Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Sunday Salon: Book Binges of the Buying and Reading Kind

I've been on a reading frenzy during the last two weeks. So far I've finished 5 books during these 17 days of February alone. Granted, two of them were rather short (not even 100 pages each), but this is a rather unprecedented pace for me. If this keeps up, the shortest month of the year could wind up being the one in which I read the most books.

I'm blaming it on this winter, which, despite seeing some evidence this week to the contrary, seems like it is never-ending. Just when the snow disappears, we get some more. It's maddening and it makes me want to hibernate. (Although, truth be told, I'm kinda tired of hibernating. I just want some SUN already!)

I missed last week's Salon - but with good reason. Boo and I spent the afternoon at Red Barn Books in Greensburg, about an hour away. He's very into making his own movies, so when I saw that Red Barn was offering a video workshop called "Stop Motion Animation" for kids, I signed him up.

(I don't know who was more excited: him, at the idea of learning some new video techniques or me, at the prospect of spending two blissful hours in one of my favorite bookstores that I rarely get to visit.)

Of course, there is a slight problem with leaving me in a cute used bookstore for two hours.

I may have gotten a little carried away. But really, could you have resisted bringing these home? Most of these were between $2.99-$4.99 each. I'm considering it my Valentine's Day present. And I traded in a couple of books so I got a few bucks off my loot. (Winning!) That offsets the purchase of Selected Stories by Andre Dubus that I didn't realize I already had on my Kindle.

Clearly, I really need to sign up for the TBR Challenge again. The sooner the better. With these purchases from Red Barn, I'm pretty much at capacity on my bookshelves and my Kindle has reached 1,002 items.

The good news is, as I said, that my reading pace continues unabated. This week I read two novels and one poetry collection. (All from - where else? - the library. But of course.)

Here's what I've been reading:

Last Sunday, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and one of the first things I thought about was this book. Rather than go online, which I normally do when I wake up so early, I finished reading the last hundred or so pages of Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.

This will likely be among one of my favorite books this year. This is also an example of the sort of young adult book that I really, really wish was not categorized as young adult because everyone needs to read this. It's the story of 15 year old Lina Vilkas and her family, who were among the hundreds of thousands of people who were deported to Siberia during Stalin's cleansing of the Baltic regions in 1941. Sentenced to years of hard labor in camps, this is a story from World War II that many people don't know much about.

Lina is a fictional character, but she is based on Ruta Sepetys' family members, who experienced the horrors of Stalin's death camps firsthand. It's incredibly powerful and gripping and I'm still thinking about it a week later.

Elegy is a collection of themed poems by Mary Jo Bang about the year following the death of her son. I'm pretty sure I've read her work before or have at least heard of her name - but this was the first collection of hers that I've read. It's exactly what you would imagine it would be: raw and heartbreaking and grief-stricken on each page. It's a reminder that none of us grieves in the same way and that there's no way we can ever know another's pain. I think this would be a good book for those who have lost an adult child.

This family (the Hardings, of Houston, Texas) are dysfunctional. They need serious counseling. You get the feeling that it has been decades since these people last spoke to each other. They are adrift, lost, disconnected from each other -  yet when it comes to love with their respective partners, they are allowing their emotions to cloud their better judgment.

Elson, Cadence, Chloe and Richard all reminded me of the family in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom as well as people in any Jay McInerney story. In Between Days is one dark and sad novel. The pacing and the plot is excellent and despite the writing being a little less so, this kept me intrigued until the very last page. (I really didn't see the ending coming in the way that it did.)

I also read several submissions for my writing group. I missed the last three months of our group because of The Husband's cancer treatments, and it was really, really good to be back.

As for this week, I'm continuing to listen to Alice Munro's short story collection Runaway - which actually IS one of the many. many books on my bookshelves. I loved the first story ("Runaway") but the second ("Chance") didn't capture me as much. I listened to it, and then read it to make sure that it wasn't just something about the audio that wasn't connecting with me. (Nope.) I'm probably not going to be in the car too much this week, so I may wind up reading these instead.

Before that, though, I'll also be continuing to read a new friend's unpublished novel set in my hometown of Philadelphia. I probably can't say much else about it. (Am I allowed to say that it's really good, not to mention that it is putting me in a nostalgic mood for my city?) This new friend is someone I have only known through her bylines; we only just met in person a few weeks ago. The very fact that she is trusting ME to read her work is a gift, and I'm hoping I'll be able to do this justice. That's what I'll be finishing up tonight and maybe tomorrow.

Hope you're having a good weekend - and, if you're here in the U.S., that you're enjoying an extra-long weekend too!

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Bryan said...

Whoa. You're on a roll, Melissa. Congratulations. I have that Between Shades of Gray book and have had it for a while. I guess I need to get to it, huh? Well, I am reading one of your recommendations: Tenth of December. I'll let you know what I think later.

Barbara said...

I agree the weather contributes to the book binge. I hadn't considered my reading a binge until I read your blog, but that's what I've been up to-- I'm just a slower reader so not quite so many books. And I think a reading binge can lead to a book buying binge. Suddenly I want to read everything. This will come to an end for me soon as I head back to my part-time seasonal job.
Great selection of books.

Lisa said...

Between Shades of Gray just got added to my list! It sounds fascinating.

Ali said...

Wow, you're on fire!
I wonder how the author of Between Shades of Gray felt when Fifty Shades of Gray was published, and got so much attention, 3 months later. I think Between Shades of Gray sounds much more up my alley.