Monday, December 31, 2007

C.S. Lewis and Christian Parables: Who Knew?

Till We Have Faces. I'm only about halfway through it, and it's quite lovely--a leisurely written story of the princess of a mediocre country whose beloved younger sister is given in sacrifice to their God, and who tries to rescue her. The first third or so of the book was an interesting story, and very much a character study. But then the plot really got underway, and the two sisters are having a long conversation about gods that is such a Christian parable that it almost ceases to function as fiction.

Actually, I'm not sure if that's true. I think it feels heavy handed, but I also thing Lewis is quite an expert at exploring the issues surrounding religious faith in a way that is generous to the agnostic. He's not antagonistic, as I find so many other apologists to be. But you can tell that's because he really feels like he's going to win you over. The girl in the story (I can't remember her name, because it's strange and she's a first person narrator; the sacrificed sister is Psyche) clearly doesn't want to believe, and even as she's making very reasonable arguments (I think my sister is crazy because she says we're sitting inside when we're clearly outdoors getting rained on), it's clear that I'm supposed to find her suspect because of her lack of faith (in her sister's claim that no, really, we're indoors and dry as a bone). And then her arguments that really, if the gods want us to believe things, they should make them less contradictory with the evidence of our senses--insert C.S. Lewis eye roll. But, I'm sorry, that makes total sense to me as an argument. You can't dismiss the evidence of my senses as a spurious argument.

I don't want to argue religion with anyone--I am without any sort of conviction. And I really enjoy reading more explicit religious discussion, because I want to home in on the place where I part company from believers, because I really can't find it for myself; I only know we're on different paths. But I do hope that the book becomes less of a parable and goes back to being more of a story.

I also want to put in a plug here for the YA novel Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale. Hale has apparently written Goose Girl, which a bunch of people I know have raved about, as well as a bunch of other things. I just found her, and I can say that I enjoyed Princess Academy a lot. I thought it dealt very well with the main character being strongly of two minds, and really not knowing which way to go.

Okay, I'm off to ring in the new year. Happy 2008, everyone!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Wait, Are You Telling Me The Internet Is Interactive?

So. Well. Huh.

Apparently my recent post about Ha'penny, by Jo Walton, was read by the author herself. And then blogged. I noticed because of an insane bump in my blog stats on December 26. You don't go from the loyal 5-8 readers I have (hi, Linden! hi, Lynne!) to the 102 who came to visit me without wondering how exactly THAT happens.

So after I stopped screaming and crawled out from under the kitchen table, I started to think about what was in the post and pray that, even if I disappointed Ms. Walton, that at least I hadn't embarrassed myself. I mean, on the off chance that Stephen King finds his way here someday, I stand by my declaration that he needs a more aggressive editor. But I have been known to say things that are rather less thoughtful and more impassioned than is truly necessary.

I'm not going to backpedal, because I said what I think about the book. The ending depressed me--I was invested in the conspiracy, and who wouldn't be invested in killing Hitler? The ending depressed me so much, I woke up the next morning and felt depressed when I thought of the book again. I even felt extra-depressed when reading Exodus later, because I kept forgetting that we won World War II. But I don't think I can claim that writing a depressing book is a failure, even if I am a five-year-old child when it comes to happy endings.

I'd like to reiterate how much I adored Farthing. You should really read it, and I'm not saying this because Jo Walton knows my URL. Tooth and Claw was fabulous, too--a spot-on perfect, excellent, marvelous novel--practically Jane Austen with dragons. And, even more, I am indescribably excited to learn that there is going to be a third book in the Small Change series (her name for it, also called Still Life with Fascists), in which I absolutely insist that Carmichael be redeemed. It is possible that, after reading the third book, I'll be okay with Ha'penny as a second act.

I hope it doesn't sound wishy-washy coming back to this. I throw this blog out into the void (Hi, Kris! Hi, Becky!), and I feel like this situation calls for more precision. And for a big shout-out to Jo Walton, who's going to be the Guest of Honor at the 2009 annual meeting of the New England Science Fiction Association here in Boston. Maybe I'll show up to shake her hand--if she'll have me.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Brick Wall of My Bougeois Taste

As in, once again I've run up against the brick wall of the fact that there's a quality of good "literary" fiction that I just can't take.

So I'm not going to be reading Giraffe. I'm quitting after the requisite 10%, plus a few more pages, and I would normally not be bothered by finding out, this early in the process, that a particular book is not my cup o' tea. But I had been SO excited about this book. Also, I have to say, I'm still really curious about the plot. What did happen to the giraffes? Why were they shot? But I think that finding out how it ends is a good enough reason to plow through, say, the last quarter of a book, not getting into the first 50 pages.

So what don't I like about it? Well, so far, it's the atmospheric nature of the book. So far the only things that have actually happened were 1) giraffes are caught and sorted, and 2) guy who studies giraffe circulatory systems is called to the government office, told he'd be fetching the giraffes from the ship and brining them to the zoo, and then goes home. We also have elaborate descriptions of the office he sits in, his route home, and his house. This is something like 40 pages in. Literally, nothing else happens. There are a lot of poetic moments--vignettes of things like him walking along the river and imagining an elderly couple watching him from the window of their apartment, and a flashback to how his architect mother designed the high dive of an important municipal pool and how the family went annually to view said pool and high dive.

Also, there's the pervasive misery of every book that takes place in a communist country, as though (and I think I've said this before) the sun never shone in Czechoslovakia.

So I am done. Stick a fork in me. Kris, next time we have lunch you will tell me how the book ends, and I will be done. I'm sorry; I feel like a bit of a failure, but it's over between me and this book. I'm reading Princess Academy, a young adult book by Shannon Hale, and Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, as well as Exodus. Speaking of Till We Have Faces and Exodus in the same sentence, Becky, if you're out there, you should read The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood. It's a strange little slip of a book, but I think you'd really like it.

Next time:, library arrivals, and a meditation on whether it's really completely respectable to read this much YA.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Major Letdown Season

This is not a holiday-themed post. Christmas so far is not at all let-downy. I was disappointed in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, but that's neither Christmas nor literature, so we're not going to talk about that.

But Ha'penny. Jo Walton. Sequel to Farthing. Sigh.

So I loved Farthing. You can't pretend that the ending was a happy one--the book is, from start to finish, about fascism winning the race--it's a world in which Lindburgh defeated Roosevelt and America is mired in Depression and isolationism, and in which Churchill was ousted early on in favor of a treaty with the Nazis. This is the world the book takes place in, and there is only the slightest hint that there is hope for anything or anyone.

The sequel, Ha'penny, has all these issues, but without the even tiny sense of uplift that you get at the end of Farthing. I'm almost sorry she wrote it. There were a few bits that didn't fly as well throughout--the main character's sex/love relationship and how it influences her actions, for example--but her voice and the police procedural guided me painlessly through those parts. Ah, but the end...I won't spoil it, except to say that the only sliver of hopeful sentiment it leaves you is pale and false. There is no hope here, only Zool.

And as for Pirates of the Caribbean, if there's another sequel, I'll forgive it, but if this is the end of the series, I'm taking my business elsewhere. Also, I hate movies where everything is monochromatic. Different scenes had their own color, but each one was just the one color. Blech.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Starting a Meme

I don't know if it's a meme until someone else picks it up, but here's a list of all the Newbery Award winners so far. Bold are the ones I've read; red are the ones I'm pretty sure I want to read. Not that I won't read others; there are a lot I don't know anything about. But this is a list of my intentions.

Now that I look at it, I've read a lot more than I'm planning to read. And to be honest, I've only selected the ones to read that look like I might really enjoy them--there's no duty-reading on this list. I have enough of that in my life. I'm going to have to think about this a little more, process it and think about the procedure.

There are in reverse order by year--the last one on the list is from 1922.

:The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan
:Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
:Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
:The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo
:Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
:A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
:A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
:Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
:Holes by Louis Sachar
:Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
:The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
:The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
:Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
:The Giver by Lois Lowry
:Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
:Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
:Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
:Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
:Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman
:Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman
:The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
:Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
:The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
:Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
:Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt
:A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard
:Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
:A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos
:The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
:Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
:Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
:The Grey King by Susan Cooper
:M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton
:The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
:Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
:Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
:Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars
:Sounder by William H. Armstrong
:The High King by Lloyd Alexander
:From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
:Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
:I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
:Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska
:It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville
:A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle
:The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold
: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith
: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
: ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold
: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark
: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates
: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois
: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey
: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
: The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds
: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty
: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright
: The White Stag by Kate Seredy
: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer
: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
: Dobry by Monica Shannon
: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs
: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis
: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer
: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth
: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly
: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji
: Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James
: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger
: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes
: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon

Czechoslovakia and My Quest

Well, I just got back from an evening in the Balkans at Revels, which was fabulous. Who knew that Bulgarian music would sound so Eastern in flavor--almost Southeast Asian, with Indian-like twang. And looking at the program with all those words that contain letter combinations like "jro" and "dse" reminds me yet again how much trouble I have reading books about places that I can't even try to begin to fathom how to pronounce.

I know the author of Giraffe is trying to create a clear image of the country in my mind, but when the narrator talks about riding his bike down Jroklavske Street, through the roundabout and up Skvlinsiljrka Hill, I am not being made to feel like I know this place. I am being made to feel like I'm visiting the natives of Jupiter, and perhaps the sky here is maroon--I have no way of knowing.

It's such a petty complaint; I feel shame. Here's a more profound one--stories set in Communist countries are depressing. Especially the Eastern European ones (Colin Cotterill's Laotian mysteries are rather upbeat; but then, communism is young in The Coroner's Lunch). This isn't petty, just trite--why are the Reds always such a downer? It's like the sun never shone in Eastern Europe, when I'm sure there was, at some point between 1950 and 1990, a clear day.

In other news, I have begun my quest into the Newbury books. I will probably post the list here sometime, along with what I plan to do with it. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

...And Legend Is a Dirty Old Man

Upon deciding recently that I'm too delicate a flower to watch the movie I Am Legend, I decided to read the book. Since it's very old, and a novella, and also currently a big movie release, the library system did not have a lot of help to offer me. So I ran over to Audible--and the whole thing is only 5 1/2 hours long, and well read.

So I've spent today listening to this misogynistic, sexually repressed and weird 1950s story. It's almost mind-blowing how this book dates itself by its ideas of sex and women--and this in a story that's basically a one man show. How much page-time do women get, you ask?

Well, I don't want to spoil anything, but enough. First of all, within the first ten minutes of audio, I commented to Mike that this man's life would be much happier if he'd consider touching himself as an option. Of course, that's just the book dating itself--a Man does not do that, or at least doesn't admit to it, even in fiction. But the vampire-women try to draw him out of his house by "striking lewd poses." His memories of his wife are not too bad, but he makes other comments, about how a normal man could never live a life of celibacy without completely turning off his sex drive and psychologically neutering himself.

Spoiler time, though I'm pretty sure I'm just spoiling the book, not the movie.

There is also a female character, who is not particularly strong--a decent number of hysterics, collapsing into tears, requiring slapping to calm her down. My favorite line, though, is when Robert Neville is still doubtful about her, and feels like he's being manipulated. Then he dismisses the thought, because she's "just a woman." I don't even know what this means. I mean, if you're going to be that demeaning toward women, don't you probably think that they're innately manipulative? I'm getting my prejudices confused.

End spoilers.

But I'm sorry that I had to begin with all that incredibly striking sex stuff, because around that, the story is actually pretty good. It's very psychological, and contains a lot of thought about the main character trying to keep sane, and sort of not doing a great job, and doubting that he's going to be able to keep going, and then somehow managing it. It moves in cycles, too--he doesn't just get better and better or worse and worse. The effects of time of his emotional state are pretty complicated, which is nice.

I'm enjoying the story. It has a kind of stark, simple style that seems very 1950s sci-fi, at least to my untrained literary judgment. And it's short, and I think the reader is adding a lot (though his women's voices don't help with the sexism thing, being breathy and limp). Still, I'm glad to be reading it.

Will I see the movie? It's hard, because I really want to, and I've heard that a large part of it, at least the first half, is quite good. But I think we've discussed here before my complex and delicate relationship with end-of-the-world stories. And I think that will always mean that I have to at least wait and watch them on video, so I can turn them off in the middle if I need to. Because I love Will Smith, and I can only watch so much of his suffering.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I think I scared Tracy this weekend. It's not much of a party if half the people don't exchange books to borrow and read. But I don't fully understand people who only read one book at a time, and finish the one they're reading before even thinking about what to read next. So I lent her The Subtle Knife, since she just finished The Golden Compass and was hungry for more. And Katie took The Amber Spyglass. And I returned her copy of Rebecca, which I hadn't read yet but will never get to, who are we kidding? Plus Brenda took a couple of Sword and Sorceress volumes.

So I've got momentum, and I start shoving things in Tracy's hands. Don't you want to read Sandman, Leaving the Saints, Return to Avalon? Can't I fill you up with all my favorite books, everything I've read for the last few years, don't you want to read it too? Join me, join me in my quest! Come with me to the dark side! A-hahahahahah!

Ah. She was very graceful, and walked out with just the one book she wanted, bless her heart. We forgive her for not following me to Crazytown.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

God's Aesthetic

You know, when you think about a giraffe and what it looks like, it's really a weird beast. It's like the large land equivalent of those strange, glowing, barely-real-looking creatures that live in the unreal places at the bottom of the ocean. The physics involved in a giraffe living on Earth--it's just remarkable.

Before I actually went after this book, Giraffe, I should have read the back. I might have found it interesting that two separate blurbs compare the work to a combination of Sebald and Kundera. Now, I don't even know who Sebald is. Kundera wrote a book I've never been able to read--not yet, anyway--The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Noah and I tried to watch the movie once in college. The fire alarm went off, though, and we both took the opportunity to creep away and not reunite to finish the movie. Since then, we've both called it The Unbearable Lightness of Boring. I try not to hold that experience against the book, though.

All this to say, this blurb makes me wary regarding this book.

I started out wary with Ha'penny. I loved Farthing, but I was worried because the somber, gloomy outlook that you're likely to get in an alternate history in which Hitler basically won was most projected in the plotline about the police officer, and that was the one that was going to continue in this book. I was worried that the lightheartedness of the girl's story would be sorely missed.

I underestimated Jo Walton. I might even eventually have to read her King Arthur fiction. Ha'penny is already clever, I already love the new main character, and I'm dying to know how Hitler turned out. The author clearly understands that Carmichael is a gloomy guy, and no one can handle a whole book about him. Go Jo!

I'm off the wagon, back at the library, and I absolutely love it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My About-Faces

Today appears to have been a day for coming around. (Aside: you'd think I never did anything but read. I won't claim I get a lot done, but I really only read about 10 pages total of anything today.)

I'm really enjoying Small Gods. I still don't think it's as funny as I'm supposed to think Terry Pratchett is, but it doesn't need to be funny because it's, well, good. There are a lot of cute British little puns (a foreign country named Djelibaybi, for example), which are not actually offensive, but are somewhat distracting from what is an interesting story about a slow person from an oppressive religious regime seeing a little more of the world and beginning to wonder. This is amusingly set off by his god, in the form of a talking tortoise whom only the main character can hear, barking sardonic commentary and impatient orders at him. In sum, I like this book a lot.

And Exodus is coming along, as well. I think I'm going to have to pick a day and just read on into it for a few hours to really get into it, but I can see the raw materials there. There are quite a few characters to follow--even just in the part I'm on; I understand it will flash back in time after a while--and until you start to get to know them, this is always distracting. Plus, I have to say that I'm not getting a great picture of what Cyprus looks like, so the place names that seem so important as they're driving from one town past a small city and to a mountain really mean absolutely nothing to me. I can barely even picture it, and any picture I have is based on what Greece looks like. That's a fair guess for Cyprus, I guess, but I have to keep reminding myself that I really should be picturing, say the less populated parts of Mykonos, rather than Santorini (most photographed volcanic island in the world, not typical even of rocky Mediterranean islands).

So, things are coming along. This will not be a high volume month, but if I manage to read all 550 pages of Exodus, plus a couple of these kids' books and Small Gods, I'll be doing my part.

Oh, and all those library books! Those too! God that's satisfying.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Only Plummet I'll Take

Wow, when I break the seal, it's broken. At the middle school library today, I checked out four books (which is two more than I'm technically allowed to, but they're going on winter break soon, and nobody will be reading them! Also, they have three copies of at least one of them! I'm not stealing from children, really I'm not!). I also borrowed three books from the pile in the back room of unregistered books that aren't in the system.

Two are Babysitter's Club books, which almost don't count. One was the fourth Lemony Snicket book, which I'm not sure if I have the mental fortitude to read, but by Jove I'll try. The rest, though, are part of a new, informal project I'm embarking on; I'd like to read most of the Newbery Medal winners.

Mike and I were perusing a list of them the other day and I realized that, of the 80 or so that have one, I've read about 16. Which is great. (I won't embarrass Mike by revealing how few he had read, but let me put it this way: you can count them on one thumb.) But so many of them are some of the greatest YA books ever: A Wrinkle in Time, The Westing Game, Holes, The Hero and the Crown. So I think it might be worth it to read more of them. I don't want to read them all--once a year since 1922 is a lot of books, and I have no desire to drag myself through a bunch of YA that I'm not going to enjoy as an adult. But I picked up The Slave-Dancer, Caddie Woodlawn, and The Door in the Wall, all of which had appealed to me independently. So I'll probably shoot for reading about half of them--at least all that appeal to me.

So I plunge into this plan, and roll around in the 9 official check-outs and 6 or so unofficial library-owned books that I have right now, and I'm like a pig in poo. It's glorious. I really get a high off it.

Oh, and you should read The Golden Compass. I will not spoil the movie for you.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Oooooooooooooh yeah.

I went to the library today, to pick up my reserve book, Ha'penny, and to check out a better copy of Exodus, and I totally fell off the wagon. I got To Say Nothing of the Dog, about which I know next to nothing, but which I'd like to read. Also, Kris is reading it, so I thought we could read along together.

I got Till We Have Faces, which struck me on a whim once while I was roaming the shelves, and which Becky extols. I got Giraffe, which I've been interested in since, again, Kris read it. That's about it, but they're all long hardcovers, so that's like 30 pounds of books. And now that I've broken the seal, I think I'm going to get some kids' books at the school library tomorrow. I'm thinking maybe Caddie Woodlawn, which won the Newbery Award in the '60s, and then maybe Princess Academy, which I'd never heard of but shelved the other day.

I'm not ready for any more A Series of Unfortunate Events books right now; they're not as depressing as they sound, but they're not exactly upbeat, either. And it frustrates me how nobody ever listens to the kids complain that Count Olaf really is after them. But it still reassures me that the school library has them all--easy access.

But oh, it felt so good to stride purposefully through the library and snag things off the shelves. It was so satisfying. I imagine this is what skiing is like for people who, you know, ski. The wind in your face, gravity pulling you, the thrill of being acted on by forces greater than you. Swish!

Sunday, December 09, 2007


This PLR thing isn't working as well as I'd wish. Harry Potter was great and all, but Exodus has not sucked me in, I'm sorry to say. And I'm also reading Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett, which I think I might not quite get.

Terry Pratchett is hilarious, right? I'm afraid I'm not really seeing it. There seems to be the core of a pretty good story there, with a certain amount of wit--the simple but honest novice who's been approached by his god in the form of a talking turtle whom no one else can hear; the inquisitor (exquisitor, in this topsy turvy world) who is terrifying but whose henchmen might be working against him. Great. Does it sound funny? Not particularly...I guess, there's something innately funny about a turtle? All the place names are funny, but a map of England is equally silly. And the dry bluntness that is characteristic of Britishness is charming, of course. But I can't say I'm laughing out loud.

The best line I've read so far, which had an actual laugh in it, as well as some nice meat on its bones: "Fear is strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground."

I think I'm going to have to grant T.P. that "the potatoes of defiance" is a great item, and I will read the rest of the book for that.

But Ha'penny is waiting for me at the library, and I'm not at all convinced that I won't be checking out four or five other books along with it when I go.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


So, five months after my special Saturday delivery of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in its special branded box by a mailman with a smile that implied that he had spent the whole morning delivering a truckful of Harry Potters to gleefully trilling people like myself, I finally picked it up to read it, day before yesterday.

I have done almost nothing but read it since then. Don't tell Ruth, but I barely checked my email. I read all 758 pages in a bit of a marathon--about 16 hours over the course of three days--two, really, because I started it just before bed on Tuesday night.

OMG it was so fabulous. It was satisfying and scary and thrilling and I was one step ahead of it but then wham it was one step ahead of me, and Harry was a tortured soul and then a despairing adolescent, and then a hero, of course, a hero!

I have to say, though, the epilogue was extraneous and unnecessary.

So that was a thrill ride that I won't reveal too much of, and that's one of the three books in my PLR down. Exodus is in my bag and will be my other big thing; I need to figure out what book 3 will be.

Oh Harry! I swoon!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Queen of the Trash

If you've been reading along, you might be wondering why I read so many awful books. Or maybe, if you're not a snob, you just wonder why I read so many books "of questionable literary merit," or maybe just "poorly written mass market thrillers." I can't blame you for wondering this, because I've been pondering that very question today.

What brings me to this pass, you ask? What makes me ask this question that even that paragon of awfulness, Angels and Demons, did not bring to mind? The answer can be given in two little words: Darwin's Radio. Greg Bear is the author, apparently a well-respected scifi guy.

Let me give you two little tastes. First, the main character (Mitch) is an anthropologist who is on the outs in his field because he stole some remains. The local Native Americans wanted to rebury them, but he shouted, Indiana Jones-like, "It belongs in a museum," and swiped it. This is all backstory, but the interesting thing is that his anecdote is supposed to paint him as a rogue hero, someone who's going to flout the rules to get the job done. I'm supposed to find him to be "my kind of man," when in fact I find it offensive that he would steal human remains like they were potsherds. (That's right, "sherds." That's what the archaeologists call them.)

Taste two: What's going on in this book is that most of the pregnant women are having weird pregnancies that aren't coming to term--when eventually they do start coming to term, the babies are the next stage in human evolution. Anyway, the scientist who discovered this mess is a woman who falls in love with the abovementioned Mitch after meeting his unemployed, YMCA-living self. Since the government is determined to get rid of these new mutant fetuses, she decides to get herself pregnant, and tries to seduce her boyfriend of three days without a condom. He refuses. "Why not?" "You're fertile." "How can you tell?" "I can smell it."

You can? Those home ovulation kit salesmen have a hell of a racket going on if you can smell her ovulating. Seriously, tell me more about this smell. Also, I'm pretty sure that you should never tell your girlfriend you can smell anything about her, unless it's about her new bath soap.

Just a tip.

who is morally questionable, and who (second) can smell his girlfriend's ovulation, apparently.

Monday, December 03, 2007

One of My Many Personality Disorders

You wouldn't know, to look at my slacker, procrastinating, half-assed self, but I think I have a perfectionism problem. One way I control myself is to break things down into tiny tiny baby steps. Another way is to make explicit rules for myself, or to give myself firm permission for things that go against my unfortunate all-or-nothing tendencies. This is the source of the Personal Library Renaissance.

I think I have to enter a period of explicit permission to give up on lousy books. It usually takes something pretty awful for me to give up on a book. When I really can't get into something in the first 10% of the book, I can usually give it up without too much of a fuss. But, though the Ten Percent Rule is the one on the books, I rarely put it into practice. And after ten percent, the book has to be pretty lousy, really almost offensive (aesthetically, if not morally) to quit.

But right now, I'm feeling overwhelmed by to-reads, and I'm really not enjoying all of them. And I can't really figure out why I'm reading some of these books--or why I'm continuing to read them. I need to stop thinking of this as my job, and start looking at it as a pleasure again.

So, Kris, I'm sorry to say that I'm giving up on Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. It reads too much like a really, really long entry on this blog--and I can't say for sure that I'd find this blog interesting if I wasn't writing it myself.

I'm also giving up on Mary, Bloody Mary, which is a YA novelization of the life of guess which British monarch? I blame the writing style for everything that's wrong with this book; it's told in first person, but it reads like a very distant, almost journalistic account of someone else's life.

Example: "Scarcely two days had passed when I began to complain of a pain in my head. This was nothing unusual, for I frequently suffered from headaches. But the pain worsened and I developed a fever and a squeezing in my chest. Within hours I tossed in my bed, clutching my head and moaning with pain. Perspiration poured from my armpits and groin, and my hair, soaked with the poisonous sweat, lay matted on my pillow."

Does this sound like someone's experience? There are a lot of physical details, but not ONE of them describes the actual experience. In fact, if this was told in the third person, from the point of view of a maidservant standing in the corner, it could be just fine, but if you were describing writhing in pain in your bed, would you explain how you began to complain about pain, or would you describe the pain? Would you explain how your hair lay matted on the pillow, or how it felt, clinging damply to your forehead?

You see my problem?

So I'm going to give up on this book, and forgive myself. And what that means is that I will have ZERO library books checked out. I wonder how long that will last.

Ugh. It feels slightly wrong. Let's see how that goes.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


You know, like audiobooks, only you read them with your eyes instead of your ears. It's a pretty neat idea, actually.

You've all heard my rant about how the reader really makes or breaks the audiobook. Well, I have a comparable one now; my enjoyment of a physical book can really be colored by its form and quality. I'm reading Exodus, but my copy is very old, paperback, falling apart with yellow pages and too small type. There's something so dated, so out of date, about how the physical book feels, that I fear I'm going to be biased against the story because of that.

So I think I might break PLR to check out a better copy of this book. I don't think it's breaking the rules, because it certainly isn't breaking the spirit of the thing, which is to read books I own. And I would finally keep that ten-year-old promise to Becky--hi Becky!

This prejudice of mine is also the reason ebook readers don't excite me. I'm a snob for the physical product; I make paper bag book covers for my trade paperbacks, I take the slipcovers off my hardcovers to protect them (weren't slipcovers invented to protect the actual hard cover?), and there was even a time in my life (that my sister remembers and rubs in my face) when I read my favorite books carefully so as not to crease the spines. I prefer hardbacks to paperbacks, even though they're heavy and a pain to carry around.

I judge them by their covers. And I'm not nearly as ashamed as I should be.