Monthly Archives: March 2010

Happy Passover Everyone!

It’s been a busy few days of Passover seders. So busy in fact that I haven’t had time to write today’s post. Sorry about that! But I didn’t want to just go MIA and not post for the first time since starting this project. So instead I thought I’d share two quick thoughts from my Passover seders.

First is the idea of the family you make. Ever since leaving for college, I haven’t been home for Passover. However, hardly a year has gone by that I haven’t been to at least one seder. There have been friends’ houses, friends’ relatives’ houses and one dinner at the director of Hillel’s house. Everywhere it seems is a makeshift family. And this is particularly important for someone like me who has such a small real family to begin with. Over the years, as the good and the bad have happened, my family has learned that our friends have become our family (though we of course love our family too… I know at least one of you must be reading.)

The other thing I noted is that books tend to follow me everywhere. At last night’s seder, Carley’s grandma brought up the latest books she’s read and so started a big discussion. Almost everyone chimed in with their reading selections. And of course, I had to mention a few of the books on the list. Carley’s grandma had read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Shanghai Girls so it kept the conversation going. She promised to check out What Happened to Anna K. one of these days. It must just be me, but it seems everywhere I go the topic of books comes up.

(Sorry I can’t offer anything more interesting than that, but I wrote this last night after tons of food, some Manischewitz and a ride back from New Jersey so tiredness pushed me to do this quickly. Happy Passover everyone!)

Want More From Robin’s Reading Picks?

Are you loyally reading every book my mom has recommended? At the end of each one, do you wish there was more? Is this post starting to sound like an infomercial? If so, you’re in the right place.

There’s even more reading goodness to enjoy from the authors we’ve tackled so far on Robin’s Reading List. Now and in the more distant future, you can pick back up with the stories we’ve read.

For instant gratification, continue with the ideas in Dani Shapiro’s Devotion by following her blog. Her book ended on piece #102 and her blog picks up right where she left it with piece #103. She explains:

The years I spent writing Devotion were enormously absorbing, exciting, unnerving.  The book is a spiritual journey–and like any spiritual journey, there is no end to it.  There’s an end to the book, because the narrative of the book, crafted as it was, had come to it’s proper conclusion.  But an end to the journey?  I can’t imagine a point where I could ever possibly say: ok, this is good.  I’m done now.  The view from here suits me just fine.  So I am going to continue the journey of Devotion, here in this blog.  Welcome to 103 and beyond.  Let’s continue the journey together.

For a less immediate satisfaction, you can welcome back into your life the story from Shanghai Girls. The author Lisa See (@Lisa_See) tweeted this week: “People are asking if I’m working on a sequel to Shanghai Girls. The answer is YES!!!” What that sequel will look like and when it will grace your bookstore’s shelves are unclear, but rest assured it will be back. And maybe then I can finally get some closure on the difficult lives of the main characters.

Confession: I Read Spark Notes for Anna Karenina

Not that first time around, I promise! As I’ve mentioned, I read Anna Karenina in Russian Lit in college, and if I recall, enjoyed it. However, I have a problem that I inherited from my mom that involves forgetting most of a book’s plot shortly after I finish reading it. Such is the case with Anna Karenina.

While it is probably not necessary to remember the original to enjoy the retelling in What Happened to Anna K., I thought it would be nice. Plus, since I’ve already read Leo Tolstoy’s version, it would only take a little brushing up. Enter Spark Notes. For those unaware, Spark Notes is the free online equivalent of Cliff Notes… ie the stuff I’d read when I didn’t get around to reading the actual books in high school (not that I ever did that, Dad!).

I was going to post the plot overview from Spark Notes here so that you could all reap the benefits of my research, but alas those Spark Notes are damn thorough. The plot overview is quite detailed and quite long for this post. Instead, I’ll share this little bit from the “Key Facts” section:

MAJOR CONFLICT · Anna struggles between her passion for Vronsky and her desire for independence on the one hand, and her marital duty, social convention, and maternal love on the other; Levin struggles to define his own identity and reach an understanding of faith in an alienating and confusing world

RISING ACTION · Anna meets Vronsky in the train station, initiating an acquaintance that grows into adulterous passion and family upheaval; their consummation of the affair leads to Anna’s abandonment of her husband and son. Meanwhile, Kitty rebuffs Levin’s marriage proposal, prompting him to withdraw to his estate in the country and reflect on the meaning of life.

CLIMAX · Anna makes a public appearance at the opera, forcing a confrontation between her desire to live life on her own terms and the hostile opinions of St. Petersburg society, which scorns and rejects her; this episode seals her fate as a social outcast and fallen woman. Meanwhile, Levin’s search for meaning is rewarded by marriage to Kitty, stable family life, and an understanding of faith.

To read much more about the plot, the characters and the themes and motifs (never could remember the difference between the two), you can check out the rest of the Anna Karenina Spark Notes. Or, you know, you could just read the book. It’s good… if I remember correctly?

Linked Up: Paging Through the Internet

My mom loved thinking about and talking about reading almost as much as she loved the actual act of reading.

In her absence, I’ve turned to the giant reading conversation that is the World Wide Web. Here’s what the Internet is saying about books, authors and the publishing industry this week:

The Apple iPad will come with 30,000 free classic e-books. Does it come with Cliff Notes too then? [PC World]

Obama stopped at a small bookstore in Iowa City to buy books for his daughters and his press secretary’s son. See kids, reading is important. [Washington Post]

“Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes” wins the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. [New York Times]

In a pitch-perfect and thought-provoking turn of events you can play a stunning game of book review cliche bingo. [Examiner.com] [via Baby Got Books]

Here’s a round-up of mini reviews that covers one of our books – Shanghai Girls. [Book Addiction]

Robin’s Reading List Authors Say What?

When the authors on The List aren’t busy writing exciting works that attracted Robin’s attention, many can be found speaking their mind on Twitter.

Bad luck, healthcare helpful hints, presidential picks and a criminal occasion. It seems to have been a slow week in the Twittersphere, so let’s get right to it:

@Lisa_See

My bottle of water just emptied in my purse. It’s a lake in there. Waterproof so no way for it to drain.

@rebeccawalker

I really needed this breakdown. So helpful. How the Health Care Overhaul Could Affect You – http://nyti.ms/bfNoux

@megwaiteclayton

“President Obama Lights Up Prairie Lights Books”; I love having a pres who buys #books 4 his own children AND for children of friends.

@johnrobison

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Clyde Barrow, half of the bank robbing team Bonnie and Clyde. Happy birthday! #criminals

An Impressive Story of Books Bringing Family Together

Stacy Kramer this is your lucky day: your first shout-out on Reading for Robin! My friend Stacy passed along this great New York Times article from last week titled A Father-Daughter Bond, Page by Page that I wanted to share.

The article profiles a father-daughter pair that read aloud together at nights for a shockingly long streak of time.

It begins:

When Jim Brozina’s older daughter, Kathy, was in fourth grade, he was reading Beverly Cleary’s “Dear Mr. Henshaw” to her at bedtime, when she announced she’d had enough. “She said, ‘Dad, that’s it, I’ll take over from here,’ ” Mr. Brozina recalled. “I was, ‘Oh no.’ I didn’t want to stop. We really never got back to reading together after that.”

Mr. Brozina, a single father and an elementary school librarian who reads aloud for a living, did not want the same thing to happen with his younger daughter, Kristen. So when she hit fourth grade, he proposed The Streak: to see if they could read together for 100 straight bedtimes without missing once. They were both big fans of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, and on Nov. 11, 1997, started The Streak with “The Tin Woodman of Oz.”

When The Streak reached 100, they celebrated with a pancake breakfast, and Kristen whispered, “I think we should try for 1,000 nights.”

Mr. Brozina was delighted, but what he was thinking was, a thousand nights?! “I thought, we’ll never do it,” he recalled. “And then we got to 1,000, and we said, ‘How can we stop?’ ”

For 3,218 nights (and some mornings, if Mr. Brozina was coming home too late to read), The Streak went on.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

For those of you who want the short version, I’ll summarize: The two read together until the day the daughter left for college! If she was out with friends, Kristin would bring them all home at 11:30 pm so she and her dad could read together for 15 minutes, or, if he was out of town, they did the reading over the phone. That’s quite an impressive bond they forged there because I know as a 17-year-old, I was purposely staying out until the very last minute of my curfew, not running home to read with my parents.

However, I can appreciate how reading can bring a family together. I think this blog goes to show the extent to which my mom and I bonded over books. Admittedly, we weren’t much for the reading aloud past elementary school. The one exception was in middle school when I decided I wanted a meaningful Hanukkah present that year, so my mom bought me a book of letters between mothers and daughters. We would get in bed and read them together. We never quite finished the book though… the emotional stuff was never quite our cup of tea.

I’m proud to say, though, that in my family that an appreciation of books extend beyond just my mom and I. My dad and brother also love to read and, though we don’t share the same tastes at all (Science fiction? No thanks), we do share a common interest in discussing literature in general and it gives us something to talk about besides television. (On a side note, my grandpa once grumbled, “In a family of such smart people, I don’t understand how you can talk about TV so much.”)

I guess books provide a way for me to connect with my family like in the article… just in a whole lot less extreme of a way. Sorry Dad, but after a night out at the bar I think I will pass on the reading aloud for now.

Next Up: What Happened to Anna K.

Now that I’ve followed Dani Shapiro’s spiritual journey from Judaism to yoga, it’s time to move on. So, I’ve moved on to a story of a completely different Jewish family.

What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn retells the classic tragedy of Anna Karenina. Instead of the Russian plot of the original, though, this one takes place in modern day New York City within a community of Russian-Jewish immigrants.

The book’s description reads:

Vivacious thirty-seven-year-old Anna K. is comfortably married to Alex, an older, prominent businessman from her tight-knit Russian-Jewish immigrant community in Queens. But a longing for freedom is reignited in this bookish, overly romantic, and imperious woman when she meets her cousin Katia Zavurov’s boyfriend, an outsider and aspiring young writer on whom she pins her hopes for escape. As they begin a reckless affair, Anna enters into a tailspin that alienates her from her husband, family, and entire world.

In nearby Rego Park’s Bukharian-Jewish community, twenty-seven-year-old pharmacist Lev Gavrilov harbors two secret passions: French movies and the lovely Katia. Lev’s restless longing to test the boundaries of his sheltered life powerfully collides with Anna’s. But will Lev’s quest result in life’s affirmation rather than its destruction?

Exploring struggles of identity, fidelity, and community, What Happened to Anna K. is a remarkable retelling of the Anna Karenina story brought vividly to life by an exciting young writer.

It should be an interesting read. The book has received serious accolades including winning the Goldberg Award for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers and being named one of the best fiction books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post.

I’m optimistic about this book… though I’ve felt that way about all of them so far. What can I say? I’m banking on my mom having good taste. Plus, I did enjoy the original Anna Karenina from my Russian Lit class in college… now if I could only remember the plot. (See, I really am just like my mom.)

For more information about all the praise heaped on What Happened to Anna K. visit the Irina Reyn’s website, and click here for an excerpt of the book from NPR.