Friday, November 30, 2007

In Summation

Well, this is the last day of my Big Month of Posting. I'm wondering what will become of this place. I'm so much more reliable with a hard and fast deadline holding me in place. "Twice a week," which has been my posting goal in the past, has never been solid enough. And "as often as I have something to say," is vague enough that my innate inertia and lethargy will beat it out every time.

I hope I can keep posting. I'd like to feel like I'm able to accomplish something, to follow through, at this time when so many things in my life look messy and unaccomplished.

So let's see if I can recreate the past 30 days of reading from memory. I finished The Name of the Rose, and read The Rag and Bone Shop and Dorp Dead, both of which were borrowed from the school library. I read and returned to the library The Full Cupboard of Life, A Gift Upon the Shore, and Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint. Oh, and Angels and Demons, let's not forget that one. That was a doozie.

There were others, weren't there? Oh, The Position, that was not bad at all. And The Game, which was....less not bad, though still not actually bad.

That's nine. I think that might be all. I think it says something unhealthy about me that I'm tempted to stay up all night to finish Disco for the Departed (which is excellent, by the way), just so I can say I read ten books this month. And I'm proud of that impulse, which I think says something disturbing.

I won't say any of the other things I'm thinking about, on the hope that I remember to write them tomorrow. I'll continue in this artificial vein of conclusion by saying thanks for listening. And maybe I'll keep trying to blog all the time. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bringing Home the BSC

I have a bigger collection of Babysitters Club books than the middle school library I work at. I have about 35 or 40 BSC books (I can't bring myself to italicize it. It's not quite that dignified.)

When I was at my parents' house today, I was looking for Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, which I think is the most recent Oprah book selection. I've had it in my room for a dozen years, and I think the most you can say for me is that I considered thinking about reading it at one point.
In the process of looking for that book, which I found, I also somehow ended up lugging home a couple of Babysitters Club books (Mallory and the Trouble with Twins and Welcome Back, Stacey). I've noticed that if you read a BSC book out loud, it reads at a much younger age level than if you just breeze through it at three pages a minute as usual.

I also dug up a couple of good YA books that I've noticed the library doesn't have. Wait Till Helen Comes was a big hit when I was the appropriate age for it (fifth grade, maybe?), and Footsteps on the Stairs is one of those nonentities that drifts in and out of your life via the Scholastic Book Club, but is somehow magically wonderful. Then there's Robin McKinley's Deerskin, which I'm not sure you can really qualify as Young Adult, because it has a vague but thematically clear description of a pretty horrifying rape scene. But because it's sort of fantasy, based on an old, dark fairy tale, well, it gets called YA I guess.

I'm thinking that for Christmas I'm going to get the school library the Blossom Culp books, by Richard Peck. Those are my absolute favorites--every single person should read them, starting (in my opinion) with Ghosts I Have Been, then proceeding chronologically through The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp and Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death, and then finally going back to the first book/prequel (which is really about Alexander Armsworth), The Ghost Belonged to Me.

So I've just brought a wave of new YA books into my house, which was wrong of me, since it really defeats the purpose of the Personal Library Renaissance. I'm hoping, since I'm going to the library tomorrow and technically not supposed to check anything else out, that I'll be able to use these BSC books to exert some self-control when I'm there tomorrow. Won't check out, won't check out, won't won't won't.

Blew It

After that long conversation with Lynne last night about how, wow, I've blogged all month, I was going to come home and post the shortest post ever: "Too sick to post tonight."

And look what happened. I totally spaced it. I sat down and turned this thing on and saw my work email and got distracted. I'm really all-out-of-proportion depressed by this.

Anyway, this is yesterday's post. Today's to come when I clear my head a little.

By the way: still sick.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Sleeper Hit of the Autumn

I finished A Gift Upon the Shore today. As I was reading it, I barely thought more than the occasional, "this book is pretty good."

And then, last night, I couldn't sleep, because my mind was just skittering around. It wasn't on anything specific, but that's the worst sign. When I have something specific on my mind, I can usually purposefully set it aside and fall asleep. But if I'm actually awake, with my mind wandering, it means one of two things: I've had a huge slug of caffeine during the day, or there's something weird in the back of my mind that can't stop niggling at me.

I think it was this book. Almost any post-apocalyptic book will do that to me--I'm easily haunted by the end of the world. That fear follows me around most of the time anyway, even when it's not being singed into my imagination by whatever book I'm reading. But this book...I can't explain it. It reminds me of Clan of the Cave Bear in some ways; in how it bookends all the history of mankind, and you can see the struggle to think, to adapt, to remember, to find meaning, to fight ignorance, you can see all these deep themes and truly feel, deep down, how they matter. You can truly understand what it means to be human, and to work at being human and a member of the human race, underneath all the bells and whistles we've added, underneath all the assumptions we bring to the everyday task of being thinking beings in a mortal world. It blows my mind.

The thing about post-apocalyptic novels is that they almost always have upbeat endings, even if only slightly. And, pretty much always, these endings ring false. Of course they do--when civilization has ended, the idea of "hope" that we hold onto looks a lot like getting it back. I didn't read The Road, nor will I, but I know how it ends, and it's a fake, cheap stab at hope after a book that is really about (again) being human against the blackness of despair. Life As We Knew It was a young adult novel, so you can forgive it for its optimism, but it's so falsely based--the cogs of government, of civilization, are revealed to have slowed but not stopped, and government aid arrives.

But from where? How does that make any sense? What so excited me, in the end, was that A Gift Upon the Shore has such modest hopes, and doesn't promise you anything. By setting its sights low, the slow warmth at the end of the story is honest, is true. It helps that the book lays aside the physical destruction of the world--most of the story takes place half a lifetime after the end of the world, and nature has recovered. It is only civilization that is lost, and the whole idea of the story is less about a struggle to survive--that's risky but straightforward. It's about the struggle to remain enlightened--to keep the best of this world we've made, this golden age we live in, without succumbing to the worst of it.

I don't know if I've expressed what I thought about this book, and I almost dread hearing from a reader more astute than myself who might find things to disagree with in the book. But what I can say is this--this book made me think for hours about the issues it raised, whether I agree with the author's opinions on those issues or not. What more can a person ask for?

Monday, November 26, 2007

With Apolgogies to My Personal Library

We have a corruption. My plans for a Personal Library Renaissance has had a wrench thrown in the works--I can't find my copy of Exodus. I have to read that as part of this outing. I'll have to check it out. This does NOT count as a corruption of the PLR. Just to let you know.

Nothing new going on here in Storyland. A little progress in A Gift Upon the Shore, but I know that there's some unfortunate circumstances coming up in the story, and that tends to slow me down a bit.

I had about three backup post topics hovering in the background, but I just don't have it in me tonight. Also I can't remember what they were. So this is tonight. More tomorrow, really.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Okay, an official addition to my upcoming reads list: Exodus, by Leon Uris. I absolutely must read this book, and that right soon, because I've been telling Becky I'd read it for about ten years, and I know I've been letting her down. Makes me feel like a heel, and I need to get past that.

So...Lord help me but I think I'm going to have to declare a Personal Library Renaissance. I don't want to, especially now that I'm going to the school library twice a week and working among their books...shelving them...reading a page or two...wanting to check them out. I have a huge list of things to get from there, plus I was planning to get some Wodehouse, and I was going to pick up....

Well, never mind. Personal Library Renaissance it is, which is to say no more check-outs (with the exception of things I already have on reserve that might pop up) until I've read, let's say, three books that I own. Maybe Exodus, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and then whatever strikes my fancy from the stack over there in the corner. It takes some serious strength of character on my part to do this, so wish me luck.

One little note on Maureen Corrigan (Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading): If I had any respect for her yesterday, I lost it today, when, in an extended sequence about books about the importance of a good marriage, like Pride and Prejudice, this person who is talking about what a lover of these books she is refers to Lydia as the third Bennett daughter. Anyone who loves that book (and is writing a section on it in her own book, and supposedly has an editor of some sort), should know that the Bennett sisters are, in order from the eldest, Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. I admit I had to look up Kitty's name, but how can you not remember that Lydia was the youngest? That her slightly older sister Kitty rode her coattails through everything? And that Mary was the priggish, bookish middle sister with not much to recommend her? Who could forget that? Apparently, Maureen Corrigan. Ugh.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different

Instead of picking up Disco for the Departed, I realized last night that I was kind of mysteried out--surprising, considering that The Full Cupboard of Life, while ostensibly a detective novel, had barely a mystery to be seen. Still, I wasn't quite in the mood for Dr. Siri quite yet. So I started something new.

A Gift Upon the Shore, by M.K. Wren, falls into the category of end-of-the-world books. After I read Life As We Knew It last year, Library Lady (who appears to be my alter ego when it comes to things like nun books and end-of-the-world novels) suggested this one to me. I checked it out about a month ago--I abuse the renewal system) and I just opened it up idly last night and started poking around.

And somehow, I'm hooked. I'm not quite sure why--I'm still deep in the exposition of the story. The first chapter is full of introducing the names of characters I don't know yet, and one is rarely hooked at that point in a book. The backstory part (it alternates between the main character as an old woman and her story when she was young) is still just barely ramping up. The end of the world is still a little ways away; I suspect it'll be an ending not with a bang but a whimper. It's one of those books that doesn't drive you intensely through it--you're not drilling toward the end. But each paragraph impels you gently but firmly into the next one. It's not that you're compulsively turning pages so much as strung along, sentence by sentence, until fifty pages have gone by and you hardly know it.

Also, it takes place in Willamette Valley, where I've actually visited, which is kind of exciting. Not that I couldn't picture the landscape if I hadn't been there, but there's something more real about a place you've seen and been and breathed in.

For the record, I'll also point out that I read a YA book called Dorp Dead this morning. It was an interesting little fable about isolating yourself from the world--about an orphan who goes to live with a ladder-maker, and finds himself at first comforted and later discomfited by the man's highly structured and rigid life. The afterword in my copy of the book points out that, at its original publication in 1965, it was a part of a groundbreaking moment in children's books; it was the first time people started writing books in which the world was revealed to be not always kind and perfect. It's funny to think that this was ever a transition we had to make.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Food Coma

Ugh, my family is too bustle-y to read around. I did finish The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith, which is another installment in the slight but charming series of Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency novels, about an unlikely female detective in Botswana. I'm now about to start in on Disco for the Departed, by Colin Cotterill, another installment in the series of novels about an unlikely elderly detective in Communist Laos. I love thematic reading.

I enjoy the Precious Ramotswe books (the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency heroine). They're definitely books that I have to read between long pauses, though. When you need a rest from the world, a balm for your soul, you read a book like this, about a land full of people who treat each other with old-fashioned good manners--by minding each others' business to show they care, and ululating to express approval--and who feel that things are all wrong if they don't have time to look at the ceiling for a stretch of time every day. Sometimes you need a story in which a lot of time is spent looking at the wall, in which raising funds for the local orphanage (full of jolly young orphans raised by housemothers and their husbands) and a poorly-run local garage that is giving all mechanics a bad name are the major problems that face our mild-mannered heroine. A balm for the soul, as I said.

The Dr. Siri books, about the state coroner of Laos, just after the revolution in the 70s, are excellent in a different way. There's a tinge of magic about them, which so far has manifested itself in some old Hmong rituals, the idea that the protagonist is the reincarnation of someone important, and occasional ridiculously good luck. Mostly, though, there's a great delight in reading a book in which the hero is both vital and strong, and also so old that he doesn't really mind anything that happens to him. He lived in the jungle with the revolutionaries for about 20 years. He's in excellent standing with the party, which anyway just came to power, and is not yet suspicious or frightening in the way that we generally think of communists as being. There is really nothing that can faze him, so he just proceeds in a merry way through autopsies, investigations, shamanic rituals, state visits, and the occasional explosion. I hope the series holds up, but even if it doesn't, the first book, The Coroner's Lunch goes on my "you should read this" list.

Back home from Thanksgiving, and tomorrow's supposed to top out at 19 degrees. I should definitely be getting some reading done.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hey, They're Talking about Me!

"'Oh,' said Mma Ramotswe. 'There are many, many books. And all the time, more books are coming. It is difficult to read them all.'

"'It is impossible to read them all,' said Mma Holonga. 'Even those very clever people at the University of Botswana...have not read everything.'

"'It must be sad for them,' observed Mma Ramotswe reflectively. 'If it is your job to read books and you can never get to the end of them. You think that you have read all the books and suddenly you see that there are some new ones that have arrived. Then what do you do? You have to start all over again.'"

-Alexander McCall Smith, The Full Cupboard of Life.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Books I Did Not Check Out

So, we went to the library today, Minuteman. I have a book on reserve that is listed as being in transit to somewhere, and I was really hoping that it was on the way to me, and would arrive today as a Thanksgiving miracle. Nope. (This is a problem with the Minuteman website--you can't tell where you are in the queue for a book, or if your book is on the way.)

I packed up my returns and realized that this turn would put me out of debt with the Minuteman system. Nothing due. My first reaction to this, of course, is to run to the website and immediately start picking out books to check out. But through the magic of self-restraint (and support from Mr. Michael), I successfully did not check any books out.

What books, you may wonder, was I tempted to get? From what was I restraining myself? Good question. Well, first there's Giraffe, which Kris recommended. It looks extremely interesting, and is the story of the largest herd of giraffes held in captivity, in a city behind the Iron Curtain in the sixties. Then, one day, the secret police came to the zoo and shot all the giraffes. No one ever knew why, but this author has either found out or speculated. The story of the herd is told from different points of view--that of a scientist, a caretaker, a tourist, even a giraffe. I'm so excited to read it.

I was going to look at The Artist's Way, which looks eerily crunchy-granola-get-in-touch-with-your-inner-moon-child to me, but which has been touted as having a good program for getting you focused on your creative side. I have a hard time doing good programs attached to weird philosophies, but I'm kind of eager to try it.

To Say Nothing of the Dog. That's just sitting there--Medford has a few copies of it, and I know the author, Connie Willis, is very good. I've had it in my back pocket for one of those days when I go to Medford looking for something to check out. Sadly, this is any time I go to the library, which is a little crazy and wrong. Really, it's wrong.

I was looking for a good Wodehouse book, but I really only like the Jeeves and Wooster books, and they have a remarkably sad collection of those--two novels, no short stories. What's up with that?

Then, when I was there, I saw a book called Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis. I have no idea what it is or what it's about, but the title, author, and two lines from a random page in the middle all conspired to have me intrigued. Anyone know anything about that book?

So, those are the books I didn't check out tonight. Pain, agony, frustration! But also pride. I bet this is what it's like to quit smoking....well, for one day. I'm going off the wagon soon, though; I can feel it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Proud Moment

Two men--one married, one with a girlfriend--allow themselves to be picked up in a bar by some young ladies. They leave the bar to accompany the ladies home. They follow "the two women out of the ferny and mahoganous bar and into the dark balm of the night."

Best invented word EVER.

I went on about The Position and Meg Wolitzer yesterday, so all I'll say today is this: she is a damned fine writer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Liminal Period

I'm in an in-between time, right now. I finished Joan through an act of intense focus, and I returned a bunch of materials to the BPL system today. I have three books to return to Medford, but there's a part of me that's hoping my reserve book, Ha'penny, will come in before I have to go return these. Ha'penny is by Jo Walton; unsurprisingly, it's a sequel to her novel Farthing, a murder mystery set on a manor estate in an alternate 1940s England, in which America never entered WWII, and Hitler rules all of Europe. It's extremely intelligent and well-written, and I recommend it highly and am anxious to read the sequel.

But for some reason, I keep not coming up on the reserve list. The Minuteman website is unclear about a lot of the details of reserves--they'll tell you how many reserves there are total, but not where you appear in the queue. They're also either irregular or just uninformative about whether the book is in transit on its way to you; until it shows up in my account, I have no reason to believe it's coming. It also doesn't tell you when other people's books are due, which Boston does. In so many ways, Minuteman is not nearly as fulfilling as Boston.

But anyway, I now have only six books outstanding--which is to say, checked out and yet to read. I won't bother listing them; you've seen my lists before. But I'm halfway through The Position, by Meg Wolitzer, which is so well written that I forgive her, I really do, deep in my heart, for the fact that nothing really happens. You have to be pretty awesome for me to forgive you for that. So far, anyway, (slightly more than halfway through), the book is a series of character studies of the members of this family--two parents, four adult children, and now the girlfriend of one of the adult children. There are various plot points--the younger son has cancer, the older son is depressed, the younger daughter is rootless, the parents, now divorced, are at odds about the reissuing of a book they co-authored many years before. But these things are not the point of the book.

It's a traditional article of literary faith that change is the point of any story. I've even heard different forms of fiction defined by their relationship with change--that a novella is unlike a novel in that change takes place over the course of a novel, while a novella is a leadup to a moment of change that takes place at the end or is implied to take place after the ending. If it's true, I believe this is either a weak point or a challenge for a novella-ist (if such a thing exists). Because a story needs, if nothing else, motion. This doesn't always mean character change, but it does always mean some kind of change. Think about mysteries--your favorite recurring detectives don't usually change. Neither does Bertie Wooster. But stories like that make up for it by being packed to the rafters with other kinds of motion. If you're not writing a mystery or a farce or an action-thriller, if you're writing literary fiction, chances are that a big part of the motion of your story is going to come with your characters' development--not just on the page, but in their lives.

Meg Wolitzer is one of the few writers whom I consider "literary" and who I enjoy. I just prefer genre, I think, mostly because a good genre story is wearing two hats--anything it "has to say about life" has to share the stage with a story--a series of events that take place in a way that is rational and, on some level, worth reading about. It sounds like a bigger juggling act than just saying what you have to say about life, but in so many ways it seems like it must be easier to me. I mean, if you have a story that you feel like you want to tell, chances are the reason you want to tell it is because it speaks to you of something greater than itself. And chances are it will say the same things to me. I guess I'm saying that meaning follows a good story. I hope nobody sits down to write a novel about loss, and then broods over what character might have lost something, and what he might be missing.

I think I might be babbling. I've definitely gotten off topic, which was originally how I can't read just one book at a time, and so need to pick something else up besides The Position, and which book should that be? Probably The Full Cupboard of Life, because that will be an easy breezy read. So, liminal period concluded--now back to your regularly scheduled blog.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Last of Her

Poor Joan. The trial was rigged, rigged, rigged. The priest who ran it was bitter and a liar. In theory, it was a religious trial, but he refused to hold her in a church prison, guarded by women, where she wouldn't be assaulted. To keep herself safe, she wore her men's clothing, which then became the primary charge they held against her. They tricked her into signing a confession that she couldn't read, so that when she denied confessing, they could call her relapsed and execute her. Among many, many other heinous abuses.

Of course, all this came out about 20 years later, when the king (who refused to ransom her, which would have saved her life) and the new pope conducted an investigation and overturned the verdict against her. Pretty much every single person involved in the trial either quit or was threatened to make it come off. It was a shame.

I feel like the book gave me a lot more information about her personality through the trial, even though a large part of the text involved direct quotes from the transcript. She was very intelligent, grasping the hooks in a lot of the trick questions, maintaining her composure even after months of living chained to a wall in a prison cell, poorly fed and guarded by lascivious jailers. She maintained the truth of her visions to the end.

It's a terrible story, though, and her death is just tragic. You hear so many stories of heroes that end with beautiful, idealized success; so rarely do you learn about someone who is abandoned by her allies, conspired against, and destroyed, body and soul, through lies and cruelty. I must have been touched by this story, because it hurts my soul.

Anyway, go Joan!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Spanish Imposition

As I wrestle myself into place with this Joan of Arc book, I find that it's not as engaging as I really wish it was. I've never gotten much into biographies, because as stories, even when the person has a really interesting life, they don't read well. Because they're real people and their lives are full of real historical events, the details are often overwhelming and, sadly, slow-moving.

Take Joan. This book is brief and to the point. It's clearly not intended as an exhaustive historical account, but rather as a more basic account with a great deal of analysis, specifically from a religious (and Joan-apologist) viewpoint. So I imagine there's a lot of detail being left out, yet it still, at times, reads like an impenetrable list of French towns that, say, Joan wrote to, or castles where she was held. The bones of a good story are there, but the telling is an account. For someone who reads so much nonfiction, I really am demanding of a story.

Some interesting things about the Joan book:

1) The book is almost exactly divided in half, the first half being what she did--hearing voices, leading the army, getting Charles crowned--and the second half being the trial and how she came to be (warning: spoiler) executed. I'm not there yet, but we've already handed her over to the British, just over halfway through. I think this makes sense from the author's analytical viewpoint--he wants to talk about how she and others saw her experience of God, and what it meant in context. In battle, it's simple--she had faith, she led others, she won battles. With her enemies, when she is being examined carefully by the Church, is where his real interest lays. Her actions interest him less than their motivation and fallout.

2) I feel like I'm learning more about the internal lives of those around her than about that of Joan herself. I'm learning a lot about Charles--his personality, his politics, and why he might have left Joan to his enemies when he could easily have saved her. I've learned about some of her enemies (the jealous bishop she ousted from one of the towns she freed, the man who captured her on the battlefield and was forced by the king's indifference to turn her over to the British when they offered money for her) and her friends (hothead La Hire, the close friends she always called "My Duke"), but nothing about her. He gives accounts of her battlefield behavior--bold, fearless, careless of herself but sensitive to the suffering of others--and reproduces letters she sent to various people and towns, but there is so much less speculation on her personal thoughts or possible motivations than there is about other characters. Again, I think this is because the whole book is an argument about how religion influenced her internal life, and so he has to construct his arguments about her internal life carefully and cannot be casual with them.

3) The book spends a good deal of time debunking myths and misconceptions (according to the author) that must exist in the minds of people who know something about Joan of Arc--some of them, just in the mind of her contemporary accusers. (Aside: don't you find the word contemporary challenging? How are you supposed to know if I mean contemporary with me or contemporary with her? For the record, here I mean "contemporary with Joan.") For example, he explains that her dressing as a man for battle was not an example of trying to hide her sex, nor did any of her compatriots interpret it as such--she was openly female. You just can't go into battle in the clothes that women wore, nor ride on long trips. So this should not be interpreted as disobedience to the religious dictate that women should not dress as men, because that was clearly intended to mean that they should not live as men, in men's clothes impersonating men. I have no context to tell if this is correct, but he makes it very clear. He also makes it clear that she was not just a figurehead but an active leader in strategy and execution of military plans, and that it was not weird or asexual of her to have taken a personal vow of chastity without entering a religious order, since this was a relatively common way for a young person to devote him- or herself wholly to a task in the name of God. Again, I have no context for these explanations of the author--I can only assume he's giving me accurate historical information.

4) Interesting tidbit: the author tells me that we know more about Joan than we do about any other historical person before her. This is because, for some reason, the transcripts from her trial have survived in great detail, and are supplemented by a great deal of primary source material. I get the impression that, because they had a weak case and she was well-loved, the British really fought hard to put on a good-looking show of condemning her. But this means that there are historical records of things like interviews with her childhood neighbors, people who knew her at all points in her life, sworn testimony from The Maid herself, her friends and her enemies. Really, what other historical figure before, say, 200 years ago has surviving interviews with childhood neighbors? She might as well be on the 11 o'clock news.

I wish I did find the biography more interesting, because there's so much interesting stuff here. She was wounded in battle several times, but refused to retreat, fighting into the night and charging back the next morning, against the advice of other, more experienced generals. When captured, she tears out the floorboards in her room, descends into the room of the sleeping gate-guards below her, and steals the key, almost effecting a getaway. Later, under closer guard, on hearing that she will be turned over to the English, she jumped from her 70-foot high window--not to kill herself, but hoping to get away. She was only bruised, but the escape failed. She later made it clear that she did this out of fear, but was acting against her voices.

So all I'm saying is, there's a great story here. I'm sorry I'm not reading it.

Friday, November 16, 2007


1) Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, by Maureen Corrigan. I'm already kind of hating this lady, on page, like, 7. First, because she KEEPS talking about the world that she lives in "as a reader" in the lavish, breathless way that an elementary school librarian on television talks about it--how books open up a whole new world of fantasy that you can live in. Of all people, I understand this, but she makes it sound all snotty and smarmy and like someone small trying to make herself sound big. Second, because it's not the Lady of Shallot, it's the Lady of Shallott--what the heck kind of mistake is THAT to make on page 5? And finally, because within the space of two pages she complains that Joan of Arc wasn't edgy enough because she wore men's clothes when she led her army (wouldn't it have been edgier, braver to have worn a dress? You can't wear a dress on a battle horse, dumbass--no one she rode with mistook her for a boy, that's for sure.) and then also snarks lightly at Nellie Bly because she "might have circled the globe unchaperoned, but she did so cloaked in the protective mantle of late-Victorian ladyhood." Meaning a pretty dress.

And that's all I have to say about that.

2) I have to finish Joan of Arc this weekend. That will be tricky, time-wise.

3) Another observation from A Summer to Die. There was a conversation in that book that always sort of stuck with me. The narrator and her mother are talking about how the sister is like their mother (emotional, cheerful, vivacious), but Meg herself is more like the father (thoughtful, fretful, solemn). Then the mother explains that people like her have an easier time with life day-to-day, but that when something very hard happens, people like Meg are better prepared. My memory of the conversation, of her explanation for this, is that emotional people are so used to reacting to small things that they don't know how to take in the larger ones--their emotions are scaled for day-to-day, and they can't adapt them to larger things. While Meg is more reserved with her feelings, like she's saving them up until there's something worth spending them on.

It turns out, though, that on rereading, the explanation is much more mundane. The mother says that cheerful people like her are more shocked and shattered by the deep sorrow of mourning, while solemn people like Meg are able to encompass it more easily. Now, where do you suppose I got my memory from? It's so strange--it seems so unlikely an interpretation. I've often thought about it over the years, and contemplated whether it was true or not. The fact that I made it all up gives that contemplation a whole new angle.

4) I'm going to plug this now, in time for Christmas (and probably again before the end of the month): if you're still reading and you want to buy anything from Amazon, please click my links! You can click either of the books in the sidebar and then navigate to whatever you'd like to buy--you don't have to buy those books--and Amazon gives me credit for the sale. Also, it makes me feel loved. Feed my ego! Feed it!

That is all. Halfway through the month, and still blogging! I'm quite proud.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lurlene's Birthright

So today, in addition to the staggering accomplishment of finally finishing The Name of the Rose after 3 months of reading it (I think this book disproved the existence of God, like as an aside at the last minute), I read A Summer to Die, by Lois Lowry. This was a classic of my youth--I remember reading it a few times, and how much I loved it. When I thought of it the other day, I had to look up the author, and I was surprised to find that it was Lois Lowry, who wrote a lot of respected books--The Giver, Number the Stars--and that this was her first book.

So it wasn't the teen tragedy melo-queen, Lurlene McDaniels (Too Young To Die, I Don't Want To Die, Too Young To Want To Die, How Old Is Old Enough To Die?). It's really a much better book than any of hers, because it's not about the acute experience of illness, but rather a more slice-of-life story, in which death is just a part of the changing that goes on in general. It's really kind of a mood-setting story. And it's still very good.

Another interesting thing is that it was written in the late 70s. The sister's illness, which isn't named specifically till the end of the book, is leukemia, and there's a real sense that the reader is expected never to have heard of it. It talks throughout the book about her hair falling out, her face getting rounder, etc., and it's clear that she's undergoing chemotherapy, but that word is never used, either, and the symptoms are presented as though they would be unfamiliar to you, instead of being a recognizable vocabulary of illness. Because of course, chemo was brand new in the 70s, and leukemia had just barely entered the realm of curable.

Another thing this book made me think of is something I've always found interesting to look at--the qualities that make a good protagonist and a good narrator. Meg, the healthy sister, is both in this book. I've always thought that a good narrator should be someone slightly outside the norm, and maybe even outside the action--we should be watching things through the eyes of someone who is not necessarily the center of things. I don't know if that's always true, or even mostly, but I feel like you get a broader picture from such a character. Or maybe it's just that someone who fits that description is likely to start out ignorant, which makes them a good vehicle for the reader, who also begins that way.

The protagonist is also usually someone special--that just makes sense, if only because someone's bothering to tell a story about this person. So even if the person isn't innately great, or interesting, or evil, something different or special is likely to happen to them. Or maybe it's just that we're living with the person, and inside our heads, each of us is special, different, interesting.

There's also the interesting category where you get both--you get the narrator (say, Nick Carraway) who is slightly outside the action, and the protagonist (oh, let's say, Gatsby), who's something different and special and worth watching. A Summer to Die isn't really one of those books, but it feels like one, because, although the whole point is to follow Meg's transformation, that takes place through the act of watching her sister, observing her, comparing herself to her. I haven't fully thought out how this is different, or how it affects her as a narrator, but I think it's interesting in terms of these categories I set up or imagined a long time ago.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Philosophical Randomness...

So I was thinking today about an argument I've been reading about in The Name of the Rose, about the nature of laughter. There is a character who believes that laughter is the tool of the devil, because humor is dismissive of the beauty of God's world, and because mocking the devil trivializes him, which gives him power.

At some point today, I was associating this very, very important, almost life-or-death argument with something I heard on NPR. I wish I could remember what it was exactly. But I was thinking about the vital-seeming nature of the question, and the ambiguity of the arguments within the context of the times. Meaning how real these problems seemed then, and how frightening the implications, given the way spirituality worked at the time. The possibility of pleasing or angering God through laughter mattered.

The NPR piece was, I think, about environmentalism. Specifically, I think, it was about whether higher gas prices would actually be BAD for the environment, because it would encourage the use of even-worse-for-the-environment alternative fuels. (Ever heard of liquid coal? Doesn't sound good for Mother Earth, does it?)

Not really related at all, right? But what I was feeling, very strongly, was that this is a truly important question to which it's almost impossible to find an answer right now. But in the future, someday, (a thousand years from now, if we're still around), every schoolchild will know the answer to this question; no one will have arguments about it. No one will even ask themselves this question anymore.

This made a lot more sense this afternoon. My hands are cold, and I'm kind of tired and distracted.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I barely even feel like dealing with my books right now. It's kind of depressing--November's almost half over and I've only finished three books this month. That is most of the way to the pathetic end of the scale for me--I think my average is about 7 books per month, though when I go through YA-heavy periods, it runs more toward 9 or 10. I don't know why Angels and Demons was such a monkey on my back--it was long, but good god it was fast paced! And not, not, not deep at all, no no no.

But I'm so very close to the end of The Name of the Rose that I think that will be accomplished very soon--which will be so exciting! I've been reading that book for, at the very least, 2 months. I'm pretty sure it's more like 3. I've just renewed my second copy of the translation book that goes with it--I ran out of renewals on the first one. And that was after I ran out of renewals on the copy of the actual book that I checked out at first. Props to Lynne for the long-term loan of her copy, which is trade-sized and dignified and good for reading.

I am going to have to check out one more book when I go to the library tomorrow to return books that will be one day overdue when I get them back (and the head librarian will probably give me dirty looks the whole time I'm there. Medford now leaves a sour taste in my mouth). I was asked yesterday to think of books about mourning for young adults. My first thought, instantaneously, was Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes, which is sweet and sad and perfect. But I followed that up with a vague memory of two sisters, quarreling over having to share a room when their family moves to the country, then dealing with the older sister's cancer diagnosis. It was so good--what was it? I found it pretty quickly, though only through luck--A Summer to Die, by Lois Lowry. Her first novel, can you believe it? One of the most respected YA authors of the generation, and her first book is the one I carry with me in the back of my head. Good for her.

Can't get warm--guess I'd better cuddle up and read.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Sweet Smell of Fresh Air

Good God, at least that's over. I will point out that I predicted exactly who the bad guy was (didn't give away that as a spoiler), and I also flagged at least two peripheral details that wound up being vitally important.

One thing I'll grant him was an effective and economical use of characters. It was not one of those books in which the character list contains exactly as many people as are necessary, where you can tell who the bad guy is by the clear process of elimination. Nor did it have hundreds of extraneous characters I had to keep track of or jump back and forth between. It had just the right number of distractor chracters--though it did kill a relatively large number of them off.

Anyway, I can now move on to some of the many, many other books I have out of the library, in a desperate attempt to read them all before returning them. It's a little unrealistic as goals go--it's a busy month, Medford has unforgiving renewal policies, and I've been feeling vaguely unwell lately--stiff and sore and way too sleepy.

But I will prevail! It is my mission. Now I've turned my attention to The Position, by Meg Wolitzer (you should definitely read The Wife. Definitely.) and back to The Name of the Rose. Plus I need to work on Joan and Leave Me Alone I'm Reading. If I can finish all those by Thanksgiving-ish...well, all my goals are lacking in consequences, but they are mind and I cherish them. C'est la vie.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It Just Goes On and On (Warning: Spoilers of Awfulness Within)

Okay, if they're going to recall Angels and Demons, I decided to just plough right through it, damn the torpedoes. And I have, kicking and screaming every page, because it's so unremittingly, delightfully, shrilly badly written.

I can't, for the most part, argue with the plot--it's fast, there are twists and turns and action and murder and intrigue and suspense. There is romance, too, though that is the one part of the plot that is very poorly handled, very clunky and insincere-seeming; I understand it's been an intense five hours, and she's totally hott, but that doesn't spell a soulmate.

Aside: it's weird to read a 500+ page book that takes place all within a few hours. Usually a book this long would take days, at the very least, and I have these weird instinctive moments of thinking it's been a while, then being jerked back to "reality" by a comment about the time that's passed.

But the badness here is just so relentless that I've documented a little of it for you. Some of it might not come across as clearly as I'd like when I explain it, but I hope that at least you'll get a glimpse of the density of literary missteps here. Mind you, these are only the ones that a) bothered me enough to pick up the pen to write them down and b) could be pinpointed to a single line or a few words, as opposed to something vague or pervasive.

p. 367 "What he saw was so unexpected, so bizarre, that Langdon had to close his eyes and reopen them before his mind could take it all in." This is not the best example, but this construction (Langdon sees something so crazy he can't quite believe/process it) is used a heaping helping of times in this book. In this instance, what he sees is a building that is on fire. There is also a dead body hanging from the ceiling, which admittedly is weird. But in one of the previous instances of this construction, what startles him is a chapel with particularly elaborate carvings. Mind you, the man is an art historian (renowned symbologist, actually, but attached to the art history department).

p. 379 This is a speech by a priest we're supposed to like and trust. The book sets up what I believe is a melodramatization of what, even in the real world, is a false dichotomy of science and faith. I really, really don't get how God and science are mutually exclusive (AT ALL), and I could go on about that, but let me give you a few highlights of nonsense from this "moving and stunning speech."
  • "Our sunsets have been reduced to wavelengths and frequencies." As though someone who understands the idea of wavelengths of light can't see that a sunset is beautiful.
  • "Does science hold anything sacred?" Well, no, no it doesn't. Oh, except ideas like the scientific method and faith in reproducible experiments. And, from another angle, things like the fact that matter is composed of atoms, the Earth revolves around the sun, things like that.
  • "[Science] shatters God's world into smaller and smaller pieces in quest of meaning...and all it finds are more questions." Wow, God's world is pretty fragile, huh? If it can be shattered by wondering and noticing things that are taking place in it.
  • (moving on a couple of pages in the same speech) "Since the days of Galileo, the church has tried to slow the relentless march of science...always with benevolent intention." Because we would all be so much better off if we didn't know the FACT that the Earth revolves around the sun. (And let's make this clear, God set it up that way. It's just we were better off not knowing that, you see.)
  • " your quest for smaller chips and larger profits." Wait, wait, what does science have to do with capitalism? If your argument is that capitalism is hurting more people than it's helping, we can have a conversation. But a lot of history's science was done by amateurs doing it for the love of thinking, of using the reason God gave them to observe closely the world that God put them in. You're diluting your message there, boss.
p. 390. We've moved on from the speech, and now we're with the assassin in his secret lair, which is also the ancient meeting place of the Illuminati. And as he enters this lair, where he's been living and plotting and coming and going from for some days now, he thinks, "The church of the Illuminati. The ancient Illuminati meeting room. Who would have thought it to be here?" Anyone remember the line from The Simpsons where Lisa's summing up how they wound up in the car on their way to wherever, and Homer asks her, "What are you, the narrator?"

p. 429 Our hero finds the fortress in which is concealed the assassin's lair. The assassin handily dispatched our hero a few minutes earlier, in spite of Langdon having the element of surprise and a gun. Langdon is now unarmed and alone, but he finds a network news broadcast van nearby. He offers the driver the story of his life to let him climb on the van get over the wall into the building. And what story does he give him? Does he tell him that the assassin that everyone's looking for is inside, and ask him to send backup? No--he tells him where he just came from, where the tumult is downtown, and then proceeds to storm the castle alone. Unarmed.

p. 435 "Langdon was still in a state of shock over the location of the lair." You'd think that after four hours of trekking around Rome and finding out that the Church's golden boy artist was their secret logo-creator, that secret symbols are in all their churches, that the Illuminati exist, for crying out loud, you would not go into a "state of shock" (trembling? low basal body temperature? That's a very clinical term you're using there, Mr. Brown. Or is it a <gasp!> cliche?) over the unlikely building.

p. 436 Okay, last time you met the unarmed assassin, you pointed your gun at him and shouted, in essence, "Freeze!" At which point, he disarmed you with minimal effort, finished killing his victim, and very, very nearly killed you, leaving you for dead (nice dodge, Langdon--this failure to kill you was, I'll grant you, cleverness on your part and no fault of his). So now when you approach him with no gun, only a steel pipe, but from behind and with the element of surprise, do you challenge him to a duel, or do you hit him unceremoniously over the head with your pipe? Apparently, the answer is you shout, "Get away from her!"

p. 442 "'But no one could possibly get into Vatican City right now!'

The assassin looked smug. 'Not unless he had an appointment.'

Langdon was confused. The only person expected at the Vatican right now was the person the press was calling the Eleventh Hour Samaritan--the [anonymous] person Rocher said had information that could save--"

But, I'm confused? Who could possibly be the person with an appointment who is the head terrorist? Certainly not the anonymous informant who offered valuable information to the investigation if he would only be allowed deep inside the threatened Vatican! The idea is preposterous!

I could go on. This is about 3/4 of my notes from that stretch of almost 100 pages. But I think you're getting the picture.

I want to apologize to anyone who loves this book. Like I said, the plot is keeping me right there with it. It's like reading a movie. It's got action/adventure, daring near-misses, and sweeping intrigue. It's only, you know, the writing that's a problem.

And even that is almost tipping over into being so bad it's good. My shouts of rage are starting to border on satisfaction, or even delight. It's like, have you ever seen the Nicholas Cage vampire movie? It's like that--just so awful that you can't resist.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Another Day, Nothing to Say

I'm not proud here, folks. I meant to do more reading this month, but the days go by. Tomorrow, I'm drilling firmly toward the end of Angels and Demons, because I have to get it back to the library. I'll be finishing The Name of the Rose soon. But this does not call itself interesting.

Emily and I were just having a conversation, though, about Jodi Picoult. She read My Sister's Keeper, arguably her best book, and hated it very deeply. I think this is interesting because I can't really argue with any of her observations--lots of the characters' behaviors are very unrealistic, and the topic is dealt with in some really irritating ways. The former observation, in my opinion, is a pervasive fault of Jodi Picoult, which is that characters withhold information very unnaturally in order to keep the plot of the book rollling. The latter is more up in the air, but I personally think the only offensive part of the book is the ending, which is a complete cop-out. If you're going to take such a sensitive issue and try to see it from both sides, wrestle it down, you can't let God stop the debate--you owe it to these characters to do something about it.

I'd also add that the romance between the lawyers is unnecessary and unimpressive, and that the mother's near-hysteria is ludicrous.

That said, though, I didn't think of the flaws in the book till Em pointed them out. It's funny, I thought of that as a book I liked (except for the ending). I still do, I guess, even though I can't disagree with her. I really think there's something less offensive about flaws that feel like they are coming from the overly-invasive hand of the author, rather than ones that feel woven into the fabric of the book. But isn't anything woven into the fabric of the book the hand of the author?

I'm having some trouble parsing this. For which I'm grateful, because I have something to write about. For the record, I read about three Picoult books and couldn't read anymore, because they're too much of the same thing in a row--the flaws start to glare. I recognized this a while ago. And I think I might elevate Plain Truth to my favorite of her books.

Friday, November 09, 2007


The Medford Public Library is not on my list of favorites right now. They want Angels and Demons back, won't let me renew it, because someone has it on reserve. There were at least 15 copies on the display I took it from, but it's not for me. I think it was actually a reserve table for the local high school, but this does not decrease my indignation, nor my conviction that being within walking distance does not bring this library up to my standards. They won't let me renew more than once, even if no one has it on reserve. And don't get me started on the crap I took for showing up one day late--two hours into the day after the due date--to pick up my reserve book.

It's all Malden now on. BPL is so much better.

It's so late, so late, so late. Technically you could say I missed blogging yesterday, but I have a strict policy that it's not tomorrow till after I've gone to bed and gotten up again, or until I give up on the chance to go to bed at all. So, this being my blog, this counts for Friday.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Catching Up With Me

Lord, blogging every day is hard! Especially when I spent my free time today curled up on the couch with my head under a blanket, trying to keep warm while I half napped, half listened to Law & Order.

But I have to say, this library volunteer thing is going to be awesome. They have boxes and boxes of books that they haven't had time to enter into the system. So I'm going to help them out with that, which makes them grateful. But I have to learn the system, and the logging will take time. In the meantime, I'm welcome to bring any of these (often brand-new YA fantasy) novels home to read. So exciting!

How long have I been reading The Name of the Rose? A long time. I'm down to the last 100 pages. It's clearly winding down! I'm quite proud.

That's my update today. Maybe I'll have more to say tomorrow. I hope!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My Motto

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, by Maureen Corrigan, appears to be a memoir through books--an explication by the book reviewer for NPR's Fresh Air of how the books she's read have affected her, how she views her life through them. It sounds like a wonderful idea, but it came to me as less of a recommendation than a curiosity--Kris sounds like she's not sure what she thinks.

I'm pretty much on the same page, which is funny because I'm not even into the numbered pages yet. I'm on xxv of the (rather long) preface. And I'm already kind of torn. On one hand, she's promising me that she finds so-called "genre" fiction to be more affecting than "Great Books," which I appreciate. On the other hand, she talks about teaching college classes and makes herself sound like a pompous academic blowhard.

I hope I fall in love with this book. It's possible. I have an innate suspicion regarding Fresh Air, too--I've never listened enough to have much opinion, but I get the impression that it might be a little, well, trite.

I have a T ride coming up in a few--that'll get a few more pages down.

Oh, and I've been taking notes on Joan of Arc. More on her soon!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


They're making an all CGI version of Beowulf. I have a strong suspicion that they're going to totally miss the point of the story. I can already tell, in fact, given the fact that Angelina Jolie is playing...well, anyone really. The only woman I remember in that story is Grendel's mother, and I'm pretty sure she's a monster. Also, movie adaptations of that story tend to assume that when Beowulf dives into a lake to kill her and then fights her for hours down there, that there's a cave or something. I prefer the vagueness of knowing that he's underwater for all that time, holding his manly, manly breath.

My sister wants to get my brother a copy of the book, in Old English. I had to explain to her that German looks more like modern English than Old English does. Actually, I'm pretty sure it has its own alphabet, so I think Greek might be a better analogy than German. Seriously, my brother does not want to go there, I promise you.

If I have to vote for a Beowulf adaptation, I like Eaters of the Dead by Michael Creighton. I even liked (sort of)The Thirteenth Warrior.

Another movie that just came out is Martian Child. You may remember that I read that book a ways back. It was godawful. I'm absolutely sure that the movie is, too, because I strongly suspect that they're going to leave out one of the interesting parts, which is that the single dad, played by the always (well, usually) winning John Cusack, is gay. Actually, the book was so awful, nothing could have made it a good movie. Sorry to spoil it for everyone.

I am excited, though, about The Mist, which is based on a Stephen King story, or so I'm told. I've never read the story, and I can't decide if I should before seeing the movie. Brenda says it's one of his best. But it looks like a really good horror movie, and I can't wait to go see it. Maybe even in the theater. Brenda, I'm looking in your direction!

(This is all to distract you all from the fact that I've barely read anything in days. A limited topic blog is a tricky one to update every day!)

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Whole New World

So I didn't get much reading done today, but I've begun a new library-centric relationship. Today was my second day volunteering at the one of the local elementary/middle school library. In January, I'll be going to grad school for library sciences, possible in a specifically school-librarian program. I wanted to kick around at a school library for a while, to figure out what it's like and if it's where I want to end up.

Most of what I've done for the past couple of sessions was just shelving and getting familiar with the library. I'll probably do some cataloging, as well. I hope that I'll be able to help with the computers, observe some of the research lessons/classes that the librarian has for the kids, etc.

I don't want to be too detailed about any of this here--unlike what I'm reading, this involves real people and my opinions of them. Also, more vitally, the dish they provided me with, and a little bit of trash talk we did about certain other people. And since I've only known this woman for a total of five hours, the fact that I was able to squeak in some trash talk should speak volumes regarding my mad gossip skills. Those of you who know me will not find this surprising.

I'll stop there and keep you guessing. This is a big juncture for me, though; a whole new phase in my relationship with libraries. I have crossed the desk.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What a Differenece a Day Makes

So last night, I was debating about whether to write up my list of books, or to write about the book that I spent most of yesterday reading, The Game, by Laurie King. I went with the list, because I really wanted to get it in near the beginning of the month, to compare my goals to my accomplishments later one. So I put off writing about The Game and how godawful boring it was until today.

And then, late last night, just before bed, it got interesting. So my plan to ramble on and on about how nothing was happening, and why on earth would you write a spy novel with so many digressions, and not just digressions, but boring digressions, was all shot to hell. I still can't recommend the book--I mean, I was pretty miserable up until page 250 or so--but I can't whine too much about it, either. The last 100 pages were just what they needed to be for the novel I had wanted to read. I don't know quite why the first 250 pages were 100 pages too long, and all of that filled with laborious detail about the paintings in every room she entered, and the countryside of every single town the damned train passed through. I do understand that India in 1923 is lovely and exotic and deserves lavish description. But once, maybe five times. Not every single page.

It's funny, the character, Mary Russell (the young, clever wife taken late in life my Mr. Sherlock Holmes), is British, but the author is American. The pacing of the book, though, has a flavo(u)r that reminds me of England, in its long descriptions of travel and the minutiae of getting from one place to another, whether or not those details are interesting in and of themselves or relevant to anything that happens later. In this book, for example, which is supposed to be something between a mystery and a spy novel, the couple disguise themselves as itinerant Indian magicians and travel around India to pick up gossip about the location of a missing spy. They spend nearly 100 pages doing this. They ask a lot of questions, see a lot of scenery, give a lot of magic shows. They don't find out anything. There are no details that I can call to mind from that stretch that become relevant later in the book. It's just there for its own purposes--because traveling around India disguised as an itinerant magician is interesting. Well, maybe, but not in a spy novel. Which this had already been set up to be. If you see my point.

So it's done, anyway. Why did I keep reading it yesterday, if I wasn't enjoying it, you ask? Well, first of all, once I've invested myself in half a book, it seems a waste not to make it to the end--I have to really hate it for that. But also, I have to admit, the other book I kept trying to pick up was Angels and Demons, and that book was just so awful that I kept having to put it down again.

And why will I keep reading that, if it's so awful? Well, that's easy. At least in that book, I can say quite clearly that I want to find out what happens next. Because say what you will about Dan Brown, something is always happening next.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Does this in Caesar seem ambitious?

It seems only appropriate that, if I'm trying to do a month of daily entries, I should also be doing a month of aggressive reading. Let me just list off the stack of library books to give you a taste. Sitting across from me on the table we have:

The Position, by Meg Worlizer
The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith
A Gift Upon the Shore, by M.K. Wren
Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Suzannah Clarke
Disco for the Departed, by Colin Cotterill

Then on the coffee table we have:
On The Wealth of Nations, by P.J. O'Rourke
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, by the book reviewer on NPR's Fresh Air, whose name I can't read from here or call to mind right now.
The Game, by Laurie R. King
Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown (To be perfectly frank, this is the only one on the coffee table. The others are under the coffee table. But let's not quibble.)

In my purse is the biography of Joan of Arc, and upstairs we have, finally, The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. That is not actually a library book, it's a loaner from Lynne, but I did check out The Key to the Name of the Rose, which basically explains all the historical references and translates all the Latin (there is a LOT of Latin), so I'm counting it.

The list above does not include the small but key stack of books I own and really really want to read soon, which I'd like to count, since we're being ambitious here. They are:

Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
Star-Spangled Manners, by Judith Martin
The Queen's Fool, by Philippa Gregory
New Mercies, by Sandra Dallas
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (no, I haven't read it yet, leave me alone already!), by J.K. Rowling.

And I will briefly mention here the fact that, having seen Elizabeth: The Golden Age last night and been bitterly disappointed by it, I'm really anxious to read Alison Weir's biography of Elizabeth I. Kris has told me that Alison Weir is THE go-to for a layman on the subject of British Royalty from approximately York to Tudor, and I take Kris's word on these things.

To be honest, a few of these are going to fall by the wayside. The P.J. O'Rourke was a whim, and while I don't usually have too much of a problem with Libertarians in theory, I do have a problem when someone with such an impractical political philosophy starts dissing hard on my liberal homeboys, if you see my point. And I'm considering getting the audio book for the Susannah Clarke--I never did read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, (for which I don't think anyone can blame me, as it was an infinite number of pages long), but the reader for Ladies of Grace Adieu sounds quite good in the sample. So not all of these are really on my list of hard and fast goals for the month.

Still, now you know what I'm getting into. Today I spent mostly on Laurie King's The Game, about which more later. But don't you ever tell me there aren't any more good books out there, or this list will start to look insurmountable.

Onward to Victory!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Wisdom of Stephen Fry

I read The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown for book club a billion years ago. Boy was that a lousy book club; we met in the conference room at work, over lunch, and it just didn't work. The problem was, it was a bunch of English majors--the point of book club was to talk about writing, really, about literature. But if you read The DaVinci Code, there is no literature to discuss. The book has all the literary merit of The Yellow Pages. By Nynex.

Stephen Fry said it best somewhere buried in his blog (which I haven't read; seriously, have you seen how long those entries are?) when he said that he dismissed the book entirely after reading the first word. He goes into why--it's very interesting--if you can find it on his page, let me know.

So why on Earth, you ask, did I pick up Angles and Demons, which is the first adventure of the "renowned" (that's the aforementioned first word, by the way) symbologist (my spellechecker doesn't even recognize that word) whatshisname (my husband, who has never read either book but to whom I've been complaining endlessly, tells me his name is Robert Langdon)? Well, until I saw the movie, my entire reading experience of the first book was the reaction that it would make a great movie. The plot was fast and furious, great locations, mysteries unlocked by academic knowledge and sheer cleverness. It was fun, if nothing else.

I think Angels and Demons might be worse. I picked it up because I heard it was better, but either my palette has become more refined, or this book sucks, as my sister would say, dookie (I apologize if that is crude; I really don't know what it means). It's choppy. It consists of sentences that read like this. Exactly like this. I do particularly love the sentence fragments that add an adverb to a phrase that was used in the preceding sentence, as I just demonstrated. Also, I love how Langdon, knowing he's sitting on a ticking time bomb (literally a time bomb, though it's digital, so no ticking), keeps thinking about his friend and detective-partner's hot bod. And also how he's so shocked that people have heard of obscure historical figures like, say, Galileo, or organizations like the Illuminati (I didn't know anything about the Illuminati, but I had heard the name). Or how shocked he was that a word could be rendered, through fancy fonting, into a logo with horizontal symmetry. My college CompSci professor could write his name so it looked the same right side up and upside down. This is not rocket science.

This completely discounts the suspensions of disbelief that I'm allowing him. I'm granting him that historians have heard rumors of all kinds of symbols, codes, and logos that they've never actually seen. I'll grant him that the first thing the head of a Swedish think tank does when one of his scientists is brutally murdered is look up the fax number for a good symbologist. I'm even granting you the idea that there are still people alive today who are MAD AS HELL about how Galileo was treated, and decided that, now that the power and influence of the Catholic Church has begun to wane, now science needs defending against those nasty cardinals, with lethal force. Also that the BBC would send a guy they just hired from The Tattler on New Pope Duty at the Vatican because it's the crap job nobody wanted. These are the things I'm not complaining about, mind you, the things I'm taking in stride.

Because I'm that big-hearted.

Feel the love.

Yesterday's Post

I understand there's something going on in the blog world about posting every day this month. And since, in all other endeavors that I've been endeavoring to labor at, I've been such a slacker, I'm going to shoot the moon and give this a try.

But I just found out about this, so I'm already a day behind. So here you have my declaration of intent, and this is yesterday's blog post. Today's will follow. Luckily, I've overshot on books, too, so I have plenty to talk about.