Monday, February 28, 2005

I haven't had a chance to read much lately what with work stuff and the enormously enjoyable WonderCon sucking up all my reading time, but I did manage to finish Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray this weekend. I took my time with it, reading a couple of chapters here and another there, spacing it out over a month or so. It follows two women, Becky and Amelia, through their lives and the rise and fall of their fortunes, from the time they both leave school until they reach middle age. I enjoyed it a lot and was almost reluctant to finish and leave it behind. I'm sure it's been analyzed to death and I don't have anything new to add, so I'll just say that I thought Becky was a wonderful character and despite the narrator's moralizing protestations every couple of chapters, you could tell he thought so too. Really, it was nearly perfect and one I'm sure I'll be rereading many times.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The next book I read was Project X by Jim Shepard but I don't think I can talk about that one without getting emotional. Just go read it.

Instead I'll skip to How Soon is Never? by Marc Spitz which is so chick lit for guys. But since it's for guys it's all about how music saved his life and the perfect woman who got away. The main character writes for a major music magazine and in an attempt to return to his adolescence instead of growing up, he and the woman he idolizes decide to try and reunite The Smiths, a band that had a huge influence on their teenage years. I'm a big music fan and there were so many moments that rang true - like the scene in the lunchroom when one of the characters catches a hated jock humming the tune to "How Soon is Now?" and yells, "They are not for you! They're ours! You fuckers already took U2!" I don't know how many times I've felt like that.

In one of those weird coincidences, this book complemented Project X by picking up one of the great ironies of that book and following a possible outcome of the situation. I'm trying not to spoil either book so I realize that was an incredibly vague statement. But I think that if I'd read these books separate from each other, I wouldn't have made the same connection. Realizing the similarity only made Project X that much more poignant.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman was absolutely delightful. It is a short collection of essays (previously published in the magazine Civilization) on the nature of reading and how we as readers interact with books and words. The essays cover everything from the anxiety of merging your book collection with your spouse's to gender neutral language to how books are physically handled. Each essay drew a smile or a laugh or an "Oh my gosh! I do that too!" I began thinking about how I interact with books - do I treat them with courtly love or carnal? Do I have an "odd shelf" of books? How did she know about my love of the physical implements of writing? The essay on proofreading reminded me of when my local paper reported that Bill Bixby died of "prostrate" cancer. And I was oddly proud that in the essay about words that have fallen into disuse, I knew what the word grimoire meant when Anne didn't. (Even if it was just because it's used frequently in fantasy novels.) I enjoyed reading about the love Anne and her family have for language and books and discovered that I share many of their ideas and habits when it comes to books and reading. I suspect this would be the case for anyone who loves books.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

When I was younger my mother instituted a ban on the then newly launched Fox network. She thought that every show the network aired, except one, was horrible and that those shows were a bad influence on us kids. We couldn't watch The Simpsons because the children were rude to their parents. She found Married With Children extremely offensive, and I'm not sure if she actually objected to 21 Jump Street on any moral grounds or if I just couldn't watch it because Dad wanted to watch Murder, She Wrote. The one exception she made was for Star Trek The Next Generation. It seemed an odd fit for my mother, who, at the time, read a lot of Regency romances. (I found out just a little while ago from my aunt when I mentioned it to her that she and her brothers and sisters used to watch the original Star Trek together when they were kids.) I was a budding science fiction geek, so I didn't mind. Plus, TNG had Wesley Crusher. I wasn't allowed to drool over Johnny Depp, but I could watch Wil Wheaton every week and for a 12 year old girl starting to discover Asimov and Eddings, Wesley was the perfect crush. He was smart and cute and lived on a spaceship! After he left the show, he seemed to disappear and I moved on and forgot all about him.

In Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton he talks about what happened after that. It's actually his second book, and covers some of the same ground as his first, a collection of entries from his website. In this book he talks about his struggle to come to terms with his Star Trek experience and his fight to continue acting, before ultimately deciding that he should let it go and concentrate on his writing. He includes some early entries from his site and comments on the evolution of the site and his development as a writer. Indeed, he has improved from those early examples and several of the later entries are pretty good.

Incidentally, The Simpsons are still banned at my parents' house...


Monday, February 07, 2005

Yesterday I breezed through Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame ed. by Robin Robertson. I'm not entirely sure where I heard about it, but it was probably on one of the many book blogs I read (links to which I really should put in my sidebar one of these days). It's a series of essays from 70 or so writers on public humiliations they have experienced. There are quite a few essays on poorly attended readings and signings and several describing drunken behavior. After a while a lot of them seemed to blur into each other; an unending stream of empty rooms and clueless radio and television hosts. There are a few that stand out, especially the one where the writer spotted his book in a discount bin and looked at it only to find it was a copy he had signed "To Mom and Dad..." Poor guy.

Now back to Vanity Fair!


Friday, February 04, 2005

I was home sick yesterday, so I read Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. It got some great reviews, so I was looking forward to it and luckily it did not disappoint. The book begins by describing three unsolved crimes: in the first a three year old girl goes missing from her backyard, the second is the brutal and apparently random murder of a teenager on her first day working in her father's office, and the third is that of a wife who snaps and murders her husband with an axe. All three stories intersect in the present day when various family members all contact the same private investigator to solve the their cases. Atkinson does a wonderful job of making all her characters (including the victims) feel real and shows how the violent losses each experienced changed his or her life. While each case is resolved in one fashion or another, there are no easy answers given and justice isn't always served. I liked how the book was structured, moving back and forth in time between the present day and the different cases, and how the truth was slowly revealed. Certain aspects of the ending were a bit too neat and I guessed a few of the twists, but overall I really enjoyed it.


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