Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Turkey-Based Ailments

I don't suppose you can blame Thanksgiving for my cough, but I'm casting an accusing eye at the dry air and cigarette smoke I ran into at the homestead.

For some reason, unlike a normal trip home, this one resulted in almost no reading at all. It might have been that Mike was there and retreating into a novel seemed like abandoning him. Or we could point to Marsha's being on her miserable way back to her new home 500 miles away. Mostly I think I was just lazy and the TV was on all the time and I'm not really in the middle of anything good.

Usually when I'm home for a holiday I read about fifty Babysitter's Club books from the collection still under my bed. Or reread some other old favorites. But I've just finished a Good Parts tour of the Clan of the Cave Bear series, and that seemed like more than enough for now. I might have to reread Butterfly sometime soon, though--now THAT'S trashy but good.

Anyway, I did just finish The Final Solution by Michael Chabon (slight and mostly about how much it sucks to be old, but not bad) and My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber (funny, funny). I'm going to pound away at A Long Fatal Love Chase, which is not bad but kind of archaic, if you know what I mean. Sometimes old books (Austen) are as fresh or better than fresh. Sometimes they're good in spite of being antique. This Louisa May Alcott book is very much a melodrama in the old-fashioned sense.

And The Lady and the Unicorn. I'd like to know what people think of Tracy Chevalier, because I loved The Girl with the Pearl Earring and I liked The Virgin Blue okay, but I still, somehow, don't think I like her. And this book....it doesn't help that I dislike the main character and mistrust the somewhat contrived seeming plot that's opening up. And I'm on page 30.

Humph. Okay, now you're up to date.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Original Neurosis

When I'm having an awful and frantic day at work, I often find the Boston Public Library website to be soothing and calming. Just going there, logging in, and looking at the list of books I'm planning to read gives me the tiny "Calgon, take me away!" moment that I need at 2:30 when the ftp server isn't cooperating and I realize that I haven't updated my revised budgets or schedules in any of our numerous databases and spreadsheets in, oh, six months or so.

But it just wasn't working today. I think I've figured out why; for the first time in a long time, I don't have anything on reserve. There's nothing that needs checking up on, no queue counter to watch tick down.

I'll admit, I'm actually considering putting a bestseller on reserve just so I have something soothing to watch. An Oprah book is always good, and Linden recommended A Million Little Pieces (though I listened to a sample of the audiobook, which was not very appealing). I'd probably be at least 150 on a waiting list for that book, and I could watch anxiously as it ticked down for the next three months.

And this, believe it or not, would be designed to make me feel better.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I Wish You Much Joy of the Worm

Kathy points out that I read a lot of books that I don't seem to like. I wouldn't have said that, but when I think about what I say about the books I read, I guess that's kind of true. I think it's a factor of a few things, though: one that I'm pretty critical. Even when I'm enjoying a book on one level, I'm often pretty aware of its flaws on other levels, and I hesitate to say something that might sound like a recommendation for a book that I would only recommend to someone with very specific tastes.

Another factor is definitely that I dabble. I pick up things that I don't necessarily expect to like--things I'm curious about without very high expectations, or books about things that I want to know more about, without a lot of hope or expectation for them as enjoyable literature. I checked out a book called Mothers Talking, which was a collection of short first person stories from moms. I had read that it was a little more honest about the hard parts than other books, but I stopped reading after about four chapters, because it was very Chicken Soup for the Soul. I read The Art of War by Sun Tzu, which was very interesting, and actually a pretty good read, but which I don't think I'd run out and recommend as hobby reading to anyone.

I guess I'm following my curiosity more than anything. This is one reason it's important to me to read a lot; if I didn't devote so much time to it, I wouldn't want to waste the time trying things that might fail, and I'd go for the easy pleasures--maybe challenging as literature, but not different or educational in the way I want them to be. If you gave me a choice between another 1500 year old Chinese treatise on war or the new Jonathan Safron Foer book, I can't honestly tell you which I'd choose. Probably the war book, actually.

I'm just looking for a different kind of challenge than most people, I think. And maybe it's not a literary one. I think that's okay with me.

Oh, and I gave up on Sex and the City. It was too gruesome.

Friday, November 11, 2005

So Incredibly Not a Novelization

If you like the TV show Sex and the City, you'll HATE the book! I've seen two episodes of the show, and it looks sweet and funny and character-centered. And yeah, it's blunt and graphic (I assume; I've only seen it in syndication on basic cable), but not as heartless, unromatic, and hopeless as this stuff.

Carrie Bradshaw, who is one of many "friends" who supplies the author with info for this nonfiction compilation of anecdotes, for example. In her second appearance in the book, she is in a fancy restaurant having lunch with friends. "She lit up her twentieth cigarette of day, and when the maitre d'hotel ran over and told her to put it out, she said, 'Why, I wouldn't dream of offending anyone.' Then she put the cigarette out on the carpet."

Is this the Carrie Bradshaw you know and love? No.

This book reinforces for me the fact that I would never wish to be a New Yorker. Or at least, a Manhattanite.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What Jen Should Read

List compiled for Jen K D, but you can use it too, if you want. I'm going for a good fun-quality ratio in each book--so none of these books are just "good for you"--they're all enjoyable.

Shining Through, Susan Isaacs. This book is the most fun ever. The narrator, Linda, is funny and smart, but susceptible to bad choices--the kind you can understand. You get all the drama and gravity of World War II, along with a great office-gossip storyline.

Note, however, that this is Susan Isaacs' best book. So if you want to give her a try, I recommend starting with Lily White. It is, in my opinion, her second best, and that way you get to read both, but the second one is even better than the first, which is always a good way to do it.

His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman. The three books are actually called The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. You have to be willing to read YA fantasy novels, but these are so much more than that. It's about religion and its role in society, and science and the meaning of life, and it's very sophisticated. I cried and cried and cried. I can't wait to read them again.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. He wrote The Remains of the Day, which I haven't read yet, and When We Were Orphans, which I'm reading now. (And by the way, what's with everyone's delusion that he's going to actually FIND his parents after 15 years?) Never Let Me Go was the first of his books that I read, and it was just lovely. He's so clear and uncomplicated, yet so very complex and personal. This is a book with a science fiction plot, but it is in no way a science fiction book. It's not the near future or an alternate reality. It's England, here and now, and it's about what makes us human.

The Midwives, Chris Bohjalian. I've been meaning to reread this, so I base this recommendation on my memory of how good this book is. Again, it's the best of his work. There isn't a lot to say about it; it's a coming of age story about a girl whose mother is a midwife who might or might not be in legal trouble. This author deals often with people whose lifestyles fall just between fringe and mainstream--homeopaths, dowsers, midwives--and his stories are often about people trying to find a place for these things in an "ordinary" worldview.

Which Lie Did I Tell?, William Goldman. Bill Goldman has written some of my favorite books (The Color of Light, The Princess Bride), but you're more likely to have seen his movies. He's a screenwriter, with credits like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All The President's Men, The Stepford Wives, and The Princess Bride. This book is part how-to for aspiring screenwriters, part memoir, part gossip-fest. He's got some very good insights (my favorite: In Hollywood, nobody knows anything. They like to pretend they can tell what will be a hit and what won't, but nobody understands how craft becomes magic), but his ability to tell a good anecdote and very conversational writing style really carry this book.

The Nun's Story, Kathryn Hulme. I will always recommend this, though it's not up everyone's alley. It's a very internal, quiet look at the life of a nun from the time she enters a convent, through her travels to various nursing posts, and to Africa, in the Belgian Congo. It was a movie with Audrey Hepburn, which I also love. Both book and movie are somewhat slow and very straightforward--there is no poetry here, except that the experience is poetry. Even the sparest writing style lets that shine through. I find this book lovely, and though I can't say I have reason to believe it'd be your exact cup of tea, Jen, I have to recommend it anyway.

That's all for now. More later, I'm sure.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Impassioned Blogging

I'm not someone who can write with passion, I guess. I was going to write about this article, which caused me to seethe when I read it. But then I read this other article that made a lot of my points for me, and my impetus was gone.

Though I'd still like to point out that I think she's on the wrong track when she considers the trends she sees to be anti-feminist. As a fairly well-educated woman of the modern age, I feel comfortable saying that it's not my desire to be owned by a man that made me decide to change my name when I get married. It's recognizing that the solutions to the problem of name change that we have (hyphenation, one parent not sharing a name with the kids) are all imperfect. And women deciding that they want to be in the home is not watching them flush their intelligence away--the fact is, there are also lots more stay-at-home dads than there used to be. I think that everyone is beginning to recognize that getting ahead in business is not always very satisfying, and that it's okay to feel like the people in your life, family and friends, are a bigger priorty.

Not everyone will agree with me, and that's just fine, but if I make that decision, I'm not a throwback. I'm gifted to live in a time when I get to choose my own priorities. And I'm grateful to everyone who came before me who made it so that when the time comes, I'll be choosing what to do about my career and my family. I think I'll enjoy being a mom, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot less if no one had ever asked me whether it was what I wanted.

Coming soon: a suggested reading list for Jen K-D.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Spoke Too Soon

Okay, so Spider has begun to purposefully mess up Fat Charlie's life. Sorry, Neil, you've tread into territory that innately troubles me.

I checked out the book Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell. I'm not a fan of the show, but the two episodes I caught have seemed somewhat charming, in a slick, shallow, too-rich, too-promiscuous way that I would feel bad calling "New York" if that wasn't the whole point. Aside from the morbid outlook (on page 3, a "happily married" friend of the author says that it's easier to be single than be in a couple, because instead of "fun"--described as drinking, drugs, and parties--your only choice is to sit home in your tiny apartment and stare at each other. ), the thing that bothered me was a huge glaring factual error.

She mentions Breakfast at Tiffany's as an example of romance. Okay, fine, either way. Then she says that Truman Capote understood romance, because these two independent people end up giving love a try. This woman clearly saw the movie, and then tried to use that to make a literary reference. I love this movie, but you don't get to talk about Audrey Hepburn and Truman Capote as though they participated in the same project. In the book (sorry for the spoiler), she doesn't end up with him--she runs off to Africa.

On this subject, I am incensed.

Also, it was in nonfiction. Hmm....

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Kudos to Gaiman

I have to say, Neil Gaiman's doing something in Anansi Boys that I didn't think could be done.

One of my pet peeves is the story about someone who's living a normal, happy, regular life, trying to be a good person and find a reasonable amount of happiness, whose life is then shaken up and turned upside down by someone wild and outrageous, with the moral lesson being that keeping your head down is an unacceptable way to live life.

Anansi Boys looked like one of those stories. Fat Charlie is clearly meek and not carpeing the diem. Spider shows up, and makes things "happen." Fat Charlie's a little miserable. And yet, Spider hasn't done anything to ruin Fat Charlie's life. Sure he's blackmailing his boss a little, but that's working out very well for him. Everything that's going wrong in Fat Charlie's life is his own fault or no one's--even indirectly, Spider is only making his life better, not worse.

So far, of course. But it's nice to be so pleasantly surprised.