Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In Over My Head

I've never understood people who enjoy shopping, because I really don't. Even shopping for books doesn't really thrill me. But lordamercy, do I understand acquisition.

I went to the Cambridge Public Library today. It's a big, shiny new building with vast, sprawling shelves of shining new books. I swear somebody bought all those books in the children's room just last week. I was dumbstruck, and then I checked out about six books, to add to the 20 I already had.

I'm about to start on The Dead-Tossed Waves, which is a "companion book"--not exactly a sequel--to The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I was very excited about this book--'cause hey, zombies--but even just reading the first page, I'm remembering why I actually didn't love Hands and Teeth as much as I expected to. It was a really fantastic premise and world, but the actual story it was telling was somehow unfocused. It sprawled along, didn't wound back on itself, didn't really seem to know where it was going.

I think I've figured out why, though, just from the first page of Dead-Tossed. It's because the point of the book--it's driving force--is young lust. It's not a zombie story, or an adventure story or a survival story. It's about a girl who loves and wants a boy who for various (vague, hard to understand) reasons, she can't have. However much they're learning the secrets of their world and running for their lives, that's not why you're reading this story. The story was written because of lust.

And that's a valid, compelling reason to write a book. Look at Twilight, for crying out loud, with barely the pretense of a plot (all of which takes place in the last fifth of the book), just lots of gazing and longing and aching. Look at Harlequin, but also look at a lot of great literature about lust (I understand Proust addresses the subject). It's not even romance, it's just desire, and it's a perfectly valid thing to structure your book around.

But it's not really my kind of book. I think that Hands and Teeth makes more sense to me now that I think of it as a coming of age emotional story with a zombie setting, but it doesn't make me like it any more. Which is a shame, because the world building is really so great.

Ah, well. The great thing about literature today is that there's always another zombie book to be read. And the great thing about libraries is that they're free!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Best. Audiobook. Ever.

Warning: I'm going to use every cliched hyperbole of enthusiasm I can cram into one post here, because this book was a roller coaster ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat!

Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell, and it's embarrassing that I can't think of anything to say that actually tells you about the book without sounding like all the back cover blurbs and reviewers and what am I even here for? The book is funny and smart and FAST--it moves like the wind, and you can almost get whiplash only it never quite pushes you too far. It's about a resident at a miserable mess of a hospital, whose night is being complicated by bizarre illnesses, incompetent coworkers, an insane work schedule--and, oh yeah, one of his former mafia colleagues who threatens to tell everyone from his old life where he's keeping his Witness Protected self unless he (said former mafia colleague) is kept alive by our hero in the face of a terminal illness.

In between scenes from this one really, really bad day, we get flashbacks from our hero's life, which, as you can probably imagine, is full of adventures. It's not for everyone--it's violent, by a lot--but it's absolutely hilarious, and absolutely relentless. There's a scene at the end where I stopped the audiobook, called my husband (who read the book last week) and said, "Is he seriously going to do what I think he's doing?" And the answer is, "Hell yeah, he's doing that." I can't tell you any more without spoiling, but seriously, read the book and call me 20 pages from the end with that same question.

Now, I think I need to especially sell you on the audiobook. The narrator was awesome. I have never heard such a good performance, with such a pitch-perfect character. I know that part of the reason this worked is that the book was written in the first person with such a true voice, but man, this guy just hit every note. So if you're looking for an audiobook, this is the first one you should pick up.

And memo to Josh Bazell: I'm waiting for whatever you publish next. Any time now...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ed Norton Has a Widow's Peak?

Ed Norton starred in the movie The 25th Hour, which I enjoyed. What I really enjoyed, though, was City of Thieves, the second novel by David Benioff, whose first novel was The 25th Hour. So it seemed like I ought to read the book.
The people in the book are so well drawn that I was not even picturing the actors. They're sad and clear and strong and pathetic and exactly who they are. And the stories--the anecdotes--and the plot of the book were well-explored; it's a sad goodbye, which is explored on every level.

But. This is a book for a lover of writing, and of New York. It's the kind of book that contains all the neat little New York stories that a guy has been saving up--the monologues about death and loyalty, the loving descriptions of looking out across the river at Queens in the pre-dawn light, the strange characters you see on the street or meet in a nightclub or on a subway platform.

What that makes it is not my kind of book. I can appreciate the execution, and I can enjoy the characters and the story, such as it is. But the foundation of this book is about texture and observation--and New York--and, as such, is really not meant for me.

Benioff has a book of short stories, too, which has some nice blurbs. I wish I liked short stories more. Brenda, you should read it. (Or hey, somebody else--this is a public blog.) It's called When the Nines Roll Over. Somebody let me know how it is. I absolutely loved City of Thieves.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

This One's For You, Melissa

A million years ago, in another life, a friend and coworker of mine moved away. In one of those random bouts of purging that I never seem to go through, she gave me a little pile of books by Garth Nix and said I'd love them. And she moved away and I haven't seen her in ages, which makes me sad.

Somehow, I never read the books, either. I think it was partly the lack of information: I had the recommendation and three very long paperbacks with less-than-informative back cover blurbs, and that was it. Even the titles were character names--no information there. I had no idea what I was getting into, and (as we all know) a hugely long list of things to read. Aside from the fact that they were clearly fantasy and that Melissa Montgomery liked them, I had nothing to go on.

As part of my Personal Library Renaissance--now more like a Personal Library Outreach Program--I picked up Sabriel, the first the series. The prologue was interesting, shading perhaps a hair toward the melodramatic. High fantasy, solemn fantasy. Okay. Chapter one appeared to take place in a version of the modern world that included magic and--promising--the undead. Promising. Our main character is a boarding school girl whose father has also been privately training her to become a necromancer.

Okay, I'm totally marking the kind of geek I am by saying this, but KA-CHING!

I'm loving this book. Still near the beginning, but it's a very strong story--characters, telling, everything. So thank you, Melissa Montgomery, wherever you are.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Newest Library

Well, since the Chinatown Storefront Library project ended, I found myself with some free time on my hands--or at least, free energy. Fortunately, at the farewell party I met a teacher who works at the high school that was accepting a large batch of donations from our YA collection.

The Josiah Quincy Upper School is a new-ish charter high school in Boston, tucked into a corner of Back Bay and Chinatown. They're currently working on building a serious library, as part of their goal of International Baccalaureate accreditation. This all sounds very impressive--and it is--but Peter Chan is the teacher who's there in the weeds--moving furniture, making plans, running committees. I just go in once a week and enter books into the catalog. My small part!

Just today, though, I ran into a teacher from the McGlynn school, here in Medford. I used to volunteer there before the baby was born. When the new year started after Adam was a few months old, I found out that the librarian and the aide who had worked there when I did had both left. I never ended up going back. It turns out, though, that their positions have not been filled; the school doesn't have a librarian, just a few teachers managing to keep the doors open for classes to come get books as necessary.

Part of me thinks, "They need me!" Another part thinks, "This is what they get for not funding the library." And a third part is saying, "Um, how many volunteer gigs can you do at once?"

I don't know. I'm feeling kind of introverted lately--note the rare blog postings. But then again, I always have a hard time passing up opportunities to do things. So--what would you do?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Catching Up With Bill Willingham

The title makes it sound like I know the guy and we're going to have an intimate conversation in this blog post, but no. I'm referring to the fact that I'm very close to having read all of the issues of Fables that have been published so far, and I'm going to have to start (gasp!) waiting for new collections to be published.

Given the nature of public libraries and comics, this makes it equally likely that I'll have to start buying collections, since I have no idea how long I'll have to wait to get my hands on collections when they come out. It's nice, though, that I caught up just as the major story arc that took up the first 10 volumes that came out is finishing up just as I catch up. Is it possible that I'll become a serial comic reader? Perish the thought; I'm far too cheap.

I was discussing Fables with some friends the other night, though, and I wanted to give some advice to anyone who's thought of giving it a try: the first two volumes don't do the series justice, by any means. Volume 1, Legends in Exile, has one of the most let-down endings I could have imagined for it. I was really enjoying it, and then there was an ending that was very nearly as lame as "and it was all a dream." (Though for the record, it wasn't all a dream. It was just that lame.) I gave the second volume a shot, and it was even more intense. But the ending, though better, was proportionally just as bad. (Vol. 1: story = 7, ending = 2; Vol. 2: story = 9, ending = 4; it's like an SAT question.) This one wasn't actually bad, it was just sort of nothing. "And then the adventure was over and everything went back to normal."

But volume 3 is where the ongoing story sort of picks up, and the backstory that has been hinted at and filled in gradually steps to the forefront. The stakes get high, the stories get meaningful, the resolutions get satisfying. And it all builds to volume 10, War and Pieces, which is about having a solid plan and executing it with skill. So satisfying, I'm almost afraid to move into volume 11.

By the way, I'm sorry about the long silence here. The past few weeks have been very busy on the home front, and not very busy on the literary one. I've been reading the same book (Children of God) for well over a month now, because I keep being afraid something upsetting will happen and putting it down. I often read only two or three pages a day, which can fail to add up.

But I'm kicking back into gear; expect more library exploits and literary outings in the next few days.

Monday, March 01, 2010

And the Winner Is....

....growfamilygrow! Congratulations, and you win your choice of books that I've recently really liked: Chalice, by Robin McKinley, Fool, by Christopher Moore, or The Family Man, by Elinor Lipman. So we're talking rich, classic-style fantasy, or clever, hilarious, bawdy sendup of King Lear, or modern, intelligent, heartwarming chick lit?

I'm totally buying one of these for myself, too. I think I'll pick one of the ones that you don't. So let us know which you'll pick! I can gift it to you through Audible, if you'd prefer, or send it through Amazon. Please let us know which book you want in the comments; you can contact me via email (or PM) for your address.

And to everyone else--I have to say, I'm actually feeling really bad that not everyone can win a book. I'm totally doing one of these again, the next time there are a few options I'm finding myself dwelling on.

In the meantime, thanks for entering. You should totally get all these books at the library; that way everyone's a winner. What? Too treacly?

And a shoutout to Saralinda, who gave us up for Lent. Another time, one and all. Thanks again!