The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

I took some time to catch up with my favourite literary magazine ventures online. Open Letters Monthly turned out to be the most rewarding site as I accompanied the reading with a lot of mental exclamations like, What a fun idea that was! or What the hell? I totally wanted to review that book and Oh, I now find this interesting thanks to the Evil Telly (granted I saw the shows on the internet because who has time for tv these days?).

The Vampire Fan(g) Guide by Sharon Fulton immediately caught my eye in the October issue because I am one of those who find such creatures very compelling, sometimes to my deep, soul numbing distress, sexy, evil, what have you; and am always on the lookout for authors who can mine something fresh from the cliches. Fulton doesn’t cover much in the last category but her piece is useful because she gives specifics on books about which I’ve heard a lot of empty praise (eg. Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore) and about which I can never see mocked too much (the Twilight series by everyone’s favourite Mormon writer). For more nutritious brain food try Lianne Habineck’s meditation on Hamlet from a neuroscience perspective suitable for Shakespeare’s time period. (One of the few essays that applies neuroscience without making me yearn to poke out my eyeballs.) I can’t remember if I read Donoghue’s examination of the only play in which Shakespeare decided to bother with the Tudors — I don’t think I did (yet)– but you should because Donoghue is consistently funny and smart with a touch of acid.

Also, Tudors! Usually, I yawn at anything having to do with the lot. For mediocre film directors and writers Henry VIII and his beheading hobbyhorse is third only to Shakespeare and Austen in source material. (Oh, that I could unsee that movie with Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman. When is Johansson going to act in anything as good as Lost in Translation and that Vermeer flick again? Yeesh.) I can’t explain how The Tudors cheap soap opera antics and gratuitous heterosexual sex scenes — homosexuals don’t have sex in Tudor England, they only touch each other’s cheeks tenderly and lie in bed shirtless — managed to get past my guard. Natalie Dormer’s Anne Boleyn may have something to do with it but the biggest draw is the writers’ cavalier handling of historical fact. (It’s very heady if you aren’t a history professor — if you are I suggest keeping a cell phone with 911 on speed dial nearby.)

Anyway, such productions tend to heighten my curiousity about the pertinent historical figures or time periods so Steve Donoghue’s ongoing essay series “Year with the Tudors” could not come at a better time. In each new instalment he covers fiction or non-fiction books that cover seminal figures and for September he chose Bloody Mary. She gets a sympethetic biography in Linda Porter’s The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary”, further inspection with Donoghue’s Q&A with the author, and inclusion in a fun quiz question: Why are cover art designers so fond of her’s and other Tudor women’s bosom? The world may never know.

The other coolest of cool September offerings is OLM’s survey of “the bestseller’s list” (I don’t know which one) as contributor’s tackle everything from Nora Roberts to James Patterson. Not that that’s much of a range. As a tepid Nora Roberts fan I found John Cotter’s review amusing — I could not have thought of an odder book-reviewer pairing — although I am disappointed he didn’t mention Roberts’ fondness for incomplete sentences. (She does them for emotional impact, gravitas or because she feels like it and it never, ever works.) Donoghue asseses Evanovich’s never ending Stephanie Plum series and comes out with an opinion many of the series’ fans would not disagree with at this stage. Fulton is more receptive to what fans may find appealing in Catherine Coulter’s ongoing action/romance books about FBI agents. It’s quite novel to find such books reviewed in literary venues and while I may have wished the books had a more receptive audience, seeing a title like “The Last Patriot” on OLM made my month. Seriously. I’d like the non-fiction list done next, please! I’d like to experience gimmicky Gladwell tomes, self-help bibles and bogus financial advice books second hand.

I’ve barely skimmed August but Dan Green writes a fan letter to James Wood’s How Fiction Works, Donoghue tells us all about Henry VII — the feller who came off as an honourable goody two shoes in Shakespeare’s Richard III —  and Laura Tanenbaum carefully dissects two books of the “Young People Today!” variety in Scolds in the Agora.

Was there room in my heart for other outfits? Certainly. Estella’s Revenge can be depended on for articles by book lovers about their obsessions and idiosyncrasies. In the October issue Jodie writes about her yen for big books, Chris Bucner introduces us to some comic book lines beyond the hot properties making their way to film, and the reviews section covers a gratifying mix of books for those who read high and low.

I’ll get to my print subscriptions at some point. The LRB pile looks less daunting, my grudge against Bookforum lessens and my fall Paris Review is finally here. Plus, the founding editor of a new-to-me offering sent me a PDF copy of the latest issue which promises to be a mix of the literary and fantastical. Sounds like it should fit me perfectly, doesn’t it?

Edit: Oh poop. I forgot about Strange Horizons. I forbid anyone to tell me about any new literary sites/magazines for the next decade.

I am ready to return into literature’s welcoming bosom. As a sign that I made the right decision, the gods saw fit to give The Mill on The Floss the kind of soul wrenching end that left me sobbing. I haven’t done that since Andre Dubus’ “Rose” (a short story) which was years ago. Every one fusses about Middlemarch but perhaps one ought to take a closer look at my new favourite? I am now convinced that Eliot deserves to be immortalised in marble — I hope there’s a statue I can visit somewhere.

Middlemarch is her best so I’ll get to it some time but…is it another Fallen Woman story? My heart can’t take any more of those at present. I may swerve into Silas Marner instead. That’s another one of her books that I started to read in my younger days but never finished.

Edit: La la, here is my review up at FM: The Intoxication of Transformation.

I got wrestled into being a regular contributor to First Magazine to pronounce on all things ♣literary. Since I’m barely able to keep up with my blog we’ll see how it goes. My first bit will be on Zweig’s The Post-Office Girl and, depending on what actually turns up on the site, I’ll post some complementary commentary here because I love that little book to pieces. Easily re-readable which is always a good sign. I’ll have to go back and reread Chess Story since I didn’t quite get it the first time around…

The Valve is holding a summer reading group and the book of choice is Adam Bede by the lovely George Eliot. It’s practically my first book by her since I barely remember a thing about Mill on the Floss which I picked up over a decade ago. It ought to be fun so consider joining in. Chapters 1-5 should have be read by today but the reading schedule is generous so one should have little problem catching up. I’m rereading the chapters (and eyeballing what others say first) before I put anything up. Have you read it before?

How are the other Golconda slaves doing with the Edith Wharton? I found it perfect with its mix of social commentary and romance. I was not expecting it to be such a fun read as I had the impression Wharton was a very serious, serious writer, depressed maybe, and that Winona Ryder chick was in that movie adaptation and is she ever in a fun movie (besides Beetlejuice). I’m a bit more eager to scoop up her other novels though. It’s an interesting book to read in conjunction with The Post-Office Girl. Both involve impoverished characters (though I daresay my Christine in Zweig is a lot worse off) with precarious positions in higher society whose values change as a result of their experience albeit in different ways.

Au contraire, I can submit articles on anything I like! Isn’t that nice.

You want to listen to Bat Segundo’s interview with Sarah Hall and buy The Carhullan Army aka Daughters of the North. How can you resist? You shouldn’t. Sarah Weinman agrees!

I can’t think of enough good things to say about this except that it should be read, now and years to come.

The novel, for some goddamned reason, has not been getting near any of the attention it deserves nor is Sarah Hall considering that her Electric Michelangelo was a Booker finalist. (I can’t believe all you print people slobbered on Gessen’s shoes and all Carhullan gets is a notice in the New Yorker.)

Newspapers and magazines have been jumping into the blogging pool for some months now but the only one that has managed to impress is Harper’s Online Sentences — yes, the title is uninspired, but what can you do, those print folks — run by Wyatt Mason. (There’s something about those LRB contributors….) He blogs about books I don’t typically seen covered anywhere else and so far has provided some thoughtful coverage on a Q&A (I and II) with James Wood and Jonathan Franzen. I’m kinda tired of reading about both men at the moment so it’s telling that Mason managed to get past my instinctive yawn.

The latest London Review of Books has two of its eye-catching articles available for free online. James Meeks makes a very persuasive case for the high quality of James Kelman’s work in Dead not Died, inclusive rather than in spite of his generous use of Glaswegian dialect and cuss words. I nearly wrote down the review’s conclusion in my notebook.

If I spend so much time on Kelman’s use of language, it’s partly because Kieron’s story is so bound up with it, and partly because I am not sure that all his potential readers can bring themselves to credit the degree of artistry, the weighing of each word and comma, that he puts into his work. There’s a reluctance to accept Kelman for what he is, a perfectionist and a radical Modernist writer of exceptional brilliance, and this reluctance is not just bourgeois superciliousness. There’s a generous but misdirected romanticism, too, which would like to imagine Kelman warbling his native fucknotes wild, simply sluicing a measure of his authentic working-class soul onto the page without the mediation of rational thought: a one-shot exotic. The real reason Kelman, despite his stature and reputation, remains something of a literary outsider is not, I suspect, so much that great, radical Modernist writers aren’t supposed to come from working-class Glasgow, as that great, radical Modernist writers are supposed to be dead. Dead, and wrapped up in a Penguin Classic: that’s when it’s safe to regret that their work was underappreciated or misunderstood (or how little they were paid) in their lifetimes. You can write what you like about Beckett or Kafka and know they’re not going to come round and tell you you’re talking nonsense, or confound your expectations with a new work. Kelman is still alive, still writing great books, climbing.

Terry Eagleton, always an amusing fellow, spends more than half of his “review” giving a rundown on the ever changing theories about literary works in relation to authors through the years, and splits the other half telling us what’s in the reviewed book, something which bore only a superficial link with his previous wind up, and some actual commentary. I giggled a lot while reading it in Starbucks.

Hip hip hurrah! Spring’s premature summer warmth distracted me for a few weeks but now that the weather has returned to a seasonal chilly gloom I remembered to check on the Lady Margaret Lectures at Cambridge which are about Milton this year. Behold! Another podcast is up, this time with Sharon Achinstein‘s effort which focuses on Milton as a prose writer and poet. I haven’t listened to it yet but I was too excited to exclude it from this post. The next lecture won’t be until THE END of October…:( 😦 :(. If you’re a LRB subscriber Quentin Skinner’s transcript of his lecture is printed as What does it mean to be a free person? in the newest issue (May 22nd).

To finish, I’d like to declare that, contrary to previous suspicions, Gabriel Josipovici has not spoiled me for all other modern literature. I’ve fallen a little bit in love with that characters in Stefan Zweig’s The Post-Office Girl, the way he’s written them in light of how I think the plot may develop, and I’m expecting great things from Edith Wharton’s New York Stories which I picked up in preparation for the next Slaves of Golconda read, The Glimpses of the Moon. Roxana Robinson’s introduction made Wharton’s background sound remarkably as though it was taken straight out of an Austen novel.

How are you, dear readers? If any of you still exist :P. The premature summer heat of spring (which has now returned to seasonal temperatures) burnt away any and all interests in blogs and blogging. I decided to go with it until it ran out. My reading was not similarly effected. I’ve read the first two in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War…series? for he will continue to write for it as long as he is so inclined and sales are encouraging. One of the local stores brought in a pack of John Wyndham releases so I’ve spent a few days, eyes wide open, reading through The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids (whoa, just…whoa) and I hope to be able to share some thoughts with you about them in a few days. Wyndham appears to be fascinated with man’s ability to change and adapt to new ideas, new environments and the consequences of those who cling to static paradigms. And for an old SF writer his female characters aren’t bad at all. (Unlike others of which I recently learned.)

I don’t know if I’ll be able to write anything much on the Scalzi. I found them fun and entertaining (with The Ghost Brigades guilty of some wearying pages long info-dumping) but they didn’t seem to be saying anything. Not that Scalzi is obligated to do so but novels about such a militaristic society complete with very liberal bioengineering kinda beg for a little something but from what I observed he kinda dances around it, dips a toe in, and then jumps into another action plot line. I am unsure of myself, though, because I theorised that my limited SF experience may hinder my perspective, somewhat. For instance it is common knowledge that the novels were heavily influenced by Heinlein fiction but I’ve never read the guy.

How the Dead Dream proved elusive on a first reading so I’ve chosen to reread it again. Worries that it would read too familiar were not confirmed for reasons I have yet to refine. I find Lydia Millet’s characters, her main character at least, eccentric rather than quirky (the silly, unnecessary, waste of space, for-giggles type) because she takes that one extreme feature, places it immediately before, and explicates how it’s an extension of the character’s basic personality in a very non-showy yet arresting manner. She doesn’t try to wear you out with circus tricks. Because of this her humorous moments work a lot better because at first it’s unexpected. And though a critic described those moments as “asides” are more integral and necessary — without them this would be a boring, didactic lecture with unfulfilled potential.

Is it too late to comment on that Slaves of Golconda read? I couldn’t finish it. Cristina García did not seem so much interested in writing a novel as a series of character profiles (complete with headings) strung weakly together by a basic, uninteresting plot. (Uninteresting to me, at any rate. Woo woo Cuba-communist-intergenerational clash-fish-out-of-water-immigrants-in different country. Tell me something I don’t know or at least try and do something different with the damn thing.) Stuck in the middle of that was an amateur YA novel wherein a young girl struggles with her domineering, restrictive mother, giving readers the right dose of teenage rebellion and oh-so-unconsciously deep insights into human nature. Snore. I’ll try to see what the others got out of it as I think I’m the only one who wasn’t enamoured.

Villette: Nope. Sorry, I know some of you are fans but Brontë was in preacher mode far too often throughout the narrative. Things would just start to get interesting and then she would push Lucy Snowe aside to interject some pages long sermon on the follies of Catholicism and the wonders of enlightened English Protestants; also how stupid and frivolous the French are and how smart and noble the English. She even gave that stupid, self-absorbed English doctor — I count it a miracle that she managed to engage in near Austen-like sarcasm every so often — and her precious pet English whateverhernameis a charmed happy ending. Near the end I skipped pages just to see if the prof jumped Snowe or not. If Shirley is anything like that I’ll abstain.

I’d like to say the writing made up for it but some of her passages were uncomfortably close to Emily Brontë’s exhausting melodrama in Wuthering Heights when it came to depicting Snowe’s depression. That is what led to the skipped pages — near the end Snowe woke up in the middle of the night after being ineffectively drugged (I think?) and escaped out of the house wandering the streets. I thought to myself, Oh holy…I’m not going through one of your damn deranged moments again. Do the prof, slit your wrists, or I’ll slit mine. Later on I picked up that whatever festival she experienced during that night was an actual occurrence. No doubt it’s important but you’d have to pay me to get me to read it for any significant thematic developments.

I started The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. (Curse my inability to keep to my F/SF moratorium.) It is the latest fantasy sensation purported to be “one of the best stories told in any medium in a decade…Shelve [it] beside The Lord of the Rings…and look forward to the day when it’s mentioned in the same breath, perhaps as first among equals.” (Name of reviewer hidden to protect the hoodwinked.) I am at chapter eight. Let’s start ticking off the clichés shall we?

  • Famous, brilliant, exceptional assassin tortured about his horrible, horrible past – Check
  • Inn as prominent setting – Check (Seriously? I saw it on the first page and thought, Oh god not another faux medieval European setting, please [insert favourite deity here]. [Your favourite deity] didn’t listen.)
  • Assassin accompanied by best, loyal buddy who is “dark” so of course he had to be graceful, moving like a dancer and blah blah blah. I bet he’s also noble and respects nature? Sidekicks are allowed that much. – Check
  • Ignorant village locals – Check
  • Dull looking sword that belies its true value as it is no doubt really famous and/or powerful – Check
  • Innocent children’s rhymes that turn out to be totally true and significant! No one saw that coming! – Check

All of this would be forgivable — all of it– if Rothfuss made something new with those elements. Take it to a different place. Aforementioned hoodwinked reviewer implied this is what he does as the book is “a brooding, thoroughly adult meditation on how heroism went wrong”. In a 700+ pages it may be too early to expect all of this to pop up by page 63. The problem is that the writing is so mediocre, at times verging on hysterical, that I may not wait long enough to find it. Ursula K. Le Guin (who was no doubt threatened) wrote that “It is a rare and great pleasure to find a fantasist writing…with true music in the words”. Let’s have an example of this musician at work. (All formatting mine.)

Sunlight poured into the Waystone. It was a cool fresh light, fitted for beginnings. It brushed past the miller as he set his waterwheel turning for the day. It lit the forge the smith was rekindling after four days of cold metal work. It touched draft horses hitched to wagons and sickle blades glittering sharp and ready at the beginning of an autumn day.

Inside the Waystone, the light fell across Chronicler’s face and touched a beginning there, a blank page waiting the first words of a story. The light flowed across the bar, scattered a thousand tiny rainbow beginnings from the colored bottles, and climbed the wall toward the sword, as if searching for one final beginning.

But when the light touched the sword there were no beginnings to be seen. In fact, the light the sword reflected [Ed: *&#$$*# sword — it’s the second in 20+ small pages that he’s given us this ” old dull sword” routine] was dull, burnished, and ages old. Looking at it, Chronicler remembered that though it was the beginning of the a day, it was also late autumn and growing colder. The sword shone with the knowledge that dawn was a small beginning compared to the ending of a seas: the ending of a year. [Ed: It shone with what?)

Do you see what he’s trying to get at there? Not me. Something about…no can’t fathom it. For a “thoroughly adult” book he does not think much of our intelligence. I get that fire might something to keep an eye on in the book but if I read one more line about fires snapping, crackling, blazing, flaring, spitting or glowing I’m going to burn…a fake copy of this book because I still have the receipt for the real one and the return window is still open. Whether you like Tolkien’s prose or not it’s difficult to deny that he had a particular style that showed its influences while seeming authentic rather than imitative. There is nothing that stands out about Rothfuss’ prose, much less anything musical. The best thing I can say is that he avoids writing any poetry for the most part, sticking to cute childish limericks.

That’s another thing. The different peoples presented are poorly costumed facsimiles of real world counterparts. So the main character’s people are gypsies with a different name and they meet up on a dour community who are costumed Puritans. I’m becoming quite bored with religious folks being used as the predictable resisters of all joy and intellectual curiosity. Wyndham has them in The Chrysalids but he makes the community’s philosophy work as an understandable, natural reaction to the events rather than a story element he hit with a dart on a story board. It’s FANTASY, Rothfuss. Be inventive! Go crazy! Maybe make the religious folks curious and open-minded, eh? Maybe make the non-believers rigid and unwelcoming? LOTR’s appeal was that while its influences and source material were obvious on a conceptual level Tolkien went to great lengths to make something completely new — or to make it appear so. It’s the difference between the good ol’ days of remixed music when the artist gave it such a different setting that a new side to the music was exposed, a new angle provided — not these days when a “remix” means asking a rapper to add a verse.

High fantasy is not for me. Tolkien and Kay were flukes in a genre filled with flawed heroes spouting cheesy lore. At least in romance the tortured alpha heroes are sexy.

The original authors of this exercise are Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, and Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright. (via Charlotte’s Web)

Bold the true statements. You can explain further if you wish.

1. Father went to college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
4. Mother finished college

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.

8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
9. Were read children’s books by a parent
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18

Swimming, ballet, music (piano, violin, voice), a brief spurt with Judo.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school
Private high schools in Jamaica are typically the worst things you could saddle your child with, although they are known to scoop a good public high school teacher or two when they get fed up with low government pay.
17. Went to summer camp
Yeah, loved that stuff.
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18
For a very brief period in preparation for Common Entrance (10+) exams when I was in prep school (private elementary).
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels
A few times but 90% of them it involved staying with family.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Either bought new or sewn by my aunt or a close family friend.
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
Yeah, but it was used. My Mum worked with hotels and typically drove company cars so there was nothing to hand down.
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child
Not many and I have no idea where it came from because none of it was my type.
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house
My extended family (aunts and cousins). I guess it was a “single-family” house that my Mum extended it. This only happened after she decided to get my younger brother and I out of hotel living. I got shipped to boarding school. On breaks I’d as often stay with my Mum (at hotels) than in Kingston (at the house). So I only felt as if I properly lived in such a home for sixth form.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
Don’t have a clue.
25. You had your own room as a child
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course
Yes, but that was only after I took SAT I on my own. The tutor heard of my score and “recruited” me for his college prep programme but I never paid anything since he doesn’t prep for SAT IIs as they are subject specific. I was doing my A-levels. (SAT IIs were much easier.)
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school
Never and still don’t. The idea makes me uncomfortable — seems excessive and guaranteed to suck away precious hours. I’m in a situation now, though, when the available tv is so small and pathetic (and often co-opted by the landlady’s boyfriend-now-husband to watch Westerns) that I may invest in one.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Well, you know, us Caribbean folk like to go abroad.
31. Went on a cruise with your family
Don’t think I’ll ever do this. Stuck on a ship with fake golf courses and retirees chilling by the pool and godawful night entertainment? Do not want. (Maybe those Antarctic/Arctic cruises? Maybe. There seems to be something to those.)
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

Yikes. Lots more bolding than I expected. Feel free to do this one if you care to.

Eva in her Striped Armchair came up with a fun description of the different kinds of ways the habitual reader relates to books, how she groups them. I thought it would make a fun meme so I decided to tackle it. You should read hers first because it’s funnier than mine.

The guilt read – Translations and Caribbean fiction used to fall under this category but now picking them up is becoming a habit and the urge springs from natural cravings rather than guilt when I peruse my recent reads and notice I’ve fallen into the white American/UK rut again. For example Geoffrey Philp’s highlighting of Kwame Dawes’ artistic project on HIV/Aids in Jamaica at the Pulitzer Center (unfortunately?) made me rub my lips and think, Hmmmm…I could totally go for a Jamaican novel right now.

I think the only guilt reads I have left are the unread books I want to and should read but for which I can’t quite summon up the mood so I check my bookmarks for new books. :p Oh, and contemporary fiction. Sometimes I have a natural craving, a lot of the time I am comfortably settled in to a whole range of classics…and then I hop over to Dan Green’s site and feel wretched for not picking up Stephen Marche’s or Jesse Ball’s latest yet. *squirm* (He often advocates the importance of covering contemporary fiction.)

However, I picked up Lydia Millet’s latest of my own free will! It doesn’t seem to be getting half the excited attention Oh Pure and Radiant Heart did so that must earn me extra brownie points with…my imaginary literary supervisor.

One of my favourite bloggers really liked this book/author read: I have quite a few favourite bloggers with wholly different tastes from me so I don’t have this problem since I just don’t read the books. 😛 Of those who do we are curious about or appreciate the same or similar authors. And, to be perfectly frank, I adore you all but am quite careful about following up on recommendations about authors new to me because I prefer to buy rather than borrow books and I know I’m a moody reader. It’s doubtful that I’ll get to a new book before the return window closes so I like to think I made good investments. There are about two bloggers who can send me to the book store to try an author I don’t know that hasn’t received much blog or print attention. So my records been perfect so far.

I’ve been reading a bunch of 20th century lit recently, so now I need to read a classic: For Eva it was YA lit that sent her for the classic, and for me in this category “classic” means anything pre-20th century. This happened recently and is what sent me to Austen and now to Brontë because I’m still craving female authors.

I regularly become weary of modern prose and wish for more archaic rhythms and formal, repetitive structures. It’s what I was raised on and what I first respected.

well, I haven’t enjoyed a single book by this author ever, but s/he’s really popular, so I ought to give it another go: No, no. If I didn’t like it it sucked or wasn’t my cup of tea. Passes are only given if I didn’t finish the book abandoned it for other reasons besides the possibility that it was so godawful I could not get past page 3. (Gallant, Rusdhie and Vonnegut have this pass. In light of that replace “popular” with “respected”.)

Of course, there’s the why does the world suck so much? read, whose main job is to make me completely forget all of my problems. Romances may fall under this category, as do fantasies and favourite pre-20th century classics. Basically, I guess, the books I loved when I was a kid.

Then there’s the I’m going somewhere and need a book small enough to fit in my purse/suitcase/etc choice: Yeah, this is why Don Quixote will never leave my bedroom. I always carry a book around and since I find myself out and about doing so much research these days, or doing office hours etc. I am less inclined to purchase hardcovers. Why big publisher persist in producing hardcovers in GINORMOUS dimensions is beyond me; they even curse some of their trade paperbacks with hardcover-like lengths and widths. I suspect they want to justify charging me $30+ for a tiny 200+ pager so I tend to flip the bird and silently inform them to pray that I remember their precious tome when it comes out in paperback. Indie publishers produce saner hardcover sizes that cost less so I feel kinder towards those.

I was anxious to get my hands on Quiet Girl by Peter Høeg and Winnie and Wolf by A.N. Wilson until I saw the brontosauruses the respective publishers expected me to lug around. (The second one is also obscenely expensive even for a hardcover. I don’t know if the publishers thought that J.K. Rowling wrote the book? How else do they expect it to sell? Huh.)

the random seduction read: This hasn’t happened to me in a while. I have so many ideas about the kind of books I’d like to try…even when I’m randomly browsing I typically have a criterion in mind.

I bought this X years ago, and I still haven’t read it, which is a horrible waste of money read, which provides a strong incentive to get those books off the TBR shelf: Yeah, as mentioned up top, I have a lot of those. But not as many as Danielle.

I call X one of my favourite authors, and I haven’t read anything by him/her in forever read: I have a few of those: Borges, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Cicero, Proust. Dubus recently fell off that list. I try to get through my Borges’ Collected Fictions but the arrangement of everything just pushed together is overwhelming, I think, so I decided to gradually collect individual books. I do that for Ted Hughes because his Collected Poems is a whopper at 1333 pages. I’d like to know the jokers who bought that with the intention of actually reading it… The individual collections are packaged more nicely, anyway.

If you’d like to take this and adapt it to your specifications feel free.

I am hammering out the last versions of several essays for my assorted overlords while fielding panicked questions from sweet, harried undergrads. Instead of mind destroying posts on Dubus and Simenon…you get this. Enjoy!

  • How the crap can there be only 32 copies of Tropic Moon by Simenon on LibraryThing? It just isn’t right. I keep on assuming that because it’s a bookish site all of us using the same radar but that’s obviously not true. It could also mean I am more susceptible to advertising. I don’t seem to be in the mood to review lit mags much these days but the latest TLS featured a great Commentary article by Paul Theroux on Simenon. He wrote the introduction for NYRB’s newest Simenon release, The Widow.
  • Goose Lane — ever heard of it? It appears to be a spiffy indie Canadian publisher that sells music. (Huh? Yeah I know.) At the bookstore earlier this week I decided to scan every shelf in the Fiction & Literature section for any small press books authored by women on the shelf which is how I discovered it. Goose Lane had a Libby Creelman and…something else but I didn’t take the final step to purchase. The website isn’t very helpful in letting me know which books tempted me. The Creelman book was The Darren Effect. I was intrigued but it opened with a character apparently on his death bed in the hospital and I wasn’t eager to go that route again after The Stone Angel.
  • I ended up leaving with two books that aren’t really indie or small (anymore). Everything I read about Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart made me blink in indifference. I thought her Globe & Mail review of the latest Coetzee sucked. Why did I get her latest, How the Dead Dream? Maybe it was the dinosaur eye on the cover. Mostly I’m hoping it will give me something weird which I need after Dubus staunch realism (naturalism? huh). I was expecting to see Soft Skull Press on the spine but it was Counterpoint instead. I then concluded she had moved on to a bigger (or different) press with her latest book. Turns out SSP and two other publishers got swallowed and digested into a bigger entity that’s running things now. (Except not editing, right? Richard Nash is still big cheese?) Thankfully, SSP’s site is still around so I’d suggest you google for it instead when looking for its books, since Counterpoint’s site is a dead bore.
  • It’s French! It promises passionate romance! It’s French! Voice Over by Céline Curiol, translated by Sam Richard, sold to the gullible afro lady. Read the novel summary and you’ll see how susceptible I am to the French angle. Set that story almost anywhere else and I’d roll my eyes. This ones published by Mclelland & Stewart. I’ve predictably strayed from my original reading list but I needed the estrogen boost. Look to your right (and a few scrolls) you’ll notice that my classic reading picks fall along the same lines.

Verbivore tagged me for the “Kind things” meme — go see hers, it has pictures of flowers and doggies! — so I’ll take the opportunity to envelope you in fluff, like a good blogger should.

  • List five kind things you do for yourself.
  • List five kind things you do for your closest friend, partner or child.
  • List five kind things you have done for a stranger.
  • Have fun!
  • Tag five people.

Five kind things I do for myself

Walk everywhere
I don’t really exercise and my diet is regulated by vague ideas about moderation. Hmmm, have had coffee so many days in a row? Should take a break and have juice instead. Don’t forget to have an apple to balance the yummy eggs and sausage. Every so often I crave a salad. My trump card, then, is to avoid vehicular transportation whenever I can. I walk to school every day as well as to all the book stores, even the ones downtown that are 40-50 minutes by foot from where I live. I try to go at a brisk pace. Then treat myself to some ice cream.

I would explode if I did not all of you to discuss books with. I would live in book stores if I weren’t able to buy most of the books I wish whenever I like. (Library offerings are just too limited, especially when it comes to translated fiction and anyway I want to *own* beautiful, beautiful books not borrow them.)

Mark out solitary time
Although I do have a little brother the 12 year age difference is enough for me to still consider myself an “only child”, in some senses. Some of the best memories of my childhood is when I walked by the harbour nestling under trees or on the dock with a book or journal, sometimes reading, sometimes daydreaming or being quiet, absorbing my surroundings.

Canadian winters has forced me to change that system somewhat. I’ve channelled this need into doing various activities by myself, if I’m so inclined, a habit that some of my friends still find a bit odd, because, omg they could *never* go to the cinema by themselves, how *embarrassing*. (I still love them.) So during winter it’s more likely to find me enjoying my Bookforum at one of the many local coffee shops, or taking in a Bergman revival alone in the shadows, or prowling at an art gallery.

Subscribe to literary magazines
I don’t know what I do without them now! I’m addicted to the conversation among those pages even if very few of them approach my ideal. I don’t even begrudge those that devote a lot of pages to political and history books because most newspapers have become worthless for anything beyond the most basic reports.

Join the anime club
Now my life is complete.


Five kind things I do for my closest friend/s

Buy stamps
The Shoppers Drug Mart is closer to my place (and she’s too lazy to get off the bus to make a stop at the one on her bus route) so I get the stamps she needs for her letters.

Some people seem to attract drama even though they’re the nicest person on the planet. It’s weird.

Encourage their independence
Sacrificing your life to keep people happy is not worth it.

Being frank/accepting
I can almost see the sigh of relief when I don’t provide the carefully looked for reaction of shock/disgust/ridicule/condemnation when they tell me about so and so. And this goes for both conservative and liberal views. I’m not perfect at withholding the harsh condemnation but I’m working on it.

Buy them pizza
I honour my bets (sigh). And a large three topping pizza for ten bucks is pretty good.

Five kind things you have done for a stranger

Provide bus fare
I hope it was for bus fare

Donate time to food bank
I, along with a bunch of others, collect for the food bank every Halloween. Good times.

Be friendly to international/exchange students
Because of the times I travel in and out of Canada I inevitably meet a foreign student who’s come to Canada for the first time at the airport who’s heading to the same school. I’ve made a lot of great friends that way so it works out for me too. It’s much better, for me, than the official shadow programme the International Students Association provides. It’s a good programme but I think it’s so much easier for both involved when you meet up in an informal environment and hit it off rather than (potentially) getting stuck with someone who wants to burnish their resume.

Donate books
Instead of bartering them at the bookstore I’ll sometimes donate them to the public library, especially if they are fairly recent releases that they haven’t acquired yet or wouldn’t mind more copies of.

I do it a lot, although it has slowed down some now that I’m in grad school. I’m thinking of signing up for a semi-regular position at the local public library but all of the posts require that you own a car or have access to one, and I don’t just want to shelve books or sit at a desk.


Here’s Dewey’s Negativity meme

1. When you dislike a book, do you say so in your blog? Why or why not?
Wild horses couldn’t stop me from verbally stabbing a book in the spine if it has the temerity to disappoint me. 😀 I write however I feel about books here so the negative has to be mentioned at some point. The occasional bad read is unavoidable but I prefer complete enjoyment, especially the kind that is multifaceted.

2. Do you temper your feelings about books you didn’t like, so as not to completely slam them? Why or why not?
Ahh…no. What I might do is read over a few pages to see if they’re as bad as I remember but if they are then I convey that. I can feel passionate about a book but I’ve been vicious or vindictive (as far as I know) and I’m more careful to provide evidence for negative reviews.

3. What do you think is the best way to respond when you see a negative review about a book you enjoyed?
If it’s the unsupported, thumbs-up-or-down kind I ignore it and if it’s not I may share my different reaction and perhaps comment on any examples the reader provided to say if I saw the same thing but from a different angle or if it simply didn’t bother me, things like that. I don’t mind disagreement and I’ve never had trolls in my comment section.

4. What is your own most common reaction when you see a negative review of a book you loved or a positive review of a book you hated?
I don’t have one, I think. It all depends on the review’s quality — if it’s good I’ll be attentive, if not, dismissive.

5. What is your own most common reaction when you get a comment that disagrees with your opinion of a book?
Same answer to question 4.

6. What if you don’t like a book that was a free review copy? What then?
Same approach applies. If a publisher can afford to send them, it can afford to lose control of the results.

7. What do you do if you don’t finish a book? Do you review it or not? If you review it, do you mention that you didn’t finish it?
If I haven’t finished a book I’ll post some commentary depending on whether I feel the urge to and, of course, I mention it’s incomplete status. I would not consider such commentary a “review”.


Quizzes from my reliable source, Shaken & Stirred.

Your Score: Tigger

You scored 14 Ego, 13 Anxiety, and 16 Agency!

And as they went, Tigger told Roo (who wanted to know)
all about the things that Tiggers could do.

“Can they fly?” asked Roo.

“Yes,” said Tigger, “they’re very good flyers, Tiggers
are. Strornry good flyers.”

“Oo!” said Roo. “Can they fly as well as Owl?”

“Yes,” said Tigger. “Only they don’t want to.”

“Why don’t they want to?” well, they just don’t like it

Roo couldn’t understand this, because he thought it
would be lovely to be able to fly, but Tigger said it was
difficult to explain to anybody who wasn’t a Tigger himself.

You scored as Tigger!

ABOUT TIGGER: Tigger is the newest addition to the Hundred Acre Wood, and he lives with Kanga and Roo, because Roo’s strengthening medicine turned out to be the thing that Tiggers like best. Tigger is bouncy and confident -some of his friends think he is a little TOO bouncy and confident, but attempts to unbounce him tend to be fruitless.

WHAT THIS SAYS ABOUT YOU: You are a positive and confident person. You feel capable of dealing with anything and everything, and funnily enough, you usually ARE. You don’t worry about much, and you love to go out and find new adventures.

Your friends and family might sometimes be a little exasperated by your boundless enthusiasm. You don’t like to admit your mistakes, and when you find yourself in over you head, you tend to bluff your way out of things. You would be surprised, however, at how happy the people around you would be if you would actually admit to a mistake. It would make you seem more human, somehow.

Link: The Deep and Meaningful Winnie-The-Pooh Character Test written by wolfcaroling on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test
View My Profile(wolfcaroling)

The local Chapters has finally condescended to restock the London Review of Books! I started nagging them about it a year ago and gave up after 6 months — perhaps it takes them a long, long time to process requests. Likelier is that the move had nothing to do with me. I bought a copy today even though I’m a subscriber as a way to encourage them to keep it up. They should view selling them as a public service move if The Great British Press Disaster has any bearing on newspapers on this side of the Atlantic.

One interesting article (only available to subscribers) is Tobias Gregory’s review of Why Milton Matters: A New Preface to His Writings by Joseph Wittreich. If one listened to Quentin Skinner‘s Lady Margaret’s lecture on Milton’s political writings one got a pretty good sense of how his opinions on government, liberty and religion coincided, diverged or were directly relevant to present times. One thing he was cautious to highlight that although Milton has a sexy rebellious image that some historians may be tempted to airbrush his less attractive views in order to make him more superficially appealing. But although Milton was a proponent for religious freedom he wasn’t magnanimous enough to think that Roman Catholics deserved such a right; he may have espoused equality principles but it was only for gentlemen of a certain class and did not include women of any; nor was he wholly against censorship but thought it necessary that printing presses should have the right to publish papers without pre-approval or special licenses.

Going by Gregory’s review Wittreich should have been required to attend that lecture. The more curious thing I’ve come to learn this year and was ignorant of because Milton did not figure at all in my Jamaican high school education is how fusty Milton’s academic image is. Apparently, modernists like Virginia Woolf and Eliot are partly to blame for the situation, one that is dire enough for Gregory to make what I found to be a suspicious, exaggerated statement:

Milton is the greatest English poet whom it is possible for serious readers to dislike. There are no fans of Marlowe, Jonson or Webster who cannot also find pleasure in Shakespeare; there are no admirers of Piers Plowman or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight who cannot also appreciate The Canterbury Tales. But it is not hard to find enthusiastic readers of Marvell or Spenser or Dryden or Donne who cannot warm to Milton, and make no apology for it.

O RLY? I felt an urge to try some Chaucer to prove him wrong. Maybe I hate Marlowe’s plays with an unprecedented fervour yet uncovered because I haven’t read them (yet?). I’m not even sure why he grouped folks like Marvell or Donne with Milton — the first two’s style don’t strike me as being similar to Milton’s at all. Just grouping all same century writers then? I guess I’ve become a bit sensitive about it because every single piece of media coverage I’ve seen on Milton so far first establishes how nobody likes him any more. Eh.

For more popular poetry hop on over to Blog Meridian where John B. blogs about his classroom experiences in teaching “Stopping By Woods on a Snow Evening”: A Thank You. The most intriguing bits for me were the interpretations John and his students discussed in class. That Robert Frost poem is one I first encountered on my own — I wriggled in my chair in glee during a high school English exam (CXC aka ‘O’ levels) once because it appeared on the paper, along with The Wild Swans at Coole by Yeats and no, I don’t know why I remember this — and until now only ever appreciated the visual picture created in my mind. The lines’ rhythm stand out too, especially in the last stanza, but really my first response to the poem whenever I think or read about it it is a mental picture of a man (hazily outlined) on a horse in a forest in the evening with the snow falling softly. John provides a bonus poem too of another Frost poem about someone wandering in the forest: The Wood-pile (which was new to me). For an oldie but goodie posted around this time last year consider lotusgreen’s visual accompaniment to “Stopping By Woods…” at Japonisme.

As an aside, I did not remember the title of the Yeats poem when I composed this post or any lines of it. What I retained was an image, too, of birds (I first thought of geese but that was a different poem) by a lake, by a tree, at evening about to take flight. I also remember having more difficulty with the Yeats poem questions than the Frost. 😛

We move on from mental to actual pictures. Sara at A Different Stripe, the NYRB classics blog, is asking for photos of reader’s “Classics in the wild: at a bookstore, arranged on your bookshelf, propping up an uneven table, anything.” I sent two year old photos in and I know that Stefanie at So Many Books took a picture of one of her book shelves, once, which had some classics. One of the internet’s many pleasures is book shelf ogling so I hope all you classics owners with cameras hop to it.