Friday, December 30, 2011

December Reading Wrap-Up

The month is almost out. I feel like December actually moved at a normal pace until Christmas Eve, at which point time flew by. Which is preferably to the entire month flying by. I also spread the book love this month and got Boyfriend a copy of The Art of Fielding for Christmas since he a) loooooooves baseball b) doesn't read all that often but expressed interest in this book and c) I (kinda) want to read it too. Boyfriend returned the book love by getting me the Great Gatsby Postertext. Granted I pointed him in that direction. And many thanks to Brenna's Book Fetish posts at BookRiot for telling me about these.

Number of books read
6 (more than 1/2 due to the readathon)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Transformations by Anne Sexton
11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King
The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of ebooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1880s - 17%
1970s - 17%
1980s - 17%
2000s - 17%
2010s - 33%

Alright, not too bad. A little more diversity in US authors would be nice. Something to work on next year. But at least I got a couple female authors in there AND every book wasn't written in the last 20 years. Progress.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The boy has found a gold key/and he is looking for what it will open

The final book I read for the readathon was Anne Sexton's Transformations, a collection of poems that transform/re-tell/subvert traditional Grimm's fairy tales. I love fairy tales, be it a straightforward collection of them, an annotated collection of them, a series of essays about what they mean and even a couple fairy tale re-tellings. So when I read Sexton's poem "Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)" in a college writing class, I was hooked. I had to read more. And when I found out that there's a forward by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. well, that just sealed the deal.

Now I'm not the biggest poetry fan. I would like to be, but I have a hard time reading poetry. Especially outside of a classroom where someone walks me through it. It seems when I study poetry, I find lots to love. When I try to just read a book of poetry myself I get distracted. Not that it's difficult to distract me, but still. Stories can hold my attention in a way that poetry just cannot. I still can't focus on these poems like I can with a traditional story, but the fact that these start with the familiar (a fairy tale) it means that it's easier for me to follow.

Some of the poems are close to a straight re-telling of the tale (like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs") with some added humor ("The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred --/something like the weather forecast") or some commentary ("Snow White, the dumb bunny"). Other poems ("Rapunzel") shine a new light on the story ("A woman/who loves a woman/is forever young"). And then some of the poems ("Briar Rose") bring out a more disturbing subtext ("He [the prince] kissed Briar Rose/and she woke up crying:/ Daddy! Daddy!")

This is one of the only collection of poems I've completed* because it's short (only 112 pages, plus illustrations!) and because it's familiar. The poems are funny and though-provoking. These are not necessarily my favorite poems. They don't have a lyrical quality to them and I don't find myself reciting them, like I would a song that's stuck in my head. But the fact that they're about fairy tales really makes up for that.

*Other than Shakespeare's sonnets. Technically I read all of them for a class but, I know there were big sections that my eyes passed over, and I can't recall for the life of me. Appreciating poetry because I read it for a class is lost a bit when I have to read ALL the poetry at once. Besides those 2 I have other poetry books that I've read some (or even many) of the poems in, but never all of them.

Title quote from page 2

Sexton, Anne. Transformations. First Mariner Books, 2001. Originally published 1979.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Oh Celie, unbelief is a terrible thing

You're going to read this a few more times, but I am so behind with my reviews. I blame the readathon (which was awesome but gave me extra books to review) as well as Christmas for getting in the way. Not in a bad way because I heart Xmas but the whole family time thing really cuts into my computer time. So with my typical list of excuses, onto a review.

I first read The Color Purple by Alice Walker back in college, for one of those survey of American Lit classes. I read it and Beloved back to back and I always think of this as the easy book, when compared to Morrison's masterpiece. And relative to Beloved this is an easy book, at least in terms of readability and linear story telling. In terms of content however, The Color Purple deals with many difficult topics. The book starts with the main character, Celie, being repeatedly raped AND having her kids (with an "s", multiple) taken away from her. And she's only 14. So as you can tell, this is a barrel of laughs, some good light reading for the readathon.

This is a heart-breaking story as Celie writes letters, first to God then later her sister Nettie.. She goes from an abusive home life to an abusive arranged marriage. Her husband Mr.____ didn't actually want her, he wanted her sister Nettie but Celie's step-father refused to agree to that arrangement and so he settled for Celie. Life just seems to be getting worse and worse for Celie as Mr.____'s children are cruel to her and Mr.____ treats her as an object, regularly beating and talking down to her. But there is a ray of hope in a "woman of lose morals" Shug Avery.

Shug is the first person who seems to actually see Celie, who acts like a mother and friend to Celie. Shug is the person who encourages Celie to break her silence and to stand up for herself. Celie also gets a strong female role model, albeit in a more indirect way, in the form of Mr.___'s daughter-in-law, Sofia. Sofia is strong-willed, never allowing Mr.___'s son Harpo to treat her the way Mr.___ treats Celie. It's really because of her strength that some of the most tragic scenes dealt with her.

There's some eye dialectwhich I normally hate, but it's done well. And by "done well", I mean done sparingly so I don't have to read it out loud in order to understand what's going on and feel like an awful racist person. It's perhaps not the best choice to read all in one sitting, but overall it's a beautiful and tragic and uplifting story.

Title quote from page 169

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Washington Square Press Publications, 1982.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy Holidays! and reviews to come

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza/Festivus/etc. I spent lots of time visiting family, both mine and Boyfriend's, which is fun. Plus I got to see Wicked on Broadway so you guys are lucky you're not actually around me while I listen to the soundtrack on repeat. I'm pretty sure Boyfriend is just making up work he has to do this week to get away from it.

I haven't spent too much time online over the last few days which means I am getting even more behind on reviews. To keep myself accountable, here are the reviews I need to get to

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Transformations by Anne Sexton
11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore

And now, I don't have adorable pet pictures to distract you from my procrastinations. However, I do have this AWESOME HAT Boyfriend got me for Xmas and I need your opinion: Owl or Cat?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Google analytics, thanks for the laughs

I'm watching you Google
I love Google Analytics. I can see what posts get the most traffic, I know which states are ignoring my blog (what's up North and South Dakota? not good enough for you?) and I know what phrases people Googled to find my blog. A lot of the phrases make sense and I hope those people were happy with where they ended up (though judging by their bounce rate, nooooope). However there are some that I want to be like "How did you ever end up over here? You are so lost. I'm sorry, I can't help you, but thanks for the laughs." And instead of just enjoying those myself, I thought I'd share it with you guys. Also, this is bound to mess with those keyword search results even more so that's fun.

"silhouette of a lady birthday cake" - I'm intrigued. I'd say it's one of those sweet'n'nasty cakes but silhouette makes it sound classy. Can I come to your classy-but-maybe-not party?

"3 beach chairs" - That's specific. What if I can offer you 2? Can you share? 2 and a towel? That's my last offer.

"adult coping skills" - Oh, you are so in the wrong place.

"beast fucking beauty fantasy 3..." - I only have versions 1 & 2.

"excuse me club 6" - you're excused

Variations on "how did the plague start on The Walking Dead" - I know why you're ending up here and I'm sorry, but I have no idea.

"it's/its my birthday bitch/lady birthday" - Happy birthday! What exactly where you looking for?

"mrs frisby and the rats of nimh diorama" - I can't help you wit that but I hope it turned out awesome. Please post pictures

"shame full girls no underwe" - I didn't cut that off, they did. They were too excited they couldn't even finish the word

"walking dead gives me nightmares" - Me too man.

"where have you been?" - Waiting for you! A call would have been nice

"why+was+it+important+that+ed+fletcher+be+at+work+early%3f" - He'd been late a lot recently. Little Susie hasn't been doing well at school and doesn't like the look of Ben's new group of friends and all the worry is keeping him up at night. But if he wants to keep his job (the kids' private schools as well as the mortgage payments) he needs to complete all the work for the Stevenson account.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It wasn't like a man; it was like some damned Juggernaut

I had big plans for the weekend to get some reviews written. Big plans I say. Then I got distracted by things like Christmas shopping and college basketball games (which I don't especially care about but nontheless attend because I'm a good girlfriend and also we went to a bar afterwards so win) and eating way too much food and seeing the Jesse Eisenberg play Asuncion because I have a real case of geek love. What I'm saying is, no reviews were written.

Back on December 3rd I took part in a last minute readathon and I've decided to be all ambitious and write up separate reviews for each of the books I read that day. There's only 3 of them so this shouldn't take me too long but that would assume less procrastination on my part. So I'm just now getting to the first review, that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I've had this book forever and I've never read it. I assume it was on a sales table (that's how I make my impulse buys) and I figured this was something I would like and then I never read it. Whoops. It's always in interesting experience, to read a book with a story you know so well. And this isn't like Frankenstein, where the movie has created a Frankenstein character so different from the literary original. Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde is pretty much the story you're already familiar with: a doctor (Jekyll) has found a way to separate out all of his evil and dark impulses into a different creation (Mr. Hyde). Here's the problem with a story that's so well know. That whole Jekyll and Hyde are actually the same person thing is the twist. Kinda messes with the story build up when you already know the twist. Especially if you don't know going into the story that that's the twist.

So knowing that little twist does take something away from the original story, but there's plenty to keep it interesting. Once you get into the swing of the language, it's a creepy story. In what I assume is a Victorian thing (but really I have no idea), the story is told from an outsider's point of view. Here it's Dr. Jekyll's friend and lawyer Gabriel Utterson who hears about Hyde causing some mayhem and then paying for the expenses with a check from Jekyll. Curious, he starts investigating the connection between the two men, and you the reader could investigate this with him except for the whole knowing they're the same guy thing. Given I already knew this, I would have preferred the story to be from Jekyll's/Hyde's POV. Hard to fault Stevenson for this of course but still. It just means the story doesn't stand up quite as well as Dracula or Frankenstein.

There are "other stories" included in my book but I didn't read them because I wanted to move on during the readathon. Maybe some day. Given my past track record with the book, I'd say it'll be another 10 or so years. Or maybe next time I do a readathon.

Title quote from page 8

Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories. Barnes & Noble Books, 2005. Originally published 1886.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The financial success of an author is inversely proportional to the literary worth of the book

I don't know why I waited to so long to read this. Both Brenna at Literary Musings and Greg at The New Dork Review talked about the awesomeness of this book, but I just put off reading it. I don't know why. It's not an intimidating book. It's not a particularly difficult book. It is funny and snarky and cynical and exactly the type of book I usually jump at. I assume I was just being stubborn. Needless to say, I'm very happy I finally picked up How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely.

After finishing up Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil over Thanksgiving I knew I'd need another book for my flights home and this seemed like the perfect time to quit procrastinating. This was the perfect airplane read, except for the whole laughing-out-loud part. Pete Tarslaw just wants to make a lot of money and impress his ex-girlfriend at her wedding and after watching an interview with a NYTimes best-selling author realizes the whole writing thing is a con game and he wants in. He goes through checklists of rules (Rule 9: At dull points include descriptions of delicious meals) or details to include (Woman who says stuff that turns out to have extra meaning when it's revealed she's in a wheelchair). He comes up with every cliche from literary bestsellers and throws them all into his book.

Surprisingly (or not, if you just look at the title of the book) his con works and he does become a famous novelist. Sure, it's panned by critics (he has some funny moments bitching about book reviewers, especially book bloggers) but it's loved by his readers. That isn't what's important though. The money and the whole rubbing his good fortune in his ex's face are the driving forces here. He's quite the noble character.

The NYTimes best seller list doesn't contain any actual authors, but it's not a far stretch to see who he's really referring to. Hely shines when he's describing Pete's writing or when he's mocking these authors. Once he reaches success the book is still funny but I laughed aloud less often. There are parts that are downright painful to read. The wedding scene was particularly wonderful, even if I tried to read it between my fingers.

This is a hilarious and quick read. And if you have any sort of interest in the publishing world, you'll enjoy this one.

Update: Alice at Reading Rambo also recommended this to me and I want to make it clear I ignored all of them equally.

Title quote from page 47, location 376

Hely, Steve. How I Became a Famous Novelist. Grove Press, 2009. Kindle edition

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Smooth Criminals reading selection

It has taken me forever to pick out some books and sign up for Ben's Smooth Criminal reading challenge because a) challenges are scary and I already signed up for one and b) I was waiting for other people to pick out their books for this challenge so I could mooch off of their choices.

This is my tentative list, subject to change as my whims demand.

Hardboiled Classic

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet

Noir Classic
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

Prison Book
The Green Mile by Stephen King

Book written by a writer who did time
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Book with psychopath as protagonist
The Collector by John Fowles

Gothic novel
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Classic where plot revolves around a crime

I'm still working on this one...

The "why the hell am I doing this to myself" book

This is the only book for this challenge I knew right away: Franzen's The Corrections. It intimidates me and has been sitting on my shelf for over a year now, mocking me. I will win.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Savannah was invariably gracious to strangers, but it was immune to their charms

I didn't know what I was getting into when I picked up Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. I didn't know much about the book other than 1) it takes place in Savannah, 2) there was a murder, 3) it is a true story, 4) my dad really liked the book and he has pretty good taste. I assumed this was sort of a horror story, like In Cold Blood. I mean there's a murder. And just look at that title. And that cover. I even planned on reading it in October until I decided I had spent too much on books that month and put it off. I ended up reading it over Thanksgiving since I was at my dad's and he happens to have a copy. Like I said, he likes the book. He even has a statue similar to the one on the cover.

As I said, I thought this was a horror story or at least a thriller. Imagine my surprise when I was totally wrong about that. This is not a horror story. It's a travelogue that focuses more on the characters John Berendt met during his time in Savannah than any particular museums or landmarks. And it's hilarious. That murder, the one that shows up at the start of every summary I've seen, shows up about half-way into the book. This isn't to say these summaries are misleading by describing this event since in actuality it is the only real action that happens. And I should say possible murder/possible self-defense. To summarize the rest of the book you get: "John decided to move part time to Savannah and while there he meets a lot of people." Other than the killing, that's all that happens.

The action isn't important though. It's the characters that I fell in love with. It's hard to believe this is nonfiction because the characters are so colorful. I love all of them. Of course there's Jim Williams, the antique dealer who lives in a glorious house and throws the Christmas party of the year. And Danny Hansford, a hot headed youth that has a strange run of the Williams home. A man that walks an invisible dog, a woman that sings all over the county and if she's ever caught driving drunk the cops are to immediately take her home (and are punished by superiors if they try to arrest her). But my favorite characters are the lovable con-man Joe, who makes constant comments to John about who will play him in the movie that will be made of the little book he's writing, and The Lady Chablis, a pre-op transsexual and drag performer who has my favorite scene at the local African-American debutante ball. I want to watch the movie now primarily because The Lady Chablis plays herself in the movie. (Please, if you've seen the movie, let me know if it's any good!)

This was such a great book. I'm sad I waited so long to read it. I'm thinking I'm going to have to pick up my own copy of it eventually, because this is a book I'm going to want to read again and again.

Title quote from page 230 (I think. Around there anyway. I borrowed the book from my Dad and the book is currently sitting in South Carolina rather than with me so I can't double check these things. I remembered to record a quote but forgot to mark down the page number.)

Berendt, John. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Random House, 1994.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

If you don't [have your tools with you], you're apt to find something you didn't expect and get discouraged

Normally I like to write my reviews immediately (within a day or so at most) of finishing a book. However, Thanksgiving gave me a chance to read a lot without getting much writing done. And then I participated in the readathon last Saturday, so I have a bit of a backlog of reviews to get through. On the one hand, the books now have a chance to simmer and any immediate reaction (what crap! OMG that was the best thing everrrrrr!) have passed and I can give a more mature and well-thought out review. On the other hand, mature and well-thought out reviews. Don't worry, I'll try to keep them as childish as possible.

I've wanted to read Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft ever since I found out my favorite short story, 1408, was originally written as an example of how a story changes from one draft to another. I also happen to think that King is a better writer than he is normally given credit for so I liked the idea of seeing his thoughts on the process.

This was a much better read than I thought it would be. Not that I went into it thinking it would be a drag (why would I have bothered with it if I thought that?) but it was surprisingly good. The first part is a memoir of King's life, told in 38 short events. King focuses on the events that he believes shaped him as a writer: his many rejections (and eventual acceptances) to literary magazines, his time moving around while his mother looked for work, his time working at an industrial laundry mat and then as a professor, to the point that he's at now. Or at least where he was at when he wrote this.

But the focus isn't on King's life, it's on writing. One thing you learn for sure from this, if you learn nothing else, is that King loves writing. He clearly was doing it for many years before it was making him money. He never makes the claim that if you follow steps A, B and C, you're going to become a FAMOUS NOVELIST*. He just says "Here's what I do. I believe these things are going to help you at least be a competent writer." There's no magic here. It's just advice that seems kind of obvious once he tells you. He talks about "the toolbox". The things that you need to write: vocabulary, grammar (don't worry about grammar lessons, you just need to be able to write legibly), form and style the basic stuff. He especially hates adverbs and the passive voice, which again is nothing new, but I like hearing his diatribe against them. Especially because I know I'm guilty of both.

I especially liked the comparison between a first draft and a second draft of a story, in this case the story that eventually became 1408. He ends up going through most of the things he talks about in the rest of the book, but you can see it in a real-life scenario.

I can see myself re-reading this a lot. Or even just references bits and pieces of it, whether I start writing or not.

*Those steps will come from another book I read and need to write a review for, How I Became A Famous Novelist. And by the way, some of the tips from here are mentioned in Hely's book. It was funny to finish this book just to see the stuff mentioned elsewhere. Even if it is sarcastically.

Title quote from page 114

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2010.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Readathon Time!

First I sign up for a reading challenge, next I agree to a readathon. I don't even know who I am anymore. But last readathon everyone seemed to be having such a good time and I wanted in on the fun. So here we go

Amanda from Dead White Guys is hosting this readerly shindig, so thank you! I have a very tentative list for the day. I pretty much went around and pulled books off of my bookshelves that were short and I hadn't read them before or at least not in awhile. I also won a copy of King's new book 11/22/63 from Audra at Unabridged Chick which is super awesome except for one tiny detail. It's an ecopy that works in pretty much every ereader except the Kindle. It's a hipster copy (Kindle's too mainstream) so I'll have to read it on my computer. But spending too much time staring at a computer makes my eyes angry so I'll just start 11/22/63 before moving onto the other books.
One other quick note. In case you haven't followed my whining on Twitter, I'm sick so much of this reading and posting is going to be under the influence of cold medicine. Keep that in mind when I start to ramble more than normal.

Update 1: I figure I'll keep all of the updates in a single post, for reasons that made a lot of sense to me when I made that decision, but which I've forgotten now.

I ended up spending almost 30 min looking for the file for the King book, because I'm super organized like that. I was just about to give up when the file turned up. So that's fun. I've got about 77 pages read and I'm going to stick with King, at least until I finished Part 1: Watershed Moment. But first I need some coffee.

Update 2: It's 11:20ish and I have been coffee'd. Also Cheerio'd. I'm low on interesting snacks because I failed to do any prep for this readathon whatsoever. The rest of you should have super delicious snacks, so I can live vicariously through you. Also so I can stock up for next time. Also I finished up Part 1 of 11/22/63 and I've moved onto Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because I've been toting this book around since at least high school and I should probably read it so I look less like a phony.

Update 3: It's 12:40 and now it's time for a reading break so I can have some lunch. I'm having another China bowl (leftover Chinese food all mixed together). Also I just finished up Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so I am le winner. Now I have to decide what to read next.

Update 4: 3:44. China bowl was delicious. I'm thinking I should probably put some real clothes on at some point and now seems as good a time as any. I ended up going back to 11/22/63 and reading Part 2: The Janitor's Father. Now I can't decide if I should read 1984 or The Color Purple.

Update 5: 6:30. Damn, time flies. I decided that now that I'm feeling marginally human again, I should wear real clothes. You know, since I didn't bother with them yesterday. I decided to go with The Color Purple because it is 16 pages shorter. That's how you make readathon selections, right? I made some hot cocoa but I'm out of milk, so I supplemented by added extra marshmallows.

Update 6: 9:35 and I finished another book! I am super winner! Granted, I've already read The Color Purple before, but that doesn't taint the win. I'm running out snacks and I'm now up to the 4th Indian Jones movie (by the way, I've had the Indian Jones movies on in the background cos they're on TV and I can't turn them down) so this means I might almost be done with the reading. Maybe one more quick read but then I'm done.

Update 7: 10:51 and I'm done. I ended with Transformations by Anne Sexton, which is a collection of poems about fairy tales. It's not super long and there are pictures. And an introduction by Vonnegut, so a good time all around.

Books Reads
Parts 1 & 2 from 11/22/63 by Stephen King
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Transformations by Anne Sexton
Total pages

Good luck to everyone else continuing on with the reading. And Amanda, good times! Great belated readathon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

November Reading Wrap Up

November is over and now I can finally agree to all of the Christmas music, commercials, specials that have been on the air since for a couple months anyway, because no one consults me on these matters. November being over also means it's time for my reading wrap-up.

So you know how the last couple wrap ups I was all "oh man you guys, I didn't do any reading cos the DVR was really filling up"?* I owned this month! Even with Zone One taking up lots of time, I still managed to outdo myself the last few months. Thanksgiving can take a lot of credit for this since I had a decent amount of travel time (planes & trains) in which to read, plus I had lots of time to read while visiting my dad. In between playing with the cats and dogs that is. I win. Well I win in terms of sheer volume. You can continue your disappointment in my lack of female authors read. 

Number of books read
On Writing by Stephen King
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors
0%  whoops

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of ebooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1990s - 29%
2000s - 43%
2010s - 29%

I should probably read some more variety of books. OK, I know I should. And I'll work on that. Probably in 2012.

*It's cool if your answer is "No, I skip these posts." They're super navel-gazey so I understand. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Literary books for the non-literary reader

Literary blog hop time! The Blue Bookcase hosts a monthly blog hop for the literary-type blogs and I like to think highly of myself, so I'm joining in again. This month's question:
What work of literature would you recommend to someone who doesn't like like literature?

 I want to focus my answer on those who like to read but just avoid "literature". Cos people who just say they don't like to read at all, well that's a different battle.* I think the problem people actually have isn't with "literature" but with bad memories of high school English reading lists. I was lucky that I had some great English teachers growing up and they certainly can take credit for my love of reading. They might like to read but they've been turned off of lit.

In this case, I'm talking about my mom. She's a voracious reader and always has been, but for the most part she stays away from lit. She's often told me how much she disliked her English classes in high school. The teachers would say: "This is what you were supposed to take from that reading, and if you thought of anything else, you're wrong." I know one of her favorite reads was David Copperfield (she used to recite the opening lines) but that's pretty much the start and end of her lit reading.

She got a Kindle about a year ago and I convinced her to read Pride and Prejudice because, hey, free. And you know what? She liked it. Now a big help here was she was already familiar with the story but she liked it. Heads up mom, I might start downloading some other (free) classics to your Kindle for you.

It's difficult to say "this is something non-literary readers should read" because people are different and some literary books are going to be a homerun for some people and a foul for others. For example, Slaughterhouse Five is, in general, a book I would recommend to the non-literary to read. However, I can't imagine that would have been a popular choice for my mom. It's not her style.

That said, here are some literary reads that will probably work for even the "lit is scary" readers. I don't know that this is going to be a super original list, but sometimes the standards are standards for a reason:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

*The people who don't like to read at all confuse me. I'm not going to say (to their face) that they're wrong because it's their free time to spend however they'd like. But reading makes me so happy and being unable to share that with people confuses me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

True, hardboiled fiction is also escapist. It offers a low-risk walk on the wild side

One of the reasons I love book blogging so much is because I am introduced to books I would have never considered. Hell, I'm introduced to genres I normally wouldn't check out. In this case the book is Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, which is a collection of hardboiled short stories. The book was brought to my attention by Ben at Dead End Follies who wrote one of the stories in the collection.

Short story collections are always a challenge to review. Do you talk about every story? Just a few? The collection overall? I can never decide which way to go so I've decided I'm just going to babble instead of going into this with any sort of structure. You know, my usual method.

First up, this was a quick read. And not a quick as in "this was an easy read that required no thought". It was quick because I kept wanting to see what happened next. And then that story would end and I'd go "Well I just have time for one more..." I have a very short attention span so normally with short stories I read one then put the book down and wander away. Not this time though. Even the stories that weren't my favorite still made me want to read more. That was pretty sweet.

Short stories can be tricky. They need to tell a complete story, a complete arc, in the span of just a few pages. They can be a moment of part of a larger story (aren't all stories?) but it needs to be fully contained. Most of the stories in this collection succeeded but there were a couple that felt like they were chapters out of a larger novel. They told of a single event, but they didn't feel like a single story. Kent Gowran's "A Small Thing at the Devil's Punchbowl" and John Hornor Jacobs "The Death Fantastique" both had this problem. I liked both stories, I thought they were interesting and well-written, but they felt like I picked up a full novel and read a couple pages out of it. They didn't work as short stories.

On the other hand, some of the stories were especially good, both in terms of working as a short story as well as just being a good read. My two favorites are "Ric with No K" by Patricia Abbot and Ben's "Second Round Dive".

Before I say anything else, I want to say that when I first started Ben's story I told myself I wasn't going to review it. It can be nerve wracking to write any review, moreso when you know the author might read it and then that's tripled when the author is a blogging friend. So I was just going to avoid that whole deal by not writing about it. And then I ended up really liking the story. A story about a boxer. I don't like boxers or boxing or fighting, unless it involves Christian Bale acting like a crack head. But the fact is when the story is about the characters and is good, it doesn't matter what the details are. Plus this happens to be the only story that I stopped to highlight different parts*. So in the end, I couldn't help me say something about this story and I'm very happy that it is all good things.

I was also pleasantly surprised that my other favorite story of the collection is written by a female author. I didn't notice that until after I finished but it's nice to see ladies getting in on this genre. (They might be all over the genre, I really have no idea.) In this case there is little in terms of a plot, which was a change from so many of the other stories that were very plot driven. There is a plot there, but it mostly focuses on the main character, a naive young girl who sporadically sees her flaky mom in between foster homes and her criminal older "boyfriend" Ric. The story could have easily gone the route of a Law & Order: SVU episode but by focusing on the girl, it doesn't. It takes on an innocence that makes it endearing as well as disturbing.

As I've said, I'm not a hardboiled expert by any means, so I can't tell you if this collection is really indicative of the genre as a whole or what. I can't put it into a real context but I can tell you I really enjoyed this. It's a collection that kept me entertained and kept me going "just one more story."

*This isn't entirely true, as I did highlight a line in another story. But that highlight was because I went "what? That doesn't make sense at all." In "The Death Fantastique" a character wonders why the girl takes a shower but doesn't wash her hair and wonders what the point is. Then makes a comment about localized dirt between her legs. Really, my problem with this is I definitely don't wash my hair each time I shower because do you know how long it takes to wash and dry long hair? For me at least, while I have long hair, it's like an extra hour of work. It's a real pain in the ass. I know it's a stupid, little thing, but it took me out of the story.

Title quote from location 53

Crammer, David and Scott D. Parker (eds). Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled. Amazon Digital Services, 2011. Kindle.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Upcoming reviews OR a post to distract you from the fact that I have no real post

Hope everyone had an awesome Thanksgiving. At least those of you who are in the US. For my international readers, you should really get in on this holiday. Seriously, you hang out with family and think about what you're thankful for and most importantly PIE! It's pretty cool.

I spent my Thanksgiving in South Carolina because screw cold weather. I'm currently pet-less and my dad has a bit of a menagerie (6 cats and 3 dogs at the start of the trip*) so that's always fun. Plus it distracts me from the fact that, with the exception of my phone, I'm internet-less down there. Oh they have internet, but they're so far out they can't get unlimited access (I didn't realize that was a problem for things that aren't wireless phones) and they work out of the home so they need their interwebs. Also I'm way too lazy to set up anything. This paragraph is just a big excuse as to why a) I haven't posted anything in awhile and b) why I haven't read any blogs in a week. But I have been reading! So to tempt you with stuff I will be reviewing once I get my shit together, here are the books I've read that I need to write about:

Beat to a Pulp edited by Scott D. Parker and David Cranmer
On Writing by Stephen King
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Also to distract you from the fact that I have no real post, here are some animal pictures!

*By the end of the trip it was down to 3 cats. See, most of the animals my dad gets are animals that wander over and don't leave. The house is an old plantation so it's in the middle of no where and there are stray animals roaming the area. There used to be a bunch of wildcats around, which was good because they took care of the mice and rats. That is until my dad got a couple dogs that just destroyed the cat population. If you're wondering what a dog would do if it ever caught the cat, kill it is the answer. So dad was feeding this a cat that started showing up, and one day noticed she looked a little larger than usual. And what do you know, she's pregnant. To keep the cat and her eventual kittens safe, they brought the cat inside. The cat is going the 16 and Pregnant route, but instead of time on an MTV show and a boob job, it gets to live inside and not get eaten by dogs. Clever girl. But 6 cats is a lot so they were going to give away all the kittens and managed 3 (2 to my step-mom's sister and one to a co-worker of hers). I'm trying to convince Boyfriend that we need one of these but so far he's resisting. Specifically the cat in the last picture that is like "I will destroy you, pine needle, but also I will nap!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pine Cove was a decorative town...only one degree more functional than a Disneyland attraction

After a few slow reading months I decided I needed something quick and fun to read next. You know, so I could bolster those total pages read each month that no one but me cares about. But lucky for me, I had an unread Christopher Moore book sitting on my shelf.

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove takes place in the same fictional town of Pine Cove that his first novel, Practical Demonkeeping, was set. And like PD, it also involves a supernatural monster, although this time it's the Sea Beast Steve instead of the supernatural demon Catch terrorizing the tiny resort town. On top of this there's a suspicious suicide, a ranch no one's allowed to step foot on and the local psychiatrist has just changed everyone's anti-depressants to placebos. Moore's skill is creating colorful characters and once again his cast is a lot of fun to watch. There's the pot-head constable Theo, the guilt ridden psychiatrist Val, the nerdy biologist Gabe (or Food Guy as he's known by his dog Skinner), the local crazy lady and ruined B-movie star Molly and of course the bartender of the local bar, who is now more machine than person (what with the replacement hips, pacemakers, etc), Mavis. How can you not want to read whatever they get into?

I was surprised after I finished reading The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove to find out that this wasn't the second novel he wrote. It's not only that it has the same setting and several same characters as his first novel, but it feels like an early novel. The book is funny but it doesn't have the heart of some of his other novels, like Lamb or Fool. There is a lot going on and the different story-lines feel like they're rushed at the end. The book constantly jumps from one point of view to another, which I actually like, but it means that there is a lot going on and it's easy to lose focus. And because there are so many characters (I didn't even mention Estelle the artist or Catfish the blues singer. Except now I did.) no one gets the attention they deserve and they feel unfinished.

It was still fun and certainly a quick read but I know he can do so much better.

Title quote from page 129

Moore, Christopher. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove. Harper Collins, 1999.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Classics Challenge peer pressure spreads beyond the blogging world

This Classics challenge thing is really spreading. I was peer pressured into joining this thing (which I'm getting really excited for) and I decided to spread the peer pressure over to a friend of mine. The problem is my friend doesn't actually have his own book blog. But that doesn't stop this challenge/peer pressure thing so I have graciously offered up some of my blog space so he can post about his Classics reads.

So let me introduce you to my friend, Paul, or as I have been referring to him while we talk about him writing about his books Paolo Redbeard (Paolo cos that's what I call him sometimes, and Redbeard cos he's also a red head. We stick together.) And here's his reading list, which is totally putting mine to shame:

Paolo Redbeard
Ok ok I'm impatient but I'll do this for reals and actually start in January and everything.

Any 19th Century Classic
The Three Musketeers (Dumas) - Gotta go lighthearted somewhere on here.

Any 20th Century Classic
Ulyss-hahahaha no, let's not even pretend.

I'll play this one by ear. Maybe The Sound and the Fury, maybe some Hemingway. And I've never read any Steinbeck. Definitely a modernist.

Reread a classic of your choice
Probably Slaughterhouse 5, for the same reason as Red, actually. I wonder if I still know how to spell Trafalmadorian. (Google says I misplaced the L. TraLfama...) Maybe Gatsby or On The Road.

A Classic Play
If I'm still on the horror kick the rest of these items are for, I'll probably read Faust (Goethe)

Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction
Never read any Lovecraft, so I'll throw in some of his stuff here. He counts as classic in my book, at least.

Classic Romance
I dunno. I just read P&P&Z, and that was enough romance for me for a while. This says something about me. I'm not sure if it's flattering or not.

Maybe Madame Bovary (Flaubert)?

A Classic translated from its original language to your native language
Probably Inferno (Dante)

Classic Award Winner
Well golly gee there's a lot of awards to choose from and a lot of books I haven't heard of. No clue. I want to sneak some Brit lit on here, so I guess I'll pull from the Man Booker? Possibly Midnight Children (Rushdie).

Or, I might cave and finally read Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon), since it's already on my Kindle and everything.

Classic set in a country you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime
Thanks to Red, I've settled on, appropriately enough, "My Name is Red" (Orhan Pamuk). Takes place in 16th century Istanbul, which if I remember correctly, sets it concurrently with the American Revolution.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is the unwillingness to pay more for food really a matter of affordability or priority?

I love food. I love eating. I love cooking. After a vacation to Seattle which was filled with a lot of eating (including a food tour) I seriously considered moving out there, partly on the strength of the food. Hell, I'm still considering it cos I loved it out there and what, it's only ~3,000 miles from work, family and friends. But seriously, this Paseo sandwich was really good.

What I'm saying is, I'm a fan of food. So one day I was wandering a a bookstore and I noticed the book The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan and I was intrigued. I'd heard about the book and it was almost a book club selection one month, but I didn't really know much about it. I was hesitant because in general whenever there is a book about food it is so...judgey. Judgey and angry and hit-you-over-the-head with arguments about what you shouldn't and can't eat, lest you want everyone on the planet end up poisoned. I've read Fast Food Nation and I was worried this would be another "if you eat X, you may as well a) rape mother nature if you eat food from a factory farm b) single-handedly destroy the nation's economy by only eating locally/organically".* But I decided to take a chance and I'm glad I did.

Pollan's agenda for the book is just awareness. Be aware of where your food comes from. It seems simple and it's hard to argue that it's better to be ignorant of where you're getting something as fundamental as food. The "omnivore's dilemma" is that we can eat so many different things that it's not necessarily simple to know what to eat. To use his example, a koala eats eucalyptus. That is the end of the consideration a koala has to give to what it's going to eat. Are there eucalyptus leaves? Yes? Boom, dinner is figured out. Now the koala can get back to all the other stuff they do like sleeping and getting STDs.** People can, and do, eat lots of different foods so the question becomes what to eat. Now we have a good idea what we can eat but the question is where is our food coming from. Pollan focuses on traditional and organic factory farms (which are surprisingly similar), a local "grass-farm" and then he actually goes the hunter/gatherer route and finds a meal himself.

At no point does it ever feel like Pollan's hitting you over the head with an agenda. There are pros and cons to every method of getting your food and to claim that one way is perfect is ridiculous. Of course that also doesn't mean that industries couldn't use some revamping. You can understand that in a globalized and industrial world that completely getting rid of factory farms is unrealistic, but it's hard to say that feeding grains to animals that were never meant to live on it (and thus get sick and require lots of antibiotics) is a great system. Local farms certainly seem like the better choice, but could they really feed an entire nation?

We'll see how much reading this changes my eating habits. I'm hoping it makes me a more informed eater. I'm hoping it will make me stop and consider where is my food coming from, where could it come from, what's a realistic choice for me and what's a good choice for me? Eating should be more than a refueling exercise and it's important enough to give it serious thought.

*FFN is in the first category, although I actually enjoyed it when I read it and I haven't had McDonald's/Burger King/Wendy's type meal since then. Partially because of the book and partially because it's way healthier to just not eat it and it wasn't all that hard to cut out anyway.

** Koalas, I thought you guys were just bundles of cute, but little did a know so many of you are also riddled with chlamydia. Awesome. This isn't in the book, just a little factoid for you. The more you know.

Title quote from page 243/location 4007

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Penguin Press, 2006. Kindle edition.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stop mocking me, TBR pile

I've skipped the last few Tuesday Top 10 posts because I really couldn't think of anything for those lists. This week however, I got it covered. This week's top 10, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish is the top 10 books that have been on my shelf for the longest time but I've never read. Oh, you mean books that are a sense of shame for me? Yup, I got this list...

1. The Once and Future King by T.H. White - I took this book from my grandparent's years ago when they were looking to downsize their books. It looked interesting and since then I have carried it around with me from apartment to apartment and I've never read it.

2. The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and Selected Stories by H.G. Wells - Here's another book I took from my grandparent's library that I think I've had even longer than TOFK and I've still yet to read it. I'm hoping the Back to the Classics challenge will fix that.

3. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein - Maybe there's something about authors that use initials but I've had this one since my dad bought it for me when I was, I think, in middle school and still nothing. This is also on my Classics challenge list so maybe I can fix this.

4. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson - So many classics, so many good intentions. Now to just actually read them. This is also tentatively on my Classics challenge. It's one of the reasons I'm doing this challenge; I need to fix all of these books I keep dragging with me but I haven't read.

5. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen - I bought this a little over a year ago in an airport bookstore so I haven't had it with me all that long. However, it is a sense of shame because I started reading it on the plane (I'd run out of the books I brought with me) but then when I got home I put it down and haven't picked it up again.

6. The Malcontents: The Best Bitter, Cynical and Satirical Writing in the World - A friend of mine in high school gave me this book because she said the title made her think of me. I am a ray of sunshine. It's a really great collection with some heavy names (Moliere, Cervantes, Shaw, Wilde) and while I've read some of the stuff in other settings, I've never read this book. Looking at this now I realize there are select works from Flann O'Brien, which makes me really want to read his stuff, since I used to go to a dive bar in college of the same name.

7. The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters - I may have taken this from my brother after he had to read it for a class. It sounded interesting but I got about a page into it before I got distracted by something else and I've yet to pick it up again.

8. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger - Another initial name! I've read Catcher but nothing else. Now technically this is one of boyfriend's books which I'm sure he has read but it's been sitting on our bookshelves for the last 4 years and I haven't read it yet so it counts.

9. Lying, Cheating & Stealing: Great Writers on Getting What You Want When You Want It - I found this on some discount table at a bookstore years ago and loved the writers included in it (Dorothy Parker, ee cummings, Dashiell Hammett, Mark Twain) but I've never made it further than the first short story by Woody Allen. Why haven't I been reading this?

10. All The World's A Grave by John Reed, adapted from the works of William Shakespeare - When I saw this book that says "A New Play by William Shakespeare" how could I not pick it up? It's the characters and the text from Shakespeare rearranged to form a new play. But it's intimidating. At least with Shakespeare-Shakespeare I can read a summary of the story or watch the play, so it's easy to follow along. I can't do that with this Shakespeare-Reed. I've given the play a few tries but I've always backed down.

So what have you had on your TBR pile for years?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The plague had a knack for narrative closure

I can't quite remember who I first heard about Colson Whitehead's Zone One from but I remember hearing the description "literary zombie novel" and I thought Sold! I actually even recommended the book before I read it (before it was out to the general public) to a friend of mine on that basis alone. Needless to say, I was excited so as soon as the book was available I downloaded it.*

I said in my last post I was procrastinating on getting this review written that's only mostly true. I had an episode of The Walking Dead sitting on the DVR so consider my decision to watch that instead of writing this research. But there's also the fact that Zone One lends itself to letting the book percolate for a couple days after you've finished it. The book is called a literary zombie novel and sure, it's technically a zombie novel, but that makes up such a small part of the story. It's really ruminations on things that have been lost in the new apocalyptic world.

This is a slow, meandering story as the main character Mark Spitz performs skel and straggler cleanup duty with the Omega team, as they try to make lower Manhattan habitable for people again. I kept forgetting that the story only takes place over 3 days. There are flashbacks and memories that made me feel like I'd spent years with the characters. Even the post-apocalyptic stress disorder (PASD) that almost every character suffers from in some way or another is pronounced "past." The constant flashbacks and side stories made it difficult to follow at times and I found myself re-reading sections going "Wait, where are we? Is a zombie still trying to eat his face? Cos that's where I think we left off before he noticed that the skel kinda looked like his 3rd grade math teacher and we were off on that tangent. Oh yes, now that I've turned back 40 pages, a zombie is currently (literally) trying to eat his face." This was frustrating at first because even though I heard that "literary" designation I was still expecting a typical zombie apocalypse novel, along the lines of World War Z. Once I got over the pacing and just let the prose wash over me, I was happy.

The prose. The prose is what makes this novel. I'm so happy I read this on my Kindle because I felt like I marked down a paragraph or phrase on every page.** The book has so many moments moments of comedy and poignancy and tragedy. Here are just a couple of the many (many) lines that I highlighted.
"Rumor was they had two of the last Nobel laureates working on things up there -- useful ones, none of that Peace Prize or Literature stuff" (page 35)
"He stopped hooking up with other people once he realized the first thing he did was calculate whether or not he could outrun them." (page 115)
"Hope is a gateway drug, don't do it." (page 179)
"Would the old bigotries be reborn as well, when they cleared out this Zone, and the next, and so on, and they were packed together again, tight and suffocating on top of each other? Or was that particular bramble of animosities, fears, and envies impossible to recreated? If they could bring back paperwork, Mark Spitz thought, they could certainly reanimate prejudice, parking tickets and reruns." (page 231)
The one thing about this book is I can't see myself re-reading it, at least not right away. I re-read a lot and usually when I really love a book, I want to re-visit it again. And while I can't say I'll never read this again, I can't see myself coming back to it anytime soon. I came, I saw, I enjoyed, I'm good. For awhile anyway.

*I hate hardback books but I'm also impatient so the Kindle has been especially helpful.
** No really. I'm looking at my notes and I have stuff on page 142, 149, 150, 151, 158. I highlight ALL THE THINGS.

Title quote from page 130/location 2013

Whitehead, Colson. Zone One: A Novel. Doubleday, 2011. Kindle edition.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Back to the Classics - My tentative reading list

While I procrastinate on writing my review of Colson Whitehead's Zone One, I figured I'd start putting together a list of books to read for the Back to the Classics challenge. This has proven to be more difficult than I thought. Below is my tentative list of choices. The ones that have a little story around them (because I can't stop talking) are the ones I'm fairly sure of. The ones that are a list of titles are some suggestions so I don't forget them, but those are very much up for debate. And yes, I know there's only one option under Romance but it's still tentative. I can't think of any romances so suggestions are welcome.

Any 19th Century Classic
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

Any 20th Century Classic 
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Reread a classic of your choice
Slaughterhouse-Five by Vonnegut. I read this when I was about 16, loved it, and then read a bunch of other Vonnegut (Breakfast of Champions being a favorite). But I haven't read the guy in awhile and it seems to make sense to go back to the beginning. Well beginning for me.

A Classic Play
Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. I was originally thinking of reading Midsummer but realized I should probably pick something I haven't read, not something I've read a bajillion and 12 times.

Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction -  
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I read a few pages of this when I was trying out the iBooks app on my iPod. Now seems like a good opportunity to actually finish it.

Classic Romance
Emma by Jane Austen

A Classic translated from its original language to your native language
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I would have never come up with this one except my good friend has been bugging me to read this for awhile and he offered to lend me his copy for the challenge. So how could I pass that up?

Classic Award Winner
The Confederancy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Classic set in a country you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime
The Hobbit by Tolkein. I might hate myself for this. I read the first 2 LotR books and really tried to make it through RotK and couldn't do it. But I've had The Hobbit sitting on my shelf for years so I should just suck it up and read it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Classics challenge or where I give in to (more) blogging peer pressure

Since starting this blog I have avoided challenges. I'm bad at doing stuff when I'm supposed to do it. I ever wrote a blog post titled Why I avoid challenges. I'm going to get over this or else fail spectacularly and learn my lesson but either way I'm going to be joining Sarah's Back to the Classics challenge. I have a few reasons for joining:

A lot of book bloggers I liked have decided to play along and I wanted to play too. (Hey you guys! Wait up!)
The challenge runs for the whole year. I can finish 9 books in a year.
My last 2 reading months have been pathetic and I need to fix this. And apparently me telling myself  "do this better" isn't cutting it.

I haven't picked the books out yet but here are the categories. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know! Also you should join in the challenge. PEER PRESSURE

Any 19th Century Classic
Any 20th Century Classic
Reread a classic of your choice
A Classic Play
Classic Mystery/Horror/Crime Fiction
Classic Romance
A Classic translated from its original language to your native language
Classic Award Winner
Classic set in a country you (realistically speaking) will not visit during your lifetime

I really hope I don't get to December of next year and realize I've hardly done any reading. Fingers crossed!

Literature: are you an analyzer?

I'm so bad at keeping tracking of things, including The Blue Bookcase's Literary Blog Hop schedule so I didn't get this posted the other day. But luckily the hop is the 3-6, so technically I didn't miss it. I'm just fashionably late.

Anyway the question is (or technically questions are): To what extent do you analyze literature? Are you more analytical in your reading if you know you're going to review the book? Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience?

To what extent do I analyze lit? Not as much as I'd like to. Or rather, I wish my analysis was better. My degree is in English Lit, so I can't help but analyze the stuff I read now. But even while I was in school I remember I'd hear someone's insight about a book or a character or a scene and I'd think to myself "Yes! That is so obvious how did I miss it" and then I can never read the book again without hearing that analysis. Maybe there's something about the confidence in the other person's assertion. I might look at a scene and pick it apart, but I'm never sure if I have completely missed something or not. So I guess I miss other people's analysis and the whole classroom discussion thing.

Are you more analytical in your reading if you know you're going to review the book? Since I started this blog I've reviewed every book I've read so at this point how much I analyze a book has nothing to do with if I'm going to review it. I know I'm going to. As to how much analysis do I put into a review, that really depends on the book and the review I plan on writing. In general, if I'm just reviewing a book, I won't go into an analysis of it. I did more analysis earlier in my blog when I would write multiple posts on a single book. Because I've been writing more straight reviews, I write less analysis so I probably read with a less analytical mindset. I'd like to get back into writing these types of posts but they tend to take me much longer to write. I'll start off a post making one point and then half way through writing I'll realize I actually think the opposite is now the case, and I have to rewrite it. Repeat 3 more times.

Is analysis useful in helping you understand and appreciate literature, or does it detract from your readerly experience? It is helpful when understanding and appreciate lit that has something there to analyze. And I guess that is assume with the term "literature" instead of just general books. There are some books that just don't have much there to analyze. And that's fine. Sometime a simple, transparent story is what I want and trying to analyze something that doesn't have the depth for analysis is going to detract from the experience. However if it is a real piece of literature than I think analyzing can help you understand it better and from different points of view.

So what do you think? Are you an analyzer?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

October Reading Wrap-Up

I know I'm a little late with this. But just like with the last post, I have a good excuse. See I was going to write this yesterday and instead of doing that I watched the latest episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia that was sitting on the DVR. So yeah, I'm super busy over here.

I didn't do that great with my reading last month and decided to continue the trend. I don't know where the time is going, but I'm clearly not paying enough attention. Maybe I'll participate in a read-a-thon at some point so I can do a little better with the whole reading thing.

For my author stats I was going to look at each of the short stories authors in Horrorscape separately. And then I realized how much more work that would be when one of the authors (Juleen Brantigham) didn't have a Wikipedia page, which is how I check on most of that information.

Number of books read
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Choke On Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Horrorscape edited by Gary Goshgarian

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors
0% except for at least one and possible 2 of the authors in Horrorscape

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of eBooks

Percentage of rereads

Books written by decade
1950s - 25%
1980s - 25%
1990s - 25%
2010s - 25%
very even...

So still kinda pathetic, although my goal from September for the month was "read more" and I did that so mission accomplished. Maybe my goal for this month will be "OK, now read even more!" Let's see how I do.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

He might try to help you, in his way. And that could be pretty horrible. If he didn't like you...well, that could be worse

OK, so it took me awhile to get this next post written, but I had a good reason: I'm lazy. Also I'm going to blame this on the recent snowstorm that hit the Northeast, even though that happened way after I finished reading Horrorscape. But seriously, we got a foot and a half in Jersey and it wasn't even Halloween yet, so I think that excuse can work retroactively.

Since I have been lazy getting these posts written I figure I'll just combine the last two sections of Horrorscapes together in this single entry, and instead of reviewing a couple stories, like I did in my last post, I'll give you a quick comment about each of them.

Part 3: Belief and The Supernatural
Pickman's Model by H.P. Lovecraft - This is the first Lovecraft I'd read and it is what makes me want to read more of the guy. Plus it takes place in Boston's North End, which I lived in for awhile, and could totally believe that evil things are crawling around just below the city.
The Roaches by Thomas Disch - A good though somewhat forgettable creepy crawly horror story and what happens when someone is a lonely clean freak.
The Boogeyman by Stephen King - You can always tell a King story without even knowing he wrote it. He has a certain tone and no matter how crazy things get the characters sound real and flawed. It's fun to see him take on the creature that hides in children's closets.
It's a Good Life by Jerome Bixby - You (probably) know this one, even if you don't know you know it. Twilight Zone and Simpsons did it. Little kid can read thoughts and control things with his mind and hates when people are unhappy or think bad things. What happens when someone with a 5 year old understanding of morality has complete control over everyone? It just confirms that kids are terrifying.

Part 4: Avenging Angels and Faustian Devils
They Bite by Anthony Boucher - Locals tell outsider of the haunted house. It's a simple premise that every horror writer has taken on at some point and this one has a little lesson worked into it. Granted the lesson is along the lines of don't be an ass or you'll get bitten but still.
The Black Lake by Tony Richards - I always have to remind myself that this isn't a King story. It feels like it could be. Who knew a lake could be such a successful predator?

The Raft by Stephen King - OK, so this one is actually a King story. It has those believable characters and then a crazy (and gory) attack. I probably mix up The Black Lake with this one because they're next to one another and they're both about malevolent lakes, which really isn't a horror category I thought would exist, but there you go. I saw a short film version of it but like a lot of King things, go for the book instead of the movie.
Sweets to the Sweet by Robert Bloch - First up, I love the Shakespeare reference. Second, it's another story where children are terrifying. This time the kid's behavior is more justifiable but still, don't mess with kids. If you call someone a witch often enough, will they become one? Bloch is also the guy that wrote Psycho, so you know he can do some quality writing. This is no exception.
If Damon Comes by Charles L. Grant - Another horror story about a kid. See how scary kids are? Although this is more like Bloch's tale where the kid being a super creepy is kind of justified. Kinda creepy but not outright scary like some of the other stories in here.
Ceremony by William F. Nolan - It's kind of like the Boucher story, where someone gets punished by these "avenging angels". Also it's a good reason to avoid taking long bus rides because those always seem to invite creepy things to happen.
Dark Angel by Edward Bryant - Don't think that this is like that Jessica Alba TV show. It's a question of how far should revenge go and how do you know when you've gone too far?
The Playground by Ray Bradbury - Again! children are the creepy factory here. How much can you really protect your children? How far will you go? What do your childhood memories mean for your kids?

Title quote from page 132, from the story It's a Good Life.

Goshgarian, Gary ed. Horrorscape. Kendall Press, 1993.

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's time for a Halloween Clip Show!

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays and scary/creepy/weird lit is some of my favorite reading. I figured for this Halloween, as I've done for past holiday posts, I'll include a bunch of links to some past Halloween-y posts. That way I get a Halloween related post plus I send you to a bunch of older posts I've done. And if the clip show is good enough for The Simpsons, then it's good enough for me!

Tuesday Top 10 Lists
Top 10 Halloween Reads
Top 10 Scariest Books

Everything's Eventual by Stephen King
The nine-year-old boy I was had done nothing for which he might legitimately fear the devil either...and yet the Devil came
Mr. Maybe They Will vs. Mr. Even If I Do
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

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
In short, he wished to know why there was no more magic done in England
As everybody knows, no one with red hair can ever truly be said to be handsome
I believe Mr Strange will do very well in the war, sir. He has already out-manoeuvred you
"I am sure you are a very different sort of magician from Mr Norrell," [Stephen] said. "I hope I am," said Mr Segundus, seriously
Think of me with my nose in a book

World War Z by Max Brooks
It goes by many names: "The Crisis", "The Dark Years", "The Walking Plague"
Who in his right mind could have been ready for this?
Couldn't just one restart the plague all over again?

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories edited by Roald Dahl
Such ordinary things make me afraid

A Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
Survival is the key word to remember

Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
It was as if vampirism carried with it a crampless case of rattlesnake PMS

You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
You shouldn't just kill a guy without asking. It's inconsiderate

Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
Saying "rawr" is not a vampyre thing

"The Adjustment Team" by Philip K. Dick
No, you're not dead. You're...visiting

Dreamcatcher by Stephen King
His first reaction to the unplanned and unexpected wasn't a frown but a smile
Duddits is their dreamcatcher

Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore
Are you saying...that the human race was created to irritate Satan?

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
How quickly one accepts the incredible if only one sees it enough!

Horrorscape edited by Gary Goshgarian