Sunday, March 30, 2008


Enna Burning...well, it had an excellent core, an excellent story. But sometimes, when a fantasy novel starts talking about what magic is like as an internal experience, it can start to sound like a crazy drug trip. And this book was about magic that makes you addicted, that hurts when it's taken away, that takes over and becomes your only motivation. To paraphrase that prince of all wisdom, Homer Simpson, fire magic is both the cause of and solution to all of Enna's problems.

So there are long passages about what it feels like to be burning up and obsessed and want and hate the wanting and then give in and say you'll never do it again, and feel it build again...etc. That said, the ending is kind of sweetly awesome.

This marks very nearly almost the last thing I have out from the library right now. I really don't want to count Stacey vs. the BSC, in which the title character gets a boyfriend and alienates the rest of the Babysitter's Club. I understand she ends up on probation at the end of the book. Thrilling.

So what's up next? Nothing's really appealing to me lately, for some reason. Out of sheer disinterest, I might come back to reading some of the books that I own. I'm not going to get my hopes up, but if that happens, I'll be so proud. I'll be back here ranting about it, I'm sure.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Like Being 15 Again

You wonder where I've been? Nowhere. I feel like saying "school suxx!" like I'm a high school sophomore again (though I was never that sophomore; I disapprove of such spelling, I hated exclamation points at that time in my life, and since it was pre-internet, capitalization and misspelling were not yet considered a language of their own). But I don't think school really sucks, so much as the novelty is wearing off. After all, I never claimed to want to go to school. And while I'm pretty psyched about my YA Lit class this summer, Reference is a TON of work--interesting work, but SO much--and I'm having trouble keeping up. And you know how the more you slip behind, the harder it is to keep from slipping more? Yeah, story of my life.

I've also been feeling under the weather, schlumpy and tired for a while. That's not really better. One thing I can say about school, though, is that once I've dragged my butt an hour across town to get here, I end up focused on something, whether it's work or blogging or whatever. It's easier to take on a task than it is at home. This is a lesson to me to spend more time here next week.

To keep up appearances, let me update you on what I've been reading lately. You know, for the record. I finished Birds of a Feather, the second Maisie Dobbs mystery, this morning. It was charming, and I liked it even better than the first one. It did hold back a lot of information (including a mysterious clue that our detective finds but keeps wrapped in a hankie without revealing it to us for about 1/4 of the book), so I'm not sure how that works as a "standard" detective novel, but I like Maisie. She's brusque and impersonal sometimes, but she's so tightly controlled. I wonder if there will be an opening of her character over the series. I also find the details of the WWI aftermath to be really compelling. It takes place 10 years after the war, but it's very much about how the lives of everyone were shaped by the experience. England is a small country, after all.

Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Todd Gilbert, was something I expected to be a self-help book, but was really mass-market psychology. (I won't call it "pop psychology" because I think there are demeaning connotations there, but really it's psychology intended for a popular readership, so there you have it.) Anyway, it's about how we spend our whole lives deciding what we think will make us happy and working toward it, and we're usually wrong, not equipped to make the decision anyway, and it doesn't matter because where we end up is often what we make of it. If nothing else, it'll make you feel somewhat better about not knowing what you're doing with your life.

Ellen Emerson White, author of the ever-popular President's Daughter series and one of my favorites, Life Without Friends, preceded the latter book with her first novel, Friends for Life. It's the backstory to LWF, though I now realize that it was written first. It's okay--it definitely suffers from the "thin excuse not to go to the police" problem that a lot of simple thrillers fall into, but for a first novel written by a college senior, I am nothing but envious. Her voice was definitely there, and a lot of the things she explores in her characters--inability to ask for what you need, lonliness held in check by pride--but she improved greatly over time.

Now I'm reading Enna Burning, by Shannon Hale. I just started in on the train, so I have nothing to report, except that, as I've said, I like Shannon Hale's books.

Class will begin soon, so I'm on my merry way. I forgot to bring an apple for my snack, but I think I have some CheezIts. Wish me luck.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

In Between Time

Sigh. I hate being in between books. I finished Austenland, which was fun but slight, and checked out a few new library books, but I'm not into anything, and I'm not really getting into what I try.

I grabbed Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear, the next Maisie Dobbs book, which I'm pretty excited about. I read somewhere that it goes a little more into Maisie's solitude, which sounds like an important part of her life that was really only brought into focus at the end of the first book. I also grabbed Enna Burning, because Shannon Hale is my imaginary best friend. She lives in Utah, you know. I wonder if she's a Mormon. I could probably look that up somewhere.

But, I have multiple renewals sitting on the shelf, and I need to read some of these books in the next five days or so. Example: Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver (a woman! named Lionel! I can't get over that, like I'm seven and never heard of such a thing), author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, a fascinating and disturbing book that I highly recommend. In the latter, the somewhat unappealing characters were made up for by the fascinating story. In Post-Birthday, though, I'm just having trouble getting into what seems like a slight story. I know it's going to get gimmicky, and possibly interesting, when the plotlines split to follow two possible outcomes of the scene I'm about to read, but I can't even make it that far. And I'm upset because I think it might be worth it.

Then there's The Rebel Angels by Libba Bray, not to be confused with the book of the same title by Robertson Davies, which I read and which I remember as being really interesting, if somewhat illustrative of old men's fantasies of brilliant women whipping off their academic robes to reveal their sexiness. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, yes, Libba Bray. I only liked A Great and Terrible Beauty, the first in her series of fantasy novels, but I've had a hankering for a British girls' boarding school story, and here one appeared for me. But somehow I've renewed twice without reading. So the time has come to put up or shut up, and we'll see what comes of that.

I also have a stack of my own books that I want to read. But I'm really chipping away a the library books--I checked out two, but I have three waiting to be returned, which will leave me with a total of five checked out (not counting audiobooks, because they do not take reading time--they have their own category. I Am America: And So Can You! for the record). This is an improvement over the eight at last count. I really think I'm getting better....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mr. Darcy, Where Is Thy Sting?

If you regularly watch this space, you may be aware of my new and passionate fondness for the work of Shannon Hale. Alas, Austenland is not tickling me the way her young adult books do.

The premise is reasonable to start with: a woman in her thirties, examining the reasons she has foundered in love, realizes it's because she has, for some reason, pinned all her romantic hopes on the unattainable Mr. Darcy. She feels shame at this and decides to swear off men and renounce her Darcy worship, but just around that time, a keen-witted elderly relative dies and leaves her an all-expenses-paid vacation at Jane Austen Fantasy Camp, where you dress up and act out life in an English manor house. Our heroine decides to call this her last hurrah.

So far, this sounds fabulous to me; the vacation itself sounds wonderful, as does the book--sassy American transplanted not just in staid, uptight England, but staid, uptight England almost three hundred years ago. Girl finds love exactly where she always hoped and doubted she would. C'mon, it's only 200 pages long.

The flaw in the book is that Jane is inexplicably ashamed of her love for Pride and Prejudice. And not for the sensible reason that, however hott Darcy's aloof indifference makes him, it means he might not be a great husband. No, it's because it seems "silly" and "romantic." Not in a hard-headed businesswoman kind of way, but in your standard girly chick-lit character trying to act like maybe she thinks a hard-headed businesswoman would act. I know very few college educated women--girly romantics or hard-headed businesswomen--who are not swoony over Mr Darcy, whether they actually want to marry him or not. I really can't understand how anyone would be embarrassed about that.

Which makes this book a bit like the thriller where your main characters can't just go to the police for some stupid, unclear, not-really-valid reason, and all the subsequent action revolves around them trying to do something the police would have done in five seconds if they had just called them, which there was never a good reason not to do.

I'm still going to read it though. And dream about my vacation in an English manor house.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Me at Three

Last week I was at a family funeral, and I saw Auntie Effie for the first time since I was very, very young. (Aside: being from New England, it's not pronounce anty--it's onty. But with an open throat--Aaaaahnty Effie. I just thought you should know that.)

She told me a story: I was 2 or 3 years old, sitting in her lap reading a book. Auntie Effie said to me, "Can you read that, sweetie?" and I replied, "Quiet, Auntie, you're disturbing me!"

I don't remember this, but it's such a perfect, wonderful story. And from someone who hasn't seen me in 15 or 20 years, and doesn't necessarily know how I turned out. I think it's kind of perfect.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Long Live the Ghosties

I really have no reason to read an actual debunking book, and no desire to read a book about the afterlife by anyone who's not looking at it skeptically. So of course, this is the book for me. Brief, funny, flippant, Mary Roach's Spook is about the search for life after death, or the immortal soul. She comes at it as a skeptic, but as a skeptic who'd kind of like to be convinced--her goal is not to debunk, but to figure out what someone reasonable and rational will find in the field.

What I love is that she really picks out the fun bits--not just of her subject, but of anything even tangentially interesting. And I mean tangential--when mentioning the hymn included on a recording of spirits singing through mediums, she refers to "'There's a Land,' a anthem made famous by renowned English contralto Madame Clara Butt." But this is too charming to pass up, so she follows it up with a footnote that begins, "Oh, for the days when a nation's highest-paid recording star could be a beefy six-foot-two oysterman's daughter named Clara Butt."

But mostly, she's simultaneously amused and respectful, eager and dubious. It's a light book, not in-depth, but she clearly did her research, and the topics she covers--the spiritualist craze of the late 19th century, various attempts to weigh and measure the soul, out-of-body experiments--are thorough enough that I feel like I understand how hopeful, eager people are convinced while the rest of us remain doubtful.

I've heard good things about Stiff, her other book, about all the various and sundry things that might happen to dead bodies in America. I don't think I've really got the constitution for that today. But if she can find humor there, I'm going to start steeling my stomach now.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

My Sad Addiction

Hi, my name is Sharon and I read Babysitter's Club books. I, in fact, order them form Interlibrary Loan so I can understand how Abby was introduced to the series, or what happened when Stacey snubs the BSC in favor of her boyfriend. What I'm saying is I follow them. And, while I'm so desperately sorry, in a way I'm not sorry at all. I only wasted an hour of my life on Kristy and the Dirty Diapers (in which her softball team, the Krushers, gets sponsorship but has to wear a diaper company logo during the games--alternative title: Kristy Sells Out), and I'm only planning to spend another hour on Welcome to the BSC, Abby, the unoriginal title of which says it all.

Incidentally, Ann M. Martin appears to have gotten a new ghostwriter around book 85, and I'd like to know how one signs up for THAT gig.

Anyway, I just needed to confess that, because I just spent 20 minutes in various library catalogs and book sites trying to figure out in which volume Stacey undertakes the aforementioned snubbing. I will be checking that out soon. PS I also buy them when they're 50 cents or less at book sales.

I'm also breezing through the Ellen Emerson White oeuvre, and I'll be taking up Long Live the Queen later today. In looking for it, I ran across Friends for Life, the prequel to Life Without Friends, which was so good. I had thought it was an afterthought, but apparently this book was written first. So this will be taking up at least a little of my Spring Break reading time.

I'm finishing up Spook, by Mary Roach, which is good enough to deserve its own entry, and starting in on Austenland, which I hope pays off better than Brenda indicates it might.

I'm also about to go eat a breadless sandwich for lunch, since I forgot to buy any bread. Wish me luck, people; I think it's pretty clear I'm someone who needs it.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


It's been a rocky week around here. A lot of the reasons are not necessarily appropriate for this venue--work woes, family sorrows, scheduling miscalculations. But there are a few relevant tales to tell my reading public, including the fact that I have barely risen from the couch all weekend due to being unbearably sick, and the fact that I spent about six hours in the library at school this week doing my reference homework, and it's really just so interesting.

The sickness anecdote is mostly an apology because I meant to blog sooner. It seems like the more I plan what I want to write about, the less likely I am to sit down and write it. Unlike certain other blogging friends of mine, a plan of action for a well-constructed essay and a deadline for posting it brings out the WORST in me.

But we had our first big homework assignment in Reference class this week. It was incredibly time consuming--we had about thirty dictionaries and encyclopedias to look through for terms and answers. It was all about practicing how to look things up--where do you look for the meaning of the phrase "a Roland for an Oliver?" (Answer: Bartlett's famous quotations; it means equally matched and originates with Charlemagne's paladins.) What's the best way to use the Encyclopaedia Brittanica? (Answer: start with the index. There are Micro and Macro volumes, and facts are often embedded in longer articles. Don't waste your time, just go straight for the index.) Why would you ever use the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary if you have a full OED on hand (or online)? (Answer: OED is very British in orientation--it does not cover American usage and etymology as thoroughly as British.)

A lot of people hate Reference. The fact that I kind of love it is, in my mind, another indication that I'd rather work in a public library than a school library. But now is not the time to bring you this internal debate.

Other news relevant to the blog: I finally finished To Say Nothing of the Dog, or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last, by Connie Willis. It was about the journey, not the destination, as so many other books are. It took me almost three months to read it; I kept getting distracted. But it was so much fun, by the time I finished it--you don't often get a Victorian farce and a time travel mystery in the same book. So excellent--Linden, you might enjoy this one, too. Not to overload you with recommendations, because I know I'm prone to.

And now, I'm reading Mary Roach's Spook. She's funny, and she's on my list of people who research things and then tell me all the fun stuff, thus saving me from going in-depth into a subject I'm only somewhat interested in. Oh, and again I'm finding confluence--spiritualism is a major theme and the Enigma machine is mentioned in both Spook and To Say Nothing of the Dog. I feel liek the whole world is finally falling into place.