Oct 31, 2009


posted by Jennie

A marvelous heart warming read for 8-13 year olds. And me. Perfect for reading aloud to the whole family. A special story.

Beautiful website as well.

Oct 28, 2009

Vampire rights, why not?

posted by Jennie

I've seen a few episodes of the HBO series True Blood. They were great and I intend to see all of them. Naturally I had to start reading the books and they are not great but they are fun and now I am wasting my life away reading every one.

Oct 27, 2009

How well do you know gothic fiction?

posted by Noam, taken from The Guardian UK (h/t to Duthie Books)

With the nights drawing in and Halloween on the way, now is the time to reacquaint yourself with the shadowy pleasures of the gothic novel.



posted by Jennie

I like everything by Eva Ibbotson and Island of the Aunts is one of my favourites. Good for all ages, especially 8-12 years.

review by Fantastic Fiction

When the kindly old aunts decide that they need help caring for creatures who live on their hidden island, they know that adults can't be trusted. What they need are a few special children who can keep a secret-a secret as big as a magical island. And what better way to get children who can keep really big secrets, than to kidnap them! (After all, some children just plain need to be kidnapped.) Don't miss this wildly inventive and funny read from master storyteller Eva Ibbotson.

"Readers will not be able to put [Island of the Aunts] down! A fine choice for fantasy lovers." (School Library Journal, starred review)

"Eva Ibbotson does magic, humor, and fantasy for ages 8 to 88+, and you'll wish her books were never-ending, so enchanting are her characters and fiendishly funny her plots!" (Book Sense)

Oct 25, 2009

Winter Fantasy Land

posted by Ms. Kate

As Winter approaches, my family gets really excited. Besides chopping wood, clearing the yard and pulling out our wool, we're searching for a great fantasy series to read aloud during the long, dark nights. We've devoured a couple great ones over the years including Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and the Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin. I should mention that my "family" right now consists of me and my partner. We're both in our late twenties and we both love to read and listen to "children's" fantasy.

What LeGuin and Pullman have in common is that they are both excellent writers. Many children's authors adopt a trite tone in an attempt to engage young readers. These two write in a way that is appropriate for pre-teens to adults: complex, moving and intelligent. Both series moved me to tears, not just for their emotional plots but because the writing is so clear.

Pullman's three-part series begins with a quote from John Milton's Paradise Lost, an English classic and a tough read for any age. Pullman takes readers on the epic, world-changing adventure of Lyra, an authentic fiesty and clever pre-teen girl, as she struggles and champions to resurrect "paradise lost." Up against horrific forces of evil that seek to control and diminish the souls of all people, Lyra is pushed to her limits again and again. She is destined to affirm free will, love and life through her actions.

LeGuin is a prolific writer (Jennie once had a good laugh when I told her I wanted to read everything she'd written) and an award winner. The Earthsea books are considered some of her best. In them, readers follow the life of Ged, a legendary wizard, and the people he meets. LeGuin writes with a beautiful pace, so that when Ged spends several months at sea searching and waiting, the reader senses the slow drift of the boat and the long lost days. It is never boring. In the beginning, Ged is a headstrong boy. Over the course of six books, he ages into a wise humble man. One of my favorite books in the series, Tehanu, closely explores the life of the archipelago women.

These books are wonderful winter reading. They're even better shared aloud. You'll grow tense in anticipation--because someone has to get sleepy first, and sometimes it's a challenge to schedule reading time--and you'll love sharing a great, great story with someone you love.

Oct 23, 2009


posted by Diana

WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE ed. by John Brockman is a collection of essays by leading scientists and thinkers who already know what's impossible then stretch it to the improbable realm of probability. Educational, stimulating and at times a little baffling, a veritable smorgasbord of food for thought. A remedy for brain atrophy, awkward silences and table talk that could use redirection.


posted by Diana

by Stieg Larsson is fabulous, more compelling than THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Finally something that enables my insomnia in an engaging way. I read it to my aesthetician for an hour and now she wants a copy, too.

Publisher Comments:

Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander--the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played with Fire.

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.

Oct 21, 2009

Time to read an epic?

posted by Josee

I am currently reading two epic novels, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy translated by Andrew Bromfield and, more happily and easily, A Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. I've always felt I should read Tolstoy, but never did. So with the arrival of driving October rain, colder weather and general drear I felt I could finally sink into 19th Century Russia for a time. This may seem strange to you, and even me, however after reading Lane Wallace's dialectic explicating the value of books over new electronic mediums for reading (look to our blog from October 18th) I am not so confused. Wallace's emphasis on becoming immersed in the world of the writer with the goal of deep contemplation and, if we're lucky, understanding of the world and ourselves rings true. The two 'gigantic' novels that I've embarked on are a testament to the necessity a kind of slow focus that may not be available to us when reading in an electronic form. I don't have a Kindle, although my mother does and she loves it (she is also a multi-tasking, techi-loving-type person who likes to read), so I don't know if the new mediums for reading in fact offer a more distracting form of the text as Wallace claims. However, I would agree with Wallace that books, especially those like Tolstoy's Russian epic which take place in a time almost forgotten and in a place foreign and surreal to us living in this era, require focus and time to read without distraction. While reading War and Peace I often catch myself mentally adrift while attempting to wrap my mind around a certain phrase, feeling or character and their meaning in the context of the novel. A Winter's Tale is similarly engrossing, but also full of detailed imagery and language that often takes a moment to integrate.

I am enjoying both books immensely if slowly and would recommend to anyone that this is a fabulous time of year to cuddle up with an epic tale. It will slow you down deliciously!

Oct 18, 2009

Brains, Books and the Future of Print

posted by Noam (h/t to Duthie Books)

from The Atlantic

Are print books really about to disappear, overtaken like horse-drawn carriages in the age of Detroit and the Ford Model T? Truth is, nobody knows. Nobody ever really knows what the future is going to hold, no matter how sure they sound in their predictions.

Certainly, for all the fuss made about the Kindle, more than 95% of book buyers are still opting for the print version ... except, possibly, in the hot romance and erotic fiction categories. Earlier this year, Peter Smith, of IT World, noted that "of the top 10 bestsellers under the 'Multiformat' category [of Fictionwise ebooks sold], nine are tagged 'erotica' and the last is 'dark fantasy.'" That's only one list, but it's an interesting side-note that makes sense: just as with the internet and cable television, there's a particularly strong appeal to getting access to what Smith calls "salacious" content without having to face the check-out clerk with the goods in hand.

Nevertheless, the point remains that a greater number of readers are switching over to ebooks in one format or another. So beyond the basic question of "will print books go away" (which I personally doubt, but again, nobody really knows the answer to), the questions I find more intriguing relate to if or how digital reading changes the reading experience and, perhaps, even the brains that do the reading.

Electronic readers like Kindle are too recent a development to have generated much specific, targeted research yet. But a montage of essays titled "Does the Brain Like Ebooks?" that appeared on the New York Times website this week offered some fascinating information and viewpoints on the subject. The collection had contributions from experts in English, neuroscience, child development, computer technology and informatics. And while the viewpoints differed, there was some general consensus about a few points:

1. Clearly, there are differences in the two reading experiences. There are things electronic books do better (access to new books in remote areas of the world, less lugging around, and easier searching for quotes or information after the fact). There are also things print books do better (footnote reading, the ability to focus solely on the text at hand, far away from any electronic distraction, and--oh, yeah. No battery or electronic glitch issues.)

To those factors, I would add two more: First -- I think it's important to remember that Kindle doesn't actually give you a book. It gives you access to a book. For people who don't want to cart around old volumes or make multiple trips to the library, that might be considered a good thing. But at least one potential downside to this feature became painfully clear to many Kindle readers this summer when Amazon reached into its customers' Kindle libraries and took back two books for which the company realized it did not possess the copyright. Ironically, the books were by George Orwell -- including 1984, his book about the perils of centralized information control. Access goes both ways.

Second ... one of the writers of the Times essays, Prof. Alan Liu at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said that he didn't think anyone really made serendipitous discoveries while browsing the shelves of a physical library (so losing a physical library wouldn't be a loss, at least in that sense). Perhaps not, because most people go to libraries with specific search goals in mind. But bookstores, on the other hand ... there I'd disagree. I often browse the aisles of my local bookstores, just to see what's new and what might catch my eye. Most of the books I buy, in fact, are items I discovered while browsing ... something that, ironically, electronic "browsers" do not allow.

Browsing, to my way of thinking, is what I do in Filene's Bargain Basement. The clothes there are a jumbled mass. So even if you go in looking, potentially, for a shirt, you might end up with a pair of slacks that just happened to be hanging nearby. Same with a bookstore. Same, in fact, with the print version of the New York Times I get every morning. I scan the pages just seeing what might catch my eye to read. Sometimes it's a photo that catches my eye, sometimes it's a leading paragraph, sometimes it's a headline, and sometimes it's a callout. Or, sometimes, I'll be reading one article and another on that same page will catch my attention--one I never would have sought out on my own. And my knowledge and understanding of the world is far better and broader for all those serendipitous juxtapositions.

Electronic media and browsers have many good qualities, but they're lousy for that kind of unspecific window shopping. Browsers don't browse. They help you do specific searches. Looking for a black coat, or that article Sam Smith wrote two months ago on synthetic sneaker soles? The internet is great. Not sure what you want? Heaven help you. So to lose physical collections of books, either in stores or on individual bookshelves, would make it harder to make those delightful side discoveries that take us out of our narrow fields of focus and interest and, potentially, broaden our minds.

2. In the case of adults, we probably process information similarly in both electronic and print formats ... with two important distinctions. The first distinction is that electronic books, with hyperlinks and connections to a world web of side-roads, offer far more distractions to the reader. In doing a research paper, this can be useful. But it also offers temptations to divert our attention from a deeper immersion in a story or text that our brains are poorly equipped to resist. (Apparently we change tasks, on average, every three minutes when working in an internet-connected environment.)

"Frequent task-switching costs time and interferes with the concentration needed to think deeply about what you read," cautioned Sandra Aamodt, the former editor of Nature Neuroscience and another of the Times essayists.

The second feature of electronic reading, which may compound this first effect, is that there is evidently something about an electronic medium, with its "percentage done" scale and electronic noises or gizmos, that makes us crave and focus on those rewards. Which is probably why electronic games are more addictive than board games. After a couple of rounds of solitaire with real cards, I'm done and ready to move on to something else. But I removed the solitaire software from my computer almost 20 years ago when I realized that I couldn't seem to tear myself away from it, once I started playing.

Is our comprehension and, more importantly, what Proust apparently called "the heart of reading"--"when we go beyond the author's wisdom and enter the beginning of our own," as one of the essayists, put it, impacted by a heightened drive to make progress through a text? If so, that would be a bad thing. So it seems a point worth studying further.

3. Most adults, however, at least have the ability to process longer and deeper contemplative thoughts from what we read, even if we don't always exercise that ability. But according to Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist and child development specialist at Tufts University, that ability to focus attention deeply and for a concerted length of time is learned, not innate. Children apparently have to develop neural pathways and circuits for reading, and those circuits are affected by the demands of the reading material. Chinese children learning a more symbolic and visual language, for instance, develop different circuits than English-speaking children.

So electronic reading ... especially with hyperlinks and video embeds and other potential distractions, could potentially keep young readers from developing some important circuits. As Wolf put it in her essay:

"My greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now, perhaps videos (in the new vooks). The child's imagination and children's nascent sense of probity and introspection are no match for a medium that creates a sense of urgency to get to the next piece of stimulating information. the attention span of children may be one of the main reasons why an immersion in on-screen reading is so engaging, and it may also be why digital reading may ultimately prove antithetical to the long-in-development, reflective nature of the expert reading brain as we know it."

Interesting enough, the one computer scientist in the group was of the opinion that the best use of electronic books and capabilities was to enhance print books, not to replace them. But it's all interesting food for thought ... and, hopefully, more research as electronic readers find their way into more households and hands.

Oct 14, 2009

THE GOOD BROTHER by Chris Offutt

posted by Jennie

Highly recommended by two friends. This is good!

review by JO ANN KISER at
The New York Times Online

As in his book of short stories, ''Kentucky Straight,'' Offutt combines hardheaded realism with a necessary lyricism that enables him to conjure up the ghost-laden images of his native Kentucky with unsentimental clarity. Even when pondering murder and its consequences, Virgil notices ''the sweet air of the woods. . . . The hills surrounded him like a box. The sky was a black slab etched with stars. He wondered how many shallow graves lay in the earth nearby.'' At another, more pleasant juncture in Virgil's youth, ''he inhaled the heavy scent of summer earth, a loamy musk that settled over him like a caul. He was home.''

Offutt successfully evokes the Kentucky hills and the moral complexity of their inhabitants. In time, Virgil sees beyond the model of his lovable but reckless brother, who disregarded the law because it often favored townspeople. Instead, he learns to appreciate more fully his brother-in-law, who, like so many hill people, works hard in a poor land in order to feed and care for his extended family and yet manages to take great delight in that family.

Offutt's inexperience as a novelist emerges once he departs from his native terrain; he can't hold our interest in the lives and motivations of his Montana characters. But this is a minor complaint. ''The Good Brother'' is a fine first novel by a fierce writer. One can only hope that in his laudable determination to be more than regional, Offutt doesn't leave the hills behind.

Photo cards by Marie Racine

Available at Jennie's Book Garden, new cards with photographs of valley landscapes, horses and more.

Oct 8, 2009

Tara Books

Handmade books from India available at Jennie's Book Garden.

Tara Books is an independent publisher of picture books for adults and children based in Chennai, South India. Now in our fifteenth year, we remain a collective of dedicated writers, designers and artists who strive for a union of fine form with rich content. We continue to work with a growing tribe of adventurous people from around the world. Fiercely independent, we publish a select list that straddles diverse genres, offering our readers unusual and rare voices in art and literature.


Tara was started in 1994 by Gita Wolf, and now comprises a core group of 10 people based in Chennai, and designers working out of New York, London and Bangalore. It helps that Tara is run as a feminist, non-hierarchical set up, which attracts a range of creative people interested in dialogue and creative collaboration. It allows each of us the flexibility to hold a variety of interests and activities while still being a part of the organisation. We are also proud to be able to support a group of talented young printers who create our handmade books. Tara initially started out as a publisher of children’s books, but our list has since expanded to include art and design books for adults, as well as a select list of fiction. The core of our publishing remains in the area of visual books. We publish 10-15 titles a year.

“Tara is one of the most interesting producers of handmade books on the planet… Part of the experience of opening and handling a Tara handmade book is the fragrance it emits from between the covers. The confluence of paper and inks is unlike anything you are accustomed to here. You know you are experiencing a different world, a different culture, as the exotic, bookish fumes enter your nose.
– Fine Books & Collections

“For most publishers worldwide, the imperative seems to be the pursuit of profit rather than the pursuit of creativity. Books nowadays are generally of an above average, but homogenous standard. One exception: Tara Books from Chennai, India, who possess a treasurable catalogue that combines tradition and modernity with genius.”
– Il Manifesto, Italy

“A celebration of storytelling, drawing and the art of bookmaking.”
– Los Angeles Weekly