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Beehive bookclub: Your favorite book of 2013?

EleanorPark_coverAnother year is over and it was chock full of good books — at least for me. How about you? What was your favorite book of 2013? Tell us about it in the comments. It doesn’t need to be published in 2013, just something you read in 2013. In the meantime, my fellow Beehivers and I share our favorite books of the year.

Bethany: “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell. I just want to hug the two teen characters in this young-adult book. It’s a book that starts with the humiliation of a new girl’s first day on the school bus but quickly lets readers relive that intoxicating first love, all set in 1986. The novel is written from the viewpoints of both chunky, poor, redhead misfit Eleanor, and Asian not-quite-as-much-of-a-misfit Park. Their adoration of each other just yanks at your heartstrings.

Anyway, it’s not all schmaltz. Hand in hand with this love story are some heavy themes about poverty and abuse and the damage it can do to a person. It’s a well-rounded read that will keep you thinking about it for days.

Joshua:Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. Yeah, so this book is more than 80 years old. It’s also strikingly (eerily) relevant, which is probably why it’s a classic. Boiled down, the book is a meditation on the meaning of happiness and contentment in the modern age (Huxley’s or ours or the one prophesied in the book). What are we giving up to chase happiness? What would we be willing to give up? And what is life like for the “outsiders,” those who battle the status quo. This was one of those books that I should have tackled years ago and never did, even though I carried a worn paperback copy with me through three or more moves.

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 11: What we’re reading

bookclublogo-thumb-100x68-42087We’re taking Donald’s Beehive Book Club and shaking it up a bit. Since we’ve got several book lovers on staff here and we have wildly varying tastes, we thought we’d jump on his bandwagon and share some of our recent notable reads too. And we want to hear about what you’re reading, so feel free to tell us in the comments section.

Bethany: The “Game of Thrones” series by George R.R. Martin.
The Game of Thrones book series has completely sucked me in. I just finished the third book, A Storm of Swords, and downloaded the next one immediately to my Kindle.

The series, officially called “a Song of Ice and Fire,” centers around the Stark family and its six kids. The family is scattered across a fictional land similar to Old England, dealing with war, dragons, murder, arranged marriages, and a growing threat from something supernatural in the north. Or as a friend of mine calls the series, “bad things happening to good people.”

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It’s getting to the point where I’m ditching TV to read because frankly, the heroes in ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” have nothing on pre-teen Arya Stark’s adventures with her pint-sized sword, Needle.

I’m not usually a fantasy fan and I don’t have much patience for big books (the last one was 1,177 pages), but I’m so attached to this family now I have to see what happens. The author has a tendency to get a bit wordy at times, but he also takes the character you used to hate and turns him into a multifaceted person you find yourself rooting for.

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 10: What are you reading?

UPDATE 12/9: Welcome to readers who are here because of my Sunday Spotlight column. And if you’re a books fan, be sure to check out Rick Bentley’s story about a Fresno State student who shares her 1,000-square feet apartment with almost 10,000 books.

The intro: I envision this occasional series as kind of a “virtual” club of people bound together not so much by common titles but simply a love of reading. I tell you what I’m reading, and you tell me, and we get a sense of satisfaction by knowing there are other people out there who love text in an image-based world. 

I get very excited when The New York Times comes out with its list of 100 Notable Books of the year. But I also feel a little overwhelmed. There are so many books to read and not enough time. And while I enjoy keeping up with current titles, there are so many older books clamoring for my attention that I just sort of sigh and dream about a life spent reading.

It turns out I’ve only read one book on this year’s Times list: John Irving’s “In One Person.” I’m an Irving Loyalist through and through — I read every one of his novels as they’re published. Like most of my reader friends, I have a special affection for his earlier works (ah, the thrill of reading “A Prayer for Owen Meany” for the first time), and I’ve been a little less enraptured with some of his newer stuff, but I always come back for more.

That said, “In One Person” is a solid, gripping read. It’s funny, surprising and very sad. Irving’s narrator, a headstrong young man named Billy Dean, lives in a small Vermont town in the early 1960s, goes to an all-boys private school and has an extended family of rather eccentric characters. (His grandfather, owner of the mill in town, is known for playing women’s roles in the local amateur theater society.) Oh, and there’s a wrestling subplot. (Does all this sound familiar?)

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The Beehive Asks: What book do you want for Christmas?

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted an installment of my Beehive Book Club, an occasional series in which I and some of my book-loving readers share what we’ve been reading. I’ll be putting that post up tomorrow in advance of a book-themed package of stories in Sunday’s upcoming Spotlight section. To kick things off, I’m posing a quick question right now: What book do you want for Christmas?

There’s a bunch of titles I’m eyeing myself, particularly now that the New York Times has released its annual list of 100 Notable Books of 2012. Tops on my list: “NW” by Zadie Smith; and Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies.”

If you share with me by mid-morning Thursday, I’ll try to use your answers in Sunday’s Spotlight section.

Beehive Book Club Vol. 9: What are you reading?

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The intro: I envision this occasional series as kind of a “virtual” club of people bound together not so much by common titles but simply a love of reading. I tell you what I’m reading, and you tell me, and we get a sense of satisfaction by knowing there are other people out there who love text in an image-based world. If you share your thoughts with me by Thursday morning, I might be able to work them into an upcoming Sunday Spotlight column.

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When you’re a reader, sometimes you go through “book phases” — stretches of time in which you soak up one genre or another. Looking back on what I’ve read since my last installment of the Beehive Book Club way back in November (my goodness, how time flies), I realize that I’ve been saturated in contemporary fiction. (I even gobbled up a couple of thrillers.) Since that time I’ve read more than a dozen novels but only one biography and one general non-fiction work. I think it’s time for a break. When I was at the library today, I skipped the fiction section and grabbed a fat book titled “Absolute Monarchs” about the history of the popes.

Still, I did have a number of memorable reads. My three favorites: Michael Cunningham’s finely crafted “By Nightfall,” Jonathan Safran Foer’s brash “Everything Is Illuminated” and Cormac McCarthy’s wrenching “The Road.”

Just in time for summer, then, I offer my latest (overdue) installment. Add a comment and share your own reading list. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, even just a title or two. I really do love to hear from people — it makes me optimistic about the written word!

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 8: What are you reading?

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UPDATE 11/26: Welcome to readers finding this post through my Sunday Spotlight column.

The intro: I envision this occasional series as kind of a “virtual” club of people bound together not so much by common titles but simply a love of reading; I tell you what I’m reading, and you tell me, and we get a sense of satisfaction by knowing there are other people out there who love text in an image-based world. If you share your thoughts with me by next Tuesday morning, I might be able to work them into an upcoming Sunday Spotlight column.

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I’m thankful for the Beehive Book Club, because with it I never would have been turned on to Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story,” which came highly recommended by several Beehive readers. Since I last checked in with this feature in July, I’ve been soaking up a fair share of fiction, including the first two bulky volumes of the “Game of Thrones” series and Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Lacuna,” and I was transfixed by Janet Reitman’s scathing “Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion.” Perhaps my most ambitious recent literary foray was a Harriet Beecher Stowe double-header: first her classic “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and then David S. Reynolds’ blistering history of the world-shattering novel, “Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America.”

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 7: What are you reading?

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UPDATE 7/10: Welcome to readers finding this post through my Sunday Spotlight column.

The intro: I envision this occasional series as kind of a “virtual” club of people bound together not so much by common titles but simply a love of reading; I tell you what I’m reading, and you tell me, and we get a sense of satisfaction by knowing there are other people out there who love text in an image-based world. If you share your thoughts with me by Thursday morning, I might be able to work them into my upcoming Sunday Spotlight column.

In the past few months I’ve been soaking up mostly fiction. Some of it was because of sequel obligation (I finished up the final two books in “The Hunger Games” series) and some because of the pleasurable scenario of getting a crush on a writer and wanting more (in this case Paul Auster, whose “Sunset Park” I first got hooked on). But two non-fiction titles were really the ones that rocked my world: Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks,” which has been a keen reminder never to read a story about medicine in the popular press without activating my Incredulity Meter; and Sebastian Junger’s “WAR,” a fascinating look at modern combat through the lens of Afghanistan.

Along with Christopher Hedges’ “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” Junger’s “WAR” is destined to become a classic examination of warfare and the human psyche. Junger brings a cleft-jawed, man’s-man sensibility to the task, and he doesn’t shy from his major message: War is hell, but it’s also the thrill of a lifetime, and it offers a purer form of bonding and brotherhood than most of us will ever experience. But while the book could have bristled with unmitigated bravado, its smart and sensitive side adds the extra jolt.

Junger was embedded with a platoon of the 173rd Airborne brigade in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley along with filmmaker Tim Hetherington, who made the film “Restrepo” (and who was later killed in Libya). For five months, he basically lived as a soldier: ate their rations, bunked in their quarters, went on their patrols.

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 6: What are you reading?

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UPDATE 3/27: Welcome to readers finding this post through my Sunday Spotlight column.

The intro: I envision this occasional series as kind of a “virtual” club of people bound together not so much by common titles but simply a love of reading; I tell you what I’m reading, and you tell me, and we get a sense of satisfaction by knowing there are other people out there who love text in an image-based world. If you share your thoughts with me by Thursday morning, I might be able to work them into my upcoming Sunday Spotlight column.

It’s been a few months since my last book club post, and I’ve been reading like mad. (Is it the colder weather? There’s nothing better than curling up with a book on a chilly night and reading till your eyes droop.)

Since my last post I’ve read some classic literature (two more Willa Cathers and another by my author-of-the-moment W. Somerset Maugham) along with some newer fiction (Ian McEwan’s “Solar” and Wally Lamb’s “The Hour I First Believed”) and a trendy biography (Stacy Schiff’s “Cleopatra.”) But which book did I devour more greedily than any other? You guessed it, Kathy Mahan, it was “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.

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Fellow Beehiver Kathy — and many other Beehive book clubbers — talked me into this brisk, well-constructed page-turner. It scurries along with the pace of a well-crafted action movie and spins a tale that is close enough to our own world to be chilling – but just far enough way that we can tsk-tsk in worry. In a post-apocalyptic future, the U.S. has devolved into a repressive place, with a tyrannical central government abusing the downtrodden provinces. One way to keep the peasants in line is the annual “Hunger Games,” a sort of “Survivor TV Show Goes All the Way,” in which two contestants are chosen from each province by lottery and fight to the death. Our heroine is Katniss, a 16-year-old from the poverty-stricken District 12, who has thankfully augmented her family’s meager rations over the years by illegal hunting. The twist is that the other teen from her district chosen is a schoolmate with a crush on her.

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2010 Rewind: Favorite Fresno addition?

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It’s the last week of the year, a perfect time for The Beehive to look back at our favorite moments of 2010.

We’ll have posts each day this week on different topics. We started on Monday with our favorite event and continue today with our favorite Fresno addition. A business? A website? An event? Anything new and wonderful within our community? Check out our picks, then leave your own in the comments.

MIKE OZ: I don’t even drink coffee, but my favorite local addition is still Iron Bird Cafe. A thriving third space where people could work, hang out, hold events, have community meetings, etc. is exactly what downtown needed. It’s already seeing results. The Iron Bird Lofts, of which the cafe is the centerpiece, has quickly turned into a thriving part of our growing downtown. Well done, Iron Birders.

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 5: What are you reading?

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UPDATE 12/19: Welcome to readers finding this feature because of my Sunday Spotlight column.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Just in time for the holidays — and perhaps soon enough for last-minute shoppers — I revisit one of my favorite Beehive recurring features: The Beehive Book Club. The last time I ran this feature I explained it this way:

Books are amazing, aren’t they? I’m in awe of them because they can be portable little worlds, all compact and self-contained, that you can drop into at any time. It enthralls me when a book wraps me up in its comfy little world as if I’m breathing its air, smelling its smells, feeling its vibrations, knowing its characters. To me, it’s the tone of a book that really sells it: If, when I’m away from a book, I actively anticipate and even crave crawling back between its pages, then it’s a winner for me.

I envision this occasional series as kind of a “virtual” club of people bound together not so much by common titles but simply a love of reading; I tell you what I’m reading, and you tell me, and we get a sense of satisfaction by knowing there are other people out there who love text in an image-based world. If you share your thoughts with me by Thursday morning, I might be able to work them into my upcoming Sunday Spotlight column.

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I plowed through a lot of books between the end of August and today, and a couple of titles really stand out for me. One is Robert Reich’s “Aftershock,” a political/economics commentary that hit the bestseller list , and I’m going to start with that at the top of my list. The upshot of this extremely depressing book: The inequity of income levels between the rich and poor in this country has reached its widest point since right before the Great Depression.

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 4: What are you reading?

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In my Sunday Spotlight column, I offer an excerpt from the latest edition of the Beehive Book Club. Here’s the extended entry:

Books are amazing, aren’t they? I’m in awe of them because they can be portable little worlds, all compact and self-contained, that you can drop into at any time. It enthralls me when a book wraps me up in its comfy little world as if I’m breathing its air, smelling its smells, feeling its vibrations, knowing its characters. To me, it’s the tone of a book that really sells it: If, when I’m away from a book, I actively anticipate and even crave crawling back between its pages, then it’s a winner for me.

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I’ve read quite a few books since my last edition of the Beehive Book Club back in May, from classics and biographies to contemporary novels and science fiction. (Newcomers: I envision this occasional series as kind of a “virtual” club of people bound together not so much by common titles but simply a love of reading; I tell you what I’m reading, and you tell me, and we get a sense of satisfaction by knowing there are other people out there who love text in an image-based world.) The title that sticks in my mind is a definite oldie: W. Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage,” a wallop of a novel. It isn’t the cheeriest experience, mind you. Maugham is no hyperactive optimist. Yet this amazingly meaty, compelling story of a club-footed orphan boy growing up in late 19th Century England isn’t just doom and gloom.

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Beehive Book Club Vol. 3: What are you reading?

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It’s time for another installment of The Beehive Book Club. If you recall, I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I’ve become even more of a reading fiend than before — and I thought it’d be fun to create a sort of virtual book club in which the common denominator isn’t so much the same title but simply a love of text in an image-based world.

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So, I want to know: What are you reading?

One of the great things about the Kindle is that you can set it up to read lots of older books for free. So I’ve been diving into more stuff that’s in the public domain. My most recent fave: Willa Cather’s “My Antonia.”

This beautiful, famous, shimmering novel captures not only an iconic strong woman character but the transition of this country from open frontier to “civilized.” The narrator’s recollections of Antonia, a girl with whom he grew up in a small Nebraska farming town, are partly elegiac – a smidge of first crush – and partly matter-of-fact, in the sense that he confronts his own aging process.

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