Thursday, December 30, 2004

Strong Enough?

That is, I have to return library books today. And the new book I want to read, Mosaic, is in the library. This would always require self-control, but since this is a new book and might not be available next time I go in, it's especially hard,

Ah, but I've got at least five books that I've borrowed from other people that I should work on next. Plus the next book for Book Club, and another Graham Greene that Mike and I are going to get that I really want to read. It's important to stay focused, book-wise--but Mosaic!

Mike and I also have over $100 of Barnes and Noble gift cards to spend (and a big shout-out thank you to everyone who made that happen). This is pretty exciting, and I'm dithering about how to best apportion it. Ooooh!

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I Wept

Oh...oh...The Amber Spyglass...I finished it...I cried and cried. It's so good, and exciting, and true. The characters who you don't like but are on the side of right, or who are cruel but then do good things and you can't see why. Decisions that are made foolishly, things that could have saved the day but are forgotten until too late. Real and true and oh so sad but oh so lovely.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Exciting Discovery

A long time ago, I found a book called Mirage by Soheir Khashoggi. I found it because it was next to Stephen King on the shelf the year I decided I'd try some of his books. For all its flaws--primarily oversimplicity--it was a very enjoyable book. I've been looking for another novel by the author for a long time.

And what did I see at the new bookstore in Porter Square last week? Mosaic! It sounds like a similar storyline--I think there's something autobiographical about her writing. A woman from a wealthy family in a middle eastern country tries to reconcile her experiences in the wider world with the world at home. She's surrounded by both wealth and abuse...I can't wait to read the new one--I hold out great hopes.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Literary Gifting

I got the coolest present last night: Pride and Prejudice, the board game! I'm now trying to think of people who will be interested in playing this game (besides, of course, the lovely person who gave it to me). It's for two to four players, so she and I can play with just the two of us, but what other Austen fans are out there? The 8 videotapes have been condensed onto two DVDs, so we can get them from Netflix and watch our favorite scenes while we play. I need true fans, though, because there are trivia questions.

I'm going to have to reread the book now. I'm really very excited. Thank you, Brenda and Jason!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Moral Conundrum it wrong to give someone a book for Christmas if it's a book you want to then borrow back from them? I mean, this person will like this book, I have a reason to buy it for them, but I fully intend to borrow it. Mike says you only get 75% credit for giving a gift like that. I think that's enough credit, if the gift is good.

But now that I realized I was doing that, I think I'm going to have to pick a different book and just get myself this one. I have a short list of post-Christmas gifts I'm going to get myself; ways to spend the Barnes and Noble gift certificate, things I don't want enough to let people buy me new (my mom doesn't shop online, so she doesn't buy the cheap used books at Amazon).

Christmas will last a couple of weeks this year, between parties and gift exchanges. I love the holidays.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Literary Fate

I think I said before how books tend to come in batches without my realizing it. Once it was books about Shanghai--I was expecting it with one of them (The Binding Chair), but the other one (The Diamond Age) took be my surprise. I would like to submit the following evidence to support my theory: I am reading two books with characters named Stanislaus. Think I should have seen it coming? One of them is a nun. Mother Stanislaus.

What a world.

Anyway, I finished The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman, and it was even more of a cliffhanger than the first one. If I wasn't off in the world this week, I'd already have found a way to get the last one in the series, but it's better that it wait--anticipation, you know. But to all you Harry Potter fans, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but these are better. I thought they were slow at first, but they're just mature, and real. The author doesn't have to make up reasons for the grown-ups to ignore Harry's troubles or fail to run the world properly--the grown-ups are working as hard as the kids. The danger is real and scary--scarier than Voldemort. "Evil" for evil's sake is a childish notion, not complex. Misguided, power-hungry, faithless--it looks just like evil, but the way it looks in the real world. Like, say, the decisions of major corporations.

Not that Harry Potter isn't good. It's more subtle than a lot of books, and full of inspired fun. But it didn't pull on me the way His Dark Materials does. Go Pullman!

Oh, and I've decided what I'm going to pick next time it's my turn to choose for book club. Pick me, pick me!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Well, That's Done

I finished The Planets, by James Finney Boylan. I really hate to pan something as my first real book-review-type posting, but I really don't think you want to read this book. At first I didn't like it, and then I realized that was because the first character we meet is kind of dumb--it's the character, see? And when I met the next character, I found her quirky and not entirely unpleasing. But no, no--this book is nuts. It's supposed to be funny, I know, in a poignant way. Mostly, though, it's just ridiculous and full of characters with no common sense. Where there is meaning or there are themes, they're thrust at you so aggressively that you want to stagger back from them. Between the time that I started counting and the time that I gave it up (maybe 50 pages?), I tallied about 8 references to the idea of a person feeling divided from him/herself, or feeling like they're two people. That's once every six pages. I get it already.

I don't suppose it helps that I've read this author's most recent book, which is a memoir called She's Not There. I'm very happy to recommend that book highly to anyone--it's very honest and funny and open. The author was born a man; the memoir is about how, in his 30s, he made the final decision to have his sex changed (or rather, his "gender reassigned"). Knowing that he lived his whole life feeling out of place like that, I have to say that the sense of being divided and not really being comfortable with who you are makes sense in his other, much earlier book, but even that understanding made me uncomfortable. I don't want to be psychoanalyzing the author of my book with my B.A. level expertise. I want to be aiming that discernment at the characters.

Anyway, in short, don't read The Planets, by James Finney Boylan but definitely read She's Not There, by Jennifer Finney Boylan.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The List

I try to keep my library list at around 30 books, which means it's usually at 35 or so. And by "keep it at" I mean "keep it down to," because if I drop below the 30 mark I will be pleasantly surprised. It goes on the library list if I'm going to have to acquire the book--from the library, a friend or the bookstore. The pile of books that I own and haven't read yet is just as daunting.

Well, I hit 40 today, possibly for the first time ever. It'll drop soon; I'm reading about four books and will probably be done at least two of them by the weekend. Still, though, it's daunting. Thrilling, but daunting.

I've been thinking about this blog and how boring it would be to readers (espcially since I haven't written much about the actual books I read yet), but the truth is, it exists primarily to preserve Katie and Elizabeth from having me run over to their cubicles every half hour explaining exactly how many books are on my library list now. Not that I'm not bugging them every day, but not quite every half-hour anymore.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Book Club Politics

Anyone who's reading this is familiar with Book Club politics. It's like living in that teacup where they keep that tempest. I have some very firm opinions, and some other more nebulous ones. It's always evolving, is Book Club, and changing because no one quite owns it, and so everyone's invited and everyone gets a partial share. This is what I have against democracy; this is why George W. Bush is president.

So there might be the inklings of an offshoot or renegade book club in the works. We'll see how the next few months pan out. I'll say that it's not entirely due to the quality of the picks--I'll read 'most anything. It's the nature of the meetings. Of course, how do we have meetings without inviting everybody?

First rule of Book Club: you don't talk about Book Club

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Anti-Bunny Prejudice

All right, everyone. I'm very sorry to say this, but until you at least START reading it, you are not allowed to make that little moue and say "Isn't it about bunnies?" when I mention Watership Down. I understand that you all have very sophisticated tastes and all, but it's a rich, well-crafted book with complex themes and wonderful characters. You are, as always, allowed not to like it if you've tried to read it, but the way you say the word "bunnies" is positively slanderous!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Supplemental Book Club

So I did, in fact, make three trips to the book fair yesterday, and I got lots of lovely Christmas any random thing that seemed vaguely interesting as I held it in my hands. Not good. I'm not, sadly, the poster child for self-control.

There are many books that I refer to as "interesting," primarily because I can't say they're awful (for awful, try The Burning Times), but I can't say I really love them, either. There's a category of quality that I can "appreciate" without liking, and that's something else, but the book I'm finishing up now, Mariette in Ecstasy is more along the lines or "interesting." There's poetry here, in the minutiae of life at a convent, on a farm, in 1907. And the book is full of thoughtful contrasts--solemn prayer and penance beside chatter and gossip, the lust for holiness and resistance to miracles. If the end (which I'm fast closing in on) was more decisive, or if my hopes for the book had been a little lower, I might feel differently, because I really like this book. But the poetry and the ecstasy made me wish to be swept up in it, and I sadly was not.

Today we had a brief lunchtime supplemental book club, and realized that a month later is too late to discuss a book in-depth. The book was The Comedians by Graham Greene, and I think part of the problem is that it was such a complex book. The things I wanted to say at the original book club (which seemed inadequate at the time and led to the supplemental meeting of our rogue or "subversive" cell) were mostly questions; the book was like a night in the jungle, with a full and complex gloom. I enjoyed very much the layers I could perceive, but I felt the presence of a lot more profound material. I think that my inability to relate to life in an oppressive dictatorial regime might have locked me down, though that might just be in my mind.

And we talked about And Now You Can Go, by Vendela Vida (and don't you just want to say that name over and over again?). All three of us had read it, and all three of us found it unsatisfying to the point of wanting to talk about it. Not bad, you understand--we can talk about bad all we want, but that only needs quantifying. This needed qualifying--how, what kind, why did we dislike this book. Because the main character is numb and promiscuous? Not quite. Because the plot points don't properly support the character study? Mmm...part of it. Because we don't know this character at all, and even when we feel like we might be with her for a moment, it's lost when she does something meaningless, or feels something we can't relate to? Yeah, that's it.

Oh, and I'm not the only one who's not 100% sure about A Carnivore's Inquiry. That book is bizarre--upsetting but enjoyable, and really amazing at telling the story when you're not even looking. I can't call it great (as Katie says, if you can skim it it's not great), but I'm pretty sure it's good.

I will point out for the record, though, the tendency for books to enter my life in batches, entirely out of the blue. A Carnivore's Inquiry and And Now You Can Go: books about disaffected art history students who are moved by the painting The Raft of the Medea.

Thank you and good night.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Book Sale

They're having a book sale at work today. New books published by us, and used books donated by employees, proceeds going to charity. I'm having a hard time deciding what to do. There is a hard and fast rule in my family about buying things for yourself at Christmas time. But if I can get a lovely, brand new copy of a book (say, Matilda, by Roald Dahl) for less than someone else could get it for if they got it second-hand...what's the right decision? Also, I was thinking of getting My Antonia, by Willa Cather, which they have in trade paperback for only $4, but I've never read any Willa Cather and I don't know for sure I'll like her.

How do I make decisions like this? How? Though to be honest, I don't know how I ever make any decisions, I'm so bad at it. Grr.

Any advice?