Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it

My friend sent me Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl in a package containing Vonnegut's Galapagos and Mieville's The City and The City.  Galapagos was my copy he was returning and The City and The City was a mutual friend's copy that I'd wanted to read, and Special Topics was a book my friend thought I should check out.  I don't know that I would have picked it up on my own (it's hardback which is almost enough for me to have passed it by) but I'm always glad to take a recommendation from a trusted friend.

I'm only about a quarter of the way through the book so far and I'm hoping the story picks up soon.  According to the back cover and the intro, the story is a murder mystery.  The main character, Blue, finds Hannah dead and must make sense of what's happened.  After setting this up in a few sentences, the story jumps back in time to give you an introduction to Blue and her father, a travelling university professor and kind of a pretentious dick.  OK, that's my take on him and I constantly want someone to spill something staining on his Tweed jacket.  It hasn't happened yet, but I have my hopes.  I'm ambivalent towards Blue at the moment.  She's extremely intelligent due to the constant  assignments and exercises her father has been giving her for as far back as she details.  For reasons unknown to her (and to the reader because the book is told from Blue's point of view) the high society Blueblood group reluctantly brings her into the gilded circle, lead by the soon-to-be-dead Film teacher Hannah.

The chapters are split into a syllabus of Required Reading titles that subtly relate to the chapters.  You need to be familiar with the required readings in order to see all of the parallels and, to me, the most obvious is the Pygmalion chapter, where Blue gets a mini-makeover courtesy of Jade and her mother's black American Express.  I'm glad this isn't more overt or I think this style would seem gimmicky and would take away from the story.*  One thing that is getting slightly annoying is the constant citations for ever reference she makes.  I suppose in a way it shows you how far into academia Blue is but I've found myself skipping over these.  Point made, move on.

I'm undecided on the book so far.  I'm enjoying it but I haven't been pulled into the story yet.  It's been easy for me to put the book down.  I'm hoping the story moves forward soon.  The writing is interesting, the characters are intriguing but now I need the story to continue on.  I do have high hopes though.  My friend wouldn't lead me astray.

*The other chapters I've gone through so far, in case you're curious are: Othello, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Wurthering Heights, The House of the Seven Gables, The Woman in White, Brave New World, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and Madame Bovary.

Title quote from page 5.  It's the opening line.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  Marisha Pessl.  Viking Press, New York.  2006.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Let's go exploring!

I've been a fan of Calvin and Hobbes for years, though I have only vague memories of reading them in the paper, I (or rather my brother) had all of the books while we were growing up and I fondly remember reading and re-reading and re-reading these collections.  So I was excited to see the book Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip by Nevin Martell sitting on the coffee table one day.  Boyfriend's friend had recently read it and lent it to him, knowing he was also a fan. So I put down the book I had been reading so I could make sure I finished this book before Friend started demanding it back.  The book reminded me why I love Calvin and Hobbes but reading the comic strip as self would have done as much.

Martell has a tall order he's trying to fill: get an interview with Watterson, the Salinger of the cartoonist world. Unfortunately though unsurprisingly, he never gets this interview and instead writes the book using "Plan B - otherwise known as the Morbidly Realistic Plan...[writing] the book as if Watterson were dead," (14).  He interviews colleagues and friends of Watterson but never really uncovers new material.  The majority of at least 3 chapters seemed to be him quoting The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary book and an interview in Honk!!.  The anniversary book is my favorite C&H collection, precisely because it includes insights written by Watterson, so Martell didn't really provide any new information about the reclusive cartoonist, and as a result I spent a large portion of the book wishing I was reading that book because then I'd have the comics to read.

I think the book would have benefited from a different viewpoint.  Instead of being written as if Watterson was dead I would have much preferred to read his journey as he tried to get an interview.  The information was there but structured in such a way that it actually took away from Watterson's story.  The book almost makes me want to pick up The Complete Calvin and Hobbes which I've considered on a few occasions but I always put back down because it's so expensive and so large.  

If you've read all you can on C&H and still want to read more, you should check out this book.  I recommend borrowing it though.  If you like C&H and want to learn more about the series and Watterson, read The Tenth Anniversary book instead.

On a separate but related note, one of the gifts I got for Christmas was a framed copy of a Calvin and Hobbes strip.  I mentioned a panel out of the strip once before because the argument Calvin and Hobbes have is pretty much what every argument Boyfriend and I have devolves into.  And as I've mentioned, I'm absolutely Calvin in this relationship.  I wish I was Hobbes but it's just not the case.

The title quote isn't a direct line from the book, though I do vaguely remember it being mentioned.  It's the last lines of the comic strip that ran on December 31, 1995.  Boyfriend actually has this strip from his local paper hanging in his childhood bedroom

Martell, Nevin.  Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip.  Continuum, New York.  2009.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Chrismahanakwanzaakah to all

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Fabulous Festivus, Exciting Kwanza, Amazing Atheist Gift-Giving Holiday or whatever you want to go with. 

I've managed to get some computer time tonight and I'm still catching up on my Google Reader for the last day or so.  It's amazing how quickly that thing can spiral out of control.  I've been travelling around* to make it to all of the family Christmases.  Thus far we've done Christmas #1 with my family.  Lots of good food, family I don't see nearly enough and, of course, gifts.  Because I'm materialistic like that.  I got that Kindle I mentioned in my last post, so I'm excited to see how reading goes on it.  I'm thinking of getting the Bill Bryson At Home book on it, since I was going to wait for it to come out in paperback but I'm incredibly impatient.  I got another Shakespeare biography, Soul of the Ages by Jonathan Bate, because I only have 4 of them and that's clearly not enough.  I also managed to nab seasons 1-3 of Mad Men and Sims3 plus a couple expansion packs so I'm set with entertainment for awhile.

Tomorrow will be Christmas with the Boyfriend's familia, which means more good food (and most likely a mix of Chinese and Puerto Rican food, which is interesting and delicious) and good people to hang out with.  I'm thinking the next few days will be as busy as the last couple have been, but next week I should have time for reading and blogging, which I know you're just holding you breath waiting for. 

Again, I wish everyone seasons greetings, happy holidays, etc etc. 

*Any potential thieves know that I own nothing of value, unless you think you can make some money off of broken Ikea furniture.  You should also keep in mind I live at the top of a 5 floor walk-up so not only will you be disappointed if you break in, you'll be tired.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top Books I Want for Xmas

Another Tuesday, another top 10 list hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Sticking with the holiday season, this week's question is what are the top 10 books I want for Christmas.

I don't usually ask for books for Christmas.  I might ask for a gift card to buy my own books but I do a lot of my book purchasing based on whatever I feel like at the moment, so I can never really give people a list of things I want. I prefer this method to having people buy me books.  Except my Dad.  He gets a pass because he seems to know what books I'll like before I consider them.

I started this thinking I might actually be able to think up 10 books I want but I'm drawing a blank so we'll see how far I make it.

  1. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.  I love Fforde's series and I can't wait for a new world of his creation.  The Next series and the Nursery Crime series are both wonderful.  Actually, I want Santa or whomever to wait to give me this until it's in paperback.  That's the reason I haven't picked it up for myself just yet.  Maybe it could be a signed copy.  That's be pretty sweet.
  2. At Home by Bill Bryson. I've been waiting for this one to come out in paperback as well.  I love Bryson and look forward to reading whatever he happens to write.  
  3. Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson. While on the topic of Bryson, I used to have this book and during one of my many moves it got lost or lent out to someone or something that just removed it from my possession.  I'd like it back or a new copy.
  4. Anything by Christopher Moore I don't already have.  That's an extensive list.  Maybe I should start with Bloodsucking Fiends, seeing as I've read You Suck: A Love Story already, not realizing it was a sequel.  Actually I don't know where my copy of You Suck went, so I'd like that as well.
  5. Some more Vonnegut.  It's been awhile since I've read his work and I should probably pick up some more of his stuff.  Any suggestions*?
  6. Kindle. I know this isn't a book but I still want it.  And I actually know I'm getting it, much to the chagrin of my mom who wishes it was a secret.  But I kept going back and forth between the Kindle and the Color Nook so she eventually told me she got it.  Whoops.  I annoyed her into telling me.  It's like I haven't aged at all.
I am such a failure at these top 10 lists.  I'd just rather write out the things I think fit the topic rather than pad it out with other stuff.  What's on your want list?

*I've read Slaughterhouse-Five; Breakfast of Champions; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Galapagos; Sirens of Titan.  I feel like I'm missing one but since I can't think of it I guess it'd be fine if I read it again. 
Update: Paolo remembered the missing book, because he knows my bookshelf better than I do apparently. I've also read Cat's Cradle.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why *is* a door-nail the deadest piece of ironmongery?

In honor of the Christmas season I've decided to read Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  I have a nice copy of the book with the full illustrations I got years and years ago and I'm sure it's somewhere safe.  I just don't know where that safe place is.  Instead I am reading it on my iPod.  Awhile back, when I was first looking into eReaders, I downloaded the Kindle and iBooks apps, along with 1 free book each, to see what I thought of them.  A Christmas Carol happened to be my Kindle buy so this worked out nicely.  And reading on my iPod isn't as bad as I assumed it would be.  The screen is small but it doesn't bother me too much while I'm actually reading.  I'll still take a real book over reading on this screen though.

My favorite adaptation.
I'm not going to review the book because what am I going to say that hasn't been said a million times far more eloquently than I could put it.  I won't bother describing the plot because even if you've never read the book you've seen one of the thousands of adaptations of it I'm sure.  Perhaps if you live in a mud hut you've managed to escape all of them, but then again you're most likely lacking internet as well, which means you aren't reading this.  Instead I'll talk about the humor of the story, which I think a lot of the adaptations ignore.  They might be funny in a different way, but I think most miss the humor of the original.  Except for A Muppet Christmas Carol which uses a lot of direct quotes from the story PLUS singing Muppets! Which is why it's my favorite Christmas movie.

What surprised me the first time I really read and paid attention to A Christmas Carol was how funny it is.  The first few pages are my favorite of the book.  Sure it's mostly Dickens going off on a tangent about door-nails and coffin-nails but I love it.  For those unfamiliar with the details of this opening, here they are:
"Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.  Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail.  I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.  But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for."
 I probably find this so funny because I could see myself musing on a topic like this and then losing track of what I was originally talking about while I was on my coffin vs door nail argument.  And a coffin nail does make way more sense as the most dead piece of iron.  What's so dead about a door?  Is it more dead than a window?  What if it's a door to a morgue?  Still has lots of live people going through it while the coffin is just full of dead people.  And I'll get off my tangent now.

I like the early parts of the book the best because it's when Scrooge is the nastiest and the most fun to watch.  Sure I want him to be saved and become nice but he's fun to watch when he's a crotchety old man and I love him talking with Marley.  When confronted with the ghost he tells him that he's just a figment of indigestion and if he wanted to he could swallow a toothpick and then have a legion of goblins. Scrooge makes puns in a situation where I would have cowered under the covers. 

So those are my admittedly not-very-deep reasons for liking this book so much.  For those that have read it or are at least familiar with the adaptations, why do you like or hate this story?

The title is at least in relation to the quote I used earlier.  I'm not exactly sure how to get page numbers off this Kindle app but it lists the location as 9-12.  If that means anything to you, super.  It doesn't to me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And then Bond fought a giant squid

I know when I was reading this I found lots of ridiculous quotes but I didn't mark them down and I can't find them right now.  So that title isn't a quote but it is what happened and is just as ridiculous.  It's too bad there were no lasers.  Also I guess this kind of includes spoilers but the title does as well and you've probably already read that.  Sorry.  Don't worry, it wasn't a huge surprise.

This would have been
awesome too.
Dr. No by Ian Fleming was a fun book and if you're a big fan of the movies I'm sure you would have enjoyed this more than I did.  For me it was entertaining.  At least a third of the entertainment came from the fact that it shows it's age and I enjoyed reading my friend passages that I would not feel comfortable reading to the general public.* The rest of it is the same sort of entertainment you'd expect from a Bond film.  A Bond film pre-Daniel Craig, where it's cheesier and has the evil-maniacal super-villain with a secret lair built into the side of a mountain.  Also a pain obstacle course that ends in giant squid fight!  I mean all of this as a compliment.  It's not a deep book with complex characters or subtle themes but really, if you're reading Bond for those things you're doing it wrong.

I would like to mention the part that I seem to keep dwelling on in the book and that goes along with the I-would-be-uncomfortable-reading-this-aloud-in-public, though apparently not discussing it publicly here:  Chigroes, which were a regular feature throughout the novel.  I want to explain why I've brought them up multiple times and not just because I thought they were horribly racially insensitive.  It's also because I can't think of too many other races/nationalities that you can smoosh the 2 together to create a descriptor for the person.  What I mean is Boyfriend is Puerto Rican** and Chinese and refers to himself as China Rican***.  (Or Chinarican.  I should ask him to spell it out for me.)  I haven't heard this happen with different nationalities but if you can think of examples, or want to make some up, please throw them out there.  So I guess this was just my "I swear I'm not racist and just find this funny.  I'm sure that makes me kind of a bad person but whatever" excuse.

*I'm not saying Fleming was a racist (probably sexist in a Don Draper kind of way) but that it was just the time.  It just makes it awkwardly funny now.  To me anyway.

**Blogger spell check does not recognize Puerto Rican as a set of words.  If I go with their first spell check options I get Puerile Rica.  Yup, that's what I was going for.  Thanks for the help.

***The classic sensibilities of a Chinese man mixed with dynamic flair of a Puerto Rican.  Boyfriend is a fan of Conan and the Pimpbot 5000.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

1001 Books You Must Read...but I probably won't

There's a challenge going around based on the book 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die* and first of all I want to commend everyone that is taking on this challenge because it is daunting.  And I know you're not supposed to read all 1001 books in a year but it still seems like a hefty challenge nonetheless.  I'm not going to take part in the actual challenge because anytime I'm told to do anything (even if I'm the one doing the telling) I tend to do the opposite.  So I think if I said I would do this challenge I would not read any books and suddenly become a big Jersey Shore fan and no one wants that. (Jersey Shore is the opposite of reading books right?)  But I don't want to be left out of the fun of lists(!) so I figured I'd go through this list and tell you the ones I've read already.  A couple people have already done this (Lit Musings** and Dead End Follies) and their lists intimidate me, which is probably another reason I won't be participating.  Mostly the pressure thing though.

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Wow that is pathetic.  1 from the 2000s.  I have The Corrections sitting on my shelf, but I got distracted by the collection of books a friend send me.  I'll get to it soon.  Soon-ish.

2. Jazz by Toni Morrison
3. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
4. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
5. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
7. Watchmen by Alan Moore & David Gibbons
8. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
10. If On A Winter's Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino
11. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
12. The Shining by Stephen King
13. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
14. Sula by Toni Morrison
15. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
16. Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut
17. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
18. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
19. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
20. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
21. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
22. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
23. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
24. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
25. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
26. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (I practically made it through the full thing and this list is making me sad, so go with it)
27. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
28. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
29. Animal Farm by George Orwell
30. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
31. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
32. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
33. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
34. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Alright, I got 33 here.  Better showing but I'm afraid that will be my best category.

35. Dracula by Bram Stoker
36. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
37. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
38. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
39. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
40. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
41. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
42. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
43. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
44. The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe
45. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
46. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe
47. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
48. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
49. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
14 here.  I guess that sounds about right

50. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
51. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
2 and it's still better than the 2000s

52. Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
53. Aesop's Fables by Aesopus
Even my pre-1700s score beats the 2000s.

So there you go.  53 down.  I don't know how many to go.  I'd need to go through the list and pick out the ones I would like to read.  Let's just say x to go.  (Check out my use of math.  I'm getting ready for that Physics book.)

*You can sort the list of books by author lifespan.  It's what it defaults to.  That seemed kind of messed up to me.

**If you check out Brenna's post and read the comments, you'll notice without even considering the challenge myself I'm trying to convince her to cheat and count the books she reads in multiple challenges.  Just another reason why I'm not taking on these challenges.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Red Read has returned

Look how excited they are that I'm back.
First of all I'd like to say I'm very very happy my blog is back and I'm going to start backing up all of my posts in case Blogger decides to go haywire again.  For those that follow me on Twitter, sorry you had to see all of my annoying blog complaining.  For those that don't follow me on Twitter (or those that ignored my annoying Tweets, which is probably what I would have done) here's what happened:

Blogger has some algorithm to find spam blogs.  If it finds a spam blog it's supposed to let you know that it thinks your blog is spam and then you have to go through an appeals process to show that you aren't spam.  Sometimes it marks obviously non-spam blogs as spam but it's trying.  What happened was sometime on 12/9 something went wonky (technical term) and Blogger accidentally deleted a whole bunch of blogs without any sort of warning or appeals process.  On the Blogger forum thread I was on there were about 100+ blogs by the end that had been deleted without warning.  Awesome right?  I woke up Saturday morning and went to sign into my blog and Blogger was like "What blog?  You don't have a blog?  Would you like to start a new blog since you've never had a blog before."  Google searches found my blog, but clicking on it just brought up a page saying "Oh no, you're mistaken.  There's no one by that name here."

After some searching around I found the forum post about this issue, added my name to the list of other deleted blogs and then compulsively refreshed to see if anything had been resolved.  2 days later and question is suddenly marked as answered.  So I check my blog and here it is!  This has also shown me that I'm apparently a wee bit of a blogging addict and should probably do something about that but at the moment all I'm going to do is a happy dance.

AND, during some of my non-blogging delirium time, I decided I'd try to host one of those giveaway things to celebrate my fact that my blog did come back.  I'll probably do it right after the holidays because I need to figure out how to run this thang, but keep an eye out for that. 

I'll have a real post soon but I think I like doing TwitterBookReviews as well so I'll probably keep that up on top of an actual review.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Literary Pet Peeves

Another Thursday, another literary blog hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase.  This week's question is: what is one of your literary pet peeves?

I've glanced at a couple people's entries so far and there are some good examples of things that really grind my gears (thanks Family Guy!) but at the moment I have a literary pet peeve I'm trying to work through: eye dialect.  I wrote about this recently because I'm never one to turn down a chance to complain, so apologies if you don't want to hear it again.  You could instead listen to this men's a capella group doing a cover of Bad Romance.

For those that don't follow ever post I put out there (and why not??) I hate when author's use difficult-to-follow eye dialect.  I understand it can add flavor to the text and give you an idea how the author thinks the characters sound.  But I can never figure out what's being said unless I read it out loud.  And there are a couple problems with that.

1) I'm usually in public when I read and people don't seem to appreciate someone reading aloud in a ridiculous accent.
2) The most recent examples I've come across are in Dr. No by Ian Fleming and I feel really racist reading those parts out loud, even when I'm home.

Here is an example of the eye dialect I just had to get through:
'Him have plenty watchmen. An' guns - machine guns.  An' a radar.  An' a spottin' plane.  Frens o' mine have landed dere and him never been sen again. Dat Chinee keep him island plenty private.  Tell dat trut', cap'n', Quarrel as apologetic 'dat Crab Key care me plenty.'
Or if you'd prefer an example from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. At least he realized how difficult it would be to read (and probably sucked to write it) so he dropped it after you got the point.
Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y' de-ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel's flahrzn than ran awy atbaht pyin. Will ye-oo py me f'them?
So what are your literary pet peeves?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I'm on Twitter

This isn't really breaking news, cos I've been on Twitter for awhile now.  I started using it probably sometime over the summer when I needed to learn more about it for work.  My co-worker and I set up our own personal accounts and I've been hooked since.  I can't really explain the appeal but I'm on the thing all the time so it's got its hooks in me. 

Why am I bothering to tell you about my Twitter account?  Because slowly people from the book blogging universe found me over there.  Then I started tweeting my blog entries because someone recommended it as a good way to share your blog.  Originally I was keeping the 2 separate because my Twitter account isn't really about books so much as it's about whatever is on my mind at that moment.  But now the two worlds have collided so I figured it was time to add a Twitter button onto my blog.  It's over there on the left.
I love that the bird looks terrified.

I follow a few different book bloggers and it was fortuitous that the day I decide I should just suck it up and add a button is also the day Brenna from Literary Musings asked on Twitter about any good follow buttons.  And Greg from The New Dork Review recommended a site that looked pretty good, so I piggy-backed on that advice and here we are now.

So if you want to follow me, the button is now up!  Just fair warning, the Twitter account isn't book centric so don't expect great literary witticisms.  Not that you're getting those here but you really shouldn't look for them there.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Favorite Places to Read

I skipped out on last week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, because I couldn't really think of literary characters I'd want to be BFFs with.  I usually do the top 10 if either it's something I've thought about before or if it's something I can think of some answers to right off the bat.  But like the worst character names, the topic just made me go "meh," so I didn't bother. But I am back this week for the topic: Favorite Places to Read.  As usual we'll see if I can make it to 10.  Also as usual (though I don't always state it) the answers are in the order I thought of them, not in any "most to least" favorite order.  I usually read curled up on the couch or maybe in bed but here are my favorite places to read

  1. Central Park - At least when the weather is nice.  I love Central Park and it is probably one of my favorite places to be overall.  Having a book only makes it better.  I usually read over by the baseball fields, since I'm usually with Boyfriend and we're either watching some team play or he and his friends are playing.
  2. The Beach - For the most part any beach will do, so long as it has nice sand, it's not too windy, it's warm and I have an umbrella.  I am far to pale to actually sit out in the sun so the umbrella is key.
  3. My friend's giant pink chair - I wish I had a picture of this thing.  It was a chair you could comfortably fit 2 (very close) people in.  It was squishy and soft and the best place to curl up. 
  4. Boston Public Gardens - If you've seen Good Will Hunting the Public Gardens are where Robin Williams and Matt Damon go to sit on a bench and talk, out by the swan boats.  It has more shade (so pale) and more benches than the Commons has and is generally a more relaxing place.
  5. The T - I know, I know, I hate the T so how is this one of my favorite reading spots? Hear me out: if I have to take a long subway ride AND I get a seat (preferably with no one on either side of me) I can get a lot of quality reading done because I'm so focused on blocking everything out that I can get fully absorbed into the book.  I haven't had this experience in awhile and I miss it.
Alright, so I only made it to 5.  I'm sure there are more great places to read I'm not thinking of.  So where are your favorite places to read?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Morning 007

Normal day at the office
I decided to give some Ian Fleming a go, mostly because of my brother, for 2 reasons.  He's a James Bond fan and I'm pretty sure his last job was for a James Bond-esque villain.  Maybe not Dr. No but at least someone like Hank Scorpio (who by the way is one of my favorite one-time Simpsons characters).  He described some of the projects he was working on and they all seemed to involve lasers pointed at a person, usually aimed at the jugular or eyeball.  Sure, he claims it was part of some elaborate lie detector test that involves measuring heart rate or eye movements, but I assume it's a lie detector that involves making the person tell the truth or you shoot them with lasers.  He also recently described part of his office as the "command center" and this is apparently not just some nerdy nickname but the actual name of the place.  I've advised him to quit immediately if they ask him to start wearing a jumpsuit to work.

I haven't see the movie Dr. No, so other than the usual Bond hijinks I wasn't too sure what I was in for.  My initial thoughts are this book has not aged all that well.  The book was written in '58 and displays the racial sensitivities you would expect of a book from this time.  One of the characters, Quarrel, is described as "West Indian" and is given the dialect to match.  I hate when authors do this because it makes it that much more difficult to read unless I'm reading it out loud, which is generally discouraged when in public.  Here's a bit of his speech describing Dr. No:
"'Him have plenty watchmen. An' guns - machine guns.  An' a radar.  An' a spottin' plane.  Frens o' mine have landed dere and him never been sen again. Dat Chinee keep him island plenty private.  Tell dat trut', cap'n', Quarrel as apologetic 'dat Crab Key care me plenty.'" (40)
So that's been fun to wade through so far. There are also some Chinese-Africans called Chigroes (racial sensitivity!)

Even though I haven't seen Dr. No, I can't help but already have a vision of what Bond is like.  Thus far he's somewhere between Connery and Craig, although I understand that Bond as Fleming has written him is even more amoral than the version Craig plays.  So far M fits this description.  In the first few pages he's listing off organs that his agents can go without, including: "one of his two lungs" and "two of his four or five quarts of blood," (13).  Considering this is Bond's boss, no wonder he's a bad ass.  There's also a picture of Fleming on the inside cover and I now picture him as M.  He has this expression on his face that says "I'm tired of your bullshit and if you keep this up, I'm putting this cigarette out in your eye."  M is so well defined in a few pages, I'm hoping Bond gets fleshed out more.  Hopefully once Quarrel has wandered off so I don't need to read his lines anymore.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes.  If anyone has read any of the Bond books, let me know which you liked better: the book or the movies.  I know in general the books are better but so far this has the potential to show me that I like the film version of Bond.

Fleming, Ian.  Dr. No.  Penguin Books, New York.  2002.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Travel is more fun - hell, life is more fun - if you can treat it as a series of impulses

I mentioned in my previous Neither Here Nor There post that the Italy portion of Bryson's journey through Europe is my favorite part and this post would most likely just be a series of quotes.  I gave you a little bit of false hope that this might be something other than that, but nope!  I love Bryson's voice in his writing and I love Italy so I think the best thing to do is to share my favorite quotes from the Italy chapters.  These are the quotes that made me laugh, reminded me of Italy or, most often, a little of both.

I feel I should, at least briefly, explain my Italian infatuation.  First, despite the red hair, I am part-Italian.  I'm originally from Northern New Jersey (think Sopranos locales and please ignore Jersey Shore) so I grew up assuming everyone was at least a little Italian.  And because my grandmother is very proud that she is Italian and my other non-Italian relatives didn't really seem to care too much about their background, I most identify with this portion of my heritage.  Second, I studied in Italy for a semester in college.  My friend and I picked Italy because when I mentioned other countries to my grandma she got nervous (this is her normal state-of-mind).  When I mentioned we might go to Italy she lit up because see, that's not a foreign country, that's "home," so it's not scary to her.  And off we go...

"The Italians appear to have devised a way of having sex without taking their clothes off, and they were going at it hammer and tongs up there.  I had an ice cream and watched to see how many of the lovers tumbled over the edge to be dashed on the rocks below, but none did, thank goodness.  They must wear suction cups on their back." (133)

"I love the way Italians park.  You turn any street corner in Rome and it looks as if you've just missed a parking competition for blind people...Romans park their cars the way I would park if I had just spilled a beaker of hydrochloric acid on my lap." (134)

"Italians are entirely without any commitment to order.  They live their lives in a kind of pandemonium, which I find very attractive.  They don't line up, they don't pay their taxes, they don't turn up for appointments on time, they don't undertake any sort of labor without a small bribe, they don't believe in rules at all." (135)

"[Italians] are too busy expending their considerable energies on the pleasurable minutiae of daily life - on children, on good food, on arguing in cafes - which is just how it should be." (136)

"I stood there for ages, perhaps for an hour and a half, then turned and walked back toward my hotel and realized that I had fallen spectacularly, hopelessly, and permanently in love with Italy." (153)

"I passed the Istituto Tecno Commerziale [in Naples], where a riot seemed to be in progress both inside and outside the building.  Students were hanging out the upstairs windows, tossing down books and papers and holding shouting exchanges with their colleagues on the ground.  Were this was some sort of protest or merely part of the daily routine I couldn't tell." (155)

"I walked down to the Uffizi Palace and around the Piazza della Signoria and the other fixtures of the old part of town and it was the same everywhere - throngs of people, almost all of them from abroad, shuffling about in that aimless, exasperating way of visitors, in groups of five and six, always looking at something about twenty feet above ground level.  What is it they see up there?" (160)

"I remembered reading that it was near Lake Como that Mussolini was found hiding after Italy fell to the Allies, and I figured it must have something going for it if it was the last refuge of a desperate man. (174).

Title quote from page 131

Bryson, Bill.  Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe.  HarperCollins, New York.  1992.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: My favorite poem

Time again for the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase.  The question for this week is what is your favorite poem and why?

When given the choice between poetry and prose, I tend to go for a novel.  Having said that, I'm still too fickle to pick one poem I like most of all, so here are a few I love. 

Ulysses by Tennyson.  I was instantly taken by this poem the first time I read it in a high school English class.   Ulysses is tired of being in Ithaca and wants another adventure and I love the voice Tennyson gives Ulysses: "How dull it is to pause, to make an end,/ To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!"  Wonderful call to action.

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. From high school through times in college I had this poem up on my wall.  I just love the nonsense verse and I can't help but hear the opening and closing lines in the Cheshire Cat's voice.

Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare.  I love Shakespeare and this is my favorite of all of his sonnets.  It's the opening lines that get me: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments. Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds;" If I were to get a tattoo, it would most likely be from this poem.  So I suppose that means this is my favorite poem.

What's your favorite poem?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I loved the idea that you could never be sure of anything in Europe

I want to start my posts about Bill Bryson's Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by saying this is one of my favorite books and one I have read multiple times.  If I start relentlessly gushing, just keep in mind I am unable to give an unbiased review.  Though now that I've typed that I realize that suggests that I believe my other reviews/posts/whathaveyou are unbiased and I don't really think that's true.  Well, now that I've spent the entire intro contradicting myself, onto the book.

If it wasn't clear from the title, the book is about Bryson's travels through Europe. (Though if it wasn't clear, perhaps you should move along. Maybe lie down for awhile.) He somewhat retraces the trip he had taken years earlier with his friend Stephen Katz, a character you may remember from A Walk in the Woods. He tells stories about his first trip, describes his trials and tribulations navigating new cities, and describes all the wonderful and frustrating things about Europe.

It's the style that gets me.  Bryson has the best voice for a travelogue. At least in my opinion, having hardly read any other travelogues.  None that I can think of right now anyway.  I don't really want to read about spiritual journey about self-discovery, I want to hear a funny story by a clumsy, not-very-suave guy as he goes to places that I want to see.  I've traveled a little around Europe (some Ireland, some Italy) but my current financial situation means I won't be jetting off to the continent whenever my little heart desires.  This acts as a nice stand-in if I get the urge to travel but the ATM makes a sad trombone sound when I check my balance.  And let's face it, when I travel my experiences are much closer to the awkward situations Bryson finds himself in than any journey of enlightenment.

The book is a quick read, one of the reasons I've read it so many times.  And I tend to pick it up if I've just read something I didn't enjoy or if I want to go back to something familiar.  I know all the funny situations in the book, yet they make me laugh every time.  Bryson has a fantastic way of describing events or general observations in this amazingly witty way.  I know I've said it before but I'm pretty sure he could write about paint drying and I'd still be cracking up.  Here's a quick example of his view on countries living up to their stereotypes:
"Germans are flummoxed by humor, the Swiss have no concept of fun, the Spanish think there is nothing at all ridiculous about eating dinner at midnight, and the Italians should never, ever have been let on to the invention of the automobile." (35)
The book isn't Bryson going to a city, telling you where he ate, what museums he say and providing travel recommendations. You'd need a Lonely Planet book if that's what you want. He'll discuss the basic feeling of the city: the abundance of hippies in Amsterdam, the air of sophistication and wealth in Aachen, the fact that all Parisian drivers want him dead.  He breaks up his current journey with tales of his previous trip with Katz, as well as stories from the cities history or of his own history or just small bits of advice while traveling, such as the importance of making sure a German restaurant does not have a polka band that will surprise you during your meal.  As he says; "It should have been written into the armistice treaty that the Germans would be required to lay down their accordions along with their arms," (73).

I'm almost to my favorite part of the book, when he gets to Italy.  Reading this part always makes me long to go back.  I'm thinking that post will possibly just be a series of quotes because I'm not sure I can say anymore that I haven't already shared, yet I'm not quite finished talking about it yet.  Perhaps I'll come up with something incredibly insightful in the time being but I wouldn't count on it.

Title quote from page 35

Bryson, Bill.  Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe.  HarperCollins, New York.  1992.