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Category: Reading

  1. Wednesday, February 2, 2011

    ‘Books I’m Reading’ with Martha Stewart: Cutting for Stone

    Book report time! The next book for the Martha Stewart Books I’m Reading book club is called Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I was beyond delighted when I found out this month’s title because it is the same book that my in-real-life book club is reading right now. Woo-hoo! I could finally kill two birds with one book, so to speak, and I had been wanting to read this book after several recommendations from friends.

    The book is long and I’m actually not quite done with it…but I will be in the next few days and am really enjoying the novel. In fact, I just came to an exciting part of the story and all I want to do right now is sit down and read! The author Abraham Verghese is a doctor and professor at Stanford. One thing I really appreciate when reading Cutting for Stone is knowing that an actual physician wrote the book and that I can trust the medical descriptions in the novel. Of course, that also lends itself to some pretty graphic scenes, which in all honestly don’t phase me but might bother others.

    I really like the story and care about the characters, who are all unique and well-developed. There are many beautiful sentiments and lines in the story that cause me to pause and think, and throw a bookmark in for later discussion. I really enjoy that there is a strong sense of place in the novel. I feel transported to the places that Verghese describes – whether it is an airplane that nearly crashes or an African country experiencing a political coup. And there’s just a bit of mystery about the characters (one in particular) that drives you through the novel. I always love a little intrigue.

    All in all, I really like Cutting for Stone. I think it is a bit long, but even having said that, I never feel bored and always enjoy reading the book. I am really looking forward to my book club meeting on Tuesday night to chat about the book with my friends.

    Abraham Verghese will be on The Martha Stewart Show tomorrow 2/3/11 on the Hallmark channel. I’ve got my DVR all set!

    On a side note, as you know I’m participating in this book club through the Martha’s Circle of bloggers, sponsored by Sony. At the start of the book club, Sony sent me a Pocket Reader to read the books on. I haven’t really talked much about the reader because I wanted to use it and get a feel for it. I actually really like it. It’s super small, which is both a positive and a negative. Positive because it fits in a little pocket in my purse so it’s easy to carry around. Negative because the screen is pretty small so you have to flip the pages often. My favorite thing about the reader is that it’s so much easier to read in bed than a normal book. It’s great! Anyway, I’m really loving the whole ‘reader’ concept, which surprises me because I thought I could never leave a paper book behind. “I love technology…” 😉

  2. Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    ‘Books I’m Reading’ with Martha Stewart: Cleopatra, A Life

    It’s time for my “book report” on Cleopatra: A Life by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stacy Schiff, the second book for Martha Stewart’s Books I’m Reading club that I’m participating in with Sony and the Martha’s Circle of bloggers. I enjoyed the book, despite the fact it’s non-fiction 😉 and I had a lot of fun writing this post. It took me back to my beloved days in college. Yes, I’m exposing myself as a nerd who likes to read things and analyze them.

    Before I read Cleopatra: A Life, if you had asked me the first two words that come to mind when I hear “Cleopatra,” they probably would have been “Egyptian” and “seductress.” I hazard to guess that I’m not the only person who would think along those lines, and neither word is very accurate in describing who this woman really was. So much of what we know about Cleopatra comes from literature, movies and paintings that base their information more on fiction and myth than reality. Now that I have finished Stacy Schiff’s book, the words “powerful” and “strategic” are what come to mind when I think of the Greek queen of Egypt, Cleopatra.

    Stacy Schiff begins the Notes section of the book with the following: “The dead ends and missing pieces in Cleopatra’s story have worked a paradoxical effect: they have kept us relentlessly coming back for more.” I love this and think it defines beautifully why people have been intrigued by Cleopatra, from her time until now. There is so much we don’t know, and the information we do have is often jaw-dropping and scandalous. She was only married twice, both times to her teenage brothers. Incestuous marriages were common among the Ptolemies, Cleopatra’s family that ruled Egypt for nearly 300 years. In fact, Cleopatra had only four great-grandparents and six great-great-grandparents (normally people have 16!). She had all three of her siblings murdered. As far as we know, she only ever slept with two men, but those two men were Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, who both happened to be the most powerful men in Rome and married men at that. Alexandria, the city that was her home, was the Paris of the ancient world…perhaps even more decadent and lavish in riches than Paris ever was. Her world is one that is intriguing to imagine, filled with fascinating history as well as a good dose of gossip (look out for Cicero!). No wonder Cleopatra’s name was not soon forgotten.

    What struck me about Cleopatra is how witty, smart, powerful, and politically shrewd she was, despite her young age (she became queen at 18 and did not live to see 40). From the book we learn, “She was magistrate, high priest, queen and goddess. She was also – on a day-to-day basis and far more frequently – chief executive officer. She headed both the secular and the religious bureacracies. She was Egypt’s merchant in chief. The crust of state business consumed most of her day.” The image of her lying around eating grapes and being fanned by palm fronds while seducing great Roman rulers is pretty much blown out of the water. Not to say that being the richest person in the Mediterranean didn’t come with its fair share of luxury (it certainly did…the descriptions of the feasts she threw are stunning), but there was more to Cleopatra than that. For example, her relationships with Caesar and Antony were not a result of a young girl’s romantic whims. These relationships were strategic and crucial in securing her role as leader of Egypt, especially since both yielded children (including all-important sons).

    I found fascinating Schiff’s supposition that Cleopatra was most likely not classically beautiful. The only imagery we have of Cleopatra is from coins she had minted herself, images that do not depict her as necessarily beautiful, but certainly strong. Instead, it was her wit and charisma that were truly mesmerizing and, as Plutarch tells us, her irresistible charm and language of flattery gave her the ability to turn people to her will, which proved to be quite a powerful tool.

    True to the drama that was her life, Cleopatra’s death ended in suicide, of which we of course do not know the exact details. If you want to read more about it, you’ll have to pick up Schiff’s book yourself. (It’s good stuff. In fact, when Jon Stewart was talking with Stacy Schiff about Antony and Cleopatra’s deaths, I do believe he pointed at the book with a big grin and said something to the effect of, “It’s #*@%&$@ awesome.”)

    I was impressed with Schiff’s research and writing. I can’t imagine researching this book. It must have been fascinating but also frustrating. First hand accounts are not in abundance, and the historical records that do exist are often written by Romans, who had their own political agendas, often opposed to Cleopatra’s. The story is engaging, the research well-done, and I loved that Schiff is very clear in stating what is known fact and what can only be guessed at based on what we know of the era. I felt like I was in good hands.

    Be sure to catch Stacy Schiff on The Martha Stewart Show next week (date to come soon). I can’t wait to see her interview! There is also a great interview on NPR in addition to her Jon Stewart appearance. I’m glad Martha forced me to learn something new this month. It was good for me and fun at the same time!

  3. Monday, December 13, 2010

    ‘Books I’m Reading’ with Martha Stewart: The Next Book!

    Martha is keeping me on my toes. We’re already on to the next book for her Books I’m Reading book club! This month’s book is Cleoptra: A Life, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff.

    Confession: I’m a fiction person all the way. Two non-fiction books in a row is, well, not what I would choose. BUT…all this learning and stuff is good for me, right? 😉 And, after doing a little research on the book and starting it this past weekend, I’m actually pretty excited about Cleoptra: A Life. I know very little about Cleopatra and what little I do know is ill-informed, I’m sure. Can’t wait to read an accurate history of her life and, I’ll be honest, get all the dirty details on the murders, affairs and intrigue! ;)Check back in a month or so for my “book report”. Should be a good one!

  4. Monday, December 6, 2010

    ‘Books I’m Reading’ with Martha Stewart: Cold

    This month, Martha Stewart chose the book Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places for her Books I’m Reading book club. The author Bill Streever will be on The Martha Stewart Show today at 10:00 am PT, which I can’t wait to watch! As one of the three bloggers from Martha’s Circle reading along with Martha, today I’m writing a post about the book. Considering it’s been what feels like the coldest winter we’ve had in California since we moved here nearly 10 years ago, this book did not help in making me feel warm and cozy! Of course, it did make me appreciate just how not cold my weather really is!

    Bill Streever is a biologist who lives in Alaska. His book talks about, well, cold! He touches on scientific history surrounding temperature and discoveries related to cold, cold places, animals that live in cold, and on and on. It’s an interesting read filled with all kinds of fun facts. I think Nate got sick of me interrupting his own reading with “Hey! Listen to this!” followed by yet another random, cold-related fact. I’m pretty sure there was one about squirrels. And I’m pretty sure he was dying to know it.

    When I first started reading the book, Madara (a food blogger in Fairbanks, Alaska, a place Bill visits in the book) emailed me a link to her blog for FoodPress, the food site I edit. She mentioned that food blogging was a necessity to keep her busy, given that it was currently -10 degrees F and she’d only had 4 hours of daylight that day. What the what?!?! I immediately hit Google maps to see where Fairbanks was and then dug around the Internet for information about her town. It was fascinating. I somehow stumbled on a YouTube video from Fairbanks…seriously, go search “Fairbanks Alaska” on YouTube. It’s kind of awesome. Especially videos showing the Northern Lights, the ice fog, and people throwing hot liquids into cold air (no, really, make sure you watch people throwing hot liquids into cold air). Reading Madara’s email was so fun. I was transported to her life for one brief moment, imagining what it must be like to live in such a COLD place. And marveling at how different her world is from mine, simply due to temperature. It really is amazing to me that people live in places like Fairbanks!

    Reading Cold was kind of like reading Madara’s email for two-hundred-some-odd pages. I felt transported to a different world. I finished the book with two main takeaways. First, complete wonder at early explorers of cold, imagining what it must have felt like to experience such life-threatening temperatures in the name of science and discovery. Second, amazement at how animals adapt to cold climates. I loved reading about different ways that animals hibernate and/or live through cold times. Most amazing to me was a caterpillar that freezes for the winter then thaws out in the spring and goes on its merry way. Its heart is literally stopped for the winter. Unreal.

    One of the discussion questions is whether the book has changed my outlook on cold. I don’t know that it’s changed my outlook, but it has increased my understanding and helped me explore a world I don’t think often about. And it solidified the fact that I’m a wimp. At the end of the book there’s a Q&A with Bill Streever. One of the questions alludes to the fact that readers may be inspired to visit a cold place after reading the book, and then Bill lists his 5 favorite cold destinations (2 of which are in Fairbanks, by the way). And, uh, yeah, I’m kind of thinking I might not be one of those readers. Yep, definitely a wimp. And proud of it.

    I stole all of the photos in this post from my mother-in-law Pat. She took them after an ice storm hit their hometown in New Hampshire a few winters ago. I love these shots and I’m so happy to finally have a reason to share them with you. I hope they make you feel all cold and chilly inside.

  5. Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    ‘Books I’m Reading’ with Martha Stewart

    Just wanted to let you know about something fun that I’m participating in that launched today. Martha Stewart has started a Books I’m Reading section on her blog. Three of the bloggers in her Martha’s Circle network will be reading along and writing about the books with her…and I get to be one of the bloggers, along with Black Eiffel and Oh Happy Day. I LOVE reading, so this is right up my alley. (Click here for the press release if you would like to read more details, and click here for Sony’s special Martha “Books I’m Reading” page.) Sony sent each of us a lovely Sony Reader Pocket Edition. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a reader, any reader, for ages. I’m actually really liking it. The reader is so much easier to hold and read in bed than a book! {Insert choirs of angels singing from on high.}

    The first book is Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places by Bill Streever. As I awaited to hear which book Martha picked first, I must admit a book like this was the furthest thing from my mind. But after reading her first blog post today, it all makes sense now! I’m about 50 pages into the book and will wait to share my thoughts until I’ve completed it. I will say this…what were all those Arctic and Antarctic explorers in the 1800s thinking?!?!

    Off to the kitchen. I’m going to start cooking up some Thanksgiving food and will {hopefully} have a post and recipe for you later today!