Monday, August 31, 2009

La Serenissima and the Glassblowers

In The Glassblower of Murano, Marina Fiorato paints a beautiful picture of Venice, La Serenissima, through her vivid imagery and detailed descriptions. Moreover, the story is one of intrigue, adventure, and romance. In the book, Leonora Manin is a recent divorcee who decides to sell all her possessions and move from the bustling city-life of London to the traditional and serene life in Venice. She is a highly-skilled artist specializing in glassblowing, a gift she inherited from her famous ancestor and master glassblower, Corradino Manin. As soon as she arrives in Venice, she seeks and obtains a job as a glassblower at the Murano fornace - the first woman to ever accomplish this in centuries. She also seeks to find out more about her elusive ancestor, Corradino.

The chapters in this book alternate between Leonora's life in the present and Corradino's life as a glassblower and political prisoner on the island of Murano in the 1600s. The two share a relationship that transcends time. Not only does Leonora discover her true self and family history while in Venice, but she also finds love and comes to the realization that the city is her true home.

This is a beautiful story written as though it were a mystery or suspense novel. It is reminiscent of classics, such as Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, but with a more modern twist. Incredibly, the city has a life of its own in this book and it becomes somewhat of a character itself. The descriptions, including those of the canals and buildings, the glassblowers and the way they work their craft, the events such as the Carnevale, etc., magically transport the reader to Venice.
If you've ever wanted to leave it all behind and live the life of an artist in Europe, then you can do so vicariously through this book. I highly recommend it ;)
If that trip to Italy my husband and I have been planning becomes a reality, we may just have to throw away our return ticket and have our own Venetian adventure!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

For all the TwiFans!

A couple of days ago, I came across a link for an untitled continuation to the Twilight Saga on FanFiction. It was written by an aspiring writer and fan of the saga who goes by the name Renee. Her blog also contains the story with pictures and music to add effect. In her blog, she also mentions that she would title the novel, Elysium, because the characters are usually caught in a state similar to purgatory. Iwas a little skeptical about reading it at first, but it is actually very well-written and follows the canon with fidelity.

If you're like me and were disappointed after Breaking Dawn because you didn't know what you were going to do without more Twilight, then I highly recommend this manuscript. As I read it, I was engrossed by the plot development and the writing style. Consequently, I was glued to my laptop for several hours straight. I just can't get enough of these characters and their fantasy world, a world I'm sure we'd all love to experience for ourselves. If Stephenie Meyer continues her saga in the future, she may want to consult with this version. It has everything Twilight fans love about the books: Romance, suspense, drama, intrigue, action, etc. If not, then I hope Renee will provide us with more of her twist on this epic ;)

By the way, if you're not familiar with FanFiction, it is a website where amateur and aspiring writers post work that's based on other movies, books, and genres. You can find some decent material authored by people who may just be national bestselling authors in the making.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Poetry Wednesday: School Starts as Summer Ends

Summer — we all have seen —
A few of us — believed —
A few — the more aspiring
Unquestionably loved —

But Summer does not care —
She goes her spacious way
As eligible as the moon
To our Temerity —

The Doom to be adored —
The Affluence conferred —
Unknown as to an Ecstasy
The Embryo endowed —

~Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Book Vs. Movie

Hollywood has always turned to books for its latest inspirations. Lately, there are many national bestsellers that have been adapted for the silver screen, such as The Time Traveler's Wife, My Sister's Keeper, and Angels & Demons just to name a few.

I sometimes struggle with these movie versions of books that I really love. Although I try not to compare a movie to the book, I can't help noticing the instances where the director's vision took a departure from the author's intentions. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to watch the movie as a separate form of entertainment. Since the interpretation of a book is heavily influenced by the reader's personal experiences, I try to keep in mind that the directors, producers, and screenwriters have also interpreted the book in their own way. But, that isn't always the case since moviemakers have their eyes on box office sales.

I recently saw Angels & Demons and didn't think it was as exciting or as informative as the book. They left out vital pieces of the story and it became more of an action movie which was entertaining nonetheless. I want to see The Time Traveler's Wife and My Sister's Keeper soon. Although I'm aware that there were some major changes to the storylines, I'll just have to keep an open mind as I watch both.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Human in the Next Life

Garth Stein cleverly chooses a dog as the narrator for The Art of Racing in the Rain. The dog has reached the climax of his life and begins to reminisce about it. He is purchased by Denny, a race car driver, when he is just a puppy. Enzo grows up with Denny to see him get married and have a baby girl named Zoe. He is always the loyal companion that provides strength for the family as it experiences unexpected trials and tribulations.

As touching as this story was, there were many moments that made me laugh, especially, when Enzo tells his version of evolution stating that the dog is closer to the human than the chimpanzee. His rationale is hilarious. He also obsesses over his lack of opposable thumbs and a facile tongue which means his only form of communication with his human family are his gestures that he uses quite effectively. Lastly, there's the stuffed zebra that Enzo witnesses attacking all of Zoe's stuffed animals which reminded me of my own dogs' obsession with stuffed animals. However, the zebra returns often throughout the story as it represents the fear and anger harboring inside us all.

Throughout the book, Enzo shares the wisdom he has gained from living in a human world, from watching television, and from his observations of race-car driving. Through these experiences, Enzo tries to understand the true yet contradictory nature of man - both the kindness and the cruelty, the humility and the pride, the love and the betrayal. But, in the end, he learns "that which we manifest is before us." Therefore, Enzo tries to make the best of his canine life because he believes he will be reincarnated as a human in his next life (this belief was sparked by a documentary on Mongolia that he watched as a pup). Furthermore, he believes the purpose of his current life is to learn all he can about humans and strive to be as close to human as possible so he can be reunited with his family in the next life as a man.

There's so much we can learn from our canine companions: How they live for today, not dwelling on the past or the uncertainties of the future; how they enjoy the simplest of pleasures in life, like belly rubs and running freely on fresh-cut grass; how they love their pack unconditionally; and how their loyalty is unequivocal. This book reminds us that there's so much we take for granted that we could learn to be a little more human by looking to man's best friend.

Gizmo and Eva

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dreaming of Paris

In my search for a used bookstore, I woke up dreaming of Paris. My husband and I recently spent a week in Paris during spring. I was surprised to see so many bookstores, especially so many with rare and used books. Most of them were in the Rive Gauche and St. Germain de Pres area where La Sorbonne is located. It is my favorite part of the city.

Below is a small bookshop aptly named after Shakespeare near the university.

The Seine River outdoor booksellers conjure up romantic images of the past, especially their depiction in impressionist art. The antique and ornate book covers invite you to peer into the green, metal boxes and leaf through the books.

I could spend hours strolling through the booksellers on the river banks just perusing through their collections. Unfortunately, we were on a tight budget and our purchases from these booksellers were mostly gifts for our friends and relatives, like the biography of Victor Hugo we bought for a friend.

Another great spot in Paris to just relax and read a book is Le Jardin de Luxembourg. In the gardens, you'll find students engaged in discourse, lovers embraced on the grass, children playing precariously too close to fountains, and many people just sitting and reading a book. My favorite thing to do when we travel is to get lost in the city with a good guide book full of facts and history of the city. After much walking and sightseeing, we like to sit down just to read all we can about the city. That's me below at the gardens doing just that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Poetry Wednesday

My father gave me a few books of Spanish poetry a while back. While I was reading through Federico Garcia Lorca's Romancero Gitano, I came across an old favorite: Romance Sonambulo. It is a beautiful poem full of vivid imagery and lost love. For an English version and more information on the author, click here.

Verde que te quiero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar
y el caballo en la montaña.
Con la sombra en la cintura
ella sueña en su baranda,
verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.
Verde que te quiero verde.
Bajo la luna gitana,
las cosas la están mirando
y ella no puede mirarlas.

Verde que te quiero verde.
Grandes estrellas de escarcha
vienen con el pez de sombra
que abre el camino del alba.
La higuera frota su viento
con la lija de sus ramas,
y el monte, gato garduño,
eriza sus pitas agrias.
¿Pero quién vendra? ¿Y por dónde...?
Ella sigue en su baranda,
Verde came, pelo verde,
soñando en la mar amarga.

Compadre, quiero cambiar
mi caballo por su casa,
mi montura por su espejo,
mi cuchillo per su manta.
Compadre, vengo sangrando,
desde los puertos de Cabra.

Si yo pudiera, mocito,
este trato se cerraba.
Pero yo ya no soy yo,
ni mi casa es ya mi casa.
Compadre, quiero morir
decentemente en mi cama.
De acero, si puede ser,
con las sábanas de holanda.
¿No ves la herida que tengo
desde el pecho a la garganta?
Trescientas rosas morenas
lleva tu pechera blanca.
Tu sangre rezuma y huele
alrededor de tu faja.
Pero yo ya no soy yo,
ni mi casa es ya mi casa.
Dejadme subir al menos
hasta las altas barandas;
¡dejadme subir!, dejadme,
hasta las verdes barandas.
Barandales de la luna
por donde retumba el agua.

Ya suben los dos compadres
hacia las altas barandas.
Dejando un rastro de sangre.
Dejando un rastro de lágrimas.
Temblaban en los tejados
farolillos de hojalata.
Mil panderos de cristal
herían la madrugada.

Verde que te quiero verde,
verde viento, verdes ramas.
Los dos compadres subieron.
El largo viento dejaba
en la boca un raro gusto
de hiel, de menta y de albahaca.
¡Compadre! ¿Donde está, díme?
¿Donde está tu niña amarga?
¡Cuántas veces te esperó!
¡Cuántas veces te esperara,
cara fresca, negro pelo,
en esta verde baranda!

Sobre el rostro del aljibe
se mecía la gitana.
Verde carne, pelo verde,
con ojos de fría plata.
Un carámbano de luna
la sostiene sobre el agua.
La noche se puso íntima
como una pequeña plaza.
Guardias civiles borrachos
en la puerta golpeaban.
Verde que te qinero verde.
Verde viento. Verdes ramas.
El barco sobre la mar.
Y el caballo en la montaña.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bookshop Search

The last time I was in a used bookshop, I found a copy of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury in great shape. Unfortunately, that bookshop closed and I've been searching for something similar. My recent search has brought up a few: The Kendall Bookshelf, The Book Barn Book Exchange, Gladioli's, and Utopia Books. I hope to check some of those out this weekend. Hopefully, they're not for college students looking for used textbooks. I'd love to find a place overflowing with books, like the pic below!

Any recs for used bookshops would be greatly appreciated ;)

Life, Death, and Family

I knew that reading this book would be difficult because of the content, but I didn't know just how much it would affect me. My Sister's Keeper is a beautifully-written book about a family coping with the worst possible thing that could happen: the illness of a child. The story is told from the point-of-view of several characters. Sara, a lawyer, but now a stay-at-home mom takes care of her children as only she knows how and now must defend herself against her own daughter. Brian is a firefighter and saves the lives of other people on a daily basis, but he can't save his own daughter. Kate is the middle child and at 16 has been suffering with a rare form of leukemia for over 13 years. Jesse, the eldest child, was not a perfect donor match for Kate and has become somewhat of a delinquent in a desperate cry for attention as Kate receives all the attention from the family due to her illness and frequent trips to the hospital. Jesse has become a pyromaniac in an attempt to cope with his inability to save Kate and, ironically, uses fire to literally and figuratively draw his father's attention.

Then, there's Anna, the youngest child. She is coming of age and is questioning her conception. She was genetically designed to be the perfect donor match for her older sister and best friend, Kate. Her first donation was at her birth when she donated cordblood for her sister. After a myriad of other donations, Kate now needs a kidney and Anna decides that she wants to be medically emancipated to make her own decision as far as any other donations go. As the trial begins, it seems that Anna simply doesn't want to donate an organ, but as most appearances go one must look deeper to understand them. Anna's cunning, ruthless lawyer, Campbell, helps bring this to light as he plays the perfect foil for the young, innocent Anna. But, they later learn that they have more in common than they expected. There is also Julia, Anna's guardian ad litem, who has a past with Campbell and a beautiful love story underscores the novel as Julia learns Campbell's true nature and his own desire to hide his medical needs and avoid being a burden on a loved one.

As I read the book, I found myself making judgments about each member of the family. Sara becomes so obsessed with saving one child's life that she neglects the needs of the other two. How far should she go to put her healthy daughter's life at risk to save the one that is terminally ill? Brian seems to use his work to escape from his family. His own son involves himself in dangerous activity that is the anti-thesis of his life's work. Anna is more difficult to understand. Is she really being selfish or just a child who wants to grow up with a normal life? Does she love her sister enough to donate an organ or does she resent her because she symbolizes everything she has had to give up to be her constant donor? Is Kate selfish for allowing her sister to be her own personal savior instead of letting her live her life to its fullest? Is living life expecting death really living or does living with death stalking you make you lose sight of hope? What about when death comes suddenly and unexpectedly? Does regret for all the things you could've said and done haunt you? The book made me realize that there are no answers to any of these questions, especially as a parent. As a parent, you just have to make the best decisions for your family as a whole because you love them all as Sara stated in her closing arguments. In the end, Anna does what she was born to do and the ending resonates with the bittersweet emotions associated with life, death, and family.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Author Spotlight: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

As I make preparations for the new school year, I am reminded of the first book my father gave me, The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery. I must have read this book at least 5 times so far throughout my young life. It is one of those books that, depending on your stage in life, the meaning becomes more and more powerful. As a child, it was just a cute story. But, as I grew up, it's meaning became more and more pertinent. This book is written for children ages 9-12, but the meaning it conveys is ageless. In it, a stranded prince from a far away planet recounts his journey to a pilot stranded in the Sahara desert. The boy begins by asking the adult to draw different animals. The boy's perception of these drawings is vastly different compared to that of the adult and, thus, the fable depicts adults and their fixations with the most mundane activities as perceived by a child.

This book is a good reminder that sometimes as adults we need to revert back to childhood, forget about the worries of day-to-day life, and just enjoy the simplest of pleasures. For the Little Prince, this was his beautiful rose that he so missed on his home planet. For us, that rose symbolizes so much more that we take for granted on a daily basis. He had a hard time understanding the adults on the other planets and why their lives were consumed by meaningless routine. It is so easy as an adult to get caught up with our own work routine that I am reminded to enjoy each day as this new school year begins. I am reminded that all I have to do is look to my students to remember how easy it was to live everyday without a care in the world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Ikea 2010 Catalog is Here!

Since we are actively house hunting, I was excited to receive the Ikea 2010 Catalog. I immediately flipped through the catalog and dog-eared some of the pages for inspiration.

For that home library I've always wanted, I found a few pieces that would work. I love these shelving units which can be mixed and matched and come in a variety of colors. The ladder gives it that extra touch that really makes it feel like a home library.

The chaise lounge and a side table from the pics below would fit just perfectly under a window flanked by the bookshelves.

I can just picture myself waking up early to have some coffee and read a book in my own, cozy space.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thank You for Your Votes!

The poll for which book I should read next ended yesterday with 39 votes in total. The winner was My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. However, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein was a close second just shy of winning by a few votes. This makes me very excited to read both books.

I've actually already started My Sister's Keeper and can tell that it's going to be a page-turner! I have my tissue box ready as was suggested by some of the voters.

Thanks again!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Picture of Afghanistan

Khaled Hosseini paints a stunning, vivid, and realistic picture of Afghanistan in The Kite Runner. This book is definitely a must-read! Although at times, it was very difficult to read not because of the writing style or the foreign terms but because of the violent accounts of daily life in Afghanistan. For Americans, this is something that is read about in the paper, listened to on NPR, and watched on the news. But, the descriptions of the atrocities that occur in the book and because they are tied to the main characters made me feel like I was living through the current history of the country - from the overthrough of the monarchy and the Russian invasion to the rise of the Taliban.

In addition to that, it was difficult at first to relate to our narrator, Amir, who does not play the typical protagonist/hero role. He is somewhat of a coward throughout most of the book. He and his servant's son, Hassan, grow up together both withouth a mother and even nurse from the same woman as children which meant their lives were destined to be intertwined. They are best friends in a world where their religions make one superior to the other - Amir, a Suni Muslim and Hassan, a Shi'a Muslim. However, many incidents, especially those in which Amir yearns to win his father's approval, lead him to commit his own shameful atrocities toward Hassan. Amir eventually leaves Afghanistan with his father and moves to California where he longs to forget his past. But, the past catches up to him and forces him to return to Afghanistan where he is eventually vindicated and finds redemption. Along the way, he discovers a secret which will change his life forever.

I loved this book and have even purchased it's follow-up, A Thousand Splendid Suns. But, it's not next on my reading list because I prefer to read something a little more lighthearted before returning to the bleak realism of Hosseini.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Poll: What Should I Read Next?

I need your help! I'm almost done reading The Kite Runner (stay tuned for post) and I can't decide what to read next. There's a poll on the sidebar with my current stack.

You can also leave comments if you want to share why you voted for your selection.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Local Weekend Events

I know it's only Wednesday, but I'm already thinking of the weekend!

The landmark bookstore, Books & Books, in Coral Gables will be presenting a free poetry writing workshop for elementary students this Saturday starting at 11:00 a.m. The event will be hosted by a Broward College professor and her service dog. This is the perfect event to get kids excited about poetry, especially, writing it!

For more information contact Books & Books at:
265 Aragon Avenue
Coral Gables

Also going on this weekend: Free Sundays in August at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The garden is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. If you're looking for a beautiful spot to read a book, self-reflect, or just relax, take a comfortable blanket and head out early to the garden. Don't forget to check out the sculptures throughout the site and when you get hungry head to the cafe for a bite to eat and a refreshing smoothie.

For more information and directions to the garden, click here.

Lastly, check out your local library here for upcoming children, teen, and adult events.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Author Spotlight: Paulo Coelho

As part of my blog, I'd like to feature authors whose work I have enjoyed over the years and share more information about them.

I've chosen Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, for the first author spotlight because his work within and outside the world of literature truly reflects a global embodiment. He is a versatile artist as an actor, director, songwriter, journalist, and author. He is also known for his charitable work in his country. His 1988 book, The Alchemist, can be considered one of the most widely-read books having been translated into 67 languages and selling over 35 million copies. It is described as a fable about following your dreams. In it, a young man from Spain seeks out to achieve his "personal legend" - which is the ultimate quest to reach one's full potential and level of happiness. It is easy to relate to this fable as we all seek to achieve our own "personal legend" and face many trials and tribulations along the way.

Another favorite of mine from Coelho is Eleven Minutes. When I purchased this book at the bookstore, the clerk -a young man- gave me a very strange look and asked me if I was sure I wanted to buy this book. To that, he added that it was very risque. Then and there, I knew that I had to read this book. The book begins as follows, "Once upon a time, there was a prostitute called Maria." The story that follows is graphic but riveting. It is about a young, beautiful Brazilian girl who runs away to Europe in hopes of becoming famous. However, she eventually finds herself working in the red light district a long way from the fame and fortune she was seeking. And, a long way from love. Similar to The Alchemist, Eleven Minutes is about self-discovery and realizing a personal quest.

Warning: It is not for the faint of heart. But, if you're like me and have watched Pretty Woman an immeasurable amount of times, you'll have no qualms reading a book about a prostitute's search for herself and love in a harsh and unforgiving world.

You can find more information on Paulo Coelho and his body of work here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Poll Time: What's on your nightstand?

I'm currently reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I've only read a couple of chapters thus far and I'm already enthralled. Next on my nightstand is My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult - a gift from one of my favorite parents (thanks, Georgette!). Lastly, I've pre-ordered The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's follow-up to The Da Vinci Code, which should arrive by September 15th. The word ecstatic does not even describe how I feel about the anticipation towards reading this book. You can even get some teasers and pieces of Dan Brown's intricate puzzles by following on twitter.

Now that you know what's on my nightstand, what's on yours? What books are you excited to read?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Home Library

Something I've always dreamed of having in a house is a home library, a place where I can snuggle up on the couch with my dogs and just read. This library would contain all of my favorite works as well as a children's section with all the books I've collected over the years from my classroom that will eventually belong to my own children. My husband and I have been house hunting for a while now and along with picturing friends and family in the kitchen, the dogs running in the yard, and kids in their bedrooms, a home library is something I've always hoped to find a spot for in each potential house.

Something like this would be a dream come true:

Below is a picture of classic built-ins around a window seat. I would also love something like this. I can just picture myself reading by myself or to our future babies in the window seat:

Even these simple bookshelves with a nice, comfy chaise-lounge would create the perfect reading ambience:

Well, for now my books will have to stay hidden in drawers and I will continue to dream of my home library while we search for our perfect, first house!

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