Saturday, December 11, 2010

Something more solid than love

First of all sorry for the long time between my last post and this. I moved and am now in Ohio, and am trying to get used to sharing a computer with someone else since mine crapped out on me.

I have not read a lot of French fiction and as this one is pretty famous I gave it  a whirl.

Charles Bovary is an ordinary man who is a doctor of no real skill and has no real big dreams. After the death of his first wife (whom he married basically for her money) he marries Emma. Madame Bovary spends her time trying to be in love with Charles, but feels as if love has fallen so short of what she expected from reading. She wants passion and never ending poetry in life, while Charles would be happy with just a good dinner and a pipe. In order to keep herself from going crazy, Emma throws herself into reading all about Paris and the society there, buying the popular clothes, furnishings and foods that Parisians buy.

"But she, her life was chill as an attic with a northern skylight, and ennui, the silent spider, spun its web in the shadow in every corner of her heart."

She has flashes of romances that burst into her heart and fade away, only to be brought back to flame by the next gentleman who smiles at her and seems to be more in-tuned to emotions than her husband. Nothing comes of these romances at first and Emma has a child with her husband who she is not interested in at all.

"It was the first time that Emma had such things said to her, and her pride, like one reclining in a vapour-bath, stretched itself out languidly, yielding itself wholly to the fervor of the speech."

She falls in love, or at least thinks she does with a man who seems to genuinely care for her, but does not act upon those feelings. However, he leaves and she falls prey to a gentleman who uses her and plays all kinds of games on her emotions. He promises to run away with her, but then doesn't because ew, commitment.

"She was the sweetheart of all the novels, the heroine of all the plays, the vague she of all the poetry books."

She falls ill, and her inept husband fails to see what her real problem is and falls into deeper debt trying to buy things to please her. In the end, like most women characters who have a book named after them, she ends her life.The real sad thing about it though is that her poor daughter has just a shit life because of this woman's selfishness.

I don't know about this book. I felt like I was reading about a modern housewife who religiously reads US Weekly and buys the same Prada bag that Angelina Jolie has while ignoring her mounting credit card bills. I was disappointed that she didn't get more comeuppance and never seemed to learn anything, but I kept reading until the end.

In other news, I am almost 800 pages through War and Peace! Also I am reading a couple of other little books because I can't seem to limit myself to just one.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I passed out on a park bench

I am a big fan of Julia Wertz. She won me over with The Fart Party volumes one and two and delighted me with I Saw You, an anthology of comics based on craigslist missed connections. So when I happened upon Drinking at the Movies at B&N, I grabbed it and didn't let go.

Wertz's website is updated often, but most of the comics included are ones I have never seen. They capture the uncertainty of living in your twenties and having a lack of real goals and ambitions and insurance. I find this lady totally relateable, probably because she seems to love drinking in the bathtub as much as I do.

Check out and check this lady out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Real or not real?

Having read and loved The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I had to pick up Mockingjay. After waiting on the library wait list, I finally got my copy and tore through it. Collins great skill is her ability to end a chapter while leaving me dying to know what happens next, which led to a great deal of me staying up well past my bed time to finish the book. 

"If we burn you burn with us."

If you haven't read the other two books, I highly suggest you do so. They create a distopian world where the US has been destroyed and rebuilt as districts, each serving the Capital in come capacity. Katniss Everdeen is from District 12 and is a participant of the Hunger Games. These are fights to the death among two children from each district. Katniss sparks the flame of revolution, albeit involuntarily, and in Mockingjay, she is the figure-head for the rebellion.

Those who have not read these book beware of spoilers.

Katniss gets involved in the politics of District 13, which is eerily similar to the Capital. She is subject to TV spots and promotional shots and kept in the dark about what exactly she is standing for. Peeta is still captured in the Capital and she is desperate to save him in order to reconcile her feelings between him and Gale. She is as much a captive in District 13 as she was in the Capital and sees the hidden torture methods that are used.

"I'm sick of people lying to me for my own good. Because really its mostly for their own good."

Finally Katniss is forced to go into the heart of the Capital on her quest to kill President Snow. She and her companions face horrible threats similar to those in the Hunger Games and frankly many of the characters die violent deaths that are still freaking me out.

Some of the imagery in this book is truly frightening. To picture tons of children being bombed and then set on fire is horrific. The lizard-creatures eating people are also disgusting. However, I liked how Collins took some of the things we read in the first book and twisted them. Katniss was the girl on fire. In this book she is that literally. Her whole mission was to save the life of her sister, Primrose, so it was sadly eloquent that Primrose dies at the end. 

"We're fickle, stupid being with poor memories and a great gift for self destruction."

The last chapter, much like J.K. Rowlings epilogue, left me feeling a little underwhelmed. I wanted a more complete ending. I felt that the relationship between Peeta and Katniss was rushed over and I wanted more. 

Read these books. Prepare for frightening dreams and read them. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

my soul is made of raw meat

Zadie Smith is one of those authors whose books I look at in every book store and now and then buy one to put on my shelf without ever having read any of her books. I did read a short story of hers once in class, "You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town." And what I vaguely remember of it was good.

On Beauty is not what I expected it to be at all. I am not really sure what I expected it to be, maybe something more like Toni Morrison, but this is not the same at all. Smith writes about an academic white man, Howard, who is married to a large black woman, Kiki. They have a family and they all have issues that are being dealt with. They have three children, all with completely different mindsets on the world around them. Their oldest son Jerome is away interning with Howard's academic nemesis, Kipps, and he falls in love with his daughter. But she has plans of her own and suddenly the whole Kipps family is back in Howard's hometown, working at the same university.

"Like many academics, Howard was innocent of the world. He could identify thirty different ideological trends in the social sciences, but he did not really know what a software engineer was."

The story is constantly shifting, jumping ahead in time and changing perspective when you think you know what is going to happen. Howard is struggling to keep his marriage together despite the fact that he had an affair and then lied horribly about it. I found it very interesting to see how Kiki dealt with all of this, interesting and depressing. 

"A five-year gap between siblings is like a garden that needs constant attention. Even three month apart allows the weeds to grow up between you."
All in all, I found this book pretty depressing. I am not sure what the reader is meant to feel at the ending. I did not think much of Howard at all and frankly most of the other characters seemed very stuck in one mindset for most of the book. Everyone acts how I predicted they would. 

It did made me long for college in a very strong way. Smith does a great job of creating a college that has all of it's pieces running and captures the feel of academia. I just would have liked something more plot-wise. I think that my biggest complaint was that (almost) every time she builds up to a conflict, a scene where shit is going to hit the fan, we are let down. Time is skipped and the characters are already on to another thing while I am still trying to figure out how the hell things happened.

Despite my feelings about this book, I think I would still read her other works. I have White Teeth and really want to read it; hopefully I have a better review for that one.

Friday, October 29, 2010

the right constellation of words

I have been so excited waiting for Great House to come out. I have both of Krauss's other books, A History of Love and Man Walks Into a Room. I also have all of her husband, Jonathan Safran Foer's books and love all of them. So I was pretty pumped for Great House.

"It was then, looking at his strange face, that I knew that a door had opened, but not the kind of door my father had imagined. This one I could walk through, and right away it was clear to me that I would. Another wave of nausea came over me, nausea mixed with happiness and also relief, because I sensed that one chapter of my life had ended and another was about to begin."

Like A History of Love, Great House is told from many different points of view all loosely connected through ways that aren't clear right away. Krauss is able to capture different voices during different time periods and who have such different thoughts. All of the characters are complicated and complex and parts of them are still hidden from the reader. At one point I had to make a chart to get it straight in my head how the characters related to each other - and this chart shifted as I read on.

"I chose the freedom of long unscheduled afternoon in which nothing happens but the slightest shift in mood as captured in a semicolon."

But the dominating presence in the book is a piece of furniture, a desk.This desk has special meaning to almost all of the characters and the massive, many-drawered desk is constantly moving in location and meaning.Krauss keeps her characters rooted in the Jewish faith and a great deal of the action takes place in Jerusalem.

"Alone, I could slip into a kind of stillness, into a place like that bog those children once drew, where faces rise up out of the elements and all is quiet, like the moment just before the arrival of an idea, a stillness and a peace I've only ever felt when along."

Her writing is beautiful and touching. When I reached the last page, I turned to the next hoping to read on and feeling a sinking pit in my mind that the book was over. This also happened when I read Everything is Illuminated by her hubby. I kept thinking about the loose ends and untold details and how I wanted to know more about every character and I realized that she ended the book perfectly.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a little happiness

I clearly like Lisa See's writings since I have gone through three of her books lately. Shanghai Girls is a little different from the other two; it is more modern and a lot of the action takes place in America. However, the essence of the story, the relationship between two sisters and the struggle to connect with their past traditions are familiar.

Pearl and May are sisters in Shanghai during the 1930s. Their family has money so they overlook much of the unpleasant aspects of the world around them (like dead babies in the street and malnourished men pulling their rickshaws) and instead focus on fashion and romance.

Their father has arranged marriages to men who live in America for the girls, but the refuse to go. The Japanese attack China and the girls and their mother do their best to make a run for it. They see and experience firsthand the horrific aspects of war, yet somehow Pearl and May survive and make their way to America, where they are put in Angel Island and kept for months in prison like conditions before they are able to join their husbands in an America that makes it very clear they are not wanted.

"You're like a bird that's been freed from a cage,' May says, 'but doesn't remember how to fly. You're my sister, but I don't know where you've gone in your mind. You're so apart from me now."

See is so great at capturing the complexities of relationships and the heartache that can come from unspoken words and unasked questions. Pearl and May share a deep secret that turns out to have disastrous effects on their family and leaves the end of the book very open.

"As I speak, I'm reminded of the old saying that disasters go in through the mouth, disasters come out of the mouth, meaning that words can be like bombs themselves."

My one complaint about this book is the ending. I am not sure if See is planning on doing a sequel to the book (I'm guessing not) but I just felt that we get all of this build-up and then see the result of the sister's actions but not a resolution. Not as good as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but still an alright read.

Also, poll is closed but since the only one who voted was my fiancee - yup, boyfriend proposed this weekend :) - I am going to just read what I want. Also I might have put the Magus in his car when he left so it'll be hard for me to read it. I'm thinking Madame Bovary since I don't think I have read a lot of French fiction.

Friday, October 22, 2010

religion, while a fine thing, could be taken too far

After reading Bleak House and The Idiot, I needed something a little lighter and frankly a little more humorous. So I turned to Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Pyramids doesn't have any similar characters from the other books (with the exception of Death, of course) and seems like it could be read without reading the ones before it. But I would recommend it.

Young prince Teppic is sent to Ankh-Morpork's assassin school and is not looking forward to going back to his kingdom, which resembles ancient Egypt. But when his father dies, Teppic goes home to take over the throne and build his father the largest pyramid that has ever been built.

"It wasn't a particularly pleasant smile. It was thin and dried-up, a smile with all the warmth long ago boiled out of it, people normally smiled like that when they had been dead for about two years under the broiling desert sun. But at least you felt he was making the effort."

These pyramids mess with the fabric of time and through some quantum physics sends Teppic's land into a new dimension. Thankfully, Teppic and a handmaiden escaped on a camel who happens to be the best mathematician on the planet. Teppic then struggles to find a way to bring his country back into the here and now.

"These men were philosophers, he thought. They had told him so. So their brains must be so big that they have room for ideas that no one else would consider for five seconds."

The writing was just what I needed, clever and dry and ridiculous at times. I remain in love with Discworld.

"They are great minds, he told himself. These are men who are trying to work out how the world fits together, not by magic, not by religion, but just by inserting their brains in whatever crack they can find and trying to lever it apart."

Don't forget to vote on my next classic read! There are only four days left!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What can you do? It's fate.

First of all, how awesome is this copy of The Idiot? Super awesome, I know. I snatched it from the boyfriend. Dostoevsky never lets me down.

Prince  Lev Nikolayevitch Myshkin returns to Russia after years of treatment for his disease of "idiocy" in Switzerland. He makes a friend on the train who talks passionately about his love for Nastassya Filippovna. Myshkin searches for his nearest relatives, the Yepanchins. They have three lovely daughters, the youngest, Aglaya, the loveliest of all. Despite being labeled as an idiot, Myshkin makes a good impression on everyone he meets and seems to speak his mind honestly and without regard for social norms.

"And what made me take you for an idiot before? You notice things other people never notice. One could really talk to you, but - one had better not."

There is a scandal involving Nastassya Filippovna, a "fallen woman" who everyone seems to want to marry. Myskin himself is so taken with her beauty that when he meets her he pleads with her not to marry Ganya.

This novel is told in four parts. The first introduces us to a wide range of characters, the second reconciles Myshkin with the Yepanchins, the third has some romantic intrigue between Myshkin and Aglaya and an attempted suicide by one of the characters, and the fourth brings about the inevitable clash between Aglaya and Nastassya over Myshkin.

"But all this had flown from his mind, everything except the one fact that she was sitting there beside him and that he was looking at her, and it made no difference to him then what she was talking about."

These characters are so complicated that I feel hard-pressed to sum them up in a few lines. Nastassya views herself as a person with a most shameful past and constantly runs between Myshkin and her other suitor, Rogozhin. She is the ultimate drama-queen ex girlfriend bent on her own destruction. Myshkin sees the good in everyone and can not hold a grudge to save his life (or sanity). Despite his honest love for Aglaya, he cannot lie about his sympathy for Nastassya.

"And how can he love two women? With two different kinds of love?"

The writing is just amazing in my opinion. For an author to have a character say "I don't love you" and without any explanation the reader knows that she is absolutely in love with the other is a feat. Dostoevsky paints the characters so well that we know what is going on in their minds.

"But in later years the general never complained about his early marriage, never attributed it to the rash folly of youth and he so respected his wife, and at times so feared her, that he actually, in face, loved her."

Thank you for voting for this one! I adored it. I put another poll up for my next big read - so be sure to vote! At the moment I have a couple of lighter books going, Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and Pyramids by Terry Pratchett.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The list of my souls.

I realized when going through the book I keep all my reading notes in that I haven't blogged about reading Dead Souls by Gogol. I am, and always will be, a big fan of Russian Lit and have read a lot of Gogol's short stories. This novel is unfinished but is still pretty substantial and fleshed out.

"it became clear that, though all else in the world might conceivably be possible, never could the hatchet be buried between ladies who had quarrelled over a neglected visit."

Our main character is Chichikov and his is on a mission to collect as many "souls" as possible. In Russia there were serfs that were often referred to as souls, as in he had an estate with five thousand souls. Chickikov goes to towns and people's houses and has them write over all of their "dead souls" to him. Because (and this was a little confusing to me) the landowners still had to pay tax on these dead people, but Chichikov was trying to wheel and deal some serious fraud.

"and the spring night which, laying its elbows upon the tree-tops, and spangled with stars, and vocal with the nightingales which were pouring forth warbled ditties from the recesses of the foliage, kept glancing through the door, and regarding the company within."
Chichikov integrates himself so well into a new town, making friends with all of the local officials and getting invited to every one's house for tea. Appearances are extremely important to him as people are not so sure about selling their dead peasants and he has to warm himself up to them first.

The first big chunk of the novel follows Chichikov in one particular town and then towards the end time passes and we jump places as there are parts of the manuscript missing. We learn a little about Chichikov's upbringing and how money was placed as the most important thing and strives to get money by whatever means.
"And even devious methods I employed only when I saw the straight road would not serve my purposes well."
 It is hard to judge a novel that is unfinished. I am not sure that I liked the character enough to enjoy a whole book about him. I would sooner read his "The Nose" or "The Overcoat" - those are amazing. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Does art save?

While working my way through the Idiot (almost done with part two of four) I took a break yesterday and took a long bath with a graphic novel. I am a big fan of the saying "plain Jane" so this book caught my eye at the library. It is part of DC's short-lived Minx books which were geared towards teen girls. Since I am also a perpetual teenager, this seemed like a good pick.

Jane is present at a bombing in Metro City and her parent move her out to the suburbs where things will be "safer." Jane has trouble finding her place in the new high school. She wants to be friends with three girls who are outcasts but interesting and also all named Jane (or Jayne).

All of the characters seem to be just really exaggerated stereotypes. Drama Jane is always quoting playwrights and dressing up dramatically. Science Jayne spends her time getting to the lab early and doing homework at lunch. Sporty Jane is on all the teams but only as a bench warmer. And our main Jane isn't sure what she is.

After the bombing, Jane grabbed the notebook of a man who was next to her and writes him letters throughout the book, even though he is in a coma back in Metro City. Because of his sketchbook, she is inspired to create a new club, P.L.A.I.N. People Loving Art In Neighborhoods. She gets the other Janes in and they quickly get to work creating guerrilla art installations around their town. The local law enforcement does its best to shut P.L.A.I.N. down, but our gals keep on trucking.

I love the idea of art out in the community. In college, one of the art classes did something like this. As we students woke up and went around campus to classes we saw cut-out silhouettes of figures dancing or sitting in random places. I remember interviewing the professor for a reporting assignment and he had been really excited about getting art out where people can see it in unexpected places. Even my girl Keri Smith has a book on how to be a guerrilla artist, which I sadly do not own.

I liked this graphic novel and would recommend it even though the end was a little abrupt. I am interested in seeing if I can get more of the Minx books, and think that it is too bad that DC stopped that endeavor. Girls like comics too!

So readers, what do you think of art in the community like this? Have you ever experienced art in an unexpected place? What did you think about it? Don't be shy; leave me some comments!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I caught trends like I caught colds

While reading Bleak House, I broke up my reading time with this book of essays written by teenage girls. The editor, Amy Goldwater, sent out a request for submission on any subject, as long as the writing was true. She was amazed with the results and complies them according to subject and then by age.

"Karl Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses. We, Mr. Marx! We have this oh-so-shiny new development. It's called the television, and if it isn't religion, then I don't know what is."

There are 58 different girls who have pieces in this book and each one was interesting and made me revert back to my teenage self. The angst of high school, parents divorce, crushes, and the struggle to fit in all made me taste the cafeteria egg salad sandwiches and feel the sting of tears in my eyes from notes passed back and forth. But it also made me think of the fun of being a teenager, the thrill of driving anywhere with your friends, sneaking out, and wearing too much makeup.

Some of the essays are better written than others, but these are still developing writers. This book is an easy read for the most part (if you can get past those high school flash-backs) and was a nice contrast to Dickens. These girls come from so many different backgrounds and all have voices that demand to be heard. And I was happy to listen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fashion and whiskers have been my weakness

Well readers, true to my word, I finally finished reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens, since the poll deemed it so. I am not an avid fan of Dickens and frankly expected this book to be dry, boring and bleak.

Bleak House chronicles the court case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce and all those who are connected with it in some way or another. The court system is portrayed very harshly as a massive, time-consuming and expensive endeavor that never seems to get anything done.

"Suffer any wrong that can be done you, rather than come here."

Ester Summerson is our main narrator (for the most part) and she is under the care of one of the Mr. Jarndyce and friends with his young cousins, Rick and Ada, the other Jarndyces in the aforementioned law suit.

Dickens covers the whole scope here, from the high and mighty family of the Deadlocks down to poor little Jo, a boy who lives covered in filth in the heart of London and is as poor as can be.

"Sir Leicester is generally in a complacent state and rarely bored. When he has nothing else to do, he can always contemplate his own greatness. It is a considerable advantage to a man, to have so inexhaustible a subject."

Ester falls somewhere in between - there is a mystery about her birth (which is no real mystery, at least not to me) and she gets a lot of marriage proposals for a girl who gets smallpox and has her face altered for the worse. I found her to be most frustrating and annoying because she always is chipper and trying to work hard and do her best to make everyone around her happy that she seems to have no emotional range. Which might be why she got all those proposals, who knows?

"I often thought of the resolution I had made on my birthday, to try to be industrious, contented, and true-hearted, and to do some good to some one, and win some love if I could; and indeed, indeed, I felt almost ashamed to have done so little and to have so much."

Late in the game, 700 pages or so late to be clear, there is a murder and a great hunt to discover the true killer. Again, although it seems like Dickens wants to throw us off my suspecting a few different characters, I could tell how things were going to go down.

I think that I get too distracted by the social commentary aspect of Dickens writing to actually enjoy the story. I did laugh and chuckle at some of his phrasing and I think that he may be the best at naming secondary characters, but I really did not care about the characters. And that for me is a big deal. But I have to give credit, Mr. Turverydrop, Mrs. Pardiggle, Mr. Jellby, Mr. Smallweed and Mr. Bucket are all pretty great names.

"Everything that Mr. Smallweed's grandfather ever put away in his mind was a grub at first, and is a grub at last. In all his life he has never bred a single butterfly."

Next up is the Idiot, since that got just as many votes as Bleak House. I know my man Dostoevsky will not let me down and am really excited to read this one.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Yeah, that's pepper spray.

How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley is still pretty new, but as I am still trying to save every penny, I got this from the library. I read I Was Told There'd Be Cake last year and loved it, so I had some pretty high hopes for this one.

"After that first day, I awoke to the vague but identifiable smell of cheese. The kind of cheese where if you didn't know it was cheese, you'd think someone took a crap on the metro and set it on fire. And then put it out with milk."

Crosley writes about her life as a late twenty-something, referring back to her past to tell stories of her childhood pets, jumping forward to tell of getting kicked out of Paris and enduring a shady relationship. And on that particular smell that lives in taxi cabs:

"This is a scent that does not waft in real time so much as it seeps into your memory to replace every pleasant aroma you have ever smelled with its pungency."

She has a way with words that sits so well with me, but this book lacked the humour that her first one did.The stories were a little long and seemed to drag in places, but still left me with a smile, if not the belly-laughs that her first one gave me.

I am working my way through Bleak House and have my copy of the Idiot on hand. Dickens is surprisingly not what I expected and I am enjoying the book a lot. I have a few "lighter" reads to break up my time so I will still be updating while working through this massive Dickens book. My past experience with Dickens is mainly A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations. Any thoughts on favorite Dickens books?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Audio books

I have shared my thoughts on the new wave of e-readers before (here if you missed it) but I have never experienced an audio book. However, with a six-hour bus ride across the Mid-West looming before me, and myself unable to read in a moving vehicle without becoming violently ill, I did something drastic. I loaded up my ipod nano with all of the Harry Potter audio books, read by Jim Dale.

The one I chose to listen to first was Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince because it is one of my favorites in the series and I wanted to brush up on it before I moved on to Deathly Hallows.

I do have a special place in my heart for the art of storytelling. My father read The Lord of the Rings series, yes all of them, to my two brothers and I when we were very young. He did voices for all of the characters and though I cannot remember everything from his reading, the story has a very special place in my heart.

Anyway, back to Harry Potter. Jim Dale does an amazing job of creating voices for all of the different characters, and has a beautiful narration voice as well. " So much so that even when I turned off my ipod, I could still hear him in my mind, narrating away about what I was doing. The only thing I couldn't stand was the way Dale had Hermoine whine "Haaaaarrrrryyy" every single time she says his name.

I have listened to a good chunk of Deathly Hallows after finishing my first audio book, but I am not sure how much I like this medium. I mean, for my travelling purposes, it was wonderful. And I suppose if I was the type to actually go to the gym it would be nice to be able to listen to something literary while on the elliptical. But I am just first and foremost a fan of the printed word. It is nice to have these audio books in my back pocket, but I think I will save them for when reading an actual book just isn't practical.

Do any of you readers listen to audio books regularly? Have any favorites? Any that you cannot stand?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I supposed all printed words to be true

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is a book I plucked from my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I had never heard of it before and had to special request it from our library system. I have a lot to say about this book but first I want to start with a problem, or maybe more of an annoyance I have had while reading lately.I find that I have no trouble telling where the plot is going, telling where the twists are going to be and which minor characters are going to come in at a critical moment and revel something shocking. There are just a few books out there that have generally causes me to exclaim "What the hell?"

Fingersmith had me exclaiming this over and over again. I was so shocked and amazed by how complicated and beautifully crafted this story was and could not read it fast enough. Geoff would come home from class and I would be reading and chewing my lips telling him I was freaking out because of this book. It was wonderful.

The novel starts in the heart of the shady part of London, with a girl named Susan Trinder. She is raised in a family much like Oliver Twist, loved by the woman of the house like a daughter even though Sue's mother was hanged as a murderess. Sue is happy with her life and one day a friend of the house, Gentleman, comes by with the scheme of a lifetime, and it all hinges on Sue. He has a post helping a real gentleman in the country work on his library and this man has a niece, Maud, who needs a maid. Maud is set to inherit a ton of money, but only if she marries. If Sue can help persuade Maud to marry Gentleman, the plan is to then put Maud in a madhouse and make off with her money. So Sue goes to the country house Briar to be maid to a fine lady.

"The skin of her hands was smooth - but, like the rest of her, to smooth to be right, I never saw it without thinking of the things - rough things, sharp things - that would mark or hurt it."

Maud and Sue quickly become close, though Sue always tries to keep in mind that she is plotting against this woman. Because of Maud's night terrors, they sleep in the same bed and soon Sue realizes that she has strong feelings for Maud.

"But by then I could only see that there was once a time when we had walked about, and then a time when we walked together."

After agreeing to marry Gentleman, Maud and Sue share a very intimate night together and Sue is just seething with jealousy. But the wedding goes through and off they go to the mad house. And then shit gets crazy.The second part is told through Maud's eyes and we get her perspective from the start and onward. In the third part we return to Sue and her determined quest for vengeance.

I don't want to spoil the rest of the book but I will just say that it does an amazing job of parallelling the lives of Sue and Maud. Both end up trapped in situations they are desperate to escape and both expect the blood of their mother's to show up in themselves. Sue's mother was a murderess so she is always sure that her bad blood will see her through her misdeeds. Maud's mother died in a mental institution, and she grew up in one and is desperate not to go back. 

I imagine that the reason I have never heard of this book before is because of the lesbian aspect of it, but truthfully it is a beautifully done story about two women who love each other despite their own intentions. Because of the time, neither could come out and say how they felt at the start for fear and my heart ached when they had moments where if only one of them would have reached out perhaps they would not have had to go through the pain they end up going through. 

"But I thought desire smaller, neater; I supposed it bound to its own organs as taste is bound to the mouth, vision to the eye. This feeling haunts and inhabits me, like a sickness. It covers me, like skin."

After finally finishing (I literally could not put this book down and read it in two days), I have to say that this is one of my new favorites. Top ten, even. The characters were realistic and complex, the plot was so amazing and the pain and longing seemed to seep right off the page and into my heart.

They were not used to asking much, they had had practice.

A.S. Byatt did an awesome job at Possession, and this little book caught my eye at the library. These five short stories were all easy and interesting reads, some feeling more like modern fairy tales.

"The Thing in the Forest" was one of the ones that seemed so much like a modern fairy tale or scary story. It just starts out beautifully: "There were once two little girls who saw, or believed they saw, a thing in the forest." Simple yet hooked me right away. They share this wonderful and horrifying experience and then reconnect after years of separation.

"Body Art" was a little more realistic and a little longer, about a doctor who has a complicated relationship with an art student.

"There was a man, who had been dying, and then dead. And there was an idea of who he was, which was a dream, which was a poem, which was a moral cage, which was a film over a clear vision of things."

"(for Torfi Tulinius) is beautiful. A woman's mother dies and then she begins to discover that her own body is transforming into rocks and minerals. This is a slow process that has her body evolving every day. She goes in search of a final resting place, and instead finds her way to where she belongs.

"...a necklace of veiled swelling above her collar-bone which broke slowly through the skin like eyes from closed lids."

"Raw Material" is another more realistic story about a creative writing teacher and the writing of one student that captivates him. The ending is shocking and unexpected, and delightfully unresolved.

"The Pink Ribbon" is a bit of a mix between the more fantastical stories and the realistic. A man is caring for his wife who has pretty severe brain damage and he hallucinates - or does he - a woman who comes in and visits him at night.

I love a good book of short stories and this one was wonderful. Each was interesting and fantastical and the whole book flowed together very nicely. Short story lovers - get your hands on this!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The ghost of a tree

Sorry for the absence! I have been in Ohio visiting the boyfriend on a little vacation and had a wonderful time. And I somehow managed to get a ton of reading done, so be ready for some updates this week!

Having loved The Time Traveller's Wife, I knew sooner or later I would get around to this one. The story focuses on twin girls, Julia and Valentia as the inherit the London flat from their mother's estranged twin (Elspeth). We get chapters from so many perspectives, Roberts (Elspeth's lover and downstairs neighbor), Martin (the OCD neighbor upstairs), and Elspeth herself, a ghost trapped in the apartment with the twins.

"I think perhaps if that sort of thing does happen - ghosts - it must be more beautiful, more surprising than all those tales would have us believe."

Valentina and Julia are so wrapped up in each other that at the beginning neither can do anything without the other, though one may want to. They explore London and the graveyard next door to their flat where Robert works and which houses Elspeth's tomb. And then Elspeth finds a way to communicate with the twins and things get very complicated. Valentina starts a romantic relationship with Robert while Julia starts taking daily tea with Martin and Elspeth's ghost continues to scheme, trapped in the apartment.

"Everything in the room seemed to have been drained of colour. Julia wondered is the colour had all collected somewhere else, perhaps it was in some closet, and when they opened that door it would all flood back into the objects it had deserted."

I really enjoyed this book and had to stay up super late finishing it, however, the ending left me a little underwhelmed. The twists and turns were gripping, but I just cannot help but feel a little let down. The characters were wonderful though, and maybe I just missed something since I was reading so late.

In other news, the poll has closed and I am left with a tie! Bleak House and The Idiot both had the most votes so I will just have to read them both. Luckily Geoff had a copy of Bleak House on hand and I'm already working my way through it. I was alarmed to look at my bookcases and not find the copy of The Idiot I wanted on my Russian shelves so I may have to dig through the boxes to find it. Or I might just have to read the paperback version I found at a garage sale. I am still working my way through Dead Souls by Gogol, so The Idiot will just have to wait a little longer.

Coming up this week: a book of short stories, another graphic novel, a book that just may be in my top ten faves, and thoughts on finishing my first audio-book ever.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Am I the only one who made a costume?

Runaways Volume 2: Teenage Wasteland by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona.

I'm probably not going to blog a whole lot about the rest of this series, but I will say that it has hooked me enough to have a stack of them waiting to be read. The teens continue to hide away from their parents, determined to do what is right. They pick up another young teen who seems to be in a similar situations, but he has some dark secrets of his own. Also everyone starts kissing everyone.

In other news, I'm taking a gigantic bus trip tomorrow to see the boyfriend and am fully prepared with all of the Harry Potter books on audio. Some of you may know that I am a giant snob about books in other mediums but so far I have enjoyed listening to Jim Dale read me Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. But I do get his voice stuck in my head and end up imagining him narrating my everyday actions. I know that the HP audios are hugely popular - are there any other shining examples of good audio books out there?

Just a few more days left on my classic poll and Bleak House is still winning. No Russian love?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stories tell us how to live

After reading and loving Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I picked up Peony in Love from the library the next day.

Peony lives in a world where dynasty change has occurred and everyone is still adjusting. By that I mean the men are adjusting and the women are continuing to live inside even though they had a brief time where they could travel and, gasp, write books that would actually get published and read.

Peony is an only child in love with an opera called the Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu (which is a real opera). Her father gave her a love of reading and learning which perhaps was not the most useful thing for a wife back then.

"Had you been a son," Baba went on, "You would have made an excellent imperial scholar, perhaps the best our family have ever seen." He meant it as a compliment and I took it that way, but I could hear regret in his voice too. I was not a son and never would be."

Her father stages a showing of the opera in their family gardens and the women get to hear it while hidden behind a screen. Through a crack in the screen, Peony sees a very handsome man who then runs into her in the garden, something very improper. The poet, Ren, and Peony meet for three days and then the opera is over and Peony must face that fact that she is to be married out.

"I will follow the course my father sets for me, but all girls have dreams, even if our destinies are set."

She becomes obsessed with the Peony Pavilion and sees herself as the woman in the opera who loves even after death and is then brought back to life through the power of love. Peony neglects to take care of herself, eat and eventually dies while working on her commentary of the Peony Pavilion.

"Everyday I see it and I don't know what to do. Literacy is a grave threat to the female sex. Too often I've seen the health and happiness of young women fade because they will not give up their brush and ink."

The rest of the book follows Peony's afterlife as she attempts to watch over Ren and learns more about the women in her family. Because Peony's tablet was not dotted correctly, her spirit is not at rest and she fears that she will remain a hungry ghost for all time.

One thing that I really liked was that in the afterlife Peony meets a group of other girls who all died young after becoming obsessed with the Peony Pavilion. It reminded me of Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Wurther where young men were killing themselves for the romantic gesture of the thing.  Thankfully, Kate Beaton did a little comic which illustrates (clikc her name for a larger version):

Ren goes on to have two other wives and Peony is there, watching and trying her best to make him happy for she just loves him so much. And while I personally would have haunted the crap out of Tan Ze (Peony's old friend who is Ren's second wife), Peony does seem to have Ren's happiness at the heart of all she does.

This book has some interesting insights into how women slowly became more accepted as poets and writers, but I was not as enthralled with this one as with Snow Flower. I still would recommend this book, but if given the choice stick with Snow Flower.

Also side note - I've got a poll up for what my next big classic read should be! So far Bleak House is winning but you should totally check out the other options and vote. Do me a solid!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Are you trying to make holes in me?

I am slowly working my way through 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and this one is on the list. I thankfully have not seen the movie version yet, but now am dying to.

The Reader takes place in postwar Germany and follows young Michael Berg as he gets sick on the street and is rescued by an older woman. After recovering from his illness, Michael brings her flowers to thank her, and they develop a relationship. He reads to her, they take baths and make love all in Hanna's apartment. She is more than twice his age and Michael struggles to keep her separate from his school-life, even as he knows he is doing Hanna wrong by doing so.

I love the way their first days are described, how ardently Michael adores Hanna. He loves that she is not trying to seduce him really, it is more that she isn't trying to impress him, she just is impressive to him.

"It was more as if she had withdrawn into her own body, and left it to itself and its own quiet rhythms, unbothered by any input from her mind, oblivious to the outside world."

Hanna disappears and Michael later sees her on trail for crimes committed as a guard of a group of Jewish women at one of the concentration camps. However, Michael realizes that Hanna is taking the blame because she is ashamed of a secret she has kept from everyone, even him. Michael is so conflicted because he (and his generation)  is trying to deal with how to view their parents and elders who were either complicit in the Holocaust or stood by and let it happen. Just as we Americans had our "Great Generation", for Michael it seems that they had a Failed Generation. And yet he cannot completely condemn Hanna because he loved her.

"And if I was not guilty because one cannot be guilty of betraying a criminal, then I was guilty of having loved a criminal" 

What struck me most about Hanna's situation was that during her trial when she was accused of her actions and inaction she turned to the judge and  asked him what he would have done. And there can be no answer. While she serves her sentence in prison, Michael begins to send her tapes of himself reading to her, and yet cannot bring himself to visit or write her a letter.

"The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as a matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive."

There is a soft spot in my heart for tragic love stories, and this one is very bittersweet. It is difficult to remember that people who have done horrible, horrible things are often times just people who at their core are not bad or evil. Hanna did at least take part in a horrific act, and yet I cannot view her as a bad character.

I am very excited to see the film version and see how they handle all of this. But I would highly suggest this book to anyone.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Our parents are super villians!

I'm no stranger to comic books and graphic novels and picked Runaways up while looking through my local library's teen graphic section.

Six teenagers are brought together when the discover that their parents are all part of a secret super villian group called the Pride. Unable to trust their parents after what the kids saw, the band of teenagers search for proof to give to the police while discovering that they have abilities of their own.

I really enjoyed this story and plan on continuing the rest of it. I can see why this stroy would appeal to teens, I might be speaking for myself, but I know I grew up wishing that some latent super-powers would show up one day. But perhaps I just watched too many X-Men cartoons. Anyway, I am interested to see how the teens' characters develop.

Friday, September 10, 2010

We are old sames

I need to listen to my friend's recommendations in a more timely manner because I have let this book languish on my shelves for months and simply nodded every time Liz would tell me "You will love it; you have to read it." As always, she was right.

Lily is an old Chinese woman looking back on her life now that all those who might be ashamed of what she has to say are dead. Lily grew up in a home that was not the best financially and as a daughter was thought of as basically worthless. She detailed her foot binding days, how harsh her mother was with her and how painful the process of breaking her feet was but Lily always accepted that this was how it was supposed to be in order for her to make a good marriage.

Just in case you needed a visual of the way these girls (sometimes as young as three) had their feet broken:
picture source

But the real meat of the story is the relationship between Lily and her laotong, Snow Flower. The laotong relationship is basically a contracted friendship that began when the two were extremely young and is to be an emotional love that is valued even over their husbands. Snow Flower is much more refined than Lily, but we see that she is ignorant towards household tasks that she will need in her future.

"For my entire life I longed for love. I knew it was not right for me — as a girl and later as a woman — to want or expect it, but I did, and this unjustified desire has been at the root of every problem I have experienced in my life."

Lily and Snow Flower communicate using women's language, nu shu, and record the events of their lives on a decorative fan that they pass between each other. Because of the interpretive nature of nu shu, there is a misunderstanding and Lily and Snow Flower's lives are cut apart.

This book was such a fascinating read. I knew nothing about Chinese family dynamics and felt the most connected to Snow Flower and her plight. The laotong relationship is so fascinating to me. The nature of friendships change over time, in my life I have seen friends who I thought would be with me always fade away over things that I cannot comprehend and other friends that I never expected to love become sisters in my heart.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

I am currently having a hard time figuring out which of my books to read. I am a big believer that there is a right time to read each book and they let me know when the time is right. If it isn't, I'll let a book slip away while reading and move on to something else. But, as most of my books are still packed up, I'm at a loss.

Anyway, what are you guys reading right now?

I am I am I am

I've never read any of Sylvia Plath's poetry before but you pretty much have to be living in a cave to have never heard of this book.

I had a very easy time connecting to our narrator, Ester. She's a young small town girl in the big city, with everything in life ahead of her yet feels hopelessly out of sync with everyone around her.

"I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn't get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo."

I read that sentence and knew that I was going to love this book. Plath captured the detachment that comes with a nervous breakdown perfectly.

Some of the secondary characters are so well executed in just a few words. I would latch on to Doreen and follow her around all the time. She does her own thing and exudes confidence and independence, which is probably why Ester eventually does not want to be around her.

"Doreen had intuition. Everything she said was like a secret voice speaking straight out of my own bones."

Ester goes back to her hometown after her month in NYC and recollects on her past interactions with her boyfriend. I wish he had been the one to fall down a mountain and break his leg. With Buddy, Ester sees the narrow life that will be expected of her as a wife and mother. So she rebels the only way she can, withdrawing further into herself.

"And I knew that in spite of all roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showers on a woman before he married her, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard's kitchen mat."

But she is stuck in the fifties and after awhile her mother takes her in for therapy. After a poorly done electro-shock treatment, Ester goes says enough and makes several suicide attempts. She is discovered and taken to a group home for treatment.

I read a review of this book that said it was Salinger-esque in a female voice and I completely agree. The writing style was so accessible and easy for me to get into.

"From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out.

I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, the plopped to the ground at my feet."

This is my problem with life right now - I feel exactly the way she describes. I would highly suggest this book to anyone, although maybe not when you are currently having your own little breakdown.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Now I've begun again

It's been a long time.

I'm just going to get right back into the swing of things here. Lady Chatterly's Lover has a lot of history behind it; it was banned both in the UK and the US for being pornographic. This is one a lot of lists of the classic great books so I thought I better give it a shot.

I did not like it.

Connie Chatterly's husband was wounded in the war and is confined to a wheelchair. They live on a great English estate that included a giant industrial mine. While Connie is set up to be an educated and forward-thinking woman, I found her annoying. Surrounded by modern thinkers and culture, there is no meaning in any of the actions or thoughts of any of the characters. They just go through the motions.

"Sex and a cocktail: they both lasted about as long, had the same effect and amounted to about the same thing."

Connie has affairs that seem just ways to pass her time. Until she meets him, Mellors, the groundskeeper. He is also married, but his wife left him and lives on the other side of town. They start on together and there are some pretty explicit scenes. I've never been a fan of bodice-ripping romance novels, but this doesn't seem like the same thing. I mean, Connie weaves flowers into his pubic hair.

I guess my problem is that I don't buy their idea of love. Connie and Mellors just seem to be in lust. They don't really have conversations, he mauls her in the woods and has sex with her while she is half-passed out. He has some really strict demands on what a woman does during sex.

While her father and sister are fine with her having an affair, they are not pleased with the thought of such a scandal over a man of lower class.

There are bigger things going on in this book besides these two having sex. Old England is being destroyed by a newer, industrial England. The characters are only half-living, crippled by their inability to deal with the changing world.

I think that the idea of the scandal around this book is more appealing to me than the actual book itself. Color me unimpressed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not knowing how to live

Hey look guys, I read another Russian book! Who is surprised?

Oblomov tells the tale of Oblomov, a man who really doesn't want to live life to the fullest. He'd rather take a nap after diner and leave those errands for tomorrow, or maybe next week. He is a land owner who knows nothing of his country estate; he lives in town with his personal servant Zahar who does everything for Oblomov. A childhood friend, Stolz, tries continually to get Oblomov out and into the world. Oblomov drags his feet the whole way until he becomes infatuated with Olga.

What is interesting to me about this book is that if Oblomov was alive today he would probably be diagnosed with some type of social anxiety issue. Day-to-day functions of writing letters and reading books just are too much for him. However the root of his problem seems to be that his ideal life is one where he just lays around and is taken care of by loving servants and family.

"Oblomov's youth had been spent among companions who knew all about everything and believed in nothing."

Even when he falls in love, Oblomov can't imagine doing all the work Olga expects him to do. She thinks he should check in with his estate to ensure the serfs are paying proper taxes, make sure the house there is suitable for them to live in, and get out of his contract for his apartment before they can tell anyone about their engagement. He does have moments where he is able to get up and get something done, but truthfully I think he expects to laps back into laziness once they are married.

"He felt that the light cloudless festival of love had gone, that love was, indeed, becoming a duty, that it was mingling with his life as a whole, forming part of its everyday functions and gradually losing its rainbow coloring."

Olga realises that this love affair cannot be and eventually breaks off the engagement. She gets majorly depressed and goes abroad with her aunt where they run into Stolz, who, of course, realizes that he is in love with her.

Olga's fate makes me a little sad. She is an intelligent and curious woman, and while she gets her happy marriage to a man she loves, she is never satisfied with life. She gets depressed due to feeling that she should be doing more with her life. Her husband, Stolz, talks her through everything and does his best, but I just feel like she was one of the poor women who had to suffer with the times. I mean, throughout the book, a man had to read books before her and decide if they were something she should read or not.

While Olga makes Oblomov run around, his new landlady is content to take care of his things and feed him. She, Agafya, is the polar opposite of Oblomov, she never sits and is always working on something. She doesn't think of rest because there are things to do and work makes her happy.

"He looked at her with slight agitation, but his eyes did not shine or fill with tears, his spirit did not yearn for the heights, for heroic deeds. All he wanted was to sit on the sofa and watch her elbows."

I loved the exchanges with Oblomov and his servants, especially Zahar. They had the ability to be so contradictory and would take everything to the extreme, swearing to God that they didn't even know the name of a neighbor they had just been caught gossiping with.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fate with a document? A rare combination

Mikhail Bulgakov is one of my favorite authors. His best known work, The Master and Margarita, has remained my number one favorite book for years. The Fatal Eggs is a lesser known work of his; my dad picked this up overseas and gave it to me. It is about the same length as his Heart of a Dog, which I reviewed early last year.

There are a lot of similarities between The Fatal Eggs and Heart of a Dog. Both are about scientists that perform controversial experiments that go horribly wrong by going right. In The Fatal Eggs, our scientist, Persikov, discovers a ray of light that increases growth in frog eggs exponentially. Frogs the size of cats are hopping around his laboratory. Persikov is a character that can't see the larger implications of what he is doing and is very annoyed when anyone asks him to think about them.

Because this takes place in communist Russia, the government, represented by Comrade Alexander Semyonovich Faight, takes the ray into their own hands. Faight does this because all of the chickens in Russia have died off from some unknown illness and the other countries are laughing at Russia. However, what hatches from Faight's eggs is not quite the Frankenstein chicken I expected. It's better.

"Alexander Semyonovich brought the flute up to his lips, have a horse squeak and, gasping for breath at every second, started to play the waltz from Eugene Onegin. The eyes in the greenery immediately began to burn with an implacable hatred for that opera."

I thought that this book was very good. This book seemed to have more direct government influence than Heart of a Dog and in this book the scientist doesn't learn anything from his actions. This edition of the book has a great foreword by Doris Lessing and is translated by Hugh Aplin. Normally I am a bit of a snob when it comes to Russian translations and like to stick with Pevear and Volokhonsky, but I thought that Aplin's translation was well done. There were some footnotes that were helpful, however to get a full understanding of the work I think you need at least a basic understanding of what was happening at Russia during this time.

"All Moscow rose, and the white sheets of the newspapers dressed it, like birds."

This is a quick read, only about a hundred pages. If nothing else, it teaches the importance of reading the shipping list on all packages delivered to you, especially if you are a crazy scientist.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Let her air out her heart

The first of my inter library loan books came in yesterday! After reading Chicken with Plums I knew I needed some more Satrapi. Embroideries is a super quick read, and I had it done in about an hour or so. Basically Marjane and her female relatives sit and girl-talk about marriage, men, sex, and life. I'm pretty fascinated by the culture in Iran, so this book was really interesting. Their whole culture is so different than ours, but I was really able to relate to some of the stories the women were telling.

"To speak behind other's backs is the ventilator of the heart."

I would recommend this book to any ladies out there. I'm not sure how the fellas would like it. The characters all get a chance to weave a story either about themselves or about someone they know. I think it illustrates how women bond really well.

"That's life! Sometimes you're on the horse's back, and sometimes it's the horse that's on your back."

Side note: Can you believe I've been blogging on schedule lately? I'm trying to make it my morning thing with my coffee.

Since this post is so short I'll give you an update on what I'm reading. Still working on Oblomov - just got to part three last night so I'm on the final stretch. I'm reading the Fatal Eggs by my man Bulgakov as my at-work read. I think I'm taking a pretty big break from the Complete Sherlock Holmes. I love the stories, but my motivation to pick that one up hasn't been there lately. I'm going home tomorrow for break and my brother's giving me the fourth Wheel of Time book. AND I'm waiting on a few more graphic novels to come in to the library.

What about you? What are you reading?

Monday, March 29, 2010

All men are dangerous

Since I started this series, I think I may have to see it through to the end. Whenever the end comes that is, because I think there are thirteen books so far and at least two more to come. My brother read all of these and I've been borrowing them from him. I blogged about the first book, the Eye of the World, if you recall.

The Dragon Reborn is the third book in the Wheel of Time series. This book was much more interesting to me than the last two; the characters were just fleshed out a lot more. Also Rand, who is the Dragon Reborn, is hardly in the book directly, which is fine by me because he became a diva super fast. Min wasn't in most of the book either, which was a bummer - she kicks ass and wears pants when all the other ladies are flouncing around in fancy dresses. She can "see" things about a person's future, which is cryptic but fascinating to see unfold.

This story spends a good deal of time on our three other ladies, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne as they spend their time at Tar Valon, learning to use saidar (magic that can only be used by women) to become Aes Sedai, and getting mixed up in a giant mole hunt that sends them to Tear. Egwene is getting more annoying to me as she strives to make Nynaeve see her as more of an equal. They run into some Aiel, who are crazy fighters and looking for Rand.

The other boys from Two Rivers, Matrim and Perrin, are both on their own separate journeys that lead them eventually to Tear. Mat is healed at Tar Valon and quickly sets about being awesome, making money gambling and taking fireworks apart for fun. Perrin is much more broody; he is stuck following Morriane (Aes Sedai) and gets stuck with Faile, a woman hunter who teases him endlessly and makes him blush like crazy.

Rand is also making his way to Tear (since that is where the party is at) to reach Callandor, a sword that can only be touched by the Dragon Reborn. The Dark One is not too happy about this and many forces try to stop him.

If that summary seems confusing I'm sorry, but this is an epic fantasy novel of almost 700 pages. Jordan seems to borrow heavily from the Lord of the Rings, and in this novel the Arthur legend, but also makes it his own.

I think it is interesting that the "hero" of the saga, Rand, is the least interesting character to me at this point. I'm much more interested in everyone else. Matrim and Perrin are finally as fun to read as the girls.

"Any fool knows men and women think differently at times, but the biggest difference is this. Men forget, but never forgive; women forgive, but never forget."

If you like fantasy novels, I'm sure you've already read these. If not, they are worth a look.

Side note - the covers of these books are fantastically awful. The first one, the Eye of the World, appears to have Jerry Seinfeld riding a horse in the background and this one Perrin looks like Rambo with that bandanna on his head. Also Rand looks like he is wearing some blue jeans.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chicken with Plums

Marjane Satrapi is best known for her Persepolis books, which are amazing. So when I saw that she had another graphic novel out, I quickly snatched it from the library shelf.

Chicken with Plums is about Satrapi's great-uncle, a musician who looses his will to live after his instrument is broken. The novel chronicles his last eight days as he slowly starves to death in his own home. We get glimpses of the past and of the future for his family. Soon it becomes clear how a man like him could give up on life.

This is a beautifully done story. I am remain enchanted by Satrapi. The art is detailed and well done and the story flows very well. This was a very quick read, perfect for a lazy afternoon.

I've been on a graphic novel kick lately and am enjoying it immensely.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Biting the Sun

Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee was suggested to me by my cousin's husband. He raved about it and I had a bit of trouble tracking it down. I special ordered it through work and it took forever to get in. From the first line, I knew this would be interesting:

"My friend Hergal had killed himself again..."

This is a futuristic society, Four BEE, where pleasure is everything. The world is run with the help of a lot of robots who are there to make sure the humans are as happy as can be. There is a lot of slang used in the book, which has a helpful glossary at the beginning. Young people, or Jang, are encouraged to steal and get married as many times as they wish. They can change their body after a certain period of time to whatever they wish - guy, girl, and look however they want. And if they don't want to wait for the prescribed time period, they can always kill themselves and get a new body that way.

Our main character (who remains unnamed) steals, takes drugs, kills herself, returns to life in a new body she has designed to be incredibly beautiful, eats exotic food, has sex with pretty much everyone she knows and yet is unfulfilled. She's mostly female, but does spend a few stints as a guy.

"I can hardley remeber the laughing and the running now and the playing an dthe dancing but I remember the happiness, the happiness like a wound, that bleeds the life spark."

The narrator (who I called Ooma - or darling) tries her best to make herself happy. She tries to be an adult and get a job, tries to have a child, but remains hopelessly unhappy. Ooma has a great connection with a pet she steals; he is wild and mean but she cannot help but cart him everywhere she goes. She eventually takes an expedition out to Four BAA and then to the wilds of the desert, which turn out to be too domestic for her. Ooma continues to push boundaries until the government finally cannot take anymore.

"Do not bite the sun, traveller, you will burn your mouth."

This book was fascinating. The characters kept changing in appearance over and over and even the other characters had a hard time telling who people were at times. There was humor and heartache. Two characters have a hard time because one loves the other for her essence and the other remains transfixed on outward appearances.

I was so surprised that this book isn't talked about more. As far as dystopias go, this was a really good book. The slang was a lot easier to get around than A Clockwork Orange, so I didn't have much of a problem with that.

Note: this book was originally published as two works, Don't Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine, but has since been combined in this volume.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

rocks is an acquired taste

I haven't posted in a long time and I'm sorry for that. I've started graduate school and a new job so my life has been a little hectic lately. But I want to be sure I'm making time for this! With all of my text books, I wanted to read something light and fun so I immediately turned to Pratchett.

Wyrd Sisters is another Discworld book, a fantasy that will make you laugh until you think you might pee your pants. This one parodies Shakespeare's Macbeth and Hamlet. We start out with the murder of the king and his transition into being a ghost. Three witches, including Granny Weatherwax who was a big part of Equal Rites, are given his son to hide away so that the new king, the Duke, doesn't kill him. They give him to a travelling band of actors to raise until the time is right.

"She walked quickly through the darkness with the frank stride of someone who was at least certain that the forest, on this damp and windy night, contained strange and terrible things and she was it."

The witches try their best not to interfere with politics, but somehow get pulled into it. The Duke is suffering from some major Lady-Macbeth-itis and his wife is hellbent on killing anyone who doesn't get with her program.

"The duke had a mind that ticked like a clock and, like a clock, it regularly went cuckoo."

These books are nothing but fun and the characters are what make them that way. They each are so realized and delightful. Even the cook, who has no speaking lines, has a personality that comes across clearly.

I'm hooked on this man's books. Thankfully there are about a million of them.

As I said above, I've been super busy with school and it has cut into my reading time. However, I am working on a few things at the moment (slowly but surely), such as Oblomov by Goncharov, The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan and the Fatal Eggs by Mikail Bulgakov (which I hope, hope to finish by the weekend).