Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I realized that in his presence I had forgotten even the very notion of trying to hide who I was.

Alright so clearly I'm just going to link to Alice in all of my reviews. But last time her review convinced me to read Ready Player One and this time she GAVE me (or I won it, whatever) The Elegance of the Hedgehog so how could I not mention her again? Had to be done.

I kept hearing about Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Headgehog but I didn't really know much about it. I knew it was French. The cover lead me to assume there was a precocious child involved. And that's really all I knew. But that didn't stop me from wanting to know more.

So here's the actual plot. Renee Michele is the concierge* at this super upscale apartment building in Paris. She's very smart but chooses to hide her interests and intellect so she'll be left alone but the pretentious and bourgeois tenants. She narrates the majority of the story which is nice, but there's a second narrator, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse. Paloma also hides her extreme intelligence also to avoid standing out so you can tell these two are going to find each other. BUT they need something to bring them together and that comes in the form of a new resident Kakuro Ozu, a refined Japanese businessman who sees Renee's and Paloma's true selves.

It took me some time to get into it and connect with the characters, but once the Ozu showed up I was hooked. So I guess I needed Ozu to bring me together with Renee and Paloma. He's that fantastic, is what I'm saying. He's a gentleman, kind to all of the tenants, but he really connects with Madame Michele. He breaks through her shell and shows her that she can actually relate to another person.

There's a lot of talk about philosophy and art and literature and also some Blade Runner. There are a lot of lines I could see ending up in a book of quotes. To the point where it sometimes seemed Barbery was more concerned with coming up with memorable lines than staying with the story. I can't decide if that's a bad thing or not. The story is still there, it's just sometimes hidden behind the eminently quotable moments.

I should correct when I say it took me some time to connect with the characters. Because I never really connected to Paloma. She's a little annoying, a little pretentious, and a lot tween angsty. A lot. This may seem like a spoiler, but it comes up very early so don't worry, nothing is ruined but she wants to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday. Because life is meaningless and she can't take the "vacuousness of bourgeois existence." And I'm pretty sure you're allowed to smack people for saying things like that. Not the killing herself part but the Cure-lyric-ness of her speech. PLUS she doesn't just want to kill herself but she wants to do it by burning down her apartment (while her family is away). Because why just kill yourself when you could take down an entire building or even entire block because who knows how close these buildings are. I mean, how can they really stand the "vacuousness of bourgeois existence"? I was happy the majority of the book is from Madame Michele's point of view. 

I feel like I'm ending this on a negative note, but that's just because I didn't like Paloma. That doesn't mean I disliked the book. Or even that I wish Paloma was less...Paloma-y. She worked in the story, even if I couldn't stand her. And I liked Renee. And loved Ozu. It was too bad he didn't show up until about 1/2 way through the story. But that's OK because I just appreciated him all the more.

Overall the book is good and philosphy-y and French. So thanks Alice!

*I didn't realize concierges are things at places other than hotels. So the more you know.

Title quote from page 148

Barbery, Muriel. The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Europe Editions, 2006.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What Paolo Read: There and Back Again (The "There" is Hell)

It's been awhile but my friend Paolo is back with another post about his Classics Challenge reading. Enjoy!

Hi. It's Paolo. Remember me? I'm the guy who's supposed to be writing updates based on the books he's read in the Classics Challenge. You know, to give Red a chance to watch Clueless break from time to time. If you don't, just know that I'm a roguishly handsome yet erudite semi-blogger. (To be fair, I am my own harshest critic.)

I dove head first into Inferno. It's an intimidating poem to start reading - any work with so many competing translations shouts, "I'm a Classic. You heard right; that's a capital C." Of course, this is the Classics Challenge, and this is the translated work category. I should hardly be surprised. I settled on Ciardi; he seemed to be both well-recommended and easily accessible on the Kindle. Two pluses.

For those of you who haven't read any of the Divine Comedy, a brief overview. First, Dante loved Catholicism (if not the Catholic Church of his time). You'd kinda expect that from a dude who's known for writing The Divine Comedy, but it infuses everything he does. The rhyming schema he invented, terza rima, has triplets in both line and rhyme: ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, EFE, and so on. (If you're having trouble figuring out what comes next, e-mail Red. She loves questions like those.)

With me so far? Good. Now imagine a dialogue between two Italians. You don't have to speak the language; make up some representative giberish and you'll do just fine. Hear all those vowels at the ends of the words? This makes rhyming Italian[1] a lot easier than rhyming in English. Ciardi had a seriously uphill battle translating the Comedy with the terza rhima intact, so he punted. Or, to stretch the football analogy far past its breaking point, he punted on 3rd down[2]. So yes, there is a rhyming scheme in Ciardi's Inferno, but it's not quite the same. Instead, it simply goes AXA, BXB, CXC, etc.

This is not do diminish the effort or accomplishment. Ciardia did a marvelous job making the rhyming work. This seems incredibly hard to manage in English, and it only rarely falls into Princess Bride territory. It definitely works, and feels like poetry to boot, but I found myself looking for a little more flow in the text. For the most part, I found the subject matter compelling, but I felt like I was still missing out on the much-lauded brilliance of Dante's work.

Speaking of the much-lauded brilliance of Dante's work: dude needs an editor. I dug the concept, love the exploration of hell, found Dante and Virgil to be great characters, and found the first 6 (of 9) circles quite interesting. Then I still had 80% of a poem to go. Needless to say, the pacing was a little ridiculous. Perhaps the people in the inner circles were more interseting and deserved a more in-depth treatment, but it often felt like Dante changed his plan partway in. Further, Dante's editor would also have done well to tell him, "Hey, dude, people are going to be reading this 600 years down the line. Nobody really cares about some petty noble in Tuscany[3]." You'd think he'd have considered that.

I'm not trying to be overly critcal, though. The pacing, obscure dead guys, and difficulty of transation are my only real complaints. Beyond that, I'd been exposed so much to intrepretations, applications, and other references to Inferno throught other works that a lot of it felt familiar. Still, it was really awesome to drill down deep into the source material. Even after translation, the poem retains a lot of it weight, and Dante manages to put enough horror into Hell for even a jaded 21st century interent person.

If you've got a smartphone, I'd take the time to put Inferno on your ebook reading app of choice[4]. The individual Cantos (33 in total for Inferno) are short enough to read in those 5-to-10 minute bits of downtime where you're tempted to find a book, but don't have enough time to really read. I'd put it up there with Milton in the "definite read if you care at all about religion's influences" category.

[1]Dante pretty much invented modern Italian (when he published The Comedy) by slamming together a number of the local dialects with some Latin. The poem was so overwhelmingly popular that it essentially established the rules of the language. Look into it from a better source than me - it's cool stuff.
[2]American football. Canadians, substitute second down. Europeans, he took a shot from midfield. Australians, he showed up to a prison riot with just a sharpened toothbrush.

[3]A decent number of footnotes on Dante's contemporaries read, more or less, "there's no real historical record of this guy" or, "this guy was a prominent politician of his time"

[4]Preferably one with a more adjustable font size. Most of my lines were about 1 or 2 words too long, looking awkwardly like this:


Thursday, June 21, 2012

A meme instead of reviewing

I feel like I have a lot of "I'm writing this instead of writing an actual review" posts recently. I still like writing reviews. I'm also very lazy, and those take more effort than my rambly posts. I also don't think I've been sleeping well. I say "I don't think" because I'm not waking up in the middle of the night. I'm just super tired during the day, which has been moving into over-tired-to-the-point-of-deliriousness. Though I think I amused the Whole Foods worker yesterday when I made race car noises with my car while picking up groceries.

So anyway, I saw this meme on Sarah's of Sarah Says Read blog who got it from Jillian at A Room of One's Own and on and on until you can't figure out where these things actually start but that's not the point. The point is, here's an excuse to talk (more) about myself and I'm taking it.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack: I don't usually. Because I'll get distracted by the food and pay more attention to that then the book. 

What is your favorite drink while reading? Yeah, I also don't normally drink either. I'm either reading on the train and it's probably best if I don't add a beverage to that equation, unless I really want to spill on myself and probably some innocent commuter. And then when I'm at home the table is slightly too far away so I have to actually lean forward if I want to put the drink down or pick it up. And that's way too much work.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? The horror! The horror! I sorta wish I did write in books but then I know if I did and I looked back at the comments later I'd think "Oh naive you. You had no idea what you were saying"

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open? Bookmark. Or just remember where I was. That's my "I don't have a bookmark but I don't want to dog-ear the page" method. Why yes, I did end up re-reading a lot of the same stuff over again cos I couldn't quite remember where I'd left off. How'd you guess?

Fiction, non-fiction, or both? Both, but mostly fiction.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere? Wherever. I usually stop based on if the train is currently at my station. If I'm not commuting I try to go to the end of a chapter but if I find myself drifting I just stop wherever I am.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you? I haven't yet. I don't want to mess up the book. Or with my luck I'd damage the TV or something.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away? Pretty much never. And it's only "pretty much" instead of "absolutely never" because I sometimes will look up the word with my Kindle. But actually going to a computer and looking up a word? No, that's not going to happen. It should. I know I should probably look those things up but, again, lazy.

What are you currently reading? Kindred by Octavia Butler and holy crap, is it good and difficult. I also started Slaughterhouse-Five but got distracted/realized I'd be reading ANOTHER white guy and decided I needed to do something about that.

What is the last book you bought? Kindred. It has been crazy hard to find. And by that I mean the 3 times I remembered I wanted to read it while at a bookstore it wasn't there. And it just recently became available on Kindle.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read? My commute because I don't have to do anything else. Nothing else that needs done and little to distract me. Well, less than normal when there's the computer and TV and people and food to distract me.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones? Stand alone. I like some series (Thursday Next, I heart your face) but for the most part I don't end up reading the rest of a series.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over? Well Christopher Moore. I seem to tell EVERYONE to read him. But you guys aren't listening, so I need to keep repeating myself. Also you guys should read Jasper Fforde because he writes Thursday Next stuff and other series that are amazing. And yes, I know I just said I prefer stand alone books and this guy writes series but did you miss the face-hearting?

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.) They are currently organized by "these books were all in a box together so they're on this shelf together". Because this recent move took forever and I just put stuff on the shelves with the thought that I'd organize it eventually. And it will happen. Eventually. There's some order, leftover from the last time I organized them that transitioned to our current place based on how I boxed up books. So the Shakespeare is together. The books that are in my room (Moore, Fforde, other fav books) are still together. But that's about it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Not bookish but important

Last week Alice posted about Cinderella Ate My Daughter and included a video of Anita Sarkeesian of the Feminist Frequency talking about Legos and Gender. Not sure why exactly but then I decided to watch ALL THE VIDEOS Sarkeesian made, or at least the ones posted on her site. And if you go to her site (or Google her name or follow the links I keep retweeting) you'll see there was some battle going on.

Some background if you don't already know:
Sarkeesian made a series of videos called Tropes vs. Women that are pretty sweet and look at certain tropes liked The Straw Feminist and The Mystical Pregnancy. Since those were pretty awesome, she decided to make a series that focused on Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Normally she asks for donations to help pay for the research, production and general site upkeep but this time she decided to try Kickstarter to raise money. She was hoping to raise $6,000. And she reached that goal within 24 hours. And then the happy feelings ended. In her Kickstarter video she talks about wanting to look at different stereotypes in video games around female characters. She didn't say what those opinions were, just that sometime, in the future, she would like to voice an opinion about them. And a group of people flipped right the fuck out at this idea.

She has received comments ranging from basic "get back in the kitchen" jokes to death threats, rape threats and all manner of hate. For having the audacity to suggest at some point she would like to talk about women in video games. Her Wikipedia page is still locked because of vandalism. The group keeps flagging her YouTube videos as "terrorism". And Sarkeesian responded in the best possible way.

First of all, I want to reiterate that she was hoping to raise $6,000 and wasn't sure she could get that. The Kickstarter campaign closed today and she raised $158,917. I know she didn't do that so much as her 6,967 backers did but that is still awesome and needs to be pointed out. She's now expanded the scope of her project from 5 videos to 12.
But even better than that is Sarkeesian's reaction. First of all, she didn't back down. She didn't let the hate silence her, which was ultimately the group's goal. She didn't (from what I can see anyway) attack the people back. She responded to a couple comments but she didn't attack. What she did do was document the hate. She wrote a few posts about the harassment and they're up on her site. She has screencaps of the YouTube comments and her Wikipedia page. It's easy to dismiss awful comments (especially those on YouTube) as par for the course online, as a number of news sites point out. But it's another thing to actually read those comments. And by sharing those comments, she brings to light how bad it can be.

Not only did she not back down, but the whole incident has been brought to the attention of several publications including Slate, Guardian, Globe and Mail, Wired, and Forbes. A number of blogs have written about her story as well. Because she didn't stay silent. Because she didn't delete the comments and take down the campaign.

So this isn't a post about books. I realize I'm not even adding to the conversation by posting this. But I've been reading pretty much every story about this and A) I wanted to share the story and B) I wanted to say how amazing Sarkeesian is for not backing down. I can't wait to see the videos.

Updated: to include a link to a story my friend Paolo posted in the comments. It's not about this case but another instance of PR people (for shame!) assuming boobs=does not like video games
I Can Be Just As Capable. Let Me Be

Monday, June 18, 2012

Halliday seemed to expect everyone around him to share his obsessions, and he often lashed out at those who didn't

Video games. Dystopia. '80s pop culture. Sci fi. How could I not read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline?

I really liked this book. Really liked it. I saw the book cover but knew NOTHING about it until I read Alice's review. I was drawn in. As in I-really-need-to-go-to-sleep-but-just-one-more-chapter drawn in.

It's the future and the real world is so crappy that most people spend all of their time plugged into OASIS, which is sort of like Second Life but to the nth degree*. People go to school, work, and essentially live in OASIS, with brief breaks in the real world to eat and go to the bathroom. Halliday, the co-creator of OASIS, died and left his massive fortune to whomever can find the three gates hidden throughout OASIS. Some people have dedicated their lives to hunting for these Easter Eggs and one of these gunters is our main character Wade Watts/Parzival. Good thing he spent his time studying Halliday's favorite movies, TV shows and video games, mostly from the '80s. So it's a treasure hunt based on '80s pop culture and video games. ARE YOU EXCITED YET?

OK so I used to play more video games, when I lived at home with my younger brother who loves all the games. Since leaving for college I've played less although I still heart The Sims and I'm sure I'll finish LA Noire any day now. But even with my limited video game love, this was still a super fun book and one I've already yelled at my brother that he HAS to read. I want to share this love with other people because this book was so much fun. I can't remember the last time I HAD to find out what happens next.

It did have problems. The characters, especially the only female character Art3mis**, weren't especially well fleshed out. And of course there was the problem that if you thought too hard about, really, any part of the plot the story sort of falls apart. But just don't do that. Because this isn't the book to make you rethink about the world. It's a book to entertain you. It's a book to make you go "YES, a War Games reference!" There isn't a huge amount about the dystopian real-life as most of the action happens within OASIS which I was a bit disappointing at first but I got over it pretty quickly as I got pulled into the quest.

Read this. If any of those initial terms sound interesting to you, read this. It's super fun. It's not life-changing, it has it's problems, but it sucks you in. Oh and have I mentioned, it's fun.

*I know very little about Second Life. Actually most of what I know comes from an episode of the Office and some talk about advertising in Second Life.
**There are technically other female characters, but the others that are there are so minor as to not count.

Title quote from page 55, location 1091

Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. Crown, 2011. Kindle edition.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teenagers have come to feel that consumer goods are their friends

In an effort to save some money I'm trying to read more of the books on my shelves. Now I don't actually have a huge TBR pile* so this means most of these end up being re-reads. Which is actually fine by me. I like re-reading. Sometimes it's like visiting old friends. Sometimes it's seeing if something I originally read stands the test of time. So I was scanning my shelves for something to read that would be very different from Emma. Not that I thought Emma was HORRIBLE, I just struggled through the style and needed something that wouldn't be so much work. Which is how I stumbled on Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers by Alissa Quart.

At some point early in college I went through a "advertising is evil and warping your mind" phase. Actually, it started in high school thanks to a teacher who showed us a PBS documentary called The Merchants of Cool** but it really came to a head in college when I read both Branded and Naomi Klein's No Logos (as well as a number of other titles that I no longer remember).*** Branded is about the advertising techniques used on teenagers and more than that, how advertising is affecting teenagers, not only in spending habits but in general development.

One thing to keep in mind with this book is the age. It's not THAT old BUT because youth culture shifts so quickly, the book did feel dated. By focusing on brands you have to mention those brands. Some brands which aren't a thing anymore, or at least don't have the hold on today's youths that they held in the early 2000s. I know Delia*s and Abercrombie & Fitch are still things (I can't walk by A&F in the mall without a potent odor reminding me I AM HERE AND I DON'T KNOW THE APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF COLOGNE TO WEAR) but they aren't as front and center in the world of teen fashion as they were when i was in high school. There was no Facebook or Twitter when this was published. Which is too bad because I think the conversation about how social media is affecting teen's perceptions of brands would have been very interesting. But alas, Quart is not a psychic.

The book is split into 3 sections: Branding, Self-Branding and Unbranding.

Branding focuses on how teens are being marketed to and how it's changing them. I especially liked the section on peer-to-peer marketing, which is essentially having teens work for the brand (though not for salary or anything, don't be silly) by giving the brand feedback and telling their friends all about how amazing X brand is. This section plays up the general insecurities teens have, especially the desire to fit in and be heard. In this case teens are being heard by the brand and their opinions are being taken seriously. It makes sense teens think of these brands as friends when the marketing liason is the one that listens to them and treats them like an adult. There's also the pervasiveness of branding in places like video games, such as Tony Hawk Pro Skater. (Remember, the book was published in 2003 and most of the references are from before that...)

Self-Branding is looking at how teens and young adults internalize the marketing messages, through cosmetic surgery, steroid use, anorexia, "Logo U" (the self-branding to get yourself into one of the top colleges), and even the aura of celebrity that has infiltrated markets such as Sweet 16 parties, Quinceaneras and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. This section argues how much further the intense teenage marketing goes. It's not just getting teens to connect with (and buy) certain brands, but actually change their physical and emotional self to fit a predetermined example of what they should be like.

Unbranding is about the reaction to this branding and teens taking a stand against this threat. It's kids who are home schooled instead of going through traditional "branded" schooling, or even teens that stay in the public school system but hold rallies against the advertisements in their school.

For the most part it's a good book. It brings up interesting points about not only teens who view consumer goods and brands as friends but the general commodification of teens.However it does have its faults. When Alissa is stating facts or interviewing teens, the book works nicely. When she puts her opinion in there, it seems heavy handed and awkward. I don't remember this bothering me back when I first read it, but this time around it was obvious.

The other thing is she says mean things about Clueless, which you may have noticed I'm currently having a second love affair with. She talks about the sheer awesomeness of '80s teen movies and how that has been lost in a time of Bring It On, Clueless, and She's All That (again, published in 2003) when the popular kids are the stars and watching them go shopping or getting a make-over is the highlight of the plot. She acknowledges that Clueless is a satire but then says that most tweens and teens don't understand this and they'll just focus on how important it is to be popular, beautiful and have expensive things. LIES madame. Lies.

But my main problem with the book is who she's talking to. This book could be sub-subtitled "First World Problems". Or at least "Rich Kid Problems". The issues faced are real but for the most part every teen she talks to is from the upper class and can afford to drop money on name brand gear like Gucci and Dolce&Gabbana, whose families can spend $50k and up on a party, who go to the cream of the crop private schools and thus have the pressure to continue that trend and get into the most exclusive ivy league schools. It's not the sole focus but it's the majority.

*Not a physical TBR pile anyway. I have a fairly large (and growing) wish list tbr pile
**Which a friend of mine got me on DVD one year for my birthday or Christmas or some gift giving holiday. Which I now have a desire to watch...
***And now I work in PR because I appreciate irony. Or I'm a hypocrite.

Title quote from page 35

Quart, Alissa. Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers. Basic Books, 2003.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other

I decided to give Jane Austen's Emma a try because of Clueless. Well, more accurately, I needed a Classic Romance for the Classics Challenge and THEN I picked Emma because of Clueless. I want to mention this right up front: I liked Clueless better. But hear me out.

If you're a semi-regular reader of this blog (or if you read my little About Me blurb) you'll know that contemporary fiction is my jam. But I really need to expand my reading beyond books that have been written since I was born.* Hence one of the reasons I signed up for the Classics Challenge. Sometimes I can get into the groove of different writing styles easily and sometimes it always stands between me and the story. The Woman in White was fine and I was on the edge of my seat during Marian the Ninja scenes. With Emma I could never get into the story. Maybe because it's less of a thriller, less sensational but I often found my mind wandering while I was supposed to be paying attention. I would say that I just can't do Austen, there's something about her style that keeps me at a distance from the story, but I was sucked into Pride and Prejudice no problem.

I can't decide if knowing about the Clueless connection helped or hurt. Because I did spend a lot of time figuring out who was who, which scene from the book matched up to the movie, etc. Maybe the book would have been better if I didn't do that. But then again, it was fun to do that so I don't care too much.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed a recent Tweet about a certain DVD I received. I realized the only copy of Clueless I owned was on VHS which is cute of me and all, but sort of useless. So I bought a dual DVD Clueless and Mean Girls and then made Boyfriend watch Clueless with me the other day because can you believe he'd never seen it??? This is why he needs me. I was very happy to see that the movie is as awesome as I remembered it.

So instead of actually reviewing Emma which I've been trying to do for days but have been failing, I've decided to talk about how Clueless relates to Emma which means I can spend a bunch of time talking about the movie instead. So this will be sort of spoilery, but really, you should already be familiar with Clueless.
Clueless and Emma or a bunch of connections you probably already know about if you've seen/read both of these, but that I'm going to write out anyway like I made some big discovery
Cher is a great Emma. She's narcissistic and shallow and yet still likeable. Likeable even though you know you probably shouldn't like her. Maybe because she's not outright cruel to anyone and she really believes she's being kind. And look how nice they are to their fathers.

Tai is an adorable Harriet. Unsophisticated in a world where status means so much. She desperately wants to be liked and is so smitten with Emma/Cher that she goes against her own feelings for Mr. Martin/Travis. She's like a lost puppy.

Josh makes such a perfect Mr. Knightly. And they kept that whole "he's sorta family, but not blood so it's not hillbilly" angle. The relationship still strikes me as sorta weird in the movie but I accept it because I love Paul Rudd. And that scene at that party where the Bosstones** are playing and he dances with Tai after no one will dance with her. JUST LIKE IN EMMA where Mr. Elton is a douche to her and won't dance with her even though he totally should have for reasons I don't totally understand because I don't really understand Regency propriety.

Elton is the best Mr. Elton. He's such a douche-nozzle in both. He's a super snob and sort of date rapey (in an Austen/PG-13 way). Plus I never understood why Elton would keep a picture of Tai in his locker just because Cher took the picture. BUT Mr. Elton kept the picture because Emma painted/drew it. And that makes way more sense. So I appreciate that detail of the movie, even if it was sort of stupid and not very logical.

How clever is the Christian/Frank Churchill thing? Now since I saw the movie first I was wondering how the hell they were going to make a character unavailable to Emma because he's gay and Austen doesn't seem quite progressive enough to include a homosexual character. And if she did I'm pretty sure that's the only thing I'd know about her. How smart was it to take a character that was secretly engaged (which wouldn't have worked in a teen comedy) and make him gay instead? He can flirt with Cher without it meaning anything, at least to him.

Now I didn't think the Mel Horowitz/Mr Woodhouse thing really matched up as well as the other characters here, but that's OK because I can't picture it working out any differently. Can you imagine a Mr. Woodhouse that is as much of a pitbull as Mel the litigator (the "scariest kind of lawyer")? At the same time, a hypochondriac Mel would never have worked. Or maybe it would have but I loved Cher's father's character so much I don't want him to be anything different. And in both cases the affection Cher has for her father comes through.
That is the end of the book/movie stuff.
So I prefer the movie to the book. I wanted to like the book more. But I just couldn't stay in the story. I kept getting distracted by literally anything else around me. I should probably give the story another chance but really it was eh.

Also another Classics Challenge book down!

*I also need to read less white people from the US or UK. Baby steps, people, baby steps.
**This note doesn't really add to the post, but I just like the Bosstones and this was the first time I heard them. Also I'm still convinced the dancing guy Ben Carr in the band was blackmailing the other members to let him be in the group and just do his dances. Now they are sweet dance moves, but really? That's all he does.

Title quote from page 70, location 1055

Austen, Jane. Emma. Public Domain Books, 2006. Oringally published 1816. Kindle edition.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bookish Wedding (sequel to bookish wedding invitation)

Hey, so remember when I posted about my friend's wedding and her bookish invite? In case you don't like clicking on links, maybe this will jog your memory.
Well that wedding was this weekend (I remembered to send her the RSVP card) and guess what? There were more bookish elements to the wedding! My friend saw me stalking the cake table with my phone out and asked if I was getting pictures for the blog, so she has given her blessing for me to share a few more pictures from her (awesome) wedding.

Check out the table decorations! Stacks of books? Check. Scrabble table number dealies? Yup. Confetti made from dictionary pages? You bet. Card catalogue table assignment cards? Oh yeah, those too!
Then there's the cake. My friend decided she wanted pie for her wedding because why the hell not? She wants her wild Maine blueberry pie and it's her party. BUT she did have a wedding cake. Or maybe a groom's cake. Anyway, she had a cake in the shape of a bunch of books
If you're curious (and of course you are) the books in that pile are, from the bottom up: El Juego Del Angel by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Dr. Who, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway and that monster book on top? Yeah that is his PhD theses to be. News to him that the dissertation is apparently supposed to be around 3,000 pages. Really, he probably should have stopped dancing and got back to work on that sucker. 

I missed getting a picture of their "guest books" which were actually a couple English-Spanish dictionaries. You pick a word you want to represent your happiness for the couple. Or you pick a word and have it relate to some stupid time in college. To-may-to, to-mah-to.

I want to thank my friend for the excellent time at her wedding, congratulate the couple again, and give an extra "thank you" for giving me another excuse to put off writing the Emma review* that I really need to get to (and the Branded review, and Ready Player One...). Mazel tov and all that jazz.

*I started it and good news! It's going to involve me talking A LOT about Clueless because I just watched it this afternoon. Consider this side note a little sneak preview.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Armchair BEA: Ask the Experts (or I'll ask you)

The final chair for Armchair BEA and first up I want to say this has been fun. I've seen some new blogs, talked about books and blogging and won a prize, so all in all, good week!
The last prompt is Ask the Experts: what questions about blogging do you want to ask fellow bloggers? Or maybe you don't have any questions but you'd like to share some advice about your blogging experience?

Oh man, do I have questions. Because really, this whole blogging thing has been trial and error (a lot of error) for me. So here are some questions I'd love to ask fellow bloggers. Obviously don't feel like you have to answer all of them. Or any of them.

What type of post (review, author interview, guest post, rambly-ness, lists) get the most views/comments? Are you surprised by the popular posts?

If you use Twitter, do you use it just for book and blog stuff? What about Facebook? Pinterest? Do you find the micromedia helps your blog?

What do you do about angry comments?

If you publish a post but then see a bunch of errors do you correct them? Or do you figure the post is in the wild now and those errors will teach you to proofread more carefully next time?

What do you do if you get in a reviewing slump? You have a bunch of reviews you need to write but you're just not motivated.

Tell me your secrets, blogging experts.

*I tried writing the second part of this prompt 3 times and this was the least angry version. Because really? You know it all and have no questions?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

IRL Book Experiences

Today's Armchair BEA topic about real life bookish experiences. And I suppose book reading doesn't count. Or maybe it does although that would be a boring post. And now I'm trying to figure out how you would read not in real life? Do eBooks counts? I think I'm getting off-topic.

Their examples are meeting up with fellow book bloggers in real life or attending book signings. I haven't met any fellow book bloggers in real life (yet but this should be remedied!!) but I HAVE been to a couple book signings. Oh, have I mentioned them? I have? Ad nauseam you say? Well, are you judgy. Fine, I'll keep this brief (and link to my original post) because I don't really have any other IRL book experiences/networking to share*.

I was lucky enough that in one month, in one week, both Jenny Lawson and Christopher Moore a) had new books out and b) were coming to NYC for book signings. Both events and books were amazing and I was outstandingly awkward when talking to both authors. At least with Lawson she was awkward too so it was cool. With Moore he was still cool about it, even when I mumbled "heyIreallylikeyourstuffpleasesignthis". It was still great and I would do it again. I hope to do it again. MOAR BOOK SIGNINGS.

What about you? What bookish networking/experience things have you done?

*I used to do a book club when I lived in Boston, but as I recently learned the club was renamed Wine club which is most accurate. We all read (or at least meant to read) a specific book but a lot of us only saw each other once a month so we spent most of the time catching up.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I didn't forget about Armchair BEA, I'm fashionably late

Oh so hey, did you guys know there's this BEA thing going on? You did? Oh everyone in the book blogging world knows because they understand how calendars work? Got it.

So BEA and the Book Blog Uncon are both happening near me. Because I'm in NYC. (Well I'm physically in NYC now and other times I live NEAR the place). You'd think I would have signed up because it is all the awesomeness. But I couldn't commit to actually signing up for one or both and instead I ended up doing neither because that's how I roll. BUT I was convinced to take part in Armchair BEA because I still want to play!
So post one, let me introduce myself:
Tell us about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you start this in the first place?
Hi, I'm Alley. Or Red. Either name. I'll answer to both. I've been blogging for 2 years this past May! Perhaps you noticed my post where I talked about forgetting my blogging birthday. Again. Missing events is sort of a theme. I started this because I was whining to Boyfriend one day (or several days) about how I wasn't really doing anything with this English degree I went through all of this trouble to acquire. He said I should start a blog and talk about books because then I could get back into writing and I could talk about something I love. The subtext was I could also quit whining to him about it, but he really should have known better than to think this would stop me from whining.

What are you currently reading OR what is your favorite book of 2012 so far?
I am currently reading Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers by Alissa Quart and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. And cos all the cool kids are doing it, I'll answer the other part of this as well. My favorite book so far is hard cos whenever I have to pick a favorite anything I get stressed out and my mind goes blank. So there's a good chance I'll have to change my answer but for now I'm going to go with Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson and Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore.

Tell us one non-book related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about
I like stupid reality shows. Not Jersey Shore style but more like Hoarders, Parking Wars, and now On The Fly (which used to be Airline but whatever, same show). I guess I like schadenfreude shows, which now that I've realized that sort of makes me an awful person. I also really like dogs. Does that even me out?

What is your favorite feature on your blog (i.e. author interviews, memes, something specific to your blog)?
Umm what now? I guess the only feature thing I do is my monthly reading stats each month. But that's not my favorite thing. So I guess my sporadic rambly posts? I like those.

Where do you see your blog in five years?
When did this become a job interview? Also I have no idea. I'd like to say it will only get better and more awesome and will make me lots of money without me having to do anything extra but that seems unlikely.

Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?
I may come back and fill in this question later, but for now I have NO idea and this will require me to look at past posts, which will take time. So for now, let's just say all of my posts are gems and you should probably commit them all to memory.

OK so Laura reminded me of this gem of a post about plot holes in Beauty and the Beast. It's not actually book related but it's full of important stuff people need to know.

If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?
I want to say Christopher Moore because I think that dinner would be hilarious if I could just stop stuttering for a few seconds. But given how the book signing went, that is unlikely. Also as people have pointed out I sort of gush about Christopher Moore a lot and I'm afraid that if I keep doing that I'm going to move into the Annie Wilkes realm of fandom. So instead I will go with fictional Thursday Next because she is also awesome AND she can talk about knowing all kinds of other book people.

What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?
Like in the real world? Or location in literature? Eh, I'll answer both.
Real world, can I go to Shakespeare-land? Shakespeare-land being Stratford-upon-Avon and also visiting the recreation of the Globe theater.
Literature, BookWorld! It's a world populated by all of literature and the fictional characters. Plus this way I can cheat and visit all of the literature locations. It's like meeting a genie and wishing for more wishes (or more genies if you need to get around any wish-related rules).

What is your favorite part about the book blogging community? Is there anything that you would like to see change in the coming years?
The community part. I love that it is a community and you get to "meet" lots of new people who understand a love of books and reading. I know I wouldn't have kept blogging as frequently as I currently do (if at all) if it wasn't for the community around it. In terms of things changing, maybe people could not get so up in arms about every bit of bookish drama (even if I enjoy reading those).

Have your reading tastes changed since you started blogging? How?
They've expanded. Books I would have passed by without a second glance are now on my reading list. I learn about new books that are coming out and get to feel superior when non-book people mention them. Even though I don't actually seem to read books during the hype, because I'm a rebel like that. And by "rebel" I mean "too cheap to pick up the new book because the hyped stuff isn't on sale yet".

You might understand that all the joy has gone out of the world for you...but you go on

I've mentioned a couple times now that I've been trying to write this review of Stephen King's Full Dark, No Stars and yet something kept getting in the way. Usually my laziness. The first thing I want to make clear is I didn't procrastinate on writing this because I didn't like it. Because I did. I also happen to think I have a pretty good excuse for putting this off a little longer, since technically this morning (Sunday) I was in Boston at a friend's bachelorette party* and had to go through all of the steps of sleeping (for a couple hours) then trekking my ass back to NY. But I will get this written! If only because I've already finished one other book and I've started too more. I don't want to get too far from reading this before I write down something. But if this post is just a rambly mess of nonsense, you at least know why.

So Stephen King, Full Dark, No Stars. I mentioned in my post about bookish shopping that I love me some remainder table books. Boyfriend and I were wandering around our local bookstore and I was about to leave without buying anything (gasp) when I decided I needed one more spin around the remainder tables. That's when I saw this King book and I thought "This sounds like a title I think I said I was going to read so I put it on my Goodreads list. I don't want to check my phone and see because I'm afraid the people working here will think I'm checking the price on Amazon or something, so I'll just get it." In case you're wondering, no, apparently I hadn't put this on my Goodreads TBR list, but that's cool because it was an excellent read anyway.

Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of 5 short stories. Or maybe 5 novellas? 3 novellas and 2 short stories? I'm not really sure how to make this distinction but there are 5 stories and the book is 386 pages long. Take from that information what you will. I've been burned by failed short story collections before** but I've had success with King short stories before so I was hopeful. I'm never sure the best way to review a collection of stories, so I'll go with some brief thoughts on the 5 different stories.

A man, Wilfred James, writes his confession about how he murdered his wife. It's a straightforward premise and there's nothing supernatural in the story but it feels like King. The story is a true tragedy. A single action (the murder of Arlene) sets into action a downward spiral for Wilfred and his son Hank. It's a gory story, at least in parts, and I spent so much time wishing things had just turned out differently for the character. Which I suppose is the normal reaction for the tragedy. "I wish you could go back in time and not do X so then Y won't happen." But of course, they can't go back. So I just followed the story wishing and hoping things would turn out OK, but knowing that isn't how things work out. The story is disgusting with an unlikable protagonist (he murdered his wife cos she wanted to sell the farm and move to the city and he didn't want to) but the story works so well.

Big Driver
When I was first reading this story I was really upset by it. I wasn't sure if I was going to finish it. In the end it was my favorite story, although certainly not the best one. I've gone back and forth deciding if this next bit of info is a spoiler or not. I've decided no, the story stays the same if you know this is coming (and you sort of guess it's coming). However, if you want to skip ahead, feel free. The reason the story upset me and I thought maybe I'll just skip this one is a violent rape scene. There are worse, more violent, more graphic rape scenes in other books, but that didn't make this one easy and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Which I suppose is the purpose so point King. It's not the best story because it's sort of contrived HOWEVER it's a revenge fantasy story so I acknowledged how unrealistic things were and decided I didn't care. It may not have been realistic but it felt better. I was cheering.

Fair Extension
This is the only story with supernatural elements. A man makes a pact with the devil, but it's not the typical Faustian bargain story. There's no moral. There's no lesson. It's similar to the first story in that it's a tragedy with an unlikeable narrator, but the supernatural element makes the difference. Overall I preferred the first one because it's more fleshed out but expanding on the characters in this story wouldn't have served the purpose. It did what it needed to do, what it wanted to do and I can't imagine it working differently.

A Good Marriage
How well can you really know someone? Even someone you've been married to for years? It's not a new question but I haven't seen it explored quite this way, from this point of view. I don't want to say too much because it would be easy to give a lot away. As things are revealed I kept hoping for a logical explanation, something other than what was staring me in the face. But even as I hoped for it, I knew that wouldn't be the case. Because if it was, then this wouldn't be a King story. This was excellent and disturbing.

Bonus story! Under the Weather
This was a creepy short story. It's only 15 pages long so there isn't a lot of time for character development. But like with "Fair Extension" that's not the point. However, I wasn't crazy about this story. It's weird and it's creepy but overall I was meh about it.

If I could identify any theme among the stories, it would be they all made me uncomfortable. But in a good way. Because if the stories didn't make me feel uncomfortable then I'm pretty sure I would need to check my moral compass.

*She of the bookish invitation
** I'm looking at you My Mother She Killed Me...

Title quote from page 42

King, Stephen. Full Dark, No Stars. Gallery Books, 2010

Friday, June 1, 2012

May Reading Wrap-Up

Another month has come and gone. This was a pretty successful reading month for me. I read not one but two challenge books. I read the new Christopher Moore book. I re-read a book I've already reviewed here, and this is the first time that's happened. I've done re-reads before but never for a book I already reviewed. But I was putting off reading Emma and I needed some Tina Fey.

Stats time!

Number of books read
Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art by Christopher Moore
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
Bossypants by Tina Fey (the link is from the original post I wrote last May)
Emma by Jane Austen

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors
100% (dammit, again? OK, me, this is really pathetic)

Percentage of US authors

Percentage of ebooks

Percentage of challenge books
40% !

Books written by decade
1810s - 20%
1900s - 20%
2010s - 60%

My reading is so white. So white. I need to fix this. And now I'm picking up a book about (mostly) privileged white teenagers buying expensive crap. I need to work harder at this...