Posts Tagged Harvard Book Store

book review: Exit West

exit-west

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Riverhead Books| March 7, 2017| 231 pages | $26.00| ISBN: 978-0-7352-1217-6

RATING: 4.5/5*

After finishing college, Nadia questions her faith and decides, to her family’s dismay and disdain, to move out on her own– “She secured a room of her own atop the house of a widow, a record player and small collection of vinyl, a circle of acquaintances among the city’s free spirits, and a connection to a discreet and nonjudgmental female gynecologist.” Nadia enjoys her independence as much as possible: she works at an insurance company; smokes pot and does shrooms and maintains connections through social media. She soon meets Saeed and they clandestinely date and slowly fall in love as the country and everything they know crumbles around them. They both work their different jobs during the day and meet at night at cafes and then at Nadia’s apartment. She throws down a black robe for him to put on and enter the apartment without raising suspicions or backlash about a single woman entertaining a male visitor. Slowly the country becomes less safe. Nadia and Saeed lose their jobs. Then it becomes impossible to communicate.  Author Mohsin Hamid  writes: “But one day the signal to every mobile phone in the city simply vanished, turned off as if by flipping a switch. An announcement of the government’s decision was made over television and radio, a temporary antiterrorism measure, it was said, but with no end date given. Internet connectivity was suspended as well.” Nadia and Saeed decide to escape the country as refugees.

First they land at a refugee camp in Mykonos —“It was said in those days that the passage was both like dying and like being born, and indeed Nadia experienced a kind of extinguishing as she entered the blackness and a gasping struggle as she fought to exit it, and she felt cold and bruised and damp as she lay on the floor of the room at the other side, trembling and too spent at first to stand, and she thought, while she strained to fill her lungs, that this dampness must be her own sweat.” They then move on to London –“It was here that Saeed and Nadia found themselves in those warmer months, in one of the worker camps, laboring away. In exchange for their labor in clearing terrain and building infrastructure and assembling dwellings from prefabricated blocks, migrants were promised forty meters and a pipe: a home on forty square meters of land and a connection to all the utilities of modernity.”  They finally end up in Marin, California– “Saeed made it a point to smile with Nadia, at least sometimes, and he hoped she would feel something warm and caring when he smiled, but what she felt was sorrow and the sense that they were better than this, and that together they had to find a way out.”

The couple drifts apart despite their best attempts to stay together. It’s an attempt to keep something familiar nearby, to keep their country in their hearts. They adapted to their new country and living situations in varied ways—Nadia relishes the personal freedom while Saeed becomes focused on religion– which makes their relationship untenable and unsustainable. A beautiful, thoughtful, intelligent novel about refugees that couldn’t be timelier. Using mystical realism, Hamid tells a potent and poetic story of love and freedom in this short novel. Lovely reflections on connectivity and choice and circumstances. Hamid beautifully contemplates very human desires to achieve, to thrive, and to share oneself in order to make sense of an often nonsensical, violent and cruel world. It’s absolutely essential reading.

–review by Amy Steele

Mohsin Hamid will be reading at Harvard Book Store on Wednesday, March 8 at 7pm.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.

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book review: Future Sex

future-sex

Future Sex by Emily Witt. Farrar, Straus and Giroux| October 2016| 210 pages | $25.00| 9780865478794

RATING: *****/5*

“I had not chosen to be single but love is rare and it is frequently unreciprocated. Without love I saw no reason to form a permanent attachment to any particular place. Love determined how humans arrayed themselves in space.”

Technology changes everything. It changes how we meet people and it changes how we interact with others. There’s more sexual fluidity and experimental sex than in the past because of both changing ideologies as well as the ability to remain anonymous online if one chooses to indulge in one’s fantasies. Whatever you fancy you’re likely to find it. However, society still expects people to couple up to have families. Author Emily Witt writes: “If every expression of free sexuality by a woman would be second-guessed, it left men as the sole rational agents of sexual narrative. The woman was rarely granted the heroic role of seducer. If a woman pursued a strictly sexual experience, she was seen as succumbing to the wishes of the sovereign subject.” We live in a rampant rape culture. Women also get slut-shamed for wanting and pursuing sex. Can someone subsist outside of a monogamous relationship? Does everyone need to be part of a couple? This book strongly suggests that it’s not essential although how far outside the cultural norms must one go to be happy? Witt explains: “I supposed that since then I had been nonmonogamous in the sense of sometimes having sex with several different people within a specific period of time. As I said this both the idea of counting people and the idea of grouping them within a time frame seemed arbitrary. This was just my life: I lived it and sometimes had sex with people. Sometimes I wanted to commit to people, or they to me, but in the past two years no such interests had fallen into alignment.” Future Sex reads as a fascinating sociological study on sexuality that delves into orgasmic mediation, internet porn, webcams, Burning Man and polyamory. Witt combines personal experience with research and reporting in a darkly amusing, honest and real manner.  Witt investigates sites I’d barely heard of: Chaturbate; Porn Hub; Kink.com; Fetlife. She attends an orgasmic mediation workshop [looked up on YouTube and there are tutorials] and travels to Burning Man. She interviews tons of people such as polyamorous Google employees, the founder of OKCupid, a 19-year-old webcammer as well as a woman who creates female-centered porn. Witt doesn’t make a spectacle of what may be absurd. Instead she writes analytically, astutely with brevity and a sharp edge.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Emily Witt will be at Harvard Book Store on Monday, October 17, 2016

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Summer Book Readings in the Boston-area

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Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Sarong Party Girls

Brookline Booksmith

Wednesday, July 27 at 7pm

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Peter Kramer, Ordinarily Well: The Case for Antidepressants

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, July 26 at 7pm

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Deborah Levy, Hot Milk

Harvard Book Store

Thursday, July 28 at 7pm

Crossing Swords full cover

Cindy Peyser Safronoff, Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claffin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, August 2 at 7pm

llucy pear

Anna Solomon, Leaving Lucy Pear

Harvard Book Store

Wednesday, August 3 at 7pm

nordic theory

Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life

Harvard Book Store

Thursday, August 4 at 7pm

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Annie DeWitt, White Nights in Split Town City: a novel

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, August 9 at 7pm

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Jennifer Haigh, HEAT & LIGHT

Newtonville Books

Tuesday, August 16, 7PM

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Amy Gottlieb, The Beautiful Possible

Newtonville Books

Wednesday, August 17 at 7PM

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Meg Little Reilly, We are Unprepared

Porter Square Books

Tuesday, August 30 at 7pm

 

 

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MARCH Boston-area Book Readings of Note

georgia

Dawn Tripp
Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’ Keefe
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, March 1 at 7pm

blackass

A. Igoni Barrett
Blackass
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, March 1 at 7pm

couple mechanics

Nelly Alard
Couple Mechanics
Porter Square Books
Wednesday, March 2 at 7pm

glad about you

Theresa Rebeck
I’m Glad About You
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, March 3 at 7pm

lay down your weary tune

W.B. Belcher
Lay Down Your Weary Tune
Porter Square Books
Tuesday, March 8 at 7pm

oyeyemi

Helen Oyeyemi
What is Not Yours is Not Ours
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, March 9 at 7pm

highest glass ceiling

Ellen Fitzpatrick
The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency
Newtonville Books
Thursday, March 10 at 7pm

civil wars of julia ward

Elaine Showalter
The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography
Harvard Book Store
Monday, March 14 at 7pm

don't let my baby do rodeo

Boris Fishman
Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, March 16 at 7pm

edge of the orchard

Tracy Chevalier
At the Edge of the Orchard
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, March 17 at 7pm

Greenidge_WeLoveYouCharlieFreeman_HC_jkt_FINAL_PRNT.indd

Kaitlyn Greenidge
We Love You, Charlie Freeman
Porter Square Books
Thursday, March 17 at 7pm

the lonely city

Olivia Laing
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Brookline Booksmith
Friday, March 18 at 7pm

giril through glass

Sari Wilson
Girl Through Glass
Harvard Book Store
Friday, March 18 at 7pm

the nest

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Nest
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, March 23 at 7pm

dark sparkler

Amber Tamblyn
Dark Sparkler
Cambridge Public Library
Tuesday, March 29 at 7pm

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January/February Boston-area Book Readings of Note

JANUARY

presence

Amy Cuddy–Presence

Porter Square Books

Monday, January 18 at 7pm

the guest room

Chris Bohjalian–The Guest Room

Wellesley Books

Tuesday, January 19 at 7pm

your heart

Sunil Yapa–Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

Harvard Book Store

Tuesday, January 19 at 7pm

poor your soul

Mira Ptacin–Poor Your Soul

Harvard Book Store

Wednesday, January 20 at 7pm

the past

Tessa Hadley–The Past

Harvard Book Store

Wednesday, January 27 at 7pm

dogs of littlefield

Suzanne Berne–The Dogs of Littlefield

Brookline Booksmith

Thursday, January 28 at 7pm

Concord Bookshop

Sunday, January 31 at 3pm

FEBRUARY

native

Sayed Kashua–Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life

Harvard Book Store

Thursday, February 18 at 7pm

ethan canin

Ethan Canin–A Doubter’s Almanac

Harvard Book Store

Friday, February 19 at 7pm

highest glass ceiling

Ellen Fitzpatrick–The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency

Harvard Book Store

Thursday, February 11 at 7pm

wreck

Hannah Tennant-Moore–Wreck and Order

Harvard Book Store

Wednesday, February 24 at 7pm

on my own

Diane Rehm–On My Own

Harvard Book Store

Monday, February 29 at 7pm

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September Boston-area Book Readings of Note

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Christopher Moore
Secondhand Souls
Brookline Booksmith
At Coolidge Corner Theatre
Wednesday, September 2 at 6pm

read my interview with Christopher Moore

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Jill Bialosky
The Prize
Harvard Book Store
Thursday, September 10 at 7pm

girl waits with gun

Amy Stewart
Girl Waits with Gun
Harvard Book Store
Friday, September 11 at 7pm

art of memoir

Mary Karr
The Art of Memoir
Monday, September 14 at 6pm
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre

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Ann Beattie
The State We’re In: Maine Stories
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, September 15 at 7pm

marriage of opposites

Alice Hoffman
The Marriage of Opposites
Newtonville Books
Thursday, September 17 at 7pm

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Salman Rushdie
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
Harvard Book Store at First Parish Church
Monday, September 21 at 7pm

last september

Nina de Gramont
The Last September
Porter Square Books
Monday, September 21 at 7pm

fates and furies

Lauren Groff
Fates and Furies
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, September 22 at 7pm

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J. Shoshanna Ehrlich
Regulating Desire
Harvard Book Store
Friday, September 25 at 3pm

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Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic
Harvard Book Store
Friday, September 25 at 7pm

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Michael I. Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett
F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Manageing All Life’s Impossible Challenges
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, September 29 at 7pm

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Jojo Moyes
After You
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, September 30 at 7pm

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Summer Boston-area Book Readings of Note

JULY

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Mia Alvar
In the Country: stories
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, July 22 at 7pm

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Elizabeth Little
Dear Daughter
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, July 28 at 7pm

art of the con

Anthony Amore
The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, July 30 at 7pm

ambassadors wife

Jennifer Steil
The Ambassador’s Wife
Porter Square Books
Thursday, July 30 at 7pm

AUGUST

regulating desire

J. Shoshanna Ehrlich
Regulating Desire
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, August 4 at 7pm

marriage of opposites

Alice Hoffman
The Marriage of Opposites
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, August 5 at 7pm

never weird on internet

Felicia Day
You’re Never Weird on the Internet [almost]
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, August 12 at 6pm

euthanist

Alex Dolan
The Euthanist
Harvard Book Store
Thursday, August 13 at 7pm

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MAY Boston-area Book Readings of Note

romantic outlaws

Charlotte Gordon
Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, May 5 at 7pm

house of hawthorne

Erika Robuck
The House of Hawthorne
Newtonville Books
Tuesday, May 5 at 7pm

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Sarah McCoy
The Mapmaker’s Children
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, May 6 at 7pm

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John Palfrey
BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More than Ever in the Age of Google
Harvard Book Store
Thursday, May 7 at 7pm

dream lover

Elizabeth Berg
The Dream Lover
Newtonville Books
Thursday, May 7 at 7pm

daylight marriage

Heidi Pitlor
The Daylight Marriage
Porter Square Books
Thursday, May 7 at 7pm

Erika Robuck
The House of Hawthorne
Sarah McCoy
The Mapmaker’s Children
The Concord Bookshop
Thursday, May 7 at 7pm

everything

Celeste Ng
Everything I Never Told You
Porter Square Books
Tuesday, May 12 at 7pm

hospice

Gregory Howard
Hospice
Brookline Booksmith
Wednesday, May 13 at 7pm

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Anne Enright
The Green Road
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, May 13 at 7pm

Heidi Pitlor
The Daylight Marriage
Newtonville Books
Thursday, May 14 at 7pm

salinger year

Joanna Rakoff
My Salinger Year
Harvard Book Store
Saturday, May 16 at 7pm

9780374280307

Barney Frank
Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, May 21 at 6pm

women of will

Tina Packer
Women of Will
Porter Square Books
Friday, May 22 at 7pm

Mako Yoshikawa
Every Father’s Daughter: Twenty-Four Women Writers Remember their Father
Brookline Booksmith
Saturday, May 23 at 5pm

ISIS

Dr. Jessica Stern
ISIS: The State of Terror
The Concord Bookshop
Thursday, May 28 at 7pm

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February Boston-area Book Readings of Note

replacement life

Boris Fishman
A Replacement Life
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, February 3 at 7pm

funny girl

Nick Hornby
Funny Girl
Harvard Book Store/ First Parish Church, Cambridge
Tuesday, February 3 at 7pm

where the dead pause

Marie Mutsuki Mockett
Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey
Harvard Book Store
Thursday, February 5 at 7pm

deeper dating

Ken Page
Dating Deeper
Brookline Booksmith
Friday, February 6 at 7pm

jam on the vine

LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Jam on the Vine
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, February 11 at 7pm

how to grow up

Michelle Tea
How to Grow Up
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, February 12 at 7pm

missing one

Lucy Atkins
The Missing One
Newtonville Books
Thursday, February 12 at 7pm

find me

Laura van den Berg
Find Me: a Novel
Newtonville Books
Tuesday, February 17 at 7pm

ice cream star

Sandra Newman
The Country of Ice Cream Star
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, February 18 at 7pm

physics for rock stars

Christine McKinley
Physics for Rock Stars
Porter Square Books
Saturday, February 21 at 7pm

tesla

Vladimir Pistalo
Tesla a Portrait with Masks: a novel
Porter Square Books
Monday, February 23 at 7pm

models of influence

Nigel Barker
Models of Influence
Brookline Booksmith
Monday, February 23 at 7pm

half brother

Holly LeCraw
The Half Brother
Newtonville Books
Tuesday, February 24 at 7pm

green on blue

Elliot Ackerman
Green on Blue: A Novel
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, February 25 at 7pm

find me

Laura van den Berg
Find Me: a Novel
Harvard Book Store
Friday, February 27 at 7pm

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book review: The Miniaturist

miniaturist

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Publisher: ECCO (August 2014). Historical fiction. Hardcover. 416 pages.

Lots of buzz surrounding this novel: it was a BEA Book Buzz selection; an Indie Next Pick; A LibraryReads selection and a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick. Rights sold to 30 countries. Great work marketing this one. A gorgeous cover. A romantic, cool setting – 17th century Amsterdam. An intriguing concept—a young wife, shuttled in from the countryside to marry her 20-years-older merchant husband—begins commissioning a miniaturist to fill a cabinet-sized replica of her home her husband gave her as a wedding present.

The miniaturist designs items that Nella never requested and seem to predict a doomed future. It started to be creepy in a good way. Nella received items that she barely knew existed in the expansive home she inhabited. Then she received dolls depicting everyone in the household including her sister-in-law, the help and most tellingly her husband’s lover. A few months before Nella happened in on Johannes in flagrante delicto with his younger lover and quickly realized why the 38-year-old man decided to marry her. She felt betrayed and stuck.

“Someone has peered into Nella’s life and thrown her off-center. If these items aren’t sent in error, then the cradle is a mockery of her unvisited marriage bed and what’s beginning to feel like an eternal virginity. What sort of person would dare such impertinence? The dogs, so particular; the chairs; so exact; the cradle, so suggestive—it’s as though the miniaturist has a perfect, private view.”

Unfortunately there’s not enough about the miniaturist despite the novel’s title. I’d expected it all to be about that. I expected details about how a miniaturist designs and works. About the art of creating miniatures. Author Jessie Burton visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and saw Petronella Oortman’s elaborate dolls’ house filled with Chinese porcelain, oak, Italian marble, glass, oil paintings and tapestries. That’s what I wanted to know about. That’s the world I wanted this novel to allow me to enter.

When 18-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to start her life as wife to renowned trader and merchant Johannes Brandt she doesn’t find the welcome or comforts she’d expected. She’s lonely and isolated. Her husband pays little attention to her. Sister-in-law Marin remains strict and secretive. Nella questions her decision to leave her family and small village yet had few options. How predictable and mundane for Marin to be wary of the young Nella and overly protective of her brother. Marin never married and she and her brother live together quite comfortably. Marin controls the household and now there’s this young woman setting foot in her territory.

“In Assendelft, there may have only been one town square, but at least the people sitting in it would listen to her. Here she is a puppet, a vessel for others to pour their speech. And it is not a man she has married, but a world.”

Of course there should be tension. Everything’s rather dark in this novel which is fine and has its place it just does not always work. Nella possesses little emotion for anything even her beloved parakeet she brought with her. There’s nothing to make the reader feel she truly cares for the bird. What drives Nella? Why is she doing what she’s doing? Is she really outraged by her husband’s behaviors or is she just a young woman who cannot yet understand? At that time she’s living in quite a religious society but she’s not a religious woman. Her sister-in-law’s the one who seems to be living her life based on religious doctrine. It’s infuriating because although Nella’s gained power in legal and societal terms by marrying a wealthy man respected in the community she allows her sister-in-law to continue to make the rules and force her to behave in ways that make Nella feel uncomfortable. Until many secrets reveal themselves and Nella and Marin must collaborate does Nella begin to gain her own voice and strength of character. By then it’s just too late to care.

The Miniaturist is a moralistic play on betrayal and survival and how one young woman conquers everything to come out intact on the other side. Her husband’s tried for sodomy. I skimmed many pages about his incarceration and trial. Johannes is a bore. There’s nothing striking about this character and that’s unfortunate. Her sister-in-law is pregnant with the black servant’s child and ends up committing suicide. While there’s some lovely writing and descriptions at parts, it lacks emotion, tension and intrigue. At the end I was left wanting more. The novel seems unfinished and it’s more than 400 pages.

RATING: ***/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

purchase at Amazon: The Miniaturist: A Novel

Jessie Burton will be at Harvard Book Store on Thursday, September 11 at 7pm.

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