Monday, January 31, 2011

January Reading Wrap-Up

At the end of the year lots of fellow bloggers set up some sort of year end wrap-up of their 2010 reading. I didn't do one because the only tracking I've done is whatever I wrote about on my blog, which I'd started in the spring of last year. I know I've mentioned this before, so apologies for the dead horse being beaten, but I loved the stats Brenna put together and decided to steal her idea and do it myself this year. Not one to miss a chance for an easy personal wrap-up, here's how my stats are looking for the end of January.*  I'm only including books I've finished in the month.

Number of books read
Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors


Percentage of authors from the US

Percentage of books written in the 2000s

Percentage of re-reads
0% - this one is surprising, for me anyway. I tend to re-read a lot. 

So I'm doing pretty good on my male to female split and that's about it. Other than that they're all white from the US and their books were written in the 2000s. I'll need to work on that.  Unfortunately the next book I have on the list is also by a white author from the US, written in the 2000s.

I'm not worried about the fiction/non-fiction split.  I'm surprised it's so even right now but I'm sure that won't last for too long.

Also I've tried fixing the formatting on this post about 12 times but it's still a little wonky. I don't care enough to keep trying it since it's minimal. Plus I haven't had much sleep so if I keep trying and failing odds are good I'm going to throw my computer.  Given I'm at work that will have all sorts of bad consequences. Apologies if the formatting bugs you.

*I may make this a regular thing, or I may lose interest in a month.  I'm fickle like that.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

[At] the end of my search I wanted to be able to say: I don't know how I could have tried harder

I was originally planning on having multiple posts about this book, as I usually do.  This time I didn't. I couldn't put the book down. Here's my normal book review posting schedule: I start reading the book. Once I've gathered my initial thoughts I'll post. Then once I've finished, I wrap up with my last thoughts.  Maybe the book lived up to my expectations.  Maybe half way through the story fell apart. Maybe I want to talk about one specific scene or quote or whatnot.  If there was something really interesting I wanted to talk about, or if the book is particularly long there may be some additional posts in there. This time I never wanted to stop and gather my thoughts. I just wanted to read more. And then all of a sudden the book was over. So here we go.

This is the first book I'm reading since having read a book on my Kindle and I have to say I'm missing the notes/highlighting feature all ready.  I hate writing in books so I always end up forgetting passages I want to go back to.  I'm happy I was sitting at home reading when I came across the title quote because it gave me the chance to immediately write it down here.

I read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I'd seen this book for awhile, in bookstores on the tables in the middle of the walkways, with staff recommendations or new paperbacks or noteworthy fiction. I use those tables anytime I don't have a specific book in mind. I always noticed this book because that bright hand stands out on the table but it never stood out enough for me to pick it up and look at it closer.  I want to thank Brenna at Literary Musings for her review of this book because it made me finally get the book myself.

The prose is wonderful and lyrical without feeling contrived or forced.  Safran Foer manages to give the different chapters, narrated by different characters, their own voices while still maintaining the lyrical quality. I know this is trite and others have said it, but this book had me both laughing and crying.

At first I found the main character, nine year old Oskar Schell to unbelievable. He's a bit too precocious at times and it's difficult to rectify his age which his actions.* Having said that, Oskar really grew on me and his chapters are my favorites. I may not believe a child with his disposition can be real but I love watching him interact with the characters around NYC. Early in the novel his behavior took me out of the story but as it went on I came to accept it. If I thought about it too long it would bother me again until the end when I went with it. By the end I couldn't imagine Oskar acting any other way.

I can't recommend this book enough. It's beautiful and touching and painful and wonderful. It never felt like Safran Foer was trying to show you how clever his writing is and I never felt manipulated by the story.

I'm not sure how well this book would read on an e-reader.  Safran Foer plays around with text formatting and images and I'm not sure exactly how well that will translate to a Kindle or Nook.

* I actually have the same problem with Ender's Game.  Where else will you find a comparison between Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Ender's Game?  Probably several places, but you'll find it here too.

Title quote from page 160

Safran Foer, Jonathan. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Mariner Books, New York. 2005

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How do you pick who to follow?

I have a blogging question for anyone that stumbles upon this post: how do you decide who to follow?

So many blogs...
I generally take part in 2 weekly memes, the Tuesday Top Ten and The Literary Blog Hop.  I like these two because they post interesting questions and give me a chance to find new blogs that I otherwise may not have come across.  But I've found myself going through a regular routine while looking at fellow bloggers' posts and I wonder what other people do to figure out who they want to follow and who to skip.  There are only so many hours in the day so there isn't time to really read in depth many posts from each blogger, so how do you choose?

Here's my general method:

  • I go to the site.  If there is a lot of blinking, sparkling dealies, if there are a million buttons and badges and links and lists along both sides of the post, if the background is too busy to read the text, I skip it.  I'm sure I'm missing some blogs I'd really enjoy but I can't get past these things.  Sorry.
  • If going to the site doesn't induce an epileptic seizure, I'll read the post for that particular meme.  If I really like the post, I'll sometimes start following at this step.  
  • More often than not, if I like what I read I'll skim the other posts on the homepage or even the first couple pages.  If I see a post with a topic I think is particularly interesting or about a book I either enjoyed or want to read, I'll stop and read those posts more closely.  A blog doesn't have to read and write about the same books I read (that would be boring) but I like a blog that talks about books I do like.  And this is my nice way of saying if a book is all YA, I'm going to skip it. There is a large audience for those blogs so at least I know they aren't wanting of fans.
Once I get through all of these steps, I'll follow.  Some blogs I follow more closely than others but I am trying to get better about commenting regularly.  So what about you?  How do you decide who to follow?  Are you far less intense about deciding who to follow?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Books I Wish I Read as a Kid

I've always been a reader, even when I was little.  Dr. Seuss?  Check! Roald Dahl?  Covered!  Louis Sachar? Done! But I know there are books I missed out on reading as a child.  For this week's Tuesday Top Ten The Broke and The Bookish ask what are the top 10 books you wish you read when you were a kid

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - Lots of people seem to have read and loved this book.  I own a copy and have since I was a child but I've never actually read it.  I think I missed my window.  It's like E.T.  I never saw the movie and I think I've missed my shot.
2. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll - I read this as an adult (fully annotated copy.  It's pretty sweet) but I never read it as a kid and I wish I had.  That was and is my favorite of the Disney animated movies and I wish I could have compared the two when I was younger.
3. The Little Prince by Antonie de Saint-Exupery - Another one I read when I was older, in a high school French class, but one I think I would have loved as a little kid. Ah well, c'est la vie.*
4. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell - Being a girl I fell strongly into the "I love horses!!!!!" stereotype when I was little and I'm surprised I never read this one. I had the movie. And I read some other horse series (Thoroughbred something or other) but never this classic.
5. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne - Another case where I was familiar with the Winnie the Pooh TV shows (animated and live action people in fur suits, which is a bit creepy now) but I've never actually read any of the original stories.
6. A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler - This isn't so much I missed them when I was a kid as they were published after I was out of this range.  But they look like something  I would have loved when I was little.
7. Nancy Drew series created by Edward Stratemeyer - I had a full collection of these when I was little.  Some were my grandmother's, most were my mom's.  And that sat on the shelf in the top of my closet.  I assume they made it in the move, which means these are most likely sitting in a box in my mom's basement.

7 this week.  That's no bad.  I'm almost to 10.

What books do you wish you'd read as a child?

*I think I took a combined 6 years of French and that is roughly all I remember.  I think I deserve some sort of medal for forgetting so much.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kindle Lending and New Book Acquisition

I'm currently reading Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and it is wonderful.  I'll have a post about the first half of the book at some point this week.  I just need to gather my thoughts.  But in the meantime, here are a couple other random topics.

When I started seriously thinking about getting an eReader (versus whining to Boyfriend about how I couldn't decide if I should get one at all) one of the features I liked on the Nook was that you could lend out books.  I don't know how often I'd be able to use that feature but I like having the option.  Plus I will be way less anal when lending out digital copies of books because I don't have  to worry about getting the book back all bent up or something got spilled on it, etc.  The Nook advertised the lending capabilities but the Kindle was quiet about it.  I ended up going with the Kindle anyway but was a little sad to miss out on lending.  And then I heard mummers that the Kindle did have lending abilities or at least they'd be coming soon.  If they were out before I didn't see anything about it, but it's definitely available now.  Thanks to The Book Stop who provides me with lots of Kindle updates, she's confirmed not only that you can lend but provides links to explain how you can do this lending and she includes a website where you can borrow books from other people for no cost, and lend your books out risk free.  Exciting times.

Even having the Kindle I still find I go for actual books more often than not.  At least I keep buying them.  Yesterday I was meeting up with some friends for lunch. I gave myself plenty of time to get to the restaurant because I needed to take the T, which is always a dangerous proposition. I gave myself 45 minutes to get there. I got there in 15 minutes. It was equally likely it would have take an hour and 15 minutes to get there.  Such is the T. Anyway I had at least 30 minutes to kill (my friends and I are perpetually late) but lucky me the BU Barnes & Noble* was right there.  I wandered around looking at books and then going "No, I can't pick up more.  I need to wait until I make it through the books I just bought some.  Wait." I talked myself out of a couple books but I did end up getting one: A Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks.  I know, it's nerdy.  But you know what?  I'll be prepared when you're all being eaten.**

*This is really a pretty B&N, especially the upper floors.  They have these little nooks and crannies to explore.
**I'm going to be eaten too. I'm far too clumsy to get away from something even as ungainly as a zombie.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Literary read that I can't stand

For this week's literary blog hop the people over at The Blue Bookcase have come up with a question I enjoy far more than I probably should: Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university. Why did you dislike it?

I don't necessarily think of myself as a particularly negative person but when it comes to complaints I feel like I have a lot to say.  You'd think, since I work in pseudo-tech support, that I'd get all the complaining out of my system while at work.  But no.  Anyway, onto the literary part of this

Early American Lit is my least favorite literary time period.  I thought I had managed to weasel my way out of taking any early American lit classes while at college, but last minute (last semester of my final year) I needed a time period class and SURPRISE, this was the only time period available.  With the exception of the Poe stuff we read I was a fairly unhappy camper but my least favorite thing, read in this class and high school English is The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. I know it's a great story, lots of symbolism, blah blah blah.  The problem is I can't appreciate it for 2 reasons: the characters annoy me so much and the story is boring.

Hawthorne managed to take a story filled with adultery, stifling religious beliefs and lies and yet I had trouble reading it without falling asleep.  I know this isn't the case with all of Hawthorne's writing.  I love some of his short stories, especially Young Goodman Brown and Rappaccini's Daughter.  OK, maybe "love" is too strong but I enjoyed both those stories and have read them more than once.  But The Scarlet Letter never really draws me in.  I remember I would constantly stop reading to count how many pages I have left in the chapter, book, etc.  That's never a good sign.

**Thar be spoilers**
Then there are the characters.  I just spend my time arguing with them.  I wish I could agree with Hester keeping quiet about Pearl's father's identity.  On the other hand, Dimmesdale is such a coward that I don't really see why protecting him is so necessary.  Maybe if Hawthorne had given Hester a stronger voice I wouldn't be so frustrated with the characters.  Hell, maybe that would help with my other point and the story would be more interesting.  But he didn't and thus, my points stand.
**Spoilers contained. Carry on**

What about you?  What literary work can't you stand?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

For anyone of a rational disposition, fashion is often nearly impossible to fathom.

I just finished Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life and I was not disappointed.  Bryson's history books, At Home, A Short History of Nearly Everything and his Shakespeare biography Shakespeare: The World as Stage are less laugh out loud funny than when he writes his own personal anecdotes, either in his travelogues or memoir, but this is hardly to say that this book was devoid of humor.  It's just more understated.  Even without belly aching humor this is a book I'm sure I'll re-read a few times.  History has never been my favorite subject to read and most of the time when reading historical texts I find my mind wandering.

Perhaps because Bryson comes to history from such an amateurs point of view I never feel alienated or bogged down by obscure details.  If anyone else were to write a book that included the history of the modern London sewage system I'm sure I would laugh at the subject and immediately put the book down.  When Bryson does it though I'm intrigued.  He is able to stress the importance of the engineering of this new system of plumbing in a way that I can understand and appreciate.  And of course there's his voice: "Late in life [Joseph Bazalgette] was knighted, but he never really received the fame he deserved.  Sewer engineers seldom do." (location 6213) Bryson appreciates the accomplishments of Bazalgette and others like him and is able to articulate that enthusiasm to a reader like me, who has no natural interest in such topics.

In the intro Bryson describes his purpose of the book
So I formed the idea to make a journey around it, to wander from room to room and consider how each has featured in the evolution of private life.  The bathroom would be a history of hygiene, the kitchen of cooking, the bedroom of sex and death and sleeping, and so on.  I would write a history of the world without leaving home. (location 107)
Most of the time he accomplishes this and you can see how the room he is investigating relates to the history he's sharing.  Sometimes, especially in the final "Attic" chapter, he goes off in such a direction that I was never able to make the connection between the story and the room at the top of a house.  But that never bothered me.  I love the short random stories and it doesn't especially bother me if the stories are not directly related, as long as they're interesting.  I have enough ADD that I have no problem jumping between topics.  For those nervous about this, the book is fairly consistent and of course does have the over-arching theme of how home life has changed over time and what lead to the changes.

Title quote from location 6427

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life.  Doubleday, 2010.  ebook.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Most inspirational characters in fiction

It's Tuesday which means it's another Top Ten Tuesday hosted by those at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week they ask for your top ten most inspirational characters.  As per usual I won't be able to come up with 10 but I still like to play along so here goes

1. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - I expect him to show up on nearly everyone's list.  How could he not?  He's kind, patient, thoughtful and moral.  He is everything I should strive to be, even if I am rarely able to reach his level on any of the points.  Really, I almost feel like I could end the list here.

2. Thursday Next from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde -  She's strong and tough, works for the Literary Detectives (LiteraTechs), is intensely loyal and unwaveringly moral.  She doesn't really have Atticus's patience but she makes up for it with humor.  Plus she can kick a lot of ass.

3. Lilith from the Lilith's Brood series by Octavia Butler - She has a strong sense of what is right and wrong in very uncertain times.  Like when Earth has been destroyed and your living with a group of aliens that are going to alter the human race in such a way that there will no longer be humans but instead a new species.  The book has a lot of gray areas and Lilith is forced to make tough decisions over and over again.  Her choice was almost never the one I would have made, but it was usually the better one.

4. Liesel Meminger, and Hans and Rose Hubermann from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - I know I could have easily split this one up into 3 and then I'd be closer to my 10 but that feels like cheating.  And I'd rather fail to hit 10 than do something lame like that.  This family may seem broken and hell is broken in a few ways, so much love permeates this group during a time of immense hate.  The love isn't insular but spreads to Max Vanenburg, the Jew the family hides in their basement.  Anytime someone can show so much love and forgiveness in a situation where I doubt I could muster it, I'm moved.

Alright that's all I got.  Anything else is starting to feel forced.  So who are your favorite inspirational fictional characters?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reaping the benefits of a book giveaway

I got a mystery package the other day.  I didn't remember ordering anything and it was in a normal padded envelope with a handwritten return address.  Perhaps I should have been more cautious with such things but I'm pretty sure I made an off-handed comment about how I hope there was no anthrax in it as I opened the envelope.  A book fell out.  I was thinking to myself that I should continue to open packages from strangers.  Then I remembered I was the benefactor of someone else's book giveaway. 

Back in mid-December, Ben from Dead End Follies tweeted that the first person to answer him back would get a free book.  I love free and I happened to be doing nothing better with my Saturday than sitting online so I won that contest.  Ben won the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson in a giveaway but already had a copy so was kind enough to put me in touch with Elise.  Hooray for more books!

Since getting my Kindle I've bought 1 eBook, Bryson's At Home and acquired 4 actual books: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore, Soul of the Age by Jonathan Bate and now Speak.  Thus far the eReader has done nothing to quell the number of books I'm buying.  

This also makes me want to get to hosting my own giveaway soon.  If anyone has any tips for a giveaway, please let me know!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stylin' and Profilin'

I know blogger awards are a bit like chain letters but I like them anyway.  And Bev over at My Reader's Block was nice enough to give me a Stylish Blogger Award. If you haven't already, check her out!  Here are the rules

1) Thank the person who gave you the award and post back to their blog.  Done!
2) Tell us 5 things about yourself.
3) Award 5 super-stylish bloggers with this award.
4) Contact the bloggers and let them know they one.

So here are some things about me that I've probably said more than once because I have a tendency to repeat myself.

1. After a single vacation to Seattle I'm ready to move out there, at least for a few years.  I have trouble articulating exactly what it was about the city that I loved, but it was enough to make me want to switch coasts for awhile.
2. I started snowboarding when I was 13, after skiing for a couple seasons.  Unfortunately I haven't been back on the slopes in a few years and my snowboard is just sitting around, waiting to be brought back on a mountain.  I should figure out how to get rid of the stickers I put on it when I was in high school, as cool as they are.*
3. I own several Nintendo consoles: Regular, Super, 64, Wii, Game Boy Color, DS.  The majority are hand-me-downs from Brother when he got bored with the system.  Except the Wii; that's all mine. Also I'm trying to con a few GameCube games out of the Brother.  Boyfriend also has a PS3.  Lots of entertainment options.
4. I love slinkies.  I'm actually playing with one right now.  I think it's a nervous habit.  I have a lot of trouble sitting still.
5. I hate driving.  As soon as Boyfriend got his license I have mostly handed that responsibility over to him. This hatred is most likely caused by living in Boston because all of the stereotypes you've heard about Boston drivers are true and then some.

I'm going to fail on parts 3 and 4 and here's why: some people like these awards and some don't really want them.  I don't want anyone to feel like they need to accept the award and spread the love so heres how this part works.  If I've ever left a comment on your blog I probably think you're pretty sweet so feel free to grab this award to let other people know.

*Not very.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hodge Podge Post because I'm angry about the snow

I'm sure many of you, particularly those in the States, have heard about the snowstorm hitting the Northeast.  It's currently covering Boston with heavy wet snow that made my commute to work a pain in the ass.  I'm fairly certain I was mumbling curses aloud while trudging through it.  Luckily I only saw about 8 other people outside who decided to brave this weather so the number of people who thought me crazy this morning is lower than normal.  As I dripped my way into the front door of the our floor I was greeted with "Congratulations.  You're the fifth person to show up."  There are about 80 people that work in my office and most of them aren't making it in.  Lucky people who have that option. So I'm not in the happiest of spirits this morning. Also, I'm super jealous at Greg over a The New Dork Review right now, since he's avoiding this crappy weather by laying on a beach in Hawaii.  Seems like the perfect answer to this weather.

I'm telling you this because since my office moved to a new location and switched to an open concept model, my computer screen is now in a high traffic area so I tend to spend less time on my blog during the day.  But because I'm annoyed I'm here at the office while no one else from my team is showing up, I've decided this is a good enough reason to spend extra time on here today. Yes, I am spiteful like that.

Now, I don't actually have a book review to post.  I'm still reading At Home (52%!  I really do love that counter) but I do have some random things to talk about, so here goes:

1. I may have fixed, or at least improved, the commenting system I'm using.  I decided awhile back to go with Intense Debate because it was supposed to be easier for non-blogspot people to post comments.  It's given me a lot of trouble and I know at least a few people who the comment box won't even pop up for.  I have managed to get a "Comment" link to show up under the posts.  In IE and Chrome it shows up just fine, in Firefox it shows up 3 times, but all 3 of the links work.  Go figure.  Anyway, hopefully that will make commenting less of a hassle.  I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of Intense Debate but not lose all of my comments.  That's been a losing battle so far.

2. Ben over at Dead End Follies has a post about your birthday best seller list. Check out the best sellers from your birthday by going to Here's top 10 fiction

1. The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum
2. Smart Women by Judy Blume
3. Who Killed the Robyns Family created by Bill Adler (I don't know what this is...)
4. Pet Semetary by Stephen King
5. The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss.  (This one makes me extremely happy)
6. Almost Paradise by Susan Isaacs
7. Lord of the Dance by Andrew M. Greeley
8. The Danger by Dick Francis
9. Poland by James A. Michener
10. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

3. I missed yesterday's Tuesday Top Ten, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  The list asked for top ten bookish resolutions and I had a whole post about how I don't make resolutions and blah blah blah. But while I don't plan on making resolutions for my general betterment, I can think of  couple that I'd like to make in my reading and blogging world.  So they are

1. Read The Corrections at some point this year. I bought this at the airport coming back from a friend's wedding because I had run out of books to read.  I liked the little I read but got intimidated by it and have since found plenty of excuses to read other things.  I will not let this book sit on my shelf unread for an entire year.
2. Comment on blogs more.  I read a lot of blogs but I'd say at least 90% of the time I don't leave a comment.  I need to work on that.
3. Keep stats on the books I read. I really liked the end of year stats list bloggers like Brenna at Literary Musings came up with.  I want to come up with this myself for next year and see what my reading habits look like plotted out.
4. Host a giveaway.  When blogger got mad at me and deleted my blog, I made a comment on my Twitter account that if my blog came back I was going to host a giveaway.  I'd like to not make that an empty promise so I will host some sort of giveaway.
5. Expand my reading horizons.  This partially goes along with keeping stats on my books, but I know I read a lot of books by white male American authors.  I'd like to branch out a bit while still reading things I think I'll enjoy

We'll see if I can stick to these resolutions.

 These are my random I-wish-I-had-a-snow-day thoughts.  I will try to make the next post more coherent.

Updated: To include blizzard pics.

Monday, January 10, 2011

It is remarkable to think that people thought of striped fabrics before they thought of doors and windows

When I first started considering eReaders I thought it would help on my daily commute. At the time I was spending about an hour a day on the subway, plus time waiting for the T to show up and I lived off the Green line, so this could account for a lot of time.  This gave me some great reading time but could be a hassle if the book was especially large, such as when I was reading the behemoth Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  Holding a 6 pound book in my hand while trying to balance on the T was never fun and I would avoid hardback books because I knew I didn't want to have to carry it.

Now I have a Kindle, but in the funny way the world works, I no longer ride the subway for my commute.  I've lost a solid hour of reading time and I don't have the same need for an eReader.  Of course.

Even though my initial reason for wanting the Kindle is gone, I'm still enjoying reading on it.  It is lightweight enough that holding it in one hand, even in the cover I got, is no problem.  I love that it's easy for me to take notes and highlight passages.  I hate marking up an actual book, so if I happen to see a quote I like I just have to hope I remember what it is.  That hardly ever works out for me.  It has a little counter at the bottom of the page to show you how far through the book you are, which I'm enjoying more than I would have assumed.  Buying books is slightly too easy and I'll have to watch myself.  I still plan on reading actual books so I won't be making a full electronic leap but I'm happy with what I have so far.  And with that, onto the book

I'm reading Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life and I'm currently 38% of the way through. (I told you I love that little counter.) I have been looking forward to this book since about last May, when I first heard about it and that excitement increased when I saw him speak at the Boston Book Festival.  Originally I was waiting for the book to come out in paperback but my Kindle has given me the perfect excuse to quit being patient and just get the book now.  I am loving it.  I've said on far too many occasions that I could read about paint drying if Bryson was writing about it and this book practically does that.  Bryson wanders through his English home and gives a history of the house as it has come to be, at least in England and America.  This book isn't quite as laugh-out-loud funny as his travelogues but the humor is still there.  This is much closer in style to his science book A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Because my favorite part of Bryson is his voice, here are some quotes I highlighted

His summary as to the etymology of the word "cabinet"
This explains why this one word now describes both the most intimate and exalted group of advisers in government and the shelved recess in the bathroom where we keep Ex-Lax and the like. (location 1049)
 Explaining how demanding people were on their servants
It wasn't just a question of doing the work, but often of doing it to the kind of exacting standards that generally occur only to people who don't have to do the work themselves. (location 1544)
The cheapness of the Duke of Marlborough.  He can probably also be described by the quote above
The duke was so cheap that he refused to dot his i's when he wrote, to save on ink. (location 2441) 
Title quote from location 743

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life.  Doubleday, 2010. eBook

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: How I found my way to literary fiction

I'm a little late getting to this blog hop post.  I generally have time during the day to get a post in but we've had some big changes at work and finding time to even make it through my blog roll.  Silly work, getting all kinds of in the way of my important business.

This week's literary blog hop question, host by The Blue Bookcase, is "How did you find your way to reading literary fiction and nonfiction?"

I never had a defining moment that lead me literary fiction.  My mom has always been a voracious reader but never of the literary type.  She always had a book in hand but her books were for escape.  Except David Copperfield; she would quote the opening to that.  There were always books all over the house and my mom encouraged reading of any type.  My dad on the other hand mostly reads newspapers or magazines but studied literature in college.  When he does read, he reads quality and whenever he recommends a book I make sure to check it out.  I'm rarely disappointed.  I ended up somewhere between the the quality/quantity numbers of my parents.  But in the end I read what I read because that's what I like.  I don't want to read something pointless and formulaic.  I don't want to waste my time.  My literature classes through high school and college gave me the insight and the confidence to know that while reading them isn't going to be easy, it's worth it.

What got you into good literature?

Monday, January 3, 2011

I prefer to do my walks of shame in the evening, when it's not so bright

I'm reading My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands by Chelsea Handler for my "book club".  It's not really a book club, in that 90% of the time we aren't discussing the book but it is a good excuse to get together with friends, drink wine and eat food.  And it does give me the excuse to break free of my normal book selections and go for something I wouldn't normally pick up.  Like this month's book.

I'm not against Chelsea Handler but I can't actually remember seeing any of her stand up.  I know she has a talk show on some channel.  I'm assuming E!  But while I can't recall ever seeing any of Handler's work I can't say this is entirely out of my comfort zone.  I wouldn't have picked this book up on my own but comedic short essays is something I'm familiar with.  I figured it would be something along the line of Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There Would Be Cake.  Handler's stories are more connected.  They're all about her one-night stands, her drinking and her lies (which are probably my favorite part).  But they do have the similarity of being short, humorous, stand alone pieces, several of which are kind of boring.  I was hoping to laugh more; she's a comedienne after all.  It has its moments but so much of it feels like she's trying too hard.  Maybe if I was already familiar with her voice from her stand-up I would be able to hear her tone in the reading and get something more out of it.  But really, I should get her tone from her writing.

She hits her stride about 10 stories in, which is a little more than halfway through the book.  The stories from her early life don't have the easy tone she manages in the later stories.  I never actually found myself laughing out loud while reading these but I was smirking silently during many points in the second half of the book.  But I know my sense of humor isn't the same as everyone's.  It seems to be pretty far from what a lot of people find funny.  A few of the girls from book club have read this book before or other Handler books and said they were constantly laughing out loud while reading them, so this is definitely someone's martini (given the book, I thought this was more appropriate than "cup of tea") but it isn't really for me.  "Don't Believe A Word I Say" and "Out of the Closet" are my favorites.  They're filled with more lying than the other stories and her lies are hilarious because they make no sense.  I want the confidence to tell people I'm an Olympic bound synchronized swimmer that can hold her breath for 6 minutes and to completely not care that it makes no sense and I can't back it up in the slightest.

When Handler goes for shock value she misses the mark.  It feels like she's trying so hard to be edgy that she loses the humor.  She did make me want to watch clips of Louis CK (check out his piece on being white) so that's something.

Title quote from page 77

Handler, Chelsea. My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands.  Bloomsbury, New York. 2005

Sunday, January 2, 2011

We are under an invincible blindness as to the true and real nature of things

Special Topics in Calamity Physics seems to be a reader of this blog.  I complained that the book was wordy without much purpose and the in-text citations were getting annoying and then BAM, story picks up, the wordiness doesn't seem like it was padding and the citations now serve a purpose beyond giving me something on the page to skip over.  Obviously the book changed itself partway through due to my whims.  That's the sort of power I wield.  In my head.

Initially I had trouble focusing on the book.  I took any excuse to stop reading it.  Then it was like a switch was flipped and suddenly I couldn't put the book down.  It was still wordy at times, but the wordiness seemed to serve the story or serve the characters and not be an exercise in meeting some page length minimum.  Blue continues to cite reference after reference, from encyclopedias to her Dad's lecture notes, but these are less clawing, more pertinent to the story.  From the sheer volume you know Blue has essentially a photographic memory, able to quote every book she's come across, but now you learn more from the actual citations.

The book is a coming of age first and foremost with a murder mystery/conspiracy theory thrown in.  After Part One, the book found its balance between these two genres, with the language, with Blue's voice.  The story goes in plenty of directions but it is to the benefit of the story instead of sounding like the author has ADD and was unable to decide what to do next.  Everything fits together and makes you want to go back and reread parts of it as the story progresses, not because of confusion but because there is a lot to take in and I wanted to see how pages I'd already read change with the new information garnered.

There is humor, especially in Blue's father's various bon mots, lectures, discussions, anytime he opens his mouth.  He's pretentious and snobby but he's amusing and because of that he is a character you want to watch.  At one point he is describing the ambiguous ending of a movie
"L'Avventura," Dad said, "has the sort of ellipsis ending most American audiences would rather undergo a root canal than be left with, not only because they loathe anything left to the imagination - we're talking about a country that invented spandex - but also because they are confident, self-assured nation...the idea that none of us can truly know anything at all - not the lives of our friends or family, not even ourselves - is a thought they'd rather be shot in the arm with their own semi-automatic rifle than face head on." (411)
The book has it's own ambiguous ending though perhaps Pessel couldn't leave it totally uncertain (she is American) and the book ends with a Final Exam of True/False, Multiple Choice and Essay question that shed a little more light on the narrative.

This is Pessl's first novel and I'm intrigued enough to check out what else she comes up with.  Special Topics may also be made into a movie at some point, which I'd be interested in checking out.  Mirimax optioned the screen rights at some point in '07 (according to Variety) but who knows when, if ever, it will make it to the screen.

Title quote from page 261

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

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy 2011! Reading Challenges and New Years Resolutions

I've made it back to Boston from the NYC/NJ area so this means my holiday vacation is officially over.  How sad.  I had a great time seeing family, meeting up with friends and doing nothing more strenuous than reading or playing on my computer.  It was wonderful and getting back into the work swing of things is going to be difficult but I'm sure I'll manage through it.

This is usually the time of year for New Years resolutions.  The normal "I'll exercise more/learn a new language/eat better/make myself a better person/blah blah blah" promises that are usually broken after a month. As is probably clear, I'm cynical towards the tradition and don't usually make my own resolutions.  I figure if I'm going to do one of these self-bettering things I shouldn't be waiting for a new year and I don't need to make a grand gesture of it; I should just do it.  I guess that's my way of rationalizing it anyway.  I also know that whenever I feel like I'm being made to do something I'll do the opposite.  I can be annoyingly stubborn like that.  Likewise I've had the same reaction to reading challenges.  There are so many and some of them look fun but I have this feeling if I were to sign up for one I'd never actually read the books, even if they were books I wanted to read anyway, because I was being told I had to read them.

I know lots of people take part in these reading challenges, so can someone tell me why you sign up for a challenge?  Are there certain challenges you always sign up for or are there other types you'd never sign up for?  Are there challenges you thought you'd hate and in the end were really glad you participated in?