Sunday, April 03, 2011

What I've been reading lately

I know, I know, I've been absent around these parts and I do feel guilty. I know what causes me to feel burned out on blogging and yet I still find it difficult not to be distracted by the malaise of other bloggers, by outbreaks of drama, usually from areas of the book blogging community that have little or no bearing on my own, by the realization that I'd much rather read than write a review designed to market product (and I am putting it that bluntly because I chanced upon a comment by a book blogger who said that's what she does--product reviews) for an industry that's found a source of free labor. Labor, of course, that is discounted, disparaged, demeaned by those who may or not--that's still hotly debated--benefit.

I just want to read, record my thoughts on what I read. I want to read blogs by other readers who do the same, who are more interested in recommending and discussing books than marketing them, than marketing themselves. (And watch me turn right around later this week with a giveaway from a publisher.) I want to follow Twitter links directly to interesting posts and articles, not be taken on a detour to a blogger's Tumblr posts that do nothing but repeat the tweet (and up stats across all social media) before sending you on to the full post elsewhere. What I want out of blogging is definitely not what other bloggers want.

Although I know all this, I'm too often sidetracked. My suspicion is that's related to how cruddy I've been feeling for quite some time: I find myself reading the stuff that irritates me, to justify how I feel. A couple weeks back, after two days of severe facial pain due to an especially potent crop of spring pollen, I broke down and went to the doctor. Since I was there, I mentioned how frequent and unpredictable my migraines had come, how often I felt overcome by feelings of free-floating rage--surely, menopause had to be right around the corner to account for this upheaval, right? My doctor kept asking questions until she determined that what I'd been seeing as purely a hormonal issue was actually due to lack of sleep. Bingo: I'd told L. months ago that I felt as sleep-deprived as I had when the kids were babies; I'd become so accustomed to it that I'd ceased to see it as a problem.

So, a sleep aid. I'm off caffeine. My sugar craving's gone. I've still not achieved eight hours  more than a time or two, but I'm managing to go back to sleep when I wake in the middle of the night, I'm getting enough sleep to dream again. It feels pretty wonderful.

To help regain my blogging mojo, I've started reading through my favorite bloggers' archives and will continue to do so because it's turning out to be even more fun than I'd expected.

And now for the books I read in March:

Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling. My friend C. has raved about Bury Your Dead, and I read this in prep for reading its follow-up. Hated it. I have certain pet peeves, and one of the biggies is Shifting Perspective. Penny played hopscotch through her characters' heads--a sentence or two from one's perspective, a sentence or two from another's, and on and on, until we're even briefly privy to a horse's thoughts. C. laughed at me when I ranted about this, but B.S. said she didn't like shifting viewpoint either and that Penny doesn't  do it in Bury Your Dead. I did like the duck and the trip to Queen Charlotte Islands, however.

Jean Silber's The Art of Time in Fiction, from the Art of series. I'd like to read the rest of the series, but I didn't like this near as Charles Baxter's The Art of Subtext. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus. I was pleased when the library staff book club chose Adichie, but alas, the club was disbanded before the discussion took place. Very much a first novel--the main character narrates a scene she wasn't on hand to witness and the first person perspective keeps us from learning why the Catholic father would repeatedly beat his wife until she aborted (even crazy religious fundamentalism doesn't account for that)--but a noteworthy debut nonetheless.

Steve Yarbrough's Safe from the Neighbors. The Tournament of Books crowd would label this one a White Male Fuck Up novel and there were several occasions when I wished someone would smack the main character/narrator upside the head. But it's also an interesting look at the contemporary South, at how thinking someone's a good guy merely because he isn't a racist, or someone's bad because he is, is ultimately an inadequate way of judging your fellow man (or self). Plus, there's an incredible set piece the Ole Miss library involving a deer that's crashed through a glass window that I'm glad I didn't miss.

Jo Walton's Among Others. Loved, loved, loved this. A fantasy novel that sings the praises of science fiction, a coming-of-age story that takes place in the aftermath of the story most authors would have chosen to tell instead of this one. Loved following the links about the book back to Walton's Live Journal and reading the discussion between Walton and Pamela Dean on whether fan fic between the worlds in Among Others and Tam Lin could sync up, as well as the original post that was the genesis of the book.

John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. One of the myriad books mentioned in Among Others, and one I happened to have on hand. Genetic mutations in a dystopian community where religious fundamentalism runs rampant. I want to read more Wyndham.

Barbara Comyns' Who was Changed and Who was Dead. I read Our Spoons Came from Woolworths years ago, but this was quite different. A flood, a very peculiar family, ergot poisoning. I'll want to read it again, after I've read the rest of Comyns' work.

William Faulkner's Spotted Horses. Reviewed for the Classics Circuit.

Victoria Patterson's This Vacant Paradise. I ordered this immediately after reading Kate Christensen's review. I love modern takes on classics, particularly when the writer takes inspiration from, instead of strick adherence to, the original. Patterson does this beautifully with this Southern California retelling of The House of Mirth.

Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus. For the Slaves of Golconda discussion at the end of the week. All I'll say now is that I loved it.

Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Because of the Patterson and because it had been at least a decade since I first read it. It holds up.

And now I'm going to try to stay current with what I'm reading instead of letting everything languish.


  1. I hear you on how it's far, far too easy to get drawn into the drama, even if, as you say, it's not directly connected to our own blogging circle. I've been semi-fasting from Twitter for Lent (only spending time on Twitter on Sundays/feast days and just checking and answering messages during the week), and it has helped me tremendously. I love the conversation on Twitter, but I've found I'm following too many people and thus end up getting wind of every little drama that crops up, and then I get all needlessly stressed. I've been cleaning up my following list to better avoid some of that when I come back to more regular tweeting.

    What you want out of blogging sounds an awful lot like what I want out of blogging, which is no doubt why I enjoy your blog so much. As for the marketing thing, it always makes me happy to help good books find appreciative readers, which of course *may* mean increased sales of said book, but to me, that's a side benefit of the conversation, not the purpose of it.

    Hope you get your blogging mojo back soon and that the trend toward better sleep continues. It certainly looks like you've been doing some great reading!

  2. I have to agree with you on the drama part of your post (the rest of it, too, but that in particular)--I hate drama especially when I seem to be part of it unknowingly and unwillingly--causing me to worry about what I'm doing when I didn't ever realize I was doing it all wrong or with the wrong intentions (am I perceived totally differently than how I really am?). It does make you want to turn off the computer and go read! Like you I just want to read good books and talk about them. I hope you're feeling better, though I sort of hate sleeping enough to dream as dreams tend to unnerve me and make me feel out of it--is that weird? As for the Hazzard--I'm a little undecided about it, though more impressed than not--she almost lost me in the middle but must say those last 40 or 50 pages she pulled the rug out from under me and pulled me back in. I was expecting (hoping for) something but wasn't expecting that. I still feel like I missed all the subtext, but am looking forward to the discussion.

  3. Ack! I just posed a long response to the both of you and Blogger lost it!

  4. I loved this post, and that image. I can relate to much of what you said, it is pretty much how I've felt lately. I'm not sleep deprived, but feel cranky and easily annoyed by people I know and don't lately. I am often hopped up on caffeine lately so maybe that is part of it...LOL

    I hope you have a great week.

  5. Trust me, my earlier comment was better! Wish I'd thought to copy it before I pressed "publish."

    Teresa, like you, I also enjoy knowing that someone's picked up a book I've talked about, whether they get it from the library or actually purchase it. It's just in the last couple of years that marketing seems to have become the reason why so many want to blog--they seem to want to use promoting books as the vehicle to take themselves somewhere bigger, better. Honestly, if I were younger, and in this economy, I might even do the same, but as it is, I just find myself annoyed by the constant self-promotion. Who really knows if a particular blogger has moved a particular title if that title is also on one of the promotional tables at the front of the big box stores.

    I should follow your lead, though, and weed who I follow, particularly through google reader. And I should never set foot on the young adult blog. ;)

    Danielle, I used to feel the same way you do about dreams and I'm generally happy when they fade away once I'm awake. I should probably read a book on sleep to see if dreaming really helps a person feel rested, because I do feel better now that it's happening.

    I'm sure I'm missing lots of subtext in the Hazzard--she's sooo much smarter than me--but I truly loved how she handled those flashforwards. I wonder if she added them later, when someone complained they didn't understand the ending, or if she always planned to use them that way!

    And please don't think you should change the way you blog to suit someone else's tastes or standards. As far as I'm concerned, both you and Teresa are as near-to-perfect as bloggers are likely to get.

  6. Diane, I usually have such an awful time weaning myself off caffeine and this time it was so easy--I suspect something in the nasal spray for my allergies or the sleep aid is working in an unexpected, delightful way. Usually I feel the need FOR caffeine so that I can deal with all the annoying people!

    Hope your week's great, too.

  7. I feel for you - sleep deprivation is the pits. As I used to say to my husband when our son was young, they used to torture Winnie Mandela that way, you know. I do hope you are feeling much better soon - dreaming is bound to help.

    I think there are a solid group of bloggers on your side, who aren't into the drama or the publicity and who just want an interesting conversation about books. I know that's all I'm interested in pursuing.

  8. I think we need to continue to embrace the essential perversity of book blogging. Also, I highly recommend following no one. It's unduly eccentric, and I miss things, but it's amazing how much gets through even when you're seemingly disconnected.

  9. When I first started blogging and a publisher offered me a review copy it was so exciting, a free book! Now it's not so very fun. Like you, I just want to read good books that sound interesting and talk about them. I don't want to be free advertising for anyone.

    Glad your sleep is improving. I hope it continues to do so.

    How did you like The Chrysalids? I keep thinking about reading it but haven't yet.

  10. Excellent post on reading and blogging. Echoes my feelings, too.


As a reader I cherish the fantasy of one day stopping acquiring books, of subsisting only on what is already stashed away in the crammed lar...