Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How I Feel About Books

I've never done this before, but this post at The Rejectionist explains how I feel about a lot of literary fiction.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nautical Happenings

In honor of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, I have been planning to post a selection of piratical books that I have enjoyed.

You might not know this based only on my reading habits, but I am really big into swashbuckling. Give me high boots, a poofy shirt, and a skinny sword any day. It doesn't show up in my reading as much as in the movies I like, but still, in my heart I am the swooning maiden on many a Harlequin cover, as long as there's a ship in the background.

So let me give you a little taste of some of my favorite pirate books, for readers of all ages, in no particular order.

The Sweet Trade, by Elizabeth Garrett.
This novel covers the well-documented and oft-accounted story of Mary Read and Anne Bonny, two notorious female pirates of the 18th century. I have a vague idea of the parts that are literally factual, but I don't know how much of the personalities are captured.

I do like, though, that the book contains another of my favorite tropes--the girl-disguised-as-boy. If I remember correctly, Anne Bonny is just a swashbuckling lass tooling around with Calico Jack and his pirate crew, and Mary Read was a sailor who had been disguised as a man for years and living a soldier's life, and who eventually fell into pirating.

Another worthy thing about this book is the sense of balance it gives. Pirating is not seen as glorious and delightful--a lot of their crew are drunks and louts, a lot of people's lives are hurt. You see the freedom and the violence, and I think that's an unusual balance to find in a pirate book.

The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists, by Gideon Defoe.
British humor, Charles Darwin, an a great deal of ham. There's some cross-dressing in here, too, used to more humorous effect. The Keystone Cops on the high seas. Very funny, and you should read this.

I Love My Pirate Papa, Laura Leuck.
This one is for the little kids--a picture book about a little boy and his stuffed hippo, and the life they lead on the pirate ship where they live with his Pirate Papa and his fearsome crew.

Under the Jolly Roger: Being an Account of the Further Nautical Adventures of Jacky Faber, by L.A. Meyer.

This is the third in the Bloody Jack series, but I include it because it actually involves privateering. Jacky knows her way around a ship, and these books are all funny and delightful and full of swashbuckling and hijinks. This is one of those series where I sometimes wonder why all books aren't like Bloody Jack. Kris, if you're reading this and you've never read this series, you should go out right now and do it.

Okay, the hour is getting late, and if I want this to make it online on the actual occasion of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, I need to hop to it. If anyone has swashbuckling book recommendations for me, though, I'll take them with thanks!


**Correction and apology:
it's INTERnational Talk Like a Pirate Day. So sorry, to all those non-American pirates out there!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Ladies and gents, Adam and I went on a little adventure to Lexington's Cary Memorial Library today, where we saw the Most Glorious Children's Room Ever, were chatted with and helped spontaneously by two separate employees, AND acquired a copy of Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins. I have died and gone to library heaven, and it's on Mass Ave in Lexington.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Like Mint in a Mojito

Which is to say, muddled.

(How far won't I go, ladies and gentlemen, for a post title?)

Maisie Dobbs (post-WWI British mystery), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (post-WWII British epistolary novel), and Q's Legacy (sequel to a post-WWII British/American epistolary memoir) are getting all befuddled in my head.

I'm reading about the woman who published 84, Charing Cross Road (which you MUST read if you haven't--it takes an hour and it's so charming), and then I'm reading a book of letters from a writer to a reader that take place in the same time period as 84, CCR. The characters in the novel Guernsey Literary are getting mixed up with the bookshop owners in 84, CCR. When Juliet said she was going to visit Guernsey, I became convinced she'd never get there, after decades of dithering. But no, that's Helene, not Juliet.

And then, just when I get all into these Nazi occupation stories, I put on my audiobook and forget that the Germans were Huns to Maisie--there were no Nazis yet. I keep wondering what happened to all the small town characters I'm thinking of--what's going on with Amelia? Oh, no, wait, she's in the other book.

Up next: Disney movies of my childhood: Pollyanna and Escape to Witch Mountain. Don't think Haley Mills isn't going to dance through my dreams tonight.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Follow-Ups and Conclusions

1) The Family Man, by Elinor Lipman, is that elusive beast that I've long stopped looking for--a book in which you like the characters and nothing awful happens to them. I used to sort of lament that you never got to know your favorite characters when their lives are going well, because only when things fall apart do people write novels about you. Once, I found a book in which the characters are all good folks to whom good things happen: Three Wishes, by Barbara Delinsky. It was really, really awful.

But The Family Man is more about little bits of drama, rather than crisis. Admittedly, it makes for somewhat less than compelling character development, but there's a nice plot, and enough tangles and annoying people to keep you reading, but never to the point where you're getting furious. I was wondering for the first third if someone was going to die suddenly to make it more intense, but no--it's just a fun book.

2) Maisie Dobbs and I are good friends now. Audiobook totally worked for that; she comes across as being solemn instead of a dead fish. I never quite noticed how often she touches people on the arm, though, and I'm still not sure I'd like her in person.

3) I've missed Catching Fire again! When I checked in before heading to Cambridge yesterday, it was gone. At least, though, I know that they're keeping a browse copy there. If I check every day, there's a good chance that I'll be able to run over and snatch it up before someone else does. Brenda, be ready to run on my signal.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Quest for "Fire"

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins, came out last week; it's the sequel to The Hunger Games, which was an action-packed YA read from last year. The waiting list is outrageous--25 people waiting for five copies at the BPL (three of which are on order, rather than available), something like 215 waiting for 40 copies in the Minuteman system. So I developed a little quest for myself.

See, a few branches will have "local request only" copies, intended for browsers, so that we tricky reserve people don't suck up all the copies for the first six months. Chelsea public library had a copy like that, so last week Adam and I set out to find Chelsea public library.

I've been to the neighborhood two or three times--driving a friend to the garage that was fixing her car, picking up a piece of furniture from Craig's List. It's a little convoluted--a lot of three way intersections at weird angles with one way streets and no signage. But it's very downtown, so no one's driving too fast, so you can creep along and figure things out.

My main problem, it turned out, was that the library doesn't have their own website. Their info is on the City of Chelsea website. Because of that, Google coughed up the wrong address for me, and somehow I ended up at City Hall instead of the library. I headed home in frustration, only to realize that the library is across the street from City Hall, and if I'd turned my head thirty degrees to the right, I'd have found it.

A week later, armed with better information, we headed back. Found the library, ended up a mile and three neighborhoods away due to one way streets and poor parking options, but we managed to circle back around and find a spot by cutting across three lanes of traffic. Sweet.

The library itself is a creaky old building, tiny and very, VERY weirdly organized. YA is a shelf in the "Family Room," which is also where nonfiction is. Fiction and nonfiction are either misunderstood or (I like to think) simply mislabeled. Fiction has its own room, and then there's something that's either a media room or else a staff room; hard to tell.

The personnel were attentive, but strange. The first lady seemed to be having a different conversation than I was, albeit on the same subject. I would say something like, "Well, there's her other book, but I don't see the one I want," and she'd say, "Oh, you found it?" Or I'd say, "Well, here are the C authors," and she'd promptly jump a few feet down to the G's. Or I'd say, "Is there a computer I could use to check the catalog?" and she'd say, "Maybe you should check the catalog." It was kind of surreal.

Then the librarian at the counter seemed intent on figuring out whether they had bought the book (looking through book receipts) in spite of the fact that it was in the catalog. Finally we just established that the book had been checked out, the catalog was wrong, oh well, and I went home, escaping with my sanity and a handful of books that the Disney people made movies out of in the '70s (Escape to Witch Mountain, Polyanna).

I'm on the waitlist, but the Central Square branch of the Cambridge library has a browsing copy, and Adam has only been to 8 libraries. Our goal was 10 by his first birthday--Central Square it is!

Monday, September 07, 2009

On Again, Off Again

Maisie Dobbs and I have that kind of relationship; in real life you'd say it was unhealthy. As it stands, though, I think this time we've really found a way to make it work. I really feel like we've figured out how to be together without my calling her a cold fish and her treating any casual attempts at conversation with humorless formality. I really feel like we've found each other's wavelength.

The secret? Audiobook.

I really do find that the audiobooks can overcome certain types of problems, either issues with the writing, or with my personal ability to connect with a book. Specific kinds of humor, especially the kind that is so dry as to be easy to miss, come across much better with a speaker to point them out. Similarly, Maisie's precise and clinical personality seems much warmer because the narrator is able to put the warmth into her voice.

It's wonderful. Like we've found each other again. Okay, maybe I'm not in love, but the spark is definitely there.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Lady Lit, or I Ain't No Chick

Sometimes I get Elinor Lipman and Susan Isaacs confused in my head. They generally write quite different books, and their styles are fairly different--Isaacs goes for either light adventure stories or epic life-spanning personal histories with lots of dry verbal humor. Lipman is a little more "literary," in that her stories are generally smaller, more personal family stories (usually with a strong romance plot), with fewer dry jokes, but an intelligent and witty use of language. I'm not quite sure why I get them confused.

Anyway, I like a lot of Isaacs' work, but I haven't liked her more recent books. and Shining Through and Lily White are two of my frequent re-reads, but I found Any Place I Hang My Hat to be lackluster to the point of boring, and I couldn't even get past the first chapter of Past Perfect (ex-spy-turned-TV-writer-turned-neurotic-New-York-wife-and-mom, I'm exhausted). And somehow, my constant confusion made me doubt Lipman.

I should not have. Her expertise is in writing the character who sweeps into the life of her straightlaced protagonist and turns their life upside down. In Then She Found Me, it's a long-lost biological mother; in My Latest Grievance, it's the narrator's father's first wife. These books make me almost twitchy with anxiety--I like my neatly ordered life and would never dream of letting anyone like Isabel from Isabel's Bed into it--I love them, too.

So when I started The Family Man today, I was really nervous. Partly because I had my lingering disappointment with Susan Isaacs in the back of my mind, partly because it looked to be another book about someone who ignores what you want and everything you say and does whatever she damned well pleases with your life. But also because the jacket flap made the book sound kind of annoying. A single, fifty-something gay man living in New York reconnects with his ex-wife of many years ago and the young woman who was, for a brief time, his stepdaughter. Hi-jinks ensue.

Does this or does this not sound like kind of story where you have to watch a guy get bullied and manipulated by women who are out for his money, or having fun setting him up, or just teasing him mercilessly? The jacket copy goes on and it just sounds worse and worse, like I'm not going to like any of these characters.

But I was wrong--I love them all. The daughter, the father, even the memory of his deceased best friend. The ex is just annoying enough to complicate the plot without making me want to throw anything at all at the wall. I'm twirling blissfully around the living room, and breezing through this book. And I'll tell you, I could use a breeze, and am glad to have found one.