Monday, May 30, 2011

Duddits is their dreamcatcher

The more I read of Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, the more I wanted to read. I joked in my last post about the book that in the first 116 pages, nothing really happened. Nothing in terms of action anyway. And I said how that was OK because I loved the characters King was introducing me to. What I didn't mention was that I came to that appreciation after I had already gotten to the point of loving the characters. In the beginning, I had trouble getting into the story. I didn't yet care about the characters, there was no action to draw me in and I hadn't bothered to learn anything about the story. And the length of the book, while not the longest ever, is still just over 600 pages and long books tend to intimidate me anyway.

*Possible spoilers.*
But obviously, I did make it past those first pages and then the story grabbed me and held on. The story deals with aliens and an alien infection and government cover-up but of course, the characters make the story. And in this case it's the childhood friendship of the main characters: Pete, Beaver, Henry, Jonsey and their heart, their dreamcatcher, Duddits. Duddits has Down Syndrome, which gives him this childlike simplicity, without limiting him to a child's understanding, that is sweet and heartbreaking and beautiful. It could have easily moved into cliches at this point, and King is certainly not immune to them, but Duddits manages to be a complete, round character. Duddits manages to be a center

Standing in opposition to Duddits' pure love is Kurtz, the general (?) in charge of containing the grayboys and their Ripley virus. His mission is to make it like they, both the aliens and his men, were never there. Neither the containing of the aliens nor the cover up seem particularly unusual in an alien conspiracy. It's what's expected and the reasoning is sound. It's hard to argue that an alien fungus should not be contained and that it is of the utmost important that those who are infected are not able to infect other people. This is war and war is hell. But Kurtz goes to another level. He shows no empathy, he's unpredictable and everything he does is an act, honed to cultivate a certain image. He's an awful human being, but he's a lot of fun to read. It's just another compliment to King's ability to create believable, interesting characters. They can be the embodiment of love, of hate or just something in between, and they're fun to read.

There is one other part of the book that I loved: the representation of Jonesy's memories. I don't want to go into the details but a warehouse of files with everything Jonsey ever knew and his safety office was fantastic. I (almost) want to see the movie just to see how they do those scenes.
*Spoilers contained*

I was considering seeing the movie version right after reading this. I don't remember too much about it when it came out other than Jason Lee was in it and, begin from NJ, I'm a fan of his from the various Kevin Smith films he's showed up in. Normally, I'll hold off on reading a movie review until I've seen the movie. I know that sounds a little backwards but other than seeing a general movie score (however many starts Ebert gave it and the Rotten Tomatoes score) I'd rather go into a movie fresh. This time, for whatever reason, I decided to read Ebert's review. It's not positive, but to be honest it sounds like something I would expect to happen with a story like this.

If anyone has seen the movie, let me know if I should check it out or avoid it!

Title quote from page 454

King, Stephen. Dreamcatcher. Scribner, 2001.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Word Cloud! And on a Sunday!

I'm spending the day relaxing and realized it's Sunday so I could actually get a Sunday Word Cloud posted on a Sunday. It's my blog so you'd think I could get these up here more often and when I claim I'll do it, but of course not. Here's the cloud

If you want to see it larger, check out this link at Wordle

I've recently been talking about the act and purpose of book blogging, so of course those words are reflecting here, although with King's name. I'm surprised his name shows up so large here. I guess I mentioned King more than I thought I had. 

If I think about this post in the terms of the purpose of book blogging, I suppose this isn't really for anyone but me. Then the question is, why bother making this public? Because to be honest, I assume most people don't care what words I use the most when blogging. I understand that. I have it posted here because this is where the data for the word cloud is coming from and it makes sense to me to keep it all together.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why do we (book) blog?

The Reading Ape has recently written a whole host of posts* about why do we blog, what's the purpose of book blogging, where is book blogging going and if you haven't already, you need to start reading those entries because they are fantastic. Most recently he's posed Eight Questions about the State and Future of Book Blogging and figured I like my opinions so I'll post my responses. And I'll post them on my in own blog rather than the comments for a couple reasons: it's what everyone else is doing (blogging peer pressure!), I don't want to have this giant comment with a lot of my rambling taking up his blog space, and then selfishly I can have another post up here and thus (maybe) drive more traffic here. So there you go: blogging is a lot like high school. Please don't ask me to finish that analogy though. I'm done intro-rambling, so now onto the questions

1. What does book blogging do best?
Book blogging offers a casual way to review and discuss books, without the pretentious trappings of some of the established reviewers in publications like NYTimes or academic papers. Not to say either of those are bad or should be done away with, but they already have their place and book blogging is the amateur's response to wanting something different.

2. If you write a book blog, why do you?
I started my blog after I complained one too many times to Boyfriend that my English degree was being wasted and he suggest I start writing. He'd been suggesting I write some fiction for awhile, but that seemed so daunting after not writing anything other than emails for so long. He suggested a blog and I like books so I went with that. I started the blog initially as a means to drive discussion about books, like a reading group online but that never really worked out so I moved into discussing bookish things and discuss/reviewing books as I'm reading them.

3. What do you think the future of book blogging is?
Book blogging seems to be growing and certain blogs gaining the popularity/legitimacy (whichever publisher's go for) to have author's reaching out to blogs for book reviews. I'm sure this means more blogs will be taken over by publishing houses or just in general become "respected" reviewers, like those I mentioned in question 1. Essentially becoming traditional media instead of social media. But enough blogs, even those very popular ones with lots of quality reviews, will remain within the social sphere. At least I hope this will be the case. Awesome blogs, please don't leave me with the I-post-nothing-but-memes crowd.

4. What do your favorite book bloggers do?
My favorite blogs have well thought out, engaging, interesting posts that are either reviews or a discussion about some book-related topic. Some do take part in the memes (they can be fun) but they don't make it the primary point of their blog. And because they're a blog, the tone is conversational, it's casual and my favorites are usually funny or at least make me smile. If I read a book review from one of my favorite bloggers, I feel like I'm getting a book recommendation from a friend instead of a reviewer. 

5. If you could tell all book bloggers one thing, what would it be?
When you post things that you don't care about because you think it will get you more traffic, your readers can tell. And then they'll leave and you'll have a bunch of readers that are following you because of stuff you don't even care about. Quit it. Write about what you care about in a way that will reach the audience you want and ignore the followers number.

6. If you could change one thing about book blogging, what would it be?
Book blogging is so diverse, I don't know that there's anything I'd change about it overall. I don't read the reviews that just consist of "ZOMG I loved this book sooooooo much and you should go out and read it right now kthxbai" but I suppose other people do so I won't start wishing those away. I don't like the all-memes, all-the-time blogs, but again, they have an audience so if that's what they want, go for it. There are quality book blogs out there, even if I have to do some searching to find them and I'm happy that you can find pretty much any genre or tone you want. 

7. How do you think book blogging fits into the reading landscape?
For me personally, blogging has expanded what I read. I've challenged myself more than I think I would if I wasn't blogging, reading classics alongside Christopher Moore and Bill Bryson. There are so many different reading challenges out there that I'm not necessarily taking part of, but plenty of people seem to that open up new works that may have gone untouched if the reader wasn't given this little push from the blogging world.

8. What about your own book blogging would you like to do better/differently?
I want to improve my own reviewing or discussion topics. I want to dig deeper into the text of a book and put more time into the posts I write. Sometimes I rush through posts and I'm sure they could use another editing pass or two before I thrust them upon the public. I like posting a couple times a week and I'm also lazy, hence the superficiality of some of the posts.  

If you have have opinions on these questions, and I'm sure you do, you should post your answers and head over to The Reading Ape to let him know.

*Rhymes make me giggle.

The title of this post gets the song "Why Rock?" by The Aquabats stuck in my head, which is why I chose it. Why do we blog? (Blog!) Why not? I think I need more sleep. Or coffee.

Updated to make easier to match question with the answer.

World Book Night & a free book

Have you heard of World Book Night before? I hadn't until sometime at the end of March when I had the opportunity to join in, courtesy of Birdie over at Birdie's Nest. World Book Night, at least the small part of it I'm taking part in, is a way to share books and see how they travel across the globe. Birdie mentioned the author Muriel Spark as someone to read, I commented that she sounded interesting (She writes books with sharp, sly humour, but they also engage important issues and have excellent characterization) and Birdie responded that she just happened to have a copy of one of Spark's books, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, as part of World Book Night and did I want to be the next recipient? Free book? Hell yes!

Now I have a new book sitting on my TBR pile, which I'll get to as soon as I'm done with King's Dreamcatcher. Only a portion of this post was meant to be me bragging about free book and telling you about World Book Night. The rest of it is to ask, who wants in on this next? All you have to do is register the book when you receive it, so we can see where the book has gone and then send it along to another person once you're done. I haven't read the book yet, so I can't tell you if it's amazing, meh or terrible. Instead here's a link to the Amazon page for it.  If you're interested just let me know. If more than one person is interested I'll throw names into a hat or something to pick a random person. I'm still working my way through Dreamcatcher so it may be a little while until I send it along. So heads up.

Monday, May 23, 2011

His first reaction to the unplanned and unexpected wasn't a frown but a smile

I was originally thinking I would read Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I was planning on getting as an e-book.* Then I realized I'd be going on vacation in a couple months and not having to pack 10 books is one of the bonuses of the Kindle. This also meant that I should probably hold off reading ebooks for a little while, and hopefully save some money by reading some of the actual books I have lying around the house. And thus I decided to pick up Dreamcatcher by Stephen King. I've been dragging this book around with me for years. My dad had given it to me as a birthday gift when I was in high school. I had forgotten when he gave it to me until a birthday card fell out of the front of the book. I apparently hadn't even opened the book in awhile. It's not that I didn't want to read it. It's just that it's a hardcover book and recently reading this has just reconfirmed how much I dislike reading hardback books. Luckily the book is making it worth it.

I haven't come close to reading the full King catalogue, but I have read a number of his books and have run the gamut from some of my favorite reads (Misery, the short story "1408") to some very meh titles (It). I didn't know what to expect with this one. To be honest I didn't know what it was about when I started it. I didn't even bother to read the blurb about the book until a few pages ago (I'm up to page 250 now). I figured that whatever King had in store, a blurb might describe the basic plot but isn't going to tell me if I'll enjoy it or not.  The plot is only a small part of a King story, and I've discovered with him it's better to just dive right in.

King's forte is coming up with some great characters. Not characters you want to hang out with, not characters you particularly admire, but characters you feel like you know, you feel like you can connect with even if you don't want to. When I was around page 116 I was joking with Boyfriend that I could probably sum up everything that had happened thus far in the book in 4 sentences. If you wanted just plot points, those 116 pages held very little in terms of action. However, this isn't a condemnation of the writing. In fact, when the action did start to pick up I actually wished for the story to go back to just the characters. I wanted to learn more and more about their flawed lives. There are no Mary Sue characters in King's world. (Stephanie Meyers, please take note.) He creates characters that you can feel pity for, be proud of, get angry at and most importantly, be interested in.

King puts his characters through the extremes, in this case extraterrestrials. (I was going to say spoiler alert but then I realized it mentions this ins the blurb. So if you're angry at me for not giving a spoiler warning, blame the blurb writer.) The focus isn't entirely on the action, on the weird stuff but instead so much of the story is how the characters react. What will they do? How will they deal with the craziness? And so much of the book so far has involved flashbacks to the main characters' childhood that I'm currently still trying to piece together how it fits in with the story I'm reading now. I trust everything will come together. King doesn't show all his cards all at once and slowly more and more is revealed.

I'm about a third of the way through so there will be at least one more post. I'm excited to see what will happen next, how everyone will react to the outside forces and to one another. King is a writer for the masses that gives you a story that sticks with you, gives you something to think about and Dreamcatcher is proving to be on the better end of the King spectrum. Not only can I not wait to read more of this but I'm adding some more King to my TBR list.

*I think I say this a lot. I'm always planning on doing one thing and then I just end up doing something else. I should probably quit planning on things.

Title quote from page 64

King, Stephen. Dreamcatcher. Scribner, 2001.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I give in to blogging peer pressure

The peer pressure is right in the subtitle
In an effort to join a bunch of social media platforms, even if I don't really know why, I just joined GoodReads. Well, that's not entirely accurate, as I actually joined GoodReads a few months ago. But I saw Brenna from LitMusings and Ben from DeadEndFollies and lots of other people playing on there and decided I give up, you win, and started actually listing books there instead of just existing. We'll see how long I stick with it.

While I was at it I also went ahead and created a Contact page. So if you feel like getting in touch with me you have options. Especially since I know you're just dying to get a hold of me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No, you're not dead. You're...visiting.

I added Philip K. Dick's short story "The Adjustment Team" after seeing the movie based on it, The Adjustment Bureau. I feel like the movie showed up and disappeared without making much of a splash, but I really liked it. Maybe the mixture of sci fi and romance wasn't really what anyone was expecting. Admittedly just the fact that Sterling* is in it made me want to see it or at least see what it was about. I'm easily swayed. It's a story of predestination and free will and one man who sees behind the curtain. When I found out Philip K. Dick wrote the short story, I decided I needed to check this out.

*This will kind of include spoilers. Unless you saw any trailers of the movie. In which case, nothing will be ruined by reading what's below. That's just how movie trailers roll*
Ed Fletcher was supposed to make it to work early this morning but the Summoner fell back asleep instead of, well, summoning and instead Ed is late to work. Now he's not part of the adjustment, he walks in during the middle of it. His office building and all of his fellow office workers are grey and crumble as if they're made of ash. Ed notices a group of men dressed all in white dragging an odd contraption with them. He flees the building, not sure what he saw. His wife tries to convince him that he's had a psychotic episode. He can't stand to be back at his office and see all the small changes everywhere and wanders the city when the men in white appear to explain the "adjustment" process to him. They will let him be, but he cannot tell anyone what he knows, and he must convince his wife that there was nothing to what he claims to have seen and it was just an episode.
*Spoilers contained*

I love the premise of the story. The story is (very) short, but it gets you asking questions: How much free will do we have?  Is the free will we have real or an illusion? Why would there need to be "adjusters"? What is real? Actually, the story is so short it gets you asking questions without even making an attempt to answer them or even point you in a direction. It just poses them and then off it goes, while you flounder to understand the implications. I suppose this is a good thing in a short story and would have been a great thing had I not already seen the movie. Obviously a full length movie needs to flesh out this premise. While reading all I wanted to do was have more of the story. The little Kindle percentage counter flew by so quickly. I wanted to find out more about the adjusters, about Ed, about what Ed's new knowledge would mean to him, even if he couldn't share it with anyone. If I hadn't seen the movie I think this story would have sat with me, poked me, prodded me for awhile. I think I would have been thrilled with the movie that took the basic plot idea from the story and ran with it. But I did it backwards, and thus I'm left wanting more from the story. I don't need a novelization of the movie, but I wished Dick had originally written more.

If you have seen the movie and liked it, I tentatively recommend the story. If you haven't seen the movie but are intrigued, read the story first. It's very short and will take you an hour, tops.

I'm not sure what I'll read next, but I think some more Philip K. Dick is getting added to my TBR list. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? perhaps?

*Sterling from Mad Men, aka John Slattery. I have a hard time now picturing him in non-1960s clothes. Side note, I'd also like fedoras to come back in non-douche style.

Title quote from location 442

Dick, Philip K. "The Adjustment Team". Kindle Edition. Originally publish 1954.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I wanted a grand, ferocious, larger-than-life fervor that knew no bounds

Who Are You People? The title of this book made me stop and pick it up. I saw it sitting on one of the tables laid out at a book store that seem to always hide all of the books I'm looking for. And just look at the cover: Barbie collectors in drag, Barney Fife look-a-like, not one but two people dressed in sci-fi ensembles (I think both Star Wars but I'm not sure and don't want to draw their ire) and a furry. A furry, people. As a fan of shows like Taboo (it doesn't count as reality TV if it's on NatGeo, right?), I was intrigued. A Personal Journey into the Heart of Fanatical Passion in America? Sold. Done. Let's see what this has to offer.

I've read this book a few times. It's a fairly quick read. It's an easy read. I don't think I've ever had to put the book down so I could deeply contemplate what I'd just read. But the book has kept me coming back whenever I'm not quite sure what to read next, but I know I want to be reading something. It's nice to see someone who has hobbies are so completely different from my own. Shari begins her journey because she's never had an all-consuming passion and she wants to understand what draws people to these hobbies? Is there something all of these people, from pigeon racers to extreme boardgamers have in common?  Is Shari missing something? So she finds and begins attending conventions and chasing tornadoes to try to find these answers.

At one point I was reading this around my aunt. She asked me what it was about and I told her about the different groups Shari visits. My aunt was laughing at how ridiculous people could be until I mentioned the Josh Groban chapter. Suddenly, the laughter stopped. I wouldn't classify my aunt as a fanatical fan (she's yet to mortgage her house to see him perform) but she's certainly a fan. It's all fun and games until something you like gets its own "fanatical" chapter.

Now, Shari's never hurtful or condescending towards the people she meets and their hobbies. OK, sometimes she is but she generally owns up to it and changes tone quickly. She's often jealous that they have something they can throw themselves so completely in. She says: "I was searching for some kind of silly, shameless joy, something to give my life color and dimension, something I could go gaga over and not care that people actually used the word gaga when describing me" (14). Sure there are some things I don't think she'll ever really understand. And I'm with her. I don't think I'll ever really understand filkingbut I can point it out when I see it now.

Alright, so she doesn't really come out with exact and proven answers for her questions. But this isn't an official sociological study about subcultures and their motivations, it's a fun piece of work that let's you peek into another world and maybe gets you to consider checking out a group that shares your interests. Hell, that might be why I picked it up in the first place.

On top of the voyeuristic nature of the book, I was probably drawn to it because I never felt like I had an all-consuming hobby. Boyfriend has sports, especially baseball. He works in sports, he spends a good amount of his day watching games or following sports news and will probably have a sports blog going up soon (something I will totally be plugging here, although I probably won't visit all that often) and one of his favorite ways to spend a nice day is Central Park Baseball. I never had a hobby like that. Maybe that's what this blog has become? Perhaps not quite to the degree of the fanatics Shari meets with, but certainly along those lines. I started writing this post assuming I was in the same hobby-less world as when I first picked up the book. Thanks book bloggers.

*If you didn't click the link to the Wikipedia page on filk music, but still want to know what this is, here's a quick definition: "Filk has been defined as folk music, usually with a science fiction or fantasy theme...Filkers have been known to write filk songs about a variety of topics, including but not limited to tangentially-related topics such as computers and cats."

Title quote from page 13

Caudron, Shari. Who Are You People? A Personal Journey into the Heart of Fanatical Passion in America. Barricade Books, 2006.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I had a post, and then Blogger came along

So I had a post written. A super, awesome, amazing post that was going to solve the national debt and bring about world peace and tell you the meaning of life and bake everyone cupcakes. And then Blogger got angry and deleted it. Apparently it doesn't want you to be happy.

I'm holding out hope it's going to return the old posts. Mostly because I'm lazy and frustrating and don't feel like trying to write it out again. Not right now anyway.

So there you go.

Update! Blogger has brought back the previously deleted posts and I'll post it on Monday. I may have overstated it's awesomeness a bit. Whoops.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Only in comedy, by the way, does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity

I loved this book. I can't think of another way to start this post than to say I loved this book. I'm a Tina Fey fan so I certainly didn't think I was going to hate Bossypants but I'm not a huge fan of memoirs, especially celebrity ones. When I first heard about the book I thought "That's nice. Maybe I'll borrow this from someone one day." But then I'd hear more and more about it, I'd read excerpts here and there, I saw her on Conan and the more I heard the more I thought I needed to read this sooner. And I got my opportunity while sitting at JFK airport waiting for what turned out to be a broken plane to show up. Oh the joys of flying.

Bossypants details Fey's foray into comedy, from her time at Summer Showtime as a teen, her time in the improv group The Second City, and of course her writing on SNL and her work on 30 Rock. That's expected, you had to know this is what you'd be getting with this book. What surprised me, and also Ilevinso at Sarcastic Female Literary Circle, is how strongly feminist this book is*. It's hard being a female in the male dominated comedy circle and Fey doesn't skirt around the issue. She addresses it head on with her signature wit:
In 1995, each cast at The Second City was made up of four men and two women. When it was suggested that they switch one of the companies to three men and three women, the producers and directors had the same panicked reaction. "You can't do that. There won't be enough parts to go around. There won't be enough for the girls." This made no sense to me, probably because I speak English and have never had a head injury. (Location 922)
Her rants at the sexism within the industry don't make up the majority of the text, but since those were my favorite parts and this is my blog, I'm going to share another one with you, especially because it makes me like Amy Poehler that much more:
Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense [comedy bit] with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can't remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and "unladylike." Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, "Stop that! It's not cute! I don't like it." Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. "I don't fucking care if you like it."...With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn't there to be cute. She wasn't there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys' scenes. (location 1514)
I could go on and on just sharing quotes from this because it is consistently hilarious, whether she's talking about her (lack of) fashion sense, her badass dad, her disastrous honeymoon cruise, her 30 Rock writing team, Loren Michaels, or her own adventures in breast feeding. Everything is a gem. I can't say I learned more about myself. I think I learned more about comedy writing, such as male comedy writers tend to pee in cups and leave them around the office. Valuable lesson. I couldn't put this book down and read it through at least half of my brother's college graduation ceremony. And yes, I'm sure I was getting dirty looks from the people around me for not paying attention, but there are something like a million kids graduating at once, and it took an hour alone for them to just walk in. Seriously. 9:20 procession starts. 10:30 graduation ceremony begins. Just look at the picture. And that's not even all the grads. I couldn't fit them all in frame.

This is a fantastic read and one I'm absolutely putting my on re-read pile for when I need to read something light and funny. A general reading pick-me-up.

Side note, there are a couple footnotes in the book, which I missed because I was reading on a Kindle. I was going to complain about that and how hard it is to figure out how to get to the note when reading the ebook, except I just learned you can click on the asterisk and it will take you right to that note. Then hit Back to go right back to the page you were on. Well played, Kindle.

Title quote 1267

*I was thinking of trying to mitigate this statement here so as to not scare of those that see the word feminist and flee. But you know what? if that's your reaction to the word "feminist", bite me.

Fey, Tina. Bossypants. Reagan Authur Books, 2011. Kindle edition.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Literature's Biggest Jerks

It's Tuesday which means another top ten list from The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is jerky literary characters, a companion list to the earlier mean girls topic, which I totally failed at. Of course that's not stopping me from trying to come up with some this week, especially because I've still yet to write anything for Bossypants. I was going to but instead I ended up playing Luigi's Mansion last night. Don't worry, joke's on me because I don't have any memory cards so it was a bunch of wasted time.  Onto the list:

1. Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - I've been writing about him so I don't think my choice here is a surprise. I know people love him but really, he seems like an ass to me. He's never that particularly kind to Jane and he seems to think he deserves a humanitarian award because he decided against killing someone. Sorry, I do not understand the great love for this guy.

2. Wickham from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - I have a hard time separating out Austen and the Brontes as separate people so it's just natural I have an Austen creation next. At least Austen meant for Wickham to be an ass. He tried to ruin several reputations and left a wake of debt in his path. I guess he gets his comeuppance, seeing that he gets stuck with Lydia.

3. Snape from the Harry Potter series by Rowling - An HP character (Umbridge) made it on my mean girls list, so it's nice to have a male equivalent. Snape may not be totally evil but he's such a jerk throughout the series, even if he wasn't actively trying to give Harry to Voldemort.

4. Mr. Norrell from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark - I don't necessarily hate this guy but man, he could be such a jerk. He's a magician that just sucked all of the fun out of magic and managed to get multiple people enslaved within the fairy kingdom. Sure that may not have been his intention, but he certainly knew what was going on and just let it happen.

That's all I've got. I keep coming up with evil characters which is stronger than this list calls for. I'm sure I've missed a number of perfect jerk characters. Who are some of your favorites?

Monday, May 9, 2011

One Book, Two Book, Red Book, Blue Book?

I was originally hoping to get my post about Tina Fey's book Bossypants up today, but I haven't started writing anything for it yet. I've been running around since Thursday, visiting friends around Boston, going to my brother's college graduation, multiple family dinners, and of course Mother's Day. This gave me reading time but not too much computer time, and thus I'm unprepared today. Then I saw this quick meme on both My Reader's Block and Soy Chai Bookshelf and decided that was enough book blogger peer pressure for me to take part in this as well. It was originally done over at Stuck in a Book.

1. The book I'm currently reading: Who Are You People: A Personal Journey into the Heart of Fanatical Passion in America by Shari Caudron. I've read this before and I was originally going to read it now as a light hearted choice after Rollin's Black Coffee Blues. I started it, but then I ended up bringing my Kindle with me to Boston so I wouldn't have to worry about running out of books and downloaded Fey's book. I guess this means I fulfilled my lighthearted read quota, but screw it, I'm reading this one too. I haven't read about Trekkies and furries and Josh Groban fans in awhile.

2. The last book I finished: Tina Fey's Bossypants which is was hilarious. I'll have something written about it soon. Promises.

3. The next book I want to read: I'm not good at picking a next book. Hell, I had just picked a next book with Who Are You People and then changed it after 10 pages. I'm bad at making and sticking to plans. So tentatively speaking, I'm planning on reading Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad next. Hopefully I stick to that, because I do actually want to read it.

4. The last book I bought: Now I feel repetitive but Bossypants. Kindle makes it dangerously easy to buy new books. I think it took all of 45 seconds to get this one.

5. The last book I was given: Part of my Boston trip involved moving my brother out of his dorm room (super fun, I know). He took a class called science and magic or something along those lines. Anyway, he had some books that he forgot to sell back so I took them off his hands cos hey, free books. I came away with Magic in the Middle Ages by Richard Kieckhefer, Revolutionizing the Sciences by Peter Dear and Galileo's Daughterby Dava Sobel. I haven't actually heard of any of these so we'll see how this goes. My brother also had a book he had bought that he said was so boring he was falling asleep while reading it. How can you turn down a book with an endorsement like that, so I took The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein off his hands. I'm prepared to be annoyed by it. Preconceived notions, great way to go into a book!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Have you ever tried to outrun yourself?

A couple days ago the Tuesday Top Ten topic was book recommendations you're glad you took. Black Coffee Blues by Henry Rollins is a book recommendation I'm glad I took.

I don't really remember how the topic came up but Ben from Dead End Follies had recommended I read some Henry Rollins and suggested I start with this one. I probably mentioned something about how I like his spoken word stuff, but I've never read anything of his. Indeed I just checked my iTunes listing and I have 134 tracks spanning 22.4 hours of Rollins spoken word. Apparently this includes Get in the Van, another Rollins recommendation from Ben.

If you can't tell by the sheer volume I've accumulated, I like Rollins voice, his ability to tell a story. It's different than anything else I've heard and his writing really matches the tone in his spoken word stuff. Or perhaps I'm just reading it in his voice. But the subject matter of this book was not what I expected. It's so angry. So lonely. So hopeless. I expected these topics to be touched upon but they are the focus. And there's so much violence, especially against innocent people. According to the intro Rollins began work on this in the late '80s and I suppose in light of the things he's done in later years it's easy to forget a lot of the anger he carried when he was younger.

It's difficult to describe Black Coffee Blues. Some of it is short stories, some of it are his thoughts while touring with Black Flag, some of it is poetry. It's even difficult to describe if this is fiction or non-fiction. Sometimes it's just a story, sometimes it's a dream, sometimes fact and sometimes it's a melding of all of these elements.

My favorite part of the book, "124 Worlds", also contains some of the parts that disgusted me the most. "124 Worlds" is a series of 124 vignettes, some a sentence or two, some a few paragraphs and others a couple pages. It makes up a little more than 1/2 of the total book. These stories don't intersect, there are hardly characters in them let alone characters that show up in multiple snippets but this was the section that drew me in more than the others. I couldn't put the book down, I wanted just one more, even when I was disgusted by the unprovoked and all-consuming violence that took place within some of these worlds. Even the worlds I liked were horribly depressing, such as #30, about a boy and his awful Christmases with a resentful mother and a drunk father. With the stories it's just one thing after another and you begin to feel the weight of the stories suffocating you. Here are a few of those stories. Or at least pieces of the stories:

#17: She has been off heroin for three months. Every day that goes by is a special day for her. It's a day that she hasn't taken drugs...It's not easy. Sometimes she feels bad and it's all she can do to hold on. Sometimes she sits on her bed and repeats, "I don't need you. I don't need you. I don't need you."

#30: ...He remembered the Christmases of his youth. He was living with his mother. She would get him some presents and never let him forget for a minute that he was a pain in her ass...He would pull the presents into his room and put them in a pile in the corner. He rarely played with the things that they bought him. He was scared to break them. She would hit him. Call him ungrateful and threaten to have the police come and take him to jail forever.

#32: It was her third black eye in one year. She didn't freak out. She did shoot him in the back of the head while he was watching television.

#54: He shot the guy like it was nothing. I've never seen anything like it in my life. He pulled up to the red light, got out of his car and walked over to the Plymouth and fired three shots into the driver's face. Then he got back in his car. He had the music up loud, some heavy metal garbage. I never seen anything like it! He just wasted the guy! Anyway, the light turned green and he took off, and so did everybody else except for the dead guy. I would have too, but my car stalled.

#115: Loneliness is her friend. She lost her job today. The rent is due in two weeks. It's like a bad dream. The night comes. She drinks and wonders what she'll do.

I don't think I'll put this on the re-read list anytime soon, but I suppose you never know. I do plan on reading some more Rollins though I'd like something later, something with more hope and less anger.

Title quote from location 1621

Rollins, Henry. Black Coffee Blues. Kindle edition, 2009. Originally published 1992.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

April Reading Wrap-Up

This past month was a bit of a bookish success for me, especially when compared to March. I managed to fulfill three of my reading goals: read something by a non-white author, read something written before 1970, read something by a non-US author. Granted 2 of those goals were satisfied by one book but that's what you call efficiency, people. Also I finished Soul of the Age so take that Jonathan Bate! With that, here are my month end stats:

Number of books read
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
Bite Me: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
Soul of the Age by Jonathan Bate

Total pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of authors from the US
40% - the other authors are from England and Haiti

Percentage of eBooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1840s - 20%
1990s - 40%
2000s - 20%
2010s - 20%

I should still work on reading some more non-white authors, although my non-US stats got better. June, my China-Rican reading month, should really help me with that category. Perhaps I'll focus on reading a couple more non-fiction books.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thanks for making me read this

Choosing what to read next can be a daunting task. How do you decide what to read next? You don't want to waste your time reading crap, so how can you be sure what you select will be worth your time? Recommendations. Or more specifically, recommendations from trusted sources. Plenty of people can recommend you read something, but for a recommendation to truly have merit it's got to take the potential reader into consideration. I can, and do, recommend absurd authors all the time because they're my favorites. But if a non-fiction, American history fan were to ask me for something to read next, I probably shouldn't steer him towards my normal selections. Or suggest them with a clear description of what the reader would be getting into, along with a selection he may actually take into consideration.

With that wordy intro, I bring us to the point of this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish: What are some titles you may never have picked up on your own, but are very happy someone recommended them to you? I think I can actually make it to 10 with this topic!

As with my usual top ten posts, the order of these books only reflects the order I thought of them in and not any sort of rating system.

1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark - This was recommended to me long before I started blogging, by 2 of my reader friends. One of them even brought it with him when a group of us went to Ireland on spring break and there's just something about bringing a tome like this on spring break that screams "this book is worth it". I would only ever get vague descriptions from them followed by a "You should read this. You'd love it." I'm so happy I found a copy and followed their advice. One of my favorite books.

2. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson - One of the Strange & Norrell recommenders lent me his copy of this book to read and I've been hooked on Bryson since. Language history told with humor, it has made me very happy.

3. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde - Another favorite of mine and it is a recommendation. In this case the recommendation came from my mom's boyfriend's daughter, who read it for her book club. She liked the book but not enough to read the rest of the series. I, on the other hand, I found a new favorite author.

3. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore - Another favorite author. I apparently cannot find favorite authors on my own. They must be given to me. Moore was actually recommended to me by two different people. My one friend told me how much he loved this author Moore and apparently each time I would just smile and nod. Because really, in my defense, that friend is getting his PhD in a very specific subset of American History and I figured our choices didn't meld. (Also if you're wondering, he's not the friend I was thinking of in the intro. Apparently "American History buff" is a specific friend demographic I'm cultivating.) Eventually a co-worker of mine forced me to read Lamb. I apologized to my friend when he starting going on about how he'd been telling me about how awesome Moore is. But really, even our Moore tastes don't line up: he loves Island of the Sequined Love Nun which is near the bottom of my I-Love-Moore list.

4. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain - My "Made in America" and "Strange & Norrell" friend is back with another recommendation. I really miss living with him because then I had these great book recommendations all the time. That and good food. Bourdain gives a humorous and sometimes upsetting view of the restaurant world as he knows it and it's an excellent read for someone who loves food or who at least finds Bourdain entertaining. My friend loves both these things and on top of being lent a bunch of fantastic books, I used to come home from work to find things like freshly baked madeleines or crab cakes waiting for me while my friend tried out some new recipe.

5. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling - Here's how my personal discovery of HP went. I was going to study in Italy and wanted to bring some English language books with me. But I didn't want to buy anything because I anticipated spending plenty of money overseas. My brother had a copy of the first HP book that he never read so I chucked that into my bag. I finished this and the other books at my disposal, so while perusing the English language section at the Stazione Termini bookstore I found an inexpensive copy of Chamber of Secrets and read that. And then I put down HP and didn't think about it for awhile. Skip ahead and Boyfriend, another friend and I are going to spend the day at the beach. The final HP book just came out and my friend is a big fan. She wanted someone to share the experience with, so she lent me the 3rd book. I learned I really do not mix well with sun and that even multiple applications of SPF70 are not enough to keep me from turning into a lobster, from my neck to the backs of my knees. I spent a few days laying on my stomach trying not to move, which gave me plenty of reading time. I had the 4th book (also my brother's, also unread) in my possession so I finished these and was eager to carry on with the series. Luckily a month or so later I moved in with beach friend and she, of course, had the entire series for me to borrow.

6. World War Z by Max Brooks - This surprisingly was a book recommendation from my brother. Surprisingly cos he does not read. Actually the mere fact that he doesn't read and the fact that he was searching for and enjoyed this book made me want to read it all the more. Zombie nightmares aside, I was very happy with this one.

7. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl - Another friend shows up again with a fun book recommendation. This recommendation came from he who brought Strange & Norrell with him to Ireland and this was actually a surprise recommendation. He sent me a package that had a book I had lent him (Galapagos by Vonnegut), a book our friend had lent him I wanted to read (The City & The City by Mielville) and then this surprise book. Love a surprise book.

8. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer - Lest you think I only take book recommendations from people I've actually met (and who can lend me copies of their books) I also look to the book blogging community for an idea on what to read next. Brenna from Literary Musing had a fantastic review of this book, and I just had to read it. I'm very happy I listened to her.

9. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper - Another book read because I liked what a book blogger had to say about it. In this case it was Greg from The New Dork Review that made me want to pick up this book. Hell, he starts the review with "[This book] is, simply put, one of the best books I've read this year" and then describes it as "edgy, witty and fantastically hilarious."  Done and done.

10. Room by Emma Donoghue - This wasn't recommended by an individual so much as everyone seemed to be reading it and talking about it, including bloggers I trusted, so I had to see what was going on. That and I got a copy from a friend, which makes things even easier. This is absolutely a book I wouldn't have bothered to pick up had it not been recommended by so many people. It's not my favorite book but I'm so glad I read it.

I didn't want to add this one to the list because I haven't finished it yet, but I'm currently reading Black Coffee Blues by Henry Rollins on the recommendation of Ben from Dead End Follies. The book recommendations continue on!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel

I finished Jane Eyre this weekend and, for those who were worried after my last post, I did not end up hating the book. I didn't love it, I haven't found a new favorite, but I enjoyed it and I'm glad I read it.

*As with the others, this will contain spoilers. Heads up*
Jane redeems herself for her earlier weakness when she refuses to marry St. John Rivers. Initially she can't say no to St. John's requests, even though she says she doesn't want to listen to him. She never gives sufficient reason for why she felt she had to listen to him, his sisters wouldn't take part in his studies, but nevertheless, she is obedient. This is a good set up to the surprise for the reader and St. John when she refuses his marriage proposals, but I wanted to know more from Jane about why she couldn't refuse him before. She was articulate about why she wouldn't marry him, she stayed strong, she never became overly emotional,  and she never got angry with St. John. It was a this point that Jane's independence and strength shone. And it was with this that her return to Rochester worked.

The feminist in me was disappointed with two points in Jane's return to Rochester: her happily ever after is wrapped up in her marriage and that Rochester had to be physically maimed in order for the two of them to actually be equals. I have to remind constantly remind myself that for the time Bronte was writing this, when she couldn't even sign her own name because people would never read something by a woman, this was making great strides in feminism. And yet I felt like the relationship with Lizzie and Darcy was equal without all of the complications Bronte went through for her lovers.

While I say I like the story, I can't say I ever started to really like Rochester. Not only is he not particularly nice to Jane while she's living at Thornfield, although Bronte managed to make his love for her genuine, but he locks up his wife Bertha which can't have helped her sanity. I know we're supposed to think he's so good and kind because he doesn't kill her when he leaves Jamaica, but I don't know that deciding not to murder someone necessarily makes the person super great. Divorce may not be an option and his situation may be unfair, but I don't want to like a character based on pity. But Rochester is far better than passive aggressive St. John Rivers, who needs  to quit dragging our last name through the mud by being such a jerk. I think I may have hated him slightly more because of our shared surname.
*Spoilers above.*

I'm happy I finally read this one. I'm considering re-reading The Eyre Affair to see if I now get any of the subtle Jane Eyre jokes I missed when I was a Bronte virgin. But I don't plan on putting Jane Eyre on my re-read list. However, I think I'll give Emily a shot with Wuthering some point. I need a little break from them for now.

Title quote from location 1999

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Kindle edition, 2010. Originally published 1847