Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kindles, nooks, and My Right to be Nosy

So, I live in NYC, don't have a car and use public transportation or walking to get everywhere.  Lately, on the trains, more than the buses, so many people have e-readers.  I used to look at people's book covers for adds to be to my "to be read" list or just to see who was reading what.  It's always interesting to see people's reading material.  You see the students studying or scribbling assignments to be turned in; people reading the NY Times (in rush hour), or their religious texts, or romance novels (very popular amongst every race and age group of women), or bestsellers.  If I saw more than five people reading a book, I would generally try to borrow it from the library or buy it.  Most of the times the books were actually good books.  Some were demonstrations of the power of a good publicity department.

Now, lots of people have e-readers.  There is really no way to politely find out what someone is reading and many people don't like talking to strangers on the train, hence the nook or the Kindle.  Subway book spotting was an easy way to get an idea of what was hot and what wasn't in the book world.  I'm too shy/cautious to ask someone what they are reading.  I have had people tell me they were reading the same book in their e-reader.

Would you ask a random stranger with an e-reader what they were reading?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Questions with Irena Praitis, author of One Woman's Life

Irena Praitis is the author of One Woman's Life, a biography of her grandmother Ona Kartanas.  She was gracious enough to answer a few questions.

When did you decide to become a writer?
I started writing poems when I first learned to write, at about age 7 or 8.  By the time I was in sixth grade, I knew I wanted to write a book. I've pretty much always been writing.  It's just something I do.

I noticed you are a professor of literature and creative writing. How do you feel your job has aided your writing?
One of the great things about teaching literature is that I'm always reading the best things ever written.  I study incredible pieces of literature and I present them to others so I always have the best models around me.  Teaching writing to others also makes me think closely about how it works.  If I can figure out why a particular piece of literature is emotionally moving, I can bring some of that knowledge to my own work.  And my students are inspiring people.  They balance so much and work so hard and believe in what they're doing that they inspire me to do the same.

When did you find out your family's story?
I'd heard bits and pieces of my family's story my whole life.  In interviewing my grandmother I wanted to bring the entire story to light.

Your grandmother seems like a remarkable woman. What prompted you to write her story?
First, I just think it's a great story--but there's more than that.  If anybody has a right to be bitter about my life, my grandmother has that right. Yet, she's not bitter at all.  She's generous, thoughtful, and one of the most loving people I know.  I wanted to know more about how she could have suffered what she did and still be a loving person.  I wanted to present that spirit of her life in a book.

You were able to present an image of her as a woman that suffered a lot but was able to keep striving. Often overcoming setbacks can be the greater part of the struggle.
She refused to give up.  She refused to give in.  She refused to be anything other than who she was.  I admire her integrity tremendously.

How does your family feel about your publishing the family story?
They've been incredibly supportive.  We all admire my grandmother so much.

The book is written in the style of the diary. Why did you choose this technique?
I interviewed my grandmother in 2004, and then I just couldn't figure out a way to present the story.  I thought about poems, or a novel, or a straight out biography, but nothing was clicking. Then somehow I just knew it was time to turn to the transcriptions of those interviews.  By the way, my grandmother told her story in Lithuanian, her first language.  My mother translated my grandmother words into English (English is my mother's third language), and I typed my mother's words into my laptop.  I opened up those transcriptions in 2008, and I just very strongly felt a sense of voice step in and shape the transcription into vignettes.  I wasn't sure if I could trust the sense of voice at first.  I thought I would be writing in third person, not first, for example, but once the voice opened up, there was no denying it.  I sent my grandmother the first twenty pages I wrote and asked her if it was ok.  She said of course it's ok!  Just keep writing!  So I did.  She's read the book and I'm so happy that she likes it.

Any parting words for your readers?
If you're called to write a story, listen to that calling.  Stories are exactly what we need to make sense of the world and of ourselves.  Your words might just be what another human being, here and now or years from now, needs.  Without these stories we would be lost.  With such stories we can heal.

Review: One Woman's Life by Irena Praitis

One Woman's Life

Title: One Woman's Life by Irena Praitis
Publisher: Diversion Press
Published: December 2010
ISBN: 9781935290155
Pages: 230

    One Woman's Life is Irena Praitis' homage to her grandmother Ona Kartanas. Ona Kartanas lived through some of the most difficult times in recent European history. War, food shortages, interrogations, cramped journeys via train and ship, several moves from refugee camp to refugee camp. This book details an inspiring woman's life.

     Fatherless before birth and orphaned at a young age, Ona was left to be raised by whomever took her. Her guardians refused to allow her to go to school; they prefer she work for her keep. She sold eggs, picked berries, and sold strings of strawberries and mushrooms to pay for her school fees and her school supplies. Later, she worked her way through beauty school.  Every opportunity in life she had to succeed, she followed through.

    Raising a family during wars, occupations, and in refugee camps couldn't have been easy, but Ona sacrificed constantly to keep her family together and to aid others when possible.  Even, literally,  under the gun, Mrs Kartanas did not waver.  The strength, courage, and sheer determination required to emigrate with one's family is staggering.  That Ona was able to emigrate twice to countries where she didn't know the language or culture is mind boggling.  That her family survived and thrived is even more impressive.  She truly is an inspiring woman.

    I enjoyed  this book.   It was interesting to hear about Ona's life during the two Soviet occupations and Nazi German occupations. While intellectually I knew that the Baltic countries had been ravaged by the various wars and invasion, I had never read a biography detailing the occupations and postwar period in the Baltic countries.

  Ms. Praitis wrote the book in the style of a diary, which helped the narrative to flow smoothly rather than having a stiff voice.  We are able to feel Ona's kindness, peace, generosity, and steadfastness in every page of this book.  In my opinion, Ms. Praitis pays fitting tribute to her grandmother with her work.

Irena Praitis is the proud mother of a son, Ishaan. She is a professor of literature and creative writing at California State University - Fullerton and is the author of Touch (Finishing Line Press) and Branches (D-N Publishing). She lives in Fullerton, California.

**The book reviewed was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.                     **

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

3 Cups of Tea or Was It Coffee

So right now, there is a kerfuffle over Greg Mortensen's memoirs, the most famous being Three Cups of TeaJon Krakauer and CBS News show 60 Minutes did some investigating into his charity's records and the school they allegedly build.  Based on their report, it seems like something in the milk isn't clean.  Mortensen did everything to avoid talking to 60 Minutes but they ambushed him at a book signing.  LOL!!!  He has admitted to his local newspaper that the events in the book were compressed.  Now he has previously scheduled heart surgery so he's unavailable. ** Extreme SideEye**  Honestly, he might truly have a heart condition and need surgery, but it looks kind of suspect.

With memoirs, I realize that recollections of the same event vary from person to person.  Thus, I usually take memoirs and autobiographies with a grain of salt.  I'm willing to allow for issues of memory as long as the lapses aren't outrageous.  Don't write a "memoir" about growing up in Marakesh if you grew up in Rhode Island! Don't compress time and blame it on cultural definitions of words.

Why do authors feel the need to embellish or create whole new life stories?  For all the disputes about accuracy, Mortenson has a great story that didn't really need embellishment.  Maybe authors and/or agents/publishing houses/ book people feel that the book won't succeed if marketed as a novel and would generate more profit being sold as a memoir.  Scandalous novels are a dime a dozen, but scandalous or extraordinary life stories not so much.  Maybe an author realizes half way through their memoir that they are really boring and the fiction flows.  James Frey, Margaret B. Jones (nom de plume of Margaret Seltzer), Herman Rosenblat and the list goes on. 

Are the authors taking the chance that no one will call them out or do research about their stories? Let's be honest, most of the people in Three Cups of Tea wouldn't likely be in the reading audience or able to dispute any inconsistencies regarding their representation.  Some of these "stories" could have been great novels; the authors don't lack creativity and were able to get published. Maybe the authors didn't expect to be best-sellers?

 The part that gets my goat is he claims to have been kidnapped and one of the alleged kidnappers is disputing the accusations.  To me, that changes the whole situation.  It's veering into Jolly Earnest Westerner and his thrilling, exotic adventures with the Brown People.   I've  read both books, but was "meh" about them. The whole story is starting to turn my stomach.
As far as the alleged misappropriation of funds, most charities spend their donations on overhead.  Not on book promotion, but I'm sure the excuse will be that promoting the book promotes the charity, yada yada.  Having relatives and acquaintances that have been missionaries or employees of charities, working in a foreign field can be really challenging.  You toe the line between supporting the community and encouraging self-sufficiency.  Sometimes, it is more efficient to fund existing services and clinics than to create new services or clinics just to have it as your brand.

What's your opinion?  "Fact" or "Fictionalized Fact"

Monday, April 18, 2011

Are you afraid of the dark?

  • Great news for all of us that grew up with Goosebumps! R.L. Stine announced on Twitter that he has started working on an adult hardcover novel.
  • Most Challenged books of 2010
  • Listen to Santigold's new song with Karen O.  Read the interview about her new music.
  • Adele's album 21 is the best.
  • Review of One Woman's Life by Irena Praitis and a Q & A with Irena coming to the blog this Thursday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Movies or Books

 Watchmen (Director's Cut + BD-Live) [Blu-ray]V for Vendetta (Widescreen Edition)Matilda (Special Edition)The Stieg Larsson Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)The Lovely Bones

Lately, it seems like there have been tons of books and graphic novels that have been turned into movies.  Most of the time, the movies either suck or pale in comparison to the book.  Occasionally, the movie is great  and really complements the book it's based on.  Granted, visual imagery and written words are very different and are processed differently by us consumers.  Written images require a certain amount of investment and interest in the characters and plot; whereas, visual images can often distract us from a thin or lacking plot.

Personally, I prefer to read the book and then see the movie.  Sometimes, I'm willing to take a chance and see the movie before reading the book.  The slant the director decides to take with the movie can often give us a fresh way of looking at the book.  I'm often left very disappointed.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nook or Kindle

The Man from Beijing (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
  • I've been trying to decide for months now whether to get a Kindle or a Nook.  Now, Barnes & Nobles is selling refurbished Nooks on ebay for $79.   I actually like the Nook better for features and look but I'm not sure I should take the leap.  It is getting kind of claustrophobic reading on my cell or laptop.
  • For the month of May, I'll be blogging Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project 
  • I'm starting a garden; hopefully, I manage to survive the growing season. I have to do some research.
  • I'm watching the HBO/BBC miniseries Five Days -- powerful stuff. 
  • I love Scandinavian fiction. First Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist -- a vampire novel I could stomach to Mankell's Man from Beijing.
  • I want a shellac manicure.  My hands look so raggedy.  I was so good until last week.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy

An Atlas of Impossible Longing: A Novel

Title: An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Anuradha Roy
Publisher: Free Press
Published: April 2011
ISBN: 9781451608625
Pages: 336

An Atlas of Impossible Longing follows three generations of men in India from post World War I postcolonial period to after the Partition of India and Pakistan.  The book is divided into the story of Amulya, his son Nirmal, and an orphan Mukunda.  The title comes from a palm reading that Mukunda receives on a whim.

Amulya is a man before his time.  He moves his family (a wife and two sons, out of Calcutta to a Songarh, a town bordering on the jungle.  Here, he has all the space for his factory where he creates herbal remedies and medicines from plants he cultivates and studies.  Scorned by his relatives and prodded by his wife for moving to the wilds of Songarh, he predicts the town will one day be a important region where everyone clamors to love.  Though he loves the solitude and quiet provided by the slow pace of life, his wife Kananbala is slowly going mad with loneliness.  One morning one of his workers shows up with a local woman and a baby.  The worker begs for help with the baby; the woman claims it's his married son's child.  Amulya sends the child to an orphanage and pays fees for his sustenance.

Nirmal, the second son, studious and hardworking, is a mama's boy who keeps his mother company every evening.  After he gets married, Kananbala realizes he is withdrawing and would rather spend time with his new wife.  Shortly after, she develops fits of profanity and the family shuts her away to avoid talk.  Nirmal's wife Shanti dies in childbirth.  After her death, Nirmal travels and takes work as far from Songarh as possible to not have to deal with her death or their child. 

Mukunda, an orphan supported by Amulya, is adopted into the household after Amulya's death.  He isn't really treated as part of the family, more like an elevated servant.  Nirmal provides a home and education, but is unable to get any of the others, other than Bakul, to treat him as a member of the family.  As he and Bakul grow up with only each other as playmates, they are extremely close.  The family begins to worry about where the relationship will lead.  Nirmal decides to send Mukunda to school in the city to provide some space in the relationship.  Although very bitter about his treatment by Nirmal, Mukunda realizes as a grown man why he was sent away.  He is able to help Bakul and Nirmal several times.

The best novel I have read this year  -- actually in a couple years.  Each section is great with just enough action and pacing to keep the story moving.  With the amount of characters, it could get very confusing.  However, the way Ms. Roy uses each character helps the flow of the story without distracting from the plot.  She manages to make us aware of some of the cultural limitations placed on the characters -- mistreatment of Mukunda due to his unknown caste status, barrier to the development of a relationships Nirmal and Meera, a widowed distant cousin, and the strife between Nirmal & Kamal his brother towards the end.

** This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher. **