Monday, February 28, 2005

Rich Weekend

So aside from being a lovely weekend of good food and wine, this was also a heck of a weekend for finishing things. After being failed by two personal copies and two libraries, the BPL came through with Einstein's Dreams for Standard Book Club, which I whipped through in a morning. It's not so much literature as prose poetry, with the idea of relativity, both in the human and the physical senses, being central.

Finished The Speed of Dark, which I liked very much by the end. It did a very interesting job in dissecting the main character's predicament (do I cure this condition--autism--that is such a core part of who I am?), of shedding light on the various aspects and relevancies. For a while I felt kind of annoyed, as though the book was intending to reveal how "normals" are going about things all wrong, but as the narrator grows on you, it becomes clear where the gap between him and the world is. And the subplots--he's stalked; his department at work is being threatened with closure--are really a little nail-biting, even when you can guess how they'll end.

Let's see, what else? Regarding My Antonia, which I thought was a very sweet tale of atmosphere. I think it's kind of funny that the book is about Antonia, because really it's entirely about the narrator, Jim. Antonia doesn't appear in large chunks of the book. She's that person you never forget, but she is the focal point for him as he tells his own story, and often other girls in her position stand in for her. It's a good story, though, and really the only way to tell it, I think. The beauty and lonliness of the prairie is the main character, the main theme. Growing up at that time and in that place--I've heard that story before, but Willa Cather can indeed make you feel how it wouldn't be boring to watch the prairie dogs all afternoon and eat then melons till dark.

I started Gilead, which is slow and ruminative. It's very much about the nature of leading a godly life, and though it's told through the view of the one character, and his definitions of godly and challenges to that goal, it's definitely a broader theme, and definitely the author dealing with it. It is more of a contemplation than a novel (though it is that, too) and I hope I have not steered my fellow Renegaders wrong.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Slacking Off

Not that I haven't been reading. Far from it. But when I read many books at the same time, I don't finish them as quickly (laws of physics, nature of time, etc. being what they are). Today, however, I proudly finished My Antonia, by Willa Cather. Lynne loves this as one of her favorite books, and a number of other people remember it as one of the most boring books they ever read. I can explain that: this is a book for people who like Little House on the Prairie, and not for people who don't. Rarely can the world be divided so clearly along those lines, but this book's audience is quite clearly Those Who Revel in the Pioneer Spirit and Enjoy Small Heartwarming Farm Life Anecdotes. Including moi.

I also grabbed Einstein's Dreams at the library. I was many times thwarted in my quest for this book; I own a copy, somewhere, which I can't locate. My sister owns a copy, somewhere, which neither of us can find. The Somerville West Branch Library claims to have a copy, which neither the librarian nor I could find on the shelf. The Somerville Main Branch has a copy, but because of the holiday weekend and some bizarre scheduling decision to generally be closed on Tuesdays, it was "in transit" when I went to pick it up. So now, here, I finally have it in hand. I will read it, and all book club will revel in my insight.

I also went a little nuts when I went to the library, ostensibly to pick up the book that WASN'T THERE. So I got three others. Protecting the Gift, which is Gavin de Becker's follow-up to The Gift of Fear, which was a pretty cool if overly unnerving story of how if we trust our instincts we're less likely to be mugged. I don't think that's wrong, exactly, but my instincts tell me to be afraid an awful lot, and they're almost always wrong so far.

I also got something called Baggage which is about someone on the run from the law, but looks like chick lit, which seemed like a good combination at the time. And I got an Ursula LeGuin book that practically jumped out and bit me, called Gifts. It was on display, and I should read Ursula LeGuin, right?

Double extra plus, I just got an email from Adrian, who got the book I wanted in England (it's not out here), and will be bringing it home soon. It's called George and Sam and is about a mother with two autistic sons. Nick Hornby loved it. Thank you Adrian! Hooray for you!

I am feeling pretty darned sated.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

That Old Feeling

Sheepish aside: the Bloggies make me jealous. I was reading some of the blogs that are up for awards, and they're wonderful, and I wish I could be them. But I'm not 1) funny, 2) poignant, or 3) topical. Or really 4) well-researched or 5) interesting to others, for that matter.

Okay, back on topic. I'm almost done The Firebrand, and the end is definitely the best part of the book. The whole book--tone and style as well as plot--conveys the sense of impending doom. I think the rest of it was a little too long, and also a little too simplistic in character development.

I finished The Song at the Scaffold, which was much better than I had expected. It was an old book about nuns in the French Revolution, and I thought it would be light. But it wasn't--it was very internal, very much about the nature of grace and faith, and also a very grim portrait of the Revolution. It made me think a lot, actually, about something that was very peripheral in the book--how violent revolution becomes inevitable after a certain point, because situations become so polarized that there's no way to start the process of backing down to a sensible medium. Looking at France, for example--who could have instigated a change in how lavishly the rich lived? How could they have done that. I can't think of an example--this is the reason that a happy medium--specifically the middle class--is such a useful thing.

And--here's the part that's so exciting! I think I'm going to the bookstore tonight! I've decided what to do with my gift certificate, and I think the time has come. The funny part is that I'm buying two books I've already read, so I'm not adding to my pile of things I need to read. But they're to lend and reread.

Actually--I've been buzzed about this all day, and now that the time is closer, I don't really feel as excited any more. I think I might hold off. The point would be to go into the store with this same thrill. Get the most for my money.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Suggestions out of Context

Linden recommends The Brothers K, though not to me. I probably won't even read it, actually, since it sounds, as she says, like a very masculine book. This is quite far from my style. Also, it's about baseball, at least in part, which is not so much up my alley. But it sounds like a good family drama, and I'm willing to plug it, in case (unlikely as it may be) I have a reader who prefers masculine books. (I'd say "Greg, I'm talking to you," except I don't think he reads this.)

Also, if you like this sort of thing, or are 5, there's The Color Kittens. I actually bought a copy for my cousin when she had twins and then couldn't bear to part with it and now it's mine. "Pink as a pig, pink as toes,/pink as a rose or a baby's nose." The kittens are named Brush and Hush. I think the very word "hush" evokes something for me, something still and special.

So, off the beaten track, some options.

And hey Linden, you got blogged again.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Wandering Thoughts

I'm about to finish Howl's Moving Castle, which is a most excellent kids' fantasy book. It does, in fact, feature a moving castle, but I don't blame that for my wandering thoughts. I don't know why I've been thinking of Alias Grace lately, but for some reason it keeps crossing my mind.

It's a Margaret Atwood book that I listened to as a book-on-tape a few years ago. It was good--I liked it better than I've liked most of her other books. It's the story of a murder in the early 1900s, and of the servant girl who is accused of it. The book is divided into chapters that are told from the servant's point of view, and those that are told third person from the point of view of an investigating doctor who's trying to figure out if she's crazy. I think there's a strong possibility that the reader really made a difference in my enjoyment of this book--she was an actress who did a lovely Irish accent for Grace, and it was an auditory pleasure. I don't know if I feel like rereading it, especially now when I've got a lot of new stuff that I'm excited about, but it's been in my mind. Maybe I'll buy the book, to have on hand and reread at leisure.

I've also been thinking about She's Not There, which I think I just will buy. I want to lend that out--it's such an amazing story, and such a great telling of a true life in which there's no right answer, no way to make everything okay, but people manage to do their best. It reminds me of the This American Life episode that I caught part of on NPR yesterday, which had a long story about transsexual men--men who were born women.

I was listening to NPR (she segued casually) on the way home from Louisa May Alcott's house, where I learned a great deal--much from the tour guide, and some from the precocious little girl who had read the biography, knew a lot, and was very excited. That was pretty cool. Louisa May made $100,000 from Little Women over the course of her lifetime, and $250,000 total from her writing, while her father was earning $100 per year as the superintendant of schools. Also she wrote a book called Moods in which a character based on her was wood by characters based on Thoreau and Emerson (two of her neighbors and her father's friends). The character, according to the back of the book, "marries the wrong one." A few things occur to me here, among them what a great time that would have been to live in Concord, MA, and which of those two gentlemen was "the wrong one?"

I hope Lynne and Adrian had as much fun as I did yesterday. It was a gorgeous day and a great trip.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

He Said, She Said

So Mike and I both read The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene, with surprising results. It was my idea, because I so admired The Comedians when we read it for book club, and I wanted Mike to try him. The result of this experiment was, I feel, unexpected.

We had completely different ideas of the book. I think we even had different experiences of it. He hated all the characters, wondered where it was going, and found it, at best, interesting toward the end. (I apologize, Mike, if this is an unfair description of your opinion.) And while I wouldn't say I loved it, I liked it very much, found it interesting, and found most of the characters, if not sympathetic, at least believable and intriguing. Even when they were being total bastards.

Without giving too much away, I have theories on why our opinions differed.

1) There is a plot twist and I knew what it was. I actually didn't know it was a twist--really more of a mystery. I read the back of the video box long ago, and the blurb they use to describe the plot gives away something the reader and narrator spend the first half of the book trying to figure out. This is why our experience was different.

2) I think having read The Comedians made a difference. The main character, despite having a very different life, has a very similar personality in many ways. He behaves much the same toward his lover. Heck, he has a married lover in the first place. The love affair is less promient in that book, but the echo of that other, somewhat nobler--or at least less horrible--narrator influenced my opinion of him, I think. Another strike on the side of different experiences.

3) A lot of the book is about struggling with God. Although Mike found this to be the most intersting part of the story, we had very different opinions about what was happening. What I took to be a real, if perhaps misdirected and hysterical, search for truth and meaning, he took as a nervous breakdown. I can see how one could read it his way, but because some of the emotional and intellectual places the character goes on that search are familiar to me, I cut her a lot more slack for the outrageous or nonsensical turns her search takes. A lot of what she went through looked familiar to me, while to Mike, it looked crazy. And the parts he sees as crazy are crazy--but in a direction I can imagine going.

4) Related to #3, I liked Sarah a lot more because I felt like she was being foolish but not nuts. I can see all the arguments for not liking her, and it's more than possible that I'm just completely missing the "unreliable narrator" component of this book, but that was my feeling. So there was that.

And that's that. We had a great conversation about it, though, I think. The kind of conversation I love and that never seems to come along often enough, mostly because I can't hold my own very long. Those are the conversations at a good book club, and always when we all get together in Atlanta, and that Mike and I have been having a lot lately. Ones where I feel like I've thought well, and expressed it well, and heard ideas I wouldn't have thought of and internalized them. Heady stuff.