Mailbox Monday

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Another Monday, Another Mailbox!! This is a feature where we all share with each other the yummy books that showed up at our doors! WARNING: Mailbox Mondays can lead to extreme envy and GINORMOUS wishlists!!

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page, but for the month of October MM is on tour and hosted by 
She Reads and Reads

Who knew that Mailbox Monday could have its origins in a grocery store? 

This past Wednesday night, I stopped at the Giant supermarket to pick up some groceries. Let me emphasize - this is a Giant set between a liquor store and an Indian restaurant in a lower middle-class neighborhood. The last thing you would expect to find between the Tostitos chip display and the RedBox movie rental kiosk are two large, waist-high cardboard boxes full of books.

The top layer of books offered a dispiriting selection of Jackie Collins and second-rate spy thrillers. But something made me dig in a little deeper and this is what I found:

I am not kidding - I had just stopped by the Borders near my office and thought about buying this full price with a coupon. I ultimately chose not to spend all that money even though I LOVE the Best American Essays series. Then I walked into the Giant, dug down into the box and found this brand-new for 50 cents!

As I dug deeper, I realized they had one copy each of the ENTIRE 2009 Best American series. The exact series I'm immersed in reading right now. I've never tried the science and nature writing iteration but at 50 cents I could afford to give it a shot!

Then I happened to pull out a novel about Robert Frost. I opened it up for a first-page test read and the very first character to speak in the novel is Franklin Reeve - a poet who accompanied Frost to the Soviet Union in 1962. He also happens to have been one of the examiners for my undergraduate thesis. I've eaten dinner at his house and was honored to receive a glowing letter of recommendation from him upon my graduation. I never expected to stand in a Giant supermarket and read about him as a character in a novel!

I reached in again and pulled out the perfect book for my current art-history kick:
A couple more minutes rooting around uncovered a couple of literary fiction titles that will stretch my boundaries: "The Life of Pi" by Yinn  Martel and "Death with Interruptions" by Jose Sarmago.
I also found two historical novels from eras I wouldn't usually try:

A sweeping novel, covering a Brahmin Indian woman's life from the 1890s to the 1960s.

A novel about bootleggers in the 1930s, based on the life of the author's own grandfather.

Total expenditure on my surprise grocery store, book box purchases? $4.34

A Persian Mansion on the Hudson

After visiting the Met with my sister last Saturday, I spent last Sunday with my entire family and we drove up to Olana - a Persian-inspired mansion built on a hill overlooking the Hudson River by the most famous American painter of the mid-19th century - Frederick Edwin Church.

The fall colors were just past peak, blending with the warm reds and browns of the unusual-looking house. Because photography is not allowed on the indoor tours, I've had to scrounge around on the web to find pictures of the interiors. 

Church gained fame for his landscape paintings, first garnering attention in his 20s for the breathtaking Niagara:

Church embarked on a Grand Tour of the Middle East with his beloved wife, visiting and painting many famous spots. One of the most famous paintings to come out of the tour - a glimpse at Petra in today's Jordan, still hangs in the study at Olana:

The Churchs fell in love with Middle Eastern archietecture and constructed the sitting room of their house to resemble a courtyard they had seen in Damsacus, even going so far as to paint the ceiling a sky-blue to simulate an open-air feeling.

The main staircase of the house is carefully framed from the sitting room, allowing a space for private plays and readings. Mark Twain was a friend of the Churchs and would have stood at the top of the staircase to give readings of his work:

Unfortunately, I couldn't find pictures of the two most heartbreaking paintings in the house. Church painted a sunrise and a moonrise to commemorate the births of his eldest son and daughter. Both toddlers died in a diptheria epidemic - breaking the hearts of Church and his wife. Even though they would eventually have more children, Church did not paint pictures to commemorate their births.

My father made a great point as we were touring the mansion - "Don't you wish you could write a whole historical novel about their life here?" We talked about how great it would be to recreate their trip to the Middle East, the evening readings and even the heartbreak of losing a child. Of course, good novels need more conflict - only an incredibly talented author can stretch the drama of daily life across 300+ pages.

Church's popularity eventually faded - eclipsed by the more daring works of the Impressionists. He resided at Olana until the end of his life. The curators have kept the brushes and paints Church was using in his painters' studio just a few days before his death.

Looking out the windows of Olana, you can still  the view of the Hudson and the Catskills that Church composed as carefully as one of his landscape paintings:

WWW Wednesdays

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's time for W.W.W. Wednesdays: 

* What are you currently reading? I'm in the midst of deciding - its between Best American Essays 2006, The Book Thief or Shadow of the Silk Road. Quite the variety - an essay collection, a novel about Nazi Germany narrated by Death and a travel book about Central Asia!
* What did you recently finish reading? On the train home from work last night I finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It was a bit slow in the middle but I very much enjoyed it overall. I recently discovered that I enjoy reading Gothic thrillers and have already gotten through Rebecca, The Thirteenth Tale and all of Kate Morton's books. Any suggestions for more titles? 
* What do you think you’ll read next? Absolutely no idea! Possibly work reading - in early December, I'll be interviewing David Rohde, the NYT journalist who was held captive by the Taliban for 7 months. I have an ARC of his new book and need to get cracking on those questions!

Teaser Tuesday

Monday, November 1, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read

- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

I'm still working on a Halloween read - "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. If you like books about old haunted mansions, a love of reading and family secrets, this is the book for you:

"Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes - characters even - caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book they are still with you."