Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm A Quitter

Man, I can't find anything decent to read! I've given up on like 3 books this month and can't get through anything!

It started with The Stand, which officially ended my increasingly arduous goal of reading Stephen King's complete works. I got 400 pages in. Even though that's not even halfway, I've decided that is a FAIR amount with which to determine that I was bored and didn't care about any of the characters. At all.

A friend of mine said: "You have to get to the scene in the Lincoln Tunnel. It's so creepy, and that's when it really starts getting good." Well... it's not, and it's not. Sorry, friend, and sorry, Stephen King! I'll keep reading The Gunslinger at some point and then be done.

I also quit reading a book called Black Sea by Neal Ascherson. That wasn't bad or boring at all. Quite the opposite, actually. The problem is I lack a certain basic historical knowledge that would help it make a lot more sense. I couldn't focus on all the names and peoples that were being thrown around from all these different points in history, so I ended up going "AAAAH I CANNOT DO THIS WHERE ARE MY VAMPIRE DIARIES DVDS!?!"

So I'm a quitter. It was a month before I finished a book, but last night I got to the end of Predictably Irrational, and I'm halfway through Veronika Decides to Die, so things are back on track.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Gunslinger


The Gunslinger / Stephen King
New York : Signet, 2003
xxviii, 300 p.
Originally published: 1982
The Dark Tower, v. 1

This heroic fantasy is set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace that is a dark mirror of our own. A spellbinding tale of good versus evil, it features one of Stephen King's most powerful creations -- the gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualitites of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier Western legend.

This has been a pretty Stephen King-heavy blog, and I'm afraid that's not going to end anytime soon, which is strange considering how average I've found some of the things I've read. Icon status goes a long way for me.

The Gunslinger fits in the high-average category, but when I say that you have to imagine a HUGE asterisk next to it leading to a footnote that reads "I realize it is rather unfair to judge this book at all since it is only volume one of what is essentially one long novel." I could wait and evaluate The Dark Tower as a whole, but honestly, if you're going to publish an epic story over numerous decades, each potion needs to stand up to criticism. That's how I rationalize it.

So as a book, The Gunslinger is high-average, but as the first part of a giant series it is full of promise. Being basically an introduction, it is high on mystery and low on explanation and revelation. This is to be expected, but I wouldn't hate a more concrete idea on what exactly is going on.

The setting is ambiguous, which starts the reader on an unbalanced footing. It was a good move. King throws you into the world with a character who knows a lot, tells you very little, and expects you to catch up. It's interesting at first, but the constant stumbling gets frustrating, and I found myself wanting one or two key concepts spelled out so I could summarize the book beyond "there's this guy chasing this other guy and this kid comes." What is appealing about this is the feeling of drifting in a world where there is so much possibility. Almost anything can happen because we have no idea what can't.

I'm willing to bet it also invites rereads of the series once a person has the whole of it under his belt. In fact, if I were to reread this book right now after just finishing it, it might work very well.

The backstory of the main character is presented in extended flashback sequences, which were some of the best parts of the book, partially because the parameters of the world were more firmly-established. It's not always clear when King skips about in time, which added to my general bewilderment, but eventually you'll pick up on the rhythm of it.

At the beginning King exhibits an unpleasant and gratuitous obsession with sexuality. Most of it was needless references to balls and stuff, and it felt like the book was written by a 14-year-old. It goes away early on, though, so just bear with it.

But basically The Gunslinger does in a whole book what most fantasy books do in the first 4 chapters. It gets you started, throws a lot of ideas at you, and says "We'll work this out eventually; just put it all in your head." And it does this well. To justify it as a standalone novel, King has a basic plot arc including a dramatic turn, but it was too early in the overall story to carry much weight. If you're willing to take the time to read a multi-book epic (i.e. you've ever touched anything by Robert Jordan), then... well... good for you. I'm not recommending anything yet.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Shining

The ShiningThe Shining / Stephen King
New York : Pocket Books, 2001
xviii, 683 p.
Originally published: 1977

The Overlook Hotel is more than just a home-away-from-home for the Torrance family. For Jack, Wendy, and their young son, Danny, it is a place where past horrors come to life. And where those gifted with the shining do battle with the darkest evils..

Just finished this one a few minutes ago on the train, and it was pretty engrossing, though after reading it I can unequivocally say that it's definitely not 1977 anymore.

The problem with setting the standard in a genre is that your ideas become tropes. Then the tropes become clichés. Suddenly your book doesn't fare the same in a contemporary reading.

When you approach The Shining, you have to keep two things in mind:

  1. You already know what's going to happen. Even though the movie is drastically different from the book, the basic elements are all there: hotel, hinterlands, "Here's Johnny!"
  2. Even if you don't know what's going to happen, you will a third of the way through the book. This is because of what I said before. This story has been told 1,000 times since.

That said, The Shining is pretty much not that great anymore. Now I've only read Stephen King's older works so far, but from what I know, though he's a good storyteller, he wasn't a great writer in his early years. There are awkward moments in this novel where the writing does something so ridiculous it takes away from the tension. One example that stands out is when Wendy (the mom) was creeping down (or possibly up) the stairs terrified. I don't remember why; who cares? Anyway, King was counting steps: "ten steps, a dozen, a baker's dozen..." ...really? A baker's dozen? You portray the chillingly slow passage of time and suspense with a cutesy phrase like that?

That's symptomatic of the main problem I had with this novel. Oh, this is the **SPOLER ALERT** paragraph. I never liked the Kubrick movie, so I was excited when I read that in this book King was trying to move on from the naked evil of his previous novels to a sort of psychological horror that comes from more fleshed-out characters, particularly Jack. But then Jack's problems were all "father issues" this and "alcoholic" that, and it wasn't a particularly stirring portrayal of alcoholism at that. So King had moved from one form of unsophistication to another. And this was all made moot at the end when it's not even Jack's complex past that pushes him over the edge. They may have set him up for it, but it was the evil hotel's fault.

The Overlook Hotel as a character suffers from a similar contradiction. Years of history and memories have accumulated in this place, and like with Jack, the reader is never sure whether the place's evil history has built up into this manifestation or whether the manifestation was there all along and caused the evil history. This would have been a great question to play with, but at the end it's basically clear that the hotel was evil all along and collecting people through insanity and murder. So much for complexity.

I criticize because I care, though. Were this book not so universally (and if I may say uncritically) praised, I wouldn't have to much to say. This is by no means a bad book. But some amateurish moves, poorly-chosen imagery, and thirty-five years of horror media make it not that great either. To its credit, it did prove to me how miserable that movie adaptation was.

Anyway, I've probably pissed enough people off. Until next time!

Oh, P.S. I'd like to request that none of you ever bring up those asinine hedge animals ever again.



Cockroach / Marion Copeland
London : Reaktion Books, 2003
200 p.
Animal Series

Cockroaches are horrible. I'm pretty sure I've got legitimate katsaridaphobia, your word of the day, which means "fear of cockroaches." It's probably common, but a few weeks ago I saw a giant one in my otherwise pristine bathroom, and I stood there paralyzed for almost 20 minutes sweating before I was able to back up and get my spray. The spray is awesome because it has an incredible range, so I hit it from all the way across the room and the thing went NUTSO and started COMING AT ME, so I ran backwards and kept the spray drowning it, and it was twitching and going nuts but still running until finally it gave in and died. Ugh, it still freaks me out just thinking about it!

Anyway, I had this book Cockroach on my shelf because it's part of this neat animal series. It's basically a survey of the cockroach in the human experience, starting with science and taking a look at psychology, human relations, art, and literature and how perceptions of the cockroach have shaped and been shaped by different cultures over the years.

It's interesting, if not entirely coherent. Copeland doesn't seem to be leading to any particular thesis, instead just riffing for 200 pages on mankind's most loved and loathed insect. It's good.

The author lingers on the literary more than anything else, so I wasn't surprised when I looked her up and saw that her background is in literature. This isn't a criticism, though I did approach the book hoping for more on cockroach iconography.

Although the book was good, I do have one criticism: IT DIDN'T WORK! I thought it would help me see the beauty and life in these infesting abominations, but I had another one in my house yesterday and I was still terrified and killed by dumping poison on it. Sorry, dudes. Just stay out of my house.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Oh hai!

Here I am! Don't ask. I've been sick and then away, but I'm better and back now.

I've barely been reading. I got through 4 novels and have read half of a bunch of others, but nothing could keep my interest for very long. Nothing I read in its entirety has even impressed me that much with the exception of The Fellowship of the Ring, which managed to surprise me. I'd tried reading that three times in my life previously, and each time I got bored and fizzled out. This time, I couldn't put it down. Now I'm midway through The Two Towers and loving it as well.

So since I've been so ambivalent about most of what I've read, I'm not going to talk about any of it or play any catch-up at all. Books you will not get to hear about include The Stranger by Camus, Rusalka by C. J. Cherryh, and especially The Human Stain by Philip Roth because it turns out I have no patience for that author.

Oh, I just remembered I read Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden. That was quite good, so maybe I'll do a thing on that.

Ok bye! Pretend I never left and it'll be like I never left!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Magic's Promise

Magic's Promise

Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey
New York : DAW Books, 1990
320 p.
The Last Herald-Mage, bk. 2

The wild magic is taking its toll on the land. Many Heralds and Herald-Mages have died fighting to preserve the peace. Even Vanyel, the most powerful of the Herald-Mages is almost at the end of his strangth, in need of a respite from the dual threats of war and dark magic.

I'm going to keep this brief because I don't have much to say. I read this last week during the read-a-thon, and it ended up being a good choice for that because I found it engrossing. It's a strong narrative and a compelling story, and if you've read Magic's Pawn, the first novel in the trilogy, I'm going to suggest you try to ignore how angsty and whiny it is and try this one out because it's far better.

Vanyel, our protagonist, still has some unresolved feelings about the events of the first book, which occured 10 years before the second, but he doesn't obsess on them so much as last time. The first significant portion of this novel (more than half) is very domestic. Vanyel returns to his childhood home (castle) and deals with family issues, and it is these things that make the book strong. Lackey has a knack for character interaction and day-to-day living stuff. Reading it, I almost forgot I was supposed to be expecting some sort of huge tale of might and magic.

She does get there, though, but even this aspect of the novel has to do with the destruction of a family, a lost boy, mentorship, and identity. It's a creative, fantasy-style conflict that also ties into the themes of the first half, making Magic's Promise a tight, well-crafted work. If you've read the first and are iffy, give this one a shot. If you haven't read the first, maybe skip and and give this a shot anyway.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Lost Books of the Odyssey

The Lost Books of the Odyssey

The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010
vii, 228 p.
Orig. published in slightly different form in 2008

Zachary Mason's brilliant and beguiling debut novel, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, reimagines Homer's classic story of the hero Odysseus and his long journey home after the fall of Troy. With brilliant prose, terrific imagination, and dazzling literary skill, Mason creates alternative episodes, fragments, and revisions of Homer's original that taken together open up this classic Greek myth to endless reverberating interpretations.

The Lost Books of the Odyssey is punctuated with great wit, beauty, and playfulness; it is a daring literary page-turner that marks the emergence of an extraordinary new talent.

So, I haven't read the Odyssey yet, but being in my Greek Stuff mode and making (very slow) progress on the Iliad, I thought this would be a nice quick book to read in the spirit of all that. And it really was worth it.

The book is basically a series of vignettes that add scenes to the saga of the Odyssey and retell (or recontextualize) some that you may be familiar with. They're all very different, and it's important to know going into it that they're independent of one another. They don't provide a continuous narrative, and oftentimes the plot and character development between two sections is contradictory.

This is inspired writing. Some of the parts are epic like one would expect from the old Greek tales. Others are more intimate and modern. But all of them vivify Homer's tale and the characters therein. I approached this with a fairly strong knowledge of the Homeric heroes and the tales of both the Trojan War and Odysseus' journey, and I suggest anyone who reads this do the same. This book depends on the Iliad and Odyssey, a background in which will greatly enhance the experience. Happily, I believe this will work the other way around. Mason's work will color the way you approach Homer's timeless epics.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hours 19-19.75 (2:00 a.m. to 3:45 a.m.)

Y'know what? I hate to do this so close to the home stretch but I am SO TIRED that I'm dozing off 3 times a page at this point. Air, water, tea, pacing, none of it is enough to keep me up. I'm afraid I have to call it quits. Almost 20 hours I made it... and y'know, I feel good about that. I've had fun. I've read 3 great books and parts of a couple more. I made it a lot longer than I thought I would, and I'll have a brand new goal of "All the way" for this fall's read-a-thon. So thank you hosts and hostesses, cheertators and cheertatrixes, he-readers and she-readers, and everyone in between. It's been lovely.

Titles of books read in this span:

  • Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey -- p. 260-320 (finished)

Pages read in this span: 61

Running total of pages read since started: 779

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
  • The Stranger / Albert Camus
  • Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey

Mini-challenges completed:

  • Hour 1 Mini-Challenge
  • Where In the World Have You Read? Mini-Challenge
  • Mid-Event Meme

Other activities this span:

  • The drifting off
  • The saying of goodnight

Hours 17-18 (12:00 m. to 2:00 a.m.)

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh.... I'm getting sleepy, but my book's getting good. There's a good chance this is the last you'll hear of me until morning, but hey, maybe I'll surprise us.

Titles of books read in this span:

  • Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey -- p. 190-259 (in progress)

Pages read in this span: 70

Running total of pages read since started: 718

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
  • The Stranger / Albert Camus

Thoughts on current read: Unnnnh.... brains....

Mini-challenges completed:

  • Hour 1 Mini-Challenge
  • Where In the World Have You Read? Mini-Challenge
  • Mid-Event Meme

Other activities this span:

  • The running out of lattes
  • The inserting of many eye drops

Hours 15-16 (10:00 p.m. to 12:00 m.)

Ding ding, it is officially one hour past my bedtime, lectors and lectrices, at least on days when I'm up at 7 like I was today. I got into my pajamas, which was probably a bad idea, but it couldn't be helped. I will not retire to my bed, but my couch is very comfortable and sometimes I spend the night on it for no reason other than whim. But I will persevere!

Titles of books read in this span:

  • Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey -- p. 142-189 (in progress)
  • A History of Philosophy, vol. 1: Greece and Rome / Frederick Copleston -- p. 127-132 (set aside... might have to give up on this one for the night)

Pages read in this span: 54

Running total of pages read since started: 648

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
  • The Stranger / Albert Camus

Thoughts on current read: Magic's Promise... uh still good. Even moreso? Yeah I like it even more.

Mini-challenges completed:

  • Hour 1 Mini-Challenge
  • Where In the World Have You Read? Mini-Challenge
  • Mid-Event Meme

Other activities this span:

  • The buying of one last latte to be consumed slowly over the next few hours
  • The taking of a long, luxurious bath
  • The changing into pajamas
  • The writing of a very important e-mail I was supposed to have done 12 hours ago

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hours 13-14 (8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.)

Ok, cue low-grade tiredness. Maybe it's digestion, but I think maybe it's time for some tea. Was one-track this time 'round, just read my silly fantasy novel for a while. It got good after all!

Titles of books read in this span:

  • Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey -- p. 77-141 (in progress)

Pages read in this span: 65

Running total of pages read since started: 594

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
  • The Stranger / Albert Camus

Thoughts on current read: Magic's Promise did indeed improve. I'm halfway through now, and it's surprisingly domestic, all about the main character's visit home after a long time. He's basically dealing with personal problems, but Lackey has a good sense of character in this one, and the whispers of trouble on the horizon keep me expecting it'll take off. Quite good.

Mini-challenges completed:

  • Hour 1 Mini-Challenge
  • Where In the World Have You Read? Mini-Challenge
  • Mid-Event Meme

Other activities this span:

  • The eating of delicious sushi
  • The having of yet ANOTHER wazz (stupid lattes)

Mid-Event Survey

1. What are you reading right now?
I'm mostly concentrating on Magic's Promise by Mercedes Lackey and A History of Philosophy, vol. 1: Greece and Rome by Frederick Copleston.

2. How many books have you read so far?
I've read (meaning picked up and read) 6, but have only gotten to the end of 2.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
Honestly, I'm loving this philosophy book. I'm also going to maybe reread Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin, which I haven't read in years. And maybe some Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics in the collected editions when it gets late. I have had those sitting around for a while.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?
Yeah, if you read my "Plans" post yesterday, you know my "special arrangements" are basically "lie to people that I'm out of town." :-)

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
I got into a text-message exchange with my mom, but I like talking to her, so I multi-tasked.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
My fatigue level, which is like zero. I think I'd peter out by now, really.

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
Nope. Wait, yes, pony rides.

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?
As a Reader, I'd do exactly what I'm doing now, but I'd do it in my 5th Avenue penthouse. REALISTICALLY, however, I'm thinking this would be a super-fun thing to do with someone else. I really like reading with people (like, on opposite sides of the room) and also it'll probably be useful to have someone with me in the late-night hours. Online Cheerleaders are great (and I seriously mean that; I didn't know you guys would actually write RHYMING CHEERS) but they can't put an airhorn to your ear when you're dozing off.

9. Are you getting tired yet?
No more than usual. I have sushi coming, so I'll perk up.

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?
I get up and meander around every now and then. Also, I have all the windows in my house open. Stuffiness is nobody's friend, and sometimes you don't realize how little air you're breathing when you're engrossed in a good book.

Hours 11-12 Update (6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.)

You will all be disappointed to know, cats and kittens, that I was unable to book J-Lo for the Halftime Show, but I do have some yummy sushi coming that you can all pretend you are eating with me. But hey: HALFTIME! Wheeee! My page counts are lower now than they were at the beginning, but it's because I'm reading books with far more words on the page than I was before. And this 500-page philosophy brick is slow-going.

Titles of books read in this span:

  • Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey -- p. 50-76 (set aside)
  • A History of Philosophy, vol. 1: Greece and Rome / Frederick Copleston -- p. 96-126 (in progress)

Pages read in this span: 58

Running total of pages read since started: 529

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
  • The Stranger / Albert Camus

Thoughts on current read: My "current read" is once again that history of Greek philosophy, and I'm loving it. I've finished the first two parts: "Pre-Socratic Philosophy" and "The Socratic Period". Up next: "Plato". I have almost zero background in philosophy, and this author has a great way of assuming knowledge at first, which makes it very difficult, but then explaining things anyway, so you start out all "WTF?" but a few pages later you're all "Oh hai, I gets it!"

Mini-challenges completed:

  • Hour 1 Mini-Challenge
  • Where In the World Have You Read? Mini-Challenge

Other activities this span:

  • The ordering of dinner (Sushi!)
  • The deciding to take a bath later
  • The having of another wazz

Hours 9-10 Update (4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.)

Wowza, creatures and creaturettes! Ten hours down. Not bad. I pushed through the afternoon lethergy and am pretty good to go with now in terms of energy. Here's the rundown:

Titles of books read in this span:

  • Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey -- p. 15-49 (in progress)
  • A History of Philosophy, vol. 1: Greece and Rome / Frederick Copleston -- p. 81-95 (set aside)
  • The Professor of Desire / Philip Roth -- p. 136-152 (abandoned for good finally)

Pages read in this span: 67

Running total of pages read since started: 471

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
  • The Stranger / Albert Camus

Thoughts on current read: Magic's Price, it turns out, is far better than it's predecessor. Still not too deep into it, but it's not whining at me at all. Little talky, though, and much of it repetition of feelings, but once the plot starts, I'm hopefully it'll move along.

Mini-challenges completed: Hour 1 Mini-Challenge

Other activities this span:

  • The walking of Around the Block to get air and perk up
  • The getting of a latte
  • The drinking of said latte
  • The NOT seeing of Sexy Latte Boy

Hours 7-8 Update (2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.)

Eight hours past, and now it's four. I'm getting my early afternoon sleepiness, but I've never fallen asleep at my desk at work, so I can definitely push through this right now. Maybe I'll go get a cup of coffee soon... see if Sexy Latte Boy is working.

Titles of books read in this span:

  • The Stranger / Albert Camus -- p. 34-123 (finished)
  • Magic's Promise / Mercedes Lackey -- p. 1-14 (in progress)

Pages read in this span: 104

Running total of pages read since started: 404

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason
  • The Stranger / Albert Camus

Thoughts on current read: Being only a few pages in, it's hard to say. The first book in the Last Herald Mage trilogy was a little too emo-kid for me, but this one seems like it will be less so... just some light-hearted fantasy.

Mini-challenges completed: Hour 1 Mini-Challenge... I'm not doing these like I thought I would be... partially because my camera is sick and at the doctor's, and a lot of them kinda require one.

Other activities this span:

  • The eating of lunch
  • The texting of mom for a while

Hours 5-6 Update (12:00 n. to 2:00 p.m.)

Another two hours flown by, lords and ladies! This one went faster than the others, I'd say. Pretty weird. Usually I start showing signs of fatigue after reading for 6 hours, but it doesn't seem to be happening yet.

Titles of books read in this span:

  • A History of Philosophy, vol. 1: Greece and Rome: From the Pre-Socratics to Plotinus / Frederick Copleston -- p. 47-80 (set aside... loving this, but it's slow reading)
  • The Stranger / Albert Camus -- p. 1-33 (in progress)

Pages read in this span: 67

Running total of pages read since started: 300

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason

Thoughts on current read: The Camus is very different than I expected. It hasn't quite gotten off the ground entirely yet, though, so I don't have a total conception. But I'm liking it.

Mini-challenges completed: Hour 1 Mini-Challenge

Other activities this span:

  • The transferring of clothes to the dryer
  • The having of a wazz
  • The ordering of lunch (from my neighborhood French/Senegalese restaurant)

Hours 3-4 Update (10:00 a.m. to 12:00 n.)

Hello again, cats and kittens! Four hours gone, and it feels like nothing at all. I finished that awesome book this time around... and that's kinda it. Not really sure what I'm gonna do next yet.

Titles of book read in this span:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason -- p. 118-228 (finished)
  • The Decipherment of Linear B / John Chadwick -- p. 74-80 (set aside.... too dense!)

Pages read in this span: 116

Running total of pages read since started: 233

Books finished since the start:

  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason

Thoughts on current read: I'm sort of between projects right now.

Mini-challenges completed: Hour 1 Mini-Challenge

Other activities this span:

  • The finishing of a latte
  • The starting of the washing machine

Hours 1-2 Update (8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.)

Hey there, dudes and dudettes! It's been a great 2 hours in which I've read half a novel. (Though it's technically not a novel, I think.) Anyway, I'm wanting to get back to it because it's super good, so... ok here's the rundown so far.

Titles of book read in this span: The Lost Books of the Odyssey / Zachary Mason -- p. 1-117 (in progress)

Pages read in this span: 117

Running total of pages read since started: 117

Number of books finished since the start: Zero, awwwww

Thoughts on current read: Most excellent. Very skillfully written.

Mini-challenges completed: Hour 1 Mini-Challenge

Other activities this span:

  • The drinking of a latte
  • The eating of coffee cake

Hour 1 Meme

Where are you reading from today?

New York City!

3 facts about me

1. I'm a librarian who doesn't work with books.
2. I have a stuffed pillbug from IKEA named Klappar Skalbagge who will be my reading partner today.
3. I like pie.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours?

20. Half of them are things I've started in the past and abandoned or forgotten about. (I want my bookmarks back, basically.)

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)?

Uh, no, because I don't want to set myself up for disappointment when I fall asleep at 2 in the afternoon. :-)

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time?

I'm not a veteran. My advice is LOTS OF COCAINE! Just kidding, my advice is do not forget to feed the cat because it does not care that you are reading.


Alright, I just overslept a tiny bit, and I'm feeling a bit more tired and lethargic than I'd hoped, but I am primed to start on time today nonetheless! It's 7:24, and I'm gonna get a tune-up (grab a shower), start my engines (grab a latte), and hit the ground running.

7:25. Clock's ticking! Off I go.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Read-a-Thon Plans

Before I saw the post inviting participants to talk about Read-a-Thon plans, I didn't think I had any. I was just gonna dive in and go. But upon reflection, I realized that I've been putting things in motion for a little while now.

I made sure to plan nothing for that day, obviously. Last fall something came up at the last minute that stopped me from participating, which was super annoying. So I told a few people that I was doing it this year and wouldn't be available. The thing is, with most of the people I know, saying I'm unavailable because I'll be in my house reading for 24 hours is not an acceptable excuse. So to cull accusations of "ditching" and "being anti-social", I just decided to make up a big old lie because apparently I am not above lying to my friends for the purposes of being alone. Anti-social, what?

Anyway my lie is that I'm going to D.C. for the weekend. Living in New York, it's a short and inexpensive bus ride with the benefit that nobody I know here knows anybody I know there. Oh and as far as they know I'm leaving tonight so nobody expects me to go out because I don't want to be tired tomorrow. And it also will allow me to sleep all day Sunday. DON'T TELL!

I should let it be known that I'm not lying to my advanced friends, just some of the peripheral ones.

In terms of provisions, I have a whole bunch of tea and that is all. I believe there is some old guacamole in my fridge as well. I'm afraid to look at it. So I go grocery shopping tonight.

Books? The only thing I know is that I'm going to intersperse shorter novels with parts of things I'm currently in the middle of such as a book or two from the Iliad or a couple chapters of my philosophy book. In the interest of not spending infinity dollars, I allowed myself only one new book for the 'Thon: The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason. So I'll probably start with that. The rest of the material will have to come from my extensive TBR pile, which is crammed into my bedroom closet until I get permanent shelves installed in my apartment. (This is going to be a total home-improvement summer, P.S., so you should all be excited for me.)

So that's it! Tea and a book and a dastardly lie. See you guys at the Lincoln Memorial! *wink, wink*

March 2010 Month in Review

March was one of those months that took infinity years to pass by, and now April is zooming like a .... something something. Anyway that's why this is late. Because that explanation makes so much sense.

March was also very non-fiction-heavy. So, uh... ok here's what I've got:


  • The Expedition of Humphry Clinker / Tobias Smollett -- I petered out on this one. Overall: Feh.
  • The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony / Roberto Calasso -- I haven't reviewed this yet because I'm having trouble doing so. This book was so good I don't feel like anything I can say will do it justice. Seriously.
  • Fahrenheit 451 / Ray Bradbury -- Uh, I also didn't review this one because I read it in a couple hours and then forgot I did so until just now. So maybe later. It was... fine. It was what you expect from a book they make you read in high school.


Anyway, April promises some interesting stuff. I just finished Rusalka by C. J. Cherryh, which wasn't my favorite book ever but still was pretty cool. (That link is to her ugly ugly webpage.) I'm also working on a book on the decipherment of an Ancient Greek writing system called Linear B, a history of philosophy series, and uh... yeah maybe I'll pick up Mists of Avalon again. Dunno why I stopped, actually, that book's pretty good.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory

The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory

The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future / Cynthia Eller
Boston : Beacon Press, 2000
276 p.

Many of us have come across a story about ancient, female-centric, goddess-worshipping societies in some context or another. These are typically evoked as paradise societies wherein people enjoyed peace and prosperity due to gender equality and a reverence for females and their child-bearing capabilities.

Many of us are also familiar with those artifacts that get dug up now and then -- the "goddess statues" that generally look like very full-bodied women, which people have taken as evidence that it is a representation of a mother-goddess used in worship. I've personally always wondered, though, how we can possibly know what a statue like that was used in a pre-literate society that left behind no records. Couldn't it just as easily be a piece of art or -- dare I say it -- an erotic pin-up girl? I've always wondered that, but never pursued the question.

But Cynthia Eller has. In this rational and thoroughly-researched book, she examines the theories and rationales put forth by feminist scholars, particularly the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, for the most part casting light on how flimsy the argument for a matriarchal society in prehistory.

Feminist herself, Eller outlines the reasons why a past matricentric society is appealing to many women for reasons of empowerment and to provide hope that we can have gender equality and eventually reform this idyllic society. But she maintains that much of evidence for such a past is spurious, derived from scholars seeing what they want to see in artifactual and artistic evidence. Her arguments are convincing and rational. In fact, I think she often concedes even too much to the scholarship she is disputing.

This book is not long and quite readable, so interested in the flip-side of this conception of history that's worked its way into an almost universal conception of how things may have been (whether we give it much thought or not), this is definitely worth reading.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Greek Homosexuality

Greek Homosexuality

Greek Homosexuality / K. J. Dover
Updated and with a new postscript.
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1989
x, 246 p.

This is an extremely thorough book on the topic of... uh.... oh, yeah, Greek homosexuality. Like the book about women in Greek myth I reviewed a couple hours ago, this also provides a complete and balanced survey of the evidence, recognizing contradictions without fitting anything into a preconceived idea.

His analysis is largely of a well-documented court case of a man accused of soliciting sex from another man in such a way that didn't fit into society's rules governing homosexual encounters. (So much for the Daily Gay Orgy theory, guys.) There's also a lot taken from painted vases, which is fun, and the book has copious plates so you can follow along. I especially liked the analyses of comedic drama where he draws conclusions from what people back then found funny... but that sort of thing has always fascinated me.

Anyway, that's basically all these is to say: well-researched, well-written. Pretty much the best book I've read on the subject... out of one.

Humphry Clinker

Humphry Clinker

Humphry Clinker / Tobias Smollett
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker
London : Penguin Books, 2008
Originally published: 1771
xxxiii, 465 p.

Squire Matthew Bramble, a gout-ridden misanthrope, travels round Britain with his nephew, niece, spinster sister and manservant, the trust Humphry Clinker. In poor health, Bramble sees the world as one of degeneracy and raucous overcrowding, and does not hesitate to let his companions know his feelings on the matter. Peopled with pimps, drunkards, decadents and con-men, Humphry Clinker displays Smollett's ferociously pessimistic view of mankind, and his belief that the luxury of life in eighteenth-century England was the enemy of sense and sobriety. Presented in the form of letters from six very different characters, and full of joyful puns and double entendres, Humphry Clinker is now recognized as a boisterous and keenly observed masterpiece of English satire.

Dudes, I couldn't finish this book. It's interesting. So I was into it 3/4 of the way through. It was amusing and unique, though it had it's dry parts. I was liking it. And then one day I looked at it sitting there on my counter, battered in that way Penguin books tend to get, and I thought: "OH MY GOD IF I READ ANOTHER PAGE OF THAT BOOK I WILL KILL MYSELF I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING!"

I don't know what went wrong! Smollett's little cast of characters alternates narration, and they are varied with their own distinctive voices. They travel around England and Scotland visiting spas as part of Matt Bramble's convalescence. He is a grumpy realist who describes the setting and culture of all these different towns, which can get a little dull since I don't know these places and never will because it was 250 years ago. The other travelers are Matt's sister, a desperate spinster, his pretty but frivolous niece, the nieces scholarly brother, a handmaiden, and Humphry Clinker, Bramble's steward, and for the life of me I don't know why he is also the title.

Anyway, all the characters have their own takes on the locations and situations that arise, and it's all very well-written and entertaining, especially if you have a little experience with 18th-century British literature, so... I dunno, I just couldn't do it, ok!?! Ugh, I'm a failure.

Women in Greek Myth

Women in Greek Myth

Women in Greek Myth / Mary R. Lefkowitz
2nd ed.
Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007
xix, 238 p.

My word, it has been a long and busy month. I have been hosting houseguests and travelling the whole time, and basically I'm super tired BUT I've read about half a million books, which hopefully I'll have time to touch on.

Anyway, I've decided to talk about the nonfiction stuff I read on here now too because it's been taking up a lot of my time lately, and otherwise I will have nothing to say a lot of the time. So anyway, I'm on a sort of Greek mythology kick, which I am ashamed to admit was kick-started by those stupid Percy Jackson books although I assure you the desire lay dormant before.

So I read this book, Women in Greek Myth one day at the library because it was raining like a something something outside. It's a pretty straightforward and balanced approach to... well... women in myth. The author has taken some flack for not having a more staunchly feminist (and sometimes apologist) standpoint, but I personally found it refreshing to see a book about mythical women that wasn't all about Zeus as serial-rapist.

There are sections on the goddesses, misogyny, rape and abduction, and a lot of it is related to the lifestyles of actual (living) women in Ancient Greece.

So yeah... a good, solid introduction to the topic, and since she's not vehement about her opinions, it's a good way to inform your own reading of the texts without the Scholarly Brainwash that's sometimes hard to overcome.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays -- The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

Teaser Tuesday time again, hosted by MizB. How it works is you grab the book you're reading, open to a page, and pick a juicy two-sentence teaser. No spoilers, obviously.

This week's teaser comes from Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, which is honestly, the most inspired book I've read in ages. If you have an appreciation for Greek mythology, you really really must read this.

Every time Zeus turned himself into a snake, time's arrow flew backward to bury itself in the origin of things. At which the world seemed to hold its breath, listening for that backward movement that marks the passage from one era to another.

Monday, March 1, 2010

February 2010 Month in Review

February was a mixed sort of month in terms of reading success. I read only 5 books, all of which were pretty shortish, but I started a number of long things, many of which I'm almost done with. I'm almost through Humphry Clinker, almost through The Iliad, halfway through a really incredible book called The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony that I can't wait to get back to. So all is well.

So I finished:

That's it, but since I'm at the end of so much stuff, I'll have plenty to write about over the next few days.

I'm also on a bit of a Greek mythology kick, so I've read a bunch of essays, most notably from a book called Interpretations of Greek Mythology edited by J. Bremmer. Good stuff. Sort of a pot-pourri of works approaching the study of mythology in different ways.

Ok that's it!

The Sea of Monsters

The Sea of Monsters

The Sea of Monsters / Rick Riordan
New York : Disney Hyperion Books, 2008
Originally published: 2006
Percy Jackson & the Olympians, bk. 2
279 p.

Percy Jackson's seventh-grade year has been surprisingly quiet. Not a single monster has set foot on his New York prep-school campus. But when an innocent game of dodgeball among Percy and his classmates turns into a death match against an ugly gang of cannibal giants, things get... well, ugly. And the unexpected arrival of his friend Annabeth brings more bad news: the magical borders that protect Camp Half-Blook have been poisoned by a musterious enemy, and unless a cure is found, the only safe haven for demigods will be destroyed.

So, I read this a couple weeks ago, but I keep putting off the review because I honestly have nothing to say.

You all know how I feel about The Lightning Thief (below) and all I can really say is that this one was less offensive, though this is perhaps only because with 100 less pages, there were 100 less opportunities to drop the ball. The awkward, cutesy anachronisms were fewer, which is nice. And it kept me turning the pages to the end, which is a talent, but not one I put much stock in. The Da Vinci Code did the same thing, and I'm one of those judgmental jerks who hated it.

So in the end: Feh. But I'll keep reading the series anyway.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief / Rick Riordan
New York : Disney Hyperion Books, 2006
Originally published: 2005
Percy Jackson & the Olympians, bk. 1
375 p.

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school... again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus's master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

My good friend Ryan expressed an in interest in seeing the first Percy Jackson movie this weekend, so like a good book-to-movie conversion enthusiast, I devoted part of my snow day yesterday to reading the first novel, The Lightning Thief. It's both good and bad, but... well there's really no excuse for the bad.

To begin, a summary: A boy with a mean guardian finds out he has powers for which evil dudes want him dead, so he goes to a special training facility to hone said powers where the kids are sorted into groups wherein the members have similar personalities and one group is unpleasant, ugly, and mean. There he finds out he is the Chosen One, sort of. Then he befriends a really smart girl and an awkward boy who doesn't believe in himself, and they face insurmountable odds to retrieve a powerful artifact from the embodiment of evil, and in the end they find out that a supreme bad guy that is supposed to be gone is gathering followers and planning on returning. Everybody cheers for the boy and his friends at the end.

That said, THIS IS NOT A HARRY POTTER KNOCK OFF! It was written in 1994. It's just really unfortunately similar in so many ways beyond the bounds of the typical "every story borrows from every other" rules. But honestly: pure coincidence.

Anyway, I love Greek mythology, and Riordan did a lot right and had some great ideas here. Unfortunately, it was really poorly executed. Riordan is no fancy writer. Neither was Rowling, to be fair, but she had some sense of language and narrative elegance. I don't believe that Percy is a child, mostly because Riordan is trying SO HARD to make him sound like one. And that's the main problem I have with this book: he's trying too hard.

A lot of the creatures and gods (who have shallow, caricatured personalities based on their "domains") feel thrown in, like he wanted to get as much in there to show us how creative he was. It makes the book feel episodic, which is fine, but all this "then he met Medusa", "then he met the stretching giant", "now he's in a children's casino for 4 days" didn't tie into the main thread. At the end, the book implied that the monsters were attacking him because of the evil bad dude and their quest, but I don't buy it.

The casino episode was especially bad. The trio wanders into a building where they are given free reign of a gorgeous hotel/arcade/casino for children. Some sort of spell is put on them where they eat and play games and suddenly Percy finds out a kid has been there since 1977 and thinks only 2 weeks have gone by, so he snaps out of the reverie. Then he snaps Annabeth out of it by saying the word "spiders", which she is afraid of. Then they leave without incident and 4 days have passed. No explanation, no consequences. The scene, which had no dramatic tension, served only to advance the plot 4 days. See, Riordan set an arbitrary 10-day deadline for the kids to finish the quest, and then when he realized that it doesn't take 10 days to get from New York to LA, so he did that.

But parts of the book were pretty ok. The overall plot still has a lot of potential, but he really needs to not play around so much with the gimmicky "modernized mythology" crap. Get the narrative down and the story right, and you won't have to make reference to playing Hillary Duff on a pan flute to get a cheap giggle.

I hear the next books get better, and this can make a great set of movies, so I'm on board with the franchise. I'm also glad that this is one of those books that "gets kids reading", but honestly, is it really a victory to "get kids reading" if what they're reading has the same low standards of quality as the television shows everyone claims are rotting their brains? Substandard literature is NOT a gateway drug to good literature.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wondrous Word Wednesday: Snow Day Edition

Hosted by Bermuda Onion, the point of this meme is to share all the new words you came across this week. Yay!


SNOW DAY! I don't have to work! I know I shouldn't rejoice when houses of knowledge are shut down, but I've had a lovely, lazy day so far, and people can get their learn on tomorrow. Anyway...

To begin, from Story of O by Pauline Réage:

gynaeceum -- in ancient Greek and Roman houses, the section of rooms set apart for women

Jacqueline was her professional name, a name chosen to forget her real name, and with it this sordid but tender gynaeceum, and to se herself up in the French sun, in a solid world where there are men who do marry you and not disappear...

This refers to how the character grew up in a small apartment with her mother, aunt, and grandmother. It's not a brothel or anything, though I suppose the term could still apply.

The next one is from Philip Roth's short novella, The Breast.

adipose tissue -- basically, fat tissue

...I experienced myself as speaking to others like one buried within, and very nearly strangulated by, his own adipose tissue...

Fun fact from Wikipedia: "Adipose tissue is derived from lipoblasts!" Exclamation mine.

Ok and to finish up, these are from The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett.

valetudinarian -- a weak or sickly person, especially one morbidly concerned with his or her health

Its communication with the Baths,is through the yard of an inn, where the poor trembling valetudinarian is carried in a chair, betwixt the heels of a double row of horses...

That was neat... not all what I expected that word to mean.

encomium -- a Latin word deriving from the Classical Greek ἐγκώμιον (encomion) meaning the praise of a person or thing

In the course of coffeehouse conversation, I had often heard very extraordinary enconiums passed on the performances of Mr T--, a gentleman residing in this place, who paints landscapes for his amusement.

lububrations -- that which is composed by night; that which is produced by meditation in retirement; hence (loosely) any literary composition

[N]ay, they do not even scruple to arrogate themselves the merit of some of his performances, and have been known to sell their own lucubrations as the produce of his brain.

That's it! See ya next week!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays -- The Lightning Thief

Teaser Tuesday time again, hosted by MizB. How it works is you grab the book you're reading, open to a page, and pick a juicy two-sentence teaser. No spoilers, obviously.

I'm taking a break from everything else to read Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief real quick before the movie comes out. It's pretty ok so far, I guess.

I realized I hadn't eaten anything unhealthy since I'd arrived at Half-Blood Hill, where we lived on grapes, bread, cheese, and extra-lean-cut nymph-prepared barbeque. This boy needed a double cheeseburger.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Breast

The Breast

The Breast / Philip Roth
New York : Vintage International, 1994
Originally published: 1972
89 p.

Like a latter-day Gregor Samsa, Professor David Kepesh wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed. But where Kafka's protagonist turned into a giant beetle, the narrator of Philip Roth's richly conceived fantasy has become a 155-pound female breast. What follows is a deliriously funny yet touching exploration of the full implications of Kepesh's metamorphosis—a daring, heretical book that brings us face to face with the intrinsic strangeness of sex and subjectivity.

Ok, so truthfully, I bought this book because I'm 5. But I've wanted to read Philip Roth for a while, and I thought it'd be a fun thing to read in an afternoon. Turns out it was!

I read and reviewed The Metamorphosis this morning, and this book is open about its similarity. The main character is an English professor who turns into a giant breast. But unlike Kafka's protagonist, who deals with his family's various reactions, David Kepesh winds up in a hospital with a sympathetic doctor, and a father and girlfriend who visit regularly. This novella is instead about his own mental state: dealing with insatiable sexual arousal, convincing himself that he is insane rather than actually a breast, and then seeing it as the ultimate art piece, all the while maintaining his sense of identity.

The book is amusing and clever, but not life-changing. I do enjoy Roth's style, though, (not to mention the fact that these Vintage International editions are rather attractive) so I'm definitely pumped to start exploring him soon, beginning with The Human Stain.

The Metamorphosis


The Metamorphosis / Franz Kafka
Die Verwandlung. English
New York : Bantam Books, 1972
Originally published: 1915
Translated by Stanley Corngold
xxii, 201 p.

I read this book real quick this morning (I took the day off work) because a few days ago, I bought a couple Philip Roth novels to try the guy out. I grabbed The Human Stain because a librarian friend of mine is hosting a book group discussion on it next month, but I also grabbed The Breast because it was so short. Since The Breast has a similar plot to Kafka's novella, I thought it best that I actually read the thing like I neglected to do in high school. So I dug out my battered old mass market copy previously owned by "Vutti" and put off my shower for an hour.

So everyone knows the basics of the story: "When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." Or whatever translated variant you've heard. The rest is about his family's reaction and what they have to go through while he's alive in this state.

Some of it is pretty silly, like how all he thinks about the morning this happens is how he has to get to work. I understand clinging to your last vestiges of normalcy to keep from going insane, but dude, you can't even roll over. And the family's (relatively) calm reaction is a bit unreal, but so it tuning into a bug, so ok.

I found the most interesting character in this to be not Gregor, but his sister Grete, who is the only non-bug character who undergoes a transformation. Gregor also changes, becoming increasingly resentful of his family's inability to accept that he's still in there. The parents do about what you'd expect, so what really made this story stand out and take its place in history, I think, were the siblings.

Anyway all of you already read this in high school probably so ok bye.

Story of O

Story of O

Story of O / Pauline Réage
Histoire d'O. English
New York : Ballantine Books, 1973
Originally published: 1954
Translated by Sabine d'Estrée
Preface by Jean Paulhan
xxxvi, 199 p.

Story of O is one of those novels you have to read properly to really appreciate. If you just dive into this twisted, masochistic novel of sex and submission without any background, you may find it puzzling and a bit empty. The author, actually named Anne Declos, wrote the novel as a love-letter to her lover, Jean, who enjoyed the work of the Marquis de Sade and thought no woman could write like that. Declos, took up the challenge and proved to her lover that even though she wasn't the type who could fulfill this fantasy of his, she could certainly understand it.

And so Story of O is the story of complete submission of the main character, O, to her lover René. It opens as she is being sent to a place called Roissy, where she will be whipped, abused, and subjected to the sexual whims of a group of men to whom she is not permitted to speak or even make eye-contact. This is all by way of training her for her role. After Roissy, René uses her as he will and shares her with Sir Stephen, who will send her to a dominatrix for further training, piercing, and branding her with his initials.

The book is limited in the amount of back story it provides. We never really understand why the male characters are the way they are; it takes place mostly in O's head, and even here the reader is left constantly at a loss for why she repeatedly gives her consent to be treated as she is. Being loved, the desire to be desired, making her lover happy, it all is explained, but it never totally adds up. And on some level, I don't think it's supposed to. Her reasons for doing things seem to be exactly what her masters would want to hear. That's why the context of the book is so important.

And I liked the ending. Some people seem to complain about it because it is abrupt and seemingly unfinished. There are two little paragraphs after the story that say, essentially, "In a final chapter, this happened. In an alternate ending, this happened." I'm not sure why she did it that way, but I chose to sort of ignore them. The previous scene ends the book just like I'd want it to.

So it's an interesting book. I wouldn't call it entertaining, nor would I call it especially erotic, but it's definitely something to think about. And thankfully much better than those insufferable Anne Rice novels.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment / Fyodor Dostoevsky
Prestuplenie i nakazanie. English
New York : Vintage Classics, 1993
Originally published: 1866
Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
xx, 564 p.

It is a murder story, told from a murderer's point of view, that implicates even the most innocent reader in its enormities. It is a cat-and-mouse game between a tormented young killer and a cheerfully implacable detective. It is a preternaturally acute investigation of the forces that impel a man toward sin, suffering, and grace.

This book is good. I like it. So I got annoyed when I would tell people I read it, and they'd say, "The Brothers Karamazov is better." Fine! Maybe it's better! I don't know! I do know how important it is for you to have an opinion on something like Dostoevsky and also how important it is that the opinion be somewhat contrary to mine yet totally in line with the status quo, but for these ten seconds right now, as someone who has not read The Brothers Karamazov, can I like this book without anybody trying to undermine it!?!

Ok, I've been carrying that around for a long time. Now I'm over it.

Anyway, this book is big and scary to write about because a lot of smart people have smart opinions on it, and I'm afraid one of them will link to my blog so the rest of them can laugh at me. So I'm going to keep this brief, especially because I read it 3 months ago.

Basically, Raskolnikov (our ichiban) has a lot of ideas about what makes right right and that maybe certain people are better than others and get to do horrible things if they know better than other people how it will ultimately benefit the world. (I said basically. I'm trying to simplify here.) In short, the man is both intelligent and unhinged (a bad combination), and he decides that instead of asking financial help of his mother and sister's fiance, that he'll just kill and rob the mean old bitch next door because she's a bad person anyway.

The rest of the book is basically the psychological aftermath of the deed, which contrasts his guilt with his ideological verve. Raskolnikov deals with bouts of illness, his self-image, the judgments of others, and the suspicion of the authorities, all of which feed into his torment.

All of Dostoevsky's characters are as pathetic and complex as his main, and their interaction is fascinating and makes an otherwise bleak and gray story feel alive (if not vibrant.) The thing I found most impressive in this book was how all of his characters are different and often completely opposite, yet their worldviews all seem agreeable from their individual perspectives. He can make the reader not just understanding of but sympathetic to both sides of a situation. Even a character like Svidrigailov, who is an abhorrent person, starts making a hell of a lot of sense when you hear things from his point-of-view.

So that was pretty neat. Anyway, this book is good. And as far as I can tell, the translators live up to their reputation, not that I have anything to compare this to. So read it. And try not to kill people.

P.S. I just started experimenting with this Zemanta thing. Tell me if you hate it and I'll stop.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wondrous Word Wednesday

Hosted by Bermuda Onion, the point of this meme is to share all the new words you came across this week. Yay!


Don't have much to say this week, so I'll just get right to it. These are from 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King.

bohunk -- a rude slang term for someone from Eastern Europe

... there was a faint accent in the words, although they were perfectly spoken. The guy might be a frog or maybe a bohunk.

Ok, so don't use that one.

pyx -- a container in which wafers for the Eucharist are kept

He held a small silver pyx on his lap which contained several pieces of the host.

repple depple -- military slang for a "replacement depot"

He had learned that standing guard at the repple depple in the war.

That one I still don't really get, but I doubt I'd have use for it even if I did. Actually, none of these are words I envision myself saying, y'know, because I'm not Catholic, manly, or racist.

These next few are from Story of O by Pauline Réage, which is pretty racy, but I already know all the words in those parts... (ahem)... so these words here are about fabric and clothing design.

percale -- a closely woven plain-weave fabric often used for bed linens

She tried to stop moaning and to immobilize herself against the wall, whose gleaming percale was cool on her tortured flesh, as day slowly began to break.

gusset -- triangular or square piece of fabric inserted into a seam to add breadth or reduce stress

The bodice was long and stiff, stoutly whale-boned as during the period when wasp waists were in style, with gussets to support the breasts.

(She really likes describing the clothes and decor.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Spring Snow

Spring Snow

Spring Snow / Yukio Mishima
Haru no yuki. English
New York : Vintage International, 1990
Translated by Michael Gallagher
The Sea of Fertility, bk. 1
Originally published: 1968
389 p.

Spring Snow is set in Tokyo in 1912, when the hermetic world of the ancient aristocracy is being breached for the first time by outsiders -- rich provincial families unburdened by tradition, whose money and vitality make them formidable contenders for social and political power.

I read this in November on a plane in about 3 hours. Generally three hours on a plane is a forgotten blip in the grand scheme of a person's life (barring thunderstorm or underwear bomb), but Spring Snow is one of those books that makes the time you spend reading it incredibly memorable.

This is the first book in the Sea of Fertility tetrology, and each one features a character so passionately driven by one thing that it ends up killing him. In Spring Snow, this character is Kiyoaki, and he is driven to death by his love for his childhood companion Satoko. This isn't, however, a gushing love story. It's told with Mishima's characteristic elegance and delicately pieced together with themes of dreams, reincarnation, Buddhism, and family.

The books in this set also paint a portrait of Japan over the first half of the 20th Century, when the country underwent major changes. The first novel takes place around 1912 at the end of the Meiji period. The nobility that holds power through rank and tradition is facing an unpredictable future, and this plays a role in the events of the story.

I'm not loving how this review is turning out, so I'm going to wrap it up... but I really do love this book. I should say that a little bit of knowledge of novels contemporary to this one or a sense of the major points of modern Japanese history is really helpful in enjoying this book, but if you're a fan of the art and history of modern Japan, this is definitely something you need to read.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

'Salem's Lot

'Salem's Lot

'Salem's Lot / Stephen King
New York : Pocket Books, 1999
Originally published: 1975
xxii, 631 p.

Stephen King's second novel, 'Salem's Lot, is the story of a mundane town under siege from the forces of darkness. Considered one of the most terrifying vampire novels ever written, it cunningly probes the shadows of the human heart -- and the insular evils of small-town America.

So, after reading Carrie, I've been in a sort of Stephen King mode. I'll probably be reading a good deal of his stuff in the coming months. I've started at the beginning, in a way, so 'Salem's Lot sort of came next, and it was... pretty good.

The plot is basically "What if Dracula came to small-town Maine?" And so it is that a very old vampire named Barlow set up shop in a creepy old house in 'Salem's Lot. Most of the story focuses on Ben Mears, a writer who came around the same time to do a novel on the town and on the creepy old house where he had a creepy old supernatural experience as a child. And then basically everyone starts turning into vampires.

The plot is fairly predictable, though I imagine it was a bit more compelling 35 years ago. I wouldn't call it terrifying for that reason, but the narrative propels itself successfully. Some of the plot elements are a little improbable and hokey, notably the Christian elements and the fact that consecrated crosses and hands bathed in holy water will actually glow with a beneficent light in the presence of a vampire. But that I also attribute to the times.

What I found scariest about the novel is not the vampires (whose effect was diminished by the instinctual and irrational fear the characters felt in the air being pounded into the reader's head when they got close) but how the town, though very obviously dying, kept quiet and refused to recognize the destruction around it. The denial speaks to something very real. King captured it well, especially in my favorite character, Parkins Gillespie, the old sheriff.

Anyway, it's a pretty good read, but I don't have much else to say about it. I didn't find it as fascinating as Carrie, perhaps because King tries to make you care about too many characters, and it's a bit of a tall order. I'm going to read The Shining next, which I hope will be more along the lines of what I expect.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lord Foul's Bane

Lord Foul's Bane

Lord Foul's Bane / Stephen R. Donaldson
New York : Del Rey, 2004
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, bk. 1
480 p.

He called himself Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, because he dared not believe in this strange alternate world on which he suddenly found himself.

Hmmm... I really thought I wrote and published a review of this last week when I finished it. It must have gotten lost, but I don't think it was very good anyway. Nonetheless, I don't feel like doing it all over again, so I'm going to be lame and just copy/paste what I wrote in my Goodreads account because it's not a short paragraph like other things I write there. Ready? Ok.

Dudes, this book is pretty bad.

So fantasy epics are fantasy epics, and they have to be allowed a certain degree of slack for hokeyness. But you don't get to name your evildoers "Lord Foul" and "Drool" without an eyeroll. Nor do you get to use adjectives (such as "wrong") as nouns, especially when the adjective has an accepted noun form (such as "wrongness"). Furthermore, using big words is nice, but one must fit them in naturally and with restraint because the word "chiaroscuro" is not so impressive the fifth time around and basically just makes it look like you're trying to hard.

But ok. Language issues aside, the main reason this book is frustrating is because it has all the great elements of an engaging, geeky fantasy novel (far-off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disg... oh, wait no prince, shut up Belle) but then it gets ruined by a main character so one-dimensional, unbelievable, and abhorrent that you hope he'll finally kill himself like he keeps thinking of doing.

See, he's got leprosy, and it's pretty crappy. But then he's summoned to this magic world, right, and he doesn't appear to have leprosy there. But instead of being kinda happy, he decides it's a dream and in order to keep his sanity, he has to feel sorry for himself and whine and yell at people so they don't think he's capable of anything because the minute he lifts a finger to do something useful, he'll forget he has leprosy and won't be prepared to handle it when he gets back to his real life. Yeah, it doesn't make any sense at all. Apparently the way to deal with leprosy is to constantly remind yourself you have it... even if you don't have it anymore.

Oh and he's a pacifist too. In the middle of the book after he saves the lives of his companions by killing a couple evil monsters with fighting skills he doesn't have, he decides killing is wrong, even to save the lives of he and his friends. God knows why. The explanation given is as incoherent as everything else having to do with this character.

It's not so much that he's "not a hero" because lots of stories make an anti-hero work. It's that his "anti" qualities are inconsistent, undeveloped and make no sense. And they're the only qualities he has. And nothing ever changes.

Right, so his magical superpower is self-pity, and even at the end when his travel companions and champions of good are being attacked by hordes of evil monsters and his magic wedding ring is the only thing that can save them, he decides to let them all die rather than embrace his power for 2 minutes to save the world. And he also doesn't want to kill, remember? He won't even kill the things that are described in the glossary as "creatures of pure evil." So in the end, one of the side characters with no distinguishing characteristics has to DO IT FOR HIM! The end. Then he fades away and wakes up in his real life and has full-blown leprosy once again, and we're supposed to be happy for him that he didn't break his stupid code or else he'd not be able to take care of himself anymore?

Ok. I'm done.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wondrous Word Wednesday: Worst Book Ever Edition

Hosted by Bermuda Onion, the point of this meme is to share all the new words you came across this week. Yay!


I just finished Lord Foul's Bane, the first book in the series The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, and I really hated it. Nonetheless, these kinda neat words were in it, so I suppose all is not lost.

bonhomie -- good-natured, easy friendliness

The man had been Joan's lawyer at the divorce -- a short, fleshy individual full of the kind of bonhomie in which lawyers and ministers specialize.

preterite -- of, relating to, or being the verb tense that describes a past action or state

Beggars and fanatics, holy men, prophets of the apocalypse didn't belong on that street in that sunlight; the frowning, belittling eyes of the stone columns held no tolerance for such preterite exaltation.

(I dunno, this word still makes no sense to me here. I'm not sure what columns he's talking about either, or why they have eyes in the first place, much less belittling ones.)

chiaroscuro -- meaning "light-dark" in Italian, the use of contrast between light and dark in art

Covenant followed the red eyes upward, but he could see nothing there except the dizzy chiaroscuro of the cluttered stone spikes.

(This word's really cool, but he uses it about fifty times so that it stands out awkwardly and makes the book feel like an extended high school vocab assignment. He does the same with "incarnadine", which basically means red.)

atavism -- recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination; recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity

Gradually, he grew aware of other things -- the tree shade bedizened with glints of declining sunlight, the aroma of pine, the wind murmuring, the grass thickly cradling his body, the sound of a tune, the irregular tingling that came and went from his palms like an atavism -- but the warmth of his cheek on Lena's lap seemed more important.

(Uh, ok, in the book the man used to have no feeling in his hands. They were numb because of a medical condition. So the tingle wasn't "like" an atavism, it "was" an atavism. A lot of his comparisons are like that. To make up a simpler example: "The scary monster that ate her family approached her, and she screamed, as if both grieving and terrified." That's not from the book. It's not from anything. Nobody would say that. But do you see what I mean?)

anodyne -- anything that calms, comforts, or soothes disturbed feelings

The swelling night seemed full of soft communications -- anodynes for the loneliness of the dark.

(You'll be happy to know I have nothing to say about this one. I actually find the usage quite lovely.)

eyot -- variant of ait; an islet, especially in a river

Beyond him, in the bottom of the hollow, stood a single copse like an eyot in a broad glade.


abnegate -- to deny oneself

Prothall's abnegate eyes did not waver.

(Abnegate is a verb, not an adjective. But this character is something like a high priest/scholar, so I suppose he did make some sacrifices. Why we're being reminded of it in the context of where this line is from is beyond me.)

Anyway sorry for all the little interjections, but as you can tell, I am NOT enamored with this book. I didn't realize the problems I had with his writing would come out so much in these examples. Anyway, I plan to talk about it more later today so come on back if you like hearing people complain about things on the internet!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays -- 'Salem's Lot

Teaser Tuesday time again, hosted by MizB. How it works is you grab the book you're reading, open to a page, and pick a juicy two-sentence teaser. No spoilers, obviously.

After being so happy with Carrie, I picked up King's second novel, 'Salem's Lot. I've only read the introduction so far, so... well whatever.

So I have come here, to a town which was first told of to me by a most brilliant man, a former townsman himself, now lamentably deceased. The folk here are still rich and full-blooded, folk who are stuffed with the aggression and darkness so necessary to... there is no English for it.

Monday, January 18, 2010



Carrie / Stephen King
New York : Pocket Books, 1999
Originally published: 1974
xv, 253 p.

A modern classic, Carrie introduced a distinctive new voice in American fiction -- Stephen King. The story of misunderstood high school girl Carrie White, her extraordinary telekinetic powers, and her violent rampage of revenge, remains one of the most barrier-breaking and shocking novels of all time.

I've never read any Stephen King before, so I got this over the weekend and ended up reading it in one sitting yesterday. It's not a long book, but that's still a pretty amazing feat for me.

What struck me in the first few pages of the novel was, "Wow. He's a pretty good writer." Even though I've read some of his articles and have respect for the man and his opinions (and even his writing style), I've always had this impression of his novels as "genre fiction" and therefore my expectations were low. It's a silly preconception to have considering a) I've read his nonfiction and know I like his style, and b) I read genre fiction, and even though many popular authors write terribly, not all of them do.

Anyway, I saw the movie version of Carrie a long time ago. It was on TV, and I remember flipping back and forth between it and other things. So I basically knew what happened, but honestly, who doesn't at this point?

Still, the novel remains engaging. In most novel-length (or movie-length) horror stories, a number of gory or terrifying things happen throughout. This isn't the case in Carrie so King solves the problem of dramatic tension by juxtaposing regular third-person narrative with fictional excerpts from books and newspapers covering "The Carrie White Incident", so that even though all the horrific events happen on prom night in the last part of the book, the sense of tension leading up to it is sustained throughout.

The novel is a bit dated 35 years later, but the story is still affecting. Carrie is still a gripping and disturbing story. I definitely plan on exploring more of King's work this year.

Related Posts with Thumbnails