Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Need to Share

I may have already mentioned this here somewhere, because it could easily be why I gave up on the book my first time around. But it's just too delightfully trashy not to offer up to the public.

(Warning: the following quote gets a little saucy, so send the kids out of the room!)

On page 1 of Philippa Gregory's The Queen's Fool, a nobleman is chasing his teenage stepdaughter around the garden while his wife looks on, valiantly ignoring the flirtatious subtext. She says something like, "Can't catch me!" and...

"'I can catch you any time I want to,' he said, thinking of the chase of sex that ends in bed."

Wow. Just wow. Did you see the episode of The Simpsons where Marge writes a romance novel, and it's just awful? It cannot be awfuller than that line. We should all be Philippa Gregory.

P.S. My spellchecker acknowledges the existence of the word awfuller. What is the world coming to?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


So I finished Pardonable Lies last night. I'm relieved that Maisie seems to really like her boyfriend, and appears to have smiled spontaneously (rather than in an effort to express pleasantness to another person) at the end of this last book. She still seems like a bit of a cold fish, though. I might read the next one, in hopes that she warms up.

And I'm almost to the end of Then We Came to the End. I like the book, and I think I get what he's doing. I'm curious about how the "payoff" I've heard about at the end works. I have to say that figuring out whether they'll come up with good ad campaigns is probably getting me more mileage than it as an idea is entitled to.

But now I'm at an impasse--what to read next? I'm not quite out of library books, but Anarchy and Old Dogs is another mystery, and I'm just not enough of a mystery person to be confident in that. I'll try it, but one book, dear people, is not going to tide me over.

I guess that technically I'm still in the middle of Star Spangled Manners, the extended Miss Manners essay on how American etiquette came to be what it is, and why it's so awesome (in a nutshell: egalitarianism). It's a good book, but being long and essaylike, better for dipping into than bolting down.

I'm supposed to go to the library with Sheila next week, which will open up a whole new world of possibilities. I'm thinking I might wait till then. But that means dipping again into the Shelves to pick the next big thing. Which way to go? The Pillars of the Earth looks good, but I'm pretty sure I shouldn't start anything that significant till classes end in two weeks. The Queen's Fool looks dumb, but Lord, The Other Boleyn Girl was so bad I laughed through most of it. Still, I bought the darned book. Maybe that's the way to go.

Not like I don't have enough borrowed books on my shelf, but I'm not hauling Brenda's gorgeous Richard Yates compendium on the train with me.

Oh, I can't forget to mention Escape, the crazy fringe Mormon cult plural marriage runaway story. I love fringe religion memoirs, both noble (nun biographies) and scandalous (cult escapees), so this is just what I'm looking for in an audiobook. Thumbs up.

In we dive. See you after finals on Thursday!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Then We Came to...Well, Here.

It's interesting, I'm in the middle of Then We Came to the End, and the lack of plot hasn't bothered me (or rather, the smallness of the plot--I think I figured out which of the little threads of anecdote were supposed to drive the story). But when Mike asked, "What's going on your book?" about 100 pages in, I had to think for about 10 seconds and say, "Nothing."

But what has sort of gotten to me is the idea of looking at people in an office environment as drones who THINK they're interesting and unique people. I guess there's this corporate stereotype that everyone is a faceless drone. But then when you're in the trenches, you see past the stereotype to the fact that each of you is a real person with a full life, a special and unique snowflake. But then by stepping back another step and seeing each of those separate lives as meaningless and swallowed up by the droning corporate world, without much of an internal life and with NO non-pathetic internal life, it just feels like it's unnecessarily reducing people. It's a book about quiet desperation that you don't even know is desperate. It's a friendly condescension, someone who's clearly looking at his own life that way, but since this guy wrote a book and presumably doesn't work in a cube farm anymore, or has proven himself to be non-pathetically extracurricular, well, he's exempt.

And the thing about it is, we look at people who work other jobs, now or historically, and there isn't this sense of drone-ness, of condescension, as though they'd given up basic humanity and weren't they foolish for it? You don't look at industrial workers who work a machine in a factory all day and turn up your nose at their lack of an internal life. You don't look at a farmer on his tractor getting heatstroke and skin cancer in the sun all day, pulling muscles and putting his back out without medical insurance and smile sadly at how hard he has to labor for so little payback (though, as an aside, I can say firmly that a farmer on his tractor has a rich, fertile internal life). Is it because they're less than us white-collars, and couldn't be expected to understand our wasted talent? Is it because of the inherent dignity of working with your hands? Is it because they are presumed to have only that job standing between them and starvation, while we, the white-collars, would have that factory job (or, more likely, a gig as a barista at Starbucks, or that book we always meant to write) to fall back on?

Oh, who knows? I'm overreacting, thinking not only about this book, but about articles I've read and just a vibe I perceive in the world. Think about The Office, and Jim's slow transformation into Michael Scott. Think about all the times you've wanted to give it all up to weave baskets to sell at Renaissance Faires, or to write music reviews for the Phoenix in your garret.

And I don't mean this as a condemnation, because the book is quite good. It captures the balance between work and interaction, the weird intimacy and yet anonymity of an office life, the boss you all respect and love and fear (hairy eyeball, anyone?), the scramble to look busy and the intense draw of gossip and distraction and cleverness. Their office has more outrageous characters than mine ever did, and more frantic energy, but it's also a dot com office, which accounts for a lot of the difference--I remember, even in my stable, never-at-risk job, the sense of more-more-more coming to a complete end, and the bewildered, lost feeling that goes along with it.

I'm no longer in the office, and before too long, I'll be joining the service sector. But I'll still have coworkers, and I'll still spend a lot of time fretting about budgets and doing what someone else tells me, and cleaning up crap (God, I hope just figuratively). I don't think any of us are going somewhere where our lives won't have those factors in them, except those special few novelists among us. I wish them good luck, but I hope they don't forget us white collars on their climb to the top.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Maisie Dobbs: Robot Detective

So this--Pardonable Lies--is the third Maisie Dobbs novel, and the third that I've read. I felt the first one dragged a bit, and that the second one was a lot better. They are meandering stories, full of character studies and lessons about trusting your instincts and meditating; I find that, with detective novels, especially, you have to get used to whatever your author is doing with the pacing before you can really dig in. Is it character-driven, and more about the detective than the case? Is it action packed, unrelenting adventure? Or maybe it's more about the mystery itself and the characters involved, with the detective just your reliable anchor of a narrator guiding you through the labyrinth of diabolical doings?

Maisie is the former--these books are about her detecting style, and the atmosphere of post-WWI London. I'm not against this; in fact, I'm really enjoying the setting, and how, ten years after the war, everyone's life is still touched by it, everyone's story is deeply affected by where they were, what they did, who they lost. This aspect is really poignant, well-researched, and lovely.

But Maisie herself needs to climb off her high horse. Seriously, the girl is an ice queen. On one hand, it does follow from her life--she was a parlormaid who, through brains and sponsorship, became a "psychologist and detective;" she was a war nurse who lost her love, she was a scholarship student at a women's college before 1920. These are things that are not easy to do, and that will cast a spirit of iron. But she is as cold a fish as ever I've seen. She has a beau, and she likes him a lot (as do I), but she is always thinking about her work when they're together and hopes like heck that he won't propose. Why? I'm not sure. Because she's so busy being a detective. Which is great, but if she's supposed to be such a student of they human psyche, shouldn't she learn a lesson about actually relaxing when you're away for the weekend? Balance?

Even before she had a business, when she was in love with Simon during the war, she didn't want to accept his proposal, because she "knew" something awful would happen. This is a good point--she was afraid to lose him to the war--but you don't feel her love, just her hesitation. Also, she doesn't do humor. She smiles and is pleasant, but she's never laughed that I can recall, or bantered, or even enjoyed someone's bantering without bringing them swiftly back around to the topic at hand.

I'd blame it on the author, but other characters are warm and affectionate. I'd say it was a plot point, but it's been three books now, and it's not really getting much better. I think it might be an examination of the ultimate reserved woman. And I suppose it's doing that very well. But I'm starting to side with Dr. Dene (her gentleman friend)--I feel the rejection on his behalf. And I'm half hoping he'll find a lovely, bright young thing to settle down with.

Prove me wrong, Maisie! Prove me wrong.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Confession is Good for the Soul

1) I am a terrible, terrible, evil person. I did not feed the cat. I couldn't sleep Sunday night. Brenda, Jason, Jasmine, I'm so sorry.

2) How does anyone get through school? How on earth did I do this as an undergraduate? With four classes, and papers and--man, I had FOUR concurrent jobs in college--I opened the day care center, managed the AV office, worked as a research assistant, and had a regular babysitting gig. Plus all the frigging homework. Jesus, there must be something wrong with me. Confession: dude, I have been skipping the assigned readings. Sigh.

3) The Sparrow was a fabulous book. It's a wonderful first contact story about making contact with an alien race, but it's also about the limitations of faith, and trying to comprehend life. Mary Doria Russell has written a sequel too. I can't wait to read it.

More soon; I'm so behind!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Well, never let it be said that I finished a book or three before starting another three.

Specials, by Scott Westerfield, is the third book in the Uglies series, and I had it out of the library for about 15 minutes before I started it. Those books always take a while to get into, because they use a lot of strange slang. The great part is that it feels very natural when you get into it, and isn't that hard to follow, but it's a zone you need to be in, if you know what I mean.

Something called Brit-Think, Ameri-Think, which is an entirely too precious title for a short, cute little treatise on the cultural differences between America and England (key difference: Americans think death might just be optional, and if you work hard enough you can beat it. Brits think everything is inevitable, and there's no point in trying too hard, because it all ends up the same in the end). I was practically reading this one at the stoplights on the ride home. Another layer to that book is that it was written in 1987, so a lot of the American aesthetics are based around shag carpeting and Dallas.

I'm still reading The Sparrow, which is beautiful and harrowing. I'm finding the middle a little weak, because the nature of the flashback structure means that I know how the story ends (no big giveaway: everyone but Sandoz dies), so the parts are not driving directly toward this end or its fallout are starting to make me impatient. But in a kind of a scared way--I know it's all going to go horribly wrong, but I have no idea where it's going to come from, and it's a little like a quiet moment in a funhouse--you know they're going to jump out at you.

There's more--oh, God, there's more--but I have no time now. Let's not even talk about the articles on articles on articles for school....

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mixed Messages

I'm very proud of myself, and also not. On the plus side: I'm reading two books that I own! Hooray! On the minus side, I'm waiting for 4 BPL deliveries, and checked 3 out of the Arlington library yesterday, because I was there and had ten minutes to spare and so of course couldn't NOT find a bunch of stuff to read.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, is so far just as good as I had hoped, which is wonderful. It was one of those ones where I SO wanted it to be great that I was afraid to read it in case it wasn't. But it is. There's a central mystery--it's told mostly in flashback--around the only survivor of man's first contact with an alien race. But there's so much information about what happened, that you rally just want the story. It's laced with sadness, but not depressing, which is hard to do.

Star Spangled Manners by Judith Martin. Miss Manners on American etiquette, which is dense (because her essays are always dense when they're not tempered by the question-and-answer format of her column) but interesting. I'm looking forward to a lot of info on where manners come from--the American fork-in-right, knife-in-left, then-reverse-to-take-a-bite is actually an older system than the British fork-left-knife-right-period system. This is because we adopted the fork more gradually, so most people ate primarily with a knife, then put the knife down to use the fork. Or something like that; anyway it's interesting.

I'd list all my library books, but I have to get to class. Another Maisie Dobbs, something by Georgette Hayer (who's supposed to sound like Jane Austen, and appears to), and some other stuff. More when I pick them up!