Monthly Archives: June 2013

Reading on a Kindle

My husband gave me a Kindle over the holidays.


At first, I was reluctant to engage with it. I love books as much as the stories in them. When I was in my 20s I studied bookbinding and explored the artifact and art of a book. Our apartment is overflowing with paperbacks and hardbacks. We even have books under the bed and in boxes in the closet. But eventually, I decided, I have this device, let’s use it. The first ebook I bought and read was Snowdrops, which I reviewed earlier this year.

The Kindle reading experience is actually not that different than reading a book. The pages are easy to turn. The ink looks like a printed book. And the Kindle fits neatly in my hands. It’s particularly great for travel. I can load up a few books for a work trip and be set. I have also downloaded classics for free and some independent books, like Thrill-Bent, which I reviewed this spring, was not able to find at a local bookstore, but easily found at Amazon and downloaded onto my Kindle.

But the biggest downside with the Kindle is that I cannot lend books I love to the people I love. Next week I am going to review my first memoir, Sonia Sotomayor’s, My Beloved World. I bought it on my Kindle and wish that I hadn’t. It’s the kind of book that I want to give to everyone in my life and say, “Read this. This story, this woman, is amazing.”





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The Center of the World, by Thomas Van Essen


The Center of the World

By Thomas Van Essen

The Other Press, 2013

375 pages

Four interlocking stories chronicle the fate of a fictional J. M. W. Turner painting called The Center of the World. Charles Grant is a handsome British writer/scholar who gets swept up in the lavish world of Mrs. Spencer and Lord Egremont, one of Turner’s patrons, and meets Turner around the time he painted The Center of the World. Cornelius Rhinebeck, an American industrialist, savors the Turner painting in his upstate New York country home in the 1920s. Gina, an ambitious young woman, who works for a New York-based fine arts consultancy in the late naughts, goes on a search to find the painting. And Henry Leiden, an unassuming middle-aged New Jersey man, has his life turned around by The Center of the World.

I deeply enjoyed this book. It explores the themes of art, sexuality, beauty, marriage and servitude/patronage. It is told in multiple voices and while it took me a little while to settle into, and find myself, in all the stories, once I did, I was completely drawn in. Van Essen also interweaves e-mails, letters, an obituary, a 19th-century memoir and a transcript into the story. I am not a big reader of historical fiction, but I found the 19th century scenes, mainly set in Lord Egremont’s Petworth House, to be vivid and engaging while enjoying how the story was also grounded in the present.

Van Essen lives in New Jersey. Amazon did an interview with him about this debut novel. For those of you in the Boston area, he will on an Author Panel at the Boston Public Library on July 30th.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.


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UK debut break-out

Gill Hornby’s debut novel, The Hive, has had so much success in the UK that it is being compared to Fifty Shades of Grey. The book chronicles the interactions of a group of mothers at a primary school during the course of a year. Hornby was inspired to write the book by her own experiences with groups of women, and by another book, Queen Bees and Wannabees, which explores how groups of females often behave like bees – with a Queen Bee leading a clique.

This looks like a good summer read, but it won’t be out in the US until the fall. Hornby was a journalist before she wrote this novel and is the sister of Nick Hornby, one of my all time favorite authors. The Hive is also supposed to be funny! I am looking forward to the US release.










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New look, new link and what’s next…

I heard from a couple of you that you found it hard to comment on my blog (thanks RP and OS), so I have chosen a new theme (layout), which I hope will make it easier for you to find and contribute to the comments. Please give the new theme a look and leave a comment…What are you reading today? Is this commenting feature easier to use than the last one?

I recently discovered another blog that focuses on debut authors, the Tottenville Review blog. I just added them to my blog roll. They do a lot of author interviews and also look at works in translation.

Next week I’m reviewing a debut novel that just came out, Thomas Van Essen’s, The Center of the World. After that I’m reviewing some memoirs….






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Introducing the “two review,” The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner

When I started this blog, I toyed between writing about first or second books and decided to go with debut novels and memoirs, as they are easier to find (debut usually being noted in an ad or review) and debuts are often overlooked by traditional reviewers. But in the last few months, I’ve read about second books that look intriguing and I decided that on occasion I will write about one that seems particularly notable. Hence, the “two review.”

Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers has gotten wide spread critical acclaim and is full of themes I like to read about – art, politics and female identity, and is set in New York and Italy, two places I am fond of. So I picked it up and found myself immediately draw to the hardback cover:


Reno is a young woman, just out of college with an art degree, who moves to New York in 1975 to pursue her photography and filmmaking. Living in SoHo she meets a diverse range of people — artists, art dealers, filmmakers, a diner waitress and your general art world tag-alongs. As the story unfolds she falls for Sandro Valera, an older Italian artist from a wealthy family, goes to Nevada, where she rides a motorcycle in a time trial across the desert, and then to Italy. Interspersed with her story is the back-story of the Valera family, starting with Sandro’s father who founded a motorcycle business in Milan.

There are moments of sublime beauty in this book. Kushner’s writing is elegant and moving. Reno finds her way in a new world and there are insightful lines about art, art creation, intimacy and human connection. Kushner has been called one of the best writers of this century for this book, and for the most part she comes through. But while she has garnered a lot of critical success, I noted that on Good Reads her reviews were more mixed. And I think that is because this book is more about a place (NYC) and a time period (the late 70s), than it is about a character or a personal journey. It is a beautifully rendered book, with compelling and unique characters, but without a strong, linear plot.

Kushner is from Oregon and now lives in LA. The Paris Review has a nice interview with her about the book. She also wrote in that journal about the images and artifacts that inspired the book.

I was happy to find a first edition of this book at a new independent bookstore that recently opened in my neighborhood, PowerHouse on 8th.









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