Friday 26 October 2007

47. The Woman in White

No picture for this post, unfortunately - I'm at an internet cafe on the Tottenham Court Road in London, UK and the computer I'm using won't allow me to post photos to the desktop so I can upload from there; it also won't recognize my USB key, to which I could potentially save a photo.

I'm at a chain store of internet cafes here called easyInternet, which were new and very sparkly the last time I was in London (2000). Since then, it appears as though none of the computers have been changed and many either don't work or, like this one, are slow and have issues.

Right now, I too feel slow and like I have issues due to a really bad case of jet lag. I left Toronto on Wednesday night and basically everything went wrong; but more of that anon, either in an email to friends or on my travel blog.

I started reading Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White at Pearson Airport and I'm about 230 pages in now. It's very enjoyable and the great villain, Count Fosco, hasn't even been introduced yet! There is a great deal of mystery and curious goings-on; there is also a great deal of foreshadowing promising terrible things to come. In short, it's exactly what I've been in the mood for and as a strange symptom of my extreme jet lag, the book seems more real to me than anything that's actually happened to me in the past 24 hours; everything is fading from memory except the book.

I found some amazing used bookstores around Piccadilly Circus last night but fortunately/unfortunately I have 400 pages left in The Woman in White and 3 other books with me already.

Monday 22 October 2007


I started this blog in March and until this past week have never had any trouble with it. But with my last two posts, even though I have my settings programmed to recognize hard returns as paragraph breaks, I haven't been able to make the spacing appear on the published post.

I was able to do so with the post on The Lovely Bones a few days after I originally posted it, but only by deleting the original post and re-posting it. Now, it's happened again with my post on Stephen Crane and it's making me a feel a little crazy.

As well, with my travel blog, for 2 days it wouldn't let me post photos - more than half the point of that blog is to be able to post photos!!

Okay, I'm done ranting for now but if either of these issues continue I may, sadly, have to consider other venues.

Sunday 21 October 2007

46. Great Short Works of Stephen Crane

I finished The Lovely Bones and have decided I need to go back to reading the classics and genre fiction for awhile because contemporary literary fiction (except for David Mitchell, of course) is disappointing me quite intensely these days.

I don't know if Sebold's book got more and more horribly sentimental or if I reached my breaking point for it at some point, but as I read I got increasingly irritated. It got so bad that, frankly, I became a bit embarrassed to be carrying that damned bright blue book around; I didn't want everyone witnessing my shame and displeasure.

I decided on Stephen Crane who, if not a classic writer, is at least an old writer - he died in 1900. And it did seem promising. When Scott suggested this book to me several months ago, he convinced me to buy it by pointing out the first line of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets: you must admit that "A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley" is a pretty great start.

Unfortunately, I didn't find that Maggie delivered anything so compelling as what its opener promised; I thought it was stilted and a little boring. I've also read 4 of the 8 short stories included at the end of the volume; I thought "A Mystery of Heroism" was a pretty good story but found the other 3 fairly forgettable.

I won't be taking this volume with me to Europe so I'll have to finish it when I return. What I am taking with me, and what I can't wait to start reading, is Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. I've been aching to read a fat Victorian novel and so picked up an old ragged copy of Collins' novel for $4 - this way, I won't feel badly if I lose it or have to abandon it for weight reasons along the way.

Friday 19 October 2007

The Toews Effect

Well, it's happening - I am very quickly getting turned off The Lovely Bones. I was killing time reading it yesterday before meeting a friend for tea when I realized I would really rather be reading a nice fat Victorian novel; I've just been deprived of Victorian lit for too long.

I went to Seekers, one of the best used bookstores around (in part because of the crazy people that hang out there) ,and picked up Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. I almost got Dickens' Dombey and Son instead to take with me on my trip; but in the end, I balked at buying a book (even for $4.50) that I already have at home. (We have a complete set of Dickens inherited from my hubby's grandmother which I can't really take overseas, but I promised myself I'd read it as soon as I returned.)

My disillusion with The Lovely Bones increased after I got home last night and read some more; I was reminded again that there's only so much sentimentality I can handle. I may just be getting sick of the story, but I wonder if Sebold's writing isn't losing the energy it had at the beginning of the book. In any case, I'm now looking forward to it being over so I can move on to Collins...

Thursday 18 October 2007

45. The Lovely Bones

There are some books that people just rave too much about; in response, in my infinite maturity and wisdom, I tend to dig my heels in and avoid said books - maybe not like the plague, but at least like a serious flu. I often don't relent on this (I will never read The Da Vinci Code!!), but sometimes I break down and give a much lauded/publicized/gushed over book a try - hence, why I'm now reading Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones.

I have to say, I was worried, for when I do break down and read books at the centre of public book club hysteria I am very often disappointed. (The Kite Runner, for example, is one of the worst books I've ever read; you have to be a particularly talented author (and by talented I mean not talented) to make characters flatter and more clich├ęd as a book progresses).

I have to say, though, that so far, The Lovely Bones is a very pleasant surprise. Part of why it's a pleasant surprise is that the authors takes such a risky approach - the narrator is a 14-year old girl who, having been raped and murdered, watches from heaven as her family, friends, and townspeople try to come to grips with her disappearance (in the narrative where I am, it's two months after her death and all they've found is one of her elbows).

But The Lovely Bones, for all its goodness as a read is not free of the startlingly difficult. I've had a lot of teary moments with this one, but that's to be expected; if I didn't, then Sebold wouldn't be succeeding. Unless something goes horribly wrong (as it does sometimes; I was really enjoying Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness a year or so ago but then halfway through just began loathing it), I'll probably check out Sebold's other books one of these days.

Saturday 13 October 2007

44. The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy

It's shocking, isn't it, that this is my first taste of Douglas Adams' wacky world of literature? I honestly don't know how it is that I've never read his stuff, what with my quest over the years for comic novels. I recall Melinda recommending him to me in either junior high or high school but can't remember thinking of him much after that.
Then, the year I taught at Trent, one of my students gifted me an Adams omnibus, but I never got around to reading it. I felt squeamish somehow about carting such a stupidly large tome around in public (don't ask; I can't explain).
So, I got a cheap paperback copy of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy through BookMooch to deal with my handicap. Thus far, it's very silly and I'm therefore enjoying it very much; Vogon poetry is particularly compelling, as is Arthur Dent's explication thereof.
Semi-segue: I was at the University College book sale on Friday and picked up some books, including a sweet little 1934 copy of Northanger Abbey for $2, owned previously by a Jeanne L. Orr of Havergal College. More impressively, I got an 18-volume, limited edition set of Balzac's fiction published in 1901 (translated into English for Philistines like me). It was only $150; more surprising than the price though is that anyone would sell them to begin with. I had to get one of the volunteers to help me carry these books downstairs where I could grab a taxi; he told me that he loved the Douglas Adams books (rather a weak connection, isn't it?). But he was a lovely man who also loved books and told me that he didn't have a cell phone (we were scrabbling around for a pay phone) and was proud to remain a Luddite. Hear, hear!