December 25, 2008

This Day

Hodie Christus natus est:
hodie Salvator apparuit:
hodie in terra canunt Angeli,
lætantur Archangeli:
hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Gloria in excelsis Deo,
et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis:


Merry Christmas, one and all.

This blog will be on hiatus until January (as should yours be: eat, drink, be merry!).

December 19, 2008

Review: The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew! Oh, how your absurdities delight me. Oh, it is all too much to bear. I can't speak about this. I will have to show you, internet. Here are the first four paragraphs of The Secret of the Old Clock:
Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen, was driving home along a country road in her new, dark-blue convertible. She had just delivered some legal papers for her father.

"It was sweet of Dad to give me this car for my birthday," she thought. "And it's fun to help him in his work."

Her father, Carson Drew, a well-known lawyer in their home town of River Heights, frequently discussed puzzling aspects of cases with his blond, blue-eyed daughter.

Smiling, Nancy said to herself, "Dad depends on my intuition."

Of course he does, Nancy Drew! You just keep saying things to yourself. We'll tag along.

Okay, so I hadn't read any Nancy Drew books since middle school, when my friends and I had a brief period of devouring them before we moved on to V. C. Andrews. And I definitely enjoyed these books back then -- what I didn't remember is how incredibly campy and stilted and twee they are. For example, here are the things Nancy does in this book:

  1. Rescues a five-year-old girl

  2. Becomes instantly beloved to two old ladies

  3. Successfully confronts her rich, spoilt, homely rivals

  4. Gets taken in by some strangers who become her BFFs after about four seconds

  5. Rescues a puppy

  6. Saves an old lady

  7. Foils her rich, spoilt, homely rivals again

  8. Repairs an outboard motor

  9. Escapes from a locked closet using only a clothing rod and her amazing screaming prowess

  10. Catches some thieves

  11. Finds the missing will

  12. Foils her rich, spoilt, homely rivals while successfully improving the lives of every other being with whom she's had contact over the course of the novel

Look, she rescues a puppy, a child, and an old lady all in the same book, all while being attractively perky and slim and utterly adored. Does this strike anyone else as overkill? Anyone? It gets a bit trying after a while -- Nancy Drew is so perfect. The Hardy Boys at least get knocked unconscious once a book or so. And she's always saying things to herself, or telling herself things, or declaring to herself -- not so much with the thinking, really. It intrigues me.

The Secret of the Old Clock was sort of charmingly ridiculous, but I can't really recommend it as being something particularly well-written. Dead funny, though ... just unintentionally.

Bonus excerpt!:
"So, one o' you ornery robbers got yourself locked up, did you?" came an indignant male voice. "That'll teach you to try puttin' one over on old Jeff Tucker. You won't be doin' any more pilferin'. I got you surrounded."

The caretaker! Nancy heaved a sigh of fervent relief. "Let me out!" she pleaded. "I'm not one of the thieves! If you'll only let me out of here, I'll explain everything!"

There was silence for a moment. Then the voice on the other side of the door said dubiously, "Say you aimin' to throw me off, imitatin' a lady's voice? Well, it won't do you any good! No, sir. Old Jeff Tucker's not gettin' fooled again!"

Nancy decided to convince the man beyond doubt. She gave a long, loud feminine scream.

"All right, all right, ma'am. I believe you! No man could make that racket. This way out, lady!"

Comedy gold.

December 16, 2008

Just Call Me Numbskull

I had an exam today, ENG331, two hours of Renaissance Drama before being officially done school for the winter break. No sweat, really; we'd been given the essay questions in advance, so it was really a question of matching some answers and then writing an essay from a mentally outlined essay prepared in advance.


I got to the exam centre well ahead of time, and sat down to review some notes and wait around until we could begin. After a while I realized that I hadn't spotted any of my classmates the whole time. Kind of unusual, but it was a big place, and so I didn't think too much of it.


Finally it's two o'clock, and we can go into the exam room. I go in -- but where is ENG331? Nowhere in sight; the room is rapidly filling with engineers. I go out. Maybe I'm in the wrong room. Was it 200, or 320? I go up to the next floor, now conscious that I'm bordering on not-on-time. Room 320 is filled with a geography class. 300 and 310 are full on history majors, 330 is religion. No English anywhere.

I go back down to the main lobby. Is it room 100? No: that's another engineering class. I run out of the building: can I spot a payphone? I can't. I go back up to the 300s and try again -- no dice. Back outdoors, and I see a payphone two blocks down. I sprint, phone home, and get my brother to check my exam schedule. Firefox loads and loads and loads. Finally I get confirmation: room 320. Room 320! I run back to the exam centre.

It's now ten past two, at least. I'm late, but I can still get in. Back to room 320 -- but it's still full of geographers. I ask the supervising prof if he knows where my exam is. He doesn't, but suggests I try 310. I am referred to 310's supervising TA, who has a full exam schedule. He finds ENG331:  room 320.


Of course it is.

But it didn't turn out too badly, for all that (true, it's the stuff of bad pre-exam dreams, but I found out that I had the wrong day before my exam took place, rather than after -- a blessing, that). After stumbling out of 310 and taking a few minutes to get my breathing back under control and not cry, I took myself to a nearby library, one to which I'd never been.

My friends, the library was lovely! Head and shoulders above my local library, to be sure, and close enough to campus that I can probably frequent it fairly easily. There's a huge science fiction & fantasy collection there, as well as a more than respectable children's lit section, and it's all air and light. I picked up a copy of Scalzi's Old Man's War, which also is delighful.

But I'm not reading it right now. I have an exam tomorrow, you know.

December 15, 2008

Review: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi

I first encountered this book back in about grade seven or eight, when our class read it together. I remember liking it quite a bit, and also bring frustrated with the class's pace in finishing it -- most of the reading was done out loud, and I tended to get in trouble for not knowing where we were when it was my turn to read, because I was reading ahead. I remembered parts of the story, but certainly not the entirely of it, and so when I spotted it on BookMooch I snagged it right away. I'm all about the nostalgic reads.

Happily, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle stands up to re-reading -- being an excellent little book, as the Newberry Award people seem to agree -- and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. Here's the blurb:
Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial and found guilty ...

Charlotte Doyle is just such a girl and she swears to tell the truth in all its detail. It happened during the summer of 1832 aboard a ship called the Seahawk. The only passenger on the long Atlantic Ocean crossing, Charlotte found herself caught between the madness of a ruthless captain and the rage or a mutinous crew. This is her terrifying account of that fateful voyage.

Murder on the high seas! Adventure! Mutiny! And of course, lots of sea-talk about sails and mizzenmasts and riggings and all, which I love. I'm a complete sucker for a good sea-faring story. And, being a middle-grade sort of book, this is a very quick read -- the perfect thing for a Monday afternoon.

The writing is generally strong, though simple. Charlotte is well-characterized. I feel like the book could have been bigger, but it is what it is, I suppose. And the author only goes by one name, which is kind of enchanting. Those of you participating in the Newberry Project might find The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle useful as well as entertaining.

December 10, 2008

How to Survive a Renaissance Drama

(A practical survival guide in case you should ever find yourself in a play written during the English Renaissance.)

1. Try to ascertain whether you are in a comedy or a tragedy: Comedies may feature cross-dressing, fairies, forests, crude sexual humour, and illicit romance. Tragedies may feature murder, incest, madness, gratuitously violent acts, crude sexual humour, and some seriously illicit romance.

If you're trapped in a comedy, take heart: hardly anyone ever dies in a comedy. If you're trapped in a tragedy, the rest of this guide may prove useful.

2. Do not marry, kiss, flirt with, seduce, or make sexual advances toward anyone. This is a sure path to doom.
2a. At the same time, do not refuse to be married.

2b. At the same time, if the person who intends to marry you is a relative, it doesn't matter what you do, because you're practically dead already.

3. The Duke is most likely evil. Also, the prince and his cronies. And the duchess. And the queen. Keeping to yourself might be the wisest course.

4. Never get on a boat.

5. If there is a curtain or a wall-hanging in the room, somebody will be behind the curtain.
5a. Try to avoid being the person behind the curtain.

6) The Cardinal usually gets the last word. Remember this.

7) Do not eat or drink. Ever.

8. Do not talk to strangers, witches, old friends, new friends, the Cardinal, the Duke, anyone's illegitimate offspring, grave-diggers, children, or clowns.

9. Do not attend plays or masques.

10. You will probably be cuckolded. It's best to accept this now. If you're lucky you will survive that as well as everything else.

11. Ascertain as quickly as possible whether you are a major or minor character. Neither gives you particularly better odds, but remember: knowledge is power! Until it gets you killed, that is.

Upon reading this list, you might conclude that your odds of survival in a Renaissance-era tragedy fall somewhere between "slim" and "none". Take heart: you'll likely die a horrible, gruesome death, but at least you'll go out confident in your own acuity.

December 9, 2008

Dear Internet: Huh?

Recent search terms, because they amuse me:

how to talk paraguay languish I suspect that this means "how to talk paraguay language" which might be more usefully rewritten as "learn to speak Spanish" ... or Guaraní. If you want to know how to talk to languishing Paraguayans, I probably can't help you.


"brice courtenay" wikipedia I am always amazed at this sort of search, because why would you not just go to wikipedia and search for Bryce Courtenay there? Here's his Wikipedia page, and his librarything entry. And here's his homepage (warning: it plays music). Was that so difficult? It probably was: his first name was spelt wrong in your search.

books to read before ulysses If you've not read any Joyce before, start with Dubliners, a collection of short stories. And then, if you like, you can read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; it's not strictly necessary to the understanding of Ulysses but does take place before it and might be useful as an illumination of Stephen Dedalus's character. Or heck, just jump into Ulysses. No need to be scared.

THE fILLES DU rOI book ThIs booK wAs one of my CHildHOOd favOUritEs and coNtinues to BE SO. but WhY do you TYPE like ThiS?

Yellowknife ebook Right here. But Yellowknife is good enough to buy a hardcopy

how to pronounce frabjous Well, you pronounce "frab" like "frab", and "jous" like "just" without the T. I know it's made up, but it's not that hard. Phonics, people, phonics!

dumb blonde guide to christianity Sorry, dude, but this book doesn't exist. Tamara Leigh made it up for her book Faking Grace. But you could write it, if you really feel it ought to exist.

mystery novels that are fun to reread Most of them, if you are one of those people who can't remember what happens in books you've not read for a while. But otherwise I would suggest anything by Dorothy L. Sayers. Her prose is so delicious that the mystery always seems sort of incidental to me. Also, try Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. Those books are so funny that, likewise, the actual mystery really isn't the point.

how to get rich quick, kids book and how to get rich quick book for kids I don't get it. Is there a children's book about this? Bedtime stories for tiny capitalists? Or are you trying to get rich quick by writing a children's book? Because listen, homefry, that's probably not going to happen. Even Margaret Atwood got rich slowly.

December 8, 2008

Review: The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud

The Bartimaeus Trilogy comprises, unsurprisingly, three books: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, and Ptolemy's Gate. And, oh buddy, are they ever fantastic. This is probably the best fantasy series I've read in a long time, and though I think technically they're YA books, all three are thoroughly enjoyable for adults.

The series takes place in an alternate England, where magic is predominant, rather than technology. The country (and the Empire, naturally) is ruled by an over-class of magicians, who call upon spirits to help maintain their iron rule. Those who we might know as politicians -- Gladstone, Disraeli, Churchill, etc. -- were in fact some of the most powerful magicians of their respective times.

Enter Nathaniel. Taken (well, bought) from his parents at the age of five, he is apprenticed to Mr. Underwood, a minor magician and civil servant. Somewhat predictably, Nathaniel is mal-treated under his care. But he is also learning. After being humiliated at a dinner party when he is eleven, by the magician Simon Lovelace, Nathaniel is determined to avenge himself.

Enter Bartimaeus, a 6th-level djinni of considerable power and no small amount of wit. Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel as part of the latter's plan for revenge, marking the beginning of a long and tempestuous relationship between the pair.

Does this sound a little like Harry Potter to you? It's not. What we have here is not "plucky orphan learns magic, saves world" so much as "plucky orphan learns magic, becomes idiotic megalomaniac, is saved by djinni, like, a million times." It's good. The chapters tend to alternate between viewpoints and narrative voices: either Nathaniel (and some other, later characters) in the third-person, or Bartimaeus in the first. The writing is definitely strongest when Bartimaeus is speaking; he is much the more interesting character, and I can't help but speculate that Stroud enjoyed writing his chapters the most. And as you might guess from the title of the series, it really is more about him than about Nathaniel. Which is just the way it should be, I think. Nathaniel is a pansy.

Bartimaeus also uses footnotes for amusing and/or informative asides. I know that they drive some people crazy, but footnotes are one of my very favourite authorial conceits. They just tickle me. You're all lucky that I can't figure out how to make wordpress do footnotes, or they'd be in every post. Seriously.

November 21, 2008

Review: Game Widow, by Wendy Kays

You might have seen Wendy Kays on Dr Phil lately (or as we call it at my house, The Mustachioed Egg Show) promoting her new non-fiction title, Game Widow. Well, I can one-up you: I've read her book.

It's pretty good. It's an extremely quick read -- I feel like I finished it in about twenty minutes, although I know that it actually took a fair piece longer than that. And it provides a brief but broad introduction to the world of video games, gamers, and video game addiction.

Here's the back jacket:
Is your loved one constantly monopolizing your computer or TV to play video gmaes? Is your schedule constantly set back by entreaties of "five more minutes" or "let me find a save point?" [sic] If so, you might be a game widow. Wendy Kays, former game widow, is here to help. In this book, she successfully bridges the gap between those who game and those who don't by sharing invaluable insight and practical strategies for reclaiming your relationship with a video-gaming spouse, friend, or family member.

Yup, that's pretty accurate. Kays digs into the psychological appeal behind gaming, discusses various opinions regarding video game addiction, explains how the video game industry works, and gives some guidelines and suggestions for dealing with gamers, as well as a resource list for further study. It's not a gripping read -- I mean, it's non-fiction, so it doesn't really have a plot -- but it is informative and easy to digest.

One downside I spotted is the lack of an index. This is something that bothers me; the first thing I do when I flip to a non-fiction text is to check if the index is any good. This index is no good, because it doesn't exist. I don't approve.

Apart from that, though, I think that this is a fairly good introduction to the subject and a fairly good book besides.

November 19, 2008

A Change of Pace and Policy

There's been a certain amount of debate in the book blogosphere recently about the role that book bloggers do and/or should play in reviewing books, and about authors behaving badly (here too), and such other sundry things. I haven't been commenting on this much on other people's blogs, but I have been ruminating thereupon, and have reached some conclusions, at least as far as this blog is concerned.

I have decided that, as of this point forward, I will no longer be accepting books for review from authors, publishers, or publicists. There may be some exceptions to this rule, but they are not really worth mentioning at this point. My about page will soon be modified to reflect this change.

I do still have a stack of for-review books to work through, and I will get to all of those in due time. After that, however, I will be concentrating my reading on less-new books, from my own collection and from libraries and from other such sources.

My reasons are as follows:

1) It's not you, it's me.

Right now, I am simply reading too much -- and doing too much with the rest of my life -- to be able to keep up with reviews. I have an awful lot of books to get through for school, which means that books from authors and people get pushed further and further down the pile. That's not particularly fair to those who have sent me texts to read. I cannot get reviews up in a timely manner anymore.

2) Actually, sometimes it is you.

Some of the review copies I've received over the past few months have been really fantastic, super books, books I'm glad that I've read. Others, however, have ranged from mediocre right down to abysmal. I haven't the patience to figure out which is which, and there's nothing more irksome than slogging through some bad book just because I'm obligated to review it. I'd rather spend my pleasure-reading time actually reading for pleasure.

So what will change here? Probably not that much, as far as the rest of you are concerned (those of you who are not me, I mean). Obviously I will keep reading books and writing about books -- I'll just be sourcing the books I read in a different way. Things here might become moderately more amusing, since I'll be more relaxed about the reviews that I am doing (though no promises). I may still participate in the occasional book tour or whatever, but I'm going to play those by ear.

To answer one question that may be asked, I'm not doing this because I'm afraid of having an experience like Trish's. I think that authors like that are not common, and I'm not particularly concerned if authors don't like my reviews. The discussions centred around that were not the catalyst of my decision, although they were timely.

November 18, 2008

Review: The Bible Illuminated (New Testament)

Heads up, everyone, I'm reviewing the Bible. Well, sort of. I am reviewing a particular edition of the New Testament, magazine-style, with pictures. I am, by and large, reviewing the pictures.

All I will say about the text is that this book thing uses the Today's English Version, which I think of as generally pretty crummy as translations go. But it's meant for people who like little words in short sentences, and on that note it achieves its goal of being simple to understand. I just don't like it.

So, the Bible Illuminated project introduces itself thusly (from the website):
The concept originated with a general philosophical dinner table discussion between Michel Gyring and Mats Rabe in Stockholm, Sweden. The conversation, which led to several other discussions with key individuals, asked the question “Why people don’t read historical texts” and they began pondering if the traditional format or design turned people off. They realized there was a huge opportunity to re-design or illuminate these types of old texts. This was the beginning of Illuminated World (formerly Förlaget Illuminated Sweden, AB.)


Illuminated World seeks to introduce today’s audience to a revolutionary contemporary Bible, one that encourages dialogue and is culturally relevant, accessible and easily digestible for any reader regardless of religious, economic, racial or social background.

We have no religious agenda nor do we support a specific faith. Bible Illuminated is intended to be a unique vehicle for reacquainting today’s reader with one of the most important historical, and cultural texts ever written.

Okay. First of all, I don't understand the idea that people don't read historical texts because of their "traditional format and design" (by which I understand them to mean, you know "books") but perhaps this is the case. I dunno. We're all readers here, but maybe you guys know some people like this? And I find it strange that a group out there is publishing Bibles without supporting "a specific faith". Doesn't that seem a bit ... strange? It's like publishing the Quran, and saying "Oh, no, we don't have anything to say about Islam -- we just want to publish the Quran and for everybody to read it." And there's not much to say to that except, "um, okay."

But, whatever, you want to put together a big Bible magazine thingy, you go right ahead. And apparently sales of Bibles in Sweden have skyrocketed (Sweden being where this was originally published) and, as a Christian, I can't really argue with getting the Word out there. And I firmly believe that even people who don't want to read the Bible as a religious text should be reading it as literature, because boy, is there ever a lot of stuff in English lit that you just won't get if you don't know your Bible.

But. But but but but but. So much but.

I have a lot of issues with this particular publication. Can you tell?

First of all, it's shoddily put together. It's just a big magazine -- thicker than the TV guide, not as big as the Sears catalogue -- and it's bound as a magazine. And I can tell you that it crumples like a magazine, too, because my copy arrived damaged. I can't see this being the sort of text that will last for a long time in the same way that a book does. It just doesn't seem very strong. Why put out something that won't physically last? Especially when it costs about the same as a large hardcover.

Secondly, there are the pictures. Now how these work, as I understand it, is that the project people grabbed a bunch of other people and said, "Here, choose some verses and pick pictures for them." The results are... interesting and I suppose that they do "encourage dialogue" (I mean look at me, blah-de-blahing away). But for the life of me, I can't figure out why most of the pictures got in. They are a motly conglomerate of the irreverent and the irrelevant. Some are offensive. Many are blatant in their agenda. Few-to-none of them are particularly helpful in terms of illustrating biblical passages or helping to explain them.

I do believe that the Bible is a text that is "revolutionary... culturally relevant" and largely accessible. I do not think that this text futhers that reputation in any particular way. If you want to read a Bible, there are better editions to choose. And if you'd like to look at pretty pictures, I suggest going to the museum instead. Give this one a pass.

November 12, 2008

Review: Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan

For some reason, I don't know why, I had a strong impression when reading this collection of short stories that it was a Canadian book. There's nothing Canadian in it. It's Australian, actually. But it has a very familiar feel.

At any rate, I got a chance to review Shaun Tan's work through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. The most fun part about getting ER books, if you're me, is that I always forget that they're coming -- and so it was a lovely surprise when this book showed up in the mail.

It was a better surprise when I read it.

Here's the back:
do you remember the water buffalo at the end of our street? or the deep-sea diver we found near the underpass? do you know why dogs bark in the middle of the night?

Shaun Tan, creator of The Arrival, The Lost Thing, and The Red Tree, reveals the quiet mysteries of everyday life: homemade pets, dangerous weddings, stranded sea mammals, tiny exchange students and secret rooms filled with darkness and delight.

Tales from Outer Suburbia is a hard-bound collection of short stories, a delightful picture book for grownups. It is heartbreakingly whimsical, and the stories feel, somehow, both alien and familiar. There's the story of Eric, a foreign-exchange student small enough to use a walnut as a suitcase. There's the night of the great turtle rescue. There's a wake, and instructions for making your own pet out of discarded household objects. And an explanation for what happens to the world when the map ends.

The great strength of this book is in the illustrations, as the text is mostly spot-on, as in "The Water Buffalo" and "The Nameless Holiday", but sometimes lags a bit, as in "Broken Toys". Tan uses many different techniques: pencil crayon, paint, ink line drawings, and collage feature prominently. The pictures sometimes do more to offer a counterpoint to the text than to "illustrate" it, I think. It is good.

The stories themselves are brief, with a few of them being only two or three paragraphs long. They are, for the most part, unresolved vignettes -- glimpses into other moments in other lives. They ache.

You can view some of the illustrations and Shaun Tan's comments here and here, respectively.

November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

Veterans: thank you.

This morning I had the honour of participating in my university's Remembrance Day ceremony -- my choir sang an arrangement of In Flanders Fields and also led the congregation in a few hymns and the national anthems. I've participated this way as long as I've been in the choir. We get a good sized crowd out every year, standing quietly in the cold, but every year there are fewer and fewer veterans.

Canada has one remaining World War One veteran. He is a hundred and eight years old.

Sometimes people get uptight about Remembrance Day, usually in my experience those who are particularly anti-war.

"Those soldiers died for a lie -- those soldiers should never have been fighting -- dying for a country, that means less than nothing."

And if this is so, then what? Was their sacrifice any less worthy? Did they suffer less? Did they die easier? My friends, this is not so.

Regardless of your ideas about wars, or just wars, or unjust wars, this is an important day. We must recognize the sacrifices of both those who gave their lives for the country and those who survived -- who, in some ways, have given us even more.

Wear your poppy. Thank a veteran. Read some good books:

November 9, 2008

Those October Books

Which October books? Those ones. Over there. Them what I did got read.

The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis. This is a longstanding personal favourite, because it is both splendidly written and extremely useful. The Screwtape Letters is a collection of letters "from a senior to a junior devil", pertaining largely to matters of sin and temptation, and touching on most of the general ares of human existence, both carnal and spiritual. It is good.

*Tamburlaine the Great, part One, by Christopher Marlowe. Tamburlaine is a shepherd who conquers all of Asia. Everything he does has a positive outcome, at least for him -- not so much for the people he's conquering. In Part Two, which I haven't yet read, he dies fat and happy, surrounded by those he loves. You might have an impression that all renaissance drama is about star-crossed lovers and/or brooding tragedians; I tell you, this is not the case.

One thing that I thought particularly interesting about this play is that Tamburlaine conquers all sorts of armies and such by the power of his words as much as by the sword. I don't think it's plausible, though. As I pointed out in a paper on the subject, everyone in the play talks exactly like Tamburlaine does -- which is to say, like Marlowe does, he of the "mighty line". (Kids: learn to speak eloquently. You too can conquer Asia!)

*What Maisie Knew, by Henry James. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I'm Henry James and I couldn't be more uninteresting if I tried.

*Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Catch-22 is deliciously funny right up until it gets horrible. And when I say "horrible" I refer to the contents rather than to the writing; Heller is stellar (heh). I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, although it took me a fair while to finish it, on account of its very large largeness.

*Looking for Alaska, by John Green. My brain wants to have John Green's brain's babies. If you follow me. I devoured Looking for Alaska in one sitting and have added several other books of his to my wishlist. This book reminded me of Catcher in the Rye, except for being cool and interesting instead of insufferably pretentious and boring. Huzzah!

*A Hatful of Sky, by Terry Pratchett. Terry Pratchett is, of course, one of my favourite writers, and so it shouldn't be very surprising that I liked A Hatful of Sky so very much. I liked Tiffany Aching especially; it was the first time I've read one of the books about her, and while I understand that there was one that preceded this novel, it stood on its own very well. She's much more interesting than Rincewind, you know (but then, pretty much everyone is).

*Arrow of God, by Chinua Achebe. Not as good as Things Fall Apart. Still lots better than Death and the King's Horseman (see below).

*The Oath, by Frank Peretti. Frank Peretti is one of the few authors I've found whose Christian fiction doesn't make me want to throw up a little bit. It's raw, not sugary, and full of action, rather than syrup. That being said, I thought that The Oath was particularly weak compared to other works of his. It was a challenge to get to the end of this novel; the action really drags in the last hundred pages or so, where it really should be climaxing. If you're interested in trying some Peretti, I'd recommend Piercing the Darkness instead.

*Dr Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe. Probably you are familiar with the general scheme of the Faust legend. But did you know that in Marlowe's play, the unfortunate doctor explodes at the end of the last act? It is really quite amazing.

*Under Western Eyes, by Joseph Conrad. Under Western Eyes is a dull book about a bunch of dull Russians who run around pretending at being spies in Geneva. As with many books on October's list, I got about three-quarters of the way through before putting it down for the next thing. Perhaps it'll be a special project over the Christmas holidays to finish all of my school reading. But I still don't think I'll finish this one.

*Death and the King’s Horseman, by Wole Soyinka. A lot of people in my class thought that this play was very good and interesting -- but I've been reading Marlowe and co. lately, and so my opinion is more like: pfft, whatever. I mean, I suppose that it has some good literary qualities on its own, but I don't think that Death and the King's Horseman compares to other literature very well -- neither to other plays I've studied, nor to other African lit. It was a disappointment on the whole. Although the cover is an excellent sort of green. I approve of green.

*Faking Grace, by Tamara Leigh. (reviewed) I read this book and I liked it. But I didn't want to review it, so my mom did it for me. The end.

Read Responsibly, by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum. Yes, I'm re-reading my Unshelved books again. Do you want to make something of it? Well, do you?

*Jpod, by Douglas Coupland. A longer review of Jpod will come forth once I've got my act back together here. In the meantime, please enjoy this brief explanation by the good folks at Unshelved. Yes, them again. At least I'm not talking about Marlowe.

*The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly. (reviewed) Oh boy oh boy oh boy. The Book of Lost Things was something else.

*Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe. I know, I know, Marlowe, Marlowe, Marlowe, blah de blah de blah. I know. But a) he's really good, and b) it's on my syllabus and so I have to read it anyway. Edward II is a fairly typical "weak king" play with some homoeroticism thrown in for good measure. That's all, really.

November 4, 2008

Review: The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly

I've written several different reviews for The Book of Lost Things in my head up to this point -- and I'm still not sure how best to capture the flavour of this novel. Or whether I want to recommend it to other people. Or how to process it, still. It seemed like the book kept turning into something different, and I'm having trouble coming up with a sense of the whole.

I still liked it, though. Onward and upward. Here's the blurb:
High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells and dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

David has problems. First his mother dies, and then his father takes up with a tart, whom he impregnates and then marries. Now David's got a new mother, a new brother, a new house, and the Germans are bombing London. The book starts like a typical YA novel, with the addition of some amazing passages about storytelling and the value it has in our lives:
Before she became ill, David's mother would often tell him that stories were alive. They weren't alive in the way that people were alive, or even dogs or cats. People were alive whether you chose to notice them or not, while dogs tended to make you notice them if they decided that you weren't paying them enough attention. Cats, meanwhile, were very good at pretending people didn't exist at all when it suited them, but that was another matter entirely.

Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring the music into being. They lay dowmant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David's mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.

So then it felt like a YA book with a "stories are important!" angle, as well as some generally excellent prose. And then David gets sucked into another land, a land made up of stories, and some things happen and then there is a riotously funny chapter about Snow White and the Seven (communist) Dwarfs, and I thought, "Oh, this must be a funny book."

This is not a funny book. Except for that one chapter, there is nothing remotely funny in The Book of Lost Things. It is gruesome. And it is not, I think, for children. Um. Or some adults . This is not gruesome like CSI, where you get some genteel sort of autopsies and occasionally blood-spattering flashbacks. No, this is people chopping each other in half, and hundreds of heads flying everywhere, and people, I don't know, doing things like pulling out someone's heart and eating it in front of her. And then trapping her soul in a jar. It is the stuff of nightmares, my friends.

I mean, it's still fantastic. But it's also gross and horrible and malleable. Consider yourself warned.

My biggest quibble with The Book of Lost Things was actually not the gore but its ending; everything sort of gets tied up in a few pages, and it just seems a little abrupt and strange. On the plus side, this made room for about a hundred pages worth of author interview, notes, and source material, which is both fun and fascinating. And the prose, the prose is great. And the villains are truly, truly villainous. John Connolly is an excellent writer, and I definitely want to check out more of his work.

I can't think of anything else to say, because I've been watching election coverage for hours, and that does things to the old brain cells. Suffice it to say: read this book.

November 2, 2008

(Guest) Review: Faking Grace, by Tamara Leigh

So, I got an email tonight, with a book review attached to it. Here's the full text:
Dear She Reads Books,

Ur not posting enuf. We need more reviews. Heres mine i hope u like it n u can use it.

I guess that I can't argue with that.

Well, actually this wasn't an unsolicited review (please don't send me those). This was an email from my mom, who is both funny and highly literate. And please enjoy her review of Faking Grace, by Tamara Leigh, which I won from Tami.

I enjoyed this book, which is classed on the back cover as Fiction/Contemporary, but which I would classify as (Christian) Chick-Lit. Here’s the blurb:
All she wants is a job. All she needs is religion. How hard can it be?

Maizy Grace Stewart dreams of a career as an investigative journalist, but her last job ended in disaster when her compassion cost her employer a juicy headline. A part-time gig at a Nashville newspaper might be her big break.

A second job at Steeple Side Christian Resources could help pay the bills, but they only hire committed Christians. Maizy is sure she can fake it with her “Five-Step Program to Authentic Christian Faith.” If only Jack Prentiss, Steeple Side’s managing editor and British hottie, wasn’t determined to prove her a fraud.

When Maizy’s newspaper boss pressures her to expose any skeletons in Steeple Side’s closet, she must decide whether to deliver the dirt and secure her career or lean on her newfound faith, change the direction of her life, and pray that her colleagues –- and Jack –- will show her grace.

With a blurb like that, you know that everything’s going to come out all right in the end – Maizy will grow in her Christian commitment, make the right decisions, and end up with her adversary, “British hottie” Jack Prentiss. (By the way, why do North Americans insist on calling English people British?) So, the question is, how well does the author handle the story? Quite cleverly, as it turns out.

To begin with, the title is very apt –- Maizy is attempting to fake Christian grace, but she is also using her second name, Grace, at the Steeple Side job, essentially creating a new, overtly Christian, identity. Her initial attempts, involving a “Jesus is my co-pilot” bumper sticker and a fish emblem for her car, are quite amusing and lead to Jack’s initial suspicion of her.

Maizy has a book to help her in her act: The Dumb Blonde’s Guide to Christianity. This take-off on the Dummies books is a useful plot device that allows the author to present lots of information on contemporary American Christianity without being preachy.

The characters in the book are, for the most part, realistic – the Christians are imperfect, but take their faith seriously. The non-Christians are also presented sympathetically. In the course of the story there is growth and healing, without an unrealistic fairy-tale ending.

Faking Grace is well-written –- the story flows well, with both humour and suspense, the mystery of Maizy’s past is sustained for several chapters, and the conflict and mutual suspicions between Maizy and Jack are quite ... satisfactory ... in typical chick-lit fashion. There are sparks, disdain, anger, attraction, misunderstandings, and so on, leading to a very felicitous conclusion.

Would a non-Christian enjoy this book? Very possibly, if she (let’s face it, its audience is bound to be mostly female) went in with an open mind. The quotes from the Dumb Blonde’s Guide to Christianity could help someone who is trying to understand a Christian friend, or interested in finding out what Christianity is about –- or simply ready for a good clean fun read (sorry for the cliché!).

October 31, 2008

Apropos of Nothing

When I was a wee bairn in French Immersion, we learned the following song for Hallowe'en:

"C'est L'Halloween"

C'est l'halloween! Hey!
C'est l'halloween! Hey!
C'est l'halloween! Hey!
C'est l'halloween!

These are the types of stories of which our lives are made.

October 29, 2008

Hello, hello

Still alive; still reading. School is rather busy. Regular posting might resume in a week or two.

In the mean time, anybody here know Episode 9 of Ulysses ("Scylla & Charybdis") really well? Because I have an essay and a presentation due for tomorrow .... email me!

For the rest of you, here is a Jackson Pollack simulator game (via BookNinja).

The end.

October 24, 2008

Shelf-Awareness Reading Questionnaire

Hooray for pointless navel-gazing!

On your nightstand now:

This must be divided into categories, actually. There are too many.

Current & upcoming for school: Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf; Ulysses, by James Joyce; Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe; Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih.

Purchased today: Jpod, by Douglas Coupland; The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks, by Robertson Davies; Interesting Times, by Terry Pratchett; England, England, by Julian Barnes; Jeeves in the Offing, by P G Wodehouse; Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte; Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K Jerome; Indescretions of Archie, by P G Wodehouse; Too Busy Not to Pray, by Bill Hybels; The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly; The Bromeliad, by Terry Pratchett.

Upcoming for Review: Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick; The Map Thief, by Heather Terrell; Stalin's Children, by Owen Matthews; Game Widow, by Wendy Kays; To Catch the Lightning, by Alan Cheuse; probably several more that I've forgotten about.

Book you've "faked" reading:

I've never read Paradise Lost, despite being required to do so for a course in second year. And despite successfully writing about it at great length on an exam, come to think of it.

I was able to get away with this because our prof was very old and quite lovely to talk to, but his preferred method of lecture was to read his favourite passages aloud and then explain the rest of the book to us. I skipped reading The Faerie Queene for the same reason (and also because it's dead boring).

Book you've bought for the cover:

Most of them, actually. Why? How do you choose books?

Favourite book when you were a child:

Lots of them. See here for details. A stand-out still-favourite is Suzanne Martel's The King's Daughter.

Book that changed your life:

In terms of non-fiction, I would list the Bible, first and foremost -- also Canada: A Protrait in Letters by Charlotte Gray, and various things by Pierre Berton. Did you know that Canadian history is cool and interesting? I sure didn't . . . until I read the aforementioned texts.

Top five favourite authors:

Oh dear. This is probably the hardest question on this whole list -- how can anyone limit themselves to just five? I don't know. But with the caveat that this list is alway subject to change, I'll pick five for this moment: Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, C. S. Lewis, Margaret Laurence, and Joseph Heller.

Books you recommend as regeneration when people say, "I'm bored by almost all contemporary American writers":

Easy! Start reading Canadian authors! I mean, duh.

Book you can't believe that everyone has not read and loved:

Occasionally I run into people who have read Pride and Prejudice and haven't loved it. And it always makes me go "Whuuuuaaa?" because that is one of my favouritest favourite books ever. Same goes for Lord of the Rings, and Ulysses. Frankly, I think that people just get intimidated by books over a certain size -- which is a great pity, because there are some huge and fantastic books out there.

Book you are an "evangelist" for:

Yellowknife, by Steve Zipp, is a pretty strong contender for the best book I've read this year. I do encourage everyone to at least check it out (you can read the first chapter online). It is an excellent book. Plus, Steve is really nice.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Your mom! Ooh!! Burn!!!

Actually, I can't think of any. I like reading books the second time -- I notice a lot more of the little details that can just slip by when I'm focussed on the plot.

October 18, 2008

Guest Post: Lean on Me

Guest post! Because I am flitting about town doing secret surprise date things. You know how it is.

This post was written by the ever-helpful Lisa Roe, whom I met through her capacities as the Online Book Publicist. She lives in Wisconsin, writes guest posts, and likes to send excellent books to people. You can learn more about her publicity services here, and contact her here.

Recently, I emailed a blogger friend, thanking her for a book review she had posted. Her response caught a breath in my throat. It was 4 lines. She used the word ‘down’. She mentioned ‘shambles’. It was so lost and empty. She’s feeling overwhelmed and lost in life.

I know that feeling. I’ve had it in a variety of ways. Downs so low that up is a mere pinprick of light floating somewhere high above me. Downs where sweats are the mainstay and my last shower is a distant memory. Downs so crushing they somehow reach a level of comic hysteria.

Feeling so badly for my blogger friend, I wondered what to do. Hugging her was not an option. Neither was getting together for a big fat pizza night and 16 Candles watching. Seriously. What else do we turn to if not 80’s flicks?

Perhaps . . . books? I began thinking about what I go to when the downs creep in. I have a giant book of Sudoku that I love immersing myself in. I can focus on that one little thing that has nothing to do with any other thing and it’s wonderful. If I’m really up for it, I’ll go for cryptoquips. ;-)

“It could be worse . . . ” Blah. ‘isms. ‘isms that speak truths I’m not in the mood to hear. However, when I recognize the need for that dose of reality, I turn to Angels of a Lower Flight by Susie Scott Krabacher. This was a project I worked on 2 years ago that I continue to revisit. The author is a former Playboy playmate who started a foundation to save orphans in Haiti. I challenge you to read this book and not get a hearty cry in.

And then there are the times when some David Sedaris is necessary. A good chuckle, chortle, and guffaw may be just the thing to lift me up a bit. And whether he’s telling his tales of overly coifed foo-foo entrees in an upscale restaurant or grudgingly learning French, my mood is instantly elevated.

Whose words do you turn to when you get the downs? Is there something that pulls you out of your funk or do you prefer something that mirrors your mood?

Oh, and for that blogger friend, this is the best I can do for now: {{{hug}}}…

October 8, 2008

Deadly Sins of Bookdoom

So does this fall under coveting, or just plain lust?

September Books

Na na na na Na na na na na Na na na na Na na na na September Books!

*Halting State, by Charles Stross. The plot of this book was a wee tad confusing, but the writing was fascinating. There are three main characters. They all speak in Scottish dialect. And it's narrated in the second person. Whoa-oh-oh-oh! Go on, read it. I dare you.

*Story of the Sand, by Mark B. Pickering. This wasn't very good...

*In the Land of Invisible Women, by Qanta Ahmed. ... but this was.

*A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. Looking over the month, I seem to have a sort of beautiful-but-sad theme going on. This is the first of those.

The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde. I actually hadn't read The Big Over Easy in a long time, because (much as I usually enjoy almost anything Fforde does) the first time I read it, I remember being increasingly frustrated and annoyed with the ending. It just! Went! On! And! On! But this time was different. Maybe because I knew what to expect, I thoroughly enjoyed this reading, even the ending. Well done once more, J. Fforde.

*Anna of the Five Towns, by Arnold Bennett. Victorian realist fiction! Woohoo! I don't know if it's because of the course I took last year, but I just really enjoy this sort of book. Anna of the Five Towns itself was lovely, although I found the ending rather implausible (dare I say, un-realistic). Charming, though.

*Mankind, by Anonymous. And what's even more fun than Victorian fiction? Why, medieval morality plays, of course! Mankind is both pious and scatological, much like the middle ages themselves, as I am given to understand.

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde. More fun with Fforde. Hi-tiddely-pum-oh.

The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay. I hadn't read this in a millionty billion years, but I chanced upon it at the used book store and so snatched it up forthwith. It's still good. It was actually quite interesting to be re-reading it after such a long time, since most of what happened felt vaguely familiar but was actually still a surprise. Anyway, Guy Gavriel Kay writes very good books, and though I think Tigana is the best, this is still quite enjoyable.

The other thing I enjoy about Kay's writing, especially when he does these historical fantasies, is how incredibly obvious it all is. The Kindath are Jews! The Asharites are Muslim! The Jaddites are Christians! Could this novel possibly be set in -- gasp -- medieval Spain? Why yes, yes it could. Now, who can guess where Sailing to Sarantium is set?

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. They certainly do!

Positive Attitude, by Scott Adams. Ho, hum, another Dilbert collection. This one was all in colour, which was kind of distressingly unfamiliar.

Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. One of my go-to novels when I need a good laugh. The sequel as well, though I didn't get to it last month.

*Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Aw, his life is precious. And it's a graphic novel. And there's a dance-fight. Hello, sequel!

*The Spanish Tragedy, by Thomas Kyd. Although this opened the way for a grand tradition of tragedies on the English stage, it wasn't all that interesting. Not enough blood, say I. What good is a hanging and a stabbing and a tongue-bite-outing if you don't get the fun of poisoned drinks, kissing skulls, and burning gold?

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood. Loved it!

*Genuine Men, by Nancy Bruno. Twas Okay!

*Templeton Turtle Goes Exploring, by Ron Pridmore. Not so much!

*A Jest of God, by Margaret Laurence. So I've been on this Margaret Laurence kick recently, when you count "recent" as, oh, say the last six months or so. This was very good, although I think both The Diviners and The Fire-Dwellers were better. Next up, The Stone Angel. Go, Manawaka, go.

*The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Ack. This book was so good.

*Endymion, by John Lyly. Shepherd-astronomer type falls drastically in love with moon, gets put into 40-year sleep while everyone else doesn't age for some reason. Also there are magical fountains and witches and, oh, all sorts of things. Renaissance drama, I love you because you are wacky.

October 6, 2008

Guest Post: Reading Interruptions

I was going to write up a little blurb to introduce my friend Glumpuddle, but if you read on you'll see that she's done it herself. Ah, well.

Hi. I'm Glumpuddle. If you read the comments on this blog regularly, you've probably seen me around. I don't have my own blog, but I like reading what others write. I'm an academic - in fact, a job-hunting academic, a partial reason for anonymous postings - and so I'm a professional reader. I do also write, and occasionally get paid for that, which makes me a professional writer as well I guess.

All that is by way of introduction to the following context/rant and informal survey question.

Today was supposed to be a reading day - a scheduled day with nothing but reading, reading, reading. I was rather looking forward to it. Last night I arrived home to the news that the furnace in the house where I live had died. The house's owner was scheduled to leave the continent for two weeks this afternoon, so the furnace guys were going to call me to arrange times for the work to be done. So much for a quiet day - but, I thought, surely I can still get some reading done even with the furnace guys coming and going - its not like I have to truck bits of furnace up and down stairs and disconnect then reconnect the right bits of various pipes and all.

At 8 am, Oscar the furnace guy called. What time should he come. I suggested 9 am. Good. He'd be there. I rushed around a bit and got dressed and moved a few things away from the basement door. At 9:10, Oscar the furnace guy called again. Sorry, one of his guys was late, but they weren't far away and would be there "shortly." Fine.

"Shortly" turned out to mean 40 minutes later. We toured the layout of the main floor and Oscar decided that taking the dead boiler out the back would be most prudent. This meant through my kitchen. I moved furniture and bits so that there would be a clear path to the back door. Meantime work began in the basement, and it was pretty loud.

It is now after 11 and there's no reading time in sight in a day set aside for the same. Hours later, the new furnace has not arrived and instead of reading I'm ranting about interruptions and waiting for Oscar the furnace guy to call me back - and stressing that I'm supposed to meet a friend in 45 minutes and the cell number I have for her doesn't work. This is not really a good frame of mind for reading, particularly the kind of reading (professional content-heavy academic) that I was planning for today.

This makes me wonder: what kind of reader are you? (professional, recreational, constant?) and what interruptions to your reading do you face?

October 5, 2008

Review: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Oh my cow, this book is so good. And apparently it was first published in 2006. So what I want to know is: what on earth took me this long to read it? Where has it been, these past years of my life?

Seriously: The Book Thief. Read it read it read it.

Here's the back cover:
It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

Here are some things I loved about The Book Thief:

  1. Death is the narrator. (!)

  2. It's set in Nazi Germany and is not particularly about Jews, which is somewhat rare as these things go, and very interesting besides.

  3. Hans Hubermann.

  4. Rudy Steiner.

  5. Liesel.

  6. Max.

This is a gorgeous big book, beautiful and sad. You have to understand that lots of loved people die over the course of the narrative. The wrong people, if you will. That's war, I guess.

The characters are brilliantly realized -- Liesel is so Liesel, Hans is so Hans, Rosa is so Rosa. And the writing is stunning. I mean, there's something I want to quote in pretty much every single paragraph. And the book is 550 pages long, so there are a hecka lot of paragraphs. The chapter called "Pages from the Basement" is drawn onto painted-over sheets of Mein Kampf. The chapter called "The Hidden Sketchbook" is drawn, too, and it is heartbreaking (as is The Book Thief in general ... but it is also rather exhilarating).

This book is much less about the war than it is about the intoxicating power of words. The war is only a backdrop. The words matter.

I don't even know what else to say. I loved it.

That is all.

September 27, 2008

Guest Post: On Writing

Guest post! Everyone, meet Anna. Anna, meet everyone. You can read Anna's regular thoughts on reading, writing, and knitting on her blog, Diary of an Eccentric.

I’ve been a writer since I learned to string a few words together to form a sentence. I remember clearly that the first poem I wrote was about cats, and I proudly gave it to my fifth grade teacher on a drawing I made as a gift to her. (I still remember the poem, though it’s not written down anywhere. I won’t repeat it here, but trust me, it’s embarrassing!) A couple of decades later, I’m still writing.

I’ve always been shy when it comes to sharing my poetry, and I’m very secretive when it comes to the novel I’ve been writing off and on for the past few years. Even my husband is left out of the loop, and a close friend who edits for me here and there is the only one who knows the story. I feel as though talking about my characters (who are very real to me) and the plot will make the magic disappear (or make it sound like a lost cause and prevent me from finishing). I haven’t published any of my poems, partly because I think most of them need a lot of work and partly because they’re like my children and I’m not ready to pack them up and send them off into the real world. But in the past year or so, I’ve come to realize that fear has a lot to do with my hesitation.

It might be fear of rejection. Obviously, no one wants to receive rejection slips, but that’s part of a writer’s life—there’s no getting around it. (I read somewhere that even James Patterson and J.K. Rowling had trouble finding someone to take a chance on their first books, and look where they are today.) But I think it’s more than that.

Writing, to me, is baring my soul on paper (or the computer screen). It’s a very intimate process. I get inside the minds, bodies, and souls of these people I’ve created and pour their lives out onto the page. Sometimes I feel as though I know them better than I know myself. I don’t know about you, but standing naked before a group of strangers doesn’t sound appealing. But that’s what you do as a writer.

This fear is what prompted me to create a blog. I needed to set aside time for writing—writing about anything, just so I’d be writing. The fear had taken hold of me, and for a long time, I wasn’t writing at all. And to be honest with you and myself, I was miserable. When I’m not writing, my nose is in a book, so I figured blogging about what I read made a lot of sense. You have to write what you know, and I know that when I reach the final page in a book, the thoughts and feelings inside my head are close to overflowing. It doesn’t matter if I spend one day or one month reading the book, I’ve forged a bond with the characters, and I know it’s a good book if I have a hard time letting go. Sometimes my book reviews are a farewell to the “friends” I made while reading or a way to express the hurt or frustration I feel when things don’t turn out the way I want. Regardless, I’m writing and that was my goal all along.

Blogging is a baby step for me. There’s still some fear involved. What if the author takes what I’ve said the wrong way? What if I’ve offended someone? What if no one cares what I have to say? But then I tell myself it doesn’t matter. If I can look back and be happy with what I’ve written, that’s what matters. And if I get the creative juices flowing by jotting down my feelings about what I’ve read and allow them to jump into the notebook where my precious characters reside, that’s even better.

Diary of an Eccentric is the home of my book reviews, discussions about writing and motherhood, and my knitting projects (when I actually have time for another hobby). I hope you will pop in to express your opinions about the books I’ve read, offer some reading recommendations, or simply say hello. I’d love to hear what you have to say!

September 24, 2008

Wednesday Quickies

Review: Genuine Men, by Nancy Bruno.

Genuine Men is a photo-essay collection about -- can you guess? -- men. While I'm not personally sure what makes a man (or a woman, for that matter) "genuine" or not, in terms of degrees of manhood, Nancy Bruno has certainly presented a wide range of men from which to choose. The format is quite simple: each subject is introduced in a brief vignette, basically a biographical snapshot, and is accompanied by three or four black-and-white pictures. The men seem to all be American, but otherwise represent a variety of races, religions, ages, abilities, and the like. It's an interesting project and might make a good gift for young boys in particular.

The book itself could have been put together better, in terms of its construction. I think that the photos would have been much more effective/interesting if they were glossy instead of matte, and the raised print on the jacket is chipping or rubbing off or something -- letters that were once silver and now half-silver, half-black. And sometimes the line in the middle of the page goes right through the subjects' faces. But it's quite good otherwise.

Review: Templeton Turtle Goes Exploring, by Ron Pridmore (Illustrated by Michele-lee Phelan).

Apparently this book is about teaching children the importance of community. You know, as in
When Templeton Turtle hatches from his egg, he can't wait to start exploring on his own and making new friends. But when tiny Templeton faces trouble, he learns that no matter what their differences, the animals in the pond take care of one another.

In all honesty, this didn't really come across when I read it. The story itself seemed kinda ... pointless. Templeton says "Oh well" a lot and gets scared by some cows, who are at the pond for reasons unknown.

The book is marked as ages 4-8, but I'd definitely mark that down. It's not very interesting. But the illustrations, at least, are very lovely.

Review: Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood.

I've been maintaining for years that this book is my favourite of all of Atwood's work, although I would, for most of those years, have been quite hard-pressed to explain why. But now I've read it again, after a gap of about six or seven years, and I can say: it is my favourite because it is brilliant and ambiguous and deliciously written, all the things that Atwood novels usually are, only more so.

Lunatics! Murder! Illicit love! Susannah Moodie quotations! The nineteenth century! Seriously, folks, this is one heckuva book. You should go read it.

My second-hand copy also came with a lovely inscription:
November 1996


Hoping you enjoy Margaret Atwood's new book. Some relaxing reading after all your hard work.

Happy Thanksgiving

Love, Mom & Dad xxoo

Kim, whoever you are! I hope that you enjoyed this book as well -- although maybe you didn't, since I have it now. Or perhaps it was at the shop because you're dead. Huh, awkward.