Month: May 2013

2013 Book #21: Pretty Monsters

prettymonstersI know, I know. It’s been a while. I’ve been reading around, I guess, is the best way to put it. I haven’t really been able to settle on a book. Right after I finished Across the River and into the Trees, Dan Brown‘s new book, Inferno, came out, and I immediately started reading it. I’m a Dante junkie, so I couldn’t really help myself… (Wait. This needs to be its own post. Moving on.)

Anyway, Jacob has been trying to get me to read Kelly Link‘s story collection, Pretty Monsters for, what?, a couple of years now. I’m generally not into short stories, but I’m glad I finally picked up this set. I really enjoyed it.

I think my favorite story is “The Wizards of Perfil,” about a kid who gets sold into a wizard’s service – and her cousin. And wizards, and things. The plots of some of these stories are hard to explain. There’s also “The Faery Handbag,” about a mysterious handbag that one can jump into and come out of many years later. Oh! And “Magic for Beginners,” which involves a TV show called The Library that sounds fascinating – and a phone booth and things. “The Constable of Abal,” too, where a woman and her daughter carry small ghosts around, tethered with ribbons.

These stories are so good. It’s really hard to choose a favorite. An Amazon reviewer put my major criticism (and the reason I gave Pretty Monsters four stars on Goodreads) well:

Most of the stories were written well and for most part, I enjoyed them. Then they would abruptly end and I would be thinking… what the heck? With most of the short stories she spent a long time describing to us what was going on, getting to know the characters, etc and then it would just end.

(My first instinct was to end this post there, but I can’t help but note that I was intentionally ending it that way… Frustrating.)

So since I so unsuccessfully tried to end this post like Kelly Link seems to like to end her stories, I’ll add this: Pretty Monsters is a great short story collection, and I think the endings just might be part and parcel of short-story writing, or else they’d all turn into novels. Which might be why I tend to read novels instead of stories and plan to continue doing so. That said, Kelly Link is definitely worth a read.

2013 Book #20: Across the River and into the Trees

acrosstheriverI’ve been putting off writing this post for long enough. The idea of writing it bores me about as much as reading the book did. I gave Across the River and into the Trees two stars on Goodreads, not because it’s a bad novel, per se, but because it’s a bad novel for Hemingway. It’s also his last completed novel, which was a bit of a draw for me. (He shot himself, you know.) And for that, it’s almost what one would expect – in hindsight, at least.

It’s about a 51-year-old retiring America colonel in Italy. He’s hopelessly in love with a 19-year-old contessa who won’t marry him (or do any of the things that go along with marriage with him). During the week, he works, but on the weekends he travels back to Venice, stays in a hotel, and spends his time with the girl. They eat in restaurants and float around in gondolas (in which there’s a gross kind-of sex scene in the vein of the stumpy one in To Have and Have Not). And that’s about it. There’s also the not-so-shocking almost twisty ending.

Meh.

That said, it’s exactly what I’d expect from a depressed, aging Hemingway with one foot in the mental grave. It’s sad. The whole thing is sad – but in a boring way. The first fifty pages was just his trip to Venice for the weekend. I almost put it down at that point because it didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. Just military talk. He hadn’t even mentioned the contessa yet. The only thing that kept me reading at that point was the description on Goodreads. I’m not sorry I did, but, well, meh.

The only Hemingway novel I don’t like is The Old Man and the Sea, and the more Hemingway I read, the less sense that makes to me. It’s not like I actively dislike this one, either. I’m not interested enough in it to dislike it. Which is why I felt like I should go ahead and write this review: Across the River and into the Trees will be one of those novels I forget with a month.

2013 Book #19: The Bell

bellI’m not sure why I picked up Iris Murdoch‘s The Bell, especially since her first novel, Under the Net, which has been on my list for months, was sitting right on my coffee table. I really have no idea. I’m definitely a fan, though: I first hear of her from the movie Iris, which is about her life. She seemed like an interesting character. I stumbled upon her again, at some point, and bought and read an old library copy of The Unicorn, but that was a long time ago (before I started writing this blog!). I really liked The Unicorn, by the way.

Anyway, I somehow started reading The Bell (which I also own but don’t know how or why), and I was instantly hooked. It’s just so good. It was one of those of which I enjoy every single page – which is why I guess I finished it so quickly.

It’s about a lay religious community that lives next to a comment. Dora Greenfield, who had left her husband, Paul, decides to return to him, but he is researching old documents at the comment, so they stay with the community for a time. It’s tense, as I’m sure you can imagine. Many years before, the convent had lost its bell, and a new one is about to be installed, and Things Happen because of that, too. The community’s leader, Michael, has his own problems: he’s gay, in an Anglican religious community, probably in the 1950s, and his former student with whom he had had a relationship has come to live there. That’s tense, too. And there are other characters with their own issues, which interweave with these two primary ones. It’s a mess.

I think I liked The Bell so much because I identified with a lot of the characters. Their actions and motivations seemed not necessarily right, but reasonable, to me. Or at least I understood why they did what they did. Murdoch weaves together the story and creates such full characters and setting that I was engrossed. Murdoch is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

Bonus: Here’s the trailer for Iris!

Special post: Bookshelves!

One of my favorite things to do when I go to someone’s house is to look at his or her books. I automatically drift toward the bookshelf, and, quite often, I can tell if I’ll like a new person based on the books she owns. (What I’ve found is that people with bookshelves in their living rooms tend to like the same kinds of books that I do – but that probably has something to do with my not visiting people I haven’t already decided I like. Then, there are people like my mother, who have bookshelves full of Christian self-help books, but with A Confederacy of Dunces stuck in the middle.)

Here’s what I’m getting at: For years, I’ve used a Mac app called Delicious Library to catalog my books. As I’m sure you can imagine, I’ve amassed a lot. Except after a while, I always let it go – buy books or weed books without noting them since that means more work than I’m willing to do before I’ve forgotten all about it. Well, Delicious Monster finally released a new version of the software, and there’s a handy iPhone companion app that scans books directly into Delicious Library, taking out most of the work. Of course, I have lots of books without barcodes, so I had to enter them manually, but it didn’t take long. I think I can handle that much if it means I’ll stop buying duplicate books. I’m really bad about that: at one point, I had three copies of The Poisonwood Bible, and I haven’t even read it.

Along with the neat scanning feature, Delicious Library also publishes shelves to the internet. Sadly, the pages are a bit clunky and there’s no search box, but it requires almost no work on my part, and it’s pretty enough. So far, I’ve only cataloged fiction, but that includes some non-fiction Kindle books and some plain ol’ nonfiction that has been on my fiction shelf from the beginning. So don’t post a nasty comment telling me that Walden is not fiction. I know it isn’t. It’s just there, and it’s probably not moving since it’s been there so long.

Anyway, if you’re interested on what I have on my bookshelves (the fiction ones, at least), click here and check them out. As I said, ignore the bulk: I would have done it differently, but I’m not willing to put that much work into it. It’s still pretty awesome if you think about it.

I think I’ll do poetry next. Somehow, most of my books aren’t fiction, even though that’s almost always what I read. I have a bunch of academic stuff from college (I have degrees in English and philosophy) that I’m seriously considering getting rid of and a bunch of random nonfiction books that are just taking up space. I should probably tackle that stuff, too, before we move, because that’ll mean we have to transfer fewer boxes – and books are heavy.

Re-cataloging my books is a good experience: I hadn’t given my bookshelves much attention for a couple of years, and I’d forgotten about some of what I have. And then there are the duplicates. I hope that this time I’ll make myself keep up with it so I can stop wasting money and space.

2013 Book #18: Catcher in the Rye

catcherI read Catcher in the Rye on the heels of Something Wicked This Way Comes, extending my little foray into high school nostalgia. (Okay, Panorama City officially came between, but that was an audiobook and thus doesn’t count.) Catcher is another book that I think I appreciate more as an adult: I certainly liked it more. At least I think I did. 16 was a long time ago. About half my life.

Anyway, I only had a vague memory of liking this book, of somehow admiring Holden Caufield. My clearest memory, though, doesn’t have much to do with the story: I was assigned this book when I was a junior in high school, and the teacher sometimes liked to give…ahem…picky tests. Like stupid picky. Because of her, I will always remember that, at the very end of the novel, the music playing on the carousel was “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Meh.

Aaaaand, that’s all the plot I’m giving away here. Google Analytics tells me that a significant portion of traffic I get here is from students looking to cheat on homework – like (just in the last month) “grapes of wrath opening paragraph,” “use of satire in handful of dust,” and “what narrator type tells the story in the book of veronika decides to die?” My message to said students? Read the damn book. It’s good. You’ll like it.

Catcher in the Rye is one of those books I can read over and over again without getting bored or irritated. Something Wicked doesn’t exactly fit that profile, and I can’t think of any book that does. That said, it’s rare that I reread any book, and when I do, I’m usually disappointed. Maybe part of it is that it had been so long. And I might wait that long again to reread it, but I’m sure it’ll happen.

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