Friday, 31 July 2009

Cloacal spewings in the face of Providence

It's the Friday before a long weekend, and it's sunny and warm, and half of Toronto has already disappeared into the wilds of cottage country. That is to say, it's a slow afternoon in bookstoreland and I'd like very much to take a nap now, having foolishly turned down a friend's offer to bring me a caffeinated beverage of extreme deliciousness (coffee).

I am so sleepy right now (courtesy in large part of some soft, 30-something grunge-mo kids singing and playing gee-tar outside our window around midnight) that I believe this post is going to consist of an introductory qualification, a mostly uncommented upon quotation from the book in question, followed by an outdreductory qualification and then my head on the desk + snores.

Here comes the "This is why I love Flann O'Brien" quotation promised above. Just so you won't be completely lost: The narrator, Finbarr, is speaking with his uncle Collopy about what the former's brother (described generally as "the brother") is doing so secretively and to such great financial effect. Collopy is highly suspicious of the box of books the brother has just had delivered. (Apparently, circa 1896, get rich quick schemes might include book-selling and publishing. I was clearly born at the wrong time.)
-...if those books are dirty books, lascivious peregrinations on the fringes of filthy indecency, cloacal spewings in the face of Providence, with pictures of prostitutes in their pelts, then out of this house they will go and their owner along with them. You can tell him that if you see him first. And I would get Father Fahrt to exorcise all fiendish contaminations in this kitchen and bless the whole establishment. Do you hear me?

- Yes, I hear.

- Where is he now?

- I don't know. He is a very busy man. Perhaps he is at confession.

- The what was that?

- He might be seeing the clergy on some abstruse theological point. (pp. 67-68)
Oh, Flann/Myles/Brian (pseudonym/pseudonym/realonym), I do adore you, even if The Third Policeman made my brain catch on fire. I adore the fact that every book you wrote is completely unique, i.e., you didn't write The World According to Garp or Joshua Then and Now over and over again like SOME people I could name. The Hard Life is distinguished from the other O'Brien books I've read by comprising a straightforward narrative with no melting walls or fun-makings of Anglo-Saxon epics. It was mostly dialogue like above and it was all incredibly pleasing.

Herein ends the outro, which means I am now almost asleep AND am I caught up on books recently completed but not yet beblogged.

Also, I know what the word "cloacal" means because of David Attenborough. Which is kind of creepy.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

A mesmerizing state of ruin

Early in his memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, Orhan Pamuk describes some back alleys in the poorer part of town as being in a "mesmerizing state of ruin" (p. 37). As Pamuk's exploration of his native city and his place in it progresses, first as a self-absorbed child, then as a fraught adolescent, and finally as a successful author considering this past, it becomes clear that Pamuk sees the whole city this way.

Indeed, for him (or his narrator - as always, Pamuk plays tantalizingly with the limits of the projected self, even in what purports to be an autobiography of sorts), its beauty is necessarily bound up in this decay, in part because there seems to be no other choice for Istanbul in its post-Ottomon empire life. This beautiful and slow destruction makes Istanbul something both more and less than the more affluent European cities that many Istanbullus would aspire to turn their city into; in any case, Pamuk makes it seem entirely unique.

Of course, even as Pamuk sets up the terms on which we're apparently supposed to comprehend the city of his birth and life, he constantly undermines and ironizes those terms, especially when they move in the direction of exoticization, which they frequently do and which travel writers have tended to rely quite heavily upon in describing this city.

Istanbul, then, besides being a memoir is also Pamuk's attempt at literarily, sociologically, and historically analysing what it means to be an Istanbullu, but more specifically, what it means to be Orhan Pamuk of and in Istanbul.

This may seem horribly self-involved and with any other writer, I may well have felt so but I find Pamuk's peculiar narrative psychology (evidenced both here and in the novels of his which I've read) in combination with his brilliant writing to be generally irresistible (except for The New Life, which I just can't get through for some reason).

I find him so compelling, in fact, that even though I know I couldn't possibly experience the Istanbul he describes, both because of the changes time wreaks on cities and because I'd always be looking at it as a tourist, this book still made me want quite eagerly to go to Istanbul, which hadn't been very high on my list before. That, or I want to seduce Orhan Pamuk. Maybe both.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

He asked me, "Does not Volume 1 of James lay heavily on your conscience?"

Cyber-spacial Thomas asked me this cutting question about a year ago, when I'd already been reading Volume 1 of Henry James' Collected Stories for 6 months or so. Not surprisingly, the answer was a "yes" followed by my donning a hair shirt which I only managed to take off last Thursday night when I finally finished this book.

Taking a year and a half to read a book was not good for my soul. I like closure. I enjoy looking back, in my mind, on a completed book almost as much as I like reading it in the first place. I also am not good at reading multiple things by a single author in a short period of time; and because James' idea of "short" fiction meant something like "less than 300 pages" I feel as though I've read about a thousand Henry James novels since March 2008.

HOWEVER, I have to say that as the volume progressed my pleasure in it increased. James' writing was superb from, I suspect, the moment he first put pen to paper, which was likely when he was about 4 hours old; but it got exponentially better as time passed (this volume is organized chronologically) and there were countless moments at which I stopped to re-read and re-read just startlingly beautiful or perfectly observed (usually both) passages.

While I enjoyed everything in this volume (well, almost - I don't think I'll ever be reconciled to "Daisy Miller"), two stories in particular stuck out for me: "The Aspern Papers" and "The Chaperon". "The Aspern Papers" was, to me, quintessential James in its look at what social boundaries one may in good conscience (or at least good appearance, which too often amount to the same) cross in pursuing artistic goals; like so many of James' stories, this one exhibited all the quiet and civilized cruelties humans can enact upon one another while remaining beautifully picturesque.

"The Chaperon" began in a similarly harsh way but ended in a surprisingly positive manner; it didn't focus as entirely on the "brutality...bright and finished" (p.1030) as the majority of the tales in this volume did. But its happy ending was purchased at such an expense of cynicism, cruelty, and closed-mindedness that I can barely wrap my head around it; I do know that I think it was perfect and astounding and SO good that as I was reading it I was also considering launching directly into volume 2 of James' Collected Stories in the hopes of finding more like it!

I will not do this, of course. For one thing, I clearly need to work on my neuroses concerning how long it takes me to finish any particular book; for another, there are some short stories by Gogol and essays by Montaigne and writing journals by Dostoevsky that have all been understandably reproaching me for my neglect of them. If I'm going to engage in more super-long, guilt-ridden collections soon, they'll have to be decidedly not Henry James-ish in nature.

But whatever my next massive "feel-bad even though the writing is amazing collection" is, I won't begin it very soon because I plan to enjoy, for as long as I can, the incredibly novel experience of having only one book on the go at a time.

Thomas emailed me a few days ago to congratulate me on having the James millstone removed from around my skinny neck and he included the following quotation from Henry James, Sr.; it's from a letter to his sons, William and Henry. Thomas forwarded this to prove to me that, contrary to my suspicions about James selling his soul at the crossroads for his writerly gift, it does seem to have been an example of quite enviable genetic lottery winning:
Every man who has reached even his intellectual teens begins to suspect that life is no farce, that it is not genteel comedy even, that it flowers and fructifies on the contrary out of the profoundest tragic depths of the essential dearth in which its subject's roots are plunged. The natural inheri­tance of everyone who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters.

Friday, 24 July 2009

The Reading Lamp: Oregon kicks ass yet again

Gabe may not have much time to read his own books, but he always has time to read to his kidlet (see below) and to help his fellow Oregonians (Oreganos? I like it!) explore the rich literary scene right in their backyards with his Reading Local (Portland) site.

All you midwest, central, east coast, southern, hyper-northern, international, and other-wordly readers better start representing here on The Reading Lamp - otherwise, the west coasters are going too easily to be able to argue that the west coast is the best coast when it comes to being reading fiends. - Colleen

Your name:
Gabe Barber

What are you currently reading? My upstairs book is Life, Inc. by Douglas Rushkoff. The book I grab while I'm downstairs is Lost Dog by Bill Cameron.

Where are you reading them? I'm a bathroom reader. It's about the only alone time I get being a stay-at-home dad. Hope that's not too graphic...

What do you think of them so far? I have just started Lost Dog, so I can't really comment on that as of yet. But Life, Inc. is proving to be highly informative and scary at the same time. Rushkoff got the idea for the book after he posted to a community discussion board about getting mugged, and then receiving replies from other members of the community that he shouldn't post such things because they would detract from their home values.

He wanted to know how people got to the point where they cared more about the value of their homes than they did about a neighbor getting mugged. I'm sure that there are embellishments throughout the book in order to make the point, but I think the main message of the book shouldn't be lost.

How do you choose what to read next? Most of the time I will read a few books in a row that are all on the same topic. For instance, after I'm finished with Life Inc., I will probably read one or both of Naomi Klein's books. Or just recently, I read 1491 by Charles Mann, and then followed it up with Jared Diamond's books.

Do you generally borrow books or buy them? Why? I have to buy books, because I rarely if ever will read a book when I first bring it home. It usually sits on the shelves for awhile before I come back to it. This would be a quick way to rack up all kinds of overdue fees. Plus, I hope to have an expansive personal library at some point before I become ashes, so I will need a bunch of books to fill up all the shelves I envision having.

Favourite childhood book? I really loved My Side of the Mountain. In fact, it led to these elaborate plans to run away with a 6th grade friend into the mountains that surround my hometown of LaGrande, OR. Needless to say those plans were laid to rest when we realized there would be no MTV or recess involved.

Who do you talk to about books? I have a book group I organize as an extension of Reading Local, and we focus on books from local authors. As part of the group I try to get the author to attend, since they are local. This has been a great way to not only discuss the book at hand, but also to learn about the process that went into creating it, and any other books the authors have coming out.

If you'd like to be featured on The Reading Lamp, drop me an email at colleen AT bookphilia DOT com!


Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Hilarious kinky

My bro Roger asked me a long time ago to indicate, when blogging about a book, where I'd discovered the book and/or author. Unfortunately, this is something I've generally forgotten to do, maybe in part because it's not usually an interesting story: the majority of my reads are based on others' suggestions.

But Yan Lianke's Serve the People! is an excitingly successful product of what I will henceforth term Library Roulette: i.e., I was browsing in the gorgeous Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library and saw this. I noted I hadn't heard of either book or author and that I liked the cover. I didn't do a page 40 test. I didn't do a page 1 test either. I didn't read the back cover. The front of the copy I read didn't loudly proclaim that Serve the People! is "BANNED IN CHINA". I simply picked it up and checked it out and then I finally read it.

Yuri warned me that it's a dangerous world and I shouldn't engage with just any book, but my promiscuous experimentation has paid off this time. (NOTE: Yuri and I both realize that my gun metaphor and his skank metaphor are not compatible, but we stick by their unlikely marriage here.) Serve the People! is as funny as its effusive and sufficiently bribed back cover copy says it is. Set in the late '60s in Mao's China, this novel tells the story of Wu Dawang, a soldier in the People's Army, and his love affair with the Division Commander's wife, Liu Lian.

They imagine they're the most counterrevolutionary people in the world by 1) engaging in frequent and kinky adulterous sex together, 2) desecrating in various ways and ultimately smashing all the Mao paraphernalia in Liu's house (punishable by death!), and 3) repeating 1) here because 2) turns them on so much. All told, Liu and Wu have a really pretty excellent two months together before Liu's husband is due to return from the army business elsewhere that's allowed them to be alone so much.

In fact, their love, which they take very seriously, is laughable in part because of how seriously they take it but more because they're being manipulated like puppets by the Division Commander from afar. (And maybe Liu; it wasn't clear to me if she was complicit at all, and if so, how much.)

Serve the People! is a good, funny story with a drop of mean. Its writing and translating were also good. As well, I liked the way the narrator kept interjecting to confidentially confer with me about the little drama we were watching our erstwhile and green lovers enact:
...matters had now swung from the deadly serious to the unimaginably ridiculous - to a level of absurdity beyond Wu Dawang's own comprehension, but still artistically consistent with the fantastical parameters of our story. (p. 87)
The book constantly vacillates between the "deadly serious" and the "unimaginably ridiculous", so much so that ultimately they can't be considered singly. Yan's narrative world is both pathetic and beautiful, silly and profound - perhaps this is the the ultimate in realism, even when Yan is calling attention to the constructedness of his narrative.

In case I haven't said so: I really enjoyed this book. Thus fortified, I now dive back into Henry James - 106 pages and 10 days to go.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Le Roi et mort, vive le Roi!

Oh, hello. Yes, it has been a little while, hasn't it? Well, you see, I've been in medieval France reading what is considered to be one of the best Arthurian romances of all time and even when they're short, I find the romances are never fast reads.

The Death of King Arthur (author unknown), was both short and a not-fast read. It was not, in my opinion, one of the best medieval romances ever written. It was good, don't get me wrong; but it wasn't Chretien de Troyes good. (But what, besides Chretien de Troyes? Sometimes Chretien de Troyes isn't even as good as Chretien de Troyes...)

The Death of King Arthur featured King Arthur much more than any other olde Arthurian tale I've ever read and for that reason alone it was compelling. He was actually integral to the tale instead of just always hovering on the edges while people like Gawain get themselves into various kinds of binds.

In this romance, Arthur is exceedingly old and given not only to making bad decisions, but also generally to ignoring reality in favour of believing that he and his kingdom will last forever and ever, amen. In particular, his inability to accept that Lancelot is cuckolding him and has been for a long time, even when confronted with embarrassingly obvious proof, is mirrored in the other obvious fact he refuses to acknowledge: that he, his kingdom, and the era that he defined are quickly losing their cultural power and significance.

The waning of the Arthurian era and the culture that defined it is reflected in the king's sexual and political impotence as well as the unravelling of the culture's two central tenets: chivalry and courtesy. Chivalry is seemingly alive and well what with all the battle scenes, but is shown to ultimately negate itself as Camelot's two most noble knights - Gawain and Lancelot - end up fighting against rather than alongside each other; and later, again, when Arthur is mortally wounded on the battlefield by his bastard son Mordred, and Lancelot just wanders away from battle in grief and ends up spending his final years cloistered.

Chivalry's decline is precipitated, I think, by the unsealable cracks in courtesy that quickly present themselves in this story, in particular, the way in which Lancelot is convinced that he is faithful and loving to King Arthur even as he continues to deceive the king about the fact that he's sleeping with his wife - and Arthur rather too courteously allows him to do so, so as to avoid considering what it says about his ability to rule in his 92nd year.

Obviously, there's lots of interesting stuff going on in The Death of King Arthur but for me, the interest was almost purely cerebral. It was not such a good read that I often found myself forgetting I was reading. Clearly, this isn't a requisite for everyone but it's really what I want right now: STORY, in all caps.

My husband has recommended that I jump forward in time again with my French literature project and check out The Three Musketeers if story is what I'm about these days. I say, the man's a genius and I will follow his timely advice and also make him carrot raisin muffins.

(No more progress on Henry James but I still feel confident that I can finish it by my birthday! )

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you this special bulletin

Here's some sweetness: Moony over at The Book Lover just passed on to me the One Lovely Blog Award. Teh cute! I think it's awfully nice of her because "lovely" isn't an adjective I would have chosen in relation to In any case, thank you, Moony! It's nice to get some love.

The deal with this award, though, is that I pass it on. My favourite blog writers get to post or not post this frilly thing on their own website, as they see fit. And they are:

Amateur Reader - AR would be getting this award from me just because he's chosen the best title, like, ever - Wuthering Expectations - but his blogging is super-fantastic too. His reading lists are endlessly interesting and new to me, and his writing kick-ass.

Rohan - This is the only blog I read with any regularity that is allowed to remind me of my former academic life. Novel Readings is penned by a Real Live Victorianist! and her musings are a pleasure to read, always. Any other musings on academic topics, however, give me hives.

Geoffrey Chaucer - Didn't you know that the father of English poetry hath a blog? Well, he doth. He doesn't post often and sometimes the topics make me a little itchy but come on! This nerd takes the time to write extra-long sermons on various topics in Middle English. Have I mentioned that I think nerds are hot?

So, there you go. Some love in the blog world. And friends, I need all the love I can get right now. Why? Because there's a garbage strike in its 3rd week raging in Toronto. I go outside and I can't always see the garbage but boy, I can smell it. And sometimes I do see it and it makes me sad; here's a photo courtesy of my dear hubby:

That's Queen Street West, which is usually awesome. Sigh.

Besides blog award lovefests, I am going to depart even more from our usually scheduled program here at to give you a random list of words, words that I think are gorgeous or hilarious or in some way empowered to counteract the evil that is seeping into my nose courtesy of no garbage pickup. Here we go, in no order.
  • Rubbish (ironic, isn't it?)
  • Pants
  • Leafy
  • Doily
  • Cozy
  • Aphasia
  • Asterisk
  • Dolphin
  • Plum
  • Scream (for some reason, I think this word is hilarious - in grade 4 (I think) I got detention for laughing uproariously in class because the book I was secretly reading under my desk contained the word "scream")
  • Bloated
  • Flotsam
  • Brash
  • Brusque
  • Aviator
  • Flood
  • Flute
  • Bragadocious
  • Mingle
  • Mellifluous
  • Aardvark
  • Frantic
  • Falafel
  • Bluesy
  • Jezebel
I could go on all day. Share the love, peeps - what are some of your favourite words?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

I feel weird

Apparently, if I want to read books un-fraught with uncomfortable ideological weirdness, I shouldn't go for the kiddy lit. I picked up The Cricket in Times Square last week during my yard sale road trip extravaganza near Parry Sound. It's one of those classics I managed to miss out on and so I decided to expedite the reading of it.

I read it yesterday and today at the store (interspersed with Henry James - see below for an update!!) and it's made me feel confused and a little upset.

I think the next bit is plot spoilerish
Things didn't start off in a complicated way: The Cricket in Times Square began simply as a story about a country cricket who, through a horrible accident of fate (and as retribution for his covetousness - kidding! sort of), ends up being transported from rural Connecticut to New York City. He's rescued by a boy who works in the subway station at Times Square, where his family owns a newsstand.

Chester cricket likes the boy and quickly makes friends with Tucker and Harry, a mouse and cat, respectively, who also live in the station. Things are going well, if predictably, when Mario (the boy) decides to get Chester a cricket cage, for which he must go to Chinatown.

It's Sunday and so nothing's open except for Sai Fong's novelty shop; at this point, Selden becomes a racist muthafucka for a little bit. I cringed, I winced, I hissed, I covered my eyes. Here's how Sai Fong responds when Mario asks if he has any cricket cages and shows him Chester (up to this point, slumming it in a match box):
"Oh velly good!" said Sai Fong, and a remarkable change came over him. He suddenly became very lively, almost dancing a jig on the sidewalk. "You got clicket! Eee hee hee! Velly good! You got clicket! Hee hee!" (p. 45)
Making Sai Fong imbecilic in the most racially stereotypical way is then counter-balanced by making him seem wise and sage in the other most racially stereotypical way. Having told Mario about the first cricket ever created (by the gods), Sai Fong says (in response to Chester's chirp at a key point in the story) "Ah so...Clicket has understood" (p.50). Oh no you dinn't! You dinn't just drop the "Ah so"!! Oh, but you did, George, you did.

At this point, I almost gave up on The Cricket in Times Square but I decided to see what else it had to offer (plus it's really short) - and it got better. I think this is actually a very good book for the childers when Selden isn't working out some of his issues with Chinese immigrants. In fact, there's one scene near the end of the book that I liked so much I wept a little over it! Chester turns out to be a musical genius and can learn any song by heart just by hearing it once. To make up to Mario and family for almost accidentally burning down their newsstand, he becomes their dancing monkey, providing concerts every day in the subway for thousands of enthralled fans. Indeed, everyone's so quiet one day that his music can be heard above ground (via the grates or something) and something amazing happens. Check it:
Traffic came to a standstill. The buses, the cars, men and women walking - everything stopped. And what was strangest of all, no one minded. Just this once, in the very heart of the busiest of cities, everyone was perfectly content not to move and hardly to breathe. And for those few minutes, while the song lasted, Times Square was as still as a meadow at evening, with the sun streaming in on the people there and the wind moving among them as if they were only tall blades of grass. (p.140)
I'm a little bawl baby, I know. I wouldn't say I like to cry, but it sure happens a lot, even with books I'm not so sure about. But I think the utter impossibility of this moment made me sad. A few years ago, I was walking through the busiest subway stop in Toronto (Yonge and Bloor) on Xmas eve. The buskers that play in the subway here have to be licenced and so are often very good.

One of my favourites - a 40-something man who plays an er hu (I think) - was there playing the most ridiculously beautiful stuff ever (as he does, but he was really going for it that evening). I stopped and listened and actually closed my eyes and when I opened them all I saw was the usual Toronto subway scene: everyone looking pinched and annoyed and hurrying like hell to get somewhere because being where they are is never no good. It made me sad for Torontonians.

My, I am a maudlin one, aren't I? Here's some good news:

HENRY JAMES - T MINUS 106 PAGES and 18 DAYS!!! (As a challenge, this does seem a little ridiculous all of a sudden, given the progress I've made in the past two days - but I've got 2 library books on the way and one in hand and I worry about the lengths I might go to to avoid reading James, even though I always enjoy him. There's just so much of him, and all at once.)

Sunday, 12 July 2009

If you're in Parry Sound and need good reads...

I have a fair bit of catching up to do so this post is going to be crammed full and displaying all the characteristics of a split personality. Besides telling you about bookstore heaven and hell in Parry Sound, ON, I need to briefly discuss a few books I've recently read...and one which I've abandoned.

Last weekend, I went up north for some sweet cottage r&r. Parry Sound (pop. approx. 6000) has two bookstores (that I saw anyway). One is awesome and one terrifies me. The good news first.

Bearly Used Books is on the main street (of which I can't currently remember the name) and it is just what you'd expect and hope a small town used bookstore to be: low prices and a lot of fiction. For my tastes, it didn't have nearly enough literature but I did pick up a few Ellis Peters books there. Also, the owner was super nice and the place was packed.

My friend Jason, who I was with, bought a Grisham novel and I laughed at him a lot. But he repaid me at the end of the weekend by laughing at me for reading at a normal human pace, when he'd expected me to read 39 books in my brief stay at cottage heaven central. What can I say? Sometimes deck chairs can be too comfortable, and spontaneous napping is both required and irresistible.

Parry Sound Books is the town's purveyor of new books and I didn't like it. It's not that it didn't have some books that I would read, it's that it felt like the Stepford wife of bookstores. It felt very sterile and controlled, like a hotel gift shop (and I would know, having had the misfortune of working in one.)

While working at said shitty job (it was in Halifax), I read a book on sale there that I can't recall the name of. It was about press gangs in Halifax and in it there was a description of someone being flogged which made me nauseous and pale. The boss thought that would be bad for business and so ordered that employees could no longer read the books on sale there. You will be terribly surprised to hear that I quit that job completely sans notice and guilt.

Anyway, about Parry Sound Books. It had a great location and pretty good decor but the atmosphere was icky because it was so obviously geared towards the cottage/tourist crowd and everywhere there were cheap do-hickies that kids of tourists like. I'm sure if I lived in Parry Sound, I'd just learn to love the place, but as one of the tourists it was ostensibly geared towards, I wanted to run away crying.

Luckily, Parry Sound also has a really nice library, which is surprisingly big given the number of people who actually live there. And the coolest thing about the Parry Sound Public Library is that the kids' section has a gigantic boat right in the middle of it, a boat filled with books. Yaaar, that be my kind of boat! (I was trying to look terrified and on the verge of shipwreck in this photo but by the time Angela snapped the shutter, I just looked really drunk. Le sigh.)

The other place to buy books in the Parry Sound vicinity is to go to the eleventy thousand yard sales that take place every single Saturday. We went to all of them and I got a cartload of goodies for the bookstore and a few for myself. We did so much driving that day between yard sale events that I managed to read the entirety of the incredibly lengthy and dense Esio Trot, by Roald Dahl.

Esio Trot's a particularly strange one, I think. It's got the usual pleasing Dahl whimsy but it's about a guy who tricks his neighbour into marrying him by kidnapping her turtle and replacing it with increasingly larger turtles, all after he gives her a made up magical spell to help him grow. Er, what? This is creepy on several levels. Perhaps it's a big seller at Parry Sound Books, eh?

I also began a silly vampire book on the bus up to the cottage and finished it at the cottage: part two in Barb & J.C. Hendee's Noble Dead saga, Thief of Lives. As you may recall, I read the first book, Dhampir, at a rather low mental point but it was enjoyable so I figured I'd keep going with the series.

Thief of Lives was good but not as compelling as Dhampir. But maybe Dhampir wasn't good and I was just much more desperately in need of escape when I read that one? I don't know. I was irked by certain plot choices in this one. I wondered if I should bother with the third one, but suspect I'll eventually get to it, the next time I need some silly fun.

Also, I took Pride and Prejudice and Zombies back to the library unread because I found the first few pages too gimmicky to bear; so I had to find another library book, stat! and this was it.

I also began a famous classic of SF while kicking back in the clean air of northernish Ontario (and which I finished a few days ago): Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz. This was an extremely enjoyable novel. I think had I read it when I was a teenager it would be in my top 10 of all time. As it is, I respect it highly as a post-apocalyptic nightmare that had a lot of disturbing relevance to its time (published 1959) and was a great story AND was well written.

I think what I loved best about this novel was Miller, Jr.'s examination of how relics become sacred...based as these processes so often are on complete misunderstanding. I thought it was a fascinating look at the ways humans use the past and why it's so important to us, even as we imagine we're evolving and leaving it behind.

And finally...the book that I've closed the cover on. I'm feeling disappointed in myself for this one but it can't be helped. As I mentioned last week, I think, I was going to be reading Charlotte Bronte's Villette in order to participate in Rohan's summer discussion thereof over at The Valve.

That won't be happening and here's why: I read the first 8 chapters as per the schedule and then on Tuesday, I went to The Valve and read the comments already there and tried to say something coherent myself and then went back later...and started to freak out. Because even though it's not school, it felt like school and I couldn't deal. It's too soon. But not only can I not participate in this event, I can't even read the book, dammit, for after freaking out upon reading the comments, I freaked out again when I tried to go back to the book! :( Sad times.

But I'm going to try to do the optimistic thing in response to this backsliding: my plan is to finish my Henry James short stories by my birthday, which was 3 weeks from yesterday!!! It's more than possible as I have only 210 pages left - but then it's been more than possible for months now. So, friends, I'm going to need your help. Send me pep talks to help me put the Henry James to bed! I'll post updates on my progress that will look like this:


Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Curious/Creepy: can't we try just a little bit harder?

Aha! So, I had occasion yesterday to take the subway during rush hour and was given the opportunity to behave like a creep and gain several book-reading sightings. Curious/Creepy is down but not entirely out, friends, so give it the love it deserves. All these books were being read between 4:30 and 5pm on the northbound Yonge line. (For all you non-Torontonians, this may be translated as "exceedingly f***ing crowded".)

Filthy Lucre by Joseph Heath. I don't know this book at all, but I commend both its title and its cover. Especially the cover, which makes me think of a crazy and amazing novel co-written by George Orwell and P.G. Wodehouse. You know you want to read that book too.

In fact, Filthy Lucre is non-fiction, and is all about helping people gain even an iota of real knowledge about how economic systems work. This is one of those "I feel like I should read this but I can't because it's not a novel, which yes, I know, makes me a lazy git" kind of things. I'm not going to read this. Unless the author, who teaches at the University of Toronto, emails me and tells me why I should, even though I'm allergic to non-fiction. Yes, Dr. Heath, that's a challenge from Dr. Shea, who like you, can't do anything about medical emergencies on aeroplanes but went to school for a horribly long time.

Incidentally, the woman reading Filthy Lucre book was a dirty hippy.

Shopaholic and Baby by Sophie Kinsella. If the person reading this schlock had also been a dirty hippy, I might possibly have become too happy to live. Alas, she was very sleek and expensively dressed and I laughed in my black, black heart at her for lo, she was still riding public transit with the rest of us grubby poor folk.

I know I'm a snob and close-minded - also, I hate shopping, even when I'm flush with cash - but how could shopping as a central trope possibly make for interesting fiction? I just feel as though the popularity of Sophie Kinsella's books must herald the end of days complete with the full locusts, plagues, and horsemen bundle.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. I'm much more allergic to books that look like this than I am to non-fiction, Dr. Heath, so don't give up before you even try. Even though American Wife looks like a 1950s how-to book for newly married young women with no clear idea what to do after being instructed to shut their eyes and think of England (er, in this case, Abraham Lincoln's eyebrows), it's actually a novel. And according to the Amazon dot see-ay, not a very enjoyable one.

Well, duh. But seriously, I think there was a movie made out of this "Now my husband's the president, look how beautiful and well-coifed my life is!" starring Annette Bening long before Curtis decided she (yes, she) should blow the book world apart with this novel. Having seen the time-travelling film adaption of this one (plus the cover), I think I won't pick this one up for my own TBR pile. Unless TBR stands for To Be Rended.

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer. This is book number something or other in the immensely popular Twilight series, which I also will not be reading. Why, you ask? I am generally rather surly and resistant when confronted with things that are this popular but that's not actually why. I like me a good vampire story and so wouldn't say no if the Twilight books were good. But I did a few page 40 tests and oy vey! the Meyer makes Jasper Fforde look like a ffacking genius! The writing is too much of the shit.

Indeed, a friend of mine who lurves the vampire books like no one else, told me she read the Twilight series but tried to hide them when she was perusing them in public because they embarrassed her. I think the young lady I saw reading Eclipse yesterday may have felt the same, for it took me a lot of creepy doing to find out what she had in hand. The dust jacket was at home and her hand was placed protectively over the spine; only by staring intently at her did I find out what the book was, when she briefly shifted positions to let someone sit down next to her. (No, not me! I'm not that creepy...yet.)

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. People come into my bookstore approximately every 3 days asking for this one and I never have it. This book is so popular that the only thing it now requires to be declared a saint by the Vatican is to be chosen for Oprah's book club.

No, I haven't read this one either and am not like to. I am curious and the fact that it's received mixed reviews (the less than positive ones coming from people who aren't afraid of being tarred and feathered) make me more inclined towards it. BUT I won't read it ever, because I can't. I simply can't because I recently learned that Lawrence Hill is the brother of Dan Hill, who used to sing excruciatingly terrible love songs in the 1980s (or was it the early 90s?). When I see The Book of Negroes, I get an awful earworm that begins with the plaintive lyrics

I see your face cloud over like a little girl's
And your eyes have lost their shine

You whisper something softly I'm not meant to hear
Baby tell me what's on your mind

This is how committed I am to my art, my blog art, let's call it my blart - I knew I'd get this wretched ditty in my head if I wrote out the opening lyrics for you but I had to, so you'd know why I can't read Dan's brother's novel.

Friends, I don't know when I'll have the opportunity to take transit at a busy and flustered time of day again, so it might well be another 6 months before I skirt the line between merely curious and disturbingly creepy but when I do...prepare for some more abuse being heaped upon books you may well adore. Until then, peace, love, and happiness.

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Reading Lamp: not internet pr0n

Raych is the queen of the book blogging world and now she's here on The Reading Lamp. I would start hyperventilating a little if I weren't too wrecked from my cottage weekend. (No, the irony of being exhaustilated from vacation doesn't escape me. But then I do *heart* irony.)

Also, I swear I didn't pay her to say that you should immediately drop everything to read David Mitchell's Black Swan Green but because it's Raych, you should do what she says.

Your name:

What are you currently reading? Jose Saramago’s The Double.

Where are you reading it? ON THE DECK IN THE SUNSHINE in an teeny bikini, but I have an irrational fear of being turned into internet pr0n, so alls you get is my sheet-toga.

What do you think of it so far? Remember how you saw The Ring and then burned all the VCRs in your house so that you wouldn’t die, only to realize that you needed them to watch The Jungle Book because Disney hadn’t released the DVD from the vault yet, and so you bought a new one? You will burn that VCR again.

What is the one book you love so much that you can’t be objective about other people not loving it as well? Have disagreements ever come to blows? The Chronicles of Narnia. If I ever meet Philip Pullman I will make out with him for having written His Dark Materials and then I will punch him dead in the face for the things he’s said about Narnia.

How do you choose what to read next? Book blogs, yo. Book blogs will sneak up on you and make you read books without your permission. I just placed a hold on The Knife of Never Letting Go because Nymeth posted the Nietzsche quotation that opens the NEXT book in the series, and which scared the ever-living hell out of me and also which I will reproduce for you here:

Battle not with monsters
lest you become a monster

and if you gaze into the abyss
the abyss gazes into you.

THE ABYSS GAZES INTO YOU!!! Sleep lightly, kids.

Do you generally borrow books or buy them? Why? I borrow. We are both students with no gainful employment on the horizon. Also, we move every six months or so, and for every box of books he has to carry to the van, I think my husband loves me a little bit less.

Favourite childhood book? Narnia (see above). Also, Blueberries for Sal.

Who is your literary boyfriend or girlfriend? (They need not still be living, or they can be a character in a book.) This list would overwhelm the interview. Let’s say Mr Rochester and Jamie Fraser to cover both the dark-and-brooding and roguish-but-still-gallant bases. Also, there are many people in the bloggonets whose babies I would willingly have.

What is your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book? If you have not read David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green you need to stop doing whatever else it is that you are doing and do this thing. I’m not a bit of joking, do it now. Also, if you were not aware that The Princess Bride is a book as well as a movie, you owe me your first-born child for having apprised you of the fact.

What book would a prospective lover/marriage partner/friend have to say they loved for you to end your relationship with them immediately? My taller half loves almost indiscriminately books that I hate, including The Da Vinci Code and Grisham’s The Innocent Man, but he is also ridiculously good-looking and can cook a frozen pizza better than anyone I know, so I think I’ll keep him.

If you're interested in being featured on The Reading Lamp, just drop me a line at colleen at bookphilia dot com!