Friday, August 31, 2007

Southern Reading Challenge Wrap-Up (and a confession)

First, my confession: I've begun reading for my September challenges two days earlier. I just couldn't help myself. However, I'm not going to talk about them or list them until tomorrow. :)

Maggie hosted the Southern Reading Challenge, where participants were expected to read 3 books set in Southern places and written by Southern authors between June 1st and August 31st. Meanwhile, Maggie provided a lot of info about Southern authors, gave away a whole bunch of pecans, and hosted a Sense of Place contest, where readers had to find a picture to match a descriptive passage in one of their Southern books. I finished all three of my choices...
Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Cane River by Lalita Tademy

The best book: Delta Wedding, but I loved them all!
What book could I have done without? None!
Any new authors? All of them. :)
Books I did not finish: None!
What did I learn from this challenge? That reading Southern lit is great, and I should do more of it. :) Also, I learned quite abit about the Creole culture, which was neat.

(Note: thanks to Nyssaneala for the idea to have questions!)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Summer Mystery Challenge Wrap-Up

For the Summer Mystery Challenge, hosted at Reviewed by Liz, participants were requred to read books by six new-to-them authors between June 1st and August 31st. I completed six selections, with one substitution (James for Pears):

Secret History by Donna Tartt
From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell
The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas
Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James
Death at Bishop's Keep by Robin Paige

The best book: Some Danger Involved, followed closely by Death in Holy Orders.
What book could I have done without? The Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears.
Any new authors? They're all new-that was the point!
Books I did not finish: Fingerpost.
What did I learn from this challenge? That it's ok to abandon a book if you're really, really not enjoying it. Also, I really want to read more by Thomas and James. Of course, the most important thing that I learned is that my favourite mystery writers really are better than most!

(Note: thanks to Nyssaneala for the idea to have questions!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Books on Books

Oh, for checking things off to-do lists. :) I'm finally getting around to discussing two books I've read recently: A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes and How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen.

The latter is a very short, very light meditation on being a reader. I enjoyed hearing her love of books, but certain things bothered me. First, for only 80 pages, she spends a lot of time whining about literary/books criticism. Secondly, she mentions a couple times that she loves books more than her kids. I find that sentiment slightly repugnant (although, I know I'm not in a position to judge because I don't have children, my current job is nanny to my niece, so I know how exhausting it is to run after an 18 month old all day), but more importantly, I can't believe she'd write that in a public forum. What if her kids read that someday?! So, the sweetness of her obvious obsession with reading was, for me, counterbalanced by these quibbles. People who can look over past this will probably enjoy this: it's like reading a highly polished blog entry, almost.

The former is a tome. Its official page length is 668; however, the actual book ends in the 500s (the rest is notes and an impressive bibliography). Basbanes discusses book collectors (very different from reading lovers), historical in part one, and contemporary (through the 80s) in part two. Each chapter focuses a different book collector, as well as the book collection, however it branches into related topics as well. Some chapters were really, really interesting; others were more skim-worthy. My favourites were his "America, Americans, Americana," which discussed early-American collectors, "Mirror Images" which discussed collectors with eccentric collections that reflected their personalities, "Instant Ivy," which is all about UT Austin (go Longhorns!), and "Obsessed Amateurs," which is self-evident. I loved reading about the children's books collections. :) The book was an uneven one, but I'd recommend it to people who are willing to skim when necessary! For me, the most frustrating part was that most of the collectors were obscenely wealthy; I couldn't relate to them at all. Plus, it wasn't a book about loving books, it was a book about coveting them. I expected something a ltitle different. Nonetheless, I'm glad I read it. I don't want to buy a copy for myself, however.

This turned out to be a much shorter discussion than I expected it to be. I guess that both of my books on books were a disappointment, which limits my desire to discuss them. Do y'all have suggestions for books on books that you've loved?

Edited to add, I guess I was in a negative mood last night. While neither of the books lived up to expectations, they were both enjoyable, average reads. So, don't be turned off by my overly pessimistic view of them: sometimes, we approach a book with such high expectations, it's almost impossible for it to live up to them!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Famous Last Words

Remember how I said that R.I.P. II would be my last challenge? Well, then I visited Incurable Logophilia, and saw that the "Reading the Author" challenge is up. It starts in September and goes through 2007. You pick one author and read at least three books written by him/her. And I've decided to pick Neil Gaiman.

Why? A number of reasons...

1) I own all of his novels (and his first ss collection) except for American Gods and Coraline. This is a good excuse to plug that hole.

2) I've read all of the books I picked except for Sandman and Coraline. So, most of the challenge will be an excuse to indulge in rereading one of my favourite authors.

3) This is a good chance to try out this type of challenge on an old favourite. If it goes well, I'll try it out with other authors (short list? Walter Scott, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison).

And while we're on the subject of book lists, here're the short story collections that will furnish my Spooky Story Marathon end to the R.I.P. II challenge on Halloween:
The Blackstone Chronicles by John Saul
Haunted by Joyce Carol Oates
Magic Terror by Peter Straub
Strange Highways by Dean Koontz
and my personal favourite...The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales ed. Chris Baldick.

Am I certifiable? Perhaps. But I figure I might as well shoot high! I can always cut back on my non-fic reading. ;)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Potpourri of Thoughts

+I really need to do a review of Books on Books: I've recently completed both A Gentle Madness and How Reading Changed My Life. They were very different, in both length (80 pages v. 500+) and content. But both interesting.

+I'm trying to figure out how I feel about The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler. I just finished it after a marathon session; I realised that if I didn't force myself to read it to the end, I'd never finish. I think I'm going to let the story ferment in my mind for awhile.

+I'm putting together a pile of September's books, inspired by Danielle over at A Work in Progress. It should be a fun stack, considering all of the challenges that begin!

+I've thought of a supplement to the R.I.P. II challenge: marathon scary-story reading on October 31st. I have a list of short story collections available at my library that I'll post. Somehow, I think SS work a little better than novels for a marathon!

+I've decided to modify my personal non-fic challenge: instead of seven books/month, I'll read six books/month and completely read The Economist every week. I love it, and I've been neglecting it lately! Also, and this is super-cool, they're providing a free audio version of the complete magazine every week. So I can listen to it while I do yoga! (side note: I know that a lot of people do yoga for the meditative benefits, and listening to the news during Downward Dog sounds sacreligious, but I do yoga to help my muscles, and sometimes I get bored)

That about sums up what's going through my head right now. That, and when did August slip away?!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Book Thief (thoughts)

Let me preface this: I try to avoid the Holocaust. I mean, I'm aware that it happened, and I find it inexpressibly sad, but I refuse to watch movies about it. Inevitably, I start crying so hard that I can't see the screen, so it's pointless anyway. I also avoid war movies for the same reason; I can cry at anything involving soldiers. I cried at Pirates of the Caribbean (when the British soldiers are valiantly, hopelessly fighting the immortal pirates): obviously, I have a bit of a problem. It's taken me almost an entire year to read Samantha Power's Pulitzer-winning A Problem From Hell: America in an Age of Genocide. Each chapter chronicles a different genocide, and I can only handle one every month or so. So, although I've read numerous rave reviews about The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I had no intention of reading it. Much as I loved the idea of Death as a narrator, I just didn't think I could bring myself to read a book set in Nazi Germany.

And then, as I was browsing the shelves of my library, I saw it sitting there.

And it had a super-cool cover.

And no one else had checked it out.

And that just seemed wrong.

Long story short, I checked it out on Thursday, and started reading it yesterday. I got up to around page 400, then this morning I woke up and finished the rest. As expected, this morning was a tearfest. I was sobbing and shaking and whimpering into a blanket. Needless to say, I was very glad to be alone. I was also very glad that I had read it.

A lot of you have already read this book, or at least heard about it. For those of you who may not, a one-sentence summary. Liesel is a pre-teen in Nazi Germany, whose life Death became interested in, so he's now sharing with us the formative years, from when she was 11 to when she was 14.

When you pick up a book like this, you know it's going to be tragic. I mean, there will be light points, and some characters might end well, but you know that for the majority of characters, something bad will happen. Furthermore, Death foreshadows throughout the book, so the reader knows the ending by about half way through. But the ending isn't the point: it's the getting there that matters.

First of all, I loved the way this book was published. It uses several type scripts, including a special bold centered one with astericks for Death's asides. It makes the book all the more interesting. Also, a certain character within the book ends up making his own book. He paints white over the pages of Mein Kampf and then draws and writes his own stories. Several of these pages are included within the book, and it's just so cool to look at. When I got to the first of these selections, I knew that I was in the hands of an incredible author.

Also, Zusak freely mixes German in with the English. He does it in a way that the reader always knows what the words mean, but the little sprinklings provide a lot of authenticity. The setting is essential to this book, and the author really brings it alive. You know that you're in Germany, and that you couldn't possibly be anywhere else.

This is the kind of book that gets under your skin: at first, you know you're enjoying it, then slowly you realise you don't want to put it down, and finally, even though you know it's going to be horrible, you have to keep reading until the bitter end. And trust me, Zusak delivers.

For me, the real magic of the book is that part of it is simply a coming of age story. Liesel learns more about herself, more about others, and experiences the ups and downs of puberty. The way that Zusak mixes this in with insights into Nazi Germany makes this much more than a WWII/Holocaust book. It's a book that explores how people hate, and how people love, and, ultimately, the incredible power of words over peoples' lives. It's triumphant, tragic, heartrending, and all of those other adjectives whose use has become hackneyed. This book breathes fresh life into all of them.

All in all, I'd say that this is the kind of book that everyone should read, since it's essentially about humanity. However, I'd also caution readers to make sure they don't have company when they're reading the end; Zusak knows just how to bring out emotions. This isn't a beach book by any means, but it's an important book.

I'm not going to share favourite passages yet; the book is still too raw for me to go back and find them. Perhaps I'll add them eventually.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Booking Through Thursday (err..Friday)

I always enjoy reading people's Booking Through Thursday entries, but I've never felt an overwhelming desire to answer one of the questions. Until I saw this week's question.

When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

My mom is a huge book reader as well, and she and I definitely bonded over books. When my sister was little, she read quite a bit as well (though never with the all-consuming passion I experienced), but now she doesn't read all that much. My dad read a little but not like my mom did. Here're my favourite family book-loving memories

+My mom and I read classics together before bedtime. Two most memorable? Little Women, which I took camping with us; the first night in the cabin is when a major character dies (I don't want to spoil it). Will always remember where I was. The other one is Phantom of the Opera-I tried to read it by myself in 6th grade. I got to the chapter where Christine disappears behind the mirrors, and chucked it across the room in frustration. So, Mom and I read it together. Then, for me 12th birthday (the next year, when we had moved to England), we went and saw the musical at Her Majesty's Theatre. I still have my sweatshirt, with the Phantom's mask that glows in the dark.

+Every other week (in elementary school), my sister and I received a $4 allowance. However, if we wanted to buy a book with it, Mom would pay for half of the book (meaning, I could get two books!). My 2nd grade teacher had retired and opened a bookstore, so we'd all bike there (small town) and pick out our books.

+On a visit to my maternal grandparents when I was 10, Mom emerged from the basement with an old suitcase. Inside it were her Nancy Drew books (she had around 25 of them). She gave them all to me; I read The Secret of the Old Clock that day. After that, every Christmas for a long time I received 3-6 Nancy Drew books to add to the collection. I plan on bequething it my children.

+One of my earliest memories is a book memory. When I was 4, we took a family trip to Wales (we lived in England then). We stayed at this awesome bed and breakfast, and I found The Magic Far-Away Tree by Enid Blyton. I started reading it, but (obviously) didn't finish before the end of the vacation. The nice B&B proprietress let me keep the book! I still have it, and I'm waiting for my niece to get a little older so that I can read it to her.

+Edited to add one last memory: when I was in third or fourth grade, we were only allowed to check one book out of the school library at a time. So, I picked the biggest one: an encyclopedia of North American mammals. And guess what? Mom and I read it as nighttime reading! That incident became a legend at my elementary school. :)

Well, those are just a few of my childhood book-family memories. As you can tell, I have an awesome mom who did everything possible to encourage my love of reading. We still trade book suggestions a lot; I got her addicted to Laurie King's Mary Russell series, and while I was at college this past year, I would receive care packages with brownies or banana nut bread and the next one in the series. :) Sometimes, we'll both just hang out quietly reading, and we like to go on trips to B&N together. Yep-reading has always been a family affair!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Super Cool Library Find

I was browsing through the library shelves tonight, waiting for a hailstorm to pass (sidenote: hail?! in August?! that dents my car?!), and I found the perfect addition to the R.I.P Challenge II:

Witches' Brew: Horror and Supernatural Stories by Women

It's an out-of-print book edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini with a super-corny cover. But take a look at the table of contents...

"The Haunted Chamer" by Ann Radcliffe
"The Last Man" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
"The Yellow Wall Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"The Striding Place" by Gertrude Atherton
"Afterward" by Edith Wharton
"Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched" by May Sinclair
"The Lamp" by Agatha Christie
"The Gray Men" by Rebecca West
"The Cyprian Cat" by Dorothy L. Sayers
"A Haunted House" by Virginia Woolf
"The Idol of the Flies" by Jane Rice
"Judgement Day" by Flannery O'Connor
"The Birds" by Daphne du Marier
"Night Court" by Mary Elizabeth Counselman
"The Lovley House" by Shirley Jackson
"Kindling Point" by Marcia Muller
"The Bingo Master" by Joyce Carol Oates

I was stunned to see how many kickass writers, across such a wide time span, were collected. My hat is off to the editors, and I cannot wait for September to begin! For those of you doing the Short Story Sunday Peril, I recommend looking this book up in your library! The only question will be how to decide which ones to talk about. :)

In unrelated news, I've officially given up on The Instance of the Fingerpost, at least for a few months. I'm substituting the P.D. James I reviewed earlier as my last Summer Mystery Challenge read. I concede defeat.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Pile and One Last Challenge...

I took a much-needed break from reading, blogging, etc. over the past few days. I don't think I've picked up a book since Friday. The slump was my most extreme yet: I couldn't work up an interest in anything. However, if there's anything that can get you out of a slump, it's a ton of new book mooches!

From the lovely booklogged, Bethlehem Road by Anne Perry (I enjoy her historical mysteries), Deep South by Nevada Barr (since Maggie's challenge, I've been looking for more Southern reading), Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye by Lois Lowry (I love The Giver), and The Modular Brain by Restak (for my ongoing non-fic effort). In addition, Fast Food Nation, Stiff, and Reason for Hope by Jane Goodall are part of my non-fic reading. The Chesterton, Sarton, and Bowen are for the Outmoded Challenge. The War of the Saints by Jorge Amado is for my Reading Across Borders seqeul challenge, as is Train to Pakistan (inspired by a highly praising post on Lotus Reads). Finally, Tipping the Velvet, based on Danielle's reviews of Fingersmith by the same author over at A Work in Progress. Whew-that's a lot of books!

Along with books, I also need to catch up on all the blogs, so I'll be doing that over the next few days. :)

Speaking of which, Carl has the R.I.P II challenge up! I'm so excited; I wasn't around for the challenge last year, but it seems like I've been reading about it forever. And I adore the button. I'm doing Peril the First, and I'll be reading:
The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons, which superfastreader recommended earlier this year,
Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen, because I loved Out of Africa,
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, which some of the other participants are reading, and which sounds really interesting,
and The Ghost Writer by John Harwood, which I saw recommended on a blog (I'm blanking on which one). I'm mooching all of them. Very excited.

Anyway, I'm glad that I'm out of my reading slump, and I'm counting down the days until September, when most of these challenges begin!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jumping on the Band Wagon

Having read the meme on Dewey's, Imani's, and Ted's sites, I had to answer. :) I came on to the blog to gush about how much I love The Office, enough that I just bought the second season, am going to buy the third season the day it comes out (Sept 3), and can't wait for the fourth season to begin (Sept 27). But, since this is a book blog, seems like a better idea to just do a meme. While watching The Office; I'm already on the second DVD. I'm in love with Jim.

What are you reading right now?
See that side bar called Currently Reading? That pretty much covers it!

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
See the obscene number of challenges, also in the sidebar.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?
I don't really do that. It actually kinda grosses me out.

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?

Fiction: A Seperate Peace. Non-Fiction: The World is Flat (followed v closely by Russia and Soul)

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
I tend to shy away from recommending books; I do recommend authors, though. Rushdie, Gaiman, Austen, Bulgakov...just go to my "About Me" section and see my favourites.

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?
I just moved, so I only know one librarian. She's one of those super-hip young librarians, too, so I secretly want to be her.

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?
Probably Anna Karenina, at least for people I know in real life. Specifically, I love the Levin plotline more than Anna's, which no one seems to agree with. :)

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving?
Eat? Sometimes. Bathe? Yes-in fact, if I'm really into a book, I'll take a bath instead of a shower, lol. Movies/TV? Depends...if I'm hanging out w/ friends/rommates/family in the living room and a movie or tv is on, yes. If I've chosen the movie/tv, no. Music? Yes. Computer? No-how do you read two things at once? Sex? Wow-that one seems really random. And suddenly personal. But the answer is no. Driving? I listen to audiobooks on road trips, but not while normally driving.

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?
No-I was actually super cool when I was in elementary school. The rest of my life has been spent trying to reobtain this. ;)

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Focus? What focus?

I've been going through a reading slump since my baby niece got back in town. She's eighteen months old, and I love her to death, which is good since I'm going to be her nanny for the next few months. However, her craziness has definitely distracted me from reading; even when she's napping or down for the night, I seem geared up to run around the house again. Reading seems so stationary!

I think that part of the problem is that I picked up An Instance of the Fingerpost again. I finally finished the second part, which leaves two parts to go. This book is killing me-it's so depressing and frustrating. And yet, I've already invested 400 pages in it, so it's difficult to just walk away! I'm enjoying The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, but it hasn't sucked me in.

I've decided to modify my non-fiction challenge. Instead of reading seven non-fic books a month, I'm going to read six books and The Economist weekly cover-to-cover. I love The Economist, but it's gotten short shrift as I try to wade through so much non-fiction! I am, however, enjoying the change in my reading habits; now, half the books I'm reading at any given time are non-fic. It slows me down, but it really enriches my reading.

I cannot believe that August is half over. What happened?

And with that, I think I'm going to go read. The Persian Puzzle is calling my name!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Anti-Popularity Contest

Imani has posted two new challenges: the Outmoded Authors Challenge and the Index Liborium Prohibitum (sp?). Being (slightly) sane, I decided to only do one of them (for now), so I picked Outmoded Authors, since it had a looong list of authors I'd never heard of. The idea is simple; Imani's provided a list of thirty authors who were quite popular in their day, and whom we generally neglect now. Between September and February, read however many books you choose by these authors. Pretty simple, huh? She's also set up a blog for it, and buttons are available. Having decided to join, I next needed to make a reading list!

So, after looking at all the authors and realising that way too many sounded interesting, I decided on a new criteria: there must be a copy available in the US on bookmooch. This quickly narrowed the field (after all, these books are unpopular ;)) and I ended up with...

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett
A collection of short stories set in late nineteenth century Maine.
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
Set in Ireland, on an British gentry plantation, I could count this towards my Reading Across Borders challenge if I wasn't against double-counting (I do challenges to read books, not to just complete challenges, so double-counting seems pointless). I've never read anything set in this particular time period of Ireland (1929), so this should be interesting!
The Wisdom of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
A short story collection of Father Brown mysteries. They're cozy-style mysteries, and I expect to like them tremendously.
The Small Room by May Sarton
This is set in a small New England college, so it'll be interesting to read different take on the atmosphere that permeated The Secret History. This time, the pov is a new professor, and the crime is plagiarism (barely less than murder at liberal arts colleges).
A Book or Two by Walter Scott

I feel quite proud of the list, since it manages to achieve several of my general reading goals: read more women, read more short stories, read more classics. Yay! Plus, they all sound great. Note the continued indecision re: which Walter Scott to choose. So many sound so good to me; I can't believe I've never read any Scott before! Of course, someone (can't remember who just now) is planning a one-author challenge for early next year, so Scott could play nicely into this.

Cross posted (with some changes) at Outmoded Authors.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Even Quicker Question

Am putting together list for Outmoded Authors Challenge. I definitely want to have a Walter Scott, but which one? Need recommendations!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Case Histories (thoughts)

Before I start, what do y'all think about the redecorating? Hopefully there's a picture in the banner, which was the inspiration for the new colour scheme. I enjoyed the old one, but I wanted to play around with the code a little (once upon a time, I designed websites-since then, CSS has taken over the scene) just to see if I could do it. Eventually, I'd like to have a more personalised feel to the blog. On to the book!

I can't remember where I first heard about Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. I had originally chosen it as part of my Summer Mystery Challenge, but then I realised that Kate Atkinson was the author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum, which I'd read years ago and really like. Since this challenge was only for new authors, Atkinson got pushed back. Recently, I decided to include it on my still-hazy Short Story Challenge. So, I read it; however, now I realise that it doesn't really count for a short story challenge. In the end, the book is good enough to read with a challenge incentive!

Atkinson's prose is breathtaking. She has an uncanny accuracy in producing the internal monologue of people, to make all her characters seem quite realistic. Her plotting is masterful as well; I ended up staying up way too late in order to get to the end! What more do you need in a book than a compelling plot and fascinating characters?

Well, how about poignancy? The way that Atkinson handles the three murders, makes us realise that human lives were lost for so a lesser author, it would be cliche. In an Atkinson novel, it makes you value life.

There are two techniques of Atkinson's that I find particularly impressive. The first is the way that she sandwiches a gut blow of emotion in between the banal, so it comes up on nowhere at the reader. Take the following example:
Amelia buttered the toast and laid it on plates. Julia tipped the beans on top. Amelia had begun to enjoy sharing domestic tasks with Julia, basic though they were. She'd lived on her own since her second year at university, that was a long time, more than two decades. Solitary life hadn't been a choice, no one had ever wanted to live with her. She mustn't get used to being with Julia. She mustn't get used to waking up in a house where someone knew her, inside out. (81)

She does this throughout the book; she also manages to couch the worst emotions in straight-forward terms. Atkinson doesn't rely on similes or metaphors; she tends to prefer the plain truth, which makes it all the more powerful.

I also love the way that Atkinson uses negative imagery. At least, that's my term for it. It's where a writer creates an image in the reader's head, but only because it's not there. It's easier to just show you what I mean:
And it was just a bedroom, an untidy bedroom that a girl was never going to enter again, never fling down her bag on the floor and kick off her shoes, never lie on the bed and read a book or listen to her stereo, never sleep the restless, innocent sleep of the living. (115)

As you're reading it, you're obviously imagining a girl coming in, kicking off her shoes, doing all of those things. But by using the word never, when the reader gets to the end, the sense of loss is almost greater, since she's imagined everything first. At the beginning of the novel, Atkinson does this in an absolutely stunning passage; unfortunately, if I quote it, it'll be a plot spoiler. But at several places during the plot, she uses this technique to invoke loss. I find it very effective.

I realise that I've been gushing on about the book, but haven't mentioned what it's about! In brief, the first three chapters introduce three different murder cases, each set some years in the past. Then, on page 45, the reader finds herself in the present day, with a private detective. The detective ends up investigating each of the three cases. Throughout this middle section of the book, Atkinson often changes points of view, flitting from character to character. She manages the large cast, with several different stories and settings, splendidly; I never felt confused or lost. Finally, the book ends with seven chapters: the first six interchange a chapter from the point of view of a survivor of the murder case with a chapter explaining what actually happened in each one. Then, the last (very short) chapter is from the investigator's point of view. Laid out, the book may seem overly complicated, but really Atkinson uses the complexities to explore all of her themes.

I'd recommend this book to everyone-it's an intensely satisfying read.

Favourite Passages

Laura, who had brown eyes and pale skin and who liked Diet Pepsi and salt and vinegar crips, who was as smart as a whip, who made scrambled eggs for him on Sunday mornings, Laura, who was still a virgin (he knew because she told him, to his embarassment), which made him feel immensely relieved even though he knew she couldn't stay one forever, Laura, who kept a tank of saltwater tropical fish in her bedroom, whose favorite color was blue, whose favorite flower was the snowdrop, and who liked Radiohead and Nirvana and hated Mr. Blobby and had seen
Dirty Dancing ten times. Laura, whom Theo loved with a strength that was like a cataclysm, a disaster. (27)

She should have studied science, not spent all her time with her head in novels. Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on. (42)

He would have been eleven years old. Had it been hot? He had no idea. He couldn't remember eleven. The important thing about it was that it wasn't twelve. All the years before he was twelve shone with an unblemished and immaculate light. After twelve it was dark. (64)

The best thing she'd seen her in was a pantomime in Bristol, a generic kind of piece, probably
Cinderella, where Julie had been cast as a dog-a black poodle with a lion cut and a French accent. Julia's shape, short and busty, had somehow been perfectly suited to the costume and she had caught a certain kind of Parisian arrogance that the audience loved. She hadn't needed a wig-her own untamed hair had been piled in a topknow with a bow in it. Amelia had never thought of Julia as a poodle before then-she always imagined her as a Jack Russell. It seemed suddenly very sad to Amelia that the best role of Julia's career was a dog. And that she didn't need a wig to play a poodle. (73)

God spoke to Sylvia on a regular basis but she was always coy about the content of these conversations, just smiling her holy smile (enigmatic and infuriating). Anyone would think God was an intimate acquaintance, someone with whom Sylvia discussed existential philosophy over bottles of cheap wine in the snug of a quaint riverside pub. (78)

There had been times when the grief had been so bad that he had thought about digging her up, exhuming her poor rotting body, just so he could cradle her one last time, reassure her that he was still here, still thinking about her, even if no one else was. (89)

Amelia didn't want to be this prudish. She felt like someone who'd lost her way and ended up in the wrong generation. She would have been much more suited to a period with structure and rank and rules, where a button undone on a glove signaled licentiousness. She could have managed quite well living within those kinds of strictures. She had read too much James and Wharton. No one in Edith Wharton's world really wanted to be there but Amelia would have gotten along fine inside an Edith Wharton novel. (130)

A lot of people thought Theo spoiled his girls, but how could you spoil a child-by neglect, yes, but not by love. You had to give them all the love you could, even though giving that much love could cause you pain and anguish and horror and, in the end, love could destroy you. Because they left, they went to university and husbands, they went to Canada and they went to the grave. (138)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Quick Question

Are y'all OCD about the books you acquire?

Let me elaborate....I really love Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series. I have a few of them all in the same style. So, I bookmooched Mirror Crack'd in the same edition, but it turned out to be different: bright yellow, hardcover, much bigger. At first, I was quite firm-I didn't want it. (the bookmoocher was really sweet)

But now, I just don't know. I mean, part of me really likes matchy-matchy. But, the yellow is pretty awesome. And it's cool to have a first edition (even though it's financially worthless sans dust jacket). On the other hand, if I put it with the rest of the Miss Marples, it'll stand out a lot.

All of this got me thinking about book collecting. Most of you are much more into collecting than me (due to more space!), so I thought I'd ask how everyone approaches it. When you have multiple books by the same author, do you make sure they're matching? To the extent you'd buy another copy of a book you already own if they don't? Or is a book a book, regardless?

Spook (thoughts)

You know when you're super excited about a book? And then you start to read it, and a little voice in your head says, "this isn't that good." But you ignore the little voice, until it gets louder and louder. Finally, you read the last sentence with relief.

That's pretty much what happened with Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. I bought it at B&N in their 3-for-2 summer deal. I've been wanting to read Stiff for awhile, but it wasn't on the table, so I figured I'd take a book by the same author. It sounded interesting-scientific experiments regarding the afterlife.

And that topic still sounds interesting. Unfortunately, that's not what Spook is really about. Of twelve chapters, three feature actual scientists. The other twelve are about various psychics, religious figures, or pseudoscientists. This is fine, except that the book's subtitle explicit claims science. That's what intrigued me; you never see books about experiments designed to test the existence of ghosts. I felt slightly betrayed.

Despite this, I still could have enjoyed the book. After all, a history of pseudoscience is bound to be amusing, as well as funny. But this leads me to the bigger problem of the book: Mary Roach's sense of humour.

You know those professors who you really liked, but who made the corniest possible jokes in class? And then laughed? Well, imagine that professor telling those jokes in the most long-winded way possible. And, you have Roach's many asides and footnotes. What Roach most needs is a ruthless editor.

The best way to show this is through examples, so here we go....
The following is a footnote on during the chapter entitled "How to Weigh a Soul." First, I'm going to give the three sentences where the footnote asterik was.
Now let's say there's an organism in the box-a permecium or a wombat or John Tesh; it doesn't matter. And that organism dies inside the box.* If the electro-magnetic detectors detect energy leaving the box, there should be a corresponding change in weight.

And here's the footnote.
Credit for the original seal-a-soul-in-a-box experimental format must go to Frederick II, the thirteenth-century King of Sicily and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In the diaries of the king's sometime chronicler, a Franciscan monk Salimbene, there is a description of Frederick shutting up "a man alive in a cask until he died therein, wishing thereby to show that the soul perished utterly." Though Frederick is to be credited for his precocious enthusiasm for scientific method, the cruelty of his experiments invariably outweighed their scientific merit. To wit, the time he "fed two men most excellently at dinner, one of whom he sent forewith to sleep, and the other to hunt; and that same evening he caused them to be disembowled in his presence, wishing to know which had digested the better" (The sleeper). At least that one makes some sense.(98)

See the problem? There is a certain macabre humour in this, but it has been smothered in Roach's long-windedness. She also suffers from a 'too much information' syndrome. Take this footnote:
It's possible that the history of creatively interpreted white noise dates as far back as the Oracle at Delphi, where the priestess sat above a crack in the temple floor, below which chould be heard the roiling waters of a spring. Dean Radin, senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, has posited that the white-noise-like sounds of the water may have brought on auditory hallucinations. (The more common theory holds that ethylene fumes issuing from the spot were sponsoring the woman's altered states of mind. Ethylene-better known for making bananas ripe than for making priestesses bananas-can cause hallucinations in concentrated amounts.)(186)

The first part of that is interesting. But then she ruins it with the unneccessary stuff in parantheses. And then she makes the stuff in parantheses even bulkier by the information between the dashes. It's just ridiculous. Roach is addicted to dashes and parantheses; she's apparently forgotten that both of these punctuation marks are for extra information. A sampling.

The show implied that the music is so clear that if David Cassidy were to put his ear right up to your mouth-close to but not quite my sixth grade fantasy-he could name the song. (189)

Occam simply used it-frequently and "sharply" to quote The Encyclopaedia Britannica entry-so much so that ie became known as his razor. (237)

Maria told her ICU social worker-a woman whose parents did her the gross disservice of naming her Kimberly when her last name was Clark-that she had not only spent her time watching herself being worked on by the ER time, but had drifted out of the building and over the parking lot. (276)

What might have been cute a couple times occured so frequently that I just wanted to break out my red pen. To be fair to Roach, sometimes her humour works. I'll share with you the part that made me laugh out loud:

The woman seated beside me is fiddling with a handheld meter of some sort. She has the instruction manual open. A headings says, "ELF RESEARCH IN THE 90s." I like this woman, and I don't want to think the things I'm now forced to think about her. I ask her if she has ever seen an elf.
She stares at me suspiciously, like she doesn't need a Belfry Nat Detector; she can just see them flying around in there. "Nooo-o...Why, have you?"
I squint at the copy. "You can't see, smell, or touch them," it says, "but they are present in your everyday life." I am working on the phrasing of my next question when her boyfriend leans forward. "E-L-F," he says." "Not 'elf.'" (200)

Even this passage could have done without the fourth sentence.

I'm aware that this post sounds like nitpicking, but these forced humour asides and additions are a fundamental part of Roach's writing style. Some might like it, but I simply became less and less interested in the topics. Topics that were inherently interesting. So, I just wish that Roach would accept that sometimes, perhaps most of the time, less is more. She needs to learn how to just stop.

And on that note, I'll stop as well.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

America's Secret War (thoughts)

Though it doesn't come up often on the blog, I'm an international relations junkie. It was one of my majors in college, and I once asked for (and received) a subscription to The Economist for Christmas: I still read all of it except the business section every week. I've taken classes in i.r. theory and on politics in every region of the world except Asia (couldn't fit it into my schedule). I love talking about international relations about as much as I hate talking about domestic politics. :D

All of that is a long-winded introduction to George Friedman's book, America's Secret War. A friend and fellow i.r. major from college recommended it to me. And I must say, I found it a very satisfying book. Friedman runs Stratfor, which is a highly respected private strategic studies/intelligence firm. The book is his analysis of America's post-9/11, anti-Al Qaeda manuevers. In order to put it in context, he gives background information on everything from the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan to the effects of new, OPEC-founded Saudi Arabian wealth in the 70s/80s. His analysis lacks the partisanship common in political books today; while it's obvious that Friedman is a conservative, that doesn't mean he supports Bush unconditionally. Instead, he interprets the administration's actions from the unique p.o.v. of decades of experience in intelligence untainted by government service. Well, perhaps untainted is the wrong word. What I mean is, it's not as if he's worked in the government and therefore feels the need to apologize for/justify whatever happened during his tenure.

I wish I hadn't had to return the book to the library: there were several interesting points that I really wanted to discuss. Without the benefit of the book, however, I'll talk about an idea that really stuck in my mind. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a moderate liberal. :)

As Friedman discusses the build up to the Iraq war, he talks about one of the key strategies of the US: psychologial warfare, or disinformation. Now, this has always been an aspect of conflict; we've all seen the propaganda distributed during the World Wars on all sides of the fight. However, the problem is, that psychological warfare involves lying to the enemy. For example, the US, despite not knowing where Hussein actually was, wanted to make the Iraqi generals doubt if Hussein was alive. Obviously, if Hussein was dead, the generals would be more likely to surrender. The US knew that Hussein had been keeping a remarkably low profile, turning functions over to his family, leaving Baghdad, hiding out. So, the military hoped that if they bombed a possible hideout of Hussein, and announced that they had hit Hussein, the generals might decide Hussein was dead. This makes perfect sense from a strategic sense. But here comes the part that stuck with me: it's impossible in a democratic society with 21st century technology for a government to lie to its enemies without also deceiving its own public.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that the "War on Terror" justifies all the sketchy things Bush has done. And Friedman wasn't arguing that either. Nevertheless, it's something that I'd never even considered before. It made me rethink my perceptions of the administration; in fact, the entire book does that. I have no idea if Friedman is giving too much credit to the current US government, but somehow I doubt it. He criticises the administration, as well as speculating as to its motives.

To me, this book is an important contribution to "War on Terror" literature. Friedman approaches the issue from a radically different background than the journalists or politicians that are writing most of the books we see nowadays. It's an intelligent, rational viewpoint that deserves to be heard. If you're at all curious about current events, and you're willing to allow your current conceptions to be challenged, this book would be good to pick up. I can't wait for his new book to be released; I'm sure it will be another insightful analysis of the world, from an unapologetically realist perspective.

On a completely unrelated note, for those of y'all on bookmooch, until the 20th of August I'm doing a 2-for-1 on all paperbacks (sorry-US only). I don't have a huge inventory, but if you're curious, check out the selection.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I've been enjoying Kimbuktoo's Your Home Library project for awhile now. So, I thought it only right that I contribute a picture. Here's the larger version of my bookshelves. They're super-cheap particle wood shelves from Office Max, but I'm undertaking them as a DIY project for the fall. I'm going to paint them and add some molding/trim. I'll show y'all the after pics when I finish! In the meantime, here we go. :D

I try to keep my book collection small (I doubt it's more than 400), since I'm living with my parents and then joining the Peace Corps. After all, it's only polite that I fit them all in my room!

The left case is full of non-genre fiction: I have it divided into geographically and chronologically. Top shelf is for non-British classics: America, France, Russia, Greece. Next shelf is all British classics. The middle one is international contemporary fiction, followed by American and British contemporary fiction. The bottom shelf is my Southern collection (inspired by Maggie's challenge), poetry, and historical fiction. The middle case starts with genre fic: the top shelf is mystery, the next one a combo of spy/thriller and the beginnings of fantasy, and the middle one is all fantasy. Then, my foreign language stuff begins. One shelf for Russian: actual books as well as language reference volumes. The bottom shelf is French (not as extensive), and a touch of Italian. Then, the right case is full of non-fiction, sorted by genre. Top shelf is religion and tarot, next is all of my international relations books. Then, there's the bio/memoir section, history, and Russia. Underneath that is science, philosophy and 'general nonfic'-my catchall for everything else. The very bottom shelf houses my bookmooch inventory.

When I really look at it, my sorting seems haphazard, but it makes it very easy for me to find whatever I want, as well as browse my collection. The genres match up to the ones in my Excel sheet, so they've grown organically out of the books I own.

In addition to books, I keep a lot of souvenirs on my bookshelves. My dad does a lot of travelling for work, and I've done quite a bit of travelling growing up, so I have a pretty good collection from around the world. I also have pictures of my family and places that I've lived.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Double the Mystery, Double the Fun (The Door, Death in Holy Orders)

The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehard

I read The Door as one of my Summer Mystery Challenge selections. In was published in the late forties, and the edition I read was an omnibus I bookmooched that includes two other novels. This was my first experience with Rinehard, and I'm not sure whether I like her or not. It's definitely a cozy mystery-the reader is presented with a close circle of people, and must try to figure out who did it. The narrator was quite fun-a single, older woman who enjoys her independence and wealth. :) However, the entire novel was written as the narrator remembering events. This would have been fine, except the woman kept foreshadowing, almost the level of spoilers, which drove me insane. This was my only complaint with the book, but it is a large one. I'm willing to give Rinehard another chance, because she's great at characterization, and the plot would have been very enjoyable without all of the foreshadowing. Hopefully her other books are written in a different style!

Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James
This was a book on CD, which I don't normally discuss. However, this one was exceptionally good, and it has made me want to being collecting more P.D. James. This was my first novel of hers. It's set in a seminary-college (I'm Catholic, so I don't really know what the Church of England calls it) perched on the edge of the bleak, stormy sea. It's also an Inspector Dalgleish (sp?) book; the Inspector enjoys writing poetry and is generally quite introspective. I'm worried about discussing the plot at all, because the book unfolds slowly, so much of the action doesn't begin until about half way through. Suffice it to say, there is a string of murders that must be solved. Don't expect any Agatha Christie plots here-the killer becomes pretty obvious at least 3 CDs before s/he is arrested. Nevertheless, James creates stunningly human characters, who all seem ready to step off the page. She also evokes scenery very well; I felt like I was on a rocky British beach sometimes. It was a pleasure to listen to this book, and I plan to hunt down some more James very soon. If you enjoy mysteries, but don't mind a slower-moving, character-centric book, this one will hit the spot!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Non-Fiction Double Shot (Blink, Waiting for Daisy)

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Blink argues that the split-second judgements that people make are usually trustworthy. Gladwell is famous for The Tipping Point, which I haven't read, and in this follow-up he offers what I think of as pop non-fic. It's definitely non-fiction, and it has a thesis, but it would be laughed out of academic circles. I enjoyed parts of it, but Blink suffers from the same weakness I found in The Wisdom of Crowds and, albeit less obvious, Freakonomics. Namely, the author seems to think that if he makes a broad claim, and then gives me lots of anecdotal evidence, I'll believe him. While this method leads to interesting stories, it isn't calculated to make me agree. In fact, half of the time, it felt as if the anecdotes contradicted his thesis. For example, he talks about a psychological study where a professor recorded married couples having minor disagreements. Then, the professor (and his poor grad slaves, lol) deviced a way of ranking the emotions being expressed by each spouse and assigning them a number value. Finally, this value turned out to be a remarkable predictor of if the couple remained married. As Gladwell tells the story, he makes it clear that when a lay person watches a couple on the screen, s/he may think that the couple is in a great position, while the trained grad student would see a future divorce. This seems to undermine the idea that immediate judgements are correct, since it's only with minute analysis that the truth becomes clear. I wish I could discuss his arguments more, but unfortunately I had to return the book to the library. Suffice it to say, there were some interesting ideas, but nothing compelling.

Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein

This book was completely different species of non-fiction: the memoir. In this case, Orenstein is a feminist scholar who, in her mird-thirties, realises she wants to be a mother. This realisation engenders a whole host of crises: identity, physical, emotional, sexual. The book chronicles Orenstein's self-described trip into the insanity of infertility, and she explains how she found herself doing ridiculous things in order to have a child. I don't usually like memoirs, but this one is an exception. Orenstein mixes enough random facts (did you know that riding a bike kills sperm?) and hilarious moments into her recollections to keep things interesting. She also knows when it's time to wrap something up; I never found myself getting bored. Additionally, she's good at conveying emotions; I constantly empthathised with her, and a section where she's discussing Japanese shrines to aborted and miscarried fetuses really touched me. In short, this is everything I could ask of a memoir: witty, frank, self-aware, short, and with a happy ending!

Favourite Passages (From Waiting for Daisy)

"I guess I think of life as kind of like an amusement park," he said. "If you're going to go, you should ride every ride at least once. And having kids is like the big, scary roller coaster. You can have a good time without riding it, but you would've missed a significant part of the experience." (8)

As it was, at a tenuous five weeks gestation I'd already calculated my due date on a Web site, ogled pictures of "my baby's" development, and joined an Expecting Club on iVillage for November Mommies-to-Be. If the second IVF had taken, I would've taped that photograph of fertilized cells to the fridge. All of this encourages a mother-to-be to see the fetus as a person, at least in the psychological sense, at an even earlier stage. You tell friends. Names are bandied about. The baby feels real. Yet, if the pregnancy goes amiss, that personhood is abruptly revoked and you're supposed to act like nothing ever happened. (132)

Another thing I'd never noticed: there is no word in English for a miscarried or aborted fetus. How better to bury a topic than to make it literally unspeakable? In Japanese it is
mizuko, which is usually translated as "water child." Historically, Japanese Buddhists believed that existence flowed into being slowly, like liquid. Children solidifed only gradually over time and weren't considered to be fully in the human realm until they reached the age of seven. Similarly, leaving this world-returning to primordial waters-was a process beginning at sixty with a celebration of a symbolic second birth. A mizuko lay somewhere along the continuum, in that liminal space between life and death but belonging to neither. (135)

I did know that a dog wasn't a child, though that, apprently, is not a commonly shared observation in Berkeley. In a town of people who have a tendency to be a mite zealous, the dog people are extreme. They successfully lobbied for an ordinance forbidding citizens to
own pets-we can't even call them pets. We must refer to ourselves as the "guardians" of our "animal companions." (156)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Autumn Challenges (or, How Eva Went a Little Crazy)

Well, my main challenge for the rest of the year is obviously in non-fiction. It should be interesting; seven books a month will make up about half my reading! But for the other half, I've decided to join some of the challenges coming up and design a couple of my own: I'm listing them in the order that they start and including pics of the books I own....

+I'm doing a sequel to the Reading Across Borders challenge that I completed earlier, to go from August through December. However, I'm going a little easier on myself this time and including one book from Italy and one from the Commonwealth.
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino (Italy)
Yes, it's Italy, but I haven't read Calvino before, and I refuse to put him off any longer. :D
The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler (Portugal)
I heard about this via the Amazon adult school feature (so much fun!), and then I mooched it. It's kind of violating my rule, in that I prefer for the book to be set in a country that the author is native to. However, it's historical, and it's about the Portugese Jews, and Zimler is Jewish, so that's how I'm justifying it.
The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie (India)
I haven't read Rushdie in way too long. So, despite the fact that he's one of my favourite authors, and thus not really a stretch for me, I'm putting him on the list. Have I mentioned how much I love Rushdie? I'm working my way through his oevre, so this should be fun!
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende (Chile)
I decided to read another book by Allende, since I love House of Spirits and Zorro (I have the latter on cd-it's so much fun!). Plus, the library has a copy.
Snow Flower's Secret Fan by Lisa See (China)
I've heard lots of good things about this, and the library has a copy. I actually checked it out before but didn't get to it in time.
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa)
I'm looking forward to a book set in South Africa, and I've heard that this one is quite fair to both sides. And, once again, the library has a copy.
Bliss and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield (New Zealand)
I have an embarassing confession: I've never read a book set anywhere near Australia or New Zealand. High time to correct that!
Embers by Sándor Márai (Hungary)
I never seem to read books set in continental Europe. This one seems very interesting, and I could book mooch it!
War of the Saints by Jorge Amado
So, I knew that I wanted to include a Brazilian author on the list. I also knew I wanted to bookmooch it. This ended up narrowing the field to two Amados: this one or Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. I agonised over the decision, but in the end I went with this one because an African goddess comes to life through a statue of Saint Barbara. How awesome of a plot is that?!
In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif
I wanted a book from the Middle East on the list as well, and I love Egypt (I got visit for ten days a few years back). I was hoping to grab the sequel to Mahfouz's incredible Palace Walk, but it wasn't at bookmooch. So, I decided to go for a woman author, and this one sounds fascinating. I had to decide between this and Map of Love; in the end, I went with this one because it's longer!

+Then, I'm doing a personal short story challenge. My goal is to read at least five short story collections and ten famous individual short stories before the end of the year (this also starts now). My selections are
Case Histories: A Novel by Kate Atkinson
This is a book of three connected stories centered around one detective. I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum a long time ago, and it'll be interesting to see what Atkinson does with this material.
Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. le Guin
I've heard good things about her over the years but never picked up any of her work. I'm looking forward to checking it out.
The Veteran by Frederick Forsyth
This is a collection of five thriller stories. It sounds interesting!
Two Good Collections Here
As you can tell, this list isn't fleshed out yet. I'm going to try and find three great collections at the library, but I wanted to leave myself some browsing room. Open for suggestions
Best American Short Stories of the Century
I'm hoping this will be the source for most of the individual stories-library has it.

+First of the 'real' (i.e.-hosted)challenges, the Books to Movies challenge, which beings in September and gives the participants three months to read three books that have been turned into movies. My choices...
Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen
I saw this as a rec by a Duke professor, and when I read about it it seemed very interesting. So, when I saw it had been made into a movie and my library has it, I knew we were destined. :D
The Mirror Crack'd by Agatha Christie
I love Agatha Christie, specifically Miss Marple. So, I've taken the opportunity to bookmooch this one, since I plan on owning all the Miss Marples one day.
The Russia House by John le Carre
I've enjoyed the le Carre that I've read so far, but I think that his old stuff is far better than his new stuff. The library has this one as well, since bookmooch doesn't have it in the cover I want (yes, I value the covers of books I own).
alts, in case the library misplaces something, are
Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris
Mom got this for me in hardcover a few months ago (I've really enjoyed the rest of the series), but then I saw the movie, so I haven't had much of an impetus to read it. This is the only book on the list that I've seen the film for.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
I bookmooched this, since I want to own all of Eco's work eventually, and I read it a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It'd be fun to reread it, since I don't remember much about it.

+Next up is the Unread Authors Challenge, which also begins in September. You choose six books to read by February of 2008. Since a lot of the fiction I've mooched is new authors, this one works out well!
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
This was one of my very first mooches, since I think I'm the only one in the blogging community that hasn't read it yet! It keeps calling me from the bookshelf, but I've been distracted by challenge reads. It's time to make time to see what all the fuss is about. :)
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
I mooched this, because it sounded like a great mystery! I'm always ready to discover another good series.
That Night by Alice McDermott
I mooched this after a good review by litlove (I think it was litlove). It's a skinny read, but I'm looking forward to it.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
I recently realised that the last Kipling I read was that mongoose story in 7th grade. Shame on me. Plus, I have to include at least one classic in the list!
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
The heft of this one makes up for the slimness of the McDermott. A friend recommended this to me, and I'm very excited to actually get around to it. My bookmooched copy is just gorgeous!
The Stolen Child by Keith Donahue
I'm super excited about this one, so I wanted to include it on one of my challenges. The only problem will be waiting until September. :)

+Then there's the 2nds challenge. It doesn't start until October, but since I'm listing challenges, I might as well list them all! Joy is hosting this one, and since I didn't participate in the Non-Fiction 5 (kicking myself now), I definitely want to do this one. The idea is that you pick 3 new authors who you enjoyed, and read a second book by them. I think the point is to deepen your connection with authors you've recently discovered. :D I'm going with...
The Little Country by Charles de Lint
I first read de Lint for the Once Upon a Time challenge, and I loved him. So, I bookmooched this copy a couple months ago, and it's been patiently waiting for me. I can't wait to return to his gorgeous writing style and awesome worlds.
Lost in a Good Book Jasper Fforde
This is a follow-up to The Eyre Affair, which upon second reading turned out to be great fun. I mooched this at the same time as the first one, and I hope that it'll be as good.
Road Rage by Ruth Rendell
I first read Rendell for the Summer Mystery Challenge and had a lukewarm reaction. But, I really want to give her another go. This is another bookmooch-if I mooched a book from a user, I could pick one free. This was my freebie.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Poetry Challenge Wrap Up

The Poetry Challenge was organised by Ted at bookeywookey. Participants were asked to choose four poems: one from pre-1900, one 1900-2000, one post-2000, and one from any time period that gave them difficulty. Then, during the week than included the 1st of August, all of the participants posted their poems as well as commentary on them.
I posted all four poems that I chose for the poetry challenge on time...
"Daddy" by Sylvia Plath
"Reading the Entrails" by Neil Gaiman
"Tomorrow's Wind" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
"A Cradle Song" by William Blake

The best poem: "Tomorrow's Wind" and "Daddy"
What poem could I have done without? I like them all!
Any new poets? Blake
Poems I did not finish: none!
What did I learn from this challenge? I gained more self confidence about discussing poetry, and I realised how important it is that I take the time out to read it.

(Note: thanks to Nyssaneala for the idea to have questions!)

"Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

Tonight is dark and stormy. Too rainy to really go out, which is perfect Sylvia Plath weather. So, as my last poem for bookeywookey's challenge, here we go. Don't forget to go to his site, where you can see all the participants!

"Daddy" by Sylvia Plath

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You--

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

I chose this poem as one that's difficult for me. But, let's be honest. It's an incredible piece of writing. The rhythm alone-the words just throb. Throb with ache, and pain, and rage. Then there's the imagery. Stunning. From the Nazi-Jew to the vampire, Plath never lets up. The images just get darker and darker, bringing the reader into a deeper hole. The last stanza gives me goosebumps. I just keep repeating it to myself over and over.

I think that I'm going to end the analysis there. Plath knew how to write. She channeled all of her emotions into words that make the reader understand what she's going through. And so I'm going to let the poem stand for itself; I don't see any room for improvement.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Odds and Ends

Whew-the poetry challenge is fun, but posting the poems makes it difficult to do my regular blogging posts! So, I'm double-posting. :D

+In case y'all don't know about Dogeared, it's the blog recording a super-cool project. Sonya is travelling around the US by Greyhound and taking pictures of people reading! Lately, she posted an entry that was an extended interview with the owner of an independent book store. I highly recommend it: go here and be prepared to smile!

+You might have noticed the Nonfiction Challenge button appear in my side bar. This is a personal challenge for me; in order to get anywhere near the fic:nonfic ratio I wanted back in my New Year's resolution, I need to read seven nonfic books a month for the rest of the year. So, that's what I'm attempting to do.

+Speaking of which, here is the latest bookpile! A mix of bookmooch, book store, and library. One thing in common: they're all nonfiction. :)

From Book Mooch: Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth. I love Campbell, and this edition of the book is just gorgeous; it has tons of pictures.

From B&N: all summer, they've been displaying the 3 for 2 table, but there've never been 3 books that I wanted. But, finally there were! Confessions of an Economic Hitman (because I'm an international relations-i.r.-major), Spook (it's all about science trying to figure out the afterlife; I also have Roach's Stiff on the way via bookmooch), and The Ancestor's Tale (I enjoy pop science).

From the Library: I went browsing through the non-fic stacks, since I don't know the Dewey system that well (too used to LC). I found: The Persian Puzzle (once again i.r.), Waiting for Daisy (about adoption-I've always been interested), A Gentle Madness (all about people like us! that is, bibliophiles), The Supreme Court (trying to become a good citizen), and Does America Need a Foreign Policy? (did I mention I'm an i.r. girl?).

I also really want to review The Witching Hour and America's Secret War. *sigh* I suppose that'll have to wait until next week!

"Reading the Entrails" by Neil Gaiman

This is my third entry into bookeywookey's poetry challenge. In the challenge, he specified that one poem be from 2000-2007; I'm concerned about the copyright violations on this one. So, I have the poem up, but if anyone thinks it's a problem, please let me know and I'll take it down.

"Reading the Entrails: a Rondel" by Neil Gaiman

They'll call it chance, or luck, or call it Fate-
The cards and stars that tumble as they will.
Tomorrow manifests and brings the bill
For every kiss and kill, the small and great.
You want to know the future, love? Then wait:
I'll answer your impatient questions. Still-
They'll can it chance, or luck, or call it Fate,
The cards and stars that tumble as they will.

I'll come to you tonight, dear, when it's late,
You will not see me; you may feel a chill.
I'll wait until you sleep, then take my fill,
And that will be your future on a plate.
They'll call it chance, or luck, or call it Fate.

I mainly chose this poem to give myself a break; I also love Neil Gaiman, so I wanted to give him some blog time!

A rondel is a poem form: it has two rhymes and goes ABbaabAB abbaA. So that explains the fixed feeling of the poem. In the beginning poetry writing class that I took (see Blake post), we had to play with forms a lot, so I've written rondels, villanelles, sestinas, and sonnets. I feel that this makes me more appreciative of reading form poetry, since I know how difficult it is to match the parameters of the poem and still make it sound natural.

As far as "Reading the Entrails" goes, it doesn't really flow naturally; it definitely sounds like a poetic form. However, I think that the slightly-stilted manner works, since the narrator is a fortune teller. You expect psychics to speak differently than normal people.

Honestly, I think that this is just the kind of poem that is best read aloud and savoured for atmosphere. Any more analysis seems kind of silly. :)

Edited to add: I loved one of the comments, so I'm tacking it on to the post. Heather from Errant Dreams basically summed up my feelings about Gaiman:
He experiments with some of the more complex poetic forms, and makes them elegant and breathtaking

Yep-that's all I have to add. Go Heather.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Eustace Diamonds, Candide, The Scarlet Pimpernel (thoughts)

The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
I'm not a huge Dickens girl; I love A Tale of Two Cities and Pickwick Papers, but I could leave the rest of his books I've read. However, after reading The Eustace Diamonds, I think that Trollope is my Dickens. lol Trollope writes the same kind of character-rich, diversion-full, multiple-plot books that Dickens does. But, for some reason, Trollope and I get along perfectly. I enjoyed his little sidenotes to the reader, and I hated his villains and loved his heroes just like he expected me to. :D His writing kept the book moving, even when he meandered from the plot. His passages when characters go fox hunting are simple stunning. If you enjoy sprawling Victorian lit, Trollope might just be for you!

Candide by Voltaire
I went in knowing that this was supposed to be a philosophical novel. So I expected it to make a point. But, honestly, it just wasn't enjoyable. I see how other people would enjoy it, but for me the only good thing about it was that the chapters and book itself were short. The B&N edition that I read just didn't have a good enough intro (half the intro just summarised the book, chapter by chapter, how dumb is that?) for me; the intro didn't give me any info I didn't already know. I was also horrified by the pictures; they were very gruesome, which matched the gruesome violence throughout the story. The only chapter I enjoyed was the El Dorado chapter; I've always like utopias. I'm glad that I read this book, but I won't be keeping it.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Best. Adventure Novel. Ever. It was so much fun! First of all, the characters swear with words like "Egads!" and "Zooks!", lol. The villain is deliciously heartless; the main heroes are all clever and brave and, of course, handsome. It was a ton of fun. I'll be looking into the sequels.

Favourite Passages

Now she desired to be so in love that she could surrender everything to her love. There was as yet nothing of such love in her bosom. She had seen no one who had so touched her. But she was alive to the romance of the thing, and was in love with the idea of being in love, (Trollope, 81)

"She is the greatest vixen in all London."...
"There is no word in the English language," she said, "which conveys to me so little of defined meaning as that word vixen. If you can, tell what you mean, Clara." (Trollope, 119)

But poor Lizzie Eustace had no Binns and no Pouncebox. They are plants that grow slowly. There still too much of the mushroom about Lady Eustace to permit of her possessing such treasures. (Trollope, 226)

...I am content with almost nothing." The nothing with which the dean had hitherto been contented had always included every comfort of life, a well-kept table, good wine, new books, and canonical habiliments with the gloss still on; but as the Bobsborough tradesmen had, through the agency of Mrs. Greystock, always supplied him with these things as though they came from the clouds, he really did believe that he had never asked for anything. (Trollope, 362)

There are men in whose love a good deal of hatred is mixed; - who love as the huntsman loves the fox, towards the killing of which he intends to use all his energies and intellects. (Trollope, 410)

She understood that the task she had in hand was one very difficult to be accomplished-and she did perceive, in some dark way, that, good as her acting was, it was not quite good enough. Lucy held her ground because she was real. You may knock about a diamond, and not evenscratch it; whereas paste in rough usage betrays itself. Lizzie, with all her self-assuring protestations, knew that she was paste, and knew that Lucy was real stone. (Trollope, 628)

But it has always seemed to me that it
must be heavenly to be loved blindly, passionately, wholly...worshipped, in fact..." (Orzcy, 52)

"Virtue, alas!" sighed the Prince, "is mostly unbecoming to your charming sex, Madame." (Orzcy, 88)

He laughed, as Dante has told us that the devils laugh at the sight of the torture of the damned. (Orzcy, 186)

Summer Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

For the Summer Reading Challenge, participants could choose any number of books to read between June 1st and August 1st. I decided to make it into another classics challenge and chose ten books from England and France. After a last-minute rush, I finished all but one of the ten classics I chose to read for the summer reading challenge with no substitutions...
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
Candide by Voltaire
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orzcy
Emma by Jane Austen
Les Liasons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (I didn't get around to reviewing it, which is weird, because I loved it)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (I didn't review it, because I didn't really enjoy it)

I started Evelina, but I really don't like epistolatory novels, so I knew I wouldn't finish it in time.

The best book: I can't choose! There're about five tied-the Bronte, Balzac, Orzcy, Austen, and Trollope.
What book could I have done without? Candide by Voltaire. Ugh.
Any new authors? Several: Anne Bronte, Balzac, Orzcy, Trollope, and de Laclos.
Books I did not finish: Evelina, because I just ran out of steam. I plan to get to it eventually.
What did I learn from this challenge? How cool Trollope was! He's like Dickens, only more my style. :)

(Note: thanks to Nyssaneala for the idea to have questions!)