Thursday, January 31, 2008


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This week’s question is suggested by (blogless) JMutford:

Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

It depends upon the skill of the writer, I think. Anne Tyler wrote the best quirky characters of all back in the 70s and 80s--the Tulls, the Pecks, Macon Leary, Charlotte Emory, Jeremy Pauling. I've just finished Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels, a memoir of growing up in an extremely eccentric aristocratic family, that I loved and I would actually come down completely in the Quirky = Good column were in not for awful, awful fare like Billie Letts' Where the Heart Is. I'm sad to report that plenty of People Who Are Not Me enjoy Letts and believed in her characters--my friend A.'s bookclub claimed that that this book showed just how some people are. Flannery O'Connor would not have been amused.

Booking Through Thursday

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Celebrating Patry Francis

As for Ali, the only time she noticed my existence was when she passed the desk, calling out one of her ebullient morning greetings. She never stopped and asked me to copy handouts or research something on the computer like the other teachers did. And even when she did eat in the lounge, Ali blithely ignored the groups who clustered together around Formica tables, complaining about troublemaking students or aides who weren't doing their jobs. Ali never attempted to penetrate the well-established circles like most newcomers did. Instead, she cheerfully greeted everyone, then buried herself in one of the books from her backpack--usually novels with unfamiliar titles. Occasionally, she took out a book covered in a rich red silk and wrote in it quietly in her corner. She'd write a bit, then chew meditatively on the end of her pen before going back to it. I envied her her ability to tune out the murmurings of the lunchroom.

--Patry Francis, The Liar's Diary

Just in case you don't already know, it's Patry Francis Day. If you don't have a copy of The Liar's Diary, today marks its paperback release.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Eva's Meme

Eva's Awesome Reading Meme

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews? I cringe away from red covers, pink covers, and geisha books written by men. Cover photos of hanks of hair squick me out, too.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be? I'd love for Augustus McCrae to come to tea at Margaret and Helen Schlegel's. Margaret and Helen would probably prefer a confab around a camp fire, but I don't trust Gus quite enough to risk it, considering how caught up he's going to be in being the center of attention.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave? The Lord of the Rings. I'll no doubt decide immortality isn't all that bad after all.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it? Hmmm. Probably Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. I saw an outdoor drama based on the book when I was a kid and that's the closest I've come. I did read You Can't Go Home Again, though (hated it).

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book? I'm sure I've read Margaret Atwood's Surfacing--it's in a three-in-one edition that Atwood seemed unaware had been published when I presented it to her at a book-signing years back and I can't imagine why I'd've skipped it-- but whenever someone talks about it, I question whether I have. Backwoods camping, that's all I remember.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP) Ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, if there was ever a job I'd stink at, it's that--I'm not even any good at recommending books to people who do like to read; my tastes are just not transferable to someone who doesn't, I'm afraid. (I'll never forget the day at the public library when someone asked me for a book where she wouldn't have to think.) And in a position like this I'd probably not be able to tamp down my desire to play a few mind games--say, recommend Babbitt to a businessman or The Grapes of Wrath to a corporate-lobbyist lovin' senator. But for a first book I'll have to say Michel Faber's Under the Skin--it's so strange it just. might. work. on a non-reader. And if not, I'll be sent on my way very quickly.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with? Russian.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick? Howards End. Although with immortality, there are several books I'd happily reread every year.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)? Not that I've read her yet (she's on the agenda for this year, though), but I don't believe I'd ever heard of Ivy Compton-Burnett. Or Rosalind Belben, for that matter, who I'll be read very very soon.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free. Since I'm allergic to dust, the first thing I'll request is that my walnut floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves will all be behind glass. I would like a couple barrister's bookcases as well, near the leather chairs and ottomans by the windows that look out over the Pisgah National Forest. Long library table in the middle of the room with those green-glass lamps situated just-so and a sofa for the cats to claim. All my favorites will be inscribed first editions and nothing I own will be doublestacked.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sunday

I've intended to join The Sunday Salon since the moment I heard of it--an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book sounds perfect to me--but I told myself I'd postpone participation until after we'd finished the bedroom renovations. But the renovations are dragging on--L. needs to buy more wood to complete the closet and dressing area and then let it acclimate before we can sand, stain, wax, etc.--and I can't deal with the mountain peak of old clothes currently on the bedroom floor for very long without being overcome with allergies, so here I am, avoiding sorting (gah, I hate clothes), tissue box at hand, at least for awhile.

I've finished only three books so far this year and have yet to write about any of them despite the fact that one of them will definitely be on my best-of-year list come next December. Reviews will follow this week, I hope. This weekend I've been reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, which, in its way, is a fit companion for my other book-in-progress, Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm, which concerns itself with a character's loss of faith. I finished the most science-heavy chapter of the Dawkins this morning and expect the rest of the book to be a little easier on the brain.

One of my reading resolutions was to read a short story per week as part of the Short Story Reading Challenge. I suppose I should amend that resolution to say that I will read at least 52 stories, but in fits and starts, since I have yet to read a single story this year. I'll be spending the rest of my reading time today on an assortment of stories and will update this post as I complete them.


Since Kate read and loved Ali Smith's The Whole Story and other stories last year, it seemed appropriate that my first story for the challenge should come from this collection. How apropos then to discover these lines of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector at the front of Smith's book as a tie-in to the last chapter read in Dawkins:

Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes.

The first story in the collection, "the universal story," is a story of beginnings, a story of false beginnings to stories, of a writer feeling her way into the proper beginning and perspective for telling a story. The heart of the story: an artist who builds full-sized boats out of flowers, clocks, leaves, etc., remembers the final lines of Fitzgerald--So we beat on, boats against the current--and sends her brother to buy all the copies of The Great Gatsby that he can find so that she can build a boat out of books. Along the way, we learn the history of one particular copy of Gatsby, the fly who lands upon the cover of Gatsby in a second-hand bookshop, and the grim economics experienced by the bookshop's owner since the bypass around her village was built.



Our mothers and fathers were werewolves. They lived an outsider's existence in caves at the edge of the forest, threatened by frost and pitchforks. They had been ostracized by the local farmers for eating their silled fruit pies and terrorizing the heifers. They had ostracized the local wolves by having sometimes-thumbs, and regrets, and human children. (Their condition skips a generation.) Our pack grew up in a green purgatory. We couldn't keep up with the purebred wolves, but we never stopped crawling. We spoke a slab-tongued pidgin in the cave, inflected with frequent howls. Our parents wanted something better for us; they wanted us to get braces, use towels, be fully bilingual. When the nuns showed up, our parents couldn't refuse their offer. The nuns, they said, would make us naturalized citizens of human society. We would go to St. Lucy's to study a better culture. We didn't know at the time that our parents were sending us away for good. Neither did they.

--Karen Russell, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves


When they go down the stairs, there is no sign of the Specialist's hat. They brush their teeth, climb into the ship-bed, and pull the covers up to their necks. The babysitter sits between their feet. When you're Dead," Samantha says, "do you still get tired and have to go to sleep? Do you have dreams?"

"When you're Dead," the babysitter says, "everything's a lot easier. You don't have to do anything that you don't want to. You don't have to have a name, you don't have to remember. You don't even have to breathe."

She shows them exactly what she means.

--Kelly Link, "The Specialist's Hat," in Feeling Very Strange

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Let them eat cake

I'm a desultory cook; uninspired, rather resentful that the onus of meals defaults onto my leave-me-alone-and-let-me-read shoulders. Of course I breastfed my babies; it was the easiest way to avoid the kitchen entirely.

Unfortunately, my husband would rather subsist on peanut butter sandwiches three meals a day than cook, and neither of the kids turned into a hybrid vigor in the culinary department, so I trudge on, turning to Fanny Farmer or one of the spiralbound church- or community-group- issued publications from my hometown when I feel obligated to produce something that's more than merely edible. Pathetic, c'est moi.

But for Christmas I got a KitchenAid stand mixer and after a few days of admiring its color, I concluded that to justify the amount of counter space it was consuming I'd better learn to use it. Goodbye, baked potatoes; hello, mashed potatoes/winter squash medley. L. was interested enough in the machine to take over washing its bowl and the beater every time I made something. When I mentioned I'd like to make sourdough bread, he grew some starter that might have been of use to Alexander Fleming; through persistence, we now have a couple jars of starter in the refrigerator that might make a few decent loaves of bread.

My biggest success so far has been a Devil's Food White-Out cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, a book I spotted on the new books cart several days back and that we've all drooled over since I brought it home. As you can see from the photo, I went a little overboard in covering the icing with chocolate crumbs, but oh my, did that cake taste good. It didn't last 24 hours. Maybe I'll make another this weekend.

Or try a new recipe.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Your Personality is Very Rare (INTP)

Your personality type is goofy, imaginative, relaxed, and brilliant.

Only about 4% of all people have your personality, including 2% of all women and 6% of all men
You are Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving.
The American dream of happiness might be a nightmare. What passes for bliss could well be a dystopia of flaccid grins. Our passion for felicity hints at an ominous hatred for all that grows and thrives and then dies. I'd hate for us to awaken one morning and regret what we've done in the name of untroubled enjoyment. I'd hate for us to crawl out of our beds and walk out into a country denuded of gorgeous lonely roads and the grandeur of desolate hotels, of half-cracked geniuses and their frantic poems. I'd hate for us to come to consciousness when it's too late to live.

--Eric G. Wilson, In Praise of Melancholy

Monday, January 14, 2008

January books

New books!

The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Nancy Mitford. Am I the only one who's never read a book by a Mitford?

Darkmans. Nicola Barker. I know some thought this one should have beat out the Enright for the Booker.

The God Delusion. Richard Dawkins. I'm glad I waited for the paperback; Dawkins responds to negative reviews the hardback received in a new preface. No mention of Marilynne Robinson's smackdown, however. . .

The Country of the Pointed Firs. Sarah Orne Jewett. For one of my many reading challenges.

Goldberg: Variations. Gabriel Josipovici. Josipovici's name has shown up on various blogs the last couple of years and in a manner that's always left me feeling intimidated. I decided to see if that intimidation is warranted.

An Absolute Gentleman. R.M. Kinder. A review copy. I've read the first few pages and am waiting for time to pull a marathon reading session. I have an impression it's that sort of book.

The People of the Book. Geraldine Brooks. It's gorgeous!
David Masello on E.B. White:

Reading an essay by White is akin to exploring a Colonial-era house to which many wings have been added over the years. In a readerly walk-through, you take a step up or down, follow a dark hallway to a room that was once a porch, duck your head as you re-enter an original part of the house with wide-planked floors that slope. His windows would be the kind fitted with wavy, Bull's-Eye-glass panes that reveal what is beyond, but with an added dimension. His essays ramble in ways that make you want to follow along. He never strays far from the primary topic, and every detour he takes is compelling.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lorrie Moore gets political:

Does her being a woman make her a special case? Does gender confer meaning on her candidacy? In my opinion, it is a little late in the day to become sentimental about a woman running for president. The political moment for feminine role models, arguably, has passed us by. The children who are suffering in this country, who are having trouble in school, and for whom the murder and suicide rates and economic dropout rates are high, are boys — especially boys of color, for whom the whole educational system, starting in kindergarten, often feels a form of exile, a system designed by and for white girls.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Woo hoo!

The return of The Readerville Journal--the high tech version.
For authors, this week’s return of the Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a case of good news/bad news. The good news is that authors once again have a shot at appearing on two of the most effective book publicity outlets on TV. The bad news—especially for the kind of left-leaning nonfiction authors likely to find a receptive audience on these shows—is that they’d have to cross a picket line of fellow writers.

--Claire Kirch, "A Dilemma for Authors"

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The games men play

Nikolai and Chubinov were behaving as women never would dare to behave. Laura could not imagine any woman saying that she and her friends had never contemplated murdering the Governor of somewhere, and searching the distance for the cause of this exceptional abstinence, with a gentle, misted eye, as if speculating on the whereabouts of a lost umbrella. It would have been funny if the missing object had not been a murder; and what was infuriating was that the two were now suffering agonies of self-pity because it had not paid to treat murders as of no more consequence than umbrellas. What was the point of all these corpses, even leaving out that they were horrible? They could just as well have hung a dummy from that meat-hook in the kitchen of the villa on the Peterhof Road, and agreed that one side would say it was Valentine, and the other that it was Kamensky's brother. They never need have started this stupid game, and they could have stopped it at any moment they chose.

--Rebecca West, The Birds Fall Down

Friday, January 04, 2008

Look, ma! Another list!

This time it's the 50 Greatest British writers since 1945 (with the authors I've read in bold):

1. Philip Larkin

2. George Orwell

3. William Golding

4. Ted Hughes

5. Doris Lessing

6. J. R. R. Tolkien

7. V. S. Naipaul

8. Muriel Spark

9. Kingsley Amis

10. Angela Carter

11. C. S. Lewis

12. Iris Murdoch

13. Salman Rushdie

14. Ian Fleming

15. Jan Morris

16. Roald Dahl

17. Anthony Burgess

18. Mervyn Peake

19. Martin Amis

20. Anthony Powell

21. Alan Sillitoe

22. John Le Carré

23. Penelope Fitzgerald

24. Philippa Pearce

25. Barbara Pym

26. Beryl Bainbridge

27. J. G. Ballard

28. Alan Garner

29. Alasdair Gray

30. John Fowles

31. Derek Walcott

32. Kazuo Ishiguro

33. Anita Brookner

34. A. S. Byatt

35. Ian McEwan

36. Geoffrey Hill

37. Hanif Kureshi

38. Iain Banks

39. George Mackay Brown

40. A. J. P. Taylor

41. Isaiah Berlin

42. J. K. Rowling

43. Philip Pullman

44. Julian Barnes

45. Colin Thubron

46. Bruce Chatwin

47. Alice Oswald

48. Benjamin Zephaniah

49. Rosemary Sutcliff

50. Michael Moorcock
Verlyn Klinkenborg on Angela Thirkell's novels:

These are novels full of what might be called applied literature, whole lifetimes of shared reading welling up allusively in conversation. The reader hears the constant sound of familiar authors passing back and forth behind the scenes, like servants heading from the kitchen to the dining room in great English houses. And yet the talk is wonderful because it is simply neighborhood gossip. The war encroaches on Barsetshire, but the gossip continues, against a broader, grimmer backdrop.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


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Last week we talked about the books you liked best from 2007. So this week, what with it being a new year, and all, we’re looking forward….

What new books are you looking forward to most in 2008? Something new being published this year? Something you got as a gift for the holidays? Anything in particular that you’re planning to read in 2008 that you’re looking forward to? A classic, or maybe a best-seller from 2007 that you’re waiting to appear in paperback?

I've already posted my reading resolutions and an extensive pool of books and authors for several reading challenges I'll be participating in. I'm excited about many of these books. And my latest book stack; I'm very excited about all of those.

Otherwise, I find myself looking forward to a few that have yet to be published:

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek, which will be out in time for Mother's Day.

The Eternal Husband by Dostoevsky, which should be out soon. I love that cover!

The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, which is actually just out this week, but I have to wait for my next gift card before I can order it. Bummer.

Booking Through Thursday

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

End of/beginning of year reading ruminations

I cringed a bit compiling my list of Favorite Reads of 2007. What does it say about me that so many of my favorites didn't get much of a mention, if a mention at all, here on my blog at the time that I read them? I really must make more of an effort to write about what I read and love instead of allowing myself to be so frequently distracted by life, the universe, and the next book in the queue.

Favorites, for me, simply mean ones that I finished knowing that I'd love to read again at some point. This year's new favorites are (in order read):

Ward No. 6. Anton Chekhov
The Terror. Dan Simmons
Pedro Paramo. Juan Rulfo
Heyday. Kurt Andersen
Out Stealing Horses. Per Petterson
The Violent Bear It Away. Flannery O'Connor
Other Voices, Other Rooms. Truman Capote
The Thinking Reed. Rebecca West
The Used World. Haven Kimmel
Sons and Lovers. D.H. Lawrence
The Gathering. Anne Enright
Daniel Deronda. George Eliot

How well did I follow last year's reading resolutions? I completed only five of the 13 classics I intended to read, although I did read 23 classics in all. I didn't touch Proust. I did continue reading Rebecca West and I began reading Christina Stead for the Outmoded Challenge instead of continuing to put her on hold. I returned to the Aubrey/Maturin series (I'd read none in 2006) and I read quite a bit of Southern literature. The piles of ARCs I picked up at the ALA convention and the occasional review copy that's sent my way helped me break my habit of placing library holds on soon-to-be published and just-published books that always took priority over the books I already owned.

What do I intend to read in 2008? Ulysses. It's time. I have a Teaching Company lecture series and a couple of guidebooks for handholding. I won't start until after the bedroom renovations are complete and the upstairs no longer resembles Humpty Dumpty post-crackup, and I'll try to keep my whining to a minimum once I do, but read it this year I will.

Once again I'm going to read at whim from my own shelves, but with fewer new purchases joining their brethren on those shelves. And I'm going to read Rebecca West and Christina Stead and both Jessica and Nancy Mitford and maybe Ivy Compton-Burnett. And books for all the challenges I've signed up for, and at least a book or two for the Planet Earth Reading Challenge that Sylvia mentioned over the weekend. I'm going to read more nonfiction than I did in 2007. More short stories.

That's it.

Happy reading, y'all.

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...