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Cover ImageI bought this book thinking of Jesse, and how it would be a great book to read together.  And then I remembered that Jesse is MIA, on this blog but also in real life.  No worries, he’s alive and well but apparently distracted from blogging for the moment.  I will send him this link and perhaps I can guilt, I mean, lure him back in.

This book was indeed the perfect book for us to have read together.  So much so that I will probably be mailing it to him with the demand that he read it, like, immediately and report back.  In the meantime I’ll be on to something else. 

In other words, exactly how we used to be about books.  I would recommend a book to Jesse and he would read it, many many months later, at which point I would have forgotten entirely what it was about or what my feelings or thoughts on it were.

Sigh.

I think it’s a neat phenomenon though, this idea of buying books with other people in mind.  It certainly broadens one’s experience to pick up a book that you would choose for someone else and to read it yourself.  I have done this with many times with Jesse and it has never led me astray (with other folks it has.  Beware, you have to chose your reading muses carefully).  It’s different too, than reading a book and thinking “So and so would like this very much.”  It’s sort of a premeditated book choice instead of a referral.

It’s another way that reading can be a social, communal activity, even though the other person might not even know you are thinking of them.  I’d advise if you do this, to let the other person know – “this book made me think of you.” 

Unless of course it’s something along the lines of Tuesdays with Morrie

That’s just mean.

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Jane Austen presaged the current obnoxious teenage girl, equipped with walks down country lanes rather than cell phones, and letters instead of text messages, in most of her stories.  Clearly part of her popularity today is due to the fact that movies (like Clueless) can be made from her work that appeal to the modern teenage audience.  She’s certainly the least painful of high school reading assignments.

Though Emma  is her most finely drawn version, Northanger Abbey gives us Catherine, who is probably the worst uber-teen there is.  She would have done well with Bratz dolls and Juicy sweatpants.  Without a wit of commonsense and a lack of wit to boot, she’s the epitome of flighty, willfully silly girl.  She’s got a brain she just won’t use,even when her future husband points the obvious out to her.  One wonders how quickly the appeal of this student/teacher relationship will last.  Poor Henry (and poor Catherine) in the age of no divorce, once her girlish charms become churlish wifeliness.

Jane Austen is famously attributed to have said that girls are no use to anyone until they grow up.  And though she illustrates this opinion broadly in Emma and specifically in Pride and Prejudice (especially with Lydia) there is no other book that tops the sneering, snarkiness of Northanger Abbey.  It is called her most lighthearted book.  But I think it her darkest, in the sense that she lets her real opinions on girls out.  It is humor, but humor at someone’s expense.

This is the book in which I wholeheartedly embrace what I see as the real Jane Austen.  The girl who saw other women’s mistakes and grew up to be the woman who did not repeat them.  She chose not to get married to save her self and she chose not to tolerate the foolishness of others, regardless of gender. 

Though she makes Catherine likable enough to keep the reader interested (she uses her heavy artillery on Isabella) she is almost certainly laughing at loud at her own creation’s naivete.  

And that makes me like Jane all the more.

To Kill a Mockingbird should never be read in school.  Period.

To Kill a MockingbirdI originally read it when I was 16; it was an assignment for some class or another. I rushed through it, impatiently endured the various discussions of race and class and prejudice and ultimately felt burdened by the fact that I was supposed to like it.   That was, I think, a typical reaction to class reading assignments and I know I was not alone.  And I was a reader, for goodness sake, and any educational system that gets readers to disregard truly great books is obviously doing something very wrong (and very very deterimental).

Harper Lee and her pal Truman Capote are in vogue right now, thanks to the movies Capote and Infamous and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve caught the fever (I reread In Cold Blood about a year ago).  I also just finished a awfully written novel surmising about their relationship post Cold Blood.  It was called Capote in Kansas (skip it, it’s not worth the time) and it kicked off a sudden desire to read that slim novel collecting dust on my shelves. 

Rereading this book now, as an adult, I realize that there are few books which can be read without cynicism (or maybe which can read without cynicism, an entirely different thing) .  An experienced reader learns to like books – with reservations.  We learn to tolerate poor writing in the search for a good story.  We forgive or willfully deny plot holes and wide spaces of imperfect style and content.  In short, we learn to say “I liked it, but. . .”   Because we think that we can’t do better.  That all the good books we already read with abandon by the age of seven.

With Mockingbird there are no buts or reservations.  This book is simply perfect.  It belongs to a short list indeed; I can count on one hand the number of books that can claim such a grand achievement. 

Which to me is all the reason I need to understand why Ms. Lee never wrote again.  She’s already succeeded at the unattainable.  Where else could she go but down?

Why do I read such long books?  Arguably something like Gone with the Wind is worth the 1,000 pages.  I would say each of the Harry Potters was enjoyable even when topping over 400 pages each.  

Ken Follett, not so much.  We know he can write a long book, certainly, this one caps at a little over 900 pages.  But can he write a good one?  Of that I’m not so sure.  Which is not to say that World Without End is a bad book (or perhaps I’m just trying to justify my continued dedication to it) but Mr. Follett seems to think that his own book is too long.  Clearly he doesn’t believe any reader will continue to pay attention.  He’s constantly reminding you of characters (remember him? He was back on page 200? He’s still a hunchback, in case you forgot) and events (oh yeah, just in case you forget pages 400-476, here’s what happened, they got married and had a baby and here’s how old it is now).   

As a reader of lots of books, and longish books usually, I find this incredibly annoying.  I AM paying attention, and if I’m not it’s YOUR fault, Mr. Follett, not mine.  I have the same complaints as I did about Pillars of the Earth – too much rape, too much sex and too many inane, repetitive details (do we have to hear about that damn cat again?  Unless he turns into a pivotal character, even I don’t want the feline interludes all the time).

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I’ve been reading like crazy lately, so it seems strange that I haven’t had time to blog.  It looks like I haven’t done anything, if I assume that anyone’s actually reading this.  I may have been quiet, but I was cranking through some serious bookage these past weeks.  Unlike the industry, which seems to think that summer reading is more prolific, winter is, for me, the best time to stay inside and warm, snuggle up with some good stories (besides I hate sand in my books).

Here’s a quick summary to keep you posted:

I’m not a huge fan of what may be called Chick Lit, but I did read two books lately which could be considered as such.  One is a charming little fantasy novel called Garden Spells.  Though it probably borrows too heavily from Like Water for Chocolate and often seems to be a new rendition of the terrible movie Simple Irresistible,  it is a cute read, worth it if you borrow it from the library or from a friend (sorry, I gave mine away already).    The other, is a deceptively simple novel called The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.  I read this book in an afternoon and enjoyed this story of two sisters and a granddaughter.  The Esme of the title resurfaces into society after 61 years in a mental institution, but it’s not about her reintroduction to the world, it’s about delving into the past to see how she got there in the first place.  The desultory ramblings of her sister, well within the iron fist of Alzheimer’s, adds the necessary counter opinion.  This book is good in the reading, but where it hits you is later, when you’ve put it down and tried to move on.  It just won’t leave you. I found myself thinking about the implications of this books for weeks afterward.  Is that what reviewers mean by “haunting?”

In retrospect it seems I was trying to cleanse all that estrogen by picking up Dennis Lehane next.  He’s someone I summarily dismissed for many years because he’s so popular and well, I’ve seen the movies.  But Sacred and A Drink Before the War were all the fun of watching a movie without the $10.00 ticket fee (or Sean Penn’s ugly mug).  Lehane obviously writes in a certain genre, with movie dialogue, but I can embrace a good PI story, especially one set in my home state. 

Finally I picked up Anna Quindlen.  I just finished her book Good Dog.  Stay. and of course bawled my eyes out when the dog dies (I didn’t ruin it for you, of course it’s coming).  I’ve decided I want her career of writing small books that capture people’s emotions.  How Reading Changed My Life isn’t so much about how it changed her life as how it forged her life.  In this Anna and I have much in common.  We’re both that girl who would rather squish into an over-sized armchair with a book about far off place, then squashed into a plane seat on our way to said faraway place.   She’s the kind of reader I was and am and will be and it’s good to know that there are more of us in the world.

Cover ImageEveryone knows how I feel about Oprah books.  And while I’d love to give myself the luxury of scrambling up on the soapbox and tearing down the woman for her choice of reading, I will at this moment gracefully decline to do so. 

Do not, fair readers, fear that I have gone soft or that I have gained a holiday spirit during this festive time of year.  No, I will refrain from an all out attack per se, but only because I have a very specific beef with Ms. Winfrey. 

I first read Pillars of The Earth when I was about 14 or 15.  I kept that battered mass paperback copy through college, many moves and life upheavals.  I didn’t think about it until recently, when I heard that Mr. Follett wrote a sequel to it called World Without End  (which I quickly bought) and I thought perhaps it warranted a re-read, particularly considering the roughly 15 years since I had last read it.  I went in search of my dog eared mass paperback and alas I could not find it.  I think it was collateral damage from our last and greatest move.

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Details

I’ve written before about how I develop ( oftentimes extreme)  author crushes.  Chabon and Maguire are two of the my biggest.  They make me want to a be better writer (which is to say a good writer), they make me feel ashamed that I  have never created the kind of sentences they do, seemingly effortlessly.  I often stop and reread, particularly in Chabon’s case, a phrase that is a brain teaser, something you have to really sit and ponder before you really get it.

Suffice to say, I love these guys.  I adore them.  If I were a worshipful person, I might even deify them. 

Which is why these two books were such a fist-in-the-gut disappointment. 

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MBGIf I were to create my idea of the perfect fantasy love child of, well, fantasy literature, I would take the best of Neil Gaimen and Clive Barker and meld them into one.  I would stir gently the darker tones of Clive and fold them into the fluffy yet dense snarkiness and black humor of Neil.  I would take the intimidating strength of Neil’s solid characters and plant them into Clive’s firmly rooted geography.

The result would likely be very much like this book.

Perhaps because I’m an atheist I can love stories about angels and demons without any of the resulting fear or guilt.  It makes for great story telling that is endlessly entertaining, particularly if you aren’t worried about your immortal soul.

Though this book was described as bone chilling I found it mostly amusing and even in parts, affecting.  Mr. B. Gone is a low class demon with a certain amount of charm.  He directly threatens, cajoles and otherwise manipulates the reader, all in an attempt to get you to burn the book.  In between such tirades he tells the story of how he came to be stuck in the book itself.

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I read an article this morning in the latest Horn Book Magazine about Peter Pan.  In the article, Peter Pan. I am he. I am not, the author, Emily Jenkins, mourns the fact that while the stage version of the story allows for girls to imagine they are Peter Pan, the book and Disney movie version did not.  This saddens her.  She describes her extreme dislike of Wendy and her love for Peter thus:

“I couldn’t bear to be boxed in as Wendy boxes herself, with Peter’s complicity: she sews on pockets and prepares meal in the underground lair, spending her Neverland time playing Edwardian household rather than having adventures.  I didn’t want to be her, I wanted to be Peter.  And therefore I wanted to be a boy.”

When I was younger I thought I was the only little girl to feel this way.  To be indignant that the boys got the snakes and snails and puppy dog’s tails (the greatest injustice, for I loved puppies) and girls were left with sugar and spice and everything nice (yes, I loved sugar, but as much as puppies? No way!).  I now know many women who felt that way.  To know that it’s not weird and that these are the women I tend to respect more anyway is a a great validation. 

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I have a really hard time choosing books for trips.   What you may ask, just take one of the three books you are currently reading!  Ah, but you would be quite mistaken.  First, I am very likely (unless I just started it) to finish any of them while in the middle of the trip (or worse, halfway through a plane flight).  Second, especially on a vacation, I want to bring something new and potentially exciting.  I don’t want the same old book I’ve been reading before bed.  I want a vacation book!

So alright, I’ll bring an entirely new book.  Except well, that too leaves me open to problems.  What if, on the plane on the way there, I decide I’m not really that “into” the book I brought.  Perhaps I brought the wrong book for the mood (often a hard thing to gauge when one embarks on a journey) or maybe the book just stinks.  Then what?

Let me try this again. Clearly new books are the way to go, but I’ll need a backup.  To be safe probably two backups.  Of course if I’m going on a trip of more than a few days, one with some downtime for reading, I will likely read one book at least, so to be quite certain I’ll need three backups. 

OK got it.  Four new books. Read the rest of this entry »

Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading

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