Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Blog Hop IV

Once again it's time for the weekly Blog Hop hosted by Crazy for Books.  So this week's question is who is your favorite new-to-you author of the year?

I wish I had an answer that didn't involve an author I feel like I'm constantly talking about here but it does.  I don't know how I missed him before but Christopher Moore is my newest favorite author.  A friend hounded me for the longest time to read Lamb and once I finally go around to it I understood why.  Since that point earlier in the year I've read 5 more of his books.  I've only gotten around to posting about one of the books, Coyote Blue, but more are certain to follow.  I'm trying to take a break from Moore for awhile but I'm sure I'll be drawn back soon.

Edit: I didn't notice until Bookangel pointed it out but I didn't describe Moore's work at all.  His books can be categorized as satirical, absurdest, humor and literary.  Lamb's full title is Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.  He has another work, Fool, which is King Lear told from the Fool's point of view. 

Big Wide World of Vice: You knew you shouldn' loved it. And feel terrible

In order to give you a break from reading my posts about Strange & Norrell and to give my shoulder a break from carrying it around, I picked up a funny and quick re-read from my shelf.  I also finally got my copy of What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States for my book club so I will most likely read that book as well before I finish up with S&N.  I like being able to break up S&N, both reading and writing about it.

The title quote is the basic working definition Sagal uses to determine vice in The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them).  Now this isn't actually a how-to book of vice.  I'm pretty sure I found it on one of the humor tables at the bookstore.  The title caught my eye and the fact that it is written by Peter Sagal of NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me* made me pick it up.  It's what you expect from the host of WWDTM: ridiculous and fairly pretentious.  I mean this as the highest compliment because pretentious comments lose their power when used to describe things like penis pumps.  Here are the opening lines to the chapter "Swinging or Dinner Parties Gone Horribly Wrong":
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a couple at a swingers club announce that they are there merely to observe, and not actually to swing, everybody loses interest in that couple pretty quickly. (19)
I was trying to come up with a good way to describe this book but I've been having trouble coming up with a good way to really get the story and humor to come through.  So I figure I'll just wriggle out of doing any work myself and give you a quote from each of the chapters.  I'd say I'm sneaky like that but I obviously just told you of my plans. Watch me do the quote thing anyway.

"Eating or Sodom's Restaurant":
Many restaurants offer information on where the various ingredients are raised or farmed, so we can be certain, as we dig into our pork tenderloin with the demi-apricot glace, that the meat comes from an animal whose throat was cut by someone it knew and trusted.  There are those who say the ironic betrayal adds piquancy to the flesh. (51-52)
"Strip Clubs or Sure, They Like You, Really":
The professors have tremendous respect for the dancers, who, they told me, were doing their best to maximize their economic status and take control over their financial/sociocultural destinies. "McDonald's, now that's a degrading job". (84)
 "Lying or This Chapter Will Change Your Life and Make You Millions!":
I began researching the play [Denial] primarily because I was interested in exploring why Holocaust deniers are so effective in achieving their goal -- which is annoying Jews. (114)
"Gambling or Dice, Cards, Wheels, and Other Lethal Weapons":
[Las Vegas] seemed like the veritable neon level of hell, Virgil's City of Dis with better lighting.(133)
"Consumption or How To Keep Up With the Joneses When the Joneses Are Insane":
...Commodore Green also owned what may have been the world's only diamond-encrusted chamber pot, which, in re his innate attitude toward the nature and source of his wealth, would send any Freudian into fits of ecstasy. (161)
 "Pornography or You Can Look, But You Can't Admit It":
But it's the early stuff, the chiaroscuro photos of hard-core sex from the 1910s and earlier, that really arrest attention.  They look so old that you surmise the models were held still by iron apparatuses holding their heads, like Abraham Lincoln being rotogravured by Mathew Brady. (In this context, even "rotogravured" sounds dirty.) (192-193)
Now to actually give my two cents on the book: you won't actually learn much from it but it is funny and you can feel slightly pretentious while reading it.  And if you read it in public you get lots of interesting looks, a few nods of approval and some stifled giggles. 

*See the article at Stuff White People Like: Public Radio

Title quote from page 15

Sagal, Peter.  The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them).  HarperCollins, New York.  2007.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"I am sure you are a very different sort of magician from Mr Norrell," [Stephen] said. "I hope I am," said Mr Segundus, seriously.

--Spoiler warning!  This post is going to be full of lots of details of the book, up to the point I've read anyway.  So if you haven't read the book yet and/or don't want to read any spoilers, you may as well skip this post and go do something else with yourself for awhile.  I'll catch you next post. --

Do you ever find yourself surprised by how much you like a character?  You're reading along and you see a character appear time and time again.  They aren't the main character but they are a major supporting character.  You don't really think too much of them though.  You like them well enough but you don't really think about them and the BAM the story takes a turn and that character is gone.  All of a sudden you realize how upset you are that the character is gone and much you looked forward to them showing up in a scene, adding their two cents.  Not only are you caught off guard by their disappearance but you suddenly realize how much you hate the character that caused your secret-favorite character to go away.

Apparently my favorite character has been Arabella Strange.  She snuck up on me.  We are first introduced to her through Jonathan Strange's description, though his initial description proves to be false rather quickly.  He thinks "sometimes it seemed as if she had fallen in love with him for the sole purpose of quarreling with him" (244) and then he lists all of the things he anticipates she will argue about.  He even imagines entire arguments she's going to draw him into.  This gives an impression that she's a nag but even in his arguments a very loving nag.  But still, a nag.  Luckily the narrator jumps in and explains that his love for Arabella has "produced a most inexact portrait of her," (254) and when she does appear on the scene she is actually wonderful.  She's kind and she genuinely loves Strange, which in and of itself is a nice thing to see for characters in this time.

I liked all the scenes with Arabella but I guess I never really thought about her too much.  But then she was taken away by the jerk-face (I become a 4 year old when upset) with the thistle-down hair to be another toy in his Lost-Hope balls.  But unlike Lady Pole and Stephen, who gets to leave Faerie land every day, Arabella "dies" in the human world and is a permanently a prisoner.  So at first I was just mad at the this thistle-down hair man because obviously he is the one who actually took Arabella. But getting mad at him for acting selfishly is silly.  I may as well get mad at a zombie for eating brains; it's just in it's nature and it's your fault if you get in the way.  So who is culpable?  Who's fault is it?  Then Lady Pole came through and shed the light when she tried to shoot Norrell.

Up until this point I liked Norrell.  Not in a seems-like-a-fun-guy-we-should-hang-out kind of way, but in the fact that he's an interesting character while boring and annoying the other characters is pretty great.  But he brought the thistle-down hair man to their world to wreak havoc and when he heard that Lady Pole was driven mad by Arabella's "death" he knows what's actually happened but he doesn't come forward.  He's a coward.  I'm fine with annoying, overly-cautious, boring characters but this guy is the worst kind of coward and I want him taken down. 

Strange & Norrell is only getting more interesting and now I can't wait to see what happens next.  I hope it involves having Arabelle and Norrell changing places or at least just bring Arabella back. 

Title quote from pages 667-668

Clarke, Susanna. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, London. 2004.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fellow Book Bloggers

As many of you may know, I take part in the weekly blog hop hosted by Crazy for Books.  It's a great way to find other book bloggers and introduce my blog to a wider audience.  Joanne over at Booklover Book Review takes the hop an extra step and includes links to some new blogs that caught her eye.  I think this is a great idea, and not just because she mentioned by blog (although it certainly helped. Thanks for the shout out!).  So here are a couple of the blogs I enjoy and you should check out

What You Read - This was one of the first book blogs I started reading when I began blogging not so long ago. I not only enjoy his posts about specific books but he also has a lot of entertaining book related posts, such as all of the random barking dogs that show up in literature or his book buying obsession.  Check out To Watch or Not To Watch: A Reader's Dilemma

Dead White Guys: An Irreverent Guide to Classical Literature - Initially it was the name and the promise that this blog was not going to be filled with chick lit and YA stories that seemingly make up the majority of book blogs.  Her tone and humor are what keep me coming back to her blog; it's never pretentious and it's usually sarcastic.  Plus her rating system is is # stars out of your mom.  What's not to love there?  Check out her post What is a Classic? which gives you a good taste of the blog's content and tone and includes an Eddie Izzard clip.  Double win

The Raven Paradox - The internet loves lists.  Check out the top stories on Digg and you'll see lots of countdowns.  I also love lists and this blog provides.  The last countdown was was top 10 twentieth century novels and he's currently has a new list of the top 10 twentieth century non-fiction books.  Classic works and some new finds.  Check out his post on Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels

And one non-book blog Hyperbole and A Half.  I found this blog a couple months ago and read all 2 years of posts back in about a month.  There are a lot of posts about the author's childhood, which is far more interesting than anything my childhood included.  It's hard to say what the blog is about overall since it doesn't really have a theme.  It's just Allie Brosh's thoughts, drawings, whathave you.  I find myself laughing out loud (literally, not in the lol internet way) while reading her stuff.  If she ever writes a book I'll definitely post about it on my blog.  Sneaky Hate Spiral is one of my favorite posts, even if I end up with La Bamba stuck in my head after reading it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blog Hop III

I was away last weekend and couldn't partake in the previous blog hop, so I'm happy to get a chance this week.

This week's Blog Hop question, as determined by is "Tell us about the book you're currently reading"

For those of you that follow me, or else just glanced at my recent posts, you can see I'm primarily reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  I'd seen the book in book stores and on my friends' shelves for awhile, but I didn't actually know much about it when I picked it up from the bookstore.  Really the only thing I knew was the cover looked familiar and it was on the bargain table, my favorite table at any bookstore.  I'm about half way through it and loving it!

Because Strange & Norrell is long and heavy, I've so far taken one break and re-read the play The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company which I can't recommend highly enough.  I'm on my second copy after losing my first one during one of my many moves.  I decided I couldn't go much longer without reading it again so I bought a new copy as soon as I found it. 

I'm going to be taking a second break from Strange & Norrell so I can pick up the book I'm supposed to be reading for my book club What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States by Dave Zirin.  I haven't found it in any bookstores yet but I'll be ordering a copy soon.

I believe Mr Strange will do very well in the war, sir. He has already out-manoeuvred you.

After a brief detour into the world of Shakespeare on speed, I'm back to the magical history of Strange and Norrell.  I spent last weekend at the shore and perhaps Strange & Norrell isn't the typical beach read, but as I literally read it on a beach, it's getting thrown in that category.  Besides my beach trips mostly consist of practically bathing in 70+SPF sunscreen and hiding in any bit of shade I can find, so it almost makes sense to read about an English setting instead of some light read where people frolic merrily in the sun. (Do books like that exist?  I'm sure they do but now that I've typed it I can't actually think of any.  Ah well.) 

Anyway, I'm more than half way through Volume II (page 497) in which we are (finally) introduced to Jonathan Strange.  This isn't a criticism of the pacing of the book; there is a lot of book to get through.  But before this new volume we spent a long time with Norrell with no reprieve.  Strange is a breath of fresh air.  As the book cover describes "Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very antithesis of Norrell," but it's not the fact that he is bizarro Norrell that makes him so interesting.  It's the fact that, as a fellow magician, he doesn't defer and give in to Norrell about everything.  The title quote in particular is from a scene that displays Strange's abilities to, as Lascelles says, out-maneuver Norrell.  Norrell has been hiding books from Strange from the moment they met and Norrell only agrees to convince Strange to help aid the war effort in Portugal because it means Strange won't be around to bid on a rare book collection that will recently become available.  So before Strange leaves he asks Norrell if he can borrow a number of books and, as dictated by etiquette, Norrell is forced to comply even though it means his books will be subject to all sorts of perils such as torn pages and damaged covers.  There is a part of me that understands Norrell's fear of damaged books but on the other hand, shut up Norrell. 

As I mentioned, Strange goes to Portugal to help with the English cause in the war against the French.  Look at that, some action!  And a magician that does magic.  He really is bizarro Norrell.  To be honest, I did enjoy watching Norrell make excuses and disappoint people when he would never perform magic and be a general bore.  He may be a sourpuss but he doesn't give into the wills of other people, much to Drawlight and Lascelles chagrin.  But it is nice to see a character who is likable and helps to move the plot along.  After some initial distrust from Wellington, Strange becomes an essential part of the war effort with his magic.

I especially like the tone the novel takes when discussing magic.  As the book is an alternate history and takes place in a world where magic is a large part of history and take seriously, magic is treated in an almost down-to-earth fashion.  When Strange first manages to prove his worth to Wellington, he suggests magically creating a road for the armies to use.  It would have been easy enough to have that been the end of it: Strange suggests magically creating a road, Wellington agrees, everyone in awe of magic.  Instead there are the details to consider: what should the road be made of, what happens if the French find the road and can make use of it, etc.  It isn't a matter that Clarke overwhelming the book with small details, but the fact that, if magic were real and being used this way, these all sounds like valid points that would be brought up.  And because they make good points about trying to use this magical road in the real world it makes the world more believable. 
I'm excited to continue the book and see what else happens to Strange, Norrell and of course the man with the thistle-down hair.  Perhaps my next entry will concern him, unless something else happens during my reading to distract me. 

Title quote page 367

Clarke, Susanna. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, London. 2004.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I think you showed a lot of heart! A lot of courage! A lot of -- as Shakespeare would say -- 'chutzpah'

I'm still making my way through Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (I'm on page 426 and loving it!) but I thought I should break up all of the Strange & Norrell posts with something different and I missed this week's blog hop so I have a new book to write about.  Well, new to this blog anyway.  I've read/seen this play so many times I don't really need to look at the pages.  I'm talking about The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Co., Jess Borgenson, Adam Long and Daniel Singer.  We watched a performance of this play in my high school Shakespeare class and not long after seeing it there I got a VHS copy of the performance and bought the book.  I'm actually on my second copy of the book as the original got lost during one of my many moves and I think I need to upgrade to a DVD copy of the play.  I'm a geek, I know.

Complete Works (abridged) is, as the title suggests, all of Shakespeare's plays as well as the sonnets condensed into a single play and performed by 3 actors.  As Singer describes in his intro note "[Audiences] of the last quarter of the twentieth century apparently possessed an urgent need to see Shakespeare performed as if it were a Tex Avery cartoon" and this is certainly what they provide.  Some of the plays get more time than the others which is just fine as I don't need to see more than a brief mention of Troilus and Cressida.  All of the comedies are combined into a single comedy, since they all use pretty much the same plots anyway, and all of the histories and King Lear are combined into an American football game, with the crown being passed back and forth between the "teams".  Othello is performed as a rap, Titus Andronicus is a cooking show, and Macbeth leads into Julius Caesar thus making up the "caesarian" section of the play.  The second act is all Hamlet, but don't worry, they perform it a few different times and there's a little work-shopping in the middle as they bring members of the audience on stage to act out Ophelia's "get thee to a nunnery" scene, complete with an examination of the subtext.

If it isn't obvious already, I'm a big Shakespeare fan,* but even if you don't know all of the little details or even all of the plays this work is hilarious.  If you can see it performed you should!  As mentioned I have a very worn VHS copy and I've seen the newest incarnation of the RSC perform The Complete History of America (abridged). I enjoyed it though my American-history buff friend this seemed to have less in-jokes than the Shakespeare play had.  If you can't see it performed, or really even if you can, you should read the book version.  There are several intros and prefaces as each author, the editor, William Shakespeare and the average reader get their input.  Then throughout the play there are footnotes.  Sometimes the notes provide additional information about a particular joke, sometimes they include additional notes on stage direction and most of the time they fall into the dick-and-fart jokes category.  See most of the jokes in the Romeo and Juliet section. 

I'll probably make future references to this play in my later posts.  I tend to read this play as a sort of literary palate cleanser, mostly because it's short and I know it so well.  And I plan on having a few Shakespeare related posts so I'm sure this will get mentioned again.

Update! I realized while re-reading this post that I can't convey the humor of the play quite as well as some quotes can.  So here is a small sampling of a few of my favorites:

"So now to the feast of Capulet
Where Romeo is doomed to meet his Juliet.
And where, in a scene of timeless romance,
He'll try to get into Juliet's pants." 14

"Here's the story of a brother by the name of Othello
He liked white women and he liked green Jello" 33

"In fact, one of [the Lesser plays], 'Troilus and Cressida', is hardly crap at all." 50

"I told these guys, 'I will NOT do dry, boring...vomitless Shakespeare for these people," 53

One part of Ophelia's Superego during the Workshop portion of the show
"Look, cut the crap, Hamlet, my biological clock is ticking and I want babies now!" 88

*I would like to say thanks to my high school English teachers that taught me to love instead of fear Shakespeare, as so many other teacher seem to do.  So thanks Courtley, Waite and Porrazzo! 

Title quote page 84

Borgenson, Jess, Adam Long, Daniel Singer.  ed. Professor J.M. Winfield.  The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged).  Applause books, New York.  1994.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

As everybody knows, no one with red hair can ever truly be said to be handsome.

I just finished Volume I: Mr Norrell of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell and I had to use that quote in my title.  As soon as I read it I started laughing and decided I should get a greeting card to send to my brother with this message. I'm a good sister like that.  The Red in my blog name is indeed in reference to my hair color and mean comments about red heads usually make me laugh, especially the Ginger Kids South Park episode. Maybe the comment would be less funny if I was boy as I've decided girls are mostly immune to red-headed insults.  But the book is about much more than the lack of handsome red heads!

The longer I read this book the more I like it.  At this point the only complaint I have is the size of the book.  I mentioned in an earlier post that this book is quickly pushing me over to the e-reader side of that whole argument because of the weight of it.  I feel like a wimp complaining about it but after balancing it in one hand each day to read it I find myself contemplating very tiny books as my next reads. 

--I want to warn readers that following contains spoilers so if you don't want plot points ruined for you, stop now.--

The first volume primarily concerns the titular Mr. Norrell, the last practical magician in England and he very much enjoys his position as the last and importantly the only practicing magician.  He despises the theoretical magicians who study the history of magic yet he other characters are hard-pressed to get Mr Norrell to actually perform any sort of magic.  He performs the first act of magic England has seen in decades, but will only do it if the theoretical magicians agree to take up a new profession if he succeeds.  He only brings Miss Wintertowne back from the dead to win favor with her betrothed and doing so sacrifices half of her life to the faeries.  He refuses to share  any of his magical knowledge except for magical history, as he feels the current literature is all wrong and he drives all of the false magicians out of London.  But he's not an evil character and the fact that he can have such negative qualities and yet not be vilified makes him interesting.  If anything he reminds me of the gentlemen scientists that Bill Bryson mentions in A Short History of Nearly Everything.  He believes that no one but himself is capable of appreciating magic and that everyone else, past and present, has magic all wrong yet he continuously makes excuses for why he can't publish anything or why he can't perform magic and excuse after excuse.  So much of the story so far has been about people trying to convince Mr Norrell to do, well, anything other than sit in his study and read. 

--You can read again! The rest is spoiler free.  I know you're excited.--

I'm looking forward to finally meeting Jonathan Strange.  He's been mentioned in passing in the footnotes throughout Volume I and there's a little of his history mentioned but for the most part he's a mystery man.  But, since the next volume is called Jonathan Strange I assume we'll be hearing from him.  And the blurb on the back of the book describes Strange as "young, handsome and daring...the very antithesis of Norrell" so I'm interested to see a more lively character.

Title quote from page 243
Image from page 107

Clarke, Susanna.  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, London.  2004.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In short, he wished to know why there was no more magic done in England

I am 12 chapters into Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke and I fear I didn't really know what I was getting into.  I mean this in the most wonderful way.  There's something about the book that, even before you begin reading it, feels timeless.  Maybe it's the simple cover or the fact that I feel like I've seen this book in a hundred places without ever really being able to place it.  A friend had brought it with him during a spring break trip to Ireland and while I remember him reading it on several of the long bus rides I don't remember him ever talking about it.  (I would think "who would bring a book like this on spring break" but I'm usually countered with "who goes to Ireland for spring break," so touche.)  Another friend also read it and recommended it without ever saying why, which was unusual for him as he generally would have be read especially interesting passages out of the books he was reading.  So maybe it's this initial mystery of the book, something other people were reading but weren't talking about, as if it were some inside joke or secret.

The style of the book certainly feels like an old book and again, I mean this as a compliment.  The book is an alternate history of England in the early 1800s and Clarke makes it feel like other books written at this time, like Austen.  After I had begun the book I double checked the inside cover to see when this book was actually published.  I'm sure a scholar of Victorian literature could explain to me all of the reasons this is wrong.  I don't mean Clarke's work is equal to Austen.  I haven't read far enough to say if that's the case, but I'm not a huge fan of work from this time period so I can't say if there is a different author from this time she sounds more like. 

The book, in a simplified summary, is an alternate history about magicians in England during the Napoleonic wars.  To me this sounds like it could be interesting or it could be very dry, depending on how much of the book is about the wars and how much is about magic.  What I didn't expect is how much it is about general life for the upper middle class and how much of the book is about dinners and card playing and gentlemen.  It's in this sense that it reminds me of the many dinners and dances of Austen's work.  I would not have previously said the forced courtesy of 19th century discourse is what I want to spend my free time reading but I'm loving it.  I'm sure the fact that it is about a magician, not matter how dull he may be, helps the matter.  And there is a humor to the interactions, a satire of the times that Clarke subtly employs.  Here's an excerpt that gives a good indication of the general tone and language
"You are a magician, sir?" said Mrs Wintertowne.  "I am sorry to hear it.  It is a profession I have a particular dislike to."  She looked keenly at him as she said so, as though her disapproval might in itself be enough to make him renounce magic instantly and take up some other occupation." (88)
I suppose Clarke's humor also reminds me of Dickens.  There's a smirking sarcasm to it that feels more like Dickens, although that could be because I'm also reading A Christmas Carole on my iPod Touch to see if I can get used to reading on there or if I should give in and get an e-reader. 

I will most likely have a few entries on other books while I get through this one.  I have a bit of reading ADD and as it is I'm supposed to be reading What's My Name, Fool? for my book club.  It's really more of a drink-wine-and-catch-up club but we at least pick out a book for everyone to read so I'll try to get to this one as well.  It gives me a chance to read books I wouldn't have picked up on my own.

Title quote page 4

Clarke, Susanna.  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, London.  2004. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Book Blogger Hop II

I enjoyed last week's hop so I figured I would give it a go this week as well.

This Friday's Book Blogger Hop question is who are some of your favorite authors and why?  I have 3 favorite authors, at the moment anyway.

Bill Bryson: A friend of mine (the same one that recommended Kitchen Confidential and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) lent me Bryson's book Made in America: A Brief History of the English Language in the United States and I have been hooked since.  I'm pretty sure he could write about paint drying and it would be funny.  He mostly writes travel books but he has a few language books, a memoir and even a science book.  I constantly re-read his work.  It's my go to book when I'm in the mood to laugh.

Jasper Fforde: Another author I was introduced to do via a lent book.  It's my favorite way to learn about new works.  Anyway, his works are generally a mix of satire, dark humor, fantasy, lots of literary allusions and overall hilarious.  One of the first books I re-read for this blog is The Eyre Affair the first book in the Thursday Next series, which I'm pretty sure I've read at least 5 times.  I anxiously await his latest work Shades of Grey to come out in paperback.

Christopher Moore: This is a relatively new favorite author, for me anyway.  A co-worker had been bugging me to read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal for months before I finally got around to it and I don't know what I was waiting for.  I loved that book.  I've since read 6 of his other works and have had to hold myself back from buying more each time I go to the bookstore.  I'm taking a little break to read someone else's work, at least for a little while.  I wrote a couple entries about his book Coyote Blue for this blog.

One other thing I love about these authors is they all reference Shakespeare and I love Shakespeare.  Bryson wrote a biography on him, Shakespeare: The World as Stage.  Fforde references Shakespeare in at least some small way in all of his books I've read so far and Hamlet is even a character in Something Rotten (see, there's one of those references).  And Moore retells the story of King Lear from the point of view of the Fool in his book Fool.  Fool is a close second to Lamb as my favorite Moore book.

If you are looking for a book, I recommend anything by the author's above.  I'm yet to be let down.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Heavy Tome

I just started the book Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke and it is most literally a heavy tome at 3.6lbs.  This didn't seem like too much when I picked it up at the store, but trying to hold it in one hand while grabbing onto a subway pole with the other I felt every ounce of that weight.  I gazed jealously at a few fellow riders who toted their e-readers.  For awhile I wasn't sure they were for me, but the more I read about them the more I want one.  Now I can't decide between a dedicated e-reader and a multi-function device.  OK, the Kindle and the iPad.  Later versions of the iPad anyway, after they fix a lot of the current limitations and the price comes down.

I'd like a chance to play around with the Kindle.  I've played with the iPad a bunch of times.  The boyfriend is a big Mac fan so when I get dragged to the Apple story I generally find an open iPad and continue reading Super Freakonomics.  I'm up to chapter 1.  I saw a Kindle at a Target a few weeks ago but it was a display, non-working option.  All I could tell from it was the weight which is important but didn't really give me a good idea of actually reading on it.  So Amazon execs that are clearly avid follows of my blog, take note! If you let me play with your toy I'm more likely to buy my own.

Of course the idea of an e-reader makes me a little sad because I picture empty bookshelves.  Sure an e-reader would make packing for vacations much easier and moving would be less of a pain. (Important note: do not split up a few books into all of your boxes to spread out the weight.  Instead of having to put up with a couple very heavy box, every box is heavy. Not only am I now missing some books that are probably still in random boxes in the storage unit under some junk but you get no weight break.)  In general I like my bookshelves.  They're one of the most prominent features of the living room and I like staring at them as I pick what to read next. I'm not much of a decorator so they do a lot of that work for me.  I have a feeling even if I got an e-reader I'd still buy the actual books. It'd be fantastic if you could get both the actual and e-copies of the books in some bundled discount.  Man, I am full of great ideas tonight.

So what do you think: dedicated e-reader (Kindle), multi-function device (iPad) or just suck-it-up-and-deal-with-the-weight actual book?

Update! Thanks to everyone for their comments!  I've decided to try out a couple e-reader apps on my iPod Touch before actually buying anything.  I have both the Kindle and iBooks app so I'll be reading A Christmas Carol on the Kindle app and The Hound of the Baskervilles on iBookes (hooray for free ebooks).  We'll see which, if any, win.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One day you turn around and "social studies" has become "Chilean fiefdoms of the fourteenth century" and that's how you know you're in college.

I liked the quote I used in the title.  It reminded me of my senior seminar class (Gender, Sex and the Rhetoric of Science) as well as the definition of tragedy my Shakespeare's Tragedies professor used: "A dream of innocence, realized by a fact of guilt, that acquiesces therein."  You're missed, professor Howlett.

I finished up I Was Told There'd Be Cake and it was hilarious.  I had to hold back from laughing out loud on the T.  Although perhaps I shouldn't hold that laughter back; I might get more space on the train as people slowly back away from the crazy laughing lady.  Of course with my luck this would just encourage a chatty stranger to start up a conversation and then I'd have a new T buddy who, with my luck, would have the same schedule as me and I'd never get any commute-reading done again.  I'm so anti-social during rush hour.

Right, the book.  At first the stories were a little hit or miss.  None were bad, but some just could not hold my attention.  And the more I read the more I realized that the stories I liked were the ones I could relate to.  I don't think I necessarily need to be able to directly relate a story in order to enjoy it but I was afraid maybe that was the case.  I scanned my shelf to see if this has always been the case.  I suppose it makes sense to see yourself in the story, to see something in the story that you've experienced.  But the more I looked at the other books on the shelf, especially the works of fiction, the more I realized that while there are certain elements of the human experience I can relate to, the stories themselves are foreign.  That's why they're so interesting.

I tried to figure out what is different about IWTTBC.  After mulling it over for awhile, I realized it's the tone and style of the book.  It feels conversational, like you're sharing stories with a friend.  And when you listen to someone else's story, you end up thinking up your own story you'll tell as soon as they finish.  Granted Crosley is a better storyteller than I am and I enjoy listening to her stories without spending the whole time reading it waiting for her to hurry up and finish so I can tell my own (in my head) way-better story. 

Of course this is just my personal experience with the book and I know this will be something I pick up when I want to read a quick essay or two.  Do you find yourself being drawn to books that feel like a conversation? 

Title quote from page 183

Sunday, July 4, 2010

As most New Yorkers have done, I have given serious and generous thought to the state of my apartment should I get killed during the day

The quote I used in the title is the first sentence of the first essay "The Pony Problem" from the book I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley and it was this opening that drew me into the book.  It's what got me to buy the book in the first place.  I had just intended to pick up one new book and I had already found it on one of the bargain tables (win!).  But the other person I had come to the Booksmith with had disappeared so while I wandered around trying to find him I ended up in the Essay section of the store and I saw this book.  I was already getting some strange looks from people who saw me repeatedly wandering up and down aisles without actually looking at the shelves, so to keep from looking suspicious I thought I should stand in one place for awhile and actually look at a book.  So really, I came across this as a tactic to make sure no one thought I was casing the place.  This is one of the reasons I love bookstores; I tend to come across books in the oddest of circumstances. 

I read the first few essays and so far my favorite is "The Good People of This Dimension".  It's probably because out of the stories I've read so far I relate the most to this one.  I don't have a collection of objects from exes ("The Pony Problem"), I'm not Jewish and have never gone to a Christian summer camp ("Christmas in July"), and I've never had a boss as abusive as Sloane ("The Ursula Cookie").  That's not to say I have to relate to a story to enjoy it, but it's certainly easier to commiserate than compare and having shared a number of homes with a number of people, commiserating is what you do when you're talking about apartment living.   

I've never had roommates or shared a building with other tenants who removed the hinges on the door in order to get in because they didn't want to touch the doorknob or tried to dig their way to China.  Perhaps you need to live in NYC to get that level of crazy.  I can certainly relate to the noise complaints. In the essay the restaurant downstairs decides to add a back dining patio and the construction noise each morning becomes a lot to deal with. The kids in one of my old neighborhoods had an affinity for fireworks that didn't limit itself to the 4th of July.  Perhaps they were just more patriotic than I am.  I never made it to the point Sloane did, of actually calling in a formal complaint but I'm sure I will become the crotchety neighbor at some point.  So far the closest I've come is yelling into the vents how crazy it is that you can hear conversations going on in the other apartments after my neighbor woke me up during an argument with his girlfriend at 2am again.  Passive-aggressive I know, but I knew too much about his clearly failing relationship and it seems he thought so too; after this move he made sure to have his arguments at a lower volume.  Or during the work day.  And then he made the ultimate kind gesture and moved out. 

It's not just the shared experience I enjoyed about this story, but the voice that comes through.  The line, "The first floor is really the second floor, which always struck me as very European until I moved in and had to climb an extra flight of stairs each day," (60) made me literally laugh out loud.  Probably because I feel the same way, especially when climbing the stairs to my friend's 4th-floor-but-actually-5th-floor walk-up apartment.  It's a mean trick to play on people. 

I think there's something to her writing that feels like someone sharing her personal stories with you so you want to share something back.  But clearly I'm sharing something here on my blog instead of actually with her.

By the way, happy 4th of July to my fellow American readers!

Title quote from page 1

Crosley, Sloane.  I Was Told There'd Be Cake.  Riverhead Books; New York.  2008.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Book Blogger Hop I

I've seen a number of other blogs I enjoy taking part in the Book Blogger Hop and thought I would give it a try.  It seems like a good way to connect with other bloggers and find some more books to add onto my growing reading list.

Part of the rule for this hop is to include my name and why I started blogging.  My name is Alley and I started blogging because my boyfriend was tiring of me complaining that my English degree was going to waste but not doing anything about it.  I love to read and thought a blog about reading would be a good place to exercise my atrophying writing skills.  Rather than posting general reviews of the books I read I try to find a particular scene, character, line, theme, etc and discuss that.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It was the human mind's final great parlor-trick: the perception of eternity in the place where you'd always expected to spend it

The opening line is from the story "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French" which is not really one of my favorite stories of this collection, but I like this quote.  I like this story while I'm reading it, but as soon as I read the last sentence I'm done.  Out of sight, out of mind as it were.  But I made note of this line while reading the story this time and even though the rest of this entry will be about the story "1408" I wanted to include that line. 

First I want to get it out of the way that I love this story.  It is certainly my favorite of this collection and absolutely in my top 5 favorite short stories.  When I got to the last sentence of this tale, it certainly didn't leave me like the deja vu story did.  As a matter of fact as soon as I read that last sentence I exhaled (I didn't realize I had been holding my breath) and then I immediately went back to the beginning to do it again.  The emotion kind of reminded me of a roller coaster: there's a lot of build up as you climb that first hill, you're grasping tight and screaming as you go around the loops and corkscrews and then when you pull back into the station there's relief and you just want to hop back in line and do it again.  That's how I feel about roller coasters anyway and it's how I see this story.

"1408" is King's "story about the Ghostly Room At The Inn" (457) and I can say this is the only story that really scares me.  The other stories here might interest me or revolt me but this is really the only one that gets under my skin.  I think this is because of that first hill, the build up in Olin's office.  Mike Enslin wants to stay in the hotel's haunted room for his book and Olin has been trying to prevent this and this meeting at the beginning of the story is his last attempt to talk Mike out of his quest.  But the build up is subtle.  You know King is setting you up for the horror to come, but the foreshadowing doesn't beat you over the head.

At one point during this intro Mike pulls out his mini-recorder but soon this move has turned on him.  "Usually [the mini-recorder's] little red eye seemed to be watching the other guy, daring him to say the wrong thing.  This evening it seemed to be looking at Mike himself." (466).  This is the first of many times in this story that simple electronics become this evil presence, but on the first reading I didn't consciously fear the mini-recorder.  I just saw this as the first of many things not going the way Mike had intended, but the fact that the mini-recorder is one of the initial sources as discomfort sets you up for that discomfort later in the room.

The build up is my favorite part of the book and it contributes to the fear and unease I feel when Mike actually makes it up to the haunted room.  But the fear comes from Mike's time in the room.  I think this is because the horrors mostly stay on the peripherals.  There's something not quite right you just catch out of the corner of your eye and slowly it builds and it's a gradual build up.  Like a frog in a pot of boiling water, you don't notice how everything is going wrong until it's too late to turn back.

King mentions in the intro to this story there is an audio recording of this in the compilation Blood and Smoke.  I'd love to hear this.  I think I'll avoid the movie because I'm afraid not only will it not live up to what I hope it will be (and really, I don't see how it could, regardless of how well it's made) and I don't want the movie to taint how I feel about the story.  There's no moral reason for not wanting to see the movie; I just want the story to keep scaring me.

Next up on the reading queue: I Was Told There Would Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

Title quote from page 455

King, Stephen.  “1408”.  Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales.  Pocket Books: New York, 2002