Adventures in Reading


222 Days & the Man Booker Prize
July 30, 2009, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It has been 222 days since my last post: I’ve got a new job, a new hair color, a new outlook on life, and will shortly be moving to a new city.  I’ve definitely fallen off of the book radar so imagine my surprise while scanning the BBC’s website that it was already that time of year: the Man Booker Prize long list announcement. The Man Booker long list consistently promises phenomenal fiction reads from the UK, Ireland, and the Commonwealth and each year I find a new favorite from this list; last year it was Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole. The 2009 long list is:

  • AS Byatt’s The Children’s Book
  • JM Coetzee’s Summertime
  • Adam Foulds’ The Quickening Maze
  • Sarah Hall’s How to Paint a Dead Man
  • Samantha Harvey’s The Wilderness
  • James Lever’s Me Cheeta
  • Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall
  • Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room
  • Ed O’Loughlin’s Not Untrue and Not Unkind
  • James Scudamore’s Heliopolis
  • Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn
  • William Trevor’s Love and Summer
  • Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger


Fiction: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, 2008
December 16, 2008, 2:50 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,


On a rainy day in her new home, Coraline Jones’ mother shows her a door that opens to a brick wall. But over a stretch of the overcast and final days leading up to a new school year, Coraline discovers a hallway through the door identical to her own home that leads to her apartment, her house, her yard. It’s a strange world slightly off kilter from Coraline’s reality and here she meets her other mother and other father: strange likenesses of her parents with buttons for eyes (and that want to sew Coraline’s eyes closed). When Coraline’s real parents go missing, she must return through the door to save them.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a children’s horror book written with children in mind, for children, and with the structural simplicity of children’s books. Coraline has thematic issues of losing and rescuing parents, searching for home, and exterior and interior realities. And it’s all a bit gruesome as the world is slightly off and includes button-eyed people, rats (enough to creep me out), and a hand that chases Coraline. I will say from reading the quotes on the book jacket I expected something stupendous and I thought it was fair (though I do look forward to the movie). I found it similar to Vivian French’s Robe of Skulls.

Conclusion: Tossed.



Fiction: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, 1847-8 (Pt. 1)

“We are Turks with the affections of our women; and have made them subscribe to our doctrine too. We let their bodies go abroad liberally enough, with smiles and ringlets and pink bonnets to disguise them instead of veils and yakmaks. But their souls must be seen by only one man, and they obey not unwillingly, and consent to remain at home as our slaves—ministering to us and doing drudgery for us.”

The other evening I was in the mood to just read a big, thick book – seriously, these were the only qualities I was looking for. I scanned over Anna Karenina and An American Tragedy, and finally tucked away on the bottom of my shelf I found a dusty copy of William Makepeace Thackeray’s serial tale Vanity Fair. I purchased the book at least a year ago and have given no thought to reading it until now.

Vanity Fair (“A Novel Without a Hero,” but instead two heroines) is primarily the story of Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley and their adventures and relations from finishing school through marriage through the Battle of Waterloo, etc. Thackeray has a robust cast of characters that he parades through Vanity Fair with delightful and witty insights and descriptions. The book is satiric, the book is critical, and (best of all) the book is enjoyable.

I was somewhat surprised by how readable the book is; I often find myself needing time to acclimate myself to period writing styles (such as Laurence Sterne or Jane Austen), but not with Vanity Fair. From chapter to chapter, Thackeray moves between different characters

Conclusion: Keeper.



Fiction: Nation by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been trying to write on Terry Pratchett’s Nation for ages, so here are a handful of notes I wrote down while reading: story begins with a creation myth, looks at god superstitions, written by an atheist, some characters taught an unquestioning faith in belief, religion and/versus science.

Nation is Terry Pratchett’s most recent novel and the first in quite awhile not to occur within his fantastical Discworld series. In a bit of an alternate reality that is very similar to our own 19th Century, a tsunami strikes destroying much of the populations of this world’s equivocal South Pacific and also happens to shipwreck an English ship. The only immediate survivors are a man-child (with no soul (give me a moment on this)) MAu and a British girl going by the pseudonym Daphne.

I can think of three reasons why you would want to read this book, and the first most easily being that you love Terry Pratchett and as there is no new Discworld book this year what else are you going to read? Believe me, you won’t be disappointed!

Secondly, this is a wonderful book for young adults. Our protagonists are both at the coming-of-age period when the tsunami strikes – it’s The Lord of the Flies with much less madness and much more humor. Mau is returning home from his rite-of-passage during the disaster and his ceremony is never concluded, and thus he finds himself in limbo without his soul from childhood, but no way to enter manhood. Daphne is going to meet her father who is a member of the British Empire and one in a long queue to be the next king. Nation is interesting, thoughtful, funny, and has some brilliant speaking points: sex and gender, religion, colonization, beliefs, etc.

Three, you love atheism, hate atheism, or are interested in atheism. Pratchett, an atheist, has written a book on belief, why people believe, and perhaps even the need for some people to believe. The book concludes with a series of warnings including that the book might make you think. Unlike Pullman’s more in your face style, Pratchett is putting out the query of why do people believe and trying to present his answer.

The book concludes with Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins visiting the island. Really, what more do you need?

Conclusion: Keeper.

Other opinions: Book Addiction.



I Ain’t Dead & Bookstore Happenings
December 13, 2008, 9:01 am
Filed under: maintenance, thoughtful | Tags: , ,

I’ve been absent over the past few weeks and though I had a rather light course load this semester, the conclusion of the year was pretty demanding. But everything is finished and today is my first day of nearly a month without any classes (though I will still be plugging away at the bookstore).

The bookstore has been interesting. We’ve been frightfully busy and anyone popping in would be surprised to learn of the economic situation of the country. Whether this is true or not, but I had one customer tell me that she believed people were looking to give more meaningful and lasting gifts this year. After all, there are few gifts as meaningful and lasting that you can purchase for the price of a book!

(Also allow me to add that at present I am not too keen on WordPress’ recent interface alterations. Usually tech-like changes don’t bother me in the least, but I don’t find it intuitive at all. Perhaps I just need to play with it a bit more. I just inadvertently deleted about 20 comments. Sorry!)



Short Stories: Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link, 2008
December 10, 2008, 11:55 am
Filed under: book reviews, short stories | Tags: , , ,

Of contemporary short story authors Kelly Link is one of my favorites. I fell in love with her collection Magic For Beginners and was pleased to discover this most recent collection Pretty Monsters in the young adult section. The collection includes stories from her previous collections, previously published stories, and the title story “Pretty Monsters” is unique to the book. Link includes fantasy, supernatural, and horror in the book as well as zombies, teen angst, and a 200-year-old grandmother. And as always Link’s ever-precise language usage has somewhat of a haunting effect on the book.

Where Pretty Monsters stands apart from Link’s other collections is that it includes some lengthier stories in quite different styles. For example the “The Wizards of Perfil” or “The Constable of Abal” are more reminiscent and thematically similar to traditional fantasy stories while in the past her fiction has been more skewed, more surreal. Some of the longer tales have made me curious if Link is possibly considering a novel, but personally I’m satisfied with the short stories: so please keep them coming!

Conclusion: Keeper.



Fiction: Days of Awe by Achy Obejas, 2001

Revolutions happen, I’m convinced, because intuition tells us we’re meant for a greater world. If this one were good enough, we’d settle, happy as hens, and never rise up. But we know better: We feel the urge, ardent and fallible as it may be, for a kind of continual transcendence” (italics from the original text).

Alejandro San Jose was born the day Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba and her family, like many others, left the country. And in Achy Obejas’ Days of Awe we experience Alejandro’s struggle to comprehend her family, her past, her culture, and herself as a cubana. The story covers a somewhat vague period of time in Alejandro’s adult life as she travels back and forth from Cuba and in and out of relationships.

The second book for my Lambda Challenge and, well really, just wow. Days of Awe is beautifully written and Obejas Some of my favorite passages were Obejas’ explanations of the Spanish language such as American’s use of the verb love versus the Cuban use of the verbs querer, amar, and gustar. Days of Awe explores a gamut of complexities from imperialism to Cuba’s revolution, Judaism and Catholocism, as well as thematic issues of secrecy. Obejas’s latest book Ruins is due out March of 2009.

Conclusion: Keeper.

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