WHIRL (What Have I Read Lately) Books is a site for readers to find books for themselves and their book clubs. Liz at Literary Masters runs book groups and literary salons where we "dig deep" into literary treasures.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Lost Man Booker Prize

Yesterday the shortlist was announced for the Lost Man Booker. Now, I know all of you are well aware of the prestigious Man Booker Prize, but some of you may not know of the Lost Man Booker. In a nutshell--evidently in 1971 the rules for the Man Booker were changed; the prize became an award for literature produced in that year instead of a retrospective prize. In addition, the announcement of the winner moved from April to November. So, there were some novels from 1970 that fell through the cracks and were never considered for the Man Booker Prize that year.

Are you following this?

This literary lapse is being rectified this year, and the best part is--YOU are the judge! Well, you and lots of other readers--around the globe. Now it helps if you've read the books--and I am chagrined to say that I've only read one on the list. Still, there's plenty of time for the others before the polls close on April 23rd.

Here's the link to the shortlist and the voting sheet:


Pssst, tell me--which one are you voting for???

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Searching for a Happy Ending?

There's an interesting article in this past week's Guardian--the British paper I love to read--in which the Chair of the Orange Prize, Daisy Goodwin, laments the dearth of feel good literature (my words) in this year's stack of books vying for the prestigious prize. Here's the link to the article:


A woman from my personal book group always accuses me of considering only depressing books as true literature. In my defense, I don't really think that; there are plenty of 'feel good' books (sorry--I haven't had enough coffee this morning to come up with a better description) out there that are worth reading. However, I do feel that the human condition is a mix of light and dark (I agree with Ms. Goodwin there) and the world is full of darkness that must be faced--which the very best books do. There's usually some redemptive quality, however, even if it's in the work an individual does to bring purpose to one's life--I am thinking Heart of Darkness, for instance.

Ms. Goodwin "accused publishers of 'lagging behind what the public want', of not getting that readers do want pleasure and do want enjoyment when they read." Well, yes, and actually, I think I want different things from reading, depending on my mood, but by and large I want a) a great story, b) something that moves me (is this another way of saying something I can relate to?), and c) something that makes me think.

How about you? What do you look for when you're reading?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Whirl 2

I was on MrsMagooReads today and saw that Mrs. Magoo has been busy whirling! She has four whirls to my, well, this is my second. So, What Have I Read Lately?

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. Good, but I had a little problem with how very clever the writing wanted to be. See my earlier post discussing this book.

Playing the Enemy by John Carlin. This is the book that the movie Invictus was based upon--the story of how Nelson Mandela attempted to unite black and white South Africa through the game of rugby. I loved the movie and was so moved by it, I read the book. And I was not disappointed. It's a hagiography, no doubt, but the story is just so compelling and fairy tale-like, I was able to overlook the bias and just roll with the feel good-ness of it all.

What about you? What have you read lately?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore can write. She can really write. I've just finished her novel, A Gate at the Stairs, which is garnering all sorts of critical attention. I must say, and I am a bit troubled to say this largely because of the sublime quality of Moore's writing, I found the book simultaneously compelling and off-putting. Or perhaps I should say annoying. Don't get me wrong--the book is definitely worth reading--but I think it would have been better (and really, who am I to say, but here I go anyway) without all the descriptive detours that Moore seems to delight in.

Moore obviously loves words, and she is a master of metaphors (many seeds she planted would burst into bloom pages later for the observant reader), but all her cleverness with words, all her philosophical meanderings and whimsical musings became exhausting after a while. I kept thinking, can't we just get on with the story?

The story is what I would call a coming-of-age novel, narrated by an incredibly erudite yet (paradoxically) innocent and tongue-tied Midwestern college girl, Tassie, who takes on a job as babysitter for a white couple who have adopted a part-African American baby. As we go through Tassie's freshman year of college with her (as reader we are only in Tassie's head, so we really do go through it with her), we experience her ups and downs and come to see, as she slowly but inexorably comes to see, that life is not all it claims to be.

This is not a book to be read in a hurry, but should be savored. Moore writes passages that just beg to be re-read, or even dissected by those who would give their left arm to be able to write like her. (Or right arm if they are, well, you know what I'm going to say.) And I just know that, even though I didn't love every bit of it, this novel with stick with me for awhile. Note the bone thrown to Jane Eyre at the end. Love it!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jackpot at the Local Library

My brother was aghast when he saw my library book in hand the other day. Said he doesn't like the potential germs, and wasn't I tad nervous about them? On the contrary, I love my local library, and I love the idea of holding and reading the very same book that others have. It somehow satisfies my sense of community, knowing that I am one of many who has participated in the same literary experience. Germs be damned!

And I love buying used books for the same reason. So, when I went to the library the other day and found some real treasures on the shelf of $1 books for sale, I was one happy reader! This is my haul~none of which I have read, all of which I have been wanting to read:

  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Oprah's 2008 Book Club Selection. (I know, I know.) I always thought it would be fun to have a pairing, reading this book and Hamlet and discussing them together.
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has just come out with a new book, so evidently I am behind in my reading.
  • Netherland by Joseph O'Neill. Winner of the Pen/ Faulkner Award. I can't wait to read this one. Lots of good buzz about it, if I recall correctly.
  • Snow by Orhan Pamuk. A Nobel laureate whose work I've yet to read.
  • Lush Life by Richard Price. I remember when this book came out it got a lot of hype, and I heard the author interviewed on NPR. He sounded interesting, and I tucked the title of this book away in the recesses of my mind, promising myself that I must really read it someday...
  • The Anglo Files by Sarah Lyall. An American living in Britain writes a book about it. NOW WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT??????????????????????
  • The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. I've never read her books, deeming them too trashy, but I really liked the movie The Other Boleyn Girl, so hey, why not give this novel about the warring cousins--the Yorks, Lancasters, and Tudors--a try? And I am such a snob! The author has a Ph.D., for goodness sake!
How about you? Have you read any of these novels?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery

I am in love with my little second-graders. The moms are great, too, but the girls are simply edible. They are 100% honest and straight about what they think and how they feel, and what comes out of their mouths absolutely cracks me up!

I was a little surprised to hear that some of them were scared when they started reading Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery. Actually, even before reading--the cover of the book scared them! (My own girls are post-Harry Potter and I guess I've forgotten how sensitive the young ones can be.) And many did not like it right away; they were confused by the names and weren't sure what was happening.

However, they stuck it out, and ended up liking this little mystery told by Harold, the faithful and lovable dog. And the moms liked it and found it quite funny. One of the things I like about this little book is that the story has humor that appeals to both kids and adults. But what about my criteria? (You should know what I mean by that by now!)

The Story: The Monroe family has found an abandoned bunny at the movies, which they bring home to care for. Because the movie had been a vampire movie, the Monroe's name the bunny Bunnicula--a blending of Dracula and bunny. Chester, the family cat, who feels just a tad jealous of this newcomer, and who has been more than a tad influenced by all the gothic stories he's been reading, becomes convinced that Bunnicula is a vampire. Could this be true? Well, there are mysterious white veggies appearing suddenly in the Monroe's kitchen. Has Bunnicula been sucking out the juice with his little fangs? And after he finishes off the vegetables, will he turn to the Monroe's and suck their blood? Chester, with the help of the Monroe's faithful and down-to-earth dog Harold, is not about to let that happen. Hilarity ensues!

Questions: There are lots of questions that pop up from this story, and the beautiful thing is, there aren't answers for all the questions. At least not that everyone will agree on. Read the book and you'll see what I mean. Is Bunnicula a vampire? Is there a mystery at all to this story? Does Chester believe what he's telling Harold? Is he imagining it all?

Life Lessons: Two "take-aways" for me: 1) the next time your imagination goes a little wild and drags you along with it, stop and ask yourself--are things really the way I am seeing them? 2) As Harold tells us at the end of the story, "...happy endings are possible, even in situations as fraught with complications as this one was."

Bottom Line: Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by Deborah and James Howe is a great story for a Mother/ Daughter book group. Third grade night be better than second grade because the plot is a tiny bit complicated, and the story and humor are both somewhat sophisticated.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


A member of one my book groups is involved in a new and rather fabulous on-line magazine called Narrative Magazine. Evidently it is one of the first of its kind (Salon.com coming to mind) and it has impressive writers involved. Check it out and let me know what you think. The address is: