Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Artful Series That Made Classics Accessible

One of my reading goals for 2013 was to include some classics in my contemporary literature/celebrity memoir haul. I was lucky to discover Melville House's The Art of the Novella series at the end of last year. In a fit of holiday shopping that saw me spending equal money on my friends and family as I was spending on myself (I'm really bad at Christmas shopping but really good at buying myself things, oops) I invested in a superscription to get 2 novella's sent to me each month.  So far it's been a great way to expose me to classic authors that I would have steered away from otherwise.

So far I've gotten two months worth of stories, and a tote bag! They're short enough to read in one sitting with a nice cup of tea. I'm also a huge fan of the minimalist covers. They look great both on my shelf and in my purse, where they're small enough to easily carry.

This past month I found a Mark Twain story I actually liked! Before that I found a Melville story that didn't involve a whale in my mailbox. I've been very pleased with the variety thus far and am looking forward to being exposed to more renown authors through their shorter works!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters

My Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters 

1. Lena Duchannes
I'm on a Beautiful Creatures kick. Though while I'm speeding through the series there is always something that irks me. That something is usually a girl with two different colored eyes who's saying things like "I know it's about me". I get that she is a pretty important person in the Caster world and that without her there would be no books at all but I am so frustrated with her attitude.

2. Holden Caulfield
Speaking of attitude  I think we can all agree the Holden is the king of attitude problems. Plus he lacks basic understand of pretty much anything. I love him to death but there is a reason why Catcher In the Rye loses it's appeal past the age of 20.

3. Jane Eyre
Oh plain boring Jane, I'm sorry your life sucks. I'm sorry you're in love with a deeply disturbing married man. But do you really have to be so tedious all the time? You are the reason why I won't give Charlotte Bronte another chance.

4. Mrs. Bennett
Can we all agree she is the most frustrating Bennett? I know Lydia can be pretty bad, but when you look at her role model you can hardly expect anything more from her. Quick Happy Publication Birthday shoutout to Pride and Prejudice (a day late!).

5. Anna Karenina
This titular heroine is obsessive, destructive and cringe inducing. Frustrated is really the discription of my feelings during the last 200 pages of Anna Karenina. Her constant fights with Vronsky and her parinoia did me in and I found myself wishing she'd have made her fateful journey tot he train station a quarter of a book sooner.

6. Alexei Karenin
Where Anna was descending into madness Alexei was cool and rational. It's his rational that actually made him frustrating. Any man who responds to the confessions of an unfaithful wife by just asking her to come back home really ruins the drama of the relationship. Really he's just my least favorite character in Anna Karenina and I find them all sort of frustrating.

7. All the kids in A Series of unfortunate events
They're just the worst orphans. Why can't they do anything right?!?!

8. Margaret Hale
I'm not the biggest fan of North and South and I'm-too-good-for-the-North Margaret Hale is the reason why. She is stubborn and opinionated and insulting. I'm having a hard time articulating just how much I dislike her. To make up for this here is a picture of Richard Armitage in the BBC mini series of North and South. He's good times.

9. Percy Weasley
The only Weasley who, when present with all the facts, chooses to ignore them in favor of advancing his career.

10. Katniss Everdeen
I love The Hunger Games, and I love Katniss, but her self sacrificing demeanor can be really trying. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sweet Tooth - McEwan

Sweet Tooth
Ian McEwan

Serena Frome (Rhymes with plume) is a reader. When her mother convinces her, in a moment of unexpected feminism, to do a Maths Degree at Cambridge instead of English elsewhere, little does she know that she is about to meet a man that will not only have her reading non fiction, but convince her to join MI5, and eventually become an agent (of sorts) by recruiting a writer for Sweet Tooth.

Ian McEwan seems to specialize in novel's I really want to read but end up being to tedious to finish. I've put up fights with Saturday and Atonement over the years but  Sweet Tooth is the first time my fight through McEwan was successful. Except it really was a fight. His characters were paper thin and even for a short 300 pages there was barely enough plot to carry it.

Serena had so much potential to be an interesting character. She's an avid reader and romanticizes writers, two traits most of us in the bookish world can relate too. Unfortunately her preoccupation with every man who enters her life, and the near constant reminder of her beauty tiring. The longer I spent in Serena's mind the more I tired of hearing about petty fights and train rides. The novel is written in first person, and aside from some petty musings on Serena's part, this was a compelling stylistic choice.

The bigger disappointment was the lack of "spying" and "thrills" in a spy novel set at the heart of the British secret service  near the end of the Cold War.  Sweet Tooth reads more like an episode of Mad Men that just focuses on the secretaries than a James Bond novel. Over the course of 300 pages there was definitely more paperwork and inner office drama than espionage. Oh, and the ever present problems Serena was having in her love life.  Can't forget that.

Overall I was not impressed by Sweet Tooth. I occasionally enjoyed Serena's insight into the world. There are plenty of thins about her that make her hard to tolerate but McEwan really succeeded in developing her as a reader, someone who loves books and has taken her literary education into her own hands.  I was also a fan of the final chapter. I could see how it could be divisive, however, I thought it pulled together the story nicely and actually made me think more of all the major characters.  In the end I'm glad I used a gift card to buy this, but if you don't put to much stock in the "spy" part of the plot summery you may not be disappointed.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Top Ten Settings I'd Like to See More Of!

Here are the Top Ten Settings I'd Love to See More Of!
1. Michigan.
I'm from the midwest. I can relate to novels set from Wisconsin to Ohio. I've lived in Chicago and devoured books set on in it's beautiful splendor. Only, I'm from Michigan. I grew up here and I'm living in the metro Detroit area again. Since I was a child I've had a hard time finding books set in my home state, and then finding ones that didn't deal so heavily with the auto industry. There is a very specific culture to the midwest, and I love seeing it represented in literature - no matter what the actual place, I just want to see my home a big more evenly represented.

2. New York in the 1920's
The Jazz age fascinates me. It's at once festive, sad, and glamours. I'm enchanted by the liquor and the dancing. Really, I just want to ware cloche hats and drop waist dresses and not have to worry about the internet.

3. Hemingway's Paris
Alright, This should really be 2b. Still the 20's. Still the lost generation. Only I really loved the Paris wife and want books about ever one of his contemporaries in Paris. There's a book about Zelda Fitzgerald coming out this spring and I'm super pumped for it!

4. Canada
My grandmother is Canadian, and I'm a 20 minute drive from Windsor. I never see books set in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. I'd love to devour some stories about our neighbors to the north!

5. Cemeteries
I've always loved cemeteries as settings. They can be romantic or sad or mysterious, they bring all types of people together and can hold amazing amounts of information.

6. Bookstores/Libraries
Last year I read (er, listened to the audiobook) Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore and I was hooked. I wanted to find more mysterious bookstores, or find another forgotten library. These are places that are so relatable for bookish people and I love to see writers describe their favorite haunts.

7. Boarding Schools/ Prestigious Universities.
I just find pretensions institutes of learning fascinating, okay?

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

And Two Settings I am DONE with:

1. Dystopian America
It can be done right, but a good dystopian novel set in America is very hard to come by lately. It doesn't help that lately everything seem's dystopian and I'm just over it.

2. The Pacific Northwest
I don't care about Seattle or Portland. I don't care about the constant rain. I don't want to read about hipsters in the rain. The end.

The Art of Rereading

When I was setting my reading goals at the beginning of 2013 I did something different. Along with my total goal for finished books (currently at a conservative 30) I set a few stipulations on what I should be reading. 10 new releases, a handful of classics and around 3 rereads. Whenever I'd tell my friends my only real New Years resolution I'd launch into this big speech about how I wanted to get back to reading like a fiend and that I wanted to have a real variety of books in my end of year list. Inevitably when I'd get to the "no more than 3 rereads" part of my by now well rehearsed spiel I'd get stopped.
"What do you mean reread?"
"That doesn't count."
"Why would you reread a book?!"
"But where's the challenge in that?"

I'm always taken aback by these comments. To me there is no greater compliment in the bookish world than a reread. I'm sure you've seen your favorite movie more than once than why no give your favorite book a second go? I always pick up so much more on my second, or third, or in the case of harry potter 10th (let's be real. that's a low estimate) than I did on my first read. There are always beautiful details that can only be picked up with an additional read. There are connections that just cannot be made unless you know the end of a story at the beginning.  Books, to borrow a line from Shriek, are like onions, they have many layers, each time you remove one you discover something new.

It's not even just the act of reading that brings about these discoveries. My first time reading Much Ado About Nothing was when I was working on a school production of the play when I was 14. I went with my mom to see the closing Performance of Much Ado at Stratford this past summer and came home and gave the play another once over. Shakespeare hasn't done a ton of rewriting in the past 8 years, but my understand of Much Ado clearly changed from 14 to 23. I was reading it with completely different eyes, even if I knew the story backwards and forwards. Heck, I'm the type of person who can have a completely different experience with a book depending on if I read it on a clear summers day or a dreary winter one? I've seen The Unbearable Lightness of Being go from romantic to pessimistic, Pride and Prejudice the guild-book for young 20 somethings and then nothing more than fluff (albeit fun fluff).  Age, circumstance, education, hell even weather all effect what i'll get out of each read.

I know there are people out there who would rather spend their time reading new things. "Too many books too little time" and I get that. There is so much I want to read, and as I'm currently working 7 days a week and still trying to have something that resembles a social life I have really never had less time for reading. I'm trying to limit the books I read over and over again, but when the mood strikes I want to be able to pick up Sorcerer's Stone and catch something that I missed last time.

What do you think about rereads? Are you a fan? Completely opposed? Let me know!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? - Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Maria Semple
After a crushing loss Bernadette Fox slowly descent into madness, well if not madness at least into an extreme anxiety disorder. With a distant husband who is one of the most important men at Microsoft and a daughter itching to go to Antarctica before she leaves for boarding school in the fall Bernadette has turned to a personal assistant in India who she emails dozens of times a day to order her take out and fill her prescriptions. But if things seem weird now, it's nothing compared to what's about to happen in rarely sunny Seattle. 

First, Wikipedia Maria Semple. Isn't her career FANTASTIC? Sorry, I might be a bit jealous. 

There are two ways a story told in letters, emails and the occasional bill can go. Luckily Where'd You Go, Bernadette comes across as riveting as opposed to gimmicky. I was very impressed by how sucessful Semple had been in giving each of her characters a specific voice, which became very important as it made conversations held almost exclusivity in long emails interesting. 

While I was impressed with the development of each characters voice, I was less thrilled by the complete characters. Bernadette, Bee, and Audrey all had drastic changes, except they weren't completely believable. Bernadette and Audrey both become very self aware, albeit in different ways, and both let circumstance dictate a great deal of their lives. The rest of the characters, while having good surface presents also fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. 

Overall Where'd You Go, Bernadette was a quick, fun read. It would probably be a great read for a readathon or a long weekend.  Aside from some character development my only real issue was that my book was bound incorrectly. It went from pages 323 to 224, 225 and then ended at 326, which as you can imagine was very irritating. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Office Girl - Joe Meno

Office Girl
Joe Meno

Odile and Jack have a lot in common. They're both "artists", work nights selling office music and are completely hopeless in relationships.When Odile asks Jack to join her new art movement their lives change forever. Or at least for February of 1999. Office Girl is the story of art, love and screwing up in a snow covered Chicago.

After reading The Great Perhaps last year I wanted to try another Meno novel. While Office Girl is a completely different beast his treatment of his home city of Chicago is perfect. It is clearly a place he loves, decaying buildings, poor drivers and all.  The city really comes to life in a way that made Meno's favorite setting my favorite part of the novel.

As an underemployed art school graduate who use to live (and go to said art school) in Chicago I am the definite target audience for this novel. However, hitting close to home couldn't really help the half dead story. Odile is a stereotypic art school drop out; sleeping with married men, unreliable on the job and mercilessly critical of every other artist she meets. On the other end Jack (who is also an art school graduate) is his own personal lend of obsessively crazy.  While I enjoyed their bike trips around the city, and the idea's behind some of their "Art Terrorism" I just couldn't see them as more than caricatures. In the end Jack's audio project (read: obsession) and Odile's edgy attitude weren't enough to get me to make a lasting impression.

Overall I wasn't a fan of Office Girl. It had it's moments, and the art scattered throughout the pages was enjoyable. The lack of realistic characters in a hyper real setting really made it hard for me to care about anything that either Odile or Jack were going through, and the actual story was pretty dry.

If pressed i'd give it a dreaded 3 stars.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beautiful Creatures - Garcia/Stohl

Beautiful Creatures
Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Ethan Wate has lived in boring ol' Gatlin, South Carolina his entire life and is tired of the day to day sameness of his perfectly ordinary life in his perfectly repressed town. Then something changes. Jackson High's sophomore class is getting a new student, and she is non other than the town shut-in's niece.  Lena Duchannes isn't your ordinary 15 year old and the people of Gatlin aren't going to take this disturbance of their picture perfect lives lightly. Suddenly Ethan's life will never be the same, but will Gatlin?

Beautiful creatures isn't my usual cup of tea. I'm more of a straight laced contemporary lit lover with a historical fiction kicker.  Outside of Harry Potter magical settings don't usually interest me.  However the trailer, and the pallet grabbed my attention, and now I'm definitely on the Beautiful Creatures bandwagon.
How do you not investigation something this stunning!

That isn't to say that Beautiful Creatures doesn't have it's flaws. Believe me, at 563 pages editing would have been Garcia and Stohl's best friend. Ethan and Lena's mind reading conversations were often redundant  and the back story.  OH THE BACK STORY. I don't know how it was possible to feel both bogged down by character histories and confused by constant mentions of unexplained events but I was. For instance I know all about a little cardboard village Ethan's mother made. I do not really know anything about the circumstances surrounding her death.

The other issue is the writing itself. I know it's been said before, but one would think with two sets of eyes looking through every page the prose would be tighter. Garcia and Stohl have a tendency to use seven adjectives where one would do, and another paragraph to sum up the one above it.

I think Ethan watched High School Musical one to many times. 

They also suffered from having a 16 year old boy as their protagonist. Ethan doesn't read like any 16 year old I've met, though he dose resemble Troy from High School Musical. In other words, he's a caricature of a man (err, boy) and that isn't always easy to get over.

Overall I enjoyed Beautiful Creatures. It had some major flaws, but the story was fast paced enough to keep me interested, and even at it's almost 600 pages I read it in under three days. Now can someone tell me where I can find Beautiful Darkness because my local Barnes and Noble and Target don't have it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Three Star Curse.

Often times when I'm looking for my next read I'll head over to goodreads to check out ratings. It may seem shallow, and as my best friend who is not fond of spoilers would say, a bit like cheating. I don't even bother to read the reviews anymore. I'm truly just there for those little red stars. Only I'm not looking for 5 of them. What I'm looking for is the variety, or, more accurately, how many people thought it was just "okay".

 One of my biggest bookish pet peeves are books that fall smack dab in three star territory. Those ones where they were pleasant enough for you to force your way through but aren't going to stick with you in the long run. I hate those books. I rarely give out three stars for anything, either I liked the book (four), I abso-bloomin-lutly loved it (five), I disliked it (two) or WHY DID I EVEN FINISH THIS I HATE EVERYTHING (one). Three stars are for no feelings, and not having feelings for something I've around a week to is unacceptable. Three stars are the reviews you read that spend more time talking about style than substance.

Maybe my time working on Camp or Crap has left me with a skewed perspective but I really enjoy picking apart "bad" things. I don't go out of my way to search out bad books, but when I find them it gives me licence to moan about overused words and cliche plots.

Do you do any research before picking up a book? Do star ratings effect you're reading choices? Let me know!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back Story - David Mitchell (no, not the novelist)

For those of you who know of David Mitchell (no, not that David Mitchell) you probably think he's a tweedy posh nerd with OCD that couldn't get out three sentences without self depreciating, and judging from his Soapboxes, panel show appearances and work with Robert Webb you wouldn't be alone.  David Mitchell: Back Story will take those notions and while it won't put them to rest it will at least give you the full picture. Here you'll find stories of a David growing up in Oxford as a boy more likely to be playing Downton era dress up than kicking around a ball, cross dressing in school plays and in general worrying about life.

The celebrity memoir is a tricky thing. Too much detail and you risk appealing only to obsessed fans, too much time spent on a well adjusted childhood appears boastful and dull. Here is where David really shines. Using a long walk around London as a springboard for his memories he provides the right balance of childhood anecdote, high school pit falls and Cambridge living before going full force into the comedy life he so clearly wanted. The chapters on his early life in London and the second time meeting his future wife are particularly amusing and moving.

Now there's a man who knows how to live life. 

Overall: If You're not a fan of David Mitchell you probably wouldn't be interested in his life story, but even if you find him mildly amusing Back Story is a very funny quick read.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012: The Year I Loved Books But Couldn't Seem to Read Them

Welcome to 2013. Hopefully you had a safe and fun night and didn't end your night by falling down some icy stairs, like I did.  The only way I can describe last year is stagnant.  I worked at a coffee shop all year, got a little to down on myself and didn't really do anything of much substance. This year I hope to change that. I start a new job next week. I'm making plans to visit friends both in Chicago and Dallas and am looking forward to reading a ton of new books!

Since I'd just graduated College and had nothing but free time (and oh so much coffee) I  made my reading goal for 2012 unreasonably high. It started at 75 before I knocked it down to 50 in march, and ended up with 27 and stretching my usual definition of  a book.

Here is the list of books I finished in 2012. Please don't be alarmed by the large percent Harry Potter takes up.
1. Illuminated - Orloff
2. The Joy The Baker Cookbook - Wilson
3. Hunger Games - Collins
4. Catching Fire - Collins
5. Mockingjay - Collins
6. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Foer *
7. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Kaling
8. Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down - Rosecrans
9. The Great Perhaps - Meno
10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone - Rowling*
11. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling*
12. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling*
13. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling*
14. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling*
15. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince - Rowling*
16. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling*
17. The Kingmakers Daughter - Gregory
18. Anna Karenina - Tolstoy
19. Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store - Solan
20. The Land of Stories - Colfer
21. Bossypants - Fey
22. The Fry Chronicles - Fry
23. Bartelby, The Scrivener - Melville
24. May Day - Fitzgerald
25. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook - Pearlman
26. A Series of Unfortunate Events - Bad Beginnings - Snickets
27. The Back In the Day Bakery cookbook - Day & Day

As you can see, a few short stories, a chunk of rereads and a smattering of cookbooks found their way into my usual style.

Hope you all have a fantastic year!