Thursday, October 30, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Conditioning

Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

I usually use bookmarks. I am not above dog-earing (actually Russell caught me at this the other day and was horrified), but I really only do it to certain types of books: books I receive from my dad who is a dog-earer, BookCrossing books that are already pretty beat-up. If I'm reading a clean/new/nice copy of a book and I don't have a bookmark handy, I just try to remember what page I was on (or what chapter or section I was beginning).

I'm very careful with library books (nothing annoys me more than getting a book from the library and seeing it marked up with someone's underlining and notes) and books loaned to me by others. I think you should treat other people's books with respect.

I remove the dust jackets before read hardcovers (unless the book in question is a library book with the dust jacket firmly attached). I find that dust jackets get in the way when I'm reading and they just end up getting banged up.

Books I buy for classes get marked up as necessary while I am reading, underlining, some marginalia. For me they are working copies and I treat them as such.

I'm more disrespectful with mass markets. Sometimes you just have to break the spine in other to read them (and, honestly, they aren't made to last). I hate reading borrowed copies of mass markets for just this reason. I'm fine if the owner has already broken the spine, otherwise I go crazy trying to read while keeping the book in good condition.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

100 Shades of White

100 Shades of White by Preethi Nair

Maya, her mother Nalini, and her brother Satchin have left a carefree life in India to come to England. But when Maya's father disappears, leaving only deceit and debt behind, they are left to fend for themselves in a strange, damp land. Maya, though, doesn't know of her father's betrayal. Nalini, determined to preserve her children's pride, tells them that their father died in an accident and, as their struggle to make a life begins, whole realities are built on this lie. But even a white lie cannot remain hidden forever—and when the truth resurfaces, it changes everything.

I read Nair's first book, Gypsy Masala, and enjoyed it (though I thought the writing was a bit disjointed at times) so I was looking forward to reading this one.

I enjoyed 100 Shades of White despite the fact that it reminded me a bit too much of Roopa Farooki's Bitter Sweets (a book I haven't got around to posting about). Apparently 100 Shades of White was published first so I suppose I should feel down on Bitter Sweets because the two novels are so similar and it was published second, but I can't. I supposed that is because I feel that Bitter Sweets is a much stronger novel.

In any case, I liked the story being told from multiple perspectives. I also liked the role that food (and creativity in general) has in 100 Shades of White. Unfortunately I do think that the novel could have been better. There were times reading it when I noticed a missing connection things that I think an editor could have picked up on and helped the author to fix in order to make the book stronger.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fabulous Nobodies

Fabulous Nobodies by Lee Tulloch

Reality Nirvana Tuttle knows what fabulous is. Being fabulous is her life. She is devoted to dressing up. Her frocks - Gina, Dolores, Tallulah, Petula and Blanche, to name but a few - are her best friends, her closest confidantes. In her role as the doorgirl at the hip, Downtown New York nightclub, Less is More, Reality sees herself as the ultimate arbiter of taste, a goddess who stands above the crowd selecting fabulous nobodies from the waiting hopefuls below. When she and her English drag-queen friend Freddie open what they're sure will be New York's most fabulous club in their tiny apartment, Reality becomes really fabulous, and her new fame brings complications, not least among them Hugo Falk, the gossip columnist. She now must face a true dilemma: can people be more important than frocks?

A friend of mine loaned me this book. It's early chick lit (before people used the term "chick lit") written by an Australian author, but set in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

I've been struggling to put my feelings about the book into words. Fabulous Nobodies was a nice break from some of the more serious books I've read lately (like The Road), but I really can't say that I enjoyed reading it. Reality grated on my nerves, the Manhattan in the novel didn't seem quite right, and I didn't think that an American girl -- even a fashionista -- would refer to her dresses as frocks.

The funny thing is that when I finished the books I liked it. The ending was very satisfying. I'm not sure if that really should have been enough to redeem the novel for me, but it did leave a good taste in my mouth.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

And Only to Deceive

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was an easy way to escape her overbearing mother, who was set on a grand society match. So when Emily's dashing husband died on safari soon after their wedding, she felt little grief. After all, she barely knew him. Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different man from the one she had married so cavalierly. His journals reveal him to have been a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who, to her surprise, was deeply in love with his wife. Emily becomes fascinated with this new image of her dead husband and she immerses herself in all things ancient and begins to study Greek.

Emily's intellectual pursuits and her desire to learn more about Philip take her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, one of her husband's favorite places. There, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, dangerous secret involving stolen artifacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. And to complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. As she sets out to solve the crime, her search leads to more surprises about Philip and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated.

I finished this book last night and really enjoyed it. Well-researched, it seemed historically accurate without being burdened with excessive detail as some historical novels are. The mystery was not overdone and Alexander does a good job of keeping the reader guessing about what is really going on.

Protagonist Emily is sympathetic and well-drawn. It is particularly interesting to watch her navigate Victorian society. Her status as widow (and eccentric) affords her certain liberties, but even then the rules of society (for the upper class) are extremely restrictive.

Overall, it was neither too light nor too heavy. Engrossing.

A quote on the back of the book says, "had Jane Austen written The Da Vinci Code, she may well have come up with this elegant novel" (Martha O'Connor). I'm not sure that I agree with the statement - mostly because the mystery is more subtle and the overall effect much less provocative than that of The Da Vinci Code - but it does give you a bit of an idea what the novel is like.

Now I need to track down the second book in the series.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Road

Fiction again this month for the student services blog...

The Road is not an easy read (and probably the exact wrong sort of book for me to be reading in the mood I've been in lately), but it came highly recommended by a number of different people and it's in the libraries' collection.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
"Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world" (3)
The Road is a spare, but powerful book. In a post-apocalyptic future (in the post-apocalyptic near future?), a father and son are traveling through a ravaged American landscape -- "barren, silent, godless" -- trying to reach the coast. What, if anything, remains there is unknown. It is only the journey, and their love for each other, that keeps the two alive.

As depressing and hard to read as it is, the novel strangely compelling. McCarthy's writing is poetic, his observations on human nature insightful and profound. Despairing, but at the same time hopeful, The Road is a book that you won't soon forget.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Coupling

Got this idea from Literary Feline during her recent contest:
"Name a favorite literary couple and tell me why they are a favorite. If you cannot choose just one, that is okay too. Name as many as you like–sometimes narrowing down a list can be extremely difficult and painful. Or maybe that’s just me."

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Time and Again

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Russell and I listened to this book on a recent car trip. The version we had was abridged to 4.5 hours. I'm not sure how much was cut out, but there weren't any glaring gaps just relationships progressing more quickly than expected and it not being obvious that the problems with Si's time were a result of Vietnam War era disillusionment until the very end of the book (I didn't know anything about the book before we started it).

Time and Again is a very interesting book and I can tell why people have been so captivated by it (the publisher tells us that the novel "has become a truly timeless cult classic with a vast and loyal following"). It combines a sympathetic protagonist, historical detail, and a dash of romance, making the science fiction aspect of the novel approachable even for those who tend to shy away from the genre because of their preconceived notions.

We both liked the novel, particularly Finney's humor and way of articulating things. The concept was interesting, the story was engaging, and the conclusion (both to the plot and the mystery within the novel) was satisfying. However, as I mentioned above, I did feel that a lot was missing when it came to the development of Si's relationship with one of the other characters. I'm assuming that lack of character development is a result of the abridgment.

I believe there is a sequel and I'd definitely be interested in reading it at some point, just to see how things turn out for Si.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It Itches

This past weekend I took a trip to Rhinebeck, NY to go to the New York Sheep and Wool Festival. Yes, I wanted to buy some yarn, see the vendors, and have a nice fall festival experience, but really I wanted to see Franklin Habit. Franklin is a photographer, cartoonist, and knitter who blogs at The Panopticon. Interweave Press just published his first book, It Itches, and Franklin was signing copies at Rhinebeck.

I'd procrastinated about pre-ordering the book so I was happy when I'd heard that there'd be a signing at Rhinebeck. So on Saturday I picked up a copy of the book and got to meet Franklin in the flesh. He was super-nice (as expected) and he drew Harry (my favorite character from the blog) for me when he signed my book, which made me unbelievably happy.

It Itches by Franklin Habit

The book itself is fantastic. Full of Franklin's fantastic wit, it includes knitting-themed cartoons as well as a number of essays. Yarn may be inherently funny as he says, but it takes a special sort of person to remind us of that fact. I've been through the book a few times enjoying the cartoons (giggling over them with my mom), but I'm savoring the essays. I don't want my experience reading this book to end too soon.

Here's a Knitting Daily post that will give you a taste of Franklin. You can also see a few of the cartoons on the Interweave Press site (check "about the book" and "table of contents").

I really do think that It Itches might be the perfect gift for all the yarn-lovers on your list.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - What’s Sitting on Your Shelf?

Okay - here was an interesting article by Christopher Schoppa in the Washington Post.
Avid readers know all too well how easy it is to acquire books — it’s the letting go that’s the difficult part. … During the past 20 years, in which books have played a significant role in both my personal and professional lives, I’ve certainly had my fair share of them (and some might say several others’ shares) in my library. Many were read and saved for posterity, others eventually, but still reluctantly, sent back out into the world.
But there is also a category of titles that I’ve clung to for years, as they survived numerous purges, frequent library donations and countless changes of residence. I’ve yet to read them, but am absolutely certain I will. And should. When, I’m not sure, as I’m constantly distracted by the recent, just published and soon to be published works.
So, the question is his: "What tomes are waiting patiently on your shelves?"

So many and most of them have really accumulated in the five years that I've been living here. Before that I was a student and pretty mobile, so I didn't have too many books taking up residence. Now they are taking over the house.

Here are some examples:
I've managed to pick up copies of almost all of Philippa Gregory's books (there are 20 in total), but I haven't even read half of them.
I have unread copies of Clive Barker's Arabat books.
I've been slowly acquiring Orhan Pamuk's books, but I've still only read My Name is Red.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

book clubbing in October

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland ended up on our book club voting lists as an entry in the romance category. This time around we were trying to hit on more of the genres, though we still wanted books that would be appealing and good discussion fodder.

I'd read Hale before (in fact I really love her books), but Austenland really is a complete departure from her usual. Her first adult offering is chick lit with a dose of Austen. In it, protagonist Jane is obsessed with Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy to the point where she cannot have a healthy romantic relationship. In order to cure her, a wealthy aunt gives her to an all-expenses-paid trip to Pemberley Hall, an English reenactment resort catering to Austen-lovers.

The book club members were pretty split on this one. Personally, I really enjoyed the book (I listened to the audio version), but I went into it expecting chick lit. I thought the book was a nice distraction to my workplace worries (and one of the twists took me completely by surprise). Those who didn't like the book terribly much were annoyed with Jane's character, displeased with the whole set-up, left with a bad taste in their mouths by the resort concept (Pemberly Hall as whorehouse?), and unhappy with the lack of Austen.

That being said, we did have a good discussion about the book. We drew a few parallels from Austen, discussed the Firth-Darcy as a cultural icon, defined chick lit in general (for those who hadn't been exposed to it before), identified devices in the novel, and wondered how we'd each react to a Pemberly Hall environment.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

That Sarah Waters is a fantastic writer is apparent from her debut novel. Tipping the Velvet paints a vivid portrait of Victorian London and those living on the perimeter of its society. At the outset, teenage protagonist Nancy Astley is a fishmonger in coastal Whitstable, working in the family oyster parlor, content with her life and her lot. Then, during a routine trip to the music hall, Nancy encounters the enigmatic Kitty Butler.

A male impersonator with her eyes on stardom, Kitty draws Nancy like a moth to a flame. Nancy goes to the hall night after night (spending all her savings on train fare) just to see Kitty's performance. When they finally meet, the two become fast friends and when Kitty departs for an engagement in London, Nancy joins her as her dresser. The two become lovers, Nancy joins the act and soon she has completely immersed herself in the life of celebrity and of a closeted "tom". When Kitty betrays her, Nancy feels she has lost everything. She takes to the streets and begins a whole other education.

Chronicling the most most tumultuous years of Nancy's life, Tipping the Velvet is the story of her road to discovery. While that story is compelling, parts of it that are downright depressing. There are times when both Nancy and the reader despair of things ever working out for her. Of course, in the end, it does in a most unexpected way.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Book Meme

Yesterday was an extremely hectic day for me so I missed posting my Booking Through Thursday post. Luckily, this week's question is really a set of questions (a meme) that works just fine as an everyday post.

What was the last book you bought?

KnitPicks (an online knitting store) is having a book sale this month. I purchased three books: Kilt Hose & Knickerbocker Stockings by Veronica Gainford, The Knitter's Book of Yarn: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing, Using, and Enjoying Yarn by Clara Parkes, New Pathways for Sock Knitters by Cat Bordhi.

Name a book you have read MORE than once:

Since it only asks for one: Pride and Prejudice

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Not that I can think of... there have been times when I've read the right book at the right time and it helped me through a difficult period. One that springs to mind is PS, I Love You, which comforted me after my cousin died unexpectedly.

How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews

Any or all of the above. I usually don't let cover design be the sole determining factor (I'll always read at least the blurbs before impulse-buying), but you just can't deny the allure of the cover.

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?


What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

It depends. See this post.

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)


Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?

The last book I completed was The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. I've been listening to an audio version while doing coding. I believe I finished it yesterday. (Of course I'm in the middle of reading a number of others)

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

Yes, most recently Carnevale by MR Lovric. See this post.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (7)

You, um, may have noticed that the Olympics are going on right now, so that’s the genesis of this week’s question, in two parts:

* Do you or have you ever read books about the Olympics? About sports in general?
* Fictional ones? Or non-fiction? Or both?

And, Second:
* Do you consider yourself a sports fan?
* Because, of course, if you’re a rabid fan and read about sports constantly, there’s a logic there; if you hate sports and never read anything sports-related, that, too... but you don’t have to love sports to enjoy a good sports story.
* (Or a good sports movie, for that matter. Feel free to expand this into a discussion about “Friday Night Lights” or “The Natural” or whatever...)
(from August 14)

I'm probably much less of a sports fan now than I have been in the past. I enjoy the Olympics because they allow us to see sports that we don't tend to see otherwise (for summer I love watching rowing and synchronized swimming among others). Other than that, though, I don't tend to watch a lot of sport. During Tour de France month I see a lot of cycling, but while I do enjoy that, it's really Russell's passion.

That being said, I was much more into sports in my youth. I collected cards, some baseball, some hockey, but mostly basketball. I also had an unhealthy obsession with the "Dream Team" from the 1992 Olympics.

I don't tend to read a lot of books about sport - not that I intentionally avoid them, but they just don't cross my path very much. My favorite sports movie is probably The Cutting Edge, which is more of a sports-themed chick-flick than anything else.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (6)

What was the most unusual (for you) book you ever read? Either because the book itself was completely from out in left field somewhere, or was a genre you never read, or was the only book available on a long flight... whatever? What (not counting school textbooks, though literature read for classes counts) was furthest outside your usual comfort zone/familiar territory?
And, did you like it? Did it stretch your boundaries? Did you shut it with a shudder the instant you were done? Did it make you think? Have nightmares? Kick off a new obsession?
(from September 25)

I tend to be pretty open with my reading. While there are certain genres I like more than others, I do read from a wide variety of them. And, while I tend to enjoy fiction more than non-fiction, I do still read non-fiction (though, obviously, less frequently than fiction).

I'm going to cheat a bit (doing eight Booking-though-Thursdays in one week is a bit much) and defer to another blog post as the answer to this question. One January 6, 2007, I posted about a book a read as part of a New-book-for-a-new-year exchange. I think it fits the bill.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (5)

What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line? (from July 31)

This is a sister-question to July 24th's, which I actually did answer.

I don't tend to remember specific last lines, but after thinking about this question a bit I recollected that The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood had a good one. And indeed it does:

"Are there any questions?"

Regularly-scheduled Booking Through Thursday

What, in your opinion, is the best book that you haven’t liked? Mind you, I don’t mean your most-hated book–oh, no. I mean the most accomplished, skilled, well-written, impressive book that you just simply didn’t like.
Like, for movies–-I can acknowledge that Citizen Kane is a tour de force and is all sorts of wonderful, cinematically speaking, but... I just don’t like it. I find it impressive and quite an accomplishment, but it’s not my cup of tea.
So... what book (or books) is your Citizen Kane?

I'm still waiting for my coffee to infiltrate my system this morning, so I'll go with the first book that comes to mind. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I talk a bit more about it in this post.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Week of Missed Thursdays (4)

Have you ever felt pressured to read something because "everyone else" was reading it? Have you ever given in and read the book(s) in question or do you resist? (from September 4)

I'm sure I felt pressured to read books that everyone was reading at some point (middle school, high school, maybe), but now I mostly just get curious about all the hype. I do sometimes read the books: some of them I like, some of them I don't like. I don't always get around to reading them quickly, for example I only just read Eragon this year. I also don't tend to buy books just because everyone else is reading them. I'll wait and borrow a copy from a friend or get the book on a book trading. I may pick up a used copy for cheap. Honestly, though, there are so many books that I want to read that I generally won't read a hyped-up book if it doesn't sound like something I'd like (unless, of course, I get a copy pressed on me).