Sunday, October 25, 2009

The early morning readathon post

Wow, I had no idea I quit posting so early last night. I settled on Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's The Blank Wall, and read on and off until about 10 pm and went to bed, intending to get about four hours or so of sleep. Instead, I slept till 4:30, and resumed reading then. I knew by staying up late Friday to read Her Fearful Symmetry that I was going to be too tired to last long on Saturday. Oh well.

Anyway, I've just finished the Holding. Nicholson, our most devious cat, has been pushing books off the end table with her nose, trying to get me to go feed her. I'm not supposed to bend over for six weeks, though, due to pulled muscles in my back, so L.'s been feeding the cats, since it involves lots of bending over. I may take this as a sign to go back to bed until someone else is up around here to feed the cats and pick the books up off the floor.

What an excuse, huh?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Read-a-thon Post


(8:25 am)

Happy Read-a-thon Day!

I started an hour early, since I was awake and was eager to finish Her Fearful Symmetry, which I had been unable to resist starting late yesterday afternoon (I came home from work early). I've now read the final 73 pages and am trying to decide what I want to read next.

I'm going to update this post throughout the day instead of having several different posts on my progress.

(8:40 am)

A first hour meme:

Where are you reading from today?
My reading chair in Charlotte, NC, with expectations that some of the reading will take place with me on the treadmill.

3 facts about me …

Today's my birthday.

Pages Turned is five years old today.

I stayed up too late reading last night and will no doubt suffer for it now that the read-a-thon has officially started.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? I couldn't wait, so I've already read two of them--Lynn Freed's The Servants' Quarters and Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry. I think that leaves five from the official stack, but there are literally hundreds more in the house to chose from if those don't feel quite right.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? Nary a one.

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time? Have fun!


12:23 pm

Just finished A.L. Barker's The Haunt. A strange little book with an odd assortment of characters.

I think I shall turn my attention to Dave Eggers' Zeitoun for awhile.


4:43 pm

Just dropping in to say I am loving Dave Eggers' Zeitoun. I've finished parts I and II and am now taking a break to look at a friend's wedding registry.


6:42 pm

Finished Zeitoun. It was fantastic. Trying to decide what I'm in the mood for now.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Turn it on, turn it up. . .

because it's Dwight Yoakam's birthday! And Dwight's birthday is always the start of an annual three-day celebration around my house, because I'm fortunate enough to have a birthday the day after my favorite musician's and the day before my favorite author's. I was bummed for years that I'd missed sharing a birthday with Anne Tyler by a day, but then Dwight came along and I realized just how perfect it was that I nestled down between the two of 'em.

So anyway, a trip to YouTube this morning clued me in that I've missed some great concerts this year (somebody ought to stop snubbing North Carolina). Above, Dwight segues from Elvis to (You Don't Know What It's Like) To Love Somebody, and below, he interjects a Gordon Lightfoot quota into what's probably the encore. He sounds rather hoarse, but gorgeous all the same.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New books

I only bought one of these! The rest are for tours or reviews or, gasp, my birthday!

Small Beneath the Sky. Lorna Crozier. A memoir by a Canadian poet for a tour next month. I may find myself dipping into this one during the Readathon this weekend.

Howards End is On the Landing. Susan Hill. The one I bought. I preordered it back in July. I'm hoping it will provide encouragement next year when I really need to read from home, instead of buying books at a merry clip. Because if we move for my husband's new job (he's got employment!), I going to need to weed what I already own anyway.

Things We Didn't See Coming. Steven Amsterdam. A galley of nine connected stories set in a dystopian world. I'm trying to wait until closer to the publication date before I dive in, but I'm really looking forward to starting this collection.

The Greatest Show on Earth. Richard Dawkins. A birthday present. Dawkins was in town last week, but I didn't learn he was coming until after tickets were sold out. Bummer.

The Year of the Flood. Margaret Atwood. Another birthday present.

Wolf Hall. Hilary Mantel. I won this from Frances at Nonsuch Book. Thank you, Frances! I'm a huge Mantel fan and I'm glad she won the Booker.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.

--Virginia Woolf

Monday, October 19, 2009

“Look,” I said, sloshing out the last of the wine, some of which actually made it into my glass, “there is simply no question that by any objective standards, Dickens is a better writer than Dan Brown. That ought to be obvious even to a moron in a panic.” I wagged the admonitory finger. “It’s not elitist to say so. It’s not snobbish and it’s not a criticism of your choice of beach-read. I’m just saying…”

“…you’re just saying that hating every word of Little Dorrit would do me more good than enjoying The Da Vinci Code.”

I paused. I don’t like to be interrupted. It makes me cranky.

“Oh, go and boil your-hic-your head,” I told my mother. And having delivered that witty rejoinder, I slipped unconscious under the table just as the groom stood up to make his speech.

Very cool Mark Bastable article on reading the classics at BibloBuffet.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Readathon Stack

I've decided on the books I'm most likely to draw from during the readathon on the 24th.

From the top, and with their opening sentence:

Zeitoun. Dave Eggers.

On moonless nights the men and boys of Jableh, a dusty fishing town on the coast of Syria, would gather their lanterns and set out in their quietest boats.

The Servants' Quarters. Lynn Freed.

If every family chooses someone to punish, I was the one chosen by mine.

The Blank Wall. Elisabeth Sanxay Holding.

Lucia Holley wrote every night to her husband, who was somewhere in the Pacific.

The Men Who Stare at Goats. Jon Ronson.

This is a true story.

The Collected Stories of Caroline Gordon.

We were sitting on the porch at the Fork--it is where two creeks meet--after supper, talking about our family reunion.

The Haunt. A.L. Barker.

When the Griersons moved from Wimbledon to Cornwall it was more a flight of fancy than a leap in the dark.

Her Fearful Symmetry. Audrey Niffenegger.

Elspeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup.

Monday, October 12, 2009

L'Hippocampe de Jean Painlevé (1934), Parts 1 & 2

Filming for L'Hippocampe begain in a Parisian basement, where Painleve and [Andre]Raymond [cameraman] set up a studio equipped with vast glass tanks draped in seaweed. The main protagonists of the film, pregnant male seahorses, had been brought in unceremoniously from the coast in rusting metal buckets. Once the seahorses with their stretched round bellies were installed in the miniature watery film set, Painleve settled down to eagerly await the moment of birth . . . . Painleve constructed a device mounted on his hat that administered a small electric shock to wake him up whenever he nodded off. Such extreme measures paid off, and Painleve finally got the footage he wanted.

The next scenes were shot in the Bay of Archachon on France's Atlantic coast, where Painleve crouched on the seabed a few meters down, armed with an enormous waterproof box, his camera peering out through a thick glass plate. Capturing wild seahorses on film for the first time was an arduous task. At that time, the only way Painleve could spend time underwater was to gulp air through a rubber tube tethered to a hand pump at the surface. . . . To make matters worse, his camera held only a few seconds of film requiring frequent trips to the surface to reload.

--Helen Scales, Poseidon's Steed

New York Times discovers Nina Sankovitch, who's reading a book a day and blogging about it at Read All Day.

(Naturally, she has a cat.)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hey FTC!

I'm already in the habit of mentioning whether a book I've received or discussed in some capacity is a review copy, but if I need to "conspicuously disclose" after Dec. 1 that my opinion has been swayed and my integrity has been all compromised because I read a free book from a publisher instead of a free book from the library, I thought I'd put into effect the Bellowing Elk Alert System Trump-card (BEAST).

Obnoxious, no doubt, but Mr. Shiftlet (Elk 99's real name) is totally trustworthy.

He told me so his own self in goldplated words.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Latest stack of books

I have a nagging feeling that there's a book or two that's missing from tonight's stack of new books, but perhaps it's just that I expected a couple more of my preorders to have arrived by now. The Book Depository cancelled one of them over the weekend and refunded my money--after emailing me last Thursday to tell me the book was ready to ship. Since the book is showing this week as being available again, I've ordered it once more and am hoping for the best.

I've definitely placed my trust in Rebecca West since I've purchased four A.L. Barkers. John Brown's Body was shortlisted for the Booker in 1969, The Gooseboy won the Macmillan Silver Pen Award in 1988, The Haunt was Barker's last published novel; and A Heavy Feather was the one West herself was so taken with.

Notwithstanding is Louis de Bernieres' just published collection of short stories--stories of a vanished England, according to the dust jacket.

The Blank Wall and The Innocent Mrs. Duff by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. Two novels of suspense in one back to back binding.

More short stories: Clifford Garstang's In an Uncharted Country and Long Story Short, a collection of flash fiction from North Carolina authors edited by Marianne Gingher.

I won Norah Labiner's German for Travelers: A novel in 95 Lessons in a BBAW giveaway at Amber Stults' blog. Thank you, Amber, and I hope you enjoyed your vacation at Topsail!

Generosity by Richard Powers and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. These are two that are making me regret all the reading commitments I have lined up for the next several weeks. Whatever happened to read at whim, I wonder?

Monday, October 05, 2009

The enigmatic Nikolski

This enigmatic book assembles, under the anonymity of a single binding--or what's left of it--three destinies once scattered over various libraries, or even over various garbage dumps. Which leaves outstanding the question as to what sort of twisted mind could have conceived of such an amalgamation, and to what end.

Or, as the unnamed narrator of a scant third of the narratives (I thought of him as Ishmael, given that the first line is My name is unimportant) in Nicolas Dickner's Nikolski helpfully identifies the fragments of the Three-Headed-Book, that coverless one-of-a-kind book won in a Tel Aviv poker game by the seafaring Jonas Doucet: a portion on treasure islands, a treatise on pirates, and a biography of a desert island castaway.

Confused? Don't be. While Nikolski is a fragmented text, the overarching story is easy to follow: scattered relatives of Jonas Doucet converge for awhile in the Little Italy section of Montreal but live tangentially, unaware of any family connections. Doucet's coverless book, already well-traveled before it came into his possession, will make its way into the hands of each relative, a sort of familial currency for three young people seeking their way in the world.

The unnamed narrator is truly a sort of anti-Ishmael--content to travel through second-hand books, particularly travel guides, in the Montreal bookstore where he's worked since he was 14. He treasures a cheap child's compass, his only link to the father he never knew, a man who'd struck out in the world at the age of 14. The compass is off-kilter, pointing not north, but as he figures out, through the last-known address of his father: Umnak Island off the coast of Alaska, or "more specifically, on Nikolski, a minuscule village inhabited by thirty-six people, five thousand sheep and an indeterminate number of dogs."

His half-brother Noah, tired of the nomadic childhood spent with his Chipewyan mother, who'd lost her right (as well as her desire) to live on the reservation due to a short-lived marriage to a white man, comes to Montreal to attend college ("An island," was all she bothered to mumble" when he opened the acceptance envelope). He arbitarily selects archaeology as a major, then realizes an affinity for trash archaeology. As his radical professor and academic advisor tells him:

. . . the truth is, we're ahead of our time. Archaeology is the discipline of the future. Every time an old IBM finds its way to the dump, it becomes an artifact. Artifacts are the main products of our civilization. When all the computer experts are unemployed, we'll still have millions of years of work ahead of us. That is the fundamental paradox of archaeology. Our discipline will reach its peak at the end of the world.

In the meantime, Noah and his professor are stuck studying indigenous prehistory, an irony not lost on Noah, due to the conservative climate of the university. Instead, it is his cousin Joyce who spends her nights dumpster-diving for treasure. Joyce has grown up in Tete-a-la Baleine, an isolated village on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence reachable only by air or water, and has wanted to follow in the footsteps of her maternal forebears and become a pirate. Inspired by a news article about a presumed female relative who's been arrested for heading an internet ring of pirates, Joyce runs off to Montreal and learns to build her own computers from parts she's found in the trash and eventually begins to ply her nefarious trade.

Recipient of several literary prizes after its 2005 publication in Quebec, Nikolski, translated into English by Lazer Lederhendler, was published in the U.S. by Shambhala back in May. I'm glad I didn't get around to reading my review copy until now since I wouldn't have experienced such a hightened frisson of connection with my other recent reads: Quebec and trash figure as well in Infinite Jest; remote Canadian villages and identity theft and South America figure as well in Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply; Noah isn't navigating by compass in the latest Anne Tyler; and reaching further back, cartography's found as well in The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys an amalgamation of the unexpected in their fiction: marine biology, secondhand bookstores, islands off the coast of Venezula, flooding basements, dinosaurs evolving into hummingbirds, perfectly preserved heads of lettuce found by drilling down a garbage dump to where the flow of time has slowed.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

I'm not one to understand the appeal of jumping off bridges, but this is a photo of my daughter a couple days ago at Lake Taupo, having her version of a lot of fun. She thinks we should all move to New Zealand where her brother could take up raising sheep or llamas.

She's in Australia now, avoiding jellyfish. Or so she tells me.

Lucky duck.

Excuse me while I return to my Janet Frame.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Readerly intentions

I've signed up for Dewey's Read-a-thon! What better way to celebrate my 50th birthday and the blog's fifth anniversary than by excessive reading on that very day, right? Of course I am operating on the assumption the extended family will want to celebrate on Sunday this year instead of on the 24th or else I may have to go missing for several hours during prime reading hours. Such is life.

I've held out hope all year that I would manage to read 100 books by December 31--I've not reached triple digits since 2001--and I'm feeling devious enough to finagle that by putting several short books into the queue for this fall. In fact, I read Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop last night (just 123 pages) and I am now over the misguided notion I'd had for years that I would not like her books. But I also intend to participate in the Kristin Lavransdatter Readalong with Richard and Emily and everyone else who signs up as well as tackle Wilkie Collins' No Name for Rebecca's Classics Circuit, so there will be some long-term commitments mixed in with one-nighters.

And then there are the library books and the pre-orders that will continue to trickle in through early November and all the older books on the shelves that are wondering when I'm going to make the time to pay some attention to them. . .

Must get to reading before I psych myself out.

Booking Through Thursday - Would You Lie?

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Two-thirds of Brits have lied about reading books they haven’t. Have you? Why? What book?


Well, not unless you want to count the time I didn't read The Grapes of Wrath in 12th grade English, relying on Cliff's Notes instead to get me through the test or paper or whatever was required to prove that we had actually read it. I didn't get around to The Grapes of Wrath until some twenty years later, despite the fact that Steinbeck was one of my favorite authors in high school and my steadfast refusal not to read this one did not appear to be hinged on any reason other than I was feeling surly and contrary and by God, no one was going to make me do anything I didn't want to do (plus, I'd already been admitted to college through early admssions). And, best I can remember, the not wanting to read Steinbeck period ran concurrently with the period that I was going around telling my friends that if at the end of the year I didn't win the English award, which, by God, everyone knew I deserved, I was going to burn. down. the English building. And, fortunately, this was pre- (by 20 years) instead of post-Columbine, so instead of being turned in to the police and inflicting all sorts of embarrassment on my poor dad who was the chief of the volunteer fire department and would not have appreciated having an arsonist for a daughter and needing, all these years later, to write this response by hand from some sorry prison cell, my friends let me continue to vent obnoxious fumes up unto the point when I won the award and could shut up already with the crazy talk.

They were patient with me that way.

Otherwise, I cannot remember ever lying about reading a book that I haven't.

The flipside of this question is that I was telling my son about David Lodge's game of Humiliation just last night, which devolved into an argument over whether Hamlet is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but I'll spare you the play-by-play on that since you've already been afflicted with another one of my long-winded stories about high school. Thank you for suffering through it.

Booking Through Thursday

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...