Monday, February 27, 2006

Giving Up My Indie Cred

I just don't like David Sedaris.

Admittedly, this is more based on his readings on the radio, and he does have the most annoying voice in the world, so there's that. But I think it's less his voice than his tone--irony drips from every word, there's just no sincerity whatsoever in there, no emotion that he isn't mocking even as he claims it. And as we all know, I'm a huge proponent of the New Sincerity.

This brings me to the book I finished this weekend, The Age of Innocence. That is sincerity taken to the most poignant, rending conclusions possible. To give up your life, your chances of joy in life, for the sake of "what people would think." It's so hard for me to imagine how it would feel to be constrained by everyone around you from something that might seem innocuous.

And the insanity is that, after being denied the ability to make the reasonable change--breaking off an engagment--he's almost driven to something that even today would be tragic--running away and leaving all his life behind for his true love.

An excellent, sad, poignant book.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ode to Book Club

You know, despite my mezze mezze feelings about book club, I have to admit, I've been introduced to some good writers through it. Richard Yates and Graham Greene come to mind as two people I would never have read (in the case of Richard Yates, possibly never even heard of) if they hadn't been book club picks. And now I've got one of each on my Borrowed shelf.

So thank you, book club. You done good.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mixed Blessings

Well, it's always very sad when this happens, but it also makes my life a little easier. I just started to read Bookends, by Jane Green, which I selected because a friend likes the author. I have to say, I just can't get into it. There's a weakness to the storytelling--I keep losing track of how much time has passed--that I just can't get past. I'm sorry, Tracy. I do love trash, you know that. I guess this just isn't for me.

Let me give an example, though, because, well, because I critiquing fiction last night and I'm in the zone. So, the main character is at work and on the phone with her best friend, Simon. She says she has an appointment and needs to go, so they hang up. Then the book segues into her thinking about her friends and introducing them to me. So far so good--I don't need to go with her to her business meeting. But when it segues back into the "now," to what's going on around her, it's because the phone rings and it's her friend Simon who wants to tell her about something. So there's no indication at all of whether her appointment already happened or if he's calling her back five minutes later. They have a leisurely conversation. I read the passage twice trying to figure it out. If it was Joyce, or Toni Morrison, even, it would be compelling to be drawn back to reread and figure out what's going on. Not what I was looking for though. (Again, Tracy, I'm so sorry!)

But, I do get to cross it off my list, bringing that down to 54 again. And I think I might have discovered a useful new standard. When I realized I wasn't getting into it right away, I checked how many pages in the book (350) and decided to read 35 pages before giving up. Ten percent; that seems fair, right?

So: one down, 54 to go.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Brokenest of Hearts

Sorry for the long delay in posting--Blogger's been a pain this week, and work has been (gasp!) busy. But let me tell you of yesterday's tragedy.

A few weeks ago, I bought a boxed set of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I've been so excited to start it, but busy. Finally, for the past week, I've made it my before bed book. Such fun! And Saturday morning, just at the part where Lyra has been caught in Bolvangar and is going to be severed from Pantalaimon, I discover...missing pages!

Yes, the signature containing chapters 15 and 16 appears twice, while the sig containing chapters 17 and 18 is entirely missing.


Tomorrow I'm going to head back to Barnes and Nobel to see if I can get a replacement that doesn't have the problem. I hope! Thank heaven we live in our own filth, and I hadn't thrown away the bag with the receipt in it.

In other news, I finished listening to Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz. It wasn't bad, but I don't think I'd recommend it. The shape of the story was just kind of strange. I wouldn't say I'd have liked it better if I'd been reading it (Blair Brown's reading was excellent), but I think that not knowing how far along in the story I was really affected my understanding of what was going to happen. There was a chunk in the middle where I thought I was approaching the end, but was actually approaching the halfway point. I guess the middle lags, is the problem. The crisis/semi-mystery is set up at the beginning, and then the middle is spent establishing a life for these people. The events of that life come to a head fifteen years later, but going from Ruth's five-year-old life to her eighteen-year-old life is a little choppy. At the point where her father ceases to be useful, he conveniently becomes a merchant marine. Well handled, but, again, convenient.

I think it was a middle-of-the road, reasonably good book.

The Age of Innocence is quite good. I'm curious about a lot of the euphemisms and generalizations that Newland uses--what "life experiences" is he missing, what "dangerous knowledge" is kept from his naive fiancee? I'm not even sure he knows. But I think that if I were to actually see the society he lives in, I would be startled by the restraint and boredom. I think Wharton does an excellent job, in his character, of examining his world as both an insider and an outsider. He loves it, but can see its flaws, and feels constrained by it and supported by it at the same time.

I need a copy of The Golden Compass right now!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Moving On

Why do they close at 5 today? Why? I was going to go at lunch but I got distracted and then was working and then it's too late and when I get out of work the library will be closed and I can't go to the library. It makes me so sad.

I finished The Tiger in the Well, which I really enjoyed by the end, but I have to say, Philip Pullman has ruined it for himself with His Dark Materials. He can't top that. What's he going to do? His only choice is to go on hiatus for ten years and then have his next novel come out in fifteen. By then everyone will be salivating and no one will care if it's good.

I'm reading The Age of Innocense now, which I might have to set aside for more pressing tasks and unpublished works, but which will carry me through the commute nicely. I'm really enjoying it--Wharton is very funny, and she does a good job of critiquing the upper class and their propriety subtly while writing from the point of view of someone who completely buys the whole worldview completely, and yet without being derisive. I think it might run into trouble with a modern reader, though, because her aloof criticism, mild as it is, might not seem scathing enough for a modern reader.

I remember reading Emma with Book Club Incarnation 1. It was one of the first ones we read. A lot of people didn't like it--not because of the old fashioned writing, but because of the ideas about class. The idea that there is someone who is beneath someone else--that Emma's friend (I can't remember the names in the real book, so we'll use Clueless)--that Ty acutally isn't good enough for Josh. It's funny, and I should have brought this up at book club, darn it!--because when you translate it into modern times, you see that Ty isn't clever enough or deep enough for Josh--even though she's a lovely person. They don't have common interests. That's exactly how it was back then, only they had this shorthand called class. And yes, that would have been used to keep a clever Ty down, but face it, that girl (Harriet, I think was her name) was not clever.

I think it's interesting how hard it can be to read a novel from another era through the lens of that era, and combine that with your own views, and still enjoy it on all levels. That's what makes classics "classic" I guess.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


But it's so hard.

Martha Beck, who wrote Expecting Adam and Leaving the Saints, two books that I enjoyed very much and which really affected me, wrote another book called Finding Your Own North Star. She's what she calls a Life Coach, and I'd really like to look at what she has to say about finding your calling and your place in life. From her column in O, I suspect that she's kind of touchy-feely and much more about giving you permission to feel things you're resistant to than she is constructive in suggesting a life-goal to a mediocre project manager, but I want to hear what she has to say.

But. When have I ever checked out one book? Mhm. You see? So if I did that, I'd end up getting the Hasidic exiles book, and the next Mma Ramotswe book, and that Groucho Marx autobiography, and, and, and.

I resist. I'm reading The Tiger in the Well, which, I'm terribly sorry Katie, is no His Dark Materials. (If he knows all those details about Sally's life, of COURSE he'll recognize her assistant when she comes to spy on him.) I'm rereading The Lark and the Wren, which I might quit in a chapter or two because the last third has little to do with the very enjoyable first third. It's good, but a different book. I'm going to read The Age of Innocense before anything next. Plus Erin's novel for writer's group, and soon Katie's novel...and...and....

If someone would pay me for all this, I could live a long, happy, wealthy life.