Adventures in Reading


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.



Fiction: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, 1986

“The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.”

Terry Pratchett’s The Light Fantastic continues from the cliffhanging finish of The Colour of Magic. Our heroes, the wizard Rincewind and the tourist Twoflower, begin the story dangling off the edge of the world; thanks to one of the eight great spells (left behind by the creator) lodged in Rincewind’s head, the two travelers find themselves on a haphazard journey to save the Discworld.

The Light Fantastic is a great and early example of Pratchett’s literal engagement with the Discworld; for example, Great A’Tuin the world turtle acts like a regular, old turtle. Thus the strength of the main plot doesn’t have to rely on too far fetched ideas, something that seems to crop up particularly in fantasy, but rather depends on a turtle doing turtle-like things. This early book in the series does have a couple of developmental issues ranging from scene switches to some thematic humor issues, but these don’t take away from the story.

A lot of the fun in rereading The Light Fantastic is in discovering the loose assortment of foreshadowing. Pratchett seems to reference at least three future books. If not the best of the Discworld series, The Light Fantastic is a satisfying read with the usual Pratchet philosophical wanderings.

Conclusion: Keeper.



Fiction: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872

“The effect of the full moon in such a state of brilliancy was manifold. It acted on dreams, it acted on lunacy, it acted on nervous people, it had marvelous physical influence connected with life.”

J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla is a novella about vampires and a predecessor to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Laura and her father inhabit a lonely schloss in “Styria;” after a carriage accident outside of their home, a strange and “invalid” girl is left with the family. Laura and the girl Carmilla recollect each other from a dream-like experience from their childhoods. The family’s experience with Carmilla is surreal and haunting; the neighboring villages are plagued with some sort of feverish, wasting disease, which kills a variety of female inhabitants. The emphasis in Carmilla, unlike in Dracula, is with female subjects as both predators and victims.

This year has turned into my year of vampires, I suppose, and my interest in Carmilla was peaked while reading the introduction to Dracula. Though LeFanu’s work is easily solved approximately half way through and there are some significant unanswered questions, Carmilla is bother a curious and interesting look at vampirism.



Fiction: My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates, 2008

“The death of a beautiful girl-child of no more than ten years of age is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” – E.A. Pym from “The Aesthetics of Composition,” 1846

Joyce Carol Oates’ most recent novel My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike is a foray into the world of childhood tabloid stardom. Unquestioningly based on the JonBenét Ramsey case of the ’90s, My Sister, My Love is told through the voice of Skyler Rampike – the brother of legendary child prodigy figure skater Bliss Rampike, who was murdered as a young girl. The novel is a memoir manuscript of sorts exploring Skyler’s perspective and experience, as well as the tabloid influence on his American life post-tragedy.

As my first novel by the prolific Oates, My Sister, My Love delivers everything it promises. Written from a medicated and spoiled/privileged viewpoint of an American, wealthy adolescent, the character Skyler is written in a jumpy or nervous style that switches between first and third person narrative as well as through the eyes of a younger boy and an adolescent. (If you’re not comfortable with alternative narratives, I’d suggest staying away from this one.) The narrative becomes more curious as throughout Skyler reflects on his own use of literary devices.

I didn’t love this book, though I did speed read through the first 3/4ths of the book. The gritty tabloid aspect of the book works brilliantly, as does Skyler’s childhood experiences with the Rampike family, and I found myself reading it like I scan the “trash mags” at the grocery store check out aisle; however, the latter portion of the book just isn’t as interesting. *Shrugs.* Regardless, this is what the book promised from the start and Oates does deliver it. Perhaps not her best book, but still one that I (mostly) enjoyed reading. In addition to the theme of media and particularly tabloids, Oates has a lot to say on this particular venue and type of America and the people that are produced from it.

One point of additional interest for myself was that when Skyler was a child during the ’90s so was I, and I felt like I had a more intimate look because of this (a.k.a. my mom totally dressed at times like the mother in the book!)

A Girl Walks Into A Bookstore… had an interesting post awhile back about the cover, and starting the book I initially concurred that the cover is just not appealing, but now that I’ve finished the book it is strangely appropriate (that and I have no other ideas to suggest that would be any more appealing!).

Conclusion: Returned to the library.



Fiction: Chuck Palahniuk’s Snuff, 2008
November 1, 2008, 1:57 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,

“One dude stood all afternoon at the buffet wearing just his boxers, licking the orange dust off barbecued potato chips. Next to him, a dude was scooping into the onion dip and licking the dip off the chip. The same soggy chip, scoop after scoop. Dudes have a million ways of peeing on what they claim as just their own.”

Terrible, terrible, terrible cover. As a reader I was immediately repulsed by the hideousness of the cover and I must thank the library for removing the jackets of hardback books or I’m sure I would never have given this book a chance. (Even looking at the image to the left has my eye twitching! Seriously, who gave the okay on this?)

The term “snuff” is usually used as a reference to violent pornography that depicts the death or murder of the subject, and porn being porn this subject is often a woman. In Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent novel Snuff , an aging porn star is attempting to break the world record by having sex with 600 men and resulting from a variety of concerns trepidation unfolds through most of the novel that this set could easily become a snuff film. Told through the voices of four characters, three men labeled as their numbers and the organizational guru Sheila, Snuff unfolds in the waiting room of the porn shoot.

I really didn’t think I’d be able to stomach this book at all because of political reasons, but I managed to work my way through and even finish the novel. And what is most curious is that with such a premise as Palahniuk establishes nothing much happens and the conclusion is just terrible. Now as I’ve said that I’d still like to chime in and say that Palahniuk seems (and is certainly accredited) to be a smart writer, but with Snuff the only reason I continued to read was because the random assortment of sex history and trivia ranging from famous pornographers to Hollywood actors of the silent and silver screen was kind of interesting.

Palahniuk briefly dabbles in the complexity of pornography, but it’s just… not very good. I did finish the novel and it was a quick (and thin) read, but Snuff is definitely a shabby read from who is usually described as a promising author.

Conclusion: Returned to the library.