Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Reading Slump

I haven't been reading. Not books anyway. Not for at least the last week. I've managed to do a decent job keeping up with blogs and Cracked, but I haven't picked up a book. I have books to read, but I can't get into them. And I don't think it's the books' faults. I mean I haven't read them yet, so it's not cos the books are bad.

First it was packing up for the move. I'm not particularly organized nor do I do things ahead of time, which just served to stress me out. Then last week Boyfriend and I spent our free time after work driving out to the new place and painting before we moved the furniture in, which was a great except each night we got home late and we were exhausted. I didn't have the energy for reading, though I did muster the energy to watch Archer* but that takes a lot less effort.

Now it's been unpacking. And that is going slowly, again because of the disorganized and laziness factors. It's better than packing, no question, but I have only a vague idea of where all my stuff is. I know it's in a box somewhere. Probably. Also we don't have a couch yet. We're getting a new couch and it will be awesome and perfect for reading. But in the meantime we have a couple of beach chairs sitting in the living room and I've found they are way more conducive to reading when you're actually sitting on a beach.

I was planning on reading All Her Father's Guns but I think I need something I've already read before to get me back into the swing of reading. And not just any re-read, but something I've read a number of times and already put in the effort so now I can sit back and enjoy the ride. I'm thinking Jasper Fforde's The Big Over-Easy because I've read it a few times and it's hilarious, and also because it's sort of crime/noir-esque (except, you know, with nursery rhyme characters) so it will hopefully get me in the mood to tackle something from the Smooth Criminals reading challenge. Now I just have to remember which box it's in...

How do you get yourself out of a reading slump?

*If you haven't seen the show Archer yet I'm just going to leave this best of link right here and you decide for yourself the level of awesomeness that is the show.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

If music be the food of love, play on

First challenge book completed! I just finished up Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which is my Classic Play pick for Sarah's Classics reading challenge.Also this sort of counts for Allie's Shakespeare Reading Month even if I'm not actually participating in it. But everyone else was reading Shakespeare and I wanted in on the action. (I cannot withstand blogging peer pressure, even when it's indirect.)

Now, I can't review Shakespeare. I am not smart enough for that. So instead of even making an attempt I've instead decided to give you a couple of my thoughts about Twelfth Night. I also wrote a plot description at the bottom of the post in case you're not familiar with story and want to follow along.

Random thoughts about Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will:

First Orsino is super taken with Viola/Cesario. I mean, he does make her a super trusted servant and messenger-of-love not long after meeting her. Then Olivia lays eyes on her and instantly decides "What the whole mourning-dead-family-so-I-can't-love-anyone-right-now thing? That's nothing. I just had to keep the weirdos away. Now come here you!" Is really Viola just that awesome?

Sir Andrew and Sir Toby are the best characters, although better to watch than to read. They provide most of the comic relief, which is kind of a weird thing to have in what is a comedy. But the Orsino/Viola/Olivia story isn't super funny. Or funny at all really, except I guess the whole "Olivia being in love with Cesario who is really a girl!" The two cowardly drunks, however, are hilarious.

When Malvolio gets the letter from "Olivia" he says it has to be from her because he recognizes her hand-writing. "By my life, this is my lady's hand! These be her very c's, her u's, and her t's." (II.v.88-90). Two things about this: Shakespeare is careful about the words he picks, so that must extend to letters and the guy was all about the sex jokes. This is the take Dr. Pauline Kiernan, author of Filthy Shakespeare, believes. "'Cut' is slang for cunt; the word 'and' was pronounced as an 'n'." Also if you say "c's, her u's and her t's" fast it sounds like you're saying "c,u,n,t". (pg 62) It's a classy cunt joke.

Sebastian is found by this guy Antonio, who seems to be in love with Sebastian even if my Folger's copy won't admit it. It also only vaguely acknowledged the dirty joke above, so I think it likes to keep things clean. Not bowdlerized but just classroom appropriate. Folger can tell me all it wants that when Antonio tells Sebastian "There shall you have me" (III.iii.46) he means "You will find me there", but it's not convincing me that's all he means. Later he comes to Viola/Cesario's defense during her duel with Sir Andrew, thinking she's Sebastian. When she tells him she has no idea who he is, Antonio is deeply hurt. Now you could argue he's mad because earlier he had given Sebastian his purse full of money and now he's asking Viola for that money and she's refusing, but he hardly seems to care about the money. "This youth that you see here/I snatched one half out of the jaws of death,/Relieved him with such sanctity of love,/And to his image, which methought did promise/Most venerable worth, did I devotion" (III.iv.378-382) Pretty much any scene with Antonio has him declaring his love for Sebastian. And Sebastian is clearly oblivious. Or he doesn't swing that way but I'm going with oblivious (maybe a little dumb too) given the whole marrying Olivia thing. I feel so bad for Antonio.

Viola and her twin brother Sebastian's ship is caught in a storm, and they each wash up on shore thinking the other sibling is dead. Viola disguises herself as a boy Cesario (so in the original stage productions it would be a boy, playing a woman, playing a man. Not confusing at all.) and seeks refuge as Count/Duke Orsino's servant. Orsino is in love with Countess Oliva, who refuses to love anyone until she finishes mourning her brother's and father's deaths. Which seems kind of reasonable, but Orsino wants the love now! Orsino sends Viola/Cesario to court Oliva on his behalf, but Oliva falls in love with Viola/Cesario. Meanwhile, Viola/Cesario has fallen in love with Orsino, but can't tell him cos she's dressed as a boy. Love triangle!

Oliva has suitors other than Orsino: Sir Andrew and her servant Malvolio (although his is more a secret crush). Sir Andrew is friends with Oliva's kinsman the drunk Sir Toby, who mostly keeps Andrew around because he wants his money. And a drinking buddy. And Sir Andrew is pretty wimpy and easy to boss around. Malvolio doesn't care for Sir Toby and Sir Andrew's drunken revelry and is also kind of douchey snob. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Oliva's lady-in-waiting Maria plan a trick on Malvolio because he interrupted their drinking and that must be punished. They leave him a letter supposedly from Oliva professing her love for him, and telling him that if he loves her back he should profess his love by smiling at her a lot, wearing ridiculous clothes, and being mean to Sir Toby and company. He follows the letter to the T and Oliva thinks he's gone mad and has him locked up.

Sir Andrew sees that Olivia is love with Viola/Cesario and decides he should give up and go. Sir Toby doesn't like that he's going to lose his cash cow and drinking buddy, so he convinces Sir Andrew to challenge Olivia to a duel. But Sir Andrew is a wimp and Viola/Cesario is actually a lady, which in this play anyway means she can't fight. Not like "I'm not allowed because of my lady like disposition" but because (apparently) "My uterus makes me unable to know how to fight." Or maybe Viola/Cesario just sucks at fighting but whatever the reason, these scenes are pretty great.

Meanwhile! Viola's twin brother Sebastian is alive and has been hanging out with a man named Antonio, who totally has a thing for Sebastian, even if we're not acknowledging it, Folgers New Shakespeare Library. Antonio comes to Viola/Cesario's aid during the duel, thinking he's Sebastian. Antonio isn't exactly welcome in these parts and he's arrested. Earlier Antonio had given Sebastian a purse full of money and now he asks Viola/Cesario for that money back. Viola/Cesario has no idea what he's talking about, Antonio's heart is broken and he's taken away.

Another meanwhile! Sebastian runs into Olivia who thinks he's Viola/Cesario and proposes marriage. Sebastian doesn't know who she is but goes with it anyway because why not? They even get the betrothal sanctified by a priest. Then Sebastian runs into Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, who challenge him to a duel again, thinking it will go a lot like last time (meaning it won't happen at all). Sebastian is apparently super impulsive because not only does he agree to marry Olivia upon first meeting her, but he also has no problem beating the hell out of the two drunk knights without figuring out why they're so angry.

Orsino and Viola/Cesario go to Olivia's so Orsino can give his Olivia-wooing one more try. Antonio shows up and yells about how he gave Sebastian all this love and Sebastian pretended not to know who he was. But he's yelling all of this at Viola/Cesario, who is just all sorts of confused. Then Olivia comes out and talks about how excited she is that she and Cesario are going to get married, and again Viola/Cesario is confused and denies this. Now Orsino, Olivia and Antonio are all angry at Viola/Cesario, who has no idea what's going on. Then Sir Toby and Sir Andrew come in all beat up and there are more people yelling at Viola/Cesario. Then Sebastian stumbles in, doesn't seem to notice his twin standing RIGHT THERE (he's both impulsive and unobservant) although everyone else does. Viola reveals she's really a lady and declares her love for Orsino who figures Olivia's already taken so Viola's a good consolation prize. Olivia is likewise pretty OK with marrying someone that looks a lot like the lady/guy she was actually in love with and even keeps calling Sebastian Cesario because this is a totally non-doomed relationship. And everyone lives happily ever after except Malvolio who vows revenge on everyone for his mistreatment. The End.

Title quote from I.i.1

Kiernan, Pauline. Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns. Gotham Books, 2006.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night or What You Will. The New Folger Library, 1993.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The weight of consequences was always there

I'm a bit behind on reviews because of the whole recently buying a home thingy and also general laziness. So please forgive me if I mess up some of the details cos at this point it feels like a million years ago when I finish this book.

I can't remember who recommended it, but someone mentioned that The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano was a good literary book for typically non-literary readers. Since the new year I've felt like I've been in a reading slump (and judging by a number of posts I've seen, others are feeling the same way) so I was looking for something "literary light" to pull me in. And then I saw a copy of the book on sale at the Booksmith, so I had to pick up it. Obviously.

It's an odd story. There are two primary narrators: Alice and Mattia. We catch up with them at various points in their lives, before they meet, once they've become close, after they've grown apart and then when they're brought back together again. They're both damaged in their own ways and find something in each other that's missing from every other relationship they have. As Giordano describes
"Mattia had learned that, among prime numbers, there are some that are even more special. Mathematicians call them twin primes: pairs of prime numbers that are close to each other, almost neighbors, but between them there is always an even number that prevents them from truly touching." (111)
One major problem I have with this book is I never feel like I get to know the characters. Even though we're seeing Alice's and Mattia's thoughts I never understood them anymore than the other characters did. No matter how much time you spend with them, you still never know them. At one point I thought Alice was acting out of character, against what Giordano had oringially set up*. But the more I tried to think "how would Alice have acted" I realized I have no idea. This could be entirely within how she would behave. Of course by this point I was about 75% through the book, so I'd like to think by now I have an idea what the characters are about. This was especially evident with Alice's chapters. You'd read something from her point of view and she was sullen and quiet and afraid. Then you see her in a Mattia chapter and she'd be loud and boisterous and bossy. And it isn't just be because Mattia viewed her this way in comparison to his own behavior (silent, morose). The few chapters from a secondary character would have Alice behaving the same way. It was almost like a different character.

That said, it was still a book that sucked me in, which was especially welcome when on public transportation. The back of the book called it "a stunning meditation on loneliness, love and what it means to be human." I agree with the loneliness. It does this beautifully (and heart-breakingly well). I will concede to love and what it means to be human, but within the confines of loneliness.

One thing I'm curious about (and 6 seconds of Googling didn't answer) is if this book was originally written in English or not. There's no translator listed anywhere, yet it seems the book was originally written in Italian. Wikipedia lists the original title as "La solitudine dei numeri primi". So if someone knows what the deal is (maybe Giordano did his own translation?) please share.

*I have no problem assuming it's the author who made a mistake with how their character reacted instead of thinking I'm wrong. It's a special level of hubris I've cultivated.

Title quote from page 222

Giordano, Paolo. The Solitude of Prime Numbers. Penguin, 2008.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What Paolo Read: And they honored me far beyond courtesy, for they included me in their own number

So before the new year I talked my friend into joining the Classics Challenge. The problem? He doesn't have a blog. But he still wanted to play along so I offered up some blog space here. Now I'll let him introduce himself with his first post! Enjoy 

1 in 59 thousand. Those are the odds of two people playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to ten straight ties before giving up in (good-humored) annoyance. That's what hapened to Red and I one fateful night, in the back of our friend's car, en route to some delicious Inman Square eatery. (Probably S&S.) She and I would often joke over the years that we share a brain, but it was rare to see it taunt us so blatantly.

Red has done a lovely thing by letting me share her space, I figure it's about time to introduce the other voice that you're going to be reading over the next 12 months. We went to college together, and bonded over a shared love of Mario Kart[1], Kurt Vonnegut, and third-wave ska. Clearly, we were a match destined for Blogosphere[2] superstardom.

I'm not quite sure I fit the mold of the typical book blogger. I might even push the limits of the atypical book blogger. I teach high school mathematics. I'm writing parts of this as I ride the bus to an away game for the hockey team I coach.

Still, I feel up to this. I have always buried myself in books. My mother swears she's one of the only parents who had to tell her son not to read. Even back in elementary school, I'd spend every moment I could reading. I'd run the shower, then sit on the bath mat and steal another chapter or four. I would stay up well past my bedtime, first reading under the covers with a flashlight, and then—once all the flashlights in the house had been confiscated—I put a towel under the door to hide the overhead light. I became an expert at closing my eyes just enough to be able to see through my eyelashes yet have them convincingly appear closed[3]. Even in fourth grade I would regularly be up past midnight reading[4].

I still love to read, but usually feel like I don't have the time to do so. Between teaching, coaching, getting married, grad school, fixing up the house, and watching Arrested Development for the 15th time, I find too many excuses not to read. I let myself be talked into this challenge to combat that.

I'm currently on the 8th Canto of Inferno[5]. This is going to be a trip.

[1] I'm better at the SNES original, and she whoops me at Mario Kart 64. Any other version hardly bears mentioning.
[2] As I write this out, my iPhone helpfully autocompleted Blogosphere for me. iPhone, I am judging you. Harshly.
[3] Fun trick: do this while you're driving with your wife in the passenger seat! (Hint: Put a pillow and blanket on the couch first to save time later!)
[4] With a short break to listen to Loveline on my headphones.
[5] Due in no small part to someone insisting I read the new Stephen King book.

Title quote from Inferno, Canto IV, 100-101

Friday, January 20, 2012

More excuses for not posting more

I feel like I have so many excuses posts. I should make it a label. But this is a good excuse you guys, I swear!

You unwrap houses, right?
Boyfriend and I bought a place. Well, more specifically we finally closed on a place. If all of those Property Virgins/My First Place shows are to be believed, you've "bought" the place when the seller accepts your offer. If that's the case, Boyfriend and I bought a place in October and I am way late telling everyone. But this last week in particular has been a flurry of half-assed packing (which will turn into whirlwind of frantic last-minute packing next week), signing roughly a bajillion pieces of paper, writing checks for amounts that make me cry, and all that jazz. You'd think I'd be at least used to the moving part, since for the better part of the decade I've moved about once a year, but I manage to block out anything I learn from the earlier moves. Other than "Gah! Moving is le suck. Just throw everything into a box. We'll worry about it later."

So I haven't posted much lately or even played around on Twitter as much as I want to, but I swear stuff is coming! I have some reviews for you PLUS my buddy Paul/Paolo has a post for the Classics Reading Challenge that he sent me and hopefully you guys will appreciate his awesomeness without noticing how much it eclipses my own.

Reviews to come*
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (this one is already written! I just need to actually post it...)
Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Shakespeare beginning

I can't pinpoint what it is exactly, but I love Shakespeare. The poetry? Yup! The plays? Want! The mystery of the man? Yeah sure, pile that on.

I can remember the moment that I fell in love with Shakespeare's plays.* I was in my high school English class and we were reading Romeo and Juliet. It was my first time reading Shakespeare, although I knew the basics of the story because who doesn't? Plus Baz Lurhman's movie had come out a few years earlier. But actually reading the stuff? I was not having this Shakespeare guy. I could not for the life of me understand what was going on. I have always been a reader and I had tackled difficult literature before (I had read The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the 7th grade, even if I didn't understand anything), but this was a different world. I thought I could handle Shakespeare, no problem. And then I couldn't. I could read the words, even understand several of them, but I couldn't make heads or tails of what was actually happening. I decided Shakespeare really wasn't for me. And then there was the speech.

For the most part we were reading the play for homework and then coming into class to discuss it. I'm sure we read a few scenes together, but the only one I remember is Juliet's speech from IV.iii.2565-2610 where she is about to drink the potion Friar Lawrence has given her to make it look like she's dead.** Maybe it caught my attention because the teacher read it and she actually understands the text, instead of one of the students doing it. Maybe it's because this speech isn't a romantic one but instead has Juliet talk about bashing her brains in with the bones of her relatives.*** Whatever it was, I quit seeing this as outdated text with unrelatable characters. This was a vulnerable and scared girl trying to be brave. I was having so much trouble getting past the language and the period references, but this speech cut right through all of that. Yes, the text can be hard to read and there are a lot of words that aren't used anymore or are completely different now, but once you get past all of that the emotion beneath is real and universal.

I was lucky that after that class I had other teachers as enthusiastic about Shakespeare as my frosh teacher. (And I had her again my senior year, which was sweet). Plus my high school had a Shakespeare class, to continue my obsession.

*Or at least I have a memory of a single moment. Whether I actually came out of class with a new world view, or whether that's just a romanticized notion is up for debate. Debate being, this is probably BS and I'm sure while I fondly remember this now, at the time it was just another day.

**Does anyone know if this speech has a pithy name, like Hamlet's "What a piece of work is man" speech? That would make it way easier to describe.

***All the romantic stuff wasn't resonating with me because I was an obnoxious, cynical child. I'm lucky to have grown out of that and now I'm an obnoxious, cynical adult. Ahh, maturity.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sometimes being feared is an educational thing

Back in August I read Hogdoggin' by Anthony Neil Smith. Now in January of the next year and I'm finally getting around to the first book, Yellow Medicine. I suppose it would make the most sense to have read these in order, but why would I do something that makes sense? And because I read the sequel first, I can't help but think of the first book as a prequel. Whether that changes the way I viewed the book or not I guess I don't really know but I may as well put it out there.

Like Hogdoggin' and the other Smith book I read Choke On Your Lies, this story is a tense, violent and graphic crime story. Billy Lafitte is a dirty cop. He may mean well, his actions may be to keep his town safe, but he's not a Batman* vigilante doing the right thing above all else, even if it means breaking the law. He takes kickbacks from meth dealers, he (almost) trades sex with a college student in return for not busting her on some minor drug possession, he is far from an angel. Think of him like Vic Mackey from The Shield. Except I liked Vic Mackey, even though I knew he was awful. I didn't like Lafitte. And I expected to because I liked the guy in the sequel. Characters talked about his charisma repeatedly but I just saw him as a scumbag that had moments of morality. Also there's a point where he's described as having "a full mustache and 'burns, something about the seventies" which really doesn't help dispel the creepy scumbag factor**.

Please don't let this make you think I disliked the book. I didn't like Lafitte, but I liked the story. I expected to like Lafitte, not only because I liked him in Hogdoggin', but also because the book is from Lafitte's point of view. Generally when that happens you tend to sympathize with your narrator, even when you hate what they're doing. Consider it Narrative Stockholm Syndrome. But I thought the structure of Yellow Medicine, having a single narrator instead of several, worked better for the story. It kept the tension up instead of jumping around so much. And there's a lot of tension. Murders, meth dealers, gangs, terrorists. What's not to love?

It was a little bit hard to believe how much Lafitte was willing to risk for the Drew. He's drawn into everything because she asks him to help her out and that little favor snowballs, but that only explained the beginning. As the story went on I never felt like I saw anything that showed me how much he cared for Drew. He said it a number of times, and it was his reason for getting deeper and deeper into the chaos, but it always felt like an excuse. Like he would have done it anyway and was justifying this to us. Or himself. But this is a small complaint.

It's hard for me to say which I liked better: Yellow Medicine or Hogdoggin'. I like the first-person structure of Yellow Medicine and I thought it worked better to keep tensions high. But I LOVED the ending of Hogdoggin'. Loved it. That did a lot. In the end, both are good, tight crime stories.

*As soon as I said prequel I thought of Batman Begins. It's not that the book reminded me of Batman at all; it's that my own ramblings did.
**Yes, yes, having a mustache doesn't make someone a scumbag but really, if you were to equate facial hair with certain personality traits, mustache would def be swinging towards the creep factor. Or '70s porn factor. But there are exceptions to this. Ron Swanson for example. Lafitte is not Ron Swanson.

Title quote from location 1055

Smith, Anthony Neil. Yellow Medicine. Bleak House Books, 2008. Kindle edition.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pimps make the best librarians

I can't remember what made me want to read Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg. I feel like someone recently talked about it on their blog, but I can't remember. I do know that I was up in Boston for a weekend and made several trips to the Brookline Booksmith, my former local indie bookstore. This book was sitting on one of those "these books are awesome, why aren't you reading them" tables. The cover drew me in and I realized I recognized the title. Plus I think it was some combination of books, prison, library and Boston that made me decide I need to read this.

This is a memoir of Avi Steinberg, former yeshiva student and recent Harvard grad, looking for something to do that will get him dental insurance. He sees a job opening for a librarian and writing teacher at a Boston prison and decides to go for it. His stories of dealing with the various prison characters are hilarious and heartbreaking and sometimes terrifying, like when he gets mugged by a former library patron who makes off with his wallet and tells him he still has 2 books out.

My worry with a memoir is that the story will be a series of of events that may not add up to a whole. I was very happy that this doesn't fall into that trap. The book is still a series of events but they add up to something. It doesn't feel like Avi is just sharing diary entries with what happened each day. He talks about trying to gain respect and maintain control in the library, dealing with the "kites" the prisoners send (letters left for prisoners in books), and trying to help the prisoners when he can.

One of my favorite stories from the book is about Avi helping an incarcerated pimp named C.C. Too Sweet write his own memoirs. Avi is moved by his stories about his childhood and is pulled into Too Sweet's insistence that pimping is an art form. Avi had even convinced Too Sweet to expand the stories of the women Too Sweet worked with, to make them people instead of characters. But he's removed from the reality of what Too Sweet actually does until one day he sees a former prisoner and current pimp out in the real world. It's easy to be pulled into Too Sweet's stories without really comprehending exactly what it means to be a pimp and this reality is brought to the forefront for both Avi and the reader.

I enjoyed this book. It's great for book lovers because there is a lot about the power of books, the importance of books and the beauty of books. It's not just about the books though, it's about the outcasts that populate the prison and what they're looking for when they go to the library.

Update! There is a very high chance I first heard about this book from Lisa at bibliophiliac and I want to give credit. And even if this isn't the case, check out her excellent review!

Title quote from page 3

Steinberg, Avi. Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian. Anchor Books, 2010.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Do you supplement your reading?

It's Literary Blog Hop time, hosted by The Blue Bookcase. Actually it's a little after literary blog hop time but whatever. Better late than never.

This week's question: Do you like to supplement your reading with outside sources like Sparknotes, academic articles or other bloggers' reviews? Why or why not?

Do I like to do this? Yes. Do I do it often? Not really.

If the story is a classic, I like reading Sparknotes along with the reading to see if they bring up something I missed. I'd read academic articles if there was an easy way to find them and I'm happy to read them when I come across them. A number of my Shakespeare books are academic articles. I like reading about what people think about something I've recently read. It's like having a discussion, except the author doesn't take into account a thing that I say. The jerk.

Ultimately though, I don't do this often. Because I'm lazy.

Bloggers' reviews are in their own category. Most often I'll read a blogger's review if I've already read the book myself. Then it's back to that discussing a book together thing. If someone writes about a book I really want to read, or it's a blogger I read on a regular basis, I'm more likely to read a review of something I haven't yet read. When I'm actually writing my own reviews I try to stay away from what other people say. I don't want to repeat what everyone else had already said and I don't want my own opinion to be swayed by what someone else said.

What about you?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Blessed are the minimarshmallows

I'm getting into the spirit* for this post about Christopher Moore's Christmas tale The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror. I'm watching my new DVD copy of A Muppet Christmas Carol** which just came in the mail. I used to watch this movie every holiday but I only owned a VHS copy and while I do still own a VCR, it's currently being used as a mirror stand. So I know the holidays are done and whatnot but here's one more for you.

I wasn't going to read any more Moore in 2011. I had already read 5 of his books this past year alone. But then HarperCollins put this ebook on sale along with a preview of his upcoming book Sacre Bleu and how could I turn that down?

The Stupidest Angel takes place back in Pine Cove, the same location for Practical Demonkeeping and The Lust-Lizard of Melancholy Cove. There are a lot of characters from these two works, as well as Tucker Case and his fruit bat Roberto from The Island of the Sequined Love Nun and the titular stupidest angel Raziel from my favoritest Moore book Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. Seeing familiar faces was probably my favorite part of the book. Which is too bad because I wish it had been the story.

It's a typical Moore story with typical Moore humor: irreverent, dark(ish) and absurd. I mean, zombies make an appearance so I think that pretty much covers all of those adjectives. It's funny and I found myself chuckling a number of times. But ultimately, the story didn't have the same heart as some of Moore's better books (Lamb, Fool, A Dirty Job). There's a lot going on, and you never feel like you get into the meat of any of the story lines. Plus Raziel has a much smaller part than I assumed, although in his short time he manages to cause a lot of chaos. I had more fun watching him in Lamb where he spent most of the story sitting in a hotel room watching WWE.

A lot of my complaints with the novel are that I know Moore can do better. Hell, I see him do better here, in the bonus chapters from Sacre Bleu. They are excellent. The Stupidest Angel is still funny, still Moore, and I'm still glad I read it, but this won't be one I regularly re-read. I do want to share one quote, too long for the title, that I enjoyed, to end this on a happier note
"Christmas Amnesty. You can fall out of contact with a friend, fail to return calls, ignore e-mails, avoid eye contact at the Thrifty-Mart, forget birthdays, anniversaries, and reunions, and if you show up at their house during the holidays (with a gift) they are socially bound to forgive you - act like nothing happened. Decorum dictates that the friendship move forward from that point, without guilt or recrimination."
*This is actually just the excuse I'm using. I got super excited when the Muppet movie came and wanted to watch it right away. Then I realized I should probably write a review instead of continuing to let them back up. And when I checked which one is next I saw it was this Christmas one. So everything is coming up Milhouse.

**The best version of A Christmas Carol. Don't bother trying to convince me otherwise. And it's surprisingly faithful to the Dickens original. You know, when you look past the frogs and pigs and whatnot.

Title quote from location 2802

Moore, Christopher. The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror. HarperCollins, 2004. Kindle copy.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Even people capable of living in the past don't really know what the future holds

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Stephen King's 11/22/63 from Audra at the Unabridged Chick and Klout, which was amazing. Obviously, I'd heard a lot about the book. It keeps showing up on 2011 wrap up lists for top books, or at least most anticipated. So winning a copy was pretty sweet.

The story isn't something I would normally think of as a King book. It's not a horror story. It has the supernatural elements that King is comfortable with, in this case time travel, and it's maybe a thriller but certainly not horror. Our main character, Jake Epping finds a way to travel back in time. Or rather Al, a friend of his that runs the local diner, finds a way. There's a passage in the pantry that brings you out a town in Maine (of course) on Tuesday, September 9, 1958. You can spend as much time as you'd like in the Land of Ago but only 2 minutes will have passed in the present. And each trip back in time is a reset.

Al has a proposition for Jake: go back in time and prevent the JFK assassination before the diner is torn down at the path to the past is lost. If things go wrong, if the future is worse off, you can just go back through the pantry and do a reset. There's no risk. Now of course, the assassination doesn't happen until November 22nd, 1963 so Jake will have some time to kill. He has to make sure Oswald acted alone, that he wasn't just a patsy and that there isn't another shooter on the grassy knoll. And of course the past is obdurate; it doesn't want to be changed.

The story is a thriller in the will he/won't he and if he does, what's that mean for the future way. And there are moments where you're on the edge of your seat, but that's not the majority. A large chunk of the book is about Jake waiting to make his move. He has to learn as much as he can about Oswald to make sure he did act alone but he also just has a lot of time. So he takes on a teaching job, he makes friends, he starts to think maybe the present (or at this point Land of Ahead) is nice and all but maybe he should stay in the Land of Ago. It may seem like these are tangents off the main plot, but it's difficult to make that argument when they make up such a large portion of the book. You almost think it's the Oswald stuff that's interrupting the real story. The scenes of Jake in Jodie, Texas were some of my favorites.

I said this isn't a horror story, but this is absolutely a King story. It feels like his writing and there are disgusting, graphic, grotesque scenes. It may not be horror but there are a few moments of intense violence. I don't want to scare people away but you should at least know what you're getting into.

This is a big book (690 pages according to my ecopy, 849 pages in the hard back copy according to Amazon) and no one will accuse King of being a man of few words, but it reads quickly. One of my complaints is that I actually wanted it to be longer. The ending felt rushed and I wanted the pace slowed down to match the rest, so I felt like I was really getting the whole story.

The rushed ending isn't the only thing I had trouble with. As much as I really liked this, the scenes of Jake in Jodie are almost too perfect. He's instantly a loved and respected teacher among both the students and the faculty. He can instantly bring out the best in students. Now I didn't notice any of these issues while I was reading, it was only after I finished the book and I started thinking about it. (Of course it's been suggested this is on purpose and all part of the past not wanting changed, and I hope so because I like that better than King just gave him some Mary-Sue like qualities.)

Overall, I really liked this book. And I REALLY wanted people to talk to about the book while I was reading it. So if everyone could just read this book so we can all talk about it, that would be super.

Title quote from page 209

King, Stephen. 11/22/63: A Novel. Scribner, 2011. eCopy

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 Reading Stats

2011 is over and it seems this is the time for everyone to reflect on the past year. Most bloggers have been filling out a survey of the best book you read in 2011, the worst book, most often recommended book, etc. I want to fill one of those out (I love surveys and talking about myself) but I know I'd never be able to think of answers to these. I'm sure I'd forget most of the books I read and all of my answers would be books I've read in the last couple months. But I still want to play along with some sort of wrap up, so here are my reading stats for the year.

Number of books read

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of ebooks

Percentage of re-reads

Books written by decade
1810s - 2%
1840s - 2%
1880s - 2%
1950s - 3%
1960s - 2%
1970s - 3%
1980s - 7%
1990s - 20%
2000s - 38%
2010s - 22%

There are a few surprises for me. I didn't realize I'd read so many books/pages. Go me! I'm also surprised fiction is as low as it is. Then there are the things that didn't surprise me, like how many books are younger than me (thanks Brenna for the idea for that measurement!). I'm hoping the classics challenge will help with that.

I'd make some goals for myself, but that seems to be a set up for failure. Also whenever I start thinking of resolutions I go into Calvin mode and start thinking this, because I am a mature adult:

And if you're curious, here are the wrap up stats from each month. If you feel the need you can check my math month over month to get these year end totals but I warn you, I'm probably wrong somewhere along the way because in order to get the numbers above I had to re-do a bunch of the totals in my spreadsheet because nothing added up.
January Reading Wrap-Up
February Reading Wrap-Up
March Reading Wrap-Up
April Reading Wrap-Up
May Reading Wrap-Up
June Reading Wrap-Up
July Reading Wrap-Up
August Reading Wrap-Up
September Reading Wrap-Up
October Reading Wrap-Up
November Reading Wrap-Up
December Reading Wrap-Up