Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why do books get banned?

Why do books get banned? Why do people ask that books get banned? I mean, I see all the reasons that are given: sexual content, explicit language, drug use, promoting socialism (frealzies you guys?), violence. But what do they really hope banning a book will accomplish? Other than shining a big spotlight on these books and getting even more people to read them. Unless, that is their idea. Sneaky, sneaky marketing.

Look, I get that some material is inappropriate for children. I'm not saying that every child should be reading everything that's out there. Hell, sometimes I wish I hadn't read American Psycho cos, really, I didn't need to know anything that had to do with that rat scene*. And if/when I have a kid, I'm sure I'm not going to want them to read certain things, at least until they're old enough to understand it. But that doesn't mean I think I should decide what that guy down the street should be allowed to read.Oh, parents should also know exactly what it is they're banning, because whenever I read someone's rant about why a book should be banned from a school it's pretty clear that the person has never bothered to read the book. At least know what you're complaining about**.

Maybe it takes a certain level of vanity to believe you know best for everyone. And I do think this is the case, because book banners seem to think they're doing a good thing. Their intentions are good even if the result is dumb.Unless of course they're hoping these books will get more attention. In which case, you have succeeded.

Since I wrote this a couple other bloggers have posted their thoughts on book banning that I encourage you to check out if you haven't already
Dead White Guys: Can Your Kids Read Whatevs?
Dead End Follies: The Irony of Banning Books

Anyway, to build on my last post where I bragged about books I had read (or am shamed by the ones I didn't, depending on your view) here are the books that have been most often banned/challenged/etc in 2010/2011 that I have read and recommend. Some of them because they're super awesome amazing (Brave New World) and some because I think they're just pretty good but they're banned so that's how you know they're better than normal (Speak).
2010/2011 Banned books

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Nickled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night Time by Mark Haddon
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Awakening by Kate Chopin

*I feel like it's important to know that having completed the book, I proceeded to get at least 2 1/2 other people to read it. Because I'm a sharer. And also because I had these images burned into my brain, so someone is joining me. 1 was on purpose and she already had an idea of what she was getting into because she's a fan of Ellis and had lent me The Rules of Attraction. Then she and I tried to convince someone else to read it, but that person never finished it. Smart lady. Boyfriend is the other one who finished it, although I actually tried to talk him out of it. He brought it with him on a long work trip and told me about it after he was already gone. I warned him not to read it and he just kept telling me he can handle a little violence. Until he got around 1/2 way through and I got phone calls that were closer to "WTF is wrong with this guy??? Why, why, why did that happen??"

**I had a high school History teacher who listened to an entire Eminem album (I think the second one judging by when I had this teacher but who knows) because his son wanted the album but obviously there had been some controversy around the rapper. After listening to it he decided it was fine for his kid. And that is what being a parent is about: listening to an entire Eminem album to decide if it's OK for your kid. You know, at least that's what I took from that lecture and also I have no kids so what do I know.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Books I want to re-read

I'm a bit (a lot) late on this topic but it's still Tuesday so here I am. The question for this week's Tuesday Top Ten, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is about books I want to re-read. I felt like I should do this because I re-read a lot. It's not that I don't have plenty of new titles out there I want to explore. It's just that sometimes I want to curl up with something I already know I love versus reading something new that could end up sucking. This blog has cut down my re-reads but they're still there. Since the beginning of the year 21% of my books are still re-reads*. Keeping that in mind, I'm going to actually list my favorite books that I love to re-read.

1. The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde - I mention this all the time, I know, but I love the series. Love it. It's a quick read and at this point it's like visiting with old friends.

2. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - I'm actually listening to it now on the few and far between cases when I run. But it's been great motivation not only to keep running but to actually get off my butt and run because I want to continue the story.

3. Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner - I think I've read it 5 times but I still love it. It's a quick read but very interesting. Especially the chapter on names

4. Fool by Christopher Moore - I was actually thinking about how I wanted to read this again when I realized I've recently re-read it already. At least since I started this blog. I'll push it off a little longer but that may mean I'll need more Moore soon.

5. Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson - Bill Bryson is probably the author I've re-read the most. Whenever I'm not sure what I want to read next but I know I want something quick that will make me smile I reach for his stuff. And this is my favorite of his, so it's the one I end up re-reading the most.

6. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by The Reduced Shakespeare Company - I honestly can't even count how many times I've read this one. I used to pick it up about once a month, but it's short so it can be finished in a couple hours.

7. A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare - I love this play. I won't argue that it is the best Shakespeare play, but it is my favorite. I have 5 copies of it (1 normal, 1 in a complete works, 1 in a complete comedies, 1 in Italian and 1 a copy of the First Folio**) so I have to make use.

8. Too Good to be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand and The Complete-As-One-Could-Be Guide to Modern Myths by N.E. Genge - I don't know what it is about urban legends, but I seek them out. I haven't read these two books in awhile but they are well-worn copies.

9. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahme-Smith - I'm so close to having a respectable entry in this list and I blow it by adding zombies. But what can I say, I love Austen's language and I like when things start to get dull that zombies show up.

10. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Oh! I thought of a classy entry. There are a few times recently I've thought of picking this up again but I wouldn't know what to say about it on here, so I haven't picked it up again. Yet. But that's coming.

*yes that's the actual percentage because I'm a super nerd and have this tracked in excel.
**Have I made my super nerdiness sufficiently obvious yet?

Racism is not...merely "xenophobia"

Having finished up Kathryn Stockett's The Help I was planning on sticking with the topic of race and was going to read Octavia E. Butler's Kindred. I assumed I could get it on my Kindle and was surprised to find that I could not. Bummer. I considered going with a different Butler book but then I got cheap and just went with a book I already had on my shelf. So instead I read Racism: A Short History by George M. Fredrickson. The book is leftover from a class I took in college, The History of Race. Though I bought it for the class, I never read it for the class, though I'll have you know I had the highest grade in the class so win for me. My English/bullshitting degree was doing its job before it was even fully earned.

Fredrickson looks briefly at the ideology of racism in the Western world from Middle Ages to present, though he focuses on antisemitism in Nazi Germany, Jim Crowe era Southern American history and apartheid in South Africa. It's an interesting topic and Fredrickson should be commended for taking on a potentially controversial topic and remaining objective about it. However, that objectivity could be its downfall. The book is very dry and very academic. Observe the opening lines:
"The term 'racism' is often used in a loose and unreflective way to describe the hostile or negative feelings of one ethnic group or 'people' toward another and the actions resulting from such attitudes. But sometimes the antipathy of one group toward another is expressed and acted upon with a single-mindedness and brutality that go far beyond group-centered prejudice and snobbery that seem to constitute an almost universal human failing." 
Are you falling asleep yet? Because to be honest, this book put me to sleep a couple times. Not the most ringing endorsement of a book, I know. But there is a lot of good stuff in here and a lot of good points. It's just a little hidden. Or not hidden, just not immediately obvious.

One thing in particular that has stuck with me is how all connected things are. You can't look at racism in different countries as separate entities from one another. He argues the Nazi occupation in Germany and the Holocaust played an important part in the civil rights movement in the US. Change isn't immediate but the atrocities perpetrated during the Holocaust and Jim Crowe era South were the beginning of the end of state sanctioned racism. Fredrickson says "What the Nazis had done was so indefensible that later neo-Nazis would deny that the Holocaust had taken place rather than try to justify it." (128).

Would I recommend the book? Only if you want an objective, academic look at the history of racism in the Western world. Otherwise, well, just know what you're getting into.

Title quote from page 6

Fredrickson, George M. Racism: A Short History. Princeton, 2003.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books

I love lists and encouraging people to read banned books. Or any books. But especially the ones that people have said should be banned from schools because that's how you know those are the good ones. I got this list from Bev at My Reader's Block who found it on one blog, who got it from another blog and on and on back until it came from a list posted on Books and Quilts which has a great video about why you should read banned books.

This is said to be a list of the top 110 banned books of all times but since I don't actually have the source for that list or claim, I'm going to just say here is a list of (probably) banned books. The ones I've read all of are bolded and the ones I've read part of is italicized.

#1 The Bible
#2 Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
#3 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
#4 The Koran
#5 Arabian Nights
#6 Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
#7 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
#8 Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
#9 The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
#10 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
#11 The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
#12 Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
#13 Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
#14 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
#15 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
#16 Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#17 Dracula by Bram Stoker
#18 Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
#19 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
#20 Essays by Michel de Montaigne
#21 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
#22 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
#23 Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
#24 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce
#26 Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
#27 Animal Farm by George Orwell
#28 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
#29 Candide by Voltaire
#30 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

#31 Analects by Confucius
#32 Dubliners by James Joyce
#33 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
#34 Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
#35 Red and the Black by Stendhal
#36 Das Capital by Karl Marx
#37 Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
#38 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#39 Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
#40 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#41 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
#42 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
#43 Jungle by Upton Sinclair
#44 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
#45 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
#46 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
#47 Diary by Samuel Pepys
#48 Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
"#49 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy"
#50 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
#51 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
#52 Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
#53 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
#54 Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmu
#55 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
#56 Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
#57 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
#59 Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
#60 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
#61 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
#62 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#63 East of Eden by John Steinbeck
#64 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#65 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
#66 Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#67 Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais
#68 Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
#69 The Talmud
#70 Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#71 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
#72 Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
#73 American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
#74 Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
#75 Separate Peace by John Knowles
#76 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
#77 The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

#78 Popol Vuh
#79 Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
#80 Satyricon by Petronius
#81 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
#82 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#83 Black Boy by Richard Wright
#84 Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
#85 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
#86 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
#87 Metaphysics by Aristotle
#88 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
#89 Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
#90 Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
#91 The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
#92 Sanctuary by William Faulkner
#93 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
#94 Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
#95 Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
#96 Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
#97 General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
#98 The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
#99 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
#100 Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
#101 Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
#102 Emile Jean by Jacques Rousseau
#103 Nana by Emile Zola
#104 The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
#105 Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
#106 Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#107 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
#108 The Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
#109 Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
#110 Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

26 read, 9 partially read. How's your list stack up?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beauty & The Beast plot holes or what happens when I don't get enough sleep

In Everything's Eventual Stephen King* says that he does some of his best thinking in the shower. His thinking involves writing bestselling novels. Mine involves giving way too much thought to Disney movies. In this case Beauty and the Beast. I don't really know what sparked this. I didn't see anything about it and I can't remember the last time I watched the movie, but apparently my subconscious has been stewing over this for awhile now and wanted to talk through it. And for whatever reason lately my body has decided at 3pm it needs to sleep and when I don't give in to its nap time requests it punishes me by not sleeping at night. So what I'm saying is I'm over-tired, and there's a good chance nothing that follows makes any sense. 
She's reading. That makes this relevant.
For those unfamiliar, here's a quick recap of the prologue to the movie. Or you can just watch this clip
A young Prince is a selfish jerk. One day an ugly old lady shows up at the castle and asks for someplace to stay for the night, but says the only payment she can offer is a rose. The Prince is all like "ew gross" and says no way. The old lady tells him not to be deceived by appearances and please let her stay. Prince-y still says no. So then the old lady turns out to be a beautiful enchantress (because she couldn't really be powerful and ugly. Come on now) and puts a spell on the Prince to make him a beast and turn all of the staff into teapots and whatnot, because fuck the poor servants. That rose that she gave him was magic and was going to stay alive until the Prince's 21st year. If he can find love and be loved in return before the rose dies, he'll turn back into a person. If not he's a Beast forever. Sad for him. Years pass and Beast gets really depressed and loses hope and figures he'll just be a Beast forever and then the movie begins!

So here are my problems with this:
1. The intro identifies the Beast as a Prince. So that means there's a King and Queen somewhere, right? If there wasn't, Prince would actually be King. Where the hell are his parents? Did they get turned into pots and beds too? And if so, why doesn't anyone mention them?

2. If he is a Prince, what does his family rule over? No one seems too concerned that their royal family is suddenly gone one day and there's this power vacuum.

3. So maybe we can assume that the guy's name is Prince and he's not actually a prince. Just a really rich guy that makes some pretentious but ultimately catchy tunes. Again, why didn't people in the town notice when he disappeared and suddenly there's this beast thing roaming around? I mean, the town is overly concerned with the fact that Belle reads books**. This seems like the type of place where everyone is all up in everyone else's business. You'd think "crazy rich guy suddenly disappears" would be big news.

4. So the deal is Prince/Beast has to find love by his 21st year. In the song "Be Our Guest" Lumiere says "10 years we've been rusting..." 10 years. So Prince was roughly 11 when he acted like a douche to the old lady/enchantress. This seems like a really harsh punishment for an 11 year old.

Some people spend their time thinking important thoughts and fixing actual problems. I poke holes in the logic of a twenty year old family animated movie.

*This post is going to be light on actual book connections. Here's your first one.
** This is your second book reference and how I'm justifying posting this up here. Also it's my blog so I'll post whatever random thoughts I might have. Especially when I share these thoughts with Boyfriend who reacts by shaking his head and walking out of the room.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top Ten Books Everyone Has Read But Me

It's Tuesday again which means it's time for another Top Ten, Hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Last week the topic was about blogging peer pressure. This time it's just general book reading peer pressure only this time it's the peer pressure I resisted. Or else it's the books I missed that I should probably fix. Or books that I might get around to reading or might not. Whatever. 

Books/Authors I'll get to when I'm done with all of the other books
1. The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson - I read the first one and after that I was good. No need to keep going with the series. 

2. Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult - I'm putting these 2 as one entry. Maybe they're completely different and I have no idea what I'm talking about. Maybe I'm really missing out on something and my life is less complete not reading them. It's a risk I'm willing to take while there's so much else out there I want to read first.Update: I may not want to read her, but I should at least spell Picoult's name right. Fixed.

Books that I'm "meh" about reading
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - So many people have read this and so many bloggers talk about it. I'm not actively avoiding it, but I'm certainly not going out of my way for it.

4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - I read A Thousand Splendid Suns and enjoyed it. Well liked it enough. Clearly not enough to run out and read this one that was on pretty much everyone's reading list for awhile. I wouldn't turn it down if it appeared in front of me and I had nothing else.

5. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that a few different trusted bloggers have mentioned this as a worthwhile read, this would probably have landed in the first category. Maybe I'll give this a try someday but honestly, every time I look at the summary I think "hmm there are some other books I'd like to read first..."

6. Nancy Drew by "Carolyn Keene" - I put this in this middle category because I'm not against reading them. They seem interesting and the type of thing that most people read when they're young. And I actually had the entire collection growing up, that I got from my grandmother and mom. And yet I still didn't read them. I'm not opposed to them, but apparently even putting them in front of me didn't get me to check them out. 

Books/authors I haven't read but should remedy
7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding - I somehow missed this one in high school. I was in the group that read 1984. But I'd like to read this. And I will get to it. Soon-ish.

8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - Another one I would have thought I'd get to in high school but I never did. My friend read it in her class so apparently I was just in the wrong class. That and I'd like to have a better memory of Steinbeck because when I think of him I think of Grapes of Wrath which I did read and didn't care for. Although I've been told I should give this one another try. Maybe someday.

9. Ernest Hemingway - I've never actually read any Hemingway and I'm a bit ashamed of this. I feel like I should have read him. He's not difficult like a Joyce so I don't really have an excuse. Plus my brother has read him and liked him. My non-reading brother has me beat here. I cannot let him win.

10. Julius Ceaser by Shakespeare - This is another one that I'm ashamed I haven't read. I've read a lot of Shakespeare. I've even read ones like Cymbeline. I've read speeches from JC. I even said Et tu, Brute this week coming out of a Mets game. This wasn't actually in reference to anything that happened so much as we were parked near "A2" and I noticed they sound the same because I am smart like that.

What are your everyone-has-read-this-but-me books?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Then get going. Before this civil rights thing blows over

It's difficult to come up with something to say about a book that's been so widely discussed. What's there to add about Kathryn Stockett's The Help that hasn't already been said over and over again? Not much, but that isn't going to stop me. What I will do instead of just a review is discussing the movie versus the book.

I wasn't planning on seeing the movie before reading the book. But I'm awful at planning so it worked out that I did. Boyfriend and I wanted to see a movie but couldn't decide between The Help, Our Idiot Brother, and Crazy, Stupid, Love* so we threw them into a randomizer and The Help won. I thought about suggesting we see something else, so I could read the book first, but I figured this might be my chance to see the movie before it's out of the theaters since we don't go to the movies all that often. Because I'm lazy. Also because movie theaters and the malls around here are where the Long Island stereotypes congregate and there's only so much Axe body spray I can inhale in any given month.

First up, for those that haven't read the book or seen the movie, I really liked them both and would absolutely recommend them. It is a touching story about a disgusting time. I want to put this first up because the rest of this post will probably be all kinds of spoiler-y and you may want to skip over it.

*Spoilers! Dead ahead!*
 For the most part, the movie and book are the same. Obviously, right? The story is the same and most of the characters are the same. But the devil's in the details and for the most part the book's details are better.

Normally I'll like a book better if I've read the book first. Then I already have my idea of what it should look like and the movie either matches that, exceeds it (not usual because I'm very vain and assume what I've come up with is the best) or else fails to live up to it (again, see vain). If I see the movie first, I read the book picturing what the movie showed me, so there's less opportunity to come up with my own version and more likely I'll go with the vision that the director had. So I was surprised to find that I liked the book better than the movie because the movie seemed afraid of becoming too ambiguous so it stayed very safe, very black & white (pun! although I can't tell if the pun is in bad taste. You know, moreso than puns usually are).

Ebert has a great line in his review about how the story is about the African-American maids but it's "equally the story of how they empowered a young white woman to write a best-seller about them". You get that feeling with the movie that Skeeter/Emma Stone is really the main character. Now I love Emma Stone, she's a big part of the reason I wanted to see the movie in the first place, but I went into the movie assuming the maids were the main characters, in particular Aibileen and Minny. I pleasantly surprised when I picked up the book and Skeeter doesn't even show up for awhile. You get to hear the events from first Aibileen's and then Minny's point of view. Skeeter is there too and I like her and I like hearing her voice but it's Aibileen and Minny I want to hear from.

I think they made Hilly worse in the movie than the in book. She's a bitch in both, don't get me wrong, but it was Elizabeth that I couldn't stand. Maybe because you spend more time with her, since Aibileen works for her. Or maybe because I'd heard/seen Hilly be so awful that I expected her to be taken further than she was. She behaved exactly as I expected. Or maybe it's because Elizabeth just couldn't form her own ideas and didn't care for her kids as anything other than an accessory, like her silver set. And they do show some kindness in Hilly. Never towards the maids but she at least starts the book having some real affection for Skeeter, and certainly towards her children. You don't see any other side to Hilly in the movie so she ends up being this one-dimensional villain.

I liked Skeeter's mom Charlotte in the movie better, in part because she's played by Allison Janney who is all kinds of wonderful, and also because she's both more sympathetic and more powerful (sympowerful?) in the movie. Especially when Hilly comes over to tell on Skeeter for the book she wrote. In both she says a lot of the same things to Hilly: comments on her hair being a mess, on the cold score that's popped up on her lip, etc. But in the book, she hasn't read Help and doesn't seem to have any idea of the book or even that Skeeter and Hilly aren't friends anymore. In the movie however, she knows everything. Again the lines are mostly the same in both book and movie, but in the movie she's this powerful Southern matriarch, slyly telling off Hilly while staying all prim and proper.
*Spoilers defeated. You're safe now*

*Both Boyfriend and I wanted to see all of these movies. When there's a movie one of us wants to see and the other doesn't** there's more negotiating beyond just pick a movie out of a hat. Or we give up and go see it with other people.
**Like Moneyball. Seriously, baseball AND math? You're killing me, Smalls!***
***Yes I know that's a baseball reference. Baseball movie reference anyway. Did you know "a can of corn" is also a baseball term? although a real, non-movie one. I swear some of these sayings are just to mess with people. Also I have a lot of asides stemming off of other asides and this is just getting ridiculous. Lucky for you, you can skip these. If you talk to me in person this is pretty much how the conversation goes.

Title quote from location 3087

Stockett, Kathyrn. The Help. Berkley, 2010. Kindle edition

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book reading peer pressure

Getting into the Book Blogger Appreciation Week spirit, the ladies over at The Broke and The Bookish have come up with the following Tuesday Top Ten topic: Top Ten Books I Read Because of Another Book Blogger. I feel like I need to start this off with an apology because I know going into this, I'm going to forget some of the books I've read because of a fellow blogger. And starting off on that high note, onto the list

1. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, recommended by Greg from The New Dork Review - This is one of the first book blogger recommendations I remember listening to, and I'm glad I did. The book is touching and funny, with just the right amount of sarcasm (a lot. A lot of sarcasm is the right amount). I may have picked up this book on my own. Maybe eventually. But I definitely picked this one up because of Greg's review of this book and a few other Tropper works.

2. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, recommended by Greg again, The Reading Ape and Brenna from Literary Musings - This was a collective effort, although it's not like they all knew they were working together to get me to read this. The Pulitzer scared me off but these three calming explained that the book rocks and I need to get over it and just read it. OK, not directly at me but that was the message I got. And I'm glad I did because this was easily one of my favorite books of the year.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, recommended by (& won from!) Jennifer from Soy Chai Bookshelf - This one was recommended to me a couple times by college friends but I never actually read it until I a) read Jennifer's review of it and b) won a copy from her. And I'm so glad I did both because it really was a good book and I should probably apologize to my friend for ignoring him

4. Beijing Coma by Ma Jian, recommended by Pete from What You Read - When I began the China Rican Reading Challenge, I needed some recommendations on books and lots of people came through with Chinese suggestions (Puerto Rican was another story...) but I ended up going with Pete's suggestion of Beijing Coma which was crazy long and intense and very good. I know this is one I wouldn't have picked up if I didn't trust the recommender's taste.

5. The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman, recommended by (& won from!) Alice from Reading Rambo So yes, another book I won but that's not the only reason I read it! Or rather, I wouldn't have entered the contest in the first place if I didn't like Alice's review of the book and think "I need to check this out for myself". It was a pretty hilarious read that I'm sure I would never have gotten to if she hadn't recommended it.

6. Recommendations from Ben of Dead End FolliesI was going to list out separate entries for each book and then realized while that might get me to 10, Ben would kind of take over the list. I didn't realize how often I take his book recommendations until they're listed out, so here they are:
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane (though Ellen from Fat Books & Thin Women gets some credit for this as well)
Black Coffee Blues by Henry Rollins
Hogdoggin' by Anthony Neil Smith

Now there are other bloggers whose recommendations I plan on taking, like Devouring Books Laura's recommendation of Joyce Carol Oats's book Blonde but I figured I'd go with the books I've already read instead of the ones I plan on reading but haven't made it that far yet. And of course there are the books like Room and The Help that I'm reading essentially cos everyone else read them and said (mostly) good things about them so I can't give credit to any one person.

Monday, September 12, 2011

As if repetition equaled truth, [the story] strengthened until the inventions were known as fact

It's fitting that the most recent Literary Blog Hop asked if literary writing had to be difficult. I just finished Louise Erdrich's Tracks which I could see people considering a "difficult" novel, although it's relatively short (only 226 pages) and uses simple language and sentence construction. There are no multi-page descriptions or stream-of-consciousness chapters. And yet this book took me awhile to get through, even though this is my second time reading it.

In my answer to the LBH question, I said there is an important distinction between a a difficult book and a challenging book, and that it basically boils down to a challenging book is worth the work you have to put into it while a difficult book it's difficult for the sake of being difficult. Tracks is a challenging book.

The book's central character is an Anishinaabe woman named Fleur Pillager, although you never get to know her too well. The book has 2 first person narrators: Nanapush, a village elder and father figure to Fleur  and Pauline Puyat, who I could say something objective about but instead I'll tell you she is crazy. Crazy. Kind of like the albino killer guy from The Da Vinci Code except she's a fully realized character. Fully realized crazy. And it's up to these 2 to tell you about the main character. The fact that you stay removed from Fleur adds to her mystic. She's sexy, she's powerful and she's dangerous, but not in a contemporary-action-hero-Lara-Croft kind of way. There are legends about her circulating throughout the tribe and legends naturally exaggerate the truth so you're never quite sure what she's really capable of. You assume she can't conjure up tornadoes but you can never really be sure.

Nanapush and Pauline are each telling their own stories about the past, and they sometimes talk about the same events, although the fact that they're talking about the same thing isn't immediately obvious (challenge!). This also means that you're dealing with not one but two unreliable narrators (challenge!). Nanapush is explaining Fleur's past to her estranged daughter Lulu and Pauline is telling her own story, but she's a wee bit obsessed with Fleur (crazy AND challenge)

The book isn't just about the force that is Fleur and her narrators Nanapush and Pauline. The book also deals with several difficult topics, include rape, death, starvation, the loss of the Anishinaabe land as they're pushed onto reservations and lots of other uncomfortable topics. It's not quite a Toni Morrison level of uncomfortable topics, but it's certainly heading in that direction.

Tracks is a challenging read, so don't let the short length fool you. But the important thing is it's worth the challenge. Sure, I probably won't be reading this one again for awhile because the challenge means it takes work and overall I'm a lazy person. But when you're up for it, it's worth the effort.

Title quote from page 215

Erdrich, Louise. Tracks. Perennial, 1988.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Does literature have to be difficult?

It's been awhile since I've participated in the literary blog hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase and even though it's later than I normally get a post out I decided to jump in this week.

The question is: Must all literary writing be difficult? Can you think of examples of literary writing that are not difficult?

I'm kind of building off of what Ben said in his response, so you should probably go read that and see a fully thought out answer, but I think an important thing to look at is the difference between "difficult" and "challenging".  At least in my mind, difficult is hard to read for the sake of being hard to read. It's difficult to show off how difficult it can be and even if you work your way through it, there's no pay off. It wasn't worth it. Challenging, on the other hand, can be hard to get through. But when you work through it, you feel like you've earned something. Toni Morrison's Beloved is this way, as is Louis Erdrich's Tracks (hence the reason I've yet to finish it/post it about it, even though it's a pretty short book).

This works the other way too. There are "easy" books and then there are "simple" books. The Da Vinci code is an easy book. You can get through it but there's no pay off. Orwell's Animal Farm is a simple book. It isn't overly showy or overly flowy but when you finish it you feel full. An easy book is the literary equivalent of empty calories.

So no, being literary doesn't mean being difficult. Nor does being difficult mean you're literary.

What do you think? Is literary fiction necessarily difficult?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Twenty Questions

I've been skipping the weekly Top Ten Tuesdays because I haven't been able to think of anything for the latest topics. Less than usual, considering I've participated when I could only come up with 3 items before. Laura over at Devouring Texts was also at a loss for this week's topic (sequels you're looking forward to) and instead posted answers to twenty questions. Because I'm all about talking about myself I thought I'd steal her post (don't worry, I asked her about it first) and give my own answers. So here we go

1. Which book has been on your shelf the longest?
I have a copy of T. H. White's The Once and Future King from the early '50s I took from my grandparents house. I think that fulfills the category both in oldest book as well as book I've carried around with me (thus been on my shelf for awhile) but still have yet to read.

2. What is your current read, your last read and your next read?

I'm currently re-reading Tracks by Louis Erdrich, my last read was Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane and my next (tentative) read is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Although I'm no good at sticking to a reading plan so we'll see what my next book actually ends up being.

3. What book did everyone like and you hated?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Everyone it seems loved this one and couldn't put it or the sequels down. I struggled to make it through this one for book club and never bothered to read the others.

4. Which book do you keep telling yourself you'll read, but you probably won't?

I don't want to say I probably won't because I like lying to myself, but I have Franzen's The Corrections staring at me, just daring me to read it for almost a year now. I bought it last October coming back from a friend's wedding and I made a promise to myself that I would read it before the end of the calendar year. We'll see if that happens.

5. Which book are you saving for your "retirement"?

That would require a level of planning that is beyond me. I usually pick out my next read on the fly.

6. Last page: read it first or save it for the end?

I do not understand reading the last page. I would never read the book if I did this. My mom does this, and I am impressed that she can still enjoy the story even if she knows how it goes. She's this way with everything, which is awesome for me because I never have to worry about spoilers when talking to her about movies.

7. Author acknowledgements: waste of ink and space or an interesting aside?

I usually just skip over reading them, but sometimes I'll skim them to see if they say anything interesting. I used to read the liner notes on CDs to see what bands were thanked and used that to find new music. Authors need to do this in their own acknowledgements section.

8. Which book character would you switch places with?

Thursday Next from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. She's a literary badass and I would love to visit Book World.

9. Do you have a book that reminds you of something specific in your life? (a person, a place, a time?)

I'm sure there are other books that fit this question and I'm sure I'll think of them after I've already hit "publish" but Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code makes me think of my friend's aunt's house in Ireland. I spent just under a month out there with her and her family, and I had brought this book with me. In between seeing the countryside and visiting various bars I remember hanging out in the sitting room reading this book. I think I remember the location better than I remember the book itself. Maybe not the worst thing. 

10. Name a book you acquired in some interesting way.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I kinda sorta stole it from my English class when I was in the sixth grade. I'd say "accidentally" stole, but that's not really true. I switched classes mid-year and the class I switched into had just begin reading The Phantom Tollbooth, so I had to catch up a bit. Which meant when I was given a copy of the book I apparently didn't put my name on whatever roster everyone else did. At some point the book got caught in my locker and the back cover ripped off. I was upset the book was ripped plus I knew I was going to have to pay for it. But they never asked for my copy of the book back and I never offered it up. Having to pay to replace an $8 book seemed way more dire when I was 11 than it does in retrospect.

11. Have you ever given away a book to a special person for a special reason?

I wish I had some cute story here, but nope. Update! My (awesome) friend Paul reminded me I gave him an (awesome) Bryson book being being a super (awesome) nerd.

12. Which book has been with you to the most places?

I guess I'd have to say Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, though not because it's a particular favorite of mine. I brought it with me to Italy when I studied there, and then before coming back to the States I spent a month in Ireland (separate trip from the one above, though with the same friend) so it came there as well. I then carried it with me throughout my various Boston moves and I re-read it at some point so had it with me on the subway. And now it's in Long Island with me.

13. Any "required reading" you hated in high school that wasn't so bad ten years later?
It's hard to say because the books that I really hated in high school I've yet to revisit. I probably should because that list include The Grapes of Wrath and 1984. Maybe I'll re-read those and then can answer this. The Scarlet Letter however, stays on my "no thank you" list. I re-read it in college and it was exactly how I remembered it.

14. What's the strangest item you've ever found in a book?

I suppose this isn't actually that strange but when I recently read Stephen King's Dreamcatcher an old birthday card from fell out, along with a newspaper clipping for the Broadway show Kiss Me, Kate, which I saw for my birthday that year. That's apparently when I had been given the book. And then I read it more than 10 years later. Not because I didn't want to it's just such a big book for subway reading.

15. Used or brand new?

I love new books. I like my books to look like they're in new condition. I know I should make use of a library and save myself some money, but I never do. 

16. Stephen King: literary genius or opiate to the masses?

This is very black and white. Can't he fall somewhere in the middle? If I have to pick I'd say literary genius, although that might be going a bit far. He's obviously a very popular author but I don't think he gets all the literary credit he deserves. 

17. Have you ever seen a movie you liked better than the book?

Yes, definitely. I love the Lord of the Rings movies (I have both the theatrical and the extended editions). It was a struggle to make it through the first 2 books and I really tried to make it through Return of the King before I gave up. It wasn't worth it. American Psycho is another movie I like more than the book. Because the movie doesn't make me physically gag.

18. Conversely, which book should NEVER have been introduced to celluloid?

Never say never. There are some stories that have had really unsuccessful movie adaptations (Pet Semetary) but that doesn't mean that there is no hope of the book working on the screen. However, I can't see how the Thursday Next series would ever work although if someone were to attempt it, I'd probably see it. All this being said, I have been avoiding the movie 1408, because I loved the short story so much I assume the movie cannot live up to it and I don't want the short story ruined for me. That's not to say it shouldn't have been put on the screen, and maybe it is a really good movie. I just don't want to find out that it's not and have images from the movie supersede what's in my head.

19. Have you ever read a book that made you hungry, excluding cookbooks?

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. She's cooking a bunch of Julia Child recipes, which sound delicious and she's cursing throughout which made me smile.

20. Who is the person whose book advice you always take? 

Well I don't always listen to anyone because I'm stubborn like that, but there are a few book recommenders I listen to more often than not. My friends Paul and Matt always seem to recommend books that end up being favorites of mine. In the blogging world there are a number of recommendations I seriously consider. Here's a short list:
Ben from Dead End Follies
Brenna from Literary Musings
Jennifer from Soy Chai Bookshelf
Greg from The New Dork Review
Laura from Devouring Texts
Alice from Reading Rambo
Ellen from Fat Books & Thin Women
I could probably go on and on (and on) with this list but I'll stop here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's a nasty world out there, and it's never been nice to children

I had only read one Dennish Lehane book, Mystic River, and that I had read for a class. I wasn't avoiding the guy, I just wasn't going after him either. But both Ben from Dead End Follies and Ellen from Fat Books & Thin Women are fans and they each have excellent taste in books, so when I saw a copy of Gone, Baby, Gone sitting on one of the sale tables at my favorite bookstore, The Brookline Booksmith, I decided now was the time to expand my Lehane horizons.

Gone, Baby, Gone is part of the Kenzie/Gennaro series, about two private detectives in the Boston area. It's not the first in their series but it's the first I've read. There are references to past cases that I'm sure are covered in other books (books I plan on checking out) so I suppose I'll find out eventually how important it would have been to read those first. Kenzie and Gennaro reluctantly take a missing child case, after pressed by the girl's aunt. Lehane does not pussy foot around difficult topics and this missing child case puts the PI against drug dealers, rapists, pedophiles and a whole host of other unsavory characters. Especially Helene, Amanda's (missing child) mom. She is both the best and the worst character. One of the most interesting characters to read and the one you most want to stab repeatedly for being so selfish. Amanda was abducted in the middle of the night while her mother left her alone with the door unlocked. She's mostly upset that Amanda missing has messed up her life instead of being terrified for her daughter's well-being. There's a reason it was Amanda's aunt that sought out the help of Kenzie and Gennaro.

I love reading stories when I'm familiar with the location and Gone, Baby, Gone takes place around the Boston area. I didn't spend huge amounts of time in Dorchester and of course Lehane says in the beginning that he changed the geography to suit the stories needs, but there are references to real places and just having a picture of where the Victoria diner or what the South Bay shopping center looks like makes me happy. It's one of the reasons I liked watching The Sopranos so much*. Now granted, Lehane's Boston is much darker and dirtier and more dangerous than I remember actual Boston ever being, but of course if it was cleaner or we ran into more college kids it wouldn't have been the same dark story. Although now I'm picturing the story filled with the bros that lurk around the various campuses in and around Boston and it's making me laugh.

I did have one big problem with the book, but that problem was my fault. Gone, Baby, Gone is a mystery as you try to figure out what happened to Amanda and who could have taken her and how do these drug dealers fit into the equation. This means that trying to untangle the plot and guess what the answer could be is part of the fun. And I already saw the movie**. I thought maybe this wouldn't be too much of a problem because I don't remember too many details. But I remember the last few scenes. So the whole time I was reading the book, even though I couldn't quite remember how we get to that point, I already knew what the outcome was going to be. This meant there was less suspense for me. Less than I knew there would be anyway, if I had no idea how things were going to turn out. However, this fact could also be a positive for the book, since knowing the ending didn't actually ruin the book. It's still an intriguing story and the characters make it worth it, even when you already know how it turns out.

I do plan on reading some more of the Kenzi/Gennaro series. I already have Darkness, Take My Hand selected as my next one, care of Ellen and Ben. I'm not sure exactly when I'll get to it, but I promise it won't be the same 6 year gap between Lehane reads.

*I'm originally from north Jersey.
**The movie's actually very good, though I would recommend checking it out after reading this If you're planning on picking this up that is. Otherwise just see the movie. There's a chance I liked Helene so much because I loved Amy Ryan's performance of her.

Title quote from page 65

Lehane, Dennis. Gone, Baby, Gone. Harper Perennial, 1998.