28 August 2009

BTT: Fluff n' stuff

What’s the lightest, most “fluff” kind of book you’ve read recently?
Don't forget to leave your response at Booking Through Thursday!

The one I'm just finishing - Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook. Hysterical! Maybe less funny to those who don't belong to the Facebook group "Facebook is My Heroin" but this is funny to me.

Beyond that, I think the previous fluff book was The Temptation of the Night Jasmine back in January.

25 August 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Frankenstein

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I remembered the effect that the view of the tremendous and ever-moving glacier had produced on my mind when I first saw it. It had then filled me with a sublime ectasy, that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy.
~ p 97, Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley
We start Frankenstein next Monday, August 31, at Literature by Women. Come join us.

23 August 2009

Under This Unbroken Sky

BNBC's August First Look Book Club has been reading Shandi Mitchell's debut novel Under This Unbroken Sky. Set in 1938 rural Alberta, Canada, the novel examines one year in the life of a Ukranian immigrant family struggling to make a home for themselves, breaking the land to suit their will. There are moments of levity, happiness, and joy but also madness and tragedy.

The novel is overshadowed by an opening preface, one that describes a photograph dated 1933 (there wasn't an actual photograph my ARC so I'm not sure whether there will be a photograph in the actual book); as readers, we are told that within five years of this photograph this farm will not exist and three members of this family will die. Mitchell's novel describes the road to tragedy beginning with the day Teodor returns to his family after serving two years in prison for theft, the "theft" being the crime of keeping one wagonload of grain for himself instead of letting the entire crop be repossessed and his family starve. Teodor's wife Maria has kept their five children alive, staying in a shack on her sister-in-law's property. Anna has trouble of her own in the form of her drunken, egomaniacal husband, Stefan; Anna's psyche is close to breaking.

Reading Mitchell's novel is a little like reading My Antonia on the other side of the mirror, a The Long Winter that reveals the devastating truth of prairie life. We are not looking in on the Shimerdas, we are behind the scenes with them, building houses, negotiating sale prices (with poor English), rationing food to last the winter, saving crops from natural disasters. We are not warmed by Pa's fiddle but listen to Maria's stories from their homeland now torn by Stalinist directives. It is easy to forget the setting is only 80 years in the past because there is no electricity, all the farmwork is done by hand.

The novel highlights the difficulties of the immigrant. The locals take advantage of the immigrants' naivete and poor English skills. Come to our country! You can own land if you work hard! What they really mean is that once you have the land broken some loop-hole will appear allowing your homesteading claim to be revoked. The grocer will try to cheat you when buying the vegetables you have slaved over. It's an odd form of indentured servitude. I felt a twinge of relief or guilt that the book was set in Canada, like the sins of the US during the western expansion are not ours alone in the history of the Western hemisphere.

With so many characters in close quarters with one another Mitchell really should be proud of her ability to give each of her characters a unique voice. Maria quickly became my favorite character. She is practical and endlessly resourceful, the ideal character for a novel centered on the hard life of a settler. The knowledge of cooking, farming, home-remedies, sewing, etc. packed into her head could fill several instruction books. She is an admirable character and a stark contrast to her sister-in-law, Anna, who is nearly incapacitated through self-loathing and hatred for her husband.

I would love to see how Teodor and Maria's children turn out, if Sofia succeeds in shedding her Ukranian roots, Myron becomes the land-owning farmer his father intended, or if Dania creates as solid a home as Maria had, but Under This Unbroken Sky is a book that shouldn't have a sequel.

Current books-in-progress: Frankenstein, Foucault's Pendulum, and Hush, Hush
Current knitted item: 16-button cardie
Current movie obsession: Gosford Park and Robin Hood (Most Wanted Edition)
Current iTunes loop: Filmspotting episode #65 "Munich" (12/30/05)

The Pickup

August is nearly over (and it's freezing cold here in Iowa - 60 degrees when it should be 90) so Literature by Women is wrapping up its discussion of Nadine Gordimer's The Pickup. The novel revolves around the relationship between Julie Summers, white, native South African, and Abdu, illegal immigrant from an unnamed Middle Eastern country. This has been one of our harder titles to discuss. I'm not quite sure what to do with it and since I'm the moderator my indecisiveness doesn't help.

That's not to say it's a bad book. Gordimer has an interesting style in this book, eschewing punctuation as regards dialogue, and it makes the book very chatty, like you're in a crowd with people talking all around you and it's up to you as the listener to sort out who is saying what. She also brings up an interesting point regarding the plight of the immigrant; if no other country wants you, and all you want is a better life, you are reduced to the status of a refugee begging entry unless you have the silver to cross another's palm.

Julie does irritate the heck out of me, less so near the end of the book, mostly due to the poor-little-rich-girl-who-appears-to-refute-her-family's-status-because-she's-pretending-to-be-bourgeois-but-really-still-benefits-financially attitude. Julie is really very aimless. All Julie and The Table do at the El-Ay Cafe do is moan about varying plights of the people of the world and still don't seem to do anything but talk. When Julie does grow a spine and insist on going with Abdu I was heartened only to realize she doesn't know anything about Muslim habits. She doesn't even think to pack modest clothing; even I would know to do that. She does eventually find a purpose and definition to her life and even though that isn't even remotely the life I would choose for an educated woman it does work in this instance.

This was an interesting book to read even though I had a difficult time finding an angle to discuss adequately. I think this was due to the setting; it felt something like the US but then it obviously isn't set in the US, it was in South Africa and that changed how I was relating to the characters. Particularly Julie. This one definitely needs a re-read sometime in the future.

Next up for LbW: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Come join us August 31.

22 August 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry

Amid the promotion for the release of the movie adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time-Traveler's Wife (briefly reviewed last September) a number of us garnered advance copies of her new novel. Her Fearful Symmetry goes on sale in the US September 29 and revolves around two pairs of twins, the nature of existence, and a ghost story. That's all I can really add to the plot beyond the blurb, which you can read on any product page, before I start giving too much away; HFS differs greatly from TTW in that there's really no good way to describe the plot (that one was easy - man with involuntary time-traveling issues meets woman who eventually becomes his wife despite the inherent problem of his disappearing suddenly for varying lengths of time).

I've been mulling over HFS all day and I can't quite put my finger on why I can't quite rave about Niffenegger's second novel. It was good; I liked the way she described her characters and I loved the bits about Highgate Cemetery since I'm a good little Victorianist but there's something that grates on me regarding the resolution of the novel (as well as the fact that I am slightly weirded out by the supernatural because there is a part of me that does believe we exist beyond the moment of death). Obviously, I can't get into the problem of plot resolution because 99.9% of the world hasn't read this and it would be really (really) inconsiderate if I spoiled the whole plot for everyone. HFS reminds me very much of Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White with all the doubling and "Other" Niffenegger uses in her novel. HFS is both Victorian in feeling and not Victorian, Gothic in some respects but not very much in others. If you are decently well-read in Victorian novels there is a very good chance you'll guess one of the plot devices very early on; I had it pegged from about chapter three or four.

Of all Niffenegger's characters in HFS the one I feel best-drawn is Martin, the crossword-setting, scholarly upstairs neighbor whose life is almost completely subsumed by his OCD. The way Niffenegger has allowed Martin to both acknowledge the reality of the problems caused by his OCD and be completely controlled at times by his disease is interesting. It's like we are allowed to see the two sides of the brain - rational vs. irrational - fighting it out with Martin's OCD. I also find the relationship between Martin and his wife, Marijke, very touching. The other characters seem either too generic or too fantastic or (as strange as this may sound) too bizarre next to Martin (the subjects Niffenegger has Martin cover in his crosswords are absolutely amazing); in the case of the twins I thought they were the worst stereotype of lacksadaisical American teenagers with too much money until about halfway through the novel.

I did like this novel quite a bit. I'm not sure I'll rush out and buy it on the release date but I think this definitely deserves a re-read at some point in the future.

21 August 2009

Bookspotting: August 21, 2009

"Bookspotting" is something I used to do for fun on the old "Book Explorers" board at BNBC (it was moderated by Ande from the Literary Ventures Fund); I called it "booksnooping" then but since I've just finished Trainspotting - and I think the correct term is "trend-spotting" as far as fashion goes - I like "bookspotting" better. Since the "Book Explorers" board is no longer active I'll just Bookspot on my blog and share what I see others reading in the Iowa City area.

The rules for Bookspotting are very simple: spy on your fellow humans to see what they are reading without actually bothering them to ask for title and author.

On the morning bus:
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
A Sookie Stackhouse mass market (old cover art, not the TV-show tie-in)
A sword-and-sorcery fantasy mass market that has seen better days
(the bus was a bit thin this morning)

Current books-in-progress: Her Fearful Symmetry (Niffenegger's characters are always off-the-wall)
Current knitted item: now into the second skein for my 16-button cardie, just stockinette stitching for the next 7 inches (and since it's unseasonably cold for Iowa in August I might be needing it soon)
Current movie obsession: I was going to watch Videodrome last night....but it was the Project Runway season premiere so I watched three hours of PR while I knitted on my cardie (what was up with keeping Mitchell, who sent a nearly nude model down the runway, over Ari, who clearly made a finished garment that, although it was pretty-far out there, should have been given another shot)
Current iTunes loop: Chill Tracks playlist

20 August 2009

BTT: Good, better, best!

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

(Tell me you didn’t see this one coming?)

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response at Booking Through Thursday!

I totally had to rip the title of this post off of the old University of Iowa fundraising campaign. Couldn't resist.

The best book I read recently is The Girl Who Played With Fire. Hands down. No arguments. If I have to stay up until 3am to finish the book, it wins.

B-I-N-G-O Award

Ryan from Wordsmithonia gave me the B-I-N-G-O Award yesterday. Awww, thanks Ryan :) He's a pretty cool guy AND he's a very involved participant at Barnes and Noble Book Clubs.

This award means that this blog is:

B: Beautiful

I: Informative
N: Neighborly
G: Gorgeous
O: Outstanding

I'd like to pick five blogs that fit these criteria:

B: Beautiful The Book Lady's Blog
I: Informative S. Krishna's Books
N: Neighborly One Eyed Stuffed Bunny...
G: Gorgeous Bookalicious
O: Outstanding The Story Siren

If you haven't yet visited Ryan, Rebecca, SKrishna, Cathy, Pam, or Kristi, you really ought to!

19 August 2009

BBAW Nominations: Eclecticism

Congrats to everyone who got a BBAW nomination for anything (I don't have access to the full nominations list of which I hear was quite long); I read so many excited tweets today and it's interesting to see whose blog was nominated for what. Yay for everyone!

I got a nomination, too (thanks to whoever sent in my URL):
Most Eclectic Taste – This blog stands out because of its uniqueness - you never know what you’re going to get, but it’s always something surprising and new.

I think that fits the blog (and by extension, me) quite well. To paraphrase Dotty Otley, you're never quite sure what you're going to get, three cherries or two lemons and a banana.

Now...which posts should I choose to send as my permalinks. Decisions, decisions.

18 August 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Her Fearful Symmetry

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The next day was strangely mild, the kind of day that induces people to say, "Global warming," and smile ruefully. Robert woke up early to the sound of church bells and thought, Today is the perfect day to picnic in Postman's Park.
~ Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry, p 190 (ARC

17 August 2009

I finished my first knitting commission!

This week I finished two knitting projects, one of them being my first paid commission ever. [Technically, I was asked to make a neck warmer for someone's boyfriend last October and I don't like that boyfriend ... so I'm procrastinating.]

My paid commission came from one of our secretaries (I like her quite a bit and she helps me out a lot); she wanted me to knit a poncho for her 1-year-old granddaughter, who is a sweetie and rivals Cindy Loo Who in cuteness. I'm not a poncho fan, mostly because it's like a shawl you have to pull over your head and at that point you should just wear a sweater, but poncho it certainly would be if I'm going to be paid for making it. I've posted previously on the travails of making this poncho (Knots, Knots, Knots and Frogs, Frogs, Frogs) but I had it finished by mid-July; it actually took me forever just to scrape together enough time to get the steam iron out and steam block it before giving the poncho to Martha.

The pattern is Lilliana's Organic Cotton Poncho from Barbara Albright's lovely book The Natural Knitter and it knitted up very nicely in Cascade Sierra. I have been told I didn't ask for enough when I was paid for knitting the poncho. I only asked for an amount large enough to cover the cost of the four skeins of yarn used plus a little bit for me in commission; I don't think my commission for knitting something for a friend should be very large and I do like to knit as my hobby not my profession.

My next finished item is the little cardie I made for my friend Rebekah's not-quite-arrived-yet little girl (little one is giving mom some fits right now). This is the first actual sweater I've ever made with set-in sleeves, not raglan ones, so I was a shade on the nervous side. It turned out just right.

This is made from Dale of Norway's Stork yarn (which I hear is discontinued, boo) in a pretty turquiose with white bunny buttons. The pattern uses most of the Classic Yoked Cardigan from Erika Knight's Knitting for Two but I changed a few of the instructions to make a bit more sense.

Chaucer decided that a picture of a cute baby sweater was ever-so-much-more-cute with a super cute kitty in the shot, too. He was being such a pill that evening/morning (it was about 3am when I finished the cardie's seams and took the pictures; the baby shower for Rebekah was only 8 hours later).

Since I was in a yarny mood last weekend, I dropped by the LYS on Saturday to use my birthday coupon and got 5 skeins of forest green Cascade 220 The Heathers yarn to make myself a cardie (16-Button Cardie pattern from Interweave Simple Style) and some Mini-Mochi sock yarn before Rebekah's shower; it was a good "acquire stuff" day in general because the mail carrier brought me the copy of Between the Assassinations I won from a Simon and Schuster Twitter contest. I also figured out why Flickr and Ravelry were having a massive disagreement so on Sunday I updated my Ravelry page with photos of my yarn and projects before winding up the new yarn and heading to the movies. It looks very pretty now (I'm "balletbookworm" on Ravelry, too).

Current books-in-progress: Foucault's Pendulum, The Pickup (for LbW August) and Frankenstein (for LbW September), The Embers, and Under This Unbroken Sky (for First Look) PLUS my turn came up to read the ARC for Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry so that's moved into the #1 slot for reading
Current knitted item: new forest green heathered Cascade 220 to make up into a cardie for myself.....mmmmmmmm
Current movie obsession: Too many!!! This is the first evening (Tuesday) in weeks that I'll not be at work so what should I watch first? Videodrome, Sleuth, Trainspotting, Disney's Robin Hood....oy
Current iTunes loop: Lady Gaga's Fame (heard enough tracks off it to go out and buy the album)

Julie and Julia

To preface this review, be forewarned that I love Meryl Streep and her ability to morph into any character she plays.

I went with some friends to the movie theatre to see Julie and Julia; we went to the 4:15pm show which turned out to have everyone's mother and granny in the audience (I think we might have been the youngest people there, and I'm only 31). After some super-lame commercials and the previews (see below) the movie opened on the arrival of Paul and Julia Child in France....cinema magic. There isn't really anything to criticize in this movie.

True story.

To start with, Meryl Streep is fabulous (fabulous) and the camera and costume tricks to make her look much taller work very well; then there's the voice, Julia Child's voice, that is so perfectly spot-on you'd think it was Julia Child reincarnated on the screen. Amy Adams is terribly cute in that lost-kitten-please-take-me-home way she has about her as a woman trapped in a heartbreaking job trying to find herself again (she has hideous friends, but her super-awesome husband makes up for that). I also have to mention that it is so relieving to see Stanley Tucci in a film where he plays a loving, remarkable man; he's so very good at playing creepy, mean people you forget he can play a nice guy and he does a wonderful job as Paul Child (and works well with Meryl, too).

I do love me a Nora Ephron romantic comedy. Does she make anything else? You've Got Mail and The Holiday are two of my favorites and I think this one might creep up there, too.

I have to warn you....this movie will make you hungry. All of the food looks so fabulous on-screen that your stomach will start growling. Even when Amy Adams is trying to steam live lobsters (not sure if they were actually live or not but that was the implication).

Preview goodness:
1. I can do bad all by myself - I think this is a movie with a great story and premise but the presence of Tyler Perry might tank it for me (I think Madea is kind of "done"); definitely looking forward to seeing Mary J. Blige and Gladys Knight on screen
2. The Blind Side - another good movie with the heartwarming biopic story of the life of Michael Oher; Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw play the parents (Tim McGraw can act?)
3. The Lovely Bones - big screen adaptation of a fantastic book; some of the fantasy elements look to be more than what I imagined but definitely looking forward to seeing this one (Saoirse Ronan is playing Susie Salmon and Saoirse did a great job in Atonement); I do question the wisdom of putting this preview ahead of a romantic comedy, even if Stanley Tucci is in both, because the audiences will be very different
4. 2012 - seriously? you think that grannies want to watch this, too? This was the same cut we saw at the beginning of Transformers 2; aren't there other rom-coms coming out the studio could have slotted here instead?

In the evening we all gathered at Kat's for book club where we discussed (a bit) Oranges are Not the Only Fruit and then attempted to watch the two-part miniseries. I say attempted because it was on VHS and the first tape had a bad reel and got stuck in the VCR; the tape broke so we wound up watching only the second half. It picked up right before Jeanette (Jess in the miniseries) and Melanie develop their sexual relationship; whoever scored the miniseries had some odd fascination with carnival music so everytime Jess experienced pleasure or love there was carnie music. It was pretty freaky, I tell you. The mother was played by Geraldine McEwan (known for playing Alice in Henry V and Miss Marple in the television series, but US audiences might recognize her as the witch/Sherrif's mom in Robin Hood: Prince of Theives) and she did a really good job as a holy roller from industrial North England.

Musing Mondays: Books-to-Movies

Musing Mondays is hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

This week, Rebecca asks:

How do you react to movies made of your favourite books (or even not-so-favourite books)? Do you look forward to seeing them, or avoid them? Do you like to have read the book before seeing the movie?
I generally look forward to seeing adaptations of my favorite books. On the whole, most of the adaptations I've watched well-done on the whole. I think the Harry Potter series was done well on the whole even though I do think the screenwriters should have re-thought a few changes and cuts. I liked The Lord of the Rings trilogy adaptations and can't wait to see The Hobbit adaptation when it comes out in the next few years; I think Peter Jackson had a fabulous idea to release the DVDs with the scenes Jackson cut from the theatrical release included in finished form including score and effects.
The only time I really get irritated by an adaptation is when certain changes taken in the adaptation fail to reflect the intent of the original. Case in point: the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. There were certain changes made to the relationships and motivations of the characters - the my-sister-never-shows-her-true-feelings-to-me line, Lady Catherine's nighttime visit to Longbourn, and the early morning meeting between Lizzie and Darcy as specific examples - that don't make sense when compared to the original novel and seem to have been made to please modern audiences. I'm an Austen purist; there's absolutely no way Lady Catherine would have visited anyone in the wee hours.
I do prefer to read the book before seeing the movie. I am actually more likely to watch a movie if I know the ending than read a book. I feel like I invest more in reading a book than watching a movie so "spoilers" mean less to me in a movie than a book.
I will probably be waiting quite a while for one of my favorite heroines to make her big-screen debut. Jasper Fforde hasn't optioned any of the Thursday Next novels for film adaptation. According to his website, he hasn't given up the rights because after spending so much time in the film industry he doesn't want it turning into a "cinematic ferrago" (Jasper talks about this on the FAQ page, you'll need to scroll down a ways). If the TN books ever make it into movies they'll be made by Jasper.

Weekly Geeks: Second Chances

Second Chances

There have been times in my life where I reread a book (or author) I hated--or thought I hated--but the second time around ended up loving. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever changed your mind about a book or author the second time around? Have you ever given a book or author a second chance?

If you have, I'd love to hear your stories. Blog about your experience(s) in giving second chances. If you haven't, I'd like you to consider giving a book or an author a second chance. You can blog about your intentions to do so--or if you're a quick reader, maybe you can even squeeze something in! Can't think of a single book or author? Don't worry, you can stretch this one to include movies or music if you prefer. It is just very interesting to me how time can change tastes and perceptions. How subjective the reading experience is and always will be. Leave your answers (links) in the comments!
I have one from high school that was my love-to-hate book: The Grapes of Wrath. The teacher pretty much killed any love of reading in his class when he assigned quizzes over each chapter. Not content with "What happened in this chapter" questions but really nit-picky questions about the symbolism of every single element in Steinbeck's book. Needless to say I wasn't too keen on Steinbeck anymore and loathed any and all references to The Grapes of Wrath including the movie adaptation. Think of it as an allergy; any mention of The Grapes of Wrath and I'd start developing itchy welts.
Over the years I acquired the pretty Steinbeck Centennial trade paperback editions. They look inviting, don't they? It pays to be a book hoarder sometimes because I decided to attempt a Steinbeck since I had the volumes on my shelves. I started with East of Eden; it was really good. I started reading The Grapes of Wrath in July. It's not too bad. I haven't broken out in hives, yet, so we'll see.

16 August 2009

Quote of the Day

It's Anime Iowa this weekend so the Coralville Marriott is full-up to the gills with anime aficionados (I do not partake; I went to the LYS and a baby shower instead*). Many attendees wear costumes, some get-ups much better and well-planned than others.

My friend media_zombie is attending Anime Iowa this year but this evening she decided to grab some "real food" at Old Chicago rather than at the rave. So I picked her up and we met Jackie there and had a good 'ol time.** On the way back to the Marriott, we had to make sure not to run over Anime Iowa attendees who were crossing the five lanes of traffic to get to the rave; it was kind of hard not to miss seeing them since nearly all were in costume. As I drove down the Marriott entrance, I noticed one guy's "costume" and the conversation went:

Me: Is that guy wearing only gym shorts and a Santa hat as a costume?
Media_zombie: Yes, but he has a rave stick, so that makes it OK.

Hahahaha. True story.

*Since I finished Rebekah's baby cardie (for her baby shower today) and I had a $10 coupon I of course had to go buy new yarn for myself. Pretty yarn, pretty, pretty yarn. This is generally the subject for a blog post later.
**I finished my Old Chicago Beer Tour. Meaning I drank 110 different beers. Now, before you start thinking that I'm the biggest lush ever I would like to point out that I started my account back when I was with my ex-fiancee...about 10 years ago...so take from that what you will. But I am very (very) proud that Bud and Miller were not entered on my tour count.

14 August 2009

The Girl Who Played With Fire

After waiting on tenterhooks since last September (and failing to win an advance copy in every single giveaway I entered), Stieg Larsson's second Millenium volume The Girl Who Played With Fire finally arrived at the store. With an embargo date. Boo. And I was the one that received the packing cases that day - but I couldn't buy it and take it home for a week. Waaaah.

Suffice to say, I didn't die of deprivation. I also tried to savor Larsson's second book (once I was able to buy it on July 28) since I snarfed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I lasted until about page 175 with my "savory" style of reading then gave in and read the rest of it in one go. Yum.

Larsson has a very unique style (or what seems a very unique style to me) in that he describes exactly what a character is doing/buying/eating/wearing/etc. using brand names and prices. It's a bit like the description in Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho but where Ellis's description is like a social commentary on consumerism, Larsson's description is like watching a video clip in your head. We all subconsciously notice logos, labels, and prices, so it seems Larsson just includes them in his characterizations (although it is a bit strange reading about Swedes eating at Burger King). The information isn't obtrusive, it's just there, and it adds greatly to the reader's ideas (or supposed ideas) of how certain characters will react in specific situations. I need to call attention to the translator's excellent work in keeping all the Swedish spellings of proper names and place names as well as certain nouns (i.e. tunnelbanna) because that really keeps narrative firmly rooted in Sweden. I also have to thank the editor for providing a few very specific footnotes to provide historical information important to that section of the narrative; a Swedish reader would not need the footnote but those of us with a very poor knowledge of Swedish political history would be at a loss otherwise.

One thing I loved about TGWPWF is how Larsson uses his knowledge of social groups and journalism in Sweden to drive the media frenzy surrounding the homicides of Dag and Mia and the police manhunt for Lisbeth Salander. Larsson pulls no punches; there are police officers who are obviously homophobic and sexist, investigators who leak false and libelous information to the press, and prominent members of society who make considerable use of (and abuse) young women illegally held as sex slaves while pontificating on the need for laws abolishing such behavior.

On one level, TGWPWF is a far less graphic work of fiction than TGWTDT. The violent rape and torture scenes used in the first book are not present in the second; one scene in particular from the first book is used to set up a character in the second book. However, Larsson brings to the forefront the ugliness of the sexual slavery trade and the level of violence purveyors of that trade will use to protect their "business assets" exceeds all logical boundaries. He also makes it very clear that the violence and prejudice of that trade is perptrated by men upon women; the implication is that such sexism and exploitation should not be tolerated and that is also a driving motivation that he gives to Lisbeth in the extreme.

Lisbeth is fast becoming one of my favorite creations in the fictional world. She is tough, self-sufficient, chameleon-like, and the most brilliant hacker in the world. She is also prone to uncontrolled rage and violence toward those who do her harm/would do her harm or seek to harm her loved ones; you do not want to be on the list of those against whom Lisbeth seeks vengeance. She is also one of society's rejects, thought to be mentally ill to the point of requiring lifelong institutionalization, and her uncanny ability to solve mathematical and logic problems is completely innate. Reading TGWTDT I wished we could know more about Lisbeth's life because such an interesting character must have a fantastic background; I got my wish in TGWPWF.

For those who like to read fast-paced mysteries and crime novels, this book (like it's predecessor) acts like a character study for the first 150 or so pages so have patience. Larsson uses his extensive descriptions to build the characters' patterns and world before tearing that world apart and setting the novel's true story in motion. I loved this novel and can barely wait until The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest comes out in May (or so I have been told).

Current books-in-progress: Foucault's Pendulum, The Pickup (for LbW August) and Frankenstein (for LbW September), The Embers, and Under This Unbroken Sky (for First Look)
Current knitted item: white lingerie top (mine), Kat's red socks (I think there's a pattern problem), I really want to cast on for my sweater that I've had yarn for for one year, and I have a $10 coupon to my LYS (birthday coupon - squeee)
Current movie obsession: Videodrome and Sleuth just arrived via Netflix; I also want to watch Ran and I'm pretty sure I might wind up going to the movies this weekend (movie unkown)
Current iTunes loop: Best 100 Film Classics - with the exception of the love theme from Titanic (*puke*) this is an awesome collection of recordings, and only cost $14
*for some unknown reason, I let this part of my blog slip into the ether in the last 4 months; I like it so I decided to resurrect it

13 August 2009

BTT: No good...the bad and the ugly

What’s the worst book you’ve read recently? (I figure it’s easier than asking your all-time worst, because, well, it’s recent!) Don't forget to leave a link to your response at Booking Through Thursday.

This is a two-pronged answer.

First up, the last book I read that made me want to rip out all the pages was Interred With Their Bones. There's a mini-review on my blog but suffice to say that I thought it in desperate need of both an editor and a logical plot.

Secondly, I've been slogging through Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. I like Shakespeare and I do think that you have to read the critic that you disagree with in order to forulate a proper arguement. Bloom's book is decent until you get to the chapters on Henry IV, parts I and II; at that point the book swerves into this love-letter to Falstaff and it gets pretty boring. I'm finally past the Falstaff-obsession pages so the book is improving again.

11 August 2009

Teaser Tuesday: The Girl Who Played With Fire

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Mikael got home at one in the morning. He was tired and felt like saying the hell with everything and going to bed, but instead he booted up his iBook and checked his email. There was no new mail of any interest.
~p 270, The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
(story of my life right there - no new mail of interest)

Voting is Finished: LbW results!

The schedule for "Literature by Women" at BNBC will run through March 2010 due to there being a three-way tie for fourth place and my inability to make a decision about which title to cut. Reading is fun, so the schedule is as follows:

September 2009: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
October 2009: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
November 2009: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
December 2009/January 2010: The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
February 2010: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
March 2010: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

It's a good line-up - come join us!

10 August 2009

Musing Mondays: Favorite Houses

Musing Mondays is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page...

Do you have a favourite publishing house -- one that puts out books that you constantly find yourself wanting to read? If so, who? And, what books have they published that you've loved? (question courtesy of MizB)

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT on Rebecca's blog with either the link to your own Musing Mondays post or share your opinion in a comment (if you don’t have a blog). Thanks.

I'm very much into having book spines and things that match/are similar - they look soooo pretty lined up on my shelves - so I love lines like Penguin Classics (and Deluxe Classics), HarperPerennial PS, Oxford World's Classics, Norton Critical Editions, or Barnes and Noble Classics. When I'm buying backlist titles, I always look to see what editions are available in imprints that I already own. It's a freaky OCD thing.

When buying newer books (especially hardcovers) I really don't have a "go to" publishing house. I don't usually look at publisher when finding good things to read. I do like to look at the academic presses to see what's new but I don't have a specific example at hand.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

It was my turn to pick the August book for my face-to-face book group (and strangely the hat coughed up my name for September, too) so I chose Jeanette Winterson's Whitbread-winner Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I read Sexing the Cherry not long ago and loved the vivid fantasy sequences and multiple narrative lines; I really wanted to give Winterson's first novel a try and roping my friends into reading it with me was the perfect opportunity.

OANtOF is an autobiographical tale, based very closely on Winterson's own upbringing within a Pentecostal family. The narrator is even named Jeanette and many of the events in the plot closely mirror Winterson's own life (particularly the decision to embrace her sexuality and leave the church). I have to say I was a little disappointed when I started the book because I was expecting something fantastical like StC and instead got quite a load of realism. It was only a little disppointment, though, because Winterson's gift for description makes Jeanette's story play out as vividly as an event taking place right in front of me. The parallel fantasies and allegories come into play primarily in the latter half of the novel with the orange demon, Winnet, and Sir Perceval. I figured out the meanings of most of the allegory, but I'm a little bit stuck on Sir Perceval; one friend thinks that it's Jeanette's reflection on not being "pure" enough to continue her missionary work. Interesting thought, but I think I'll need to look in my Vintage Living texts Winterson volume to see if that's covered.

I haven't yet decided whether Winterson still identifies with the Pentecostal missionary church because there doesn't seem to be a conscious rejection of that church in the novel. The novel Jeanette seems to waver between the strict confines of the church's doctrine and belonging to the world at large. The end of the novel skips quite a bit through time so it felt like we missed out on Jeanette's thoughts while the allegories took center stage. I did feel that Jeanette wished for acceptance from her church although she is regarded as the biggest sinner of them all because of her sexuality even though several of the church elders were actually robbing the church or actively embezzling money from the converted.

I thought OANtOF was a great pick for our book club; we'll have lots to discuss (unless Kate and Beth come from out of town then we'll just visit with them - hurrah for visits from good friends). I do think that I like StC better because of the fantasy imagery. I'll probably have to re-read both of them o make a decendt decision.

09 August 2009

Cyberbullying Blogger Style

Tonight is a lazy night for me. I didn't close at the store so I've been finishing a few knitting projects (Karma's Poncho is done, yarn ends sewn in, steamed and in the bag, yeah!), having tea and a scone, watching You've Got Mail (because for all my snark I'm also pretty sappy), and occasionally perusing TweetDeck. Oh, we're having a summer storm here, too.

I got totally distracted by series of tweets from BiblioBrat, mjmbecky, and thestorysiren regarding some wing-nut who has Kristi pegged for harrassment (of course, I had to go read all the comments and put in my own two cents). Kristi has been removing some of the more heinous comments from the "crazy person" - who is posting more garbage using the defensive "we" rather than the singular personal pronoun - but the gist of Anonymous/Lena's rant is that Kristi needs to quit hogging the YA books, leave them to the teen bloggers, and just not review YA because Kisti is "old" (Kristi is younger than I am, FYI). In short, the crazy is demonstrating that he/she/they/it has the IQ of a troll and behaves like one, too. The same type of comment-flaming ensued on Tricia's Book Blog this week over the fact that Tricia hit the jackpot and was offered a free bookshelf to test out and review on her blog, lucky her (I have to be slightly jealous of Tricia in a good way because it is a pretty nice bookshelf). And, come to think of it, there was also a crazy person flaming The Yarn Harlot only a few weeks ago; flaming Stephanie is about like self-immolation because we Harlot-ites are militant in our defense of her (and we carry pointy, sharpened needles with us....everywhere).

Either there are multiple flamers running around in cyberspace or one sick individual.

So as I sat knitting the collar for a baby cardie (last piece!) and watching You've Got Mail I was thinking about the inherent community that goes along with reading/loving books and knitting. Those us who love books and love to talk about books - meaning we have blogs and book clubs and various bookish friends in the 21st century - have a very supportive community with all the other bibliophiles out there; we exchange reviews, encouragement, memes, and our love of the written word. Even if we don't agree on a point or have different reading tastes we don't denigrate one another; I don't think I've seen any serious book bloggers get obnoxious with one another (I've not been really active in the blogosphere long, so this could just be a case of not looking in the right places). The same goes for knitters. We all love and admire one another's handiwork, ask about where we got the yarn, support our LYS, and happily troop off to fiber festivals. Look at the Sock Summit that just wrapped up in Portland - if that doesn't say "community" then I don't know what does.

Cyberbullies seem to feed off that community energy; attack one in the community, the community responds with support, and the bully is somehow validated in its sick existence. The more the community backs the bully's victim, the more attention is afforded to the bully. It's a sick cycle and one that is nearly impossible to break. The web affords a cyberbully some veneer of anonymity since one can fake an online ID/persona, at least until the IP address is revealed and then "back-hacked into the Stone Age" (I love Penelope on Criminal Minds). Would ignoring the cyberbully work? It seems responding politely or vehemently only causes more flaming so perhaps pretending the bully doesn't exist will help (and turning on the comment moderation/requiring commenters to have an OpenID or Blogger account). However, remaining silent seems to tacitly agree with a bullying commenter so speaking out against the negativity seems to be the better option.

There isn't a really good way to solve the problem - the best we can do right now is call the cyberbully out and support the bully's target. So keep on blogging, knitting, reading, whatever floats your boat because the community will support you.

07 August 2009

The Big Rewind

I love snark. And I love The Onion. And the A.V. Club.

So of course I had to read Nathan Rabin's memoir The Big Rewind. We are both about the same age (he's a few years older) so many of the pop culture references he makes are very familiar to me, the whole Nirvana thing in particular and, although I wasn't a massive fan of grunge at the time it was such a waste to lose Cobain. This is where we diverge because I was about as straight-arrow, normal middle-class, yuppie upbringing as you can get while Rabin's family broke up, his father lost his job, he went to Jewish school for a while before going to Mather (which isn't all that great), wound up in a mental hospital, and then in a Jewish Children's Bureau group home because his father wasn't able to care for him (his dad has MS). I was slightly worried that this would be a depressing memoir but since I like Rabin's writing in The Onion this was only a very small worry.

Which was groundless. For all the crap that happened to him as a child/adolescent, Rabin tells his story with a great deal of humor. I kept thinking that I ought not to laugh as he described his fellow residents at the group home; none of the kids had a good situation, but Rabin uses his trademark brand of honesty and snark to bring out the quirkier sides of his housemates, rather than the tragic. I did hoot with laughter at the description of his fellow co-opers in Madison, not just because it's funny but because I'm pretty sure I actually know which co-op he's talking about (I do have friends in Madison who went to undergrad there and still visit there because of my DC duties); that co-op is crazy, particularly as co-ops go. Near the end of the book Rabin muses on the personae he created to deal with certain events in his life (i.e. El Pollo Loco) and how he is comfortable as himself, now, and accepts his past as part of himself.

Rabin opens each chapter with a short description or discussion of a media item, music, movie, or book, and then expands that discussion to cover as section of his life. I particularly loved his thoughts on Catcher in the Rye and adolescent apathy/rejection of authority; Rabin's ideas make the case for why Holden Caulfield is still relevant today (perhaps not relevant to the type-A go-getters but instead for the kids who seem to reject traditional paths). I also enjoyed Rabin's ideas about film criticism, even though those came near the end of the book, but I would be biased about that because I liked his reviews to start. The book does read very well, I finished it in three evenings, and I look forward to more "My Year of Flops" articles at the A.V. Club.

Shelf Discovery

I've developed a love for books written by fellow book-addicted, nostalgic people describing favorite books, or books that saved them, or just about reading books in general. Last year I read Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume and loved it because it brought back all the reasons why I loved JB when I was of the eight and up set (and recc'ed the book at BNBC).

Enter Lizzie Skurnick and Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Skurnick writes the Fine Lines column for Jezebel.com (most recently one about A Summer to Die) and Shelf Discovery follows in the column's footsteps. Skurnick and a few contributors (Meg Cabot, for one) write on approximately 100 beloved books we all read as tweens - when I say we, I probably mean women over the age of 25 although I'm pretty sure some guys read a few of these, too - and why we all read those beloved books to tatters. The books covered range from Little Women and Farmer Boy to Deenie, The Girl with the Silver Eyes, and I am the Cheese. The essays range from approximately two pages (a few of the "extra credit" ones) to nine or ten (the "book report" ones) making this a really good book to read while waiting in line.

Skurnick often alludes to having read many of these as a pre-tween and I was right there with her. I wasn't quite sure how Deenie got a "special spot" either as a nine-year-old but I was a shade jealous that she got one and I did not. I had a number of "omg, I loved that part, too" or "that book creeped me out, too" moments while reading Shelf Discovery making the act of reading the essays more like a shared experience rather than a solitary one. I hadn't read about 1/4 of the books described (my Lois Duncan-experience is rather sketchy since I never quite "got" paranormal stuff - "light as a feather, stiff as a board" didn't work on me) but there are a number that I would like to read as well as re-reading some of my favorites.

Those looking for an egalitarian, objective look at classic YA literature might not like Shelf Discovery quite as much because Skurnick injects so much of her own experience into the essays. This isn't a comparative exercise in teen literature but a love-letter to reading and I enjoyed Shelf Discovery all the more for it. In fact, I got a few other bookseller friends of approximately my age to read Shelf Discovery and guess what? They like it, too!

06 August 2009


BBAW is coming up and the lovely people behind the whole thing came up with a meme, 3 questions for returning participants and 3 for newbies (like me).

1) What has been one of the highlights of blogging for you?
Learning that there are so many book blogs out there and book blogs of so many different varieties! I'd never really looked for many prior to this year; I've had my Blogger account since September 2006 but just got serious about it in the last year.

2) What blogger has helped you out with your blog by answering questions, linking to you, or inspiring you?
Everyone has been so welcoming and inspiring! Rebecca, Bethanne, Jenn, Jennifer, Beth F, Trish, Natasha, Amy, Rebecca, Marie, .... omg, who else?? I'm sure I forgot someone. I've found so many new books, memes, ideas, thoughts, friends....it's been great. And I found Twitter, which let me find everyone else and stalk them around the Internet. Hee-hee. And then all my new Twitter/book-blogger friends introduced me to Google Reader....:)

3) What one question do you have about BBAW that someone who participated last year could answer?
The only burning one I have is related to nominating. Do we have to nominate someone for a category who has already signed up or can we nominate anyone we think would be great in that category? Other than that, I'll probably vascillate between lurking about the edges of BBAW and jumping in head first!

BTT: Why so serious?

What’s the most serious book you’ve read recently? (I figure it’s easier than asking your most serious boook ever, because, well, it’s recent!) Don't forget to leave your response at Booking Through Thursday.
Hmmm, depending on the definition of "serious"....
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

A multitude of mini-reviews

Since I'm so behind-hand on this I'll just give some mini-reviews to catch me up.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather: this is actually from several months ago for "Literature by Women" at BNBC but I forgot to get the review done; suffice to say, if you are looking for a Willa Cather book, and have read My Antonia or O, Pioneers, you'll like this one; it has a looser storyline but wonderful description

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell: also an older "Literature by Women" pick that I missed on the review list; a longer novel by an author contemporaneous to George Eliot and the Brontes; while not having the scope of, say, a Middlemarch, this is a very good look at Victorian families even with the missing chapter (Gaskell died before completing the final chapter, so while the entire story of the novel is intact it is missing the final knot in the bow)

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh: more like an interconnected series of short stories rather than a straight-up novel (shifting narrators, points-of-view, dialectical spellings dependent on narrator, etc); very bleak but also fascinating minatures of Scottish drug culture in the early 1990s under Welsh's very unforgiving microscope; I had to read parts out loud to get comprehension from the Scots-dialectical spelling but it was worth it

And Then There's This by Bill Wasik: interesting (and quite short) account of the rise of viral culture by a man who dabbled in creating viral events (remember the flash mobs?); I borrowed this one because it was in hardcover and, while it was worth reading for the information conveyed, I wasn't likely to cough up the hardcover price for something so small

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers: from "Literature by Women" June; a good mystery (that doesn't even get to the "murder mystery" part until about 60-70 pages in) set in rural England; Lord Peter and his man Bunter are called in to assist in solving the mystery which also revolves around a small town's church bells; I needed the assistance of several online sources to divine the meaning of the campanology terms used throughout the book (the "nine tailors" of the title refers to the nine "teller" strokes tolled to mark the death of a male adult inhabitant of the parish)

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga: this was Kat's pick for our F2F booksellers group from my store; the author uses a very unique premise in allowing the narrator to tell the story; the premise is a little out-there some times but I really enjoyed this novel for its portrayal of the clash between rural poverty and cosmopolitan/Westernized riches and the system that reinforces those extremes

Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell: I picked this up as part of a buy-2-get-1-free sale and it looked intriguing - mysteries and murders surrounding the existence of a lost work of Shakespeare; intriguing this is not; the plot is convoluted, with multiple cloak-and-dagger escapes from bad guys and lawmen, flying around the world in disguise, secrets at the Folger, and . . . the bad guys BLEW UP HARVARD'S WIEDENER LIBRARY (sacreliege); the denouement of the novel isn't any better; pass on this one

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: "Literature by Women" July selection and it was a fantastic book to read in (what was supposed to be) sticky, hot July; I thought Jackson did a great job using the limited 3rd person perspective to let the reader wonder whether Eleanor was nuts or not and whether Hill House was haunted or not; I'd like to read some more Jackson, maybe We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir: yet another installment in my Weir obsession; this one felt a little dull but I think that was because so much ground had already been covered by Henry VIII: The King and His Court; this was still very readable and I did learn some totally random fact that Anne of Cleves was the longest-lived of all Henry's wives and she was buried on August 3 (my birthday) about a week or so before Mary I died; next up on my Weir list is The Children of Henry VIII

04 August 2009

Teaser Tuesday: The Big Rewind

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!
Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is a little longer than two sentences, but the whole passage is fantastic:

...Jack and Rob shot me an icy look that said, "Not only are we going to continue kicking your ass, but now we're going to beat up your father too. Then we're going to dig up your grandfather's corpse and affix it to a meat hook so we can use it for a punching bag in our playhouse, just to convey the depths of our hatred of you and your family."
~ p 13, The Big Rewind, by Nathan Rubin