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2013 Book #22: Lud-in-the-Mist

ludinthemistLud-in-the-Mist had been on my radar for quite a while: it popped up in my Goodreads recommendations all the time. I read the blurb, and it sounded like something I’d like, except that my local library doesn’t have it and I couldn’t find an inexpensive copy. Until Amazon got the Kindle version, and it randomly appeared one day in the Kindle Daily Deals. I was like, whaaaaat? Click. Download. I finished Pretty Monsters and dug in.

I read a lot of fantasy when I’m stressed out. It helps me forget about what’s going on for a while and relax my mind. It takes me somewhere else, I guess. (Though Hemingway‘s For Whom the Bell Tolls did that, too. After I finished reading it, I was stuck in the hills of Spain for hours. Also: why did I start blogging so late? I talk about all these books I’ve read, and there’s no blog post to link them. Ugh.) Right now, the plan is to stick to fantasy for a few books, as Palmer and I are trying to buy a house, which is exactly zero fun.

ANYWAY. Off to Lud.

I’m not sure where this book fits age-wise. It seems to be stuck in teen fiction, but it’s not, really. The main character is a middle-aged mayor – most of the kids run off. Which brings me to the plot. You’ve already got the middle-aged mayor part and the Lud part. It’s a city close to the border of Fairyland, but it’s citizens don’t like fairies and any words associated with them are considered dirty. They don’t like imagination or creativity: they like money and the law. But Fairyland is creeping in by way of fairy fruit, which is smuggled into Lud. Many citizens eat it and go a little crazy or run off to Fairyland. That includes the mayor’s children and lots of the other politicians’, too. And Things Happen.

I really enjoyed this novel, though the fact that it bleeds allegory irritated me a little bit. It’s the Most Obvious Allegory Ever about the importance of imagination and creativity, which, I guess is why it gets put in the teen boat. None of that makes it a bad novel – it’s just a little corny, and corny can be soothing. Which is what I need(ed).

Lud-in-the-Mist is considered a classic. It’s 1920s fantasy before Tolkien and was very influential among fantasy writers, including Neil Gaiman, who loves it. (He has a new novel coming out very soon, by the way.) It’s also the best-known novel Hope Mirrlees wrote. She sounds like an interesting character.

So read the book if you like fantasy. I certainly liked it.

Bonus: Hope Mirrlees wrote the best description of a sunrise I think I’ve ever read. Here it is.

It was not so much a modification of the darkness, as a sigh of relief, a slight relaxing tension, so that one felt, rather than saw, that the night had suddenly lost a shade of its density…ah! yes; there! between these two shoulders of the hills she is bleeding to death.

At first the spot was merely a degree less black than the rest of the sky. The it turned grey, then yellow, then red. And the earth was undergoaing the same transformation. Here and there patches of greyness broke out in the blackness of the grass, and after a few secondsone saw that they were clumps of flowers. Then the greyness became filtered with a delicate sea-green; and next, one realized that the grey-green belonged to the foliage, against which the petals were beginning to show white–and then pink, or yellow, or blue; but a yellow like that of primroses, a blue like that of certain wild periwinkles, colors so elusive that one suspects them to be due to some passing accident of light, and that, were one to pick the flower, it would prove pure white.

Ah, there can be no doubt of it now! The blues and yellows are real and perdurable. Color is steadily flowing through the veins of the earth, and we may take heart, for she will soon be restored to life again. But had we kept one eye on the sky we should have noticed that a star was quenched with every flower that reappeared on earth. And now the valley is again red and gold with vineyards, the hills are clothed with pines, and the Dapple is rosy.

Then a cock crowed, and another answered it, and then another–a ghostly sound, which, surely, did not belong to the smiling, triumphant earth, but rather to one of thise distant dying stars.


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.


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.

2013 Book #17: Panorama City

panoramacityThere are books that I review with the liberry’s website in mind, and there are those that I don’t. This is one of the latter because I don’t know how to say what I want to say without, quite possibly, offending someone. Oh wait…I forgot is my personal blog, so I don’t really care. So there.

I didn’t really know what I was getting into with Panorama City. What I did know was that I was about to spend about 8 hours driving to Houston and back over the course of the weekend, and I’d like an audiobook to fill the time. I don’t have much experience with audiobooks: besides a couple from my childhood (Sphere and one called something like The Emerald Tree), I’ve only successfully listened to all of To Kill a Mockingbird (narrated by Sissy Spacek, who did an excellent job). Panorama City was the perfect length, which was my primary reason for reading it.

From the blurb, which I admit I didn’t read very carefully, I thought I’d be listening to a book about a twenty-something hippie driving through California. That seemed perfect. Except that’s not what I got. At all. I mean, look at the cover, even. I was thinking long road and desert and such. But that’s not the main problem:

The narrator is…special.

I’m not sure if he’s autistic or what, but he’s a “special needs” type. That’s as politically correct as I can make myself be here. I just don’t like books narrated like that: I think that it’s because it makes me sad when someone’s taking advantage of them or making fun of them, and they don’t get it. I don’t want to know about this kid’s first pot-smoking experience when he didn’t even know what was happening to him. UGH.

So here’s the gist of the plot: A 27-year-old “special” guy lives with his father, who dies. His aunt takes over: he moves in, and she tries to give him structure and control every aspect of his life. Except she can’t watch him every minute, and he gets into trouble – but it’s just because he wants to live his own life. His aunt underestimates his abilities, treats him like he can’t do anything for himself, which he can. Again: UGH.

Once I figured out what was going on, which didn’t take long, I would have stopped reading – if I wasn’t in the car with nothing better to do. And I figured it’d get me ahead so I can read some more Game of Thrones soon. It’s not like Panorama City is a bad novel: I even enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It’s just that it’s not the type of book I like to read. I didn’t get through The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for the same reason. Some types of novels just frustrate me. Something similar happened with Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a sequel to The Bean Trees, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but it involves the state taking away a child for no good reason. That kind of thing frustrates me as much as novels like Panorama City. I didn’t finish it.

Another thing: I haven’t looked up Antoine Wilson, but I bet he has an MFA. Panorama City follows a grad school kind of pattern and reeks of formal education, maybe even an assignment that just kind of grew. Meh.

So. What I’m saying is that Panorama City isn’t a bad novel, just that it’s not the kind of novel I like. You might. And if you’re offended, well, sorry?

2013 Book #16: Something Wicked This Way Comes

somethingwickedI’ve gone back and forth on whether to give Something Wicked This Way Comes four or five stars on Goodreads. Not that it’s a really important decision. What made me think so much about it is how corny it is, especially at the end, though that corniness is part of its charm, why it’s so good. Which is why I decided on five stars.

Anyway. I first read this book when I was 14, or so, the same age as the protagonists. I had just moved to New Orleans and just started high school, and I was right in the middle of that awkward teenager phase. I totally understood this book from the Will and Jim’s perspective. I’m so glad I read it then so I could come back as an adult to read it again. It’s told from a nostalgic point of view, by an adult. Now I understand that end, too, and I like it all the more.

It’s about two young teenagers, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, and Will’s dad, Charles. Will is content to let his life go on as it is, as it should, but Jim can’t wait to grow up and hit twenty. Charles, who is fifty, would like to be younger so he can relate better to his son. Everyone in town wants something he or she isn’t supposed to have. Then a carnival appears overnight, late in the year for one. And it’s not an ordinary carnival: something’s off. Jim and Will visit one night and stick around afterward. They get into trouble when they see a carousel that’s somehow magic. Mr. Dark and Mr. Cooger, the carnival’s owners, seem to be after them, and strange things start happening all over town.

So I’ve already said that I like this book, and I think I’m lucky to have read it twice like I did. It really is good: just keep in mind that it’s supposed to be a little corny. Isn’t most nostalgia somehow corny? If you’ve read it before and it’s been a few years, pick it up again. If you know a teenager, suggest this one, as it’s really worth reading. And it’s a nice, fast read, which I needed after A Game of Thrones and before the inevitable A Clash of Kings. Next, I think I’ll relive another chunk of my childhood with The Catcher in the Rye.

2013 Book #15: A Game of Thrones

gameofthronesWell, that took forever. Three weeks, give or take a couple days. I could have done it faster (my friends who’ve read it say they sped right through it), but I just couldn’t read more than 25 or 30 pages of A Game of Thrones at a time. That’s not to say it’s bad – I really enjoyed it – it’s just long. Really, really long. I know, I know. Some of my favorite books are long. It’s just that when I’m trying to make it to 50 in a year, something that takes three weeks to finish messes with my schedule.

ANYWAY. You probably know all about A Game of Thrones whether from the books or the HBO series. Everyone else seems to, which is why I broke down and took it off of my tl;dr list, where it had sat comfortably for a year, or so.

The plot is so convoluted that I’m not really going to try to summarize this one. In general, it’s about warring lords wanting to claim a kingdom. They even say “game of thrones” several times in the book. It’s like a big chess game. What’s fun, though, is that it’s not always predictable. You become comfortable with a character, and zing! he or she is dead. Also: there are about ten thousand characters, and I don’t think that’s much of an overstatement. I’m really surprised I didn’t spend half my time confused about what was going on. I have to give George R.R. Martin credit for that because it’s a feat. Oh. And don’t expect this book to do anything but make you want to read the rest of them. The end is not really an end – it’s a cliffhanger almost to the scale of the cliffhanger of cliffhangers. But not quite: I’m not as angry as I was about the other one. I just want to read the next book, and I know that I don’t have time right now, and that’s frustrating. I’m tempted to read a bunch of graphic novels to catch up, then dive back into the series, but I’m holding off.

So here’s the point: It’s good and epic, but don’t get sucked into it if you don’t want to finish it.

I haven’t seen the TV series, but someone told me that if I’m going to watch and read it, I should watch it first because I’ll be mad if I read it first. Okay, I have seen the first hour, or so, of the series, but I didn’t have the patience for it, and I’m not planning on watching the rest anytime soon. The books, though, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay away from because I just can’t help myself.

2013 Book #14: Eric

ericEric was exactly what I needed after the torture that was Kafka‘s Amerika. A Terry Pratchett novel is always funny and enjoyable – and in this case, a relief. I had no idea where to go after Amerika. I wanted to take a break from books. I knew that if I did that, though, my goal of reading 50 this year would crumble. And there was the next Discworld novel waiting patiently on my Kindle. Eric is the 9th of 40 (so far), and it’s (also so far) my favorite. I loved Eric. I even had a Neverending Story-style lunch in my office to finish it. PB&J and the works! Oh, it was so good.

It’s the third Rincewind novel, meaning that it stars a mischievous wizard of that name. After the last one, he ended up in the realm of the demons, and he wanted to get back to the (more) real world of Ankh-Morpork. Turns out, though, that his ticket in is a demon circle opened by a 13-year-old kid named Eric, who has Faustian dreams. He is convinced that Rincewind is a demon and, if Eric signs his soul over, that supposed demon will grant him three wishes: live forever, meet the most beautiful woman in the world, rule the world. Except when Rincewind snaps his fingers, it works, and they visit the Mayans, the Trojan War, and Dante’s version of Hell. And it’s so much fun!

I can always rely on Discworld novel for a chuckle or twelve, and Eric certainly didn’t disappoint. This is an especially short one, too, so I finished it within 24 hours, which is an exception for me. One good thing about the Discworld novels is that you don’t have to start at the beginning and work your way through: though they’re all interconnected, you can pick any one of them up and enjoy it. If you haven’t read any of them yet, I’d say Eric is a good starting place.

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