible to their basest instincts, their wildest dreams, and their artful survival.

The Other Language: Stories by Francesca Marciano

A teenage girl encounters the shocks of first love at the height of the summer holidays in Greece. A young filmmaker celebrates her first moment of recognition by impulsively buying a Chanel dress she can barely afford. Both halves of a longstanding couple fall in love with others and shed their marriage in the space of a morning. In all of these sparkling stories, characters take risks, confront fears, and step outside their boundaries into new destinies.

Tracing the contours of the modern Italian diaspora, Francesca Marciano takes us from Venetian film festivals to the islands off Tanzania to a classical dance community in southern India. These stories shine with keen insights and surprising twists. Driven by Marciano’s vivid takes on love and betrayal, politics and travel, and the awakenings of childhood, The Other Language is a tour de force that illuminates both the joys and ironies of self-reinvention.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

A boy wins a $100,000 prize in a box of Frosted Flakes—only to discover how claiming the winnings might unravel his family. A woman sets out to seduce motivational speaker Tony Robbins—turning for help to the famed motivator himself. A new arrival in Heaven, overwhelmed with options, procrastinates over a long-ago promise to visit his grandmother. We also meet Sophia, the first artificially intelligent being capable of love, who falls for a man who might not be ready for it himself; a vengeance-minded hare, obsessed with scoring a rematch against the tortoise who ruined his life; and post-college friends who try to figure out how to host an intervention in the era of Facebook. Along the way, we learn why wearing a red T-shirt every day is the key to finding love, how February got its name, and why the stock market is sometimes just... down.

Finding inspiration in questions from the nature of perfection to the icing on carrot cake, One More Thing has at its heart the most human of phenomena: love, fear, hope, ambition, and the inner stirring for the one elusive element that might just make a person complete. Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, the many pieces in this collection are like nothing else, but they have one thing in common: they share the playful humor, deep heart, sharp eye, inquisitive mind, and altogether electrifying spirit of a writer with a fierce devotion to the entertainment of the reader.

Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail- but Some Don't by Nate Silver

Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair’s breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger—all by the time he was thirty. He solidified his standing as the nation's foremost political forecaster with his near perfect prediction of the 2012 election. Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.com. 

Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the “prediction paradox”: The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future.

In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen was a literary legend, the author of more than thirty acclaimed books. In this, his final novel, he confronts the legacy of evil, and our unquenchable desire to wrest good from it.

One week in late autumn of 1996, a group gathers at the site of a former death camp. They offer prayer at the crematoria and meditate in all weathers on the selection platform. They eat and sleep in the sparse quarters of the Nazi officers who, half a century before, sent more than a million Jews in this camp to their deaths. Clements Olin has joined them, in order to complete his research on the strange suicide of a survivor. As the days pass, tensions both political and personal surface among the participants, stripping away any easy pretense to resolution or healing. Caught in the grip of emotions and impulses of bewildering intensity, Olin is forced to abandon his observer’s role and to bear witness, not only to his family’s ambiguous history but to his own.