Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happiness is learning there are more books coming

You guys. You guys! YOU GUYS!*

Jasper Fforde has another series.
 I know! I'm excited too!

The new series is called The Last Dragonslayer. Those of you in the UK may be like "Alley, really? This is old news" because apparently the first book has been out there since 2010. But I just heard about it now because I'm not good at keeping up with things. Or being observant in general. Fforde Tweeted something about finishing a draft of another Thursday Next book (more OMG!!1!) so I checked out his website and what do you know. New (to me) series.

That is all. Please carry on with your day.

*I use "guys" as a gender neutral term, though I know many of you are ladies.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I feel like I'm supposed to be here

I didn't mean to read Dave Egger's Zeitoun. I mean I've wanted to read it for awhile. I've even picked it up a few times but I always put it back and grabbed something else. I was planning on reading My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. And then I forgot it. I went to visit my mom for the holiday weekend and I realized I had left the book on the table but figured I never actually get any reading done when I'm visiting. We're always out running around or talking. It wasn't until we were too far to turn around that I realized while I may not get to read the book at my mom's, I did have about 2 hours of train travel. Can't do that without a book so I went to a bookstore and Zeitoun jumped out at me. I'm so glad it did.

I can't remember the last time a book made me so angry. Not at the book. I loved the book. But at what happens. I'm going to warn you now that this is going to be all kinds of spoilery. As spoilery as you can make a non-fiction book I suppose. If you don't want to read on, just know that I loved this and you should read it.

I only knew the basics of the of the book when I picked it up: it's about Hurricane Katrina, it focuses on a single Muslim family, there is some unfair prison time. So when I started the book I was surprised at how happy it is, how much hope there is, how absurd and surreal things got in New Orleans during the flooding. Kathy and the kids evacuated the city while Zeitoun (it's his last name but people had trouble with his name Abdulrahman so he typically went by this) stayed behind to watch over the family painting company and check-in on their several rental properties. There's some tense scenes in the first part of the book while you find out exactly what sort of damage the hurricane and then flood caused to the Zeitoun home and Kathy's worry for her husband. But Zeitoun was fine. He had brought out a canoe and was spending his days paddling around his adopted city helping anyone he could. He rescued neighbors, kept some dogs fed, and generally made himself useful. He even found a working phone at one of their rental properties and made sure to call his wife daily. Whenever Kathy would beg him to come home he would tell her he felt like God had a plan for him, and he was supposed to be there helping people.

There are scary moments, as the relief workers don't seem to be very helpful in actually offering relief and he does see a few gangs of looters, although they leave him alone. Really, the most upsetting thing in the first half was around Kathy. She was raised Southern Baptist but had converted to Islam before meeting Zeitoun and her family seemed to think of it as a phase (even several years later). That and Kathy's legitimate worry for Zeitoun. She's watching all of these awful things on the news about the conditions in New Orleans. And as she says, it's unfair that Zeitoun has the comfort of knowing his family is safe. Kathy and the kids don't have the same luxury. But really these are small things compared to what happens in the second half.

I was started to get lulled into the idea that things weren't so bad. And that they wouldn't get bad. That it was a good thing Zeitoun hung around. I mean, he was doing so much good. But then came that unfair prison time.

Zeitoun a few friends that had stayed in the city were at one of the rental properties when the police busted in and arrested everyone. No one was told what they were being arrested for, no one was read any rights, they weren't given any phone calls. They were just taken away. And then they were put in a jail for days. Weeks. In deplorable conditions. And still they never knew what they were being held for. Not officially anyway, although they were kept separate from all of the other prisoners and guards would mumble (or yell) Taliban and Al-Qaeda at the men. Two of the men were Muslim-Americans and two were white local boys. But apparently talking to Muslims was enough to count as being a terrorist in New Orleans after the hurricane.

There is no excuse for what happened to Zeitoun and the other men and women who were unlawfully detained. No matter how bad conditions were during the flooding in New Orleans, there is no excuse for what these people went through. The fact that the Zeitoun family decided to go back to New Orleans speaks volumes of their character. I don't know if I could forgive the city if I had been in their shoes.

There was one sort of funny scene during the prison time. Not so much funny-haha but more like "are you kidding me?" funny. The guards have put the suspected terrorists in one section, far from the other prisoners. Then one day they add a new guy to the cell named Jerry who is there to apparently get terrorist information from the guys. And he does it with all the subtly of: "Oh man you guys, American sucks the big one, amirite? We should totally go all jihad on this place. Death to America, what what." Since Zeitoun and company are a) not terrorists and b) not idiots, they just ignore the guy until he's eventually removed from their group.

This is going to be another book I start shoving into everyone's hands. I've already started telling some of my non-reader friends "Look I know, you're not a big reader, but just shut up and read this one right now. Right now. Why are you still talking to me when you could be picking up a copy of this book?"

Title quote from page 124

Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun. Vintage Books, 2009.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

110 Best Books for the Perfect Library or I love lists

Imperfect library. Telegraph says you only need 110 books...
I love lists. Brenna at Literary Musings has a list (or rather it's the Telegraph's 110 best books for the perfect library but whatever) and she went through, crossed off the titles she's read and italicized the ones she wants to read. And I wanted to play so I have done the same.

The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer
The Barchester Chronicles, Anthony Trollope
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
War and Peace, Tolstoy
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
Middlemarch, George Eliot

Sonnets, Shakespeare
Divine Comedy, Dante (I've read Inferno, but not Purgatorio or Paradisio)
Canterbury Tales, Chaucer (I know I've read several parts but not the whole thing)
The Prelude, William Wordsworth
Odes, JohnKeats
The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot
Paradise Lost, John Milton
Songs of Innocence and Experience, William Blake (same here. I know I've read a bunch of stuff from this collection, but not all)
Collected Poems, W. B. Yeats
Collected Poems, Ted Hughes

The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust
Ulysses, JamesJoyce
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Sword of Honour trilogy, Evelyn Waugh
The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark
Rabbit series, John Updike
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Human Stain, Philip Roth

Rebecca, Daphnedu Maurier
Le Morte D'Arthur, Thomas Malory
Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos
I, Claudius, Robert Graves
Alexander Trilogy, Mary Renault
Master and Commander, Patrick O'Brian
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
The Plantagenet Saga, Jean Plaidy

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (although I loved the cartoon of it, I never read)
The Lord of the Rings, J.R. R. Tolkien (I looove the movies and I almost made it through the series but Return of the King killed me. I couldn't do it. Also this is in the Children's section? Really Telegraph?)
His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
Babar, Jean deBrunhoff
The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne (I think I may have missed my chance here. If I didn't read it when I was little, I probably shouldn't bother now)
Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
1984, George Orwell
The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham
Foundation, Isaac Asimov
2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
Neuromancer, William Gibson

The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carré
Red Dragon, Thomas Harris
Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allan Poe
The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins (I'm reading this one in April! I can finally play along with one of Alice's Readalongs)
Killshot, Elmore Leonard

Das Kapital, Karl Marx
The Rights of Man, Tom Paine
The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
On War, Carlvon Clausewitz
The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
On the Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud (I've read very little of this, but still I'm counting it cos man was it a pain)
On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
L'Encyclopédie, Diderot, et al

BOOKS THAT CHANGED YOUR WORLD (this seems presumptuous. You don't know what changed my world Telegraph)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf
How to Cook, Delia Smith
A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle
A Child Called 'It', Dave Pelzer
Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss
Schott's Original Miscellany, Ben Schott

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon
A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill
A History of the Crusades, Steven Runciman
The Histories, Herodotus
The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Compiled at King Alfred's behest
A People's Tragedy, Orlando Figes
Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Simon Schama
The Origins of the Second World War, A.J.P. Taylor

Confessions, St Augustine
Lives of the Caesars, Suetonius
Lives of the Artists, Vasari
If This is a Man, Primo Levi
Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Siegfried Sassoon
Eminent Victorians, Lytton Strachey
A Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell
Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves
The Life of Dr Johnson, Boswell Diaries, AlanClark

Only 20 and 1/2 (or a 1/4 or however much those partial reads add up to) books read. But this is a pretty hefty list so I'm still happy with that number. Even if the majority of reads are in the sci-fi section. And NOTHING in the Romance, History or Lives sections. Whoops. Or not so much whoops as yes, that sounds about right based on my tastes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My name is Baratunde Thurston, and I've been black for over thirty years

When I read the review for Baratunde Thurston's book How To Be Black over at Buried in Print I knew I wanted to read this book. I'm a sucker for legitimately funny books, and as Dan O'Brien at Cracked point out, funny books can be difficult to find.* Plus it's Black History Month so this seems to be a good time to read a book titled How To Be Black. It's what Thurston expects:
"The odds are high that you acquired this book during the nationally sanctioned season for purchasing black cultural objects, also known as Black History Month. That's part of the reason I chose February as the publication date. If you're like most people, you buy one piece of black culture per year during this month, and I'm banking on this book jumping out at you from the bookshelf or screen". 
How well you know me, sir.

The book is partially a memoir of Thurston's life growing up and experiences being black: being the black friend in a predominately white school (Sidwell Friends for middle/high school and later Harvard), being the black guy in the office and in general being black in America. Thurston has also assembled a Black Panel, people who "do blackness well", plus the author of Stuff White People Like to establish a control group and defend against arguments against reverse discrimination. They help weigh in on important topics such as "How to Be The Black Friend" and" How to Speak for All Black People" as well as answer questions such as "Can You Swim?" and "How's That Post-Racial Thing Working Out for Ya?" (All of those are also chapter titles, hence the capitalization.)  This book chronicles the experiences and search for identity of a single person. Don't expect this to be a general discussion of what it is to be black. I'm not sure a book like that could actually exist, even if another book may claim to do just that. I mean obviously this book is claiming that but this book is a satire.

Race is a difficult thing to talk about and humor is a great way to confront uncomfortable topics. And the book is hilarious. Not only that but it can get the conversation started. It may not be a happy conversation, but without it there is no progress. May as well laugh during the conversation.

Obviously I spend a lot of time here recommending books, but I don't do it too much in real life. Not with this book. I've been insisting a friend of mine read this as well as shoving my copy into Boyfriend's hands. Let that be part of my insistence that you also check this out. I mean, if you are going to buy just one piece of black culture this month, no reason it can't be hilarious.

Separate, sort of unrelated to the book over all, but this is my blog so I wanted to write about this quote:
"My mother and I tried to visit Northeastern University but couldn't find it for the longest time. In the search process, we came across the intersection of Tremont Street and Tremont Street. I'm not kidding. If you wonder why Boston drivers are so famously terrible, consider that they have to navigate space-time paradoxes like this, and cut them some slack."
1. Here is an example of the tone of the book and Thurston's sense of humor.
2. I went to Northeastern so WOOO for the mention, even if it's the fact that he couldn't find it. It's right near the Symphony and the Museum of Fine Arts if you want to sound fancy. Or near Mission Hill, if you want to be less fancy.
3. I have stood at that intersection of Tremont St and Tremont St going "Oh Boston, you magnificent idiot. What is this?" Nexus of the universe and what not. So he's not just making this up to make fun of Boston. Boston roads just make that little sense.
4. Boston drivers are as bad as you have heard and then some. And then a little more.

*This article got him a free copy of Christopher Moore's new book Sacre Bleu which makes me hella jealous. And I also feel a little stalkerish knowing that, but it's not my fault I happen to follow them both on Twitter.

Title quote from location 208

Thurston, Baratunde. How To Be Black. Harper, 2012. Kindle edition.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Whiffs of benzene and cordite wafted in the breeze - the smell of freedom

James Warner's All Her Father's Guns was the first time I accepted a book from an author that reached out to me.* I've gotten a couple other emails from authors but it seems pretty clear they haven't really looked at the type of books I read since most of those were paranormal YA books or romance books or general chick lit. I don't have a problem with any of these, but they aren't for me.** But Warner's book stuck out because satire! Use of the absurd! These are things I like to hear. Plus, as I found out later Ben over at Dead End Follies also was reading it so that was just another check in the plus column for this one.

The book is about Cal Lyte, a gun-loving Libertarian and businessman. His ex-wife is running for Arizona senate and is trying to squeeze Cal for more alimony money. Cal recruits his daughter's boyfriend, the academic Reid, to help him dig up dirt on Tabytha. Things naturally (because it's a book and there needs to be a plot) spin out of control and get more and more bizarre.

There are wonderful moments where things are absurd, but just realistic enough so you could believe someone could do or say those things. A couple examples:
  • Cal's voicemail message is the sound of a fetal heartbeat. He's VERY pro-life.
  • Most of what comes out of Tabytha's mouth, such as "As we plan the rebuilding of America, I like to look at this replica of the derringer that killed Abraham Lincoln, to remind me that not even a President can violate the Constitution with impunity"
  • A colleague of Reid's at the university has been spending most of his career "analyzing continuity errors in Casablanca".
 That said, the tone of the book felt uneven. It strayed at points where it lost the humor and the satire and felt like a straightforward thriller perhaps? I'm not really sure how it would have been categorized. Anyway. It always came back, but when it wandered, it wandered too far. Part of this could be due to the dual narrators of Reid and Cal. Cal is the primary narrator but Reid has a chapter here and there that breaks up the momentum. It's fun to see Reid's point of view on academia, but it would have been better if it was all Cal.

*This part has spoilers. But it was my favorite part of the book so decide if you should venture in*
My favorite part of the book, the part that tipped over into ridiculous came near the end: Cal goes down to Mexico to hang out on a friend's boat for awhile and take a little vacation. When he gets down there he gets kidnapped by revolutionaries. A revolutionary group that calls itself "el Frente Nuevo Revolucionario Unido Guevarista-Zapatista Popular y Antiimperialista por el Liberacion Indigena Internacional" or "FNRUGZPALII" for short. Naturally. They're sort of new at the whole "revolutionary" thing and can't even decide if they should hold Cal for ransom or just have him hang around. They only owns one firearm as "there was disagreement within the group regarding the permissible uses of violence in a revolutionary context". I think I just like the idea of the theoretical revolutionaries. They have the academic ideas, but no experience in the matter.
*Spoilers contained*

*I was going to say the first books I accepted from an author but that's not really true. Anthony Neil Smith sent me Choke On Your Lies and Yellow Medicine after I wrote a review of Hogdoggin'. And that book was given to me by Ben. I probably should have included some note about those facts in those posts, but I didn't. Whoops.

**Separate question from the post, but what do you guys do with review offers if you don't want the book? Do you ignore the email? Respond and say no thanks? Respond with a tirade about how the book is nothing like what you like and clearly that person doesn't really read your site?

Title quote from location 1230

Warner, James. All Her Father's Guns. Numina Press, 2011. Kindle edition

Monday, February 13, 2012

[That's] the RealWorld for you. A brutal and beautiful place, run for the most part on passion, fads, incentives and mathematics

I wasn't planning on reading another Fforde book immediately after The Big Over Easy but I couldn't help myself. Fforde Tweeted a couple weeks ago that the lastest Thursday book One of Our Thursdays is Missing was out in paperback. Well, I can't turn that down. So I went to the local bookstore and they had a copy and I can't have an unread Fforde book sitting around. Another Fforde it was.

The Thursday Next series is my favorite book series and this is the latest addition. Thursday is missing! No one in the BookWorld or the RealWorld knows where she is but there are some tense times between Women's Fiction and Racy Novel and Thursday is needed for the peace talks. She has a lot of enemies so who knows where she's gone. There is hope though: the written Thursday! She's like the real Thursday except not quite as smart. Or as quick. Or as good with a gun. She wasn't her hippie, granola-loving self she was in Thursday Next: First Among Sequels which was good, but I still missed Thursday.

Like the other Thursday books, or really any Fforde books, they're hard to describe to someone who isn't already familiar with the world. In the map of BookWorld, the Thursday books fall into the "speculative fanatasy" neighborhood, which borders on Dickens and Tolkein rip-offs, according to the BookWorld map. They're absurd and punny, with science and crime fiction making their way in. There is a lot of literary humor and I'm sure I missed a lot of it. But considering I loved The Eyre Affair and read it several times before ever reading Jane Eyre, knowing all of the literary references is not necessary.

I want to compliment Fforde on his ability to take a character, written Thursday Next, who is virtually identical to real Thursday Next and make her different enough so you can tell you're not dealing with the original. Unfortunately, I missed the original. Written Thursday is almost Thursday, but not quite. And I wanted her to be the real Thursday. Of course if I had the real Thursday then the book would have been "One of our Thursdays is missing! What? No? She's actually just right over there. Nevermind then!"

Overall not the best in the series (The Well of Lost Plots is still my favorite), but it was still nice to go back to BookWorld.

Title quote from page 180

Fforde, Jasper. One of Our Thursdays is Missing. Penguin, 2011.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Bev from My Reader's Block actually tagged me last week but I'm still moving slowly. I had been working from home for awhile, but I'm now working in the office. Yay for plenty of reading time during the commute, but boo because I seem to have less time for actual blogging. At least while I get into the new routine. (Also boo for having to wear non-pajama pants/ripped jeans on a regular basis.)  I finished a book (yay) but haven't had time yet to write a post about it (boo) so instead I figured I'd play this.

Here's how this works
1. Post rules. (Got it)
2. Post 11 fun facts about yourself. (I like talking about myself so no problem)
3. Answer questions from the person who tagged you. (11 MORE questions. K)
4. Make up 11 questions for people you tag. (Gah 11 new questions? We'll see)
5. Tag 11 people. (What? That won't happen. I'll tag some, and for those of you I do tag, you're free to ignore me.)
6. Let them know they've been tagged.

11 "Fun" Facts About Me (I don't know how much fun these actually are but here we go)

1. I used to snowboard. I was part of the ski club from 5th-12th grade and we'd go to a mountain every Friday during the season. (I skied the first 3 years, snowboarded the other 5.) One of my criteria for a university was it had to be close enough to mountains to go snowboarding, one of the reasons I stuck to Boston (instead of a warmer city). I have been snowboarding all of 3 times since high school. I'm bad at following through with this.
2. I'm comically clumsy. I walk into walls, fall up stairs, all the time. I've actually given myself a black eye before. And I once broke my own finger. I (assumed) I jammed it playing volleyball. When it still hurt a couple hours later a friend suggested I pull on it to fix it. Solid logic! Turns out it wasn't so much jammed, but it was now broken.
3. When I was little I wanted to be a paleontologist. I was stupidly excited when Jurassic Park came out.
4. I loved sharks when I was little. My first and favorite book was The Golden Book of Sharks and Whales. Now? I'm terrified of sharks. Don't know when that happened, but yup.
5. I love reading (obviously, with the book blog and all) but I hardly ever use libraries. I can't remember the last time I took out a non-reference book from a library. I'm going to assume elementary school. I know, I know. I'd just rather own the book.
6. I work pseudo-tech support. I even sit with IT now. Keep in mind when calling tech support, if you make silly mistakes and don't understand things but are nice, I don't care and I will help you as fast as I can. If you are rude, I will make fun of you and move as slowly as possible.
7. I'm not a fan of hardback books. I think they look nice on a shelf and all, but I hate actually reading them. They're heavy and my hand gets sore holding them.
This is the point where I stop being able to figure out "fun" things about me, so things are about to get less interesting.
8. My profile picture is me at Niagra Falls. This isn't cropped to cut out the whole point of bringing your camera. Boyfriend just took a picture of the back of my head. Weirdo. Then I used it for my blog. Double weirdo.
9. I read both Les Mis and The Hunchback of Notre Dame when I was in middle school because of musicals (Broadway and Disney, to be specific). I understood roughly none of them. I should probably re-read those.
10. I've been to an Olympic men's hockey game. I watched Sweden whoop the US in the Torino games. I was studying in Italy.
11. Despite the red hair, freckles and pale skin I'm not Irish. I am Italian, French, Czech, Hungarian, English & Scottish.

Questions from Bev:
1. Fav childhood book-related memory: Probably reading my dad's copy of On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss. He even made up his own character at the end of the book.
2. If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go? There are so many places I'd like to go: New Zealand, France, Japan, back to Italy. Hopefully I'll be able to make it out to North Ireland soon to visit my friend.
3. Best present you ever received: This question is stressful because nothing is immediately coming to mind and I feel like even if I do come up with something I'm probably going to offend someone for not saying their gift. Boyfriend got me the soundtrack to Avenue Q plus tickets to the show, that was pretty sweet.
4. A song that you could sing the lyrics to right NOW: So many. It's pathetic how much brain space I've given over to song lyrics instead of important things like friends' birthdays. I had "The Humans Are Dead" by The Flight of the Conchords stuck in my head earlier
5. Who was your first friend? Are you still friends? I suppose my friend friend was my neighbor James. He lived next door to me when I was very little and our families became friends. I haven't seen him in a few years though, which is too bad. I should fix that.
6. Do you collect anything? If so, what and how did you get started? I'd say books but that doesn't feel like a collection. I guess I'd have to say music boxes. My grandmother used to get me one every year for Christmas. Some of them are currently sitting in a box in our (unpacked) living room. The rest are in my mom's basement.
7. What is the title of the book that's closest to you right now? Well my Kindle is next to me so lots of books. I was last reading All Her Father's Guns on it though, so I guess that.
8. Are you a morning person or a night owl? I used to be more of a night person but now that work requires me to get up early I can't stay up late anymore.
9. Do you live in a city, the suburbs or the country? I now live in the suburbs and while I do like our new neighborhood a lot, I miss the city. One day I hope to move back. I just need roughly all the money to live in NYC.
10. Have you ever met somebody famous? Who? Nope. At least I can't think of anyone. And I'll assume since I can't think of anyone then they weren't they famous.
11. What would a perfect day be like for you? It would include a relaxing day, hanging out in NYC (maybe some reading in Central Park), eating some good food. Actually the food is the most important part. Good food can go a long way to making a good day.

Now for me to tag some people
Alice from Reading Rambo
Laura from Devouring Texts
Meg from The Terrible Desire
Brenna from Literary Musings
Jennifer from Soy Chai Bookshelf
Sarah from Sarah Says Read

Thought I was done, but now I need to come up with questions for you guys.
1. What's your favorite bookish movie? (Movie based on a book, movie with literary tendencies, whatever)
2. How often do you re-read books?
3. What's your favorite reading spot?
4. Which season is your favorite?
5. What's your profile picture?
6. What's your ideal meal?
7. What's your guilty pleasure TV show, movie, book?
8. How do you like to spend a rainy day?
9. Do you have any good Tumblrs to recommend?
10. If you like to cook (or bake), what's your favorite thing to make?
11. Do you have a big TBR list? Or do you wait until you're done with your current book to buy (or borrow from the library) your next reads?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Humpty Dumpty. The fall guy.

January was reading slump-y for me and in an effort to get back into reading I decided to go with a well-loved book I've read a number of times before. And what better read than Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy?

In a spin-off of the Thursday Next series, we have Nursery Crimes. It's a police division, lead by Jack Spratt (can eat no fat, has a problem with giants) that deals with crimes concerning nursery rhyme characters. Even though this is clearly the most awesome crime division, NCD is chronically underfunded and understaffed. One of the main problems is Jack is having getting his cases written about in one of the real-crime magazines, made famous by the various Sherlock Holmes adventures. Justice is all well and good, but the most important thing is to make sure you have an interesting story, preferably with lots of seemingly insignificant clues that turn out to solve the case. And since Jack was unable to win his latest case, Mr. Wolff vs the Three Pigs, NCD is in more trouble than normal. Here's an example
Since the death by scalding of Mr. Wolff following his ill-fated climb down Little Pig C's chimney, we at the Nursery Crime Division have been following inquiries that this was not an act of self-defense, but a violent and premeditated murder by three individuals who, far from being the innocent victims of wolf-porcine crime, actually sought confrontation and then acted quite beyond what might be described as reasonable self-defense. 10
As with any Fforde book, it's tough to describe the books and make them sound like anything other than a mash up of genres. Which is what the book is, if the whole Nursery Crime title didn't clue you in. And while that could end up a big confusing mess in lesser hands, Fforde knows exactly how to handle things so you stick with the story, no matter how ridiculous it gets. It's hilarious and witty and a murder mystery.  How can a page turner like that not break someone of their reading slump?

I know this review is mostly gushing but I also kind of don't care about that. I'm not sure how many times I've read this but I love it each time. The Thursday books might be my favorite series, but this is a spin-off of that series. It's Frasier to Thursday's Cheers. 

Title quote from page 33

Fforde, Jasper. The Big Over Easy. Penguin Books, 2005.

Friday, February 3, 2012

[Shakespeare] is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron - forever there and not there.

First up, before I get into this review, I want to thank people for the kind words on my reading slump post a couple days ago. I had no motivation to read to read and was feeling down about it. And in my head I was thinking "What if I never feel like reading?" because being over-dramatic is a specialty of mine. So thank you for telling me to take a deep breath, continue watching mindless TV or playing games or whatever and read again when you feel like it. Now, review time!

Bryson and Shakespeare. It's like peanut butter and banana. I love both those things and when you put them together there is extra happiness. I was so excited when I first saw that Bill Bryson wrote Shakespeare: The World as Stage that I didn't even wait for it to come out in paperback, as I normally do. I needed this book and I needed it NOW. Or rather THEN! Because this all happened in the past.

Bryson brings the wit I love to this Shakespeare biography. He's not a Shakespeare scholar which makes this very accessible for the casual fan*. Or the more avid fan who wants something straightforward.

Here's the thing about Shakespeare: we don't really know that much about the guy. Which makes sense when you think about how long ago Shakespeare was around writing and how much time that has provided for documents and details to get lost. As archivist David Thomas says "The documentation for William Shakespeare is exactly what you would expect of a person of his position from that time...It seems like a dearth only because we are so intensely interested in him. In fact we know more about Shakespeare than about almost any other dramatist of his age" (17). While it may be nice to know that we know more about him than other playwrights of his day, that doesn't exactly fill out a biography. Bryson chooses to focus on what we do know, makes clear what we don't know, and looks as the suppositions that are both logical and far-fetched. There's not a lot to go on so it makes sense this book is short.

There's a lot about life in Elizabethan/Jacobean England because of the whole we-don't-know-a-lot-about-Shakespeare thing. But we do have information about the time so we can get a better idea of the world Shakespeare inhabited, even if we don't know much about the man. And we really don't know the man. There are 3 images of Shakespeare: 1 engraving done after he had died by an artist that may have never seen Shakespeare, a good portrait that may not be of Shakespeare, and a statue that had all of the details whitewashed away in the 1700s. We only have six of Shakespeare's signatures and in none of them is his name spelled "Shakespeare".

I don't know that it's important to know who Shakespeare was. You can certainly enjoy his plays and poems without knowing anything about the guy. I mean, really, that's what people are doing now. But it would be nice to have more information. Since we don't have that, it's nice that this slim biography is funny.

One quick note, Bryson mentions how free form writing/spelling was in Shakespeare's day. I never really appreciated this until I took a 16th Century Lit class in college. I assume in a move to justify the large microfilm library the university has, we had to find a piece of 16th century lit not previously published and write a paper on it. I ended up stumbling on a poem that it would seem served as a source for Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew called "A Merry Jest of a Shrewde and Curste Wyfe, Lapped in Morrell's Skin, For Her Good Behavyour" because Shakespeare stuff just finds me. Don't think the spelling in that title is any indication of how difficult it is to read something from this time, in the original text. This wasn't a very long poem (thank God) but it took me a good 8 hours of intense reading to figure out what was written. Every letter could actually be 6 different letters and the same word would be spelled multiple ways on a single page. It's like they were purposefully trying to piss of future readers, which is kind of hilarious if you're not writing a paper. Also don't read that poem because it is not only a bad story (woman is flayed and then wrapped in a salted horses hide to break her) but it's badly written as well.

*Unlike a certain Shakespearean scholar who's book took me over a month to finish. I won't name names, but I will link links.

Title quote from page 9

Bryson, Bill. Shakespeare: The World as Stage. Atlas Books, 2007.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

January Reading Wrap-Up

Did January kick anyone else's ass this month? I feel like I've seen a lot of posts about reading slumps and not getting any reading done and stuff like that. Or maybe that was just me looking for people to commiserate with. January and moving have been major reading motivation zappers. Hopefully I'll shake this thing in February. Let's do this thing:

Number of books read

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors
0% - whomp

Percentage of white authors
100% - another whomp

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of eBooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1600s(ish) - 25%
2000s - 75%

I'd say I should make goals for next month like less white authors and more lady writers. But instead I'm going to say "just read something". Keeping the expectations low.