Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magic and Virgins - Part Two of Two

Rampant, Diana Peterfreund.

Let me preface this by saying that I had no intention of loving this book. I had wanted to read it because it sounded interesting, despite the fact that it goes against everything I have ever believed. But I was going to wait for the paperback because didn't think the hardcover price would be worth it, blah, blah, blah. But. I've made an effort to attend more book signings and saw that the author was going to be at a nearby bookstore at a convenient time. This never happens. They're always horribly timed (for me). So I headed over just planning to sit in the back and watch. But there weren't many people there. Which was terrible. Because the author was adorable and brought cookies for everyone. But my guilt got the best of me and I purchased the book. After her reading and Q&A I had her sign it. Where I'm pretty sure I'm not making up the fact that I told her I've "pretty much" been stalking her. This is because she belonged to a group of young adult authors who got together this past spring and stayed in a castle for a week doing writer-type things and whatnot and I stalked all of them (via blog and Twitter) and am afraid that she ended up taking it more as a "I want a lock of your hair please" as opposed to "I think you're pretty awesome". I just want to clear that up for all of those who were not actually present. I definitely meant it in an "awesome" way.

So. Anyway. The book. The book is about killer unicorns. See? Interesting, right? So while I thought it sounded intriguing, I was a little offended as I was one of those girls who was always into unicorns. Probably to an unhealthy extent. I collected them. I had a nightlight, stuffed animals, various glass decorations, a t-shirt, a music box, pictures, etc.* I even used to tell my family that I would change the color of the stoplights with my "Unicorn Power", and I would bow my head as though pointing my horn at the light and whisper "change" under my breath. I think maybe one time in all of my efforts the light change coincided with my whisper and was enough to satisfy my belief in my powers.

That being said, I am a firm believer in the idea that everyone is entitled to her own opinion and we should always hear both sides of an argument, and if this woman wanted to hate unicorns than so be it. I started the book last week after I finished The Magicians. The book is about killer unicorns and unicorn hunters. (Actually, it's more about the hunters, but I'm finding it more fun to say "killer unicorns" than I thought I would.) The unicorns have been gone for a while, but they are staging a comeback. The only people who can hunt these unicorns are female, virgin descendants of Alexander the Great. I know. "What the crap?" right? That's what I thought. But as the story goes on, it's really woven beautifully into this myth that Alexander the Great could calm the wild beast (the biggest unicorn to roam the planet), and only his descendants can kill them.

There are varying degrees of unicorn, from small and goat-like to mammoth. The seek out the hunters and the hunters can feel them before they arrive. Like some magical power. If a unicorn horn (that's where the poison is) stabs a hunter, the hunter will heal quickly. But if the person stabbed is not a hunter (either not a virgin, male, or not a descendant of Alexander the Great), the person will die a horrible, painful death. The unicorns are not easy to kill, either. All injuries heal over before the next is even inflicted. They have to be extremely precise about their methods. There are serious injuries and doubts about all of this as the book progresses. There are also human villains and a boy that I kind of want as my very own. (Meaning - he's hot and he speaks Italian.)

I could not put this book down. I was up until almost 6am Sunday morning, having stayed up all night, to read this book. I can't remember the last time I stayed up all night to finish reading a book. So would I recommend it? Absolutely. No hesitation. It's awesome.

Magic and Virgins - Part One of Two

Magical Virgins? Perhaps.....

Two reviews today! Because I am that awesome.

First - The Magicians, Lev Grossman

I finished this book last weekend while staying up 'til all hours of the night with an ice pack on my face that did nothing to calm an infected ear. To take my mind off of things, I thought I'd go to Brakebills school with the magicians.

And it worked. For the most part. As I had previously assumed, I did not claim this book to be a favorite. It was interesting. There was a lot about what it means to get everything you really want and whether or not it makes any difference in the end. So, in the end, was this book worth it? Eh. I felt like it could have been chopped in half and had the same impact. Maybe even more of an impact. It was long and there were characters that seemed completely unnecessary. Magic learned that probably was used later, but it was never really clear as to what way. He really worked in every single fantasy book I could think of and it was fun to see them in a modern, more adult setting. Would I recommend this book? I think so. It's certainly not for everyone. And I felt that in an effort to make it appeal to adults there were some themes that seemed completely irrelevant to the plot. Also, there is an absurd amount of nudity. These kids are always taking off their clothes...

Which is a major contrast to my next book:

(See next post)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wrapped Up in Books

I swear I have been reading. But I have also been writing and will, as of this weekend, have a full and completed manuscript. It has evolved from random scraps of dialogue and character sketches into a full-blown story. And I'm super excited. It will need a lot of tweaking and editing, some filling in of various gaps, but this is all stuff I can work on as I go along with my critique group. A book. A real book. That I wrote! And even if it never sees the light of day, I am still pretty proud of myself. (Not to say that I don't want it to see the light of day. I most definitely do. But I'll try to remain realistic.)

In the meantime, I have been occupying myself with bits and pieces of multiple books. Like Bram Stoker's Dracula. Reading along with the "Infinite Summer" crew again, though I'll admit I'm a good bit behind. At this point I feel that I want to shake Jonathan Harker. When one finds himself imprisoned in a dark and scary castle, one doesn't think "Oh...how strange." One freaks out and tries to escape. I'm just saying. Though I have to say I laughed out loud when Count Dracula smashed the last mirror after grabbing Jonathan by the throat and Jonathan's reaction was, "Now how will I shave?"

Also in the "on-line book club" category, I started Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. I'm much further behind there than in Dracula, but it's not for lack of interest. What I've read so far has been fascinating and it reads like a dream. I can't say I've caught on to a single strand of plot thus far (if there even is one), but the words themselves are enjoyable. That being said, it's a difficult book to pick up for just a few pages each night. I will get through it though.

Third on the list I have The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I read one single glowing review of this book and immediately purchased it. Sometimes I'm spontaneous like that. I can't say I would have picked it up were I just looking on my own. It's about a magic school and it incorporates elements of all of your favorite fantasy novels but it's not for kids. I don't think I'll put it down and claim it to be one of the best books I've read, but I'm definitely enjoying it more than I thought I would and as it's easy to read and doesn't take much thought, I find that it's getting a bit more of my attention than the others.

Finally, since my grandparents are moving from their house into a condo, my grandfather is at a point of having to get rid of all of those books he's been hoarding. Having visited him this past weekend I found myself the lucky recipient of two boxes full of books on historical events and theology (from his years as a Minister). I dove into Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. I'm not much past the biography section, but I am fascinated by this man and his life. He stood up for what he believed despite persecution and imprisonment. His words are simple but meaningful; not clouded in philosophy the way G.K. Chesterton books are (though I love, love, love Chesterton). I'm looking forward to being inspired.

More thoughtful reviews as I finish. I feel as though I've been reading nothing these days.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Am in Here

I have finished my second reading of Infinite Jest. I finished it exactly one year after David Foster Wallace's suicide and approximately thirteen months after finishing it the first time. When I returned it to my bookcase last year I did so with a feeling of accomplishment. Yet I claimed I would probably never read it again. I felt that it had been worth it. I loved the book and would tell anyone who asked how amazing it is, what a genius the author was, how it was, in short, just a mind-blowingly phenomenal book about addiction, love, relationships, depression, and tennis which just so happens to be set in the not so distant future when years are named for products and Canada has been alienated and there is a fight between US and Canada for a film they refer to as "The Entertainment" which is so beautiful and moving that upon watching the viewer becomes comatose. And there are feral hamsters. Because that seems like pertinent information. That's what I would say. You know, if forced to summarize. Though that hardly even touches upon the content of this book.

When I heard about Infinite Summer I found myself growing intrigued. It took me a year to get through the first time. Did I think I could finish it in three months? Would it be worth it to try again? Ultimately I decided that it would. I picked it up and started reading at the end of July. It was a lot easier this time around. I was able to make connections that were missed the first time. I followed the multiple story lines a lot more easily knowing that they would eventually converge. Much of it had been forgotten and so there were plenty of surprises. As people began to finish and complain about the underwhelming ending I was upset. I thought that I remembered being disappointed, but I didn't think it was as terrible as everyone was saying.

Then I got to the last page. I finished the last sentence and said out loud, "That can't be it!" I was distraught. In my head I had created a scene that didn't exist based upon hints of other scenes that had only been mentioned in passing. I had built an entirely different ending for the book and found myself again in slack-jawed disappointment. So I did what many others did. I opened it up again to the beginning as those first pages are really the end. Maybe my scene did exist, I thought. But it didn't. There is no real resolution. We never know what actually happens.

Or do we? This is where we find that the book is so aptly named. Because I know the answers exist in there somewhere. And as I realized that my scene was not in that section I wanted to keep going. To read the whole thing again to find the answers, to pick apart the clues and come up with a suitable, satisfying ending. But I set it aside again. Maybe next summer. Maybe every summer until I find what it is I'm looking for. Unless I wind up comatose on the couch, the book open in my lap, drooling and bleary-eyed.

Next - Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Because I seem to be going through a masochistic phase in my reading.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

You guys: I am so caught up re-reading Infinite Jest that I have not been reading anything else. Stick with me, this will be a while.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

So I've finished an adult novel. I'm not sure what I expected from Geek Love, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around how I felt about it. The overall concept is intriguing. It begins with a married couple who work as the heads of a carnival. Tickets sales are dwindling and they feel that the way to make the "Fabulon" great again is to create their own shows. And I don't mean calling in all nature of freaks. I mean quite literally creating their own. They take pills and Crystal Lil sips on drug cocktails while pregnant. Their first son is nothing more than a torso with fins. Next are the Siamese twins. Third they have the albino hunchback dwarf (Olympia, who for all intents and purposes, is the narrator), and finally there is Chick: the one they almost left by a gas station in some small town off the trail of their tour. In between were the ones who didn't make it and are kept in jars in their various stages of life. The kids take turns, along with their mother, cleaning the glass and making them shine.

The outcome of their experiment surpasses even Al and Lil's expectations, and not necessarily for the best. A religious obsession begins to form around Arturo the Aqua Boy. With cult-like fanaticism people begin following the carnival from town to town, rest homes rise up as people lose their limbs and can no longer travel. Followers beg for the opportunity to be operated on by Arty's personal doctor, to lose a toe or foot and more until they are nothing more than a torso like Arty. But what is he teaching them? That to truly value life and appreciate yourself you need a deformity? If you already feel like you're different, you may as well show people how different you are?

Despite their issues I loved these characters. From Arty's megalomania and the twins' vain jealousy to shy Oly the dwarf. And Chick. Especially Chick. To say anything about what made Chick special would be to ruin the book. It's a mystery to even the reader until about halfway through.

In tying up loose ends Dunn explores further, through a newer character, how perfection can be your downfall. That to truly experience what the world has to offer and to live up to your potential, it is essential to take away everything that makes you good. Miss Lick shows Oly a slew of people that she has helped. Miss Lick, being fairly "norm" herself, has turned beauties into monsters in an effort to let them live a life of productivity. A prostitute can be a doctor, a stripper an astrophysicist, if only they can lose the one thing keeping them in their current life. To gain everything, you have to lose everything. Or at least that's what Miss Lick would have you believe. In the end, though, Miss Lick loses everything and gains nothing and the lesson is taught by the most unlikely of teachers.

I think I really loved this book. Yes, think. It was disturbing and creepy and it almost feels wrong to say that I enjoyed it. The characters and the world they inhabit were created so beautifully that despite how unsavory everything was it was impossible to put down. The life they led was so incestuous and perverse, but based on how they were created anything else would have seemed unnatural. When it ended I longed for an epilogue, to know the reactions of the characters left behind. But as it was, the ending was perfect and right.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dull Boy - Sarah Cross

I am so close to being finished with Geek Love. I promise my next review will be about an adult book.

Until then, here is another YA. I really loved the premise of this book. A boy discovers an unknown strength and is constantly in trouble for breaking things (including other people). He tries to hide it, but then ultimately meets others who also have secret talents or gifts and they band together to form a sort of Superhero Alliance, sometimes against their will. They find situations in which they can use each of their unique gifts and attempt to better the world. Because what else is there to do with super powers but fix everything that's bad?

I love the characters. Sarah Cross does an amazing job at giving each one his or her own voice and quirk. Characters will make or break a book for me and these definitely made it. I don't want to call it a twist, but toward the end I found myself completely convinced that things were going to go the opposite way and instead it all went in the way I had hoped (the *right* way, if you will). There is, of course, an evil villain who is just perfect in her role and title. The Ice Queen is certainly that.

More than anything else, I think I appreciated this story due to my own not-so-secret desire to be a superhero. In college (of all places...) I even created my own superhero identity (which never really caught on for obvious reasons). After waking up every morning and finding a new bruise, I was convinced that I was actually a sleep-flying crime fighter, taking down the drunks and miscreants who wandered the hilly streets of town. My sidekick was a fiery redhead almost twice my height, yet somehow I got top billing. Not that I'm complaining...

Anyway. Great debut book and I'll definitely be interested to see what's next.

Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace

I've probably mentioned many times to various people of my love for this book. It took me almost a year to read it through for the first time and that time was probably the third or fourth time I picked it up.

After finishing it I may have claimed that the book was pretentious. But it's not at all. The book is smart, it is beautifully written, it sees into ordinary things and makes them relevant and relatable. I felt like it should be pretentious due to length, due to the literary discussions and references. I felt like as an English major I had been required to love this book. But I don't love it because I should. I love it because Wallace was a genius and his way with language and his observations of life are amazing.

So. I am reading it again. Along with other people. And this time I will embrace the book and love it because I can, not because I must. I'm so excited to see what other people have to say as they read along. Some for the first time, some for the fourth or fifth. Care to join us?

(And in preparation for my cruise, I'm totally reading his cruise ship essay again. Maybe it will just be a DFW summer, not simply an Infinite Summer.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia

I still have not finished The Chronicles of Narnia. But I am so close. I am on the final one and am finding it difficult to pick it up for the last time. Not because I'm so sad to let go of this series, but because upon skimming through the first couple of pages I did not recognize any of the characters.

I understand that the series is about the land. Now. I mean, I understand that now. But I went into this hoping to follow the Pevensie children all the way through. I was forgiving with The Magician's Nephew because I knew that background needed to be established. But as Lewis slowly did away with the Pevensie kids I was really disappointed. Just when I came to love them they were told they were too old for Narnia.

Overall, I like the conversational tone of the books. It's as though my uncle or grandfather is sitting on my bed telling me a story as I fall asleep. That being said, I do think that the writing talks down to the reader a bit. But, it was a different time. Also, I'm 26. Lewis did a phenomenal job creating a fantasy world and I admire the dedication it takes to create something so unlike what we see everyday. The religious themes are much more evident than when I was 11 and first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but not overtly so.

This is definitely a series to be read in full (I mean, I'm sure I will feel the same when I finally finish), and I'm sure I will refer to and cherish it for a long time. I wish I had given it another chance when I was a little younger, but I'm grateful that I have found it now.

An Abundance of Katherines

It seems that John Green is somewhat of an idol among the YA population. He has his own followers who call themselves Nerdfighters. Obviously I needed to know what all the fuss was about.

An Abundance of Katherines follows a guy named Colin as he heads out on a random road trip after his most recent break-up with a Katherine. Since a very early age he has only dated Katherines and even the most insignificant (the shortest relationship lasted three minutes) count. Colin is too smart for his own good and over analyzes things to the point that they become meaningless (in my opinion). But with the help of his best friend and a brief encounter with a town called Gutshot, Tennessee, Colin learns about the important things in life. And those things are not always necessarily called Katherine.

I thought this book was adorable. I don't think it converted me to Nerdfighter, but it was definitely enough to make me want to follow up with Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. As one who runs from anything involving numbers, I found the math sections tedious. But I don't think they took away from the enjoyment of the overall story.

Would I recommend it? Probably... Though I think I'd wait to read another of his books first and see if I could recommend that one instead.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Promise This is Relevant

When I was younger, around four or five, my mom had a friend who had a daughter named Kristin. My mom used to send me to spend the day with Kristin. Kristin was a few years older than me and I am positive I annoyed her. There is an age when a girl wants to be seen as more grown-up and doesn't want to be followed around by a five year old. So she used to play games which would occupy me for hours and during which she could go and do what she wanted. Most of the time this game was hide-and-seek.

One particular day I searched for Kristin everywhere. In closets, under beds, even in places where we weren't supposed to be. I couldn't find her. I vaguely remember crying. (I was young and she was missing.) Then, finally, she reappeared. She handed me a quarter and said that the quarter was a gift from The White Rabbit and she showed me that she had one also. Somehow my quarter ended up behind a dresser, though I have no recollection of how this happened.

Regardless, Kristin told me that she had just been to Wonderland and that she had met not only the White Rabbit, but Alice, the Madhatter, and (AND!) Dorothy. That's right. Apparently there was a special Wonderland in which all fantasy characters played together. Kristin told me that she entered this world through the closet. I told her that I looked for her in the closet and saw nothing. "That's because I was in Wonderland," she said. She told me that for some reason I could not enter Wonderland that way but that I was not to worry. There was another way. All I had to do was sit by the bathroom window, hold my special quarter, and call for Alice. Alice, or someone else, would then come and get me and they would walk me over the rainbow. I must have done this for hours. Hours. Eventually Kristin told me that I must not have been able to go because I was using her quarter and not my quarter (the one that had mysteriously fallen behind the dresser). I was defeated and depressed and to this day I can come up for no explanation as to where Kristin had been hiding. I looked in the closet multiple times and I definitely saw her walk out of the closet when she decided to end the game. It's not that I believe she actually went to Wonderland. But where did she find the quarters and why could I not see her?

I knew the references to The Wizard of Oz and to Alice in Wonderland. To meet Dorothy would have been a dream come true. My mother always used to lose me in department stores because I would hide among the racks of clothes, pretending they were haystacks, and sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." But it wasn't until I was reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this weekend that it suddenly occurred to me that Kristin must have read that book and that's how she knew to use the closet as an entry-point to Wonderland. Realizing I would have been too young to have heard of Narnia she stuck with the places and people I would know.

This whole thing has a kind of surreal quality to it. I can offer no explanation for Kristin's disappearance. I have to give credit to the girl for being creative enough to put those things together and have me believe it all. I have to give her credit for coming up with an elaborate scheme to entertain me and keep me from bugging her. Part of me, at age 26, still wants to believe that she did go to Wonderland. That she really did meet all of those characters. Part of me wants to be Old Uncle Digory, excited to hear her adventures. But then the logical part of me returns, reminding me that the entire thing is completely illogical. I am an adult. I work in a law firm. There is no room in my life for magic and fantasy.

But then again....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Next up on my list is The Chronicles of Narnia, (each book) read in the proper order. I purchased the whole large collection (I have a weird thing for collections) this weekend on a random trip to Borders (a new Borders I just found when I randomly decided to drive to Frederick, Maryland for no reason at all only to purchase a milkshake at McDonalds and turn around to wind up at Borders). This might be my new favorite Borders though the distance is a bit much for a trip to a bookstore. But these words are irrelevant.

I started the book Sunday night and am now a few chapters into The Magician's Nephew and I am absolutely loving it. The last time I tried to read any of the Narnia books was when I was in sixth grade. I found The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to be insanely dull and vowed to stay far, far from Lewis. But after seeing the movies (which, truth be told, I did not love but do find myself oddly enthralled by and will stop whenever I see them though I will not purchase or rent on my own), I've decided I wanted to read the whole series. It's exactly the kind of book I love. Magic, mysterious old people, odd friendships, secret passages. It's perfect. I'm excited to get deeper into this new world.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Order of Odd-Fish, James Kennedy

This weekend I finished The Order of Odd-Fish. I picked it up because I came across James Kennedy's blog and found him to be hilarious. The book did not disappoint in that regard.

The book begins in a home that I would very much like to visit, The Ruby Palace. It belongs to our protagonist's (Jo) aunt who was a successful film star in her younger days before she disappeared for forty years. She returned to her home with no recollection of where she had been and found a baby with a note that that alerts her that the baby is Jo and she is dangerous. Now Jo is 13 years old and her aunt is throwing another wild party. Jo is hiding and watching people when she notices a strange man dressed as a colonel and he seems to be looking for her. This is the beginning of a journey that takes them out of the desert, into the belly of a fish, to finally wind up in Eldritch City.

The author is really great at characterization. Each character has his own peculiarity and I was never confused as to who was speaking. Each time a new character was introduced I felt immediately drawn to that character and his or her back story. Unfortunately, only a few lived up to the potential they had been set up for. The book was, at times, overly silly. But in context it worked well and was easily forgiven.

For being a middle-grade book, I was a little embarrassed by how many of the words I did not know. This is great for those in the intended age range. James Kennedy is obviously very intelligent and very creative. I think it is a great read for those still in school and while I found it enjoyable (enough so that I would read anything else he writes), I don't necessarily think it's one that adults will enjoy in the same way as other younger reader books.

Wow, please forgive these elementary school reviews. I promise for the next book to have something of substance that actually mentions something about the book!

Sometimes I Lie...

Watership Down! I read it! It was....okay. I have more complete thoughts written on paper, but I am just ready to do this and forget about it. So please forgive my elementary book report.

I was skeptical immediately. A book written from the point of view of rabbits? Seriously? It suddenly made sense why this book was assigned to middle school and junior high classes (though not my middle school or junior high). The plot was simple. Fiver has a sense that alerts him to danger so he rounds up his brother, Hazel, and a few random rabbits and guides them to safety. The encounter danger and obstacles (I never knew rabbits were so violent). They persevere. They tells stories and have their own God and myths and language.

Overall, the book was well-written and well-researched. Richard Adams must have spent months observing rabbits. I found myself growing bored with their stories by the end (the stories of El-Ehairah and Prince Rainbow) and never really found a relevance to the main story. I rolled my eyes a few times at various words and phrases (written down on paper as examples, but not here...sorry) as human characters would never even speak in that way. The rabbits kept reminding the reader that they were only merely rabbits and therefore did not understand certain things (such as water and boats), and I don't believe it was necessary.

I'm sure there is more to this book. Something about community and trust. Maybe something about courage. But whatever it was was buried and did not leave the book with me.

Final opinion - it was okay. I'm not sorry that I read it, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it or reach to read it again.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Because I am a slacker on this blog, I bring you a meme! Tonight I will be back with something good. A review of Watership Down! Stay tuned. And until then, read this.

1. What author do you own the most books by?
This would go to either Neil Gaiman or David Foster Wallace.

2. What books do you own the most copies of?
I've downgraded things a bit so I got rid of any multiple copies. There are a few books I've had two copies of... Alice in Wonderland I had in paperback and in my Collected Works of Lewis Carroll. Romeo and Juliet existed on its own and as part of my Collected Works of Shakespeare. I have two copies of Price and Prejudice - one in e-reader and the other in paperback but only because the e-reader copy was free.

3. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
My girl crush on Elphaba from Wicked is certainly no secret. As for others...I definitely went through a Harry Potter phase. And an Edward Cullen phase. But mostly I fall for the fictional characters that my teenage self would have fallen for. I can't think of any amazing male characters I have had crushes on. I'll have to work my way through my bookshelves and find someone.

4. What book have you read more than any other?
Gone With the Wind. I used to read it once a year. It's a thrift store copy, the cover is held on with Scotch tape, it's old and yellowed and I absolutely love it.

5. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Either Just as Long as We're Together by Judy Blue or A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L'Engle.

6. What is the worst book you have read in the past year?
Others have been afraid to say, but I am not afraid. The Road. NOTHING HAPPENED. I've heard people say the end was very moving, etc., but one can only be moved if she can actually make it to the end. I did not make it to the end.

7. What is the best book you've read in the past year?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The characters are exceptional, the story is exceptional, everything about this book is exceptional. The story is moving and I didn't even have to suffer through to the end (which I did anyway, though I'd hardly call it suffering). It's real and gritty and beautiful.

8. If you could tell everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Why are so many of my favorites centered around a war?

9. What is the most difficult book you have ever read?
Infinite Jest. Oh, the footnotes. I had to keep a separate bookmark in that section so I could keep flipping back. The subjects range from grammar to physics to tennis and filmography. The speaker constantly changes and they are all in separate corners of the narrative. It took a long time to read and the ending was abrupt and did not feel final, but it was great and so worth the effort. I think I would read it again. Many years from now.

10. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I would say the Russians.

11. Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Hm...In college I took a Shakespeare class and a Milton class, but never felt a great love for either. I've only read one story from The Canterbury Tales and I don't even remember which one it was...is there a woman from Bath in there? I guess I'll go with Shakespeare based solely on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with Leo and Claire.

12. Austen or Eliot?
Austen. I have never read Eliot. That should have been on my 100 list...

13. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
The Canterbury Tales. Everyone has read The Canterbury Tales. That or The Pilgrim's Progress.

14. What is your favorite novel?
I hate this question. Next!

15. Play?
The Glass Menagerie or A Streetcar Named Desire

16. Poem?
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - T.S. Elliot

17. Essay?
I can't remember the title, but it's in David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Funny Thing I'll Never Do Again and it's about fiction writers/television and Joe Briefcase.

18. Non-Fiction?
Does Stephen Colbert's I am America (And So Can You) count as non-fiction?

19. Graphic Novel?
The only graphic novel I have read is Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw. I liked it and if I could be led to more in that vein I would try reading them.

20. Science Fiction?
Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut

21. Who is your favorite writer?
Neil Gaiman (currently)

22. Who is the most over-rated writer alive today?
See above "worst book read this year" for the answer. Cormac McCarthy. I just don't get the appeal. I hated The Road, I didn't read the book but I hated the movie No Country for Old Men. Two of the most boring stories I have ever encountered. I must be missing some underlying themes or brilliance...

23. What are you reading right now?
The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy, Children of the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holliday, and whatever I pick up next for my 100 list.

24. Best memoir?
I don't typically read memoirs...though I totally want to read Tori Spelling's books.

25. Best history?
Uh...I need to broaden my reading horizons.

26. Best mystery or noir?
And, see above.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Too Many Books on my Shelves

I recently downgraded from one and a half bookcases (five shelves each and each shelf stuffed to capacity) to just one bookcase (full and stuffed to capacity to the point of exerting effort to pull one out). I thought, I have a Kindle now. I will rarely buy real books. Then this weekend I purchased four books.

Interestingly (or maybe not) each of these books is about the Holocaust. Three were intentional, having been purchased at the Holocaust Museum. The other one, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, was purchased in Barnes and Noble. That's irrelevant though. I don't think that saying I am fascinated by the Holocaust is an appropriate phrase, but it's such an interesting period of time. It's close enough that most of us know people who were alive when it happened making it one of the first major events that my generation can relate to. My grandparents (though not together at the time) were in the Ukraine when the Nazis invaded and for fear of being rounded up (as dark-haired Ukrainians they were afraid they'd be mistaken for Jews) they fled the Ukraine and ended up in a German work camp. They met and took an Army boat to Ellis Island before settling in Pittsburgh. My grandmother tells me all the time about how much she used to love to sing and how the Germans loved it when she did. I just hope I have more time to listen to her stories. They are not all as happy as that one, but they are essential to our history and must not go untold. Even if it is just for family.

A (fiction) book essential to any reading about the Holocaust is The Book Thief. Such a ridiculously amazing book. It brings tears to my eyes just to think about it. Read it. It will forever change your life.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman

Last night I finished Neverwhere as part of my quest to read every book Neil Gaiman has written (with the exception of the graphic novels). All good stories contain a journey, and Neverwhere contains my favorite type.

In the vein of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, Neverwhere introduces Richard Mayhew who finds himself stumbling along an ordinary existence when he is suddenly plopped into the midst of a life he never imagined existed. This is not a children's fantasy adventure, taking a Gaiman-esque turn for the dark and violent underground as opposed to mad tea parties and wicked witches. Instead we have our protagonists running from hitmen, beasts, sewer people, and beautiful women in velvet dresses. His guide into this life is a girl named Door, the eldest daughter of a powerful family, on her own quest to discover the truth behind her family's brutal murder.

In London Below, the lines of allegiance are blurred and every character seems to owe another a favor. When he is continually learning who to trust and who not to trust, Richard Mayhew must confront his fears and find a strength he had never known. He is on a journey to regain the old life that he once knew all while coming to terms with the fact that this life he had never known might be the one he cares about most. Instead of the nobody Above, he has become the Somebody below and this will make all the difference

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Book Thief

I have stolen this from another. I have made a list of almost 100 books to get through in a year but realize that is being overly ambitious. So to span it out over five years is an awesome idea. Here is what she says (beginning with describing the directions as she also stole the idea from another):

"She collected a list of 100 books that she wants to have read in her life to fill in some of her reading gaps of classics and great contemporary fiction. She knew it was a monumental task ahead of her--we all tend to choose fun things instead of things we should read, right? At least I do--so she gave herself 5 years to try to get through the list, and gave herself 25% accident forgiveness, meaning if she finishes 75 titles in 5 years, she'll consider herself to have been victorious."

My list was generated by the following criteria:-snobby classics I've always wished I could tell people I'd read, but would never read otherwise because I can't imagine enjoying them (these will probably end up making up the 25)-books that I've bought and owned for a long time, but haven't read because they're reeeeeally long and I am easily daunted by length at time of reading-and some books I've been curious about and keep forgetting to buy/read. Obviously, other books will be read as well, but I will mark each of these off and update my progress periodically. I've kept some of the ones Moonrat has, but edited most. I have not included anything I am predisposed to love. Not that these are all books I think I will hate or have no desire to read. I want to read them. I just keep putting them off in favor of others. But hopefully, over the span of five years, I will get to each.

1. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
2. Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
3. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
4. Watership Down, Richard Adams
5. Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
6. Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco
7. This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel J. Levitin
8. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
9. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
10. After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Aldous Huxley
11. Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon
12. The Art of War, Sun Tzu
13. Girlfriend in a Coma, Douglas Coupland
14. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
15. Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell
16. The Curtain, Milan Kundera
17. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
18. The Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell
19. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
20. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyoder Dostoevsky
21. White Noise, Don DeLillo
22. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
23. The Trial, Franz Kafka
24. The Razor's Edge, Somerset Maugham
25. The Monkey Wrench Gang, Edward Abbey
26. Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
27. Travelling Mercies, Anne Lamott
28. The Lake of Dead Languages, Carol Goodman
29. Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs
30. The Professor and the Madman, Simon Winchester
31. Misfortune, Wesley Stace
32. The Divine Comedy, Dante
33. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
34. The Areas of My Expertise, John Hodgman
35. Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
36. The Iliad, Homer
37. The Odyssey, Homer
38. The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman
39. Think, Michael R. LeGault
40. How Language Works, David Crystal
41. The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson
42. The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell
43. The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem
44. Going After Cacciato, Tim O'Brien
45. Survivor, Chuck Palahniuk
46. Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood
47. The Immoralist, Andre Gide
48. On Beauty, Zadie Smith
49. The Plague, Albert Camus
50. Ulysses, James Joyce
51. Dark Tower, Stephen King
52. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
53. The Rainbow, D.H. Lawrence
54. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
55. The Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford
56. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
57. The Chronicles of Narnia (whole series), C.S. Lewis
58. The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker
59. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
60. The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow
61. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tokien
62. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
63. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
64. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
65. Rabbit, Run, John Updike
66. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
67. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl
68. Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky and Sandra Smith
69. Paris to the Moon, Adam Gopnik
70. Three Lives, Gertrude Stein
71. The Giver, Lois Lowry
72. The Collected Works of Lewis Carroll
73. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
74. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby
75. Nation, Terry Pratchett
76. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
77. Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor
78. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
79. The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
80. Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
81. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
82. Wrinkle in Time series (I've only read the first two), Madeline L'Engle
83. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
84. Fool, Christopher Moore
85. A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon
86. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
87. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
88. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
89. Man Walks into a Room, Nicole Krauss
90. A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
91. The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
92. Black Boy, Richard Wright
93. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, Tom Robbins
94. The Women, T.C. Boyle
95. World War Z, Max Brooks
96. Unaccustomed Earch, Jhumpa Lahiri
97. Netherland, Joseph O'Neill
98. Firmin, Sam Savage
99. The Ghost in Love, Jonathan Carroll
100. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

I'm pretty sure there are no doubles on that list...

Anyone else want to join in? :)

Hello Kindle

I have discovered that Amazon has free books for the Kindle. There are a few classics (Pride and Prejudice is one I should definitely own in both forms if it is free) and a few very random selections. These random selections are the ones I enjoyed most. The free books do not come with descriptions like the books we pay for so I am forced to choose by title alone. I now have 19 books on my Kindle, only two of which were paid for. There are titles such as:

Joe Strong The Boy Fire-Eater or, The Most Dangerous Performance on Record by Vance Barnum (obviously going to be awesome);
Trips to the Moon by Lucian of Samosata (who doesn't want to go to the moon?);
The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells (IN the moon? How have I not heard of this?);
The Wits and Beaux of Society by Grace and Philip Wharton (I have no idea what this is, but it looks like a sort of societal magazine from the late 1800's);
Memoirs of the Court of St. Cloud by Stewarton: Being Secret Letters from a Gentleman at Paris to a Nobleman in London 1805 (Again, no idea); and
Punch, or the London Charivari (looks to be another magazine with short articles of the time (that time being 1917).

There's a chance that a majority of these will be deleted immediately, but new items to read for free is always a good time. Reviews will be posted on an ongoing basis.