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.