Month: January 2014

2014 Book #6: Under the Net

underthenetI wanted so badly to like Under the Net, but until I hit about the 80% mark, I didn’t. Not at all. It’s another case of inability to like a novel if I don’t like the protagonist, as in Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. If I can’t relate, I’m not interested.

Which was entirely the case here. Under the Net about Jake Donaghue, a thirtyish-year-old man who refuses to accept any responsibility, and a you’re-too-old-for-this-crap Bildungsroman. Through most of the novel, he frolics around London, living off of his friends and taking advantage of everyone and everything. He thoroughly enjoys himself. Somehow, everyone he knows doesn’t hate him even though he seemed to me like the most irritating person ever. He’s in love with a girl but isn’t willing to accept responsibility for that, either, so he runs off on his merry way. A couple of years before, he’d stayed in a hospital-of-sorts, where he was intentionally given colds and, sometimes, cures, where he met Hugo. They had all sorts of philosophical discussions, and Jake wrote a book about it and took all the credit. He spends much of Under the Net chasing Hugo around, trying to figure out exactly how angry he is. It’s all silliness until that last 20%, when Iris Murdoch makes sense of all the mischief and brings the novel together beautifully.

Under the Net isn’t the first book I’ve read by Murdoch, and, based on the others, it wasn’t what I was expecting. A few years ago, before the blog, I read and loved The Unicorn. Later, I blogged about The Bell, which was also fantastic. Both of those novels are serious, and I thought I’d be in for more of that. But no! Most of Under the Net seems more like an Evelyn Waugh (who I also love) novel like The Loved One, which is highlarious. Most of Under the Net is, too, though I spent most of it being irritated at Jake for being such a flippant idiot with zero consideration for anyone around him. There’s even an entirely ridiculous scene in which Jake and his friend break into a rival’s apartment and steal his movie-star dog. This novel is crazy.

It’s also a good example of why I need to get over whether or not I like the protagonist. Maybe, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten lazier. When I was in college, I thought of most novels as a challenge, and now, reading is pure recreation. After finishing Under the Net, I see why Murdoch did what she did and why that makes it a fantastic novel, but I had no interest while I was actually reading it. (In my defense, I did do that with Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina and still hated them.) Here, I didn’t exactly spoil my experience, but I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t decided that I hated the protagonist and just sped through it. Lesson learned? Probably not.

So. Here’s what I think about Under the Net: it’s beautiful and absolutely fantastic. I’ll have to read it again and be a little more forgiving of Jake – even though he’s about thirty and should know better. If nothing else, it’s worth reading to see the variety of which Murdoch is capable. I have a few more of her books at home, and now they’ve moved way up on my to-be-read list. Speaking of, Under the Net is book #4 toward Roof Beam Reader’s 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. I’m well on my way!

In other news, I happened upon quite the kitteh battle last Friday:

Aaaand I bought a bunch of king cake babies. Whatever might I do with them?

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This should last a while…

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Finally, here’s a blurry picture of our house slowly being torn apart for a renovation. That’s original transom glass that a previous owner walled in. We should have a new door next week!

2014 Book #5: Wolves of the Calla

wolvesofthecallaOnce you get to the fifth book in a series, there’s no good way to talk about it without at least spoiling the fact that the main characters are still alive (as in Game of Thrones), so I’ll go ahead and declare a massive spoiler alert right now. The only reason I’m bothering is that I’ve gotten complaints about other books. Anyway: If you haven’t read the first four books in the Dark Tower series, you probably don’t want to read this post, as you certainly wouldn’t want to start with Wolves of the Calla. I’ll start with a quick summary, then make a short list of what I think.

Roland and his ka-tet have made it past Oz (groan), and find themselves somewhere in the middle of the Great Plains (in the general vicinity of Kansas City?), in a small town being attacked every twenty-or-so years by these creatures called Wolves, who take half of the town’s children, most of whom are twins. Roland, etc, figure out what’s going on and fix it. The actual Dark Tower business remains a sort of sub-plot, and there are various travels back to New York and the rose-containing vacant lot. Good times.

And here’s what I think about it: I loved this book, but it’s stupid. I read it at record speed. According to Goodreads, I read this 933-page book in about four days, which is especially interesting since Wizard and Glass took me so long that I gave up in the middle and didn’t pick it up again for at least six months. What’s also funny is that I loved reading it, but I don’t really care what happens next. King didn’t leave us with as nasty a cliffhanger as that of The Waste Lands, but Susannah has just left through a magic door to have some sort of demon-spawn child. What happens next? I really don’t care. I will, of course, be reading the last two books of the series in short order.

Okay, the stupid part. Or stupid parts. Here’s where the super-duper spoiler alert comes in. ROBOTS? Really? And even worse (much worse!) VAMPIRES? Father Callahan from Salem’s Lot, which I hated, is a major character, and he tells his whole story to the ka-tet, of which he is now, apparently a member. There are even word-for-word excerpts from Salem’s Lot. And Stephen King inserts himself directly – or that book, anyway. Ugh. Palmer says it’ll make sense and be worth it in the end, and I surely hope he’s not. Snitches, a la Harry Potter, and light-sabers also make an appearance. I thought Oz was dumb enough. MEH. There’s also this ridiculousness: “She kept a secret spring surrounded by sweet moss, and there he was refreshed.” I just threw up a little in my mouth.

I did, though, find myself able to read despite my eyes rolling so far back in my head. And as much as I complain, this is a good series, and this is a good book. Maybe I care a bit too much at this point. If nothing else, I’ve come this far, so I’m going to see this series through to the end. Wolves of the Calla might be my favorite so far, though the first one, The Gunslinger, is by far the best. I certainly read this one with more enthusiasm than any of the others.

I was going to explain my theory about the various realities that coalesce in this series, but the more I think about it, the less I want to embarrass myself if I’m horribly wrong. To my credit, I figured out the robot crap pretty quickly, though.

I’m getting through books so quickly that I’m running out of news to report from while I’ve been reading them. I ate things, one of my fish died, and I took a video of it snowing today.

Exciting stuff. I have no idea what I’m going to read next.

2014 Book #4: Pedro Páramo

pedroparamoAfter a series of long books, I decided to read a short one, though I didn’t think I’d get through it this quickly. Once I picked up Pedro Páramo, I had a hard time putting it down. I read it in two sittings: most of it last night and the remainder this morning. It had been on my TBR list for longer than I’d like to admit, and I don’t know why I hadn’t picked it up yet, especially since it’s so short. I think it’s yet another good Goodreads recommendation. I couldn’t find it in digital format, so at some point I ordered a used copy. It’s been sitting on my shelf for at least a year. I put it on my list for Roof Beam Reader’s 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, which is why I finally read it. Too bad my TBR pile is growing at a faster rate than I can read. Anyway.

Pedro Parámo is about a man whose mother just died. She instructed him to go to Comala, a small town in Mexico, to search for his father.  When he gets there, he discovers a town full of ghosts, and through conversations with them, we learn what happened to the town and to his father.

The basic plot is simple, but the novel is not. It’s magical realism and stylistically kind of like a mix between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Italo Calvino. It’s full of pauses, and there’s always the beat of rain in the background. It’s one of those books that sticks around in my head. It’s the best and most beautiful book I’ve read since Stoner, though that wasn’t so long ago. I’ve gotten lucky with a lot of books over the past couple of years, and this is one for which I’m especially grateful.

I’d like to delve into a whole library of books by Juan Rulfo, but there aren’t many to be had, and I don’t know how much of it has been translated into English. Pedro Páramo is good enough, though, that I think I’m satisfied. It’s one of the few books I’ll probably be rereading soon.

As I’m sure you can imagine, not much has happened since my last post. I would, though, like to call your attention to this amazing coffee:

I was brought up on New Orleans Blend and am an avid Community drinker. Palmer isn’t a fan of chicory, so I started drinking Hotel Blend a year or two ago. Last week, I was at Kroger and saw this Carnivale Cake, and even though I don’t usually drink flavored coffee, I was intrigued (okay, maybe it’s because I keep seeing Blue Bell’s King Cake ice cream, and I know that would probably kill me). And it’s so good! If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where you can find Community (is that everywhere now?), you should get a bag. If nothing else, it’s good for a Mardi Gras chuckle.

Also: You know how, in my last post, I said that Palmer was working on a Youtube video? Wellll, he posted that one and another one, both from Birmingham and both shot with his shiny new Canon SLR:

That camera was a good purchase. I’m beginning to think I need a new SLR…

2014 Book #3: A Bloodsmoor Romance

bloodsmoorHere’s how I ended up reading A Bloodsmoor Romance: I was browsing through Amazon’s Kindle deals, saw this book, and clicked on it because I’d never read any Joyce Carol Oates, and I figured that I should have by now. The Accursed came out fairly recently, so her name has been floating around. Speaking of floating, it’s Amazon’s description that I couldn’t resist: “When their sister is plucked from the shores of the Bloodsmoor River by an eerie black-silk hot air balloon that sails in through a clear blue sky, the lives of the already extraordinary Zinn sisters are radically altered.” It was the balloon that doomed me, as the description further explains that it’s a Victorian-style gothic novel published around 1980. I was intrigued despite the fact that my history with Victorian novels is spotty at best. At 771 pages, it’s also a bit hefty to fit into my 50-books plan. But I couldn’t resist.

So you’ve got the five sisters and the balloon part and the gothic Victorian part. That should give you some idea of what goes on here. There’s also the fact that it’s set near Philadelphia in the couple decades before 1900, which adds another twist. That said, as in a traditional Victorian novel, all five girls, of noble birth, need to be married off to eligible bachelors. Except they’re all smart and headstrong, and things don’t go quite as planned – or at all as planned.

It’s what you’d expect from a Victorian novel, but oh so much more exciting! There’s all kinds of craziness usually never even alluded to in those novels and expressed here with an amusing (though ultimately excessive) maidenly reluctance. Even the one sister who behaves as she “should” ends up in quite an… interesting marriage situation, though, of course, she never mentions it and is too naïve to even think that it isn’t normal. Ahh, the Victorians!

Two things (mildly) annoyed me about this book: of course, since Oates wrote this book sometime in the late 1970s, she had to make it feminist, and it’s so in-your-face that it seems excessive at times. And A Bloodsmoor Romance is loooooong. About halfway through, I realized that it feels longer than Bleak House, though I know that’s not the case. I was even bored at times, though the book is still good enough that I rated it the full five stars on Goodreads. Oates means for it to be so long because it’s a parody of Victorian novels, and its longness is even funny at times, for instance, at the 84%-mark, when it seems like things should be winding down:

[box type=”shadow”]In any case, the authoress’s solemn task being, then, to mediate between contour, and detail, I am bound to confess that, as my Bloodsmoor history draws to its appoint’d close (not many seconds before the initial stroke of midnight, of December 31, 1899), I find myself the more beleaguered, by all that, for purposes of brevity, I must omit: by all that enthralling multitudinousness, of weeks, days, hours, and minutes, which the Zinns experienced as their lives. Ah, to omit – to be forced to omit! – so very much: to awake in the midst of the night, my poor head ringing, and clattering, and clamoring, with the vociferous demands of a dream-double, of Samantha, or Mrs. Zinn, or Charles Guiteau, or the Baron, or Pip, or “Mark Twain,” or Little Godfrey, or “Malvinia Morloch” that was, or “Deirdre of the Shadows” that was! – to the effect that, I have not done the complexities of their souls justice, and, in shaping them to the contours suggested, or by a labyrinthine profusion of others’ lives, I have, in fact betrayed them, who entrusted their beings to me.[/box]

You get the point, and, as you can see, there is nothing brief about this novel. That said, it’s so worth the hours and hours you’ll spend reading it. That’s if, of course, you don’t absolutely hate the likes of Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters, as I thought I did before I broke down and read Pride and Prejudice several years ago. If nothing else, A Bloodsmoor Romance makes fun of them, so you can enjoy your hatred that way (much like, as Palmer says, I go to Starbucks to be angry at people).

And there’s a huge bonus! A half-hour after I started reading this book, I read the Goodreads description, which says it’s part of a five-book saga, ending with The Accursed. I almost stopped reading this one and picked up the first, Bellefleur (which is also discounted heavily on Amazon), when I decided that I was already too interested to put it down. I liked A Bloodsmoor Romance so much that I’ll be reading the rest of them in short order. I’m now a huge fan of Joyce Carol Oates.

According to Goodreads, it only took me nine days to read, though it seemed so much longer. I guess I haven’t really done much other than sit around with the cat and read (how attractive that sounds!). Here I am doing just that:

When I posted the photo, I lied and said that he was helping me read. I’m pretty sure that he was really helping me watch Judge Judy. But I digress.

After a long stay in Shreveport, Palmer is out of town again. He’s currently working on a Youtube video about visiting a statue of Vulcan and a smelting mill near Birmingham. Here he is with said statue. I hope he’s having a good time.

Next, I’m forcing myself to read a short novel. All these long novels are addictive. How did I not take the plunge earlier?

2014 Book #2: The Master and Margarita

masterandmargaritaI don’t even know where to begin with this one, except that, strangely, The Master and Margarita is what I expected The Magus to be, and vice versa. I hadn’t read anything by (or even heard of) Mikhail Bulgakov before The Master and Margarita, which I think might have been another Goodreads recommendation. I think the devil-causing-mischief idea intrigued me. I’m not sure why I waited so long to read it since it’s been on my list for a while.

At the most basic level, here’s what happens: the devil goes to Moscow and causes mischief. It’s also a political satire about society in the Soviet Union and its relationship to religion. Jesus and Pontius Pilate make an appearance, along with various fun demons and a shape-shifting black cat named Behemoth. I thought this book was supposed to be magical realism, but it’s pretty hardcore fantasy and is similar to Faust. There isn’t quite selling-of-souls, but there’s talk of selling-of-souls, and there’s an afterlife judgment-of-sorts. The devil likes some people and doesn’t like others, and the latter come to often grotesque (but, really, just) ends. Those he likes come to ambivalent(?) ends. It’s a really complex book almost in the form of a fairy tale. The demonic characters are great – and strangely hilarious.

Note the almosts and the not-quites. Again, I’m not sure what to do with this book. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read criticism about it to get an idea of what other people think about it, but that just allowed me to procrastinate: writing this post isn’t as easy as it seems it should be, and since I’m writing this for pleasure (okay, so I don’t forget everything about this book), I’m not going to analyze. I just read the Wikipedia article.

So. I’ll say that The Master and Margarita is a winner and that it provokes thought. It’s a fun romp through Moscow and the Underworld (did I mention Satan’s ball? No?). There’s broom-flying and cat-shooting. Good times are had by all. There’s also Pilate’s guilt over allowing Jesus to be crucified and the…interesting end of the title characters, who I didn’t even mention in my not-quite-summary. Which all means that you should definitely read it, but plan to spend some time afterward thinking about it. You might not know what to do with it, either.

A quick search, by the way, reveals some pretty awesome covers:


It also reveals that Behemoth is the best character.

This second section of blog posts has become a photo-scrolling activity. I look through the photos I took while I was reading this book and post a few because it’s nice to remember, and I won’t otherwise. That, and this is a blog about books, not so much about other things. Anyway. Here’s what I did while I read The Master and Margarita:

According to my camera roll, I ate lots of things and fought with my blood sugar. In that order.

Palmer and I finally made it to Twisted Root Burger Co. We tried a few times right after it opened, but the line was always out the door, so we went elsewhere. A week or two ago, it wasn’t, so we went in. Here’s what we got:


Mine was on the left: a basic bacon cheeseburger with caramelized onions and no fries. Palmer’s is a hamburger salad. He liked his better than I liked mine, which was something, I guess, because neither of us were impressed. The meat was super-processed and tasteless. We won’t be going back.

Otherwise, since Palmer has been home so much (he usually is around the holidays), we’ve been running around working on house stuff. You’ve seen (an early version of) our library results. We also changed our Friday-night hangout because Ivan’s got too loud and full of d-bags. Our new bar is so much better.

And, finally, I made my first king cake in almost two years. It was glorious.

That probably won’t be the only one I make this year. If only I could eat twelve pieces instead of one.

And maybe I should mention that I darkened up the text on this page just a bit. While I love this theme, it seemed a bit hard to read.

I finished The Master and Margarita a few days ago, and now I’m about a third into A Bloodsmoor Romance by Joyce Carol Oates. While it’s really, really good, it’s taking me forever to read.

Oh! I should also note (are we at the P.P.P.P.S. level, yet?) that The Master and Margarita is the first book I’ve read toward the Roof Beam Reader’s 2014 TBR Challenge. That’s 1 of 12, if you’re playing along. (Here’s a link to my page and my original post.) Not a bad start.

What I *might* read in 2014

Sweeping pine needles into fun shapes: a post-Christmas tradition.

Sweeping pine needles into fun shapes: a post-Christmas tradition.

The holidays are over, our ginormous Christmas tree is no more, and my life is settling down into its more normal patterns. Shortly before the new year, I wrote my grand post about what I’d read in 2013, and I thought it might be fun to continue that with what I might read in 2014. I make no promises because I tend to read like I watch movies on Netflix: if it looks good and the timing is right, I’ll read it instantly. If it’s not available, I might reserve it at the library, though by the time I get it, I’ve usually lost interest. I guess that’s what e-books (and working in a library) have done to me. All this means that I’m not good at making to-be-read lists and sticking with them.

That said, I’m putting in a little effort this year: I’ve joined the Roof Beam Reader’s 2014 TBR Challenge. I’ve already posted about that, though, so I won’t repeat myself. So there’s twelve that I’ll probably read. I’m off to a good start, anyway, with The Master and Margarita. Anyway.

So beyond those twelve books, I guess this is a list of what I’d like to read this year, though I probably won’t get through most of these books because of my apparent reading-choice ADD. Here we go, in no particular order:

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami. According to The Guardian, the English translation will be released sometime this year. As Murakami is one of my favorite authors, I can’t wait to read this one.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. It’s all over the internet, and it looks interesting.

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. So many people have suggested I read this book. It’s high on my list, but I’m waiting until I’ve read…

A Dance with Dragons, by George R.R. Martin. I’m not sure how I’ve lasted so long, though it probably has something to do with there not being another Song of Ice and Fire book to pick up after I finish it.

The Girl Who Fell beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente, because I loved The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making so much.

Wolves of the Calla, and possibly Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower by Stephen King. While I’m on the subject of various series, let me add this one to the pile. I’ve read the first four of the Dark Tower series, so the rest of them are on the horizon. I’m certainly choosing more long books for 2014.

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. Another word-of-internet winner.

Doomed, by Chuck Palahniuk. I read (and generally liked) Damned after I’d won Doomed in a drawing. Doomed is still sitting on my bookshelf, waiting patiently. I’ll get to it eventually.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick. North Korea fascinates me, and I’ve heard that this is a good book.

The Childhood of Jesus, by J.M. Coetzee. It’s been on my list since before it came out, but there I’ve read reviews on both sides, and I’m not sure how much I’ll like it once I get into it. I liked Disgrace, but it was a little sappy.

Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson. Here’s another one that friends have recommended. I saw the movie years ago and loved it. I’m bad at picking up short story collections, though.

Discworld novel, or two, by Terry Pratchett. Because I love them. I’m slowly reading them chronologically, and next up is Reaper Man.

A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations. The former was the first book I read after I graduated college and is one of my favorites, and I tried to read the latter a couple years ago, but failed. Holiday time is Dickens time, so one of these will probably happen next December.

And that’s all I can think of at the moment. It’s funny how most of the books I want to read are fantasy, though most of the books I actually read are not. We’ll see what happens this year. I make no promises.

Also: Somehow, I neglected to post a photo of a certain orange kitteh on his TENTH birthday! I can’t believe he’s ten.

And, finally, thanks to Palmer for the pine needles photo and the awesome sweeping skillz!

2014 Book #1: Snow Crash

snowcrashI hate to start 2014 on a negative note, but MEH. It’s not even that Snow Crash is a terrible novel (though it’s not an especially good one); it’s that it’s not my kind of novel. In some ways, it’s like a Dan Brown novel, and in others, it’s like I imagine a Clive Cussler or James Patterson bestseller might be. (Neither of which I’ve read or plan to read. Ever.) I’m just not a fan.

Neal Stephenson has been on my radar for a while: Cryptonomicon is supposedly a really good novel. I heard of Snow Crash when Palmer read it. He told me that he really liked it and who wrote it, and I figured I’d give it a try. Then, of course, I put it off for a few books. I picked it up again when it kept coming up in conversation.

It’s a dystopian thriller set in an alternate mid-to-late 1990s, when what sounds like Second Life or OASIS, the online world of Ready Player One. It’s not especially advanced. At the beginning of the novel, Hiro Protagonist (I know. Ugh.) is delivering a pizza for the mafia. Governments all over the world have been taken over by private companies – you can go from one neighborhood to another and need a passport to get into both. Barcodes are plastered on characters’ bodies and their retinas are regularly scanned. Anyway, something goes wrong at the pizza place, and Hiro only has 20 minutes to deliver a pizza to avoid Big Trouble with the mafia. He ends up crashed in a suburban backyard, and a 15-year-old girl, who calls herself Y.T. and rides a magnetic skateboard that attaches to cars, saves him by delivering the pizza (barely) on time. Thanks to her favor for the mafia and Hiro’s katana (I know) and hacking abilities, they end up in a mess that involves a computer virus called Snow Crash that fries the computers and the brains of infected users. And said virus has its roots in Sumerian myth and religion is rooted in viruses and so on into ridiculousness.

The structure alternately annoyed and bored me. It’s action! action! action! followed by a loooooong exposition in which Hiro discusses things with his computer wikipedia-style, explaining the religious stupidity I mentioned a second ago. I think my main problem with it is specific to me: I don’t like action books just like I don’t like action movies. (For some reason, I don’t hate Dan Brown, but that’s neither here nor there.) There’s a lot of violence and some gore in Snow Crash that I just didn’t care for. And the action went on and on. I was bored with the action even before I was bored with the exposition. I guess all the actiony bits were why I wasn’t as fond of Ready Player One as I might have been – though I’m convinced that Ready Player One is simply a better novel, anyway. You won’t believe the stupid deus ex machina in this book. It’s just silly and bad.

And there’s some stupidity that should be edited out, like this whole bit from the perspective of a souped-up dog named Fido, talking about all of the nice doggies barking at the mean people. Seriously. The more I write about this novel, the more I dislike it, and I didn’t like it in the first place.

So. You might like this novel if you’re into action, especially of the technological sort. Like if Blade Runner is your favorite movie (the book is soooo much better). And maybe if you like James Patterson or Clive Cussler, though I could be way off about what their books are about. Maybe Cryptonomicon is better, but I’m in no hurry to find out because I bet it has a lot in common with Snow Crash.

In other news, Palmer and I painted my library! I still haven’t finished hanging up photos and cleaning up, so I haven’t taken the Official Super-Awesome Photos yet. But here’s a somewhat distorted panorama of three (empty) walls for your enjoyment. The walls aren’t as yellowy as they seem here.


On New Year’s Eve, we went to a small party at our friend Sara’s house. It was the best one I’ve had in several. Here’s a short video of what happened when Palmer popped the champagne cork:

And here’s our obligatory blurry Instagram selfie.

We had such a good time! Yay, 2014!

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