New Books

May. 30th, 2009 12:05 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
The to-be-read stack is now very high indeed. And a good thing, too, as I will have lots of reading time on my hands.

The first batch were purchased from the Small Beer Press $1 book sale (some were more than $1, and there was postage, but still an excellent deal). The second batch was from WisCon this year. OMG, I can't believe I got this many books. I am so looking forward to reading each and every one of them. Also included are two books from my Mom: In Love With Jerzy Kosinski by Agate Nesaule, who is the mother of my childhood crush and has been a family friend for as long as we've lived in Wisconsin (umm...44 years), and the book of Max Klinger art. Agate's first book, A Woman in Amber, is about her experiences during WWII, including time in a displaced persons camp. It's gut-wrenching and harrowing reading.

Hand, Elizabeth Generation Loss
Mitchison, Naomi Travel Light
McHugh, Maureen Mothers & Other Monsters
Ryman, Geoff Kings Last Song, The
Stewart, Sean Mockingbird
Gorodischer, Angelica Kalpa Imperial
Link, Kelly Magic for Beginners
Marks, Laurie J. Water Logic
Link, Kelly, ed. Trampoline
Crowley, John Endless Thing

Nesaule, Agate In Love With Jerzy Kozinski
Klinger, Max Graphic Works of Max Klinger
Ryman, Geoff Air
Monette, Sarah Bone Key, The
Valente, Catherynne M. Labyrinth, The
Valente, Catherynne M. Yume No Hon, The Book of Dreams (Blue)
Valente, Catherynne M. Yume No Hon, The Book of Dreams (Red)
Butler, Octavia Parable of the Talents
Crowther, Peter & Kramer, Edward, eds Tombs
Ness, Patrick Knife of Never Letting Go, The
Beagle, Peter We Never Talk About My Brother
Ketter, Greg Shelf Life
Brucato, SatyrPhil & Buskirkm Sandra, eds Ravens in the Library
Mieville, China Perdido Street Station
Berry, John D. Few Eccentric Characters, A (Pamphlet)
Berry, John D. Arranging Fonts (Pamphlet)
Monette, Sarah & Bear, Elizabeth Companion to Wolves, A
Butler, Octavia Blood Child
Shawl, Nisi Filter House
Sedia, Ekaterina Secret History of Moscow, The
Sedia, Ekaterina Alchemy of Stone, The
Murphy, Pat Wild Girls, The
Klages, Ellen White Sands, Red Menace
Klages, Ellen & Ryman, Geoff What Remains
Duchamp, L. Timmel & McHugh, Maureen Plugged In
Gunn, Eileen Stable Strategies and Others

Copied from my book catalogue spreadsheet, hence the library-style formatting.

Book Log

May. 30th, 2009 11:15 am
moderate_excess: (Book love)
I can't believe it's been so long since I posted on the book log. I have been keeping track in my excel spreadsheet, so that helps. I'm afraid I can't really do justice to any kind of review process for these, as there are far too many. Suffice it to say, I hope, that I pretty much enjoyed every one of these.

The last book on the list was an audio book I picked up on the cheap from the local thrift store. I was facing a 9 hour drive with a broken-off antenna and decided to give an audio book a shot. As I also have only a tape deck in the car, that sadly limits my options. I am so glad I picked this one up. 8 tapes and not a single wasted minute. The reader (John Lee) was wonderful, with a rich, plummy voice and a perfect accent for the characters. I think I could listen to him read a shopping list. Pair that with a wonderful story and I was almost wishing my trip was a little longer so I could have heard the whole thing (10 hours) in a single sitting. Highly recommended.

11. Cherie Priest Those Who Went Remain There Still
12. Catherynne M. Valente Palimpsest (OMG, you people have to read this book.)
13. Gene Wolfe The Fifth Head of Cerberus
14. Ellen Datlow, ed. The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
15. Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go (A selection for our book club--surprisingly intriguing and affecting.)
16. Elizabeth Bear Hammered
17. Elizabeth Bear Scardown
18. Elizabeth Bear Worldwired
19. Julie Smith 82 Desire
20. Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett Good Omens
21. Elizabeth Bear Carnival
22. Ellen Klages Portable Childhoods (Wow. Just wow.)
23. Jasper Fforde Lost in a Good Book
24. Chip Kidd The Learners
25. Midori Snyder Beldan's Fire
26. Midori Snyder Sadar's Keep
27. Midori Snyder New Moon
28. Manil Suri The Death of Vishnu (Audio-unabridged)

Book Log

Feb. 7th, 2009 11:37 am
moderate_excess: (Book love)
Oh, book log, how I have neglected you!

7. The Adventures of Tintin: Flight 714 by Herge

I used to love these, especially the ones with Thompson and Thompson in them, but this one just felt "meh" to me. I much prefer Asterix and Obelix. (I hemmed and hawed about including a short graphic work, but what the heck. All told, it probably balances out the door-stop books.)

8. Slaves of the Volcano God  by Craig Shaw Gardner

I picked up this book and the next in the series mostly due to the fact that I have consistently enjoyed Craig's wit and brilliant performances in Readercon's Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition. There are flashes of such in the book, and some amusing plays on the tropes of classic movie genres, but I never really got terribly involved with the story. The fact that it ended in a cliff-hanger (duh) makes me a bit reluctant to start the second book, as there is a third out there which I do not have. I'm not sure I want to invest the time in finishing the series.

9. Undertow by Elizabeth Bear

It took me a long time to read this book, mostly because I started it at the beginning of the current knitting craze, which has cut into my reading time. I'm actually considering going back and re-reading, in part because I think I may have missed putting pieces of the puzzle together because of the long gaps between reading sessions and also in part because I suspect there are levels of story that will come through on a second look. An excellent read overall, with complex characters and solid world-building.

10. A Mercy by Toni Morrison

I read this book for my new book club, which meets at Blue Cypress Books just down the street. The other participants are a brilliant group of fascinating people, and it was a joy to go to a book discussion where we actually talked about the book (gasp). That said, the experience was a little disconcerting, as I didn't get the book until the evening before the group met and I ended up reading and finishing it just before the meeting. As such, I didn't have time to really reflect on the work in private and let my feelings about it firm up. I found that in participating in a deep discussion of themes and character, context in history, etc., I lost my grip on the work as a whole. If any of you have read it, I'd be interested to hear your take on it.

I feel like a total slacker on the book front. Already into the second month of the year, and I've only read ten books! Bah. Perhaps I should look into audio books, as I can listen to them while knitting.

Book Log

Jan. 19th, 2009 10:32 am
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
6. Dreadful Skin by Cherie Priest

In form, this reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam, which she refers to as a "mosaic novel". Here are a series of short pieces (stories? chapters?) featuring the exploits of a former Irish nun in combating a werewolf named Jack. The story takes them from a river boat near Chattanooga to a town in the frontier West. Reading this was almost like reading a patchwork quilt--it's told in many different voices and many different styles, from first person narratives of the dead to epistolatory to third person, each story or chapter separated by a page that serves as a short introduction to what comes after, much as a Victorian literature chapter heading or one of those explanatory cards in a silent movie.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. There's a lot of inventiveness here and some good characters. I noticed that in this book, as in Fathom, however, some people died rather abruptly whose stories I thought merited a bit more than they got. If that makes any sense. (Trying not to be spoilery.)

Book Log

Jan. 16th, 2009 12:52 am
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
Oh, I've been so bad about updating this. I start reading LJ and fall down the rabbit hole. By the time I get finished, I'm too sleepy to post (not because you all put me to sleep, but rather that I do this late in the evening).

Anyway, what are we up to... oh yeah.

3. Worlds Enough and Time by Dan Simmons

A collection of 4 novelettes, one of which I did not completely "get". One of the stories is set in the Endymion universe and was very good. All in all, well worth the read.

4.  Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Even though the print on the back cover says "A novel of discworld", it isn't. It is about witches and fairies and pictsies and is, of course, funny as hell. And apparently, there are more after. Yay!

5. Earthbound by Richard Mathesson

A fairly standard succubus ghost story set in an off-season vacation cottage by the beach.  Husband and wife end up there to try to repair their marriage after the husband's affair. I swear, I've either read this story before, or it was the plot of a movie.... At least part of it was. Meh.

Book Log

Jan. 7th, 2009 12:11 am
moderate_excess: (Book love)
2. Escapement by Jay Lake

This was so good, I didn't want it to be over. In fact, I'm breaking one of my cardinal rules for this series in that I'm reading them as soon as I can get my hot little hands on them instead of waiting for the whole thing to be written and published and in my possession. Of course, it helps that each novel is complete unto itself and doesn't end in a cliff-hanger. After I finished this I did something I almost never do: I went back and read the first book, Mainspring, again. Although I remembered the majority of the story in the first book, I wanted to refresh my memory on the finer points. Boy, did it ever hold up to a second reading, especially knowing some of the things to follow. Jay, you magnificent bastard. I do love your writing.

Which leads to:

3. Mainspring by Jay Lake

which I am going to count because, hey, I read the entire thing all over again with just as much attention and concentration as I would pay to a book I hadn't read before.
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
1: Fathom by Cherie Priest

Having loved the Eden Moore trilogy, I was looking forward to this with great anticipation. I have to say that I didn't like it quite as well. It took me a while to get into the story, and the characters never completely fleshed out for me. When the actual story got started, it pulled me along through the book, and I finished it in a single night. In the end, however, I wished for a bit more from this book. As much as I hate to say it, I actually agreed with the first reviewer at the Amazon listing, who pretty much spelled out the difficulties I had with the work.

I have Dreadful Skin awaiting me on my bedside table and Those Who Went Remain There Still on order, so I am not giving up on Cherie's work.
moderate_excess: (Book love)

Books in bold are favorites (books I think about long after I've finished reading them).

1: Live! from Planet Earth by George Alec Effinger

2: Super-Cannes by J.G.

3: Magic Hour by Susan Isaacs

4: March by Geraldine Brooks

5: Sister Alice by Robert Reed.

6: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu.

7: Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander.

8: The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel. 

9: The Man Who Melted by Jack Dann. 

10: The 13 Clocks by James Thurber. 

13: Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing.

14: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

15: She Walks These Hills by Sharon McCrumb.

16: Changeling by Delia Sherman.

17: Desperate Measures by Kate Wilhelm.

18: Two For the Lions by Lindsey Davis.

19: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

20: The Boggart by Susan Cooper.

21: Spin by Robert Charles Wilson.

22: Almost Paradise by Susan Isaacs.

23: Life Interrupted by Spalding Gray

24: The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies. 

25: The Silence of the Lambs By Thomas Harris.

26: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

27: A Dove of the East by Mark Helprin.

28: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1 various authors and editors (and I can't be arsed to get up and walk over to where it is so I can copy it all down)

29: Lying on the Couch by Irvin D. Yalom.

30: The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages.

31: Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl.

32: The Summer Before the Dark by Doris Lessing.

33: A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe.

34: Books of Blood 2 by Clive Barker.

35: Death and Restoration by Ian Pears.

36: Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.

37: The Great Southern Babylon: Sex, Race, And Respectability in New Orleans, 1865-1920 by Alecia P. Long.

38: The Day of Creation by J.G. Ballard.

39: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

40: Cassanova in Bohemia by Andre Codrescu.

41: Prime by Poppy Brite.

42: Liberating Paris by Linda Bloodworth Thomason.

43: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

44: Gun with Occasional Music by Jonathon Lethem.

45: The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith.

46: Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler.

47: New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith.

48: Fortress of Solitude by Jonathon Lethem.

49: Voodoo in New Orleans by Robert Tallant.

50: Fata Morgana by William Kotzwinkle.

51: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

52: Water Music by T.C. Boyle.

53: With Her Body by Nicola Griffith.

54: Memories of the Old Plantation Home by Laura Locoul Gore.

55: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain.

56: Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian.

57: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

58: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

59: A Ticket to Ride by Paula McLain.

60: Master & Commander by Patrick O'Brian.

61: The Ruins by Scott Smith.

62: White as Snow by Tanith Lee.

63: The Grass Harp, including A Tale of Night and other stories by Truman Capote.

64: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
65: A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
66: A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
67: Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
68: New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear.

69: Mainspring by Jay Lake.

70: The Accusers by Lindsey Davis.

71: Fledgling by Octavia Butler.

72: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
73: Collapse by Jared Diamond
74: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
75: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
76: Meet Me at Infinity by James Tiptree, Jr.
77: Naked in the Marketplace: The Lives of George Sand by Benita Eisler
78: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
79: Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
80: The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson.

81: Brick Lane by Monica Ali.

82: Conversations With the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer.

83: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb.

84: Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

85: Goodnight, Texas by William J. Cobb

86: A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown

87: The Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang

88: Strange Dreams collection edited by Stephen R. Donaldson

89: Number Our Days by Barbara Myerhoff

91: Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow by Dedra Johnson

92: A Woman of the People by Benjamin Capps

93: Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg

94: Was by Goeff Ryman

95: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

96: Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment edited by David Hartwell

97. Memoir From Antproof Case by Mark Helprin.

98. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

99. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

100. Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 by Barbara


101. The Burglar Who Thought He was Bogart by Lawrence Block.
102. The Flamingo's Smile by Jay Gould

103. Shadow Man by Melissa Scott

104. The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

105. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

106: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

107. Ines of my Soul by Isabel Allende

108. Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul

109: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

110: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

111: China Boy by Gus Lee
112. The Child Garden  by Geoff Ryman

113. Portuguese Irregular Verbs  by Alexander McCall Smith

114. Carnival by Elizabeth Bear

115. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

116. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

117. The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

118: The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente

119: Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

120: 82 Desire by Julie Smith


Book Log

Dec. 30th, 2008 10:05 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
120: 82 Desire by Julie Smith

Another book in the filled-with-local-color series of murder mysteries set in NOLA, I enjoyed this one much more better [sic] than some of her previous offerings. There's less of a focus on Skip Langdon's extra 20 pounds and more on the rest of her life and the *gasp* case itself, which is an interesting little whodunnit involving oil leases and nefarious doings. I never got completely sucked into the character's lives, but Smith does create some colorful people, and she loves to set her story amongst the best and worst this city has to offer. Also, as so many local authors do, she makes the city itself into a character, which is only right and proper.

Book Log

Dec. 28th, 2008 06:31 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
119: Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

My mom sent me this book, with a bookmark that read "In memory of Sam--another extraordinary cat". I got all choked up and I have to admit that when I finally got around to reading the book, the ending had me crying all over again. It's a sweet little book about a wonderful library cat. I recommend it to cat and library lovers.

Book Log

Dec. 28th, 2008 02:54 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
118: The Orphan's Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente

This is the second in this two book series, and it is darker and more disturbing than the first. At least it starts off that way. But as the tales wind further and further into your consciousness, they pick up threads from earlier stories and weave them into a picture that is, if not cheerful, at least hopeful of redemption. I found the ending satisfying in a way that so few books of this nature ever are. I felt that the stories continued without me, but I wasn't left with the burning need to know "what happens next?" or a vague sense of let-down that it was all over. I had a complete world in my head and I could wander its streets whenever I liked. This is a very good thing.

Now I need to get some of Cat's earlier novels and I eagerly await the publication of Palimpsest (and hope I have a job by then so I can buy it).

Book Log

Dec. 24th, 2008 11:44 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
One of the good things about unemployment is that if one can relax enough to read, there's oodles of time for it. I've been tackling the mountain of books by the bed this week and managed to put a very small dent in it.

115. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

This was jolly good fun, for an end-of-the-world anti-christ story. As one might expect from two wry and amusing Englishmen.

116. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

One of the books I treated myself to when I was gainfully employed. Very enjoyable indeed, as are most things by Mr. Gaiman. Boy grows up in a cemetery, raised by ghosts. It reminded me a bit, in concept, of A Fine and Private Place, which I loved.

117. The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente (aka [ profile] yuki_onna)

Another of my treat-myself books, this was gorgeous and lush and Arabian Nights-like in its complexity and the interwoven texture of the tales. I literally could not put it down, as I kept wanting to know the ending of each story, and all the nested stories within them. I'm starting the second one tonight. I should start them earlier, I know. I'll never get to sleep before at least 2am.

(If you're reading this, Cat, let me say Thank You for such lovely stories to fill my dreams.)

Book Log

Dec. 18th, 2008 08:06 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
I can't believe it's been so long since I posted about books. Of course, I haven't had much time for reading--first with the job taking up so much of my time, then with the art.

In any case, here are the books I've figured out I read between my last post and now (I have a sneaking suspicion I'm missing one, but I can't for the life of me think of what it could be).

112. The Child Garden  by Geoff Ryman

Absolutely brilliant. I really enjoyed this one.

113. Portuguese Irregular Verbs  by Alexander McCall Smith

A lovely little bit of fluff. I suppose one could call this a mosaic novel--a collection of short stories in a series featuring the same characters.

114. Carnival by Elizabeth Bear

The first of Bear's novels I've read so far, and it was delightful. Good worldbuilding, intrigue, plenty of interesting science, and dragons that didn't make me go ick. The two primary characters were well worth investing the time in.

Book Log

Oct. 13th, 2008 08:09 am
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
That's one thing about this new job: I actually have to work! So, no more days of reading two or three books. Alas. As a result, my book log has gotten a bit slower, and I'm a bit behind in my reporting. Also, I took a Sunday paper to work yesterday, so that took a while and I only read half a book and it was a re-read (Surfacing by Margaret Atwood). Should I count re-reads? Hmm. I will have to go back to my old practice of reading before bed, which means no more TV after 10pm.

110: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I don't think I was in the right headspace for this book at first. I'd just finished reading Snow Falling on Cedars, which is a lovely narrative work, moving back and forth through time and multiple viewpoints, but within a familiar structure. When I started reading Mrs. Dalloway I found it unfocused and confusing and I had trouble keeping straight just whose head I was in at any given time. I admit, it frustrated me and I skimmed a bit. I hadn't finished by the time I went home for the day and didn't pick it up again until the following day. That time, I read more slowly, allowing my brain to flow along with the words and let the story seep into my consciousness.

This book is like watching fish in a running stream. They flash and dart in the current and doze under the banks and weave over and under each-other. The patterns build up gradually and become something not quite seen but perceived none-the-less. At the end, the stories all intertwine and you find that Woolf has demonstrated, by a kind of literary sleight of hand, the way all lives, no matter how seemingly remote and unconnected, touch and influence each-other. There are few books I re-read, but I think I might do so with this one. I suspect I'll discover more with each reading.

111: China Boy by Gus Lee

This is described on the back cover as being "delightful" and "hilariously poignant". Obviously, some people agreed (including my room-mate, who lent me the book). I didn't. For some reason, books that contain vivid portrayals of physical and emotional abuse of children do not qualify as delightful for me. That the protagonist finds his way out of constant beatings both at home and school by taking up boxing at the local Y and dispenses truly brutal beatings of his own makes it no better . I dislike boxing in the extreme and don't think it should be an Olympic sport, let alone as idolized and avidly followed as it is.

In between the scenes of brutality, there is a fascinating story of what it was to be Chinese-American in the 50's and of a family's past life in China and flight to the West. Unfortunately, it became obscured for me by the "righteous indignation of bruised innocence," as the reviewer for The Library Journal put it.

Book Log

Sep. 30th, 2008 08:29 am
moderate_excess: (Book love)
109: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

It took me a little while to get into this story, but once I did I was hooked. Now I want to see the movie again because I know I didn't get as much out of it as I should have. Oddly enough, I also remembered the story as having been set in Nova Scotia, but perhaps I am conflating it with a different book set on a sea island with a lot of snow.

In any case, so beautifully captures the life of the Pacific NW just before and during WWII and how the horrible policies of internment affected so many families. The scenes of the war itself were vivid and brutal, but felt very realistic. By the end, I had a clenching in my gut as I read, wondering if the main character would do the right thing or not. At that point, it really felt like it mattered deeply, even though these were fictional characters. That's the sign of good storytelling right there.

Book Log

Sep. 26th, 2008 10:23 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
107. Ines of my Soul by Isabel Allende

A fictional account of the real people behind the colonization of Chile, Ines Suarez, the first gobernatora, in particular. It's an interesting study, with some fascinating speculation on the nature of her relationships with the various men in her life. An amazing woman, by any measure, no matter one's views on the nature of colonization. Allende does manage to include viewpoints from both sides and some interesting historical insights into the indigenous populations and the colonial mind-set.

108. Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul

I was very disappointed with this book. I expected better from a winner of the Nobel Prize (as the cover boasts in a gold seal). Or maybe it's just that there is a certain style of writing that I dislike, one in which the protagonist moves through his life as if in a trance, never acting but always acted upon and ends up sad and puzzled at the utter waste of it all.

I probably should have taken a warning, also, in the observation of one of the characters that real life doesn't have a narrative arc--no beginning, middle and end, and therefore stories need not follow that form. This book certainly had no real end, and the middle was all soft and flabby. Ugh.

Book Log

Sep. 25th, 2008 08:47 am
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
106: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Atwood's abilities as a writer are extensive, so much so that she can take a rather threadbare plot and flesh it out into a hefty novel. The characters are interesting, and she does her usual good job with getting into their heads and really exploring what makes them tick, but in this book all the personal stories, though very different on the surface, begin to run together into common channels: abusive or inadequate mothers and absent fathers, alienation with one's self or the body which leads to a less than fully formed ability to connect with the men in their lives and very poor choices in those men. Then there's the bete noir of this piece, who comes on the scene, works her evil ways and exits, stage left, with what the heroine treasures most, the man she thought she loved. In a way this is an exploration of how thoroughly we (as women) have been taught to be open and generous and to help those who come to us in need and how someone utterly without scruples can take advantage of us and use it against us.

Yes, I think we've all known toxic people like this, pathological liars who take delight in manipulating those around them. And we've fallen for their tricks and lies one too many times (I can think of at least three I've known and been burned by). So there is a deep, resonant pool that this taps into for many readers, I suspect. For all that, however, this book never reached the intensity of some of her earlier works, such as Cat's Eye. That book took me on quite a ride of memory and revelation, subjective and objective truth, and led me to some very unexpected places. This one, on the other hand, was predictable in many places and didn't take me anywhere I didn't think I'd go.

In other words, good, but not great.

Book Log

Sep. 22nd, 2008 01:23 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
My, how time passes. I've not been feeling up to doing a lot of writing lately, so I've missed posting about the latest books read. Here's a bit of a catch-up.

102. The Flamingo's Smile by Jay Gould

A collection of mostly good essays on science and evolution. I did get a bit tired of them after a while, but suspect they'd be better if read one at a time with some space in between.

103. Shadow Man by Melissa Scott

It's been a while since I've read an explicitly genre book, and I find it takes a bit of gear-switching. When I'm reading something set in this world, even if in another time, the story tends to get going much faster, without all the world building necessary in most genre fiction. There also seems to be much more interior character development in mainstream fiction, where the story is often more deeply personal than idea-driven. (Or at least the ones I tend to read are.)

This was an interesting thought exercise on gender and culture and prejudice, though I thought it could  have gone a bit further in exploring the personal aspects. The story itself was well-plotted and well-told, I thought, though I came away from it without that feeling of separation-loss I get from some books. 

A recent post by [ profile] autopope got me thinking also about color and race and how authors signal this without being explicit. I found as I was reading Shadow Man that I couldn't quite fix a mental image for the characters. The natives, or indigenes, are dark-skinned from living on a planet with a tropical climate, dress in bright colors with lots of scarves and bead and shell trimmings, hold ritual dances with lots of drumming, and hold a belief set that includes spirit/aspects that can be embodied by living people. So, Caribbean? There are a lot of words with French roots in the native tongue, which would support that hypothesis, also. Now that I write it all out, it seems fairly clear, but at the time, I had difficulty with it. I kept toying with Arabic or Northern African cultural roots as well.

The Big Idea in this novel is that mutations from a drug used to facilitate FTL travel during the interstellar diaspora/wave of colonization from Earth have led to there being five distinct sexes: female (XX chromosomes, female genitalia), fem (XX, some aspects of female genitalia, no ovaries but has testes), herm (has testes and ovaries and some aspects of male and female genitalia), mem (XY, ovaries but no testes, aspects of male genitalia), and male (XY, male genitalia). The planet Hara was out of touch with the rest of the humanity for a while and evolved a culture in isolation that treated the intersexes as aberrations, requiring them to choose a legal gender or forcing one on them. With renewed contact and active trade with the Concord worlds, this comes into conflict with the off-worlders' open acceptance and recognition of all the sexes. The story follows several players, both indigene and off-worlder, who struggle with the problems that arise when very different cultures with different values come into opposition. There is the added complication of the sex-trade and how that is regulated and viewed, especially in regard to different strains of HIV.

The novel ends up being about so many different things (gender identity, prejudice, trade-imbalance, cultural purity, political maneuvering) that it ends up falling a little short on the things that I find most appealing, which are character and inner growth/change. It also has a bit of the reluctant messiah aspect to it, as well as the observer-to-history character. I liked it, but kept wanting it to be a slightly different book.

104. The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

Lessing's first novel, set in the harsh environment of South Africa under white rule. It's a disturbing yet thoughtful study of how humans rationalize the most brutal treatment of each-other and how very far apart most of us are from understanding and connecting with even the ones to whom we are closest. Lessing is brilliant at portraying the innermost lives of people in torment, especially those whose torment arises from within themselves. I also think that genre people writing about encountering and living with aliens could do far worse than read this book.

105. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another in the series of books I should have read by now. Especially frightening given the rise of Sara Palin and her ilk. Gave me shudders. (I am assuming you all have either read it or seen the movie or at least know the premise.)

Book Log

Sep. 12th, 2008 03:39 am
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
101. The Burglar Who Thought He was Bogart by Lawrence Block.

Magnificent foolery*, says the blurb on the front, and indeed it is. Definitely a nice light popcorn book for a stormy day at work. I like this series a lot, not least because the protagonist is a bookseller as well as a semi-retired burglar. The plot was a little absurd, but hey, it did read a bit like the plot of a Bogart movie.

*Or something like that. I'm too lazy to get it out of my bag and look just at the moment.
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
I started thinking about why it was I didn't care that much for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao last night in the shower.

The protagonist is a modern stereotype: the overweight, lonely nerd. Steeped in a life of reading science fiction and fantasy, social ostracization, rejection from women, and playing D&D, Oscar is the very picture of every pop culture nerd. The kicker is that he is Dominican as well, so that the author can show how far he has fallen from the macho, womanizing epitome of the Dominican male. The author is clearly familiar with the canon of SF and fantasy (literary, cinematic and televised), and he sprinkles his narrative with references familiar to anyone inside the genre but no doubt as opaque to the majority of his readers as the Spanish phrases with which he also lards his prose. And that's part of the problem. His protagonist never moves much beyond the pigeon-hole of the nerd and never exhibits much of a personality beyond his rather pathetic unrequited romantic passions, and the author never moves beyond using genre as window-dressing. And although the language of genre studs the story like raisins in a plum pudding, there is no sense that it is anything other than another layer of the exotic for the mainstream audience for this book.

The only characters that have any story at all are two women: Oscar's mother and his Aunt, la Inca. Their stories approach the mystery and complexity of characters in an Allende or Marquez novel, but the author seems uncomfortable with what could have been the emotional heart of this book. He shies away from the luminous magical-realism of other Latin works and the possibility of the unexplained or miraculous is squandered.

I suspect that some readers saw this as a brilliant expose of layers of history and subculture, illuminating the experience of immigrants from the Dominican Republic in New York, their histories and relations with those back home on the island as well as the inner life of a social outcast from both worlds. But I'm afraid that it never gelled for me and the characters never became much more than paper cutouts. I thought Jonathon Letham did a much better job with Motherless Brooklyn, at least as a novel about the outsider.

I was a little concerned that this might be the case, as there seems to be a category of modern fiction that is highly critically acclaimed but that I find myself unable to get into. And it's not that I am unable to read outside the genre, as my extremely varied book list shows, either. I think it's similar to my reaction to some highly abstract art such as that by Pollack or Mondrian, which does not resonate for me at all.


To Kill a Mockingbird was a wonderful reading experience and I'm sorry it took me so long to get to it. And now I need to see the movie (no, I've never seen it. Really.). I trust you guys have read it already. It's one of my catch-up classics.


Memoir From Antproof Case was an odd book. The narrative swings back and forth between stories of the narrator's recent past and his childhood, and between the New York of his youth and the countryside near Rio where he now writes the titular memoir. The story moves well and held my interest throughout, and the ending was satisfying and illuminating. It is not as brilliant a book as Winter's Tale, though, which remains my favorite.

Book Log

Sep. 9th, 2008 09:44 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
100. Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 by Barbara Kingsolver.

I picked a good one for my 100th book of the year. This was Kingsolver's first book, a non-fiction account of the copper mine strike against Phelps Dodge, and especially the women who kept the strike alive. It's an amazing story of these women, many having to overcome cultural biases, who discovered the power they possessed to organize, resist, protest, and stand up for the right thing in the face of union-busting activities on the part of the mine owners. Along the way they came together as a community and found their own voices. They grew and blossomed and many went on to get educations and continue their labor activities, working toward a greater role for women in the labor unions. In the process, they learned to look beyond the limitations of traditional women's roles and encourage their children to reach for more. The children also came away with a greater sense of what is truly important in life, and viewed their mothers as heroes. I recommend this book highly.

Book Log

Sep. 7th, 2008 11:11 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
I'm way behind on this, and not really feeling up to real reviews. Let me just say I liked all of these. I'm not quite sure why the last on the list won as many awards as it did, including the Pulitzer. I wasn't blown away. Ah, well. If I can muster up the requisite brain cells, perhaps I'll write a bit more about these soon.

97. Memoir From Antproof Case by Mark Helprin.

98. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

99. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

Book Log

Aug. 26th, 2008 08:55 am
moderate_excess: (Book love)
I am woefully behind on this, but as I haven't been reading much lately, there's only one book on which to report.

96: Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment edited by David Hartwell

This is an excellent collection of short stories spanning the very beginnings of the form to the very latest (as of 1988) works of modern masters. I like the way Hartwell has organized the collection--not chronologically, but by category: Enchantments, Wonders, Creatures, Worlds, and Adventures. There are some old favorites in here ("Uncle Einar" by Ray Bradbury, "Tobermory" by Saki, and "The Moon Pool" by A. Merritt) and many I'd never read before, including American fairy tales by L. Frank Baum. A few of the stories were rare and uncollected, and I could see why as they weren't as high quality as I'd come to expect from their authors (Horace Walpole's "Hieroglyphic Tales" for example).

All in all, though, an excellent overview on the art of the fantastic in literature.

I  started to read another book I had brought along with me, but found I had read it already. The Infinite Plan by Isabel Allende. A quick check of my catalogue shows that it's one of the books I bought while in Seattle that I left there against my eventual return. Well, that trick didn't work. I'm hoping Joe will be able to ship those books home to me when he visits next week.

Book Log

Aug. 18th, 2008 10:15 am
moderate_excess: (Book love)
94: Was by Goeff Ryman

This was such a wonderful book. I haven't read anything by Ryman before, even though I planned to get his novel Air after it won the Tiptree Award. But hmmm. Science fiction? no. Fantasy? no. It's a what if story, that's to be sure, but not a kind of what if that falls into the range of speculative or fantastic fiction. Brilliant nonetheless.

Ryman speculates on the life of one Dorothy Gael, orphaned and sent to live with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in Kansas where her life takes a terrible turn away from the bright lights and sparkle of her theater parents into the hardscrabble no-nonsense drudgery of farm life. Dorothy is twisted and blighted by what she is subjected to and she becomes a kind of sacrifice to allow the community to keep its illusions. Into this world then briefly enters and exits a young substitute teacher who tries but fails to redeem Dorothy but takes her name and situation with him. His name is Frank Baum.

The story also weaves together the lives of Jonathon, a young actor dying of AIDS who is trying to piece together the central mystery of Dorothy's existence, the life of the young Judy Garland and the making of "The Wizard of Oz" and a tender-hearted young man who encounters the now aged and mentally unstable Dorothy in a nursing home and is determined to help her.

It's a very effective and moving piece of literature and I think it deserves a higher place in the canon than Wicked, and a much wider readership.

95: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

After reading The Lost Continent I was thrilled to discover this at the library book sale. It's an equally delightful travel story, this time about an attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail. Bryson mixes his usual style of droll observation with natural history and the history of the trail itself in a seamless and never dry way. He gently skewers the government agencies charged with protecting our nation's forests, pointing out how badly they do it. The statistics he recounts on the fate of thousands of species that have disappeared from our protected woodlands are heartbreaking, but he doesn't wallow in the misery for long. He always manages to bring the narrative back to the simple story of his and his friend Katz's attempt to hike the entire 2,100 mile stretch of the trail from Georgia to Maine.

There are parts of this book that had me actually laughing out loud which, had there been any customers in the shop, may have startled them a bit. I immediately thought to recommend this to my parents. Brilliant. I will definitely keep reading Bryson's books when I come across them.
moderate_excess: (Edumacation)
Because I have to go to work tomorrow and the next day and have run out of books to read, I decided to stop by the bi-weekly (Wed. & Sat.) book sale at the Latter Library on St. Charles. I managed to pick up the following:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (MMPB)
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (TPB)
Memoir From an Antproof Case by Mark Helprin (HC)
The Infinite Plan by Isabel Allende (ARC)
Forest of the Pygmies by Isabel Allende (HC)
Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment edited by David G. Hartwell (HC)
Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach (MMPB)
Was by Geoff Ryman (TPB)
Homeland and Other Stories by Barbara Kingsolver (TPB)

Two of these I already have (The Infinite Plan and Ecotopia) but they are sitting in a box in Seattle. In the interests of being able to read them now, I bought these, but when I'm re-united with the others I'll donate one copy back to the library. I also picked up paperback copies of two Susan Cooper books because I wasn't sure which ones I already had. As it turns out, I have these already, so back to the library they will go as well.

These should last me a bit, and the total cost for the whole bunch was less than $10. I love the library sales.

I need to write out a wish list to carry with me so this doesn't keep happening. The worst is filling in a series, because it's hard to keep track of them all and which ones I have/need.

Book Log

Aug. 11th, 2008 08:48 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
I just re-read my last book log entry and wow, do I sound condescending on that last book. Sorry. Perhaps my reaction is in part due to having read A Piece of Cake and Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow too close together. Anyway, on with the entry.

92: A Woman of the People by Benjamin Capps

This is the story of a nine-year-old girl captured by the Comanche when her homestead is raided and her parents killed in 1854. Her 5 year old sister is easily integrated into tribal life but her own slow acclimation takes many years and is so subtle even she doesn't realize how complete it is until the end. The novel is pretty much a portrait of the Comanche way of life during the turbulent years of the westward expansion of white pioneers and the resettlement of native peoples on reservations.

The simplicity of the language makes this book feel like a YA novel to me, but one with all the passion of life surgically removed from it. I felt like I was looking at one of those dusty dioramas from the natural history museum, behind glass against a painted wall. The depictions of Comanche life sounded pretty accurate to me, but then, I'm not a Native American and can't speak to that. The main character herself is so two-dimensional she came across as barely an individual at all. There were occasional nearly poetic passages about the way she observed nature and the beauty of it, but these had an almost travelogue-like feel to me.

93: Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg

Boy, am I glad I didn't read this one when I was at the depth of my depression.

This is a novel about friendships between women and how they and those friendships are affected when cancer enters the picture.

It's hard for me to really write my impressions of this because I think each reader probably has distinctly personal reactions to this book, and I don't want my highly subjective interpretations to get in the way of someone else's reading. Suffice it to say that this really wasn't my cup of tea.

And thus ends the box of books from [ profile] beaten_grace, for which thanks. It's interesting to me that the books I put on the bottom of the pile as the ones I thought I wouldn't care for all that much indeed turned out to be books that didn't resonate with me. So now I know that actually, yeah, for the most part I can judge a book by its cover, at least with regard to how much I will or won't like it.

And now I really must check out that library thing. Although... I just talked to my new roommate on the phone about when she's moving in and all, and she said she has a bunch of books she's going to get rid of. I asked her to hold the fiction aside for me and she said she'd give me first crack. Yay!

Book Log

Aug. 9th, 2008 10:52 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
I've been terribly remiss about this, but I've been on vacation. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

(OMG, I just checked. Has it really been since July 23rd that I've updated the book log? Yeesh.) So without further ado, here we go.

87: The Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang

This was my bed-time book for a long time. It's surprisingly dense, with 37 stories, and I hadn't been reading more than two or three a night.

88: Strange Dreams collection edited by Stephen R. Donaldson

Donaldson is one of my least favorite authors, but I needed something to read and this book was sitting around the store. And once I discovered that he hadn't written any of the stories himself, I was much more interested in reading it. There are some good stories here, selected as stories Donaldson himself loved and was inspired by.

89: Number Our Days by Barbara Myerhoff

This was one of the books lent to me by [ profile] beaten_grace and one I'd left to the end as I wasn't sure how depressing it would be. I took it with me on the trip and started it in the airport waiting for my flight. I don't recommend this book for reading in a noisy environment. Or maybe it was just the book. I had a terrible time maintaining my interest. The subject matter is a community of retired Jewish people in Venice, California in the mid '70's, most if not all of them immigrants from Eastern Europe, like my grandparents. There were some illuminating bits, but just when my interest would be piqued by the personal histories and conversations of the people who are the subjects of this book, the author would stop to analyze the situation in Social Anthropology terms. Which is great if that's your field, but even though I've taken classes in the subject I found the academics dry and uninteresting.

My mother recommended another book: Poor Cousins by Ande Manners, which looks a little more of interest.

I was totally in the right head-space, however, for book # 90: The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.

What can I say about this book? It's a kind of alternate present, in which Harold Ickes' plan to offer the territory of Alaska as a refuge for European Jews had actually gone through and the fledgling state of Israel had been overthrown. Now, 60 years after the founding of the Federal District of Sitka in 1948, the teeming region, home to millions of Jews where Yiddish is the official language, is about to revert to the United States and the future of the vast majority of inhabitants is in serious question. Set against all this is a hard-boiled detective story complete with down-at-the heels, hard-drinking police detective Meyer Landsman and his Tlinglit/Jewish partner.

Chabon is a brilliant writer whose every sentence is a joy. I took my time with this one, as much as possible, just to savor the language. This was not as easy as one might think because the story really pulls you along. I can't recommend this one highly enough, especially if, like me, you have connections to both Alaska and Judaism.

[edit] And I should have mentioned that this book was nominated for the Hugo Award this year and may have already won, for all I know. Nobody every tells me anything.

[edit the second] Yay!!!! It won!!!!! Oh, it so deserved to win. I am truly thrilled. And also thrilled for fellow live-journaler [ profile] matociquala whose story Tideline won for best short fiction, and for friends David Hartwell and Gordon Van Gelder who won for best editor long form and short form, respectively. Damn. Now I really wish I'd been able to go.

91: Sandrine's Letter to Tomorrow by Dedra Johnson

Another from the big box of books from [ profile] beaten_grace. I have a mixed reaction to this one. It reminded me a bit of Cupcake Brown's book with its depiction of dysfunctional single-parent African-American families in which the children are forced to continuously clean and perform all house-hold chores. The titular daughter is so virtuous and is so unfairly treated that the story wanders dangerously close to the realm of fantasy. There is an element of wish-fulfillment in the conclusion as well. (I am reminded of my own creative writing classes when a student would respond to a criticism by crying "but it really happened!" It doesn't matter if the events are true if they don't come across realistically to the reader.)

This is the author's first novel, right out of writing school, so I am hopeful her style and themes will mature with practice.

Book Log

Jul. 23rd, 2008 11:52 pm
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86: A Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown

A memoir by a woman who grew up with one of the most horrific childhoods I have ever heard about (thrown into the foster system at age 11 after her mother's death, given alcohol and raped in the first week and driven to take to the streets and prostitution and drug use). At one point, I was tempted to look the book up to see whether this was one of those memoirs that had later been revealed to have been faked, just because the situations seemed so over-the-top. But this is the real deal, and she has the research and references and testimony to back her up. (There's a pretty good story on this on EW's site.)

It's a horrifying look at just how fucked up a person can get and still pull themselves out and make something of their life. Some of the scenes are brutal, the language is crude, but it ends up being a compelling story.

Book Log

Jul. 21st, 2008 09:24 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
84: Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

At first I didn't much care for this book. I have a hard time with depictions of people being horrid to each-other, and there was an awful lot of that here. And not just people who are in relationships saying mean things, but strangers showing no tact, sensitivity or compassion. There is a kind of callousness that seems to come to the fore in novels by British authors, this being one of them. I did eventually find some redeeming elements, some interesting insights into the human condition, but I came away actively disliking a couple of the characters.

85: Goodnight, Texas by William J. Cobb

It probably says quite a bit about this book that I couldn't even remember the title or anything about it in order to record it here. It was entertaining enough while I was reading it, but nothing stuck with me afterward. I suppose you could call it a kind of sorbet of a book. There are some uncomfortably realistic descriptions of going through a hurricane on the gulf coast and its aftermath, but again, nothing that stayed with me.

Book Log

Jul. 19th, 2008 09:47 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
83: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb.

This is an Oprah Book Club selection, which almost kept me from reading it. Because I'm anti-trendy like that. But [ profile] beaten_grace lent it to me and I needed something to read at the video store yesterday. So. What to say. It's a big book, with a lot going on. There's family history, immigrant history, issues of child abuse, mental illness, twins, male-pattern anger, etc. As I said, a lot going on. I find it interesting to read a book that has a protagonist depicted in a brutally honest way--a flawed and damaged and damaging person--but depicted so well that you find yourself empathizing with him even as you are telling yourself that he's not a nice person and why are you feeling for him? But as the book goes along, a lot of the obstacles in the character's life get worked on, and it's a satisfying process in the end. There are parts that are quite unpleasant, but I think it's worth making it through to the end.

Book Log

Jul. 16th, 2008 10:24 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
81: Brick Lane by Monica Ali.

It seems I've been reading a lot of books about the condition of the immigrant in England lately. White Teeth and The Satanic Verses are two recent examples. This is a worthy addition to the genre, from a woman's point of view. Pretty damned good for a first novel, too. Some excellent commentary on Islam and the many ways it is interpreted.

82: Conversations With the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer.

Another first novel, and one which rang a bit too true and a bit too close to home for me. This is about two childhood friends, both overweight, one of whom has gastric bypass surgery and becomes the perfect size two with the perfect life and the other of whom finds herself stuck in a rut of self-abnegation and loneliness. The interactions play out fairly realistically, and the heroine comes to some uncomfortable but necessary realizations. This is definitely a "chick lit" book--a category that I tend not to read--but well done for what it is.

Book Log

Jul. 16th, 2008 08:30 am
moderate_excess: (Book love)
I recently went back and copied all my book log entries into a word document, and discovered that my numbering is off. This entry corrects that and brings the numbering up to date.

80: The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson.

This was a light read, part travelogue, part memoir, part nostalgia trip. The author, after spending two decades in England, returns to his boyhood home of Des Moines, Iowa, borrows his Mother’s Chevette, and commences a road trip through the small towns and byways he remembers from past family vacations with his directionally challenged and miserly father. He goes off the beaten path, checks into cheap motels, eats in diners and searches for the perfect small town America. Along the way he encounters anonymous strip malls, towns with no center, both the kindness and coldness of strangers, and reconnects with his home-town.

In a way, I wish he’d been more thorough, as he skips over entire states (Wisconsin, for example), but I would rather have this than a monotonous travel guide. His observations are sometimes cutting, often kind, always honest and they paint a picture of the country that avoids the mawkishness of those works that extol the American dream and overlook its faults and yet never descends into cruelty and disdain. I would definitely read more by Bryson.

Book Log

Jul. 11th, 2008 12:16 am
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
75: Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

I don't know quite what to say about this book. It's an odd one. It's billed as "a novel about the history of philosophy", which it is. But it's also a bit of a mystery and written in a very simplistic manner. The author is Norwegian, which is where the novel is set, which is a nice change. But the underlying ethos is still christianity, and it shows. I should have known, when the novel got a quote from Madeline L'Engle. It's a kind of existential mystery interspersed with a philosophy primer. Ack, I'm not describing this well. There's a spoilery synopsis on the wikipedia page, if you're interested.

Book Log

Jul. 8th, 2008 08:19 am
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
74: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

For a while I was really enjoying this story, rooting for Jude's happiness, feeling alongside him the joy of working toward knowledge. But I forgot that Hardy's characters are tested unto Job and often pushed beyond the limits of their endurance. Why oh why did I read this book now? I don't need things to further my depression. Unfortunately, all the books that remain on my tiny little to-be-read stack are of this nature. Perhaps why I haven't gotten around to them yet. I have one last novel in my bag for today. I am hoping with all my heart that it contains some goodness in it.

Book Log

Jul. 7th, 2008 09:22 am
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
73: Naked in the Marketplace: The Lives of George Sand by Benita Eisler

Has anyone else noticed that every single non-fiction, academic book title out there follows the same formula? They're all Poetic Title: Explanation. Hell, it may be every non-fiction book, period.

Anyway, I picked this book up at a library book sale over a year ago and it's been lurking at the bottom of my to-read pile ever since. I tend to approach biographies with a certain amount of trepidation, especially if it's about someone with whose work I'm unfamiliar. That may seem like a contradiction--I mean, if you don't know about them, wouldn't reading a biography be a good start? Well, not always. A lot of biographical studies are written for an informed audience. I once had to put down a biography of a well-known editor because the author assumed the reader would know who all the people mentioned in connection with the subject were. Since all these people had been luminaries in the twenties and many had not passed the test of time, this was an exercise in frustration for me.

I am pleased to say that this biography was not in that mode. While I don't feel it was the most brilliant and insightful work ever, I did come away from it with a much better understanding of who George Sand was, and more importantly, the nature of her work and its context. I was particularly pleased with the way Eisler summed up each of Sand's novels before discussing it, so even an uninformed reader could come away with insight. The book also provided, indirectly, a bit of a history lesson of revolutionary France, a period which I find utterly confusing (perhaps made more so by an attempt to read Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the French Revolution which I got about half-way through).

Like fellow countrywoman Edith Piaf, about whom a wonderful movie was made, George Sand strikes me as a grand character--someone to observe from afar, but who you wouldn't want in your life. For some reason, France seems to breed this sort of diva: contentious, argumentative, abrasive, dramatic, and yet erotically compelling to the famous men of her generation. Perhaps it is a cultural difference between the two countries--here such an outspoken, flamboyant, overtly political and promiscuous woman would be denounced as a harridan even today and yet was celebrated in 19th century France.

Off to work with me, now.

Book Log

Jun. 30th, 2008 01:06 pm
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72: Meet Me at Infinity by James Tiptree, Jr.

I think I picked this up at WisCon last year, and I finally got to the bottom of the stack it was in a couple of weeks ago. It's taken me this long to finish because it's been my bedtime reading book. Usually I just read one book at a time, taking it to bed with me and then packing it in my bag to read at work. But the fact that this is a collection of short items makes for perfect bedtime reading. I can go through one or two stories or articles before my eyes lose focus and I turn out the lights and fall asleep. Conversely, it's the sort of book you don't want to read all the way through at one sitting.

The parts of the book that I found most fascinating were not, as I had first imagined, the short stories, but the non-fiction bits taken from letters and interviews over the years. I loved the letters from Mexico and the various travel bits, and I thought Jeff Smith's selections were just right. (Jeff was the editor of several fanzines and was Tiptree's closest correspondent over the years. It was to him that Tiptree confirmed the revelation that he was in fact Alice Sheldon.)

There has been a surge of interest in Tiptree over the last ten years or so, including an eponymous award (given to work that explores gender) and a recently completed biography that went on to win that award. I feel privileged to have been at the WisCon where the founding of the award was first announced, and doubly so to have been standing in the small circle of women when they came up with the idea of funding the award through bake sales and a cookbook (Jeanne Gomoll and Pat Murphy were the instigators. I forget who else was with us.) I contributed a recipe to each of the cookbooks that were subsequently published (The Bakery Men Don't See and Her Smoke Rose Up From Supper) and provided many a sweet to bake sales over the years. I even created the award for Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang. And yet for all that, I am a peripheral figure in the history of the thing. It is my great regret that I didn't do more at the time.

But back to the book. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone just discovering Tiptree, rather, it is a book that appeals to those who have read the short stories or the novel and want to know more about this enigmatic figure.

Book Log

Jun. 29th, 2008 11:20 am
moderate_excess: (Book love)
70: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

I'd been wanting to get a better reading copy of this books as the one I have is small, dense type on high-acid paper from the 60s, but I'm getting to the bottom of the bookpile and don't have money for more books right now.

What to say about this book. First, I should not have read it while working at the pr0n store. I'm afraid I was not terribly nice to some of the men who came in. This is a book that sucked me in so thoroughly that it was a wrenching jolt to be pulled out of it to attend to business. I am continually awed by Lessing's ability to so fully inhabit her characters that you feel every small thought, every brush against the skin. He characters despair over the inability of the written word to capture the essence of the experience and then she proceeds to do just that. I never feel as alive and aware in my body as I do when reading one of her books, even as I am dismayed and disaproving of the choices her characters make. Reading this was a kind of intellectual flaying, of cutting through layers of thought and feeling and experience and laying the whole of it out as if in an anatomical display.

And then I read the foreword (which should have been an afterword) which was a brilliant essay in itself on the many ways in which this novel had been interpreted by the readers and critics, and how she feels about the way lit crit is taught in the schools (which mirror my own feelings to a fare-thee-well). I then proceeded to write a long letter to her in my head which, of course, I will now never write down because I can't hope to capture those phrases again.

I had to walk around for a while and stand outside the door watching storms roll in over the swamps and clear my head before I was able to pick up the next book, which was

71: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

This was much better than I had anticipated from reading the back cover blurb. The style of writing is so much simpler and less dense than Lessing's, which is undoubtedly a good thing, as I needed a bit of a palate cleanser, so to speak. It was sweetly written and I was able to fall into the created world quite easily. The blurbs claim this will make you believe there is a God, but I found no such thing. I could read about and appreciate the faith of the central character without feeling that I was being preached to, which is a lovely quality. I don't mind so much reading about other people's spiritual journeys as long as they are not didactic or bombastic or overly sectarian. This was not any of those, and in fact was pretty ecumenical. There are a few charmingly uncomfortable scenes of how Religion gets in the way of faith, which I thought were resolved entirely too easily given the Religions involved, but then, this is, after all, a kind of fable.

What the blurbs fail to inform the reader is that this is not, in its entirety, a book about surviving in a small lifeboat with a tiger. The entire first half is about growing up in a small corner of India called Pondicherry, once a French Colony. Pi's Father owns a zoo and so there is quite a bit about the behavior of animals, which serves the boy well in his ordeal at sea. Pi's spiritual journey begins there, as well as his physical one. Unlike magical realism, I never came to a place where I had to adjust my thoughts from this world to a slightly different one in which impossible things happen with ease. Even the most unlikely scenario is presented so well that my inner critical reader allowed the extra credulity without much fuss.

I never know how much detail to go into in these little mini-reviews, because I know that I, as a reader, want to know just enough to let me know if this is something I might like to read, yet not enough to spoil the book for me. I try to err on the side of spoiler-free as much as possible, with the result, I'm afraid, that my writing tends toward the general and cryptic rather than the specific. I hope you will forgive me.

Book Log

Jun. 26th, 2008 11:43 pm
moderate_excess: (books ink & specs)
68: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

For a while, I didn't think I'd ever finish this book. Not because I didn't like it (which I did, very much) but because I made the mistake of leaving it at a friend's house at Thanksgiving. Yes, 7 months ago. I finally retrieved it earlier this week when I went out there for a little quiet time after losing Sam. It is a serious testament to Ms. Kingsolver's writing that not only was I still interested in reading it, but that after all this time and nearly a hundred books read in between starting and finishing it, I remembered the story and the characters clearly and was able to simply pick it up and continue reading as if no time at all had passed. I find this remarkable, especially since there are books I have read within the month that I have forgotten the plot and characters of. (Yes, I just ended a sentence with a preposition. It happens, and grammarians are a lot less twitchy about it, I have discovered.)

69: Collapse by Jared Diamond

After a recent comment of mine about populations outstripping the food productivity of their environment, several people recommended this work to me. Delightfully, Joe happened to have a copy (given to him by Andy Hooper when we were in Seattle last summer) and he lent it to me. It's taken me a while to get around to it, but I'm glad I did. This is a thoughtful and very thorough examination of the many factors that can lead to the collapse of a society, with a solid grounding in science. It would be easy to come away from such an examination with a very pessimistic view of our future (our meaning the entire world, as well as us as a first world industrialized nation) but Mr. Diamond manages to end on a note of cautious optimism.

At the very end of the book, after all the acknowledgments and further reading lists, there is a short section on what we as individuals can do. Donating to environmentally active organizations is one he recommends, but another is to be an informed and activist consumer. He cites changes to forestry practices and gold mining based on demands by retail giants such as Home Depot, Lowe's, and Tiffany's. And those demands in turn were driven by the growing interest among consumers in socially responsible purchasing. Where government ineptitude and corporate malfeasance made real change to environmentally destructive practices unlikely if not impossible, the power of the marketplace is beginning to drive corporations to adopt greener policies in recognition of changing market demands. I know that reading the descriptions of Chevron's highly responsible management of oil drilling operations in environmentally sensitive places such as Papua New Guinea has made me more likely to fill up at their stations over those of other companies.

Book Log

Jun. 16th, 2008 02:00 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
67: Fledgling by Octavia Butler

Another brilliant novel about change, growth, family, prejudice, love, power and pride. I have now read three books by Butler and am aware always that there are a finite number of them and that there can never be any more. As I finish each book I am taken with a deep sadness at this injustice.

I am beginning to see common themes emerging with each reading. Themes of exploration of what it means to be human and not-human, to be female, to be of color, to be evolved or evolving and how the culture around us and even our own families and loved ones react to these changes. And throughout it all, the characters come through so fully realized that it is almost painful to be done with their stories. You almost feel as if their lives continue on even though you are not allowed to observe them anymore. That is a great gift, as a writer.

This book in particular felt as if there were more and more stories to come. I'm not going to do a synopsis, because it's easy to Google such things and I don't think I can do justice to the many layers of this work.

Book Log

Jun. 15th, 2008 11:55 pm
moderate_excess: (Book love)
66: The Accusers by Lindsey Davis

Number 15 in the Marcus Didius Falco series of historical mysteries set in ancient Rome, of which I have read a little more than half. This is similar to other offerings in its slightly cynical, yet good-natured skewering of the citizens of Rome. This time it is corrupt lawyers who take the brunt of the expose and the windings of the case in question are fascinating to follow. The workings of society in large and the courts in general are proof that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The character of Falco reminds me a bit of the Lovejoy of the TV series (but not of the books); irascible, seemingly unscrupulous, but really deeply ethical and devoted to his family. And the women in his life, especially his wife, Helena, continue to dazzle with their strength and wit. What can I say? I'm a sucker for these.
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