Library Loot (24 February 2009)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

Unless: A Novel – Carol Shields
I have to credit Carol Shields and my A-level lit teacher in Singapore for making me want to read again. In our second-year class on literary criticism, we read an excerpt from Shields’ Stone Diaries, and although I can’t remember what that excerpt was about today, it made me want to read more – and not just for school. I used to read and read heaps of books when I was a kid, all the way up to the end of primary school, but from secondary school onwards, that enthusiasm faded out a bit, I’m not sure why. Anyway, it’s a long-winded way of saying that it’s been a long time since I’ve picked up Shields’ work and I look forward to being inspired again.

Reta Winters, 44-year-old successful author of light summertime fiction, has always considered herself happy, even blessed. That is, until her oldest daughter Norah mysteriously drops out of college to become a panhandler on a Toronto street corner — silent, with a sign around her neck bearing the word “Goodness”.

The City & The City – China Mieville
Having quite enjoyed Un Lun Dun, I thought I’d pick up Mieville’s latest, especially since it made the shortlist for the Nebula awards

New York Times bestselling author China Miéville delivers his most accomplished novel yet, an existential thriller set in a city unlike any other–real or imagined.

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor, the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives.

What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma: and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.

To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Having read some of the Woolf In Winter participants’ posts on To The Lighthouse, I felt that I ought to give a second chance to this book that I picked up about 10 years ago and perhaps wasn’t quite ready for it (I’m still not sure I’m ready for it now, but I’m going to just give it a try!).
This is my read that is older than me. And rather than copying and pasting the Amazon product description (something borrowed about being required reading for courses), I’ll copy and paste a little bit from kiss a cloud’s review:

Sitting here, a little teary-eyed, heart thumping, I want to say: Reader, if you fancy life at all, if you see yourself as thoughtful, pensive, a dreamer, a daydreamer, if you wallow in words, thoughts, and you worry everyday about things and what they mean to you and to others, and if you feel constantly overcome by memories and nostalgia and wonder about people and what they think, and if you wonder about the world and all its gifts and all its pleasures and all its darkness and all its light, then please, please, honour yourself by reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table – Molly Wizenberg

I wanted a foodie read and figured that since I’ve been reading her blog for a while now, I might as well read her book.

When Molly Wizenberg’s father died of cancer, everyone told her to go easy on herself, to hold off on making any major decisions for a while. But when she tried going back to her apartment in Seattle and returning to graduate school, she knew it wasn’t possible to resume life as though nothing had happened. So she went to Paris, a city that held vivid memories of a childhood trip with her father, of early morning walks on the cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter and the taste of her first pain au chocolat. She was supposed to be doing research for her dissertation, but more often, she found herself peering through the windows of chocolate shops, trekking across town to try a new pâtisserie, or tasting cheeses at outdoor markets, until one evening when she sat in the Luxembourg Gardens reading cookbooks until it was too dark to see, she realized that her heart was not in her studies but in the kitchen.

At first, it wasn’t clear where this epiphany might lead. Like her long letters home describing the details of every meal and market, Molly’s blog Orangette started out merely as a pleasant pastime. But it wasn’t long before her writing and recipes developed an international following. Every week, devoted readers logged on to find out what Molly was cooking, eating, reading, and thinking, and it seemed she had finally found her passion. But the story wasn’t over: one reader in particular, a curly-haired, food-loving composer from New York, found himself enchanted by the redhead in Seattle, and their email correspondence blossomed into a long-distance romance.

In A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg recounts a life with the kitchen at its center. From her mother’s pound cake, a staple of summer picnics during her childhood in Oklahoma, to the eggs she cooked for her father during the weeks before his death, food and memories are intimately entwined. You won’t be able to decide whether to curl up and sink into the story or to head straight to the market to fill your basket with ingredients for Cider-Glazed Salmon and Pistachio Cake with Honeyed Apricots.

The Sandman Vol. 7: Brief Lives – Neil Gaiman

Sandman. No need to say anymore.

Delirium, youngest brother of the Endless, prevails upon her brother, Dream, to help her find their missing sibling. Their travels take them through the world of the waking until a final confrontation with the missing member of the Endless and the resolution of Dream’s relationship with his son change the endless forever.

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail (Oprah’s Book Club) – Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi
This is my read for the African leg of the Reading The World Challenge (challenge page)

A gripping memoir that reads like a political thriller–the story of Malika Oufkir’s turbulent and remarkable life. Born in 1953, Malika Oufkir was the eldest daughter of General Oufkir, the King of Morocco’s closest aide. Adopted by the king at the age of five, Malika spent most of her childhood and adolescence in the seclusion of the court harem, one of the most eligible heiresses in the kingdom, surrounded by luxury and extraordinary privilege.

Then, on August 16, 1972, her father was arrested and executed after an attempt to assassinate the king. Malika, her five younger brothers and sisters. and her mother were immediately imprisoned in a desert penal colony. After fifteen years, the last ten of which they spent locked up in solitary cells, the Oufkir children managed to dig a tunnel with their bare hands and make an audacious escape. Recaptured after five days, Malika was finally able to leave Morocco and begin a new life in exile in 1996.

A heartrending account in the face of extreme deprivation and the courage with which one family faced its fate, Stolen Lives is an unforgettable story of one woman’s journey to freedom.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?
What did you get from your library this week?

See more Library Loot here.


  1. I absolutely looove Unless. And I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately because I’ve been reading Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault, another novel that considers the way in which we struggle to be “good”. But besides the theme, I also appreciate the structure and style of Unless and the way that your relationship to Reta changes over the course of the bits-and-pieces that make the book. And about time some of the overlooked, including some of the “little words”, got their due!


    1. It’s already inspired me to make scones – but because I don’t have half-and-half on hand (as her recipe calls for), I decided to go with Dorie Greenspan’s version which I found here.


  2. I just read a review of Un Lun Dun and put it on my TBR list. Stolen Lives sounds really interesting so I’ll be waiting to hear your thoughts on that one. Enjoy your finds!


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