The to-be-read Tag

Okay, I’ve been tagged in a few different posts by my fellow book bloggers, and I’m ultra-excited about it. First up, the to-be-read tag. The TBR Tag was created by A Perfection Called Books and Dana Square.  I was tagged by Leila of the (wonderfully named) LeilaReads.

Let’s explore that dreaded (or is it delightful?) to-be-read list…

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

I add things to my shelf casually on Goodreads if they look interesting, but if I am dedicated to reading a book, I add it to my Amazon Wishlist, where I have separate categories (to-read fiction, to-read non-fiction, to-read health/healthing/brain books).

Is your TBR mostly print or eBook?

It’s odd, because I always add the Kindle version of the book to my list (cheaper, right?), but I often end up purchasing a printed copy if it is something I know I’m going to really enjoy. I love eBooks for the convenience of ARC’s, but I’d rather have a printed version of a book I really love, as I want to highlight and mark it up myself with actual pens and post-it’s.

A Book That’s Been on Your TBR List the Longest

russian lover and other stories by jana martin

Russian Lover and Other Stories by Jana Martin

I can’t remember where I got this recommendation from. It still sounds like a great read, but I’ve passed it over for other books for many years. I’m more inclined to read novels than short stories, and there are always so many tempting choices out there, it is impossible to consume them all. Thus the ever-growing tbr…

A Book You Recently Added to Your TBR List

the supernatural enhancements

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

I’m in a post-textuality class right now, and we’re reading a lot of ergodic literature (with extraneous information in addition to the text or very unusual formats). I’m really enjoying it, as it reminds me of how obsessed I was with House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielwski when I was younger. A classmate saw The Supernatural Enhancements at Barnes & Noble, and mentioned it because of its formatting.

A Book in Your TBR Strictly Because of Its Cover

the girl who was saturday night

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

This is a great question–I do a lot of cover browsing. One of my favorite books of all time, The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert, I picked many years ago solely on its cover and I really lucked out there. Recently, I saw The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill when I stopped in at the library to grab something else, and with a cover like that, who could resist?

A Book on Your TBR That You Never Plan on Reading

rats lice and history

Rats, Lice and History by Hans Zinsser

Ha! Sometimes I get really interested in a certain subject, and add books referenced in whatever I’m currently reading to my to-be-read list. I’m not sure where this came from, but I assume it was a book on viruses like Spillover by David Quammen. I should probably remove it, but you never know… I may really want to know about the epic “world scourge against which the author fought the good fight” one day!

An Unpublished Book on Your TBR That You’re Excited For

bred to kill

Bred to Kill by Frank Thilliez

Syndrome E was the best kind of scary, in that smart, bone-chilling way that horror films always aim for and fail to reach. Although its sequel, Bred to Kill, isn’t being released until January, I already can’t wait to try to read it at night with most of the lights out, and then get way too scared, and have to turn back all the lights back on to make the story a wee bit more tolerable. Yes, I already know Bred to Kill will be that terrifying.

Book On Your TBR That Basically Everyone’s Read But You

the bone clocks david mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Yes, the new David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks, is rocking everyone’s world but my own right now. I just have way too much going on, but I’ll get there soon!

A Book on Your TBR That Everyone Recommends to You

olive kitt

Oliver Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Many friends (and the Pulitzer Prize Board) have all recommended Elizabeth Strout’s Oliver Kitteridge to me. I should probably make it a priority, now that I think about it.

A Book on Your TBR That You’re Dying To Read

station eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The hype around Station Eleven has been pretty unreal. It sounds like such a creative approach to an apocalyptic novel. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

How many books are on your GoodReads TBR shelf?

A very hopeful 610. Wow! I haven’t even been paying attention to that number. Time to get reading…

I now tag:

Aman @ Confessions of a Readaholic

Emma @ The Book Brief

Review – The Interrogator: An Education by Glenn L. Carle.


With Claire Danes regularly losing her marbles as a CIA agent on Homeland, and Jessica Chastain doing whatever it takes to get Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, it seemed an appropriate time to read The Interrogator: An Education and glimpse what really happens in CIA interrogations.

Glenn Carle is a career spy for the CIA – he’s traveled the world, telling lies, manipulating agendas, gathering information.  The Interrogator is his memoir of being pulled off a desk job to interrogate a HVT (high value target), code named CAPTUS, possibly affiliated with Al Qaeda/Bin Laden.  Carle begins to realize the man he is meeting with is not the mastermind the CIA wants or needs him to be.  The CIA urges the interrogations to persist, and Carle finds himself in a unique moral dilemma.

Carle seems born to tell this tale – a spy with a penchant towards classic literature, a multilingual Harvard man who is just as comfortable sleeping in the jungle as debating politics and philosophy in the salons of Europe.  A contradiction, he stands as the lone intellectual in what he insinuates to be a meat-headed culture within the CIA.  His love of the classics shines through in his beautiful soliloquies on his situation (and what his situation means for the rest of us) throughout the book.  With an author less concise, these points could have easily strayed towards diatribe or rant.

I was bracing myself for a gore-filled memoir of torture, but this isn’t that book.  The amount of brutality here is limited to that which is suggested to Carle and which he always refuses, saying “We don’t do that.”

What stands out most about this book is what isn’t there – a huge amount of Carle’s account has been redacted by the CIA.  Although CAPTUS is never named in the book, his identity has been deduced as Pacha Wazir.  A Goodreads review lead me to an article called “Unredacting The Interrogator” at Harper’s online which sheds light on Pacha Wazir, as well as the locations featured in the book.

Carle meanders a bit, and the story is made better for it.  He dabbles in the stories of his personal life (his wife has struggled with alcoholism), explains his past and future roles at the CIA, takes time to expound on the inner-workings of the CIA, and analyzes the KUBARK manual and the effectiveness of torture in general.  He ends the book with specific suggestions he believes would improve the way the CIA develops its terrorism intelligence.  The book isn’t all straight information, however.  His writing is haunting, and it is hard to not be reminded of the noir detective fiction of the twenties and thirties as he describes himself as a lone man wandering the streets of a foreign land.

The most poignant scene for me, and the reason I think this book is an important read, is near the end.  Carle has come home from his mission and is at a dinner party.  Knowing he works for the CIA, a woman is asking “Why haven’t they found Bin Laden?  What are you guys doing?  If it was up to me, I’d just grab them all and make them talk.”  Carle’s experience illustrates how complicated a process tracking terrorism truly is, how the CIA is a bureaucracy like all other governmental agencies, how interrogation is a truly intimate process, and how a solution as simple as “making someone talk” by roughing them up is never the solution.

The Interrogator: An Education on Glenn Carle’s website

Further reading:

Harper’s “Unredacting The Interrogator”

Harper’s “The Interrogator: Six Questions for Glenn Carle”

On Franzen.


Today, Huffpost Books tweeted, “A handy guide to why Jonathan Franzen pisses you off so much

And yet, he doesn’t.

I’m OK with Franzen as a grump, as a man who finds filming clips for Oprah so cheesy that he can’t help but say so.  I don’t need my authors to be shiny happy people.  I think many people are driven to express themselves through art due to pain and discomfort with their lives and the world around them, and their ability to tune into that wierd “Is there something wrong here?” frequency we all resonate with to some degree is what makes their work great.  As Franzen says in his essay Scavenging, “The pain of consciousness, the pain of knowing, grows apace with the information we have about the degradation of our planet and the insufficiency of our political system and the incivility of our society and the insolvency of our treasury and the injustice to one-fifth of our country and four-fifths of our world isn’t rich like us.  Traditionally, since religion lost its lock on the educated classes, writers on other artists have assumed extra pain to ease the burden for the rest of us, voluntarily shouldered some of the painful knowing in exchange for a shot at fame or immortality . . . Men and women with especially sharp vision undertook to be the wardens of our discontent.  They took the terror and ugliness and general lousiness of the world and returned it to the public as a gift:  as works of anger or sadness, perhaps, but always of beauty too.” (How to be Alone, 202)

Some have wondered why The Corrections or Freedom receive more attention than other books – is Jonathan Franzen a privileged white male author, steamrolling the rest?  As I discussed in a previous post, we know there is a documented phenomenon called The Matthew Effect, and success breeds success.  However, I believe Franzen’s fiction would be critically acclaimed regardless of who wrote it.  Freedom and The Corrections are each epic, aching odes to the loneliness and neurosis of Americans and the families they struggle to survive with.  These books manage to be timeless while being completely relevant.  I started to cite some quotes here from Freedom and The Corrections that illustrated this but thought they’d just go on and on, so here’s just one from each book:

“It’s all circling around the same problem of personal liberties,” Walter said. “People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.” (Freedom, 361)

“So, what, you got cigarette burns, too?” Gitanes said.

Chip showed his palm, “It’s nothing.”

“Self-inflicted. You pathetic American.”

“Different kind of prison” Chip said.” (The Corrections, 135)

Franzen’s How to be Alone: Essays ends with a brief piece called “Meet Me in St Louis”.  In it, Franzen describes the activities required as preparation for Oprah’s Book Club.  At the producer’s request, he visits his hometown with a TV producer and cameraman to film some footage for air on the show.  As the essay opens,  Franzen repeatedly drives slowly over a bridge, attempting to look thoughtful and excited, while semis blare at him from behind and the producer speeds along next to him in a van with the sliding door open, filming and shouting orders into a walkie talkie.  For some reason the show is really insistent on filming in Franzen’s childhood home, something he wasn’t comfortable doing.  (He writes in the essay of the brutal grief he felt saying goodbye to the home, seeing the remains of his mother’s last lonely days before his death, how hard that final goodbye to a home he was raised in and lost both parents in truly was.)  He becomes so anxious during the filming process he gets a hot, itching rash.  A tree grows in his childhood front yard where the family scattered his father’s ashes, and he cedes this personal point to the producer, lets him in to this level of loss, and they begin filming at the tree.  The producer eggs him on, asking him to think of his dead father in order to display more emotion for the camera.  At that point, Franzen blurts out, “This is so fundamentally bogus!”  And for god’s sake, I would have done the same.

This is the man we’re angry with?  This itchy, stress-rashy, too heartbroken to step in an old home, admittedly clinically depressed, lonely man who expresses himself to us in such raw words in essays and books because, perhaps, it is the only way he knows how?  This man who is almost certainly constantly fretting the decline of the serious literary novel, whose life’s work is fading from our society before his very eyes, who can’t stop watching a television if he owns one?

What I’m thinking is, “Just let the man write, and then let the man publish what he writes.”  I don’t need artists to be made in the image I create for them.  I don’t ask for a certain form of cheery media darling to appreciate creators or their work, and I certainly appreciate the fact of writing, and reading, as a solitary activities.  It would be a bizarre world if we all ran around all smiles and handshakes, drinking redbull and ready for the next interview, just so excited to be here.

It makes me wonder how many of the great writers of our history would be treated if they were alive today, for their lack of social or media prowess.  I imagine Sylvia Plath as she portrays herself in The Bell Jar, fired from a magazine internship, trying to please the masses through tweets while working on her writing at her mother’s home.  I imagine James Joyce, tottering, struggling to see, with Nora at his side, peering into the Oprah cameraman’s lens.  The modern judgement we’d pass on Ernest Hemingway’s life:  all reckless drinking and fighting, all the mad love and near death, and then death.  We’d certainly classify him as a grump.  But it isn’t a writer’s job to be liked or kind, to be a film star or a guest on a TV show.  A writer’s ability to communicate needs to shine only on the page.

Review – Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel.


I’m still processing this book – at several times near the beginning I hated it, and was sure I’d put it down at any minute.  And yet I kept reading, as Maazel’s writing hit me in beautiful gasps and starts, mixed in with and nearly masked by all the madness of her stretched-thin plot.

The summary in a chick-mag hooked me instantly – a man develops a cult to fight the pervasive loneliness of our times, only resulting in his further isolation as the cult grows.  When I checked this book out from the beautiful Walnut Creek library and glanced at the Goodreads reviews before I started reading, however, it was rated 3 stars.  This means average, and I was worried.  People weren’t digging Woke Up Lonely, for some reason.

If Chuck Pahalniuk and Christopher Buckley were lovers and decided to adopt an African baby, Fiona Maazel might be that baby in its infancy.  One of the blurbs on the back compares Maazel to George Saunders, and I was like “WOAH let’s not go that far – George Saunders is a master of the craft!”  But then, I guess, I can see it.

What I kept getting tripped up on here was the incredible (meant in the literal, hard to believe, way) plot.  This book has a ton of bells and whistles: corrupt government officials, North Korean leaders, spies with full time makeup artists building alter egos out of face paint, an entire subversive tunnel city under Cincinnati.  I guess what gives me pause in comparing Maazel to great authors is I felt that there was such simplicity in the premise of and the concepts in the book, and yet the book itself was full of Buckley-ish mayhem that was meant to be cynical/funny but just didn’t make any sense.  I thought the plot was all fine as long as I was looking at it from a distance, not focusing my eyes too hard.  But if I stopped to pause and think what was happening in the book, I was like “What is this crap that I am reading?”

The saving grace for the plot was the writing – the main characters’ long expositions on love and loneliness are so sad and true, and Maazel has a gift for poetic one liners, like:  “I was stunned but then not, because if Norman was his own season, he came every year.” and “We were not excitably poor or evangelical, but we were striking for how little capacity any of us had to dream of a life outside the one we had.”

I would have loved a more simplistic book that showcased Maazel’s crisp writing and her premise, loneliness in the 21st century.  If you are thinking of reading this book, get ready for a messy and bumpy ride.

Woke Up Lonely: A Novel by Fiona Maazel on