Monday, February 28, 2011

It was as if vampirism carried with it a crampless case of rattlesnake PMS

It's been awhile since I read some Christopher Moore. OK, well that's not entirely true, since the last Moore book I read was Fool back in August. But that was a re-read. Before that...well, that wasn't that long ago either. I read Coyote Blue back in June. What can I say, I need a regular fix of the guy. So to feed that fix* I read Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story.

I had a couple reasons for picking up this particular book: I hadn't picked up any new Moore in awhile and I've read the sequel already. You Suck was actually the first Moore book I read and I didn't realize it was a sequel until I mentioned reading it in front of another Moore fan who was surprised (and I think a bit annoyed**) that I hadn't read the first book in the trilogy. Moore wrote this back in '95 but I like reading it now, during the Twilight frenzy, to see a new way vampires can be represented. Moore mostly sticks to traditional vampire lore (they can't go in the sunlight, can turn to mist) but the story is told with his expected humor.

The plot itself is fairly straight forward and predictable: a girl is transformed into a vampire and begins to learn the ropes of her new condition. She meets a human boy to help her out since she can't go out during the day (no sparkling!) and the 2 enter into a relationship. The vampire who turned her has been killing people around San Francisco and frames the murders on the couple. Evil must be vanquished, love prevails, etc, etc. The plot isn't the important part, the characters are. And they're wonderful. Jody, the newly turned vampire, is sweet, confused, cunning and vain. C. Thomas Flood, the aspiring author from Indiana as her boy toy is witty,  lovelorn and loyal. The Animals, the group Flood works with stocking groceries at a local market, are a riot. Cavuto and Rivera are the cops assigned to the string of murders who end up trying to figure out how to make sense of the supernatural things around them. (Open a rare book store and take up golfing are a couple options.) And of course there's my favorite character the "Emperor of San Francisco and Protector of Mexico". He's a homeless man who, along with his trusty Crusaders, Lazarus the golden retriever and Bummer the Boston terrier, who is truly concerned with the well-being of "his subjects" and is actually respected among many of the city's citizens.

Moore's humor is absurd, subversive, witty, sarcastic and dark, and if you're anything like me you got more excited with each adjective I listed out there. This isn't my favorite Moore book, it lacks some of the deeper themes that are present in some of his other books (Lamb, A Dirty Job, Fool), but it is a lot of fun. I plan on picking up a new copy of You Suck very soon and the third part of the trilogy Bite Me. This may not be my favorite of his works but I really want to see where the rest of the story goes. I don't remember much of You Suck but knowing there was a sequel meant I already knew how a lot of this book was going to turn out, which hurt some of the thrill in reading the ending. The story was still fantastic but I didn't spend the last chapters on the end of my seat wondering what was going to happen. So if you do read the series you may as well read it in order.   

Title quote from page 104

*Get it? Feed, fix, vampires. I slay me. Oh hey, there's another pun. I'm on a roll
**His annoyance was forgiven once he recommend Moore's Island of the Sequined Love Nun, which I will inevitably re-read and post on.

Moore, Christopher. Bloodsucking Fiends. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1995.

Friday, February 25, 2011

If Room wasn't our home, does that mean we don't have one?

I just finished reading Room by Emma Donoghue and before I start talking about the book I want to thank the book blogging community.  If I didn't have this blog and subsequently follow lots of other book bloggers, I don't think I'd know about this book and I'm certain I wouldn't have picked it up on my own. Actually as it stands I still didn't pick it up on my own (a friend gave it to me) but the point is by the time he gave me a copy I wanted to read it because of everything I'd heard about it from other bloggers. Apparently even without taking part in a challenge I've been able to move out of my normal reading comfort zone. Thanks all.

And with that, onto the book. If you haven't heard about it, Room is the story of Jack, a five year-old boy who's lived his entire life in a single room. The shed is the only reality he's ever know, the only world he's ever experienced as real. Jack's Ma was kidnapped long before Jack was born, and she's done all she can to make sure Jack grows up safe and well-adjusted in this prison. The story is told entirely from Jack's point of view, which in my opinion was both a pro and con to the book. From this narrator you experience a unique point of view as Jack describes Room and Outer Space. He has many times unintentionally funny and poignant and constantly grapples, as best as a 5 year old can, with the question of "What is reality?"

I'm going to try to keep this as spoiler free as I can but I'm not the best judge of a spoiler so proceed at your own caution.
The basic plot is as follows: young girl is kidnapped, held prisoner in a specially constructed garden shed/prison and repeatedly raped. She has a son named Jack after a couple years in the shed and Jack grows up knowing only this single Room and the items in it. After 5 years Ma plans an escape and the two are free. Now I could very easily see this plot as a fairly predictable thriller, written from Ma's point of view and stopping here. But there's a reason Donoghue's book was shortlisted for so many awards and that's because she doesn't take this easy route. Instead the story is told from Jack's point of view and the escape happens right in the middle of the story. I think literally at the 50% mark according to my Kindle. The second half of the story deals with how Jack deals with this new reality that is so different from the world he's known his entire life.

Pete over at What You Read wrote a review of Room and discussed how books have to earn their happy endings for the story to be worth it. While the characters certain went through enough in the first part of the book to "deserve" their happy ending, the reader would have been shafted. The more interesting part to me was when both Jack and his Ma have to learn to live and re-live in this new Outside world. This reintegration is both funny and heartbreaking. I can't say the ending is necessarily "happy" but it's peaceful.

I said Jack as narrator is both a pro and a con. I love having the story told from a child's point of view, however, I don't necessarily love a child's speech patterns.  Even a kid as precocious as Jack. Following a kid's grammar and syntax took some getting used to, at least for me. I wonder if this contributes to the fact that I liked the second half of the book better; by that time I was used to Jack's voice so I let it tell me the story instead of trying to figure out what he was talking about. That being said, using Jack as the narrator doesn't feel like a gimmick. The story Donoghue wrote couldn't have been told from an adult's point of view. It needs the simplicity and wonder that a child brings. The story could have easily been exploitative but Jack as the child doesn't see or fully understand all of the evil in the world or even in his situation.

This is a really wonderful book. I don't know that it's my favorite read of the year but it's certainly one of the better books I've read, and I'm very happy I got the chance to check it out. I absolutely recommend it to, well anyone really.

Title quote from location 2910.

Donoghue, Emma. Room. Little, Brown and Company, 2010. eBook.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You'd be surprised at how many days can go by without one of my friends mentioning aardvarks

After Speak and Sula I needed a funny book. Something simple before pressing onto Emma Donoghue's Room. Luckily enough I acquired an e-copy of The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs. This is only my second re-read of the year. Back when I was in college this book made the rounds with my friends. A friend* bought the book and ended up recommending it to a friend, who then told our other friend they had to read it and etc, etc. While my friends and I have different personal tastes we all share a similar sense of humor and this one worked for most people.

So A.J. decides after working at Entertainment Weekly and Esquire for so long he's filled his head is filled with pop culture trivia instead of real facts and his solution to fix this is to read the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica. This isn't going to give you any greater meaning into intelligence versus knowledge (though people argue the point with him several times) but it gives you the insight in what it would be like if your friend or loved one was reading this tome and decided to share all sorts of random facts at all times. Some of these tidbits stick with you. For example "Abalones are a type of snail with five assholes" (location 229). For whatever reason (probably because it's immature) I always remember this one. I've eaten abalone a couple times and while I don't always say this fact aloud, I think it every time.

This could very easily be a boring book. Honestly it sounds like a boring topic. Read about a guy who read the Encyclopedia Britannica. Not much excitement there. But he tells the story with humor, sometimes sharing the information he's learned about certain topics, sometimes trying to get onto TV game shows (Jeopardy, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) and a lot of the time it's how his constant fact sharing annoys his friends and family. There is a bit of a sub-plot about A.J. and his wife trying to get pregnant but honestly, I enjoyed those detours less than the main story.

It's a fun story, it's light, you can finish it quickly and you might learn a fact or two. And so you can experience the humor, here are a couple quotes I highlighted (I love my Kindle)

Telling his father his plan:
"I'm going to read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica"
A pause. "I hear that the Ps are excellent."

I feel like this is my attention span:
In some ways, it's the perfect book for someone like me...who has the attention span of a gnat on methamphetamines

Rap making it's way into the EB
Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan "were among the popular purveyors of rap during the 1980s and 1990s." Purveyors of rap?  Now that's got to be the whitest phrase I've ever heard."

A good how-to-be-a-know-it-all lesson
One secret to being a successful know-it-all is extreme confidence.

*This is the same friend that lent me Kitchen Confidential, The City and The City and numerous other books.

Title quote from location 223

Jacobs, A. J. The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. Simon & Schuester. 2004 eBook.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Page to Screen: Top Literary Adaptations

I'm now finished with my move and down in Long Island. Well, I'm finished with the actual moving part. Packing is still a work in progress. I used to live at the top of a 5th floor walk-up in Boston and amazingly my legs have been unhappy with me since I made them run up and down those stairs to move boxes. Go figure. The fact that I've been hobbling around yesterday and today means packing is going fairly slowly, but I got my "home office" set up so that's something. Anyway...

Another Tuesday, another Top Ten hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic: Top Ten Book to Movie Adaptations. I'll keep this lists to just movies I've seen AND books I've read. There are some great movies I've seen but never read the book (The Godfather), some books I've read but haven't seen the movie (Beloved) and some where I may have read the book and seen the movie but the movie was not anything to write home about (Pet Semetary)

1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein - I did not go into the first of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, excited for the movie. We were looking for something for the whole family to see and my brother picked the movie. I knew of the book but I'd never read it. And much to my surprise, I loved the movie. I went out and read the book and was very meh on it. So I decided to wait before I continued reading the trilogy until I saw the movie. I didn't want to ruin anything for myself. While I loved the movies (even going to the midnight showing of Return of the King) I couldn't make it through the books. I finished Two Towers and started RotK but couldn't make it through.

2. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis - Another movie that I love. It's dark, it's violent, it's satirical and it stars Christian Bale. Again I figured "well I like the movie so much, I should read the book." While I don't agree with censorship, having read it I understand why Australia and NZ sell the book wrapped in plastic. The movie took the main purpose of the book, emphasised the ridiculousness and de-emphasised the cannibalism. The business card scene is my favorite part of the movie.

3. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris - This is a wonderful movie and deserves the accolades it has collected. The book is good and certainly entertaining, but this is another case where the movie surpasses the book, specifically Hopkins' performance as Hannibal Lecter.

4. A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare - The 1999 movie version with Kevin Kline, Christian Bale (oh hay, look who showed up on the list again) Anna Friel, Stanley Tucci and I could go on and on naming people in it. It's a light-hearted movie and while there are no Oscar-worthy performances, everyone seems comfortable with the language so you can focus on how much fun everyone is having.

5. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby - Sometimes I like both the book and the movie and High Fidelity is one of those times. Relationships and musical snobbery make for a great story with some wonderful characters. There are some changes between the 2 media (the movie takes place in Chicago while the book is in London, a couple characters are dropped from the movie) but the spirit and humor are consistent.

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl - I'm talking about the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie. I loved Roald Dahl's books as a kid. This movie used to terrify me, and I think with good reason. I remember thinking Violet Beauregard when she becomes the blueberry being especially scary. It has a quirky, slightly off center feel the whole time and, once I got over my fears, I found a very fun movie.

7. The Princess Bride by William Goldman - This has been a favorite movie of mine for a long time and when I found out it was based on a book I had to read it. Unlike my literary failures with 1 and 2 on this list, the book is just as fun as the movie. It has a slightly different flavor from the movie, with an extra subplot involving the narrator's dad only reading him "the good parts" of an old European novel satirizing excesses of the royalty. And the relationship between Buttercup and Wesley, while still based on love, is less idealized and involves much more bickering. Writing about this makes me want to go watch the movie now.

8. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton - Another case where a fun movie came out of an entertaining book. It's certainly not Shakespeare but it was a fun summer movie, especially since I love dinosaurs when I was little. So it's a bit cheesy and predictable. Who cares? The lawyer got eaten off the toilet by a T Rex.

9. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - I haven't seen the newest version that Tim Burton did so I'm referring to the 1951 Disney version. This has been my favorite of the Disney movies since I was little. Like some of the other movies I have on this list, it's an odd story with a lot of fun and beautiful visuals. And the Cheshire Cat is one of my favorite characters. I still think of crescent moons as "Cheshire Cat" moons.

10. The Green Mile by Stephen King - I'm a fan of King's horror stories but is always nice to see something different because he can do non-horror well. The Shawshank Redemption is a good example but since I haven't read the novella, I'll focus on The Green Mile. The movie and the book are both very similar and they both tell a touching story of forgiveness and redemption.

Hey, look at that! I made it to 10. I think this is only the second time I've managed that. Scary stories was my other success, if you're curious. Scary stories and movie adaptations, that's apparently where my interests lay.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Playing with Word Clouds/Colorful Pictures Are Pretty

I sometimes use Wordle at work to create word clouds for reports. People are amazingly impressed with word clouds and while they don't provide too much qualitative analysis, they are pretty to look at and apparently that's enough. I decided to play around with it and see what a word cloud of my blog's homepage looks like. Here's what I got. I kind of like these so there's a possibility you'll see them again.

If you'd like to see this cloud up close, just click on this link. It's interesting to see the words that come up often. Gives me an idea of what words I'm using too much. Must expand vocabulary.

I'm interested to see what other people's word clouds look like. Anyone else find words they're using far too often?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Boston Valentine

I want to take a quick break from book posts to say something about Boston. I've lived in Boston for just over 8 years and in that time I've complained about it.  A lot.  The T is awful, people drive like maniacs, the sports fans are crazy intense and have no discernible sense of humor when it comes to their teams,  it's expensive, and on and on.  But I didn't live here for 8 years because I was trapped here and now that I'm leaving I wanted to take the opportunity to list out the places in particular that I will miss in this city.

Coolidge Corner.  I lived in an apartment in Coolidge for 2 years, which is by far the longest I stayed in one place during my time in Boston (and Boston areas).  I would have stayed here longer if I could have.  I went from a 1000sq ft, brand new apartment with all the latest amenities into a 500sq ft, old apartment with nothing and I couldn't have been happier because it was in Coolidge. It has shops, restaurants, an old theater, a great bookstore, strange characters and wonderful events.  I never grew tired of it.  If the option comes up to move back to Boston, I want to be back here or not come back at all.

While I'm on the subject of Coolidge Corner I want to mention my favorite bookstore, The Brookline Booksmith. My pie in the sky, literary dream is to own a bookstore and this is the place I would want to run.  The place is certainly not large but they have a nice selection of new books (although they never carried any Fforde...) and the basement was all used ones.  They also held events, book signings, book clubs and the staff had great recommendations.  A little corner of the store was devoted to a random collection of things from the book related (journals, reading lights) to the random (Moses action figures).  It was my go-to gift buying store.  And they would do promotions with the theater across the street if their basement couldn't hold everyone.

The Coolidge Corner Theater is an old art deco style independent movie theater.  Because they were independent they didn't get the new movies right when they came out but they made up for this by showing lots of classic movies and hold events.  I mentioned in an earlier post that the theater showed Night of the Living Dead and then had a Zombie expert come to speak.  I missed that (sad) but I was there for: a screening of Indian Jones and the Ark of the Covenant: The Adaptation which was a shot for shot remake made by some kids between the ages of 12 - 18 (it took them awhile to film...) right after the movie came out, a midnight showing of Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog complete with people acting out both the movie and the musical commentary and the 1967 production of The Taming of the Shrew with members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company acting out parts of the Complete Works (abridged) before the show.  I also so normal movies there as well: Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Adventureland, (500) Days of Summer

The Coolidge Corner Theater is my favorite theater in Boston but there are a couple more I want to point out: the Somerville Theater in Davis Sq serves beer and wine as well as playing fun movies (I saw Bruno there) and hosting concerts (I saw City and Colour and Lissie there).  The AMC in Harvard Sq is a normal movie theater for the most part but ever Saturday and all Halloween weekend they do midnight showings of Rocky Horror, complete with the Full Body Cast doing a pre-show and acting out the movie. 

I mentioned the Somerville Theater is a good place to see live acts but there are some other venues I went to over and over again.  Formally Avalon, House of Blues is my most often visited venue, because it's where a lot of the acts go.  I've seen Jimmy Eat World and the Dropkick Murphys a few times here as well as some other acts like Streetlight Manifesto and Ben FoldsParadise is walking distance from my apartment in Coolidge (another reason I loved it there) and was a much smaller venue which means it didn't matter where you stood, you had a good view.  I've seen Jakob Dylan, Rx Bandits, the Bouncing Souls and others there. The Orpheum has seats, which usually makes me sad (I like to be able to jump around during concerts) but the place is pretty small so you have a great view and such fun acts go here. I saw Jimmy Eat World (I see them a lot) and Eddie Izzard here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Literary Love Stories

First up, happy Valentine's Day. Hope you a) had a romantic dinner with your loved one (or ones. No judging) b) enjoyed watching bad romantic movies with friends c) treated it like any other day and didn't really think about it too much d) anything else you may have done to celebrate/anti-celebrate. However you were hoping to spend it anyway.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, this week's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and The Bookish: what are your Top Ten Favorite Literary Love Stories? I'm trying to keep my list focused on the stories instead of just great literary couples, which was already a top list.

1. A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare - I wouldn't call this my favorite of Shakespeare's plays, but it is my favorite. I actually own 5 copies of this one: 2 in Complete Work anthologies, 1 Arden version, 1 version from the First Folio and 1 version in Italian. And while I wouldn't say this is the best love story out there, it is ridiculous, and really that's all I look for in a love story.

2. Pride and Prejudice (and Zombies) by Jane Austen (and Seth Grahame-Smith) - Because I haven't read the normal P&P (it's on my shelf, I'll get to it) I'm going with the zombie version. And anyway, the love story is the same in both of them. Spunky girl and stoic guy trade verbal (and in the zombie version physical) jabs.

3. Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare - Anytime I think of love stories I think of Shakespeare.  The love story between Hero and Claudio is meh, but the dynamic between Beatrice and Benedick is fantastic. The added bonus to this one is I can't help but think of the 1993 movie version with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson as Benedick and Beatrice (wonderful) and Keanu Reeves as Don John (hilarious and not on purpose).

4. You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore -  Look, "love story" is right in the title! This is actually the second part of a Moore vampire trilogy (no one sparkles) but I didn't know what when I picked up the book so this is the only one of that series I've read. It has typical Moore wit and sarcasm and a cute story between a couple of San Franciscan vampires.

5. Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare - I'm trying not to make this list all Shakespeare, but honestly, love stories aren't really my normal genre of choice, so I don't have many stories to choose from. I'm attempting to spread out the Shakespeare but I'm failing a bit. Anyway, R&J is the obvious love story choice. Even if I think Romeo and Juliet are acting like angsty, impulsive teens, at least they whole heartedly believe in their love.

OK, I'm actually out of love stories unless I just go ahead and list a bunch of Shakespeare ones (Othello, As You Like It, Twelfth Night) I may as well stop. I actually gave myself extra time to try to come up with this list and really thought I'd make it to ten. I guess there's always next week.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Book stores are going away."

Borders has filed for Chapter 11, and according to a story in the, they're expecting to close 50% of their locations within the next 5 years and 90% within the next 10. And then we have the quote I've used in the title: "Book stores are going away". Are they?

While the statement is sad, it seems to make sense. The world wide interwebs seem to have taken over the book market. Amazon's FY2009 media sales (books, DVDs, music) were almost $6 billion, eclipsing Barnes & Noble stores ($4.3 billion) and Borders/Walden ($2.65 billion). I know there are people that will buy practically anything online, but I usually like to actually physically handle the item before I purchase it. But books aren't in that category. I can be fairly certain I know what I'm going to get if I order a book (or a DVD) online. The only reason I don't order more books online is that I am amazingly impatient and want the book immediately. Amazon's sales show I'm not the only one that orders books online, and those online sales are hurting the brick and mortar places.

 I said one of the reasons I don't order books online more often is that I like the immediate satisfaction of having the book in my hand right away. Well the other thing chipping away at those book sales are eBooks. This past summer Amazon announced that eBooks outsold hardbacks. Clearly eBooks don't need an actual bookstore to sell their wares. So do these points mean that bookstores are going to be wiped from cities and suburbs? All book buying will need to directly involve a computer?

I don't doubt that online sales and eBooks are hurting bookstores in general, but I wonder if the bookstores that end up disappearing don't end up being the bigger chains. Will the smaller bookstores be able to weather this storm?  As it stands they seem to be closing at an alarming rate and people seem to have to make a special journey to a local bookstore out of a sense of community. How will their sales be affected by Borders closing? Will online and eBook sales more strongly affect the big box stores, leaving the small sellers behind when the dust has cleared? Or will they be taken down as well, and in the future we won't be able to walk into a store a pick up a new book? I've obviously not done any sort of analysis on what the answers could be but does anyone have any thoughts on the topic?

Chapter 11 for Borders, New Chapter for Books
Book Sales Statistics
E-Books Top Hardcovers at Amazon

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

But she had gone on a real trip, and now she was different

I'd expected to write a few posts about this book as I tried to take it all in. There is a lot to take in but I didn't want to stop reading. Or rather, I didn't want to stop reading and take time to write. I did have to put the book down a few times and gather my thoughts but I wasn't ready to write anything down yet.

Morrison never makes her work easy. Her characters never feel like caricatures. They are contradictions, at once beautiful and ugly, good and evil. Ambiguous. Sula takes place in a predominately black town in Ohio from the years 1919 - 1965. It's the story of girlhood friendship between Nel Wright and Sula Peace, of a tight-knit African-American community in a racist world, of the fear of death and change and of the ambiguity of love: a mother's love for her children, love between friends and love between lovers.

Sula isn't a long book (173 pages in my edition) but it takes time to make it through. At least after each chapter, and sometimes in the middle, I had to stop and digest what I'd read, what had happened. I read SparkNotes after each chapter to compare my thoughts to their analysis. Sometimes I came to the same conclusions, sometimes it showed me something new and sometimes I didn't agree. The beginning is my favorite part and I found myself stopping a lot early on. Why did Shadrack initiate and celebrate a National Suicide Day? Why did Helene smile at the racist train conductor and why did the black soldiers react to her the way they did? What did Sula's birthmark mean and how did that meaning change for different characters at different times? It isn't confusing to follow the story but just to understand what's and why it happened.

It's a beautiful book but a sad one. Not depressing, not melodramatic but sad. Most of the books I read are humorous. Sula is not funny. It does not temper moments with humor. The characters might laugh and dance (life isn't always awful) but there's nothing there for the reader to laugh at. It wouldn't suit the story if there was. I was going to say it would make the story as strong, but I don't think something being a comedy automatically means it's lightweight. The book's also not what I would consider quirky, like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It's mostly a straightforward narrative with a lot hidden just below the surface.

There's one character in particular that I liked reading about, although I can't really describe her without spoilers so if you've read the story, or don't particularly care if know plot details ahead of time, read on.

*Spoilery spoilers*
I mentioned the characters are contradictions. Eva Peach, titular Sula's grandmother, is my favorite character. She's the strong and proud patriarch of the Peace household and resides over her family and a variety of boarders. Her husband BoyBoy left her with "$1.65, five eggs, three beets and no idea what or how to feel," (32). From these seemingly insurmountable circumstances Eva manages to keep her children alive and in turn keeping them alive is what keeps her alive. But she was never able to play with the children or express her love as any sort of affection because "there wasn't no time" (69).

This being said, Morrison seems almost incapable of creating a character the can be strong a simple. That's wrong. I believe Morrison is capable of creating a simple, two-dimensional character; she's just a better author than that. Eva Peace fiercely loves her three children, especially his son Plum. Plum comes home from war without hope but with a heroin addiction. Eva can't stand to watch her son destruct in this way so she holds him tight, rocks him for awhile and then douses him in kerosene and sets him on fire. Eva takes "I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it" very literally. Is this just an act of violence? Is it an act of love, saving him from his addiction? Is it selfish? A little of everything? See these are the complications Morrison throws at you.
*Spoilers over*

I'm glad Tony decided to challenge himself this month by reading books that are either by African-American authors or deal with the African-American experience and I'm glad he encouraged others to join him. I brought Sula with me with the hope that I would re-read it, but I don't know without this challenge if I would have ever gotten around to it. I can easily talk myself out of things.

Title quote from page 28

Morrison, Toni. Sula. Vintage, 1973.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Top Literary Names I'd Give to My Kids

First of all, I can hear my friends laughing at the title because it conjures the image of me with kids. I am not good with kids. I hear when they're your own you like them. Despite my fear of these tiny people, I do like this topic presented by Lori over at The Broke and the Bookish so I'll try to come up with a list of literary names I'd give kids and not animals.

1. Thursday; Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde - Obviously I don't have a good grasp of what type of name won't get a child picked on. Or as I said I'm not good with kids and don't actually care that much cos I really like this name. And is it honestly stranger than being named after a season? (I also like the names Autumn and Summer.)

2. Jasper - Hey, while we're on this topic, I kinda like this name too.Oh man, if I have kids they are getting screwed in the name department. I'll try to come up with some good nicknames.

3. Zooey; Franny and Zooey by Salinger - I know in the stories Zooey is a boy but I like it for a girl's name.

4. Harper - I am totally stealing this from Christina at The Blue Bookcase but I like this as a first name.

5. Portia; The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare - I love Shakespeare so I have a feeling a few more of his characters will sneak onto the list. Portia may have been a hypocrite (see "Quality of mercy" speech directly before making Shylock convert) but she's at least a strong, intelligent female character.

6. Cordelia; King Lear by Shakespeare - Oh here's another name. This is more because I like the sound of the name and less for the character.

OK that's actually as many as I can come up with without forcing it. What literary names would you give your kids?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sharing the blog love

Awhile back I thought I'd do regular posts about blogs I enjoy and think others should check out. Of course, as things tend to go with me, I can't actually stick to any sort of schedule. So here is my sporadic when-I-think-about-it post with some other blogs that I love and I want to share the blogging love.

Lifetime Reading Plan - This is a blog for discussion of the classics. I don't spend enough time reading the classics and I can get easily intimidated by them. Lifetime Reader generates interesting conversation around complicated topics. The last couple weeks have centered around The Iliad and have been wonderful. Make sure to check out the comments as well as the posts. There's always an interesting conversation going on down there.

Cynicism 101 - Dr. Cynicism has a hilarious, sarcastic blog about a little bit of everything.  Some involve interactions with his students which can both crack me up and make me fear for the future. (I'm pretty sure the person in that post is the same type that calls me up at work complaining their username is too complicated to remember, even though the username is their first name...) He'll also examine graffiti for its greater message and I've actually driven past this piece of artwork. I'm glad I was able to read his piece before experiencing this masterpiece first hand.

If you'd like to check out some past posts with other blogs I like, check out the links below
Fellow Book Bloggers
Bloggers you should follow
Check out these bloggers
Blog Hop X
Top Ten Literary Couples and Fellow Bloggers
A Couple More Book Bloggers You Should Check Out

Friday, February 4, 2011

Outlaw women are fascinating

Tony over at Keeping Up With Mr. Jones put forth a reading challenge for February: in honor of Black History Month read books by African-American authors or else about the African-American experience. I've taken up this challenge and decided to read Sula by Toni Morrison, mostly because I already own the book AND I have it with me. So essentially, I'm doing this because it's easy. Rather coming up with the book is easy. Morrison on the other hand is never easy. She's worth the challenge, but she makes you work for it.

My copy of Sula comes with a foreword by Morrison in which she discusses the experience of being an African-American writer and writing about female characters. Sounds like just the thing to read into for this challenge huh?

Even before getting into the actual story Morrison has given me a lot to think about. Here are some key points  from the intro I want to keep in mind during my reading:

Morrison discussing the political nature forced onto African-American writing
"If Phillis Wheatly wrote "The sky is blue," the critical question was what could blue sky mean to a black slave woman? If Jean Toomer wrote "The iron is hot," the question was how accurately or poorly he expressed chains of servitude." (xi-xii)
Female characters I'll encounter in Sula
"Outlaw women are fascinating -- not always for their behavior, but because historically women are seen as naturally disruptive and their status is an illegal one from birth if it is not under the rule of men." (xvi)
And finally the questions Morrison wanted to ask with this novel
"What is friendship between women when unmediated by men? What choices are available to black women outside their own society's approval? What are the risks of individualism in a determinedly individualistic, yet racially uniform and socially static, community?" (xiii)
I have a feeling this book is going to take me awhile to get through. It's a short but dense book, like her others, and Morrison chooses her words carefully. I find myself putting the book down after a few pages and absorbing exactly what it is she's said. With that I'm both nervous and excited for where this book will lead me.

Morrison, Toni. Sula. Vintage, 2004.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I am getting better at smiling when people expect it

After the Twilights and other paranormal romance, I had written off YA literature. I know it's wrong to ignore an entire section of the bookstore based on a few bad apples but I did. I figured it didn't matter. If I hadn't received this copy of Speak for free, I never would have given it a second glance. And that would have been a shame because then I would have missed out.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a difficult and yet simple (not easy) novel. Anderson says "Speak is not just a book about rape. Speak is a book about depression" (204). Obviously a book dealing with rape and depression is not going to be a necessarily pleasant read.  Add to the fact that the main character, Melinda, is only 13 when raped and the topic gets that much harder. Anderson has a definite writing style that works well for the genre and the topic. It would have been easy for the book to focus on the violence but she doesn't. The book focuses on Melinda's school year and how she wrestles with her emotions and her guilt and her pain. Not only is Speak not just a book about rape, I'd say it's primarily about depression. It's just set off by that singular moment.

The book is told from Melinda's point of view. The sentences are short and to the point, without any flowery descriptions. It feels like this could have come straight from the mind of a teenager and indeed Anderson mentions researching teen speak by hanging out a Taco Bell and mall food courts (204).

Ben over at Dead End Follies says the book got under his skin and I have to agree. I started it without any real expectation that I would really like it. I didn't assume I'd hate it, I just assumed I wouldn't remember it. Then I was reading it and I couldn't put it down. And more than that I started getting angry at Melinda (more on that in a second). If I don't care about what I'm reading or what I'm watching, it stands to reason that I don't care what happens to the characters. But when I noticed myself feeling something other than apathy, I knew the book was getting to me.

*This part will have some spoilers in it. Although I already told you Melinda gets raped so really, that's the only surprise. And I ruined that for you already. Sorry about that.*
Yes, I was angry at Melinda. I was angry at her for a lot of the beginning of the book. Am I that much of an asshole that I'm actually angry at a young girl who is a rape victim? Apparently, but please hear me out before you hunt me down with pitchforks. I was mad at her because she was acting like a victim. Now, I don't actually think Melinda did anything wrong or anything unusual or anything different than I would have done if I had gone through what she did. But I was angry that it happened at all and I, as the reader, didn't have the details as to exactly what happened. So my anger got filtered over to her. Which is unfair. And wrong. And please understand I would never blame a rape victim for their attack. I don't blame Melinda for her attack and she's not even real. But as a fictional character and one I could argue with, I just wanted to shake her and yell at her to quit being a victim. And maybe stab the guy in the face. I get stabby when rape is involved.

So yeah, when I started yelling at the character (in my head. I'm not that crazy) I knew the book was getting to me.

One complaint I do have is that the ending came too quickly. I felt like we spent so long in the beginning watching Melinda be sad and then the ending was rushed. She finally starts to turn and confront what has happened and begins to open up, beings to speak, then BAM the book is over. I would have liked to see her strength grow more before all of a sudden we're done. Although I don't have any interest in a possible sequel Anderson is considering writing. I think the story has been told and while I like Melinda I think any follow up to her will cheapen the original story.
*Phew spoilers over. And hopefully those of you that read it do not want to attack me. Or even if you do still want to, please don't.*

Reading and enjoying Speak does not suddenly mean that I'm going to start reading a bunch of YA. It just means that if someone whose opinion I trust recommends a YA book I won't so quickly turn my nose up at it. And if you get the chance you should check it out. It's a very quick read so if you have a few hours you can finish it.

Title quote from page 32

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. Penguin Group, New York. 1999

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black History Month challenge I'm going to (sort of) try

I've said in the past that I don't do reading challenges. I'm far too indecisive to commit to reading on any sort of schedule. And putting myself on a schedule or giving myself a reading list suddenly makes my hobby feel like work, at which point I'll just quit reading. I can be a little kid like that.  To demonstrate exactly how indecisive I am, I can't even stick to my "I won't participate in any challenges" statement. It's like as soon as I claim I'll do one thing I need to do the opposite. It's annoying, I know.

So I kind of signed up for a challenge. And by "signed up" I mean I commented on Tony's blog Keeping Up With Mr. Jones saying I might, maybe, read 1 book for the Black History Month challenge he's set up for himself. That is literally all of the commitment I am giving. It's pathetic and you are more than welcome to make fun of me for it. But I am trying.

Here's my plan: the challenge set up is to read at least one African-American centric book in the month of February. Tony is going to try to do it for the entire month. Not only is that too much of a schedule for me, the majority of my books are in Long Island, so I'm making due with a limited book shelf and I don't want to buy a bunch of books for a challenge. It's sad that I have so few African-American centric books with me but at least I have one: Sula by Toni Morrison. I have read it before for a Toni Morrison class but all I can remember is I liked it more than some of her others. Hopefully I'm remembering this correctly.

If this sounds like something you're into, drop a line for Tony. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that I can actually complete this challenge. And who knows, if this goes well perhaps I'll try some others.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Survival is the key word to remember

After finishing up Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close I was prepared to start reading Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Then part of me said "Really? You just finished a book that deals with a boy who lost his father in 9/11 and now you're going right into a rape book? Try again." So I decided to go for something light in between.  And by "light" I mean The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks. Because reading a survival guide about monsters is a good segue between the 2.

Like World War Z, this book is written as if a zombie uprising is a real possibility and what you can seriously do to survive it. You'll find the book in the humor section because zombies are funny but this isn't a humorous, sarcastic story. Actually it's not even a story. There's no narrative and no characters. It's more like the Worst Case Survival handbooks. But for zombies.

I know I've said this before and nothing has changed: I will never survive a zombie attack.  Having read this I can say I could be the annoying member of your survival party that keeps quoting this book but I don't actually provide any actual survival help. You need someone who knows how to use several types of weapons? Someone with basic medical, mechanical, agricultural knowledge? Now all I know is all of the skills I would need that I do not have.

For those who like putting together zombie contingency plans (and who doesn't??) this book is a lot of fun and will most likely destroy whatever plan you've put together with its logic. As much logic as can be applied to a zombie uprising that is.

As stated on the back of the book, here are the top 10 lessons for surviving a zombie attack:
1. Organize before they rise!
2. They feel no fear, why should you?
3. Use your head: cut off theirs
4. Blades don't need reloading
5. Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair
6. Get up the staircase, then destroy it
7. Get out of the car, get onto a bike
8. Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert!
9. No place is safe, only safer
10. The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on.

Title quote from page xiii

Brooks, Max. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead. Three Rivers Press, New York. 2003