28 December 2010
My annual recap turned into a bit of a mind explosion.
How many books read in 2010?
A measly 68. Far fewer than the 110 I read in 2009. I put this down to working more, buying a house, and taking on both War and Peace (1,352 pp) and The Golden Notebook (640 pp). Oh and my misguided attempt to read all the Penguin English Journey series in April really undercut my reading mojo.
That my Barbara Pym fantasy is unlikely to come true.
Blog posts I am most likely to read?
1. Anything to do with a list. Even if I don't agree with the criteria or the subject, a post about lists will always get my attention.
2. Anything with pictures of books. I prefer the stacks of owned books. For some reason piles from the library fail to inspire me.
3. The more personal and newsy the better. I love hearing about your hobbies, your travel, your cooking and baking, your pets, and even your kids (unless it falls into the "children are our future" camp of over adulation).
Blog posts I am least likely to read?
1. Anything with vampires. I just don't dig the paranormal and I find this genre tedious.
2. Young adult fiction being read and reviewed endlessly by grown women. I am not dissing YA, and I am not dissing those who have a professional interest, those who review them for a YA audience, or those who review one or two of them in passing. But this year I was a judge for the YA category in a blog beauty pageant and it really soured me on the legions of twenty-something females who appear to be frightened of leaving their tween years behind them. One expects them to have Justin Bieber posters on their walls and fluffy pom-poms on the ends of their purple pens.
3. Reviews of audio books. I read and enjoy reviews of TV shows and films, but I just pass over audio book reviews.
4. The one million Booker Prize recaps. I used to pay attention to these, but there just seem to be too many of them these days.
5. Anything by bloggers who seem to be completely devoid of any sense of humor.
6. ARC reviews. I won't say that I never read them, but I prefer to see what bloggers read when they get to choose for themselves. (Full disclosure: I have reviewed one ARC. But I would have picked up the Maggie O'Farrell novel anyway.)
Biggest shortcomings as a book blogger?
1. My over the top, intolerant, un-nuanced pronouncements that make me feel temporarily smug (see the answers to the previous question).
2. My inability to recap plots in a way that isn't boring or overly reductive.
3. I am sure there are more...but I am too lazy to think of them.
4. I get lazy.
One thing I wish every blog included?
Geographic location of the blogger. I don't need to know the street you live on, but I really like knowing where a blogger lives. And unless you live in Gibraltar it would be nice if you could be a little more specific than just noting thecountry.
Things that puzzle me
1. British bloggers tend to get lots of influenza. What's up with that? I worry about you all.
2. Mailbox Mondays. Who is sending all of these books? Is there an international directory of mailing addresses that I don't have access to? I don't necessarily want to get books, but I sometimes want to send books. But I feel like sending books unsolicited would seem a little creepy. How does one ask for an address without seeming to be a stalker?
5. Why I am using up months' worth of blog post topics in one out of control stream of consciousness.
22 December 2010
In the vast, wide world of reading, there is room for infinite points of view. (What else could explain James Patterson?) And even within the much smaller world of book-bloggers whose reading tastes align with my own there is room for much diversity.
The second sacred cow I will poke in the eye, is one of my own making. As a lover of all things Whipple, I was disappointed by her novel Someone at a Distance. My previous experiences with High Wages and The Priory were fantastic. And I liked her short stories in The Closed Door even more. As I mentioned in my review, I think Whipple's plot arcs are much better in her short fiction. She sometimes has problems with plot in longer fiction. She doesn't so much as lose the plot in her novels as compress a whole lot of action into too short a period. I liked HW and TP so much that, while I noticed it, it didn't bother me. Not so with Someone at a Distance.
As awful a human being as she was, I am far from believing that Louise was the villain of the book. They all played their role in the destruction of their lives.
I probably don't dislike this book as much as I am making it sound. I would still probably give it a 6 out of 10. But I think what puzzles me is why it is such a favorite Whipple, so much so that it is a Persephone Classic. And fear not, I am still a faithful member of Team Whipple. But as with everything in life, one must realize that even our heroes are fallible.
19 December 2010
I know, I know, it isn't the end of the year, how in the world can I choose my top 10 for the year? Easy, I know the four or five books I hope to finish by midnight on 12/31 and none of them, while being enjoyable, will make it into the top ten. (Sorry Simon, Frank Baker won't make the cut, but Richmal Crompton will!)
I really liked a lot of the books I read this year, but it was still pretty easy to separate ten from the herd that particularly rocked my reading world in one way or another.
Not surprisingly for me, only one of the ten was published even remotely recently. Besides the Niffenegger, the "newest" title is about 17 years old. This is why I don't fear the e-book. Plenty of old books for me to read.
So, in no particular order...
Stoner by John Williams
Happily this book has been getting lots of attention in the blogosphere this year. The novel has an academic setting, but you don't have to like that kind of thing to like this one. Amazing book.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
A classic that I had never read before. There are some novels where the writing just feels right. This one grabbed me instantly.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
This is NOT normally my cup of tea. And I do NOT think it is a fine, or amazing book. And I will NOT want to read anything else by Niffenegger. But boy did I enjoy reading this one. I picked it up in the resort library last January in Thailand and it was perfect vacation reading.
A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O'Brien
Such a smart, funny novel about a child of hasbeen movie stars trying to grow up normal.
As We Are Now by May Sarton
A devastatingly tragic novel about being old.
Old Filth by Jane Gardam
The novel I wish had been expanded to Trollopian lengths.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Delightful comfort read. Sigh.
The Closed Door by Dorothy Whipple
I love Dorothy Whipple's work. I read two novels of hers this year that I loved, and I am reading a third right now. But this collection of short stories are brilliant in a way that her longer fiction is not.
A Closed Eye by Anita Brookner
I love every novel Anita Brookner has ever written, but there was something about this one that I really liked.
Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
Out of the ten, this is the one that I most wish I could discover again for the first time.
In honor of the first snow of the season. Although I am not sure I should be honoring snow since the snow in the UK has delayed a visit from good friends by at least two days. Here is hoping they arrive tomorrow night.
|Snow, Boulevard de Clichy, Paris, 1886|
Paul Signac, 1863-1935
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
18 December 2010
Last weekend we had a holiday open house for friends and neighbors. It was the first chance since we moved in in May that we have been able to share some hospitality. The party got a little too busy for pictures, but we did manage to document some of the prep.
|That's right, I baked all of this.|
|The chocolate sour cream Bundt cake looks appropriately festive.|
16 December 2010
I am not saying this is a brilliantly written, perfectly wrought novel. There are more than a few themes that didn't really pull together for me. But it did at times tap into something very emotional for me. And anyone who can get me to see Damien Hirst's ridiculous shark in a tank in a new light is doing something worth looking into.
I had noticed hawk-like silhouettes circling high above the tree line in our neighborhood on a few previous occasions, but to see one swoop down on the sidewalk right in front of me and catch its prey was amazing. And then to have it do a fly by right in front of me was surreal. I thought about trying to capture it on my cellphone camera, but I knew that just watching it and not missing a thing was way more interesting than getting a blurry picture of it.
I am pretty sure it was a red-shouldered hawk. And I am even more sure that it was an American grey squirrel. May he or she rest in peace. Circle of life and all that...
15 December 2010
Today was supposed to be the big reveal for the Persephone Secret Santa, but, due to weather-induced postal complications, I still don't know who my PSS is. As you may have noticed I have been on a bit of a Persephone roll, having read two very recently. And today I started Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. I will have to make do with that until I get my PSS package.
13 December 2010
- I loved this book.
- I have been trying to write a plot bullet for about 20 minutes now and can't seem to get anything I like. Nothing I come up with makes the book sound as charming as it is. It is the story of two families whose lives become more and more entangled as the offspring of each family become friends, lovers, spouses, and enemies.
- One matriarch Mrs. Willoughby, rules with an iron glove. Extremely efficient, she instills fear and makes things happen. The other matriarch, Mrs. Fowler, is kinder and gentler She just kind of lets things happen, yet she too manages to make things happen.
09 December 2010
04 December 2010
And like War and Peace, The Golden Notebook was at times brilliant, and enthralling, and well, at times, a bit of a slog. I had also read about 200 pages of this 635-page book when I picked up the 1358-page War and Peace. So I think I first started The Golden Notebook back in September and have read eleven other books since then. Needless to say my reading experience suffered somewhat from such a long, drawn out read. The good thing is that there were so many things that made me stop and think along the way, that I put post-it notes through the book as I read. So now as I crack open the early chapters to see what I was thinking about months ago, I hope there is adequate fodder for a decent review.
To sum up the story (and the whole notebook thingy). Anna Wulf is keeping four notebooks. A black one where she writes about her experiences in Africa. A red one in which she writes about her political life as a member of the Communist Party in Britain. A yellow one that contains a novel she is writing. And a blue one in which she keeps her diary. And then at the end she chucks all those aside and writes a golden notebook where she decides to tie it all together. (I think this may be the source of the title...)
I know there are bloggers out there who love this book, and I can understand why. There is much to like and be fascinated by, and much that is intellectually and emotionally engaging. By the time I got to the end I found it somewhat hard to really say I liked this book, even though I know there were about at least 400 pages that I really did enjoy.
And since this "review" is starting to become as sprawling as Anna and her amazing technicolor notebooks I am going to go back and look at my post-it notes and just take the thoughts as they come.
Post-It Note #1
An entry in the black notebook which takes place in Africa during World War II, has the following interesting insight which had never occurred to me before:
There was another reason for cynicism...This war was presented to us as a crusade against the evil doctrines of Hitler, against racialsm, etc., yet the whole of that enormous land-mass, about half the total area of Africa, was conducted on precisely Hitler's assumption--that some human beings are better than others because of their race.Post-It Notes #2, 3, 4, and 5
I have no idea why I thought these passages were important enough to tag. At some point I felt I had something I wanted to say about these, but as I go back and read them, I have no clue what that might have been. I guess next time I should write something on those post-its.
Oh god, I have lost track of the number of post-its that make no sense to me now. I remember being struck as I read by how serious the whole Communist thing was back in the 1950s and 1960s. Not just the "menace" to the capitalist West, but the fact that the Communist Party had (and has) legs in Europe that it never really grew in the U.S. Of course we had those delightful communist witch hunts that might have put a damper on things
And there was one passage that I really wanted to write about, that I now seem to have misplaced, that occurred in the yellow notebook--the one in which the main character is writing a novel. As I read this particular passage I was struck by the levels of the narrative. It made me want to make a graphic. Without being able to find the passage I think I have it characterized correctly below:
Did you follow all of that? Doesn't this beg a really big question? Why in the world did Lessing have to bury the story behind so many layers of narrative? I know that a big part of the story is the complexity of Anna's life and mind and writing and everything else, but it just seemed to me after about page 500 that it could have been done differently. I know, I know the book is genius, I am being too simplistic, etc. Lessing tackles so many things, gender, sex, mental health, racism, politics, and so on. But by the end I just didn't care. There is also much, especially in the last 200 pages that just seems way to overwrought with meaning. If my everyday life was full of the much portent I think I would need to be admitted to care.
Lovers of The Golden Notebook, don't be too hard on me. There were many things that I got and appreciated. This is truly a book that deserves close study in any number of disciplines. But overall I got to the point where I just didn't care. I will continue to read Lessing's novels. They are fascinating, and so far no two have been alike. And even this one that I found frustrating had way too much that was good and interesting to give it a bad review. Although I realize it may sound like that is exactly what I am doing. Like Anna, I am a complex, confusing, person.
30 November 2010
I meant to unveil one book-a-palooza post a day, but I got impatient. All the text and pictures were ready, I couldn't resist dumping them all at once.
And if these Penguins don't interest you (!) scroll down there are plenty of other book treasures that follow.
I saved the best Book-a-palooza post for last.
Some of you may remember my obsession in getting all 20 volumes of the Penguin English Journey's series. Well obssessions ran amok on my recent trip to London. As you saw earlier, I couldn't help buying almost all of the Penguin Great Loves series. But far crazier was my last minute decision to acquire all 100 volumes in the Great Ideas series.
What possessed me? I already owned two that I had picked up a year ago at an English bookshop in Den Haag. And then when I was in the original Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street on a rainy Friday night a few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Nationalism just because I loved the cover (see below).
Later that weekend right before drifting off to jet-lag enhanced slumber I noticed that the volume was numbered and that there are 100 books in the series. One thing led to another and our last full day in London I found myself in Daunt Books on Fulham Road where I managed to snag about 45 volumes in one fell swoop. But this still left fifty-some still to buy. As we wended our way across central London that day I called in at every new bookshop we passed to see if they had more of them. The giant Waterstone's at Picadilly. Nothing. At the fantastically wonderful Hatchards just a few doors down from that, not one to be found. Foyles on Charing Cross Road, another goose egg. I was starting to despair, the helpful folks at Hatchards explained that they once had them all in one section but after the original promotion they put them into general stock which made them worse than a needle in a haystack given the time I had left. Then, after almost not even going in, I walked into the Blackwell's on Charing Cross Road and asked at the information counter. He pointed me toward a full display of the whole series. Earlier at Daunt I had noted down all the numbers that were still missing. I took that list and started grabbing the ones I needed off the shelf. I soon had to enlist John's help to hold the ones I was going to buy as I went through my numbered list. Within five minutes John had about 52 books in his arms. I had managed to find all the volumes that were missing. I couldn't believe my luck. Finding all missing 97 volumes in one day. The best part is that Blackwells had them on sale 3 for the price of 2!
And let me tell you, they are beautiful. Most of covers have some element of embossed design. Some are very intricate and some are extremely simple. Below are a selection of my favorites.
Penguin knows at least two things: 1) Pretty covers matter; and 2) Create a numbered series and OCD book collectors will spend way too much money, like climbing Everest, just because it is there.
|Can you spot the rainbow of Great Ideas on the top shelf?|
|The cover that started it all for me.|