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Sep. 28th, 2016


Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I’ve already reviewed it all!

What I’m Reading Now

Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, which has just about broken me; it’s so sad I can’t even cry over it. Paul Baumer is an infantry soldier in the German army in World War II, who goes to the front, gets sent back from the front, loses this friend and that friend and a new recruit (the new recruits go down like mayflies), moves through the world like an exhausted ghost. It’s shell shock in novel form and I can only read a chapter at a time because it clings to me afterward.

I’ve also started reading Caroline Winterer’s American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason, which is about the various iterations of enlightenment in eighteenth-century America (and I think also by extension in Europe; the book is about the cross-pollination of ideas between the two continents). So far she has written about eighteenth-century library travelogues - surely the best kind of a travelogue - and learned letter-writing networks, which filled me with a certain epistolary covetousness.

What I Plan to Read Next

One of my friends from Captain America fandom sent me Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding! Which is apparently quite famous in Australia. So probably that; anything called The Magic Pudding has to be a good antidote to All Quiet on the Western Front.

Sep. 27th, 2016


Book Review: The Story People

I just finished Heather Kaufman’s The Story People, which I ended up really enjoying, despite the fact that it does have some Ridiculous Misunderstandings and for all that the copy I got from NetGalley was riddled with typos and dropped words. (Hopefully they’ll fix that before the book actually goes to press.)

I was actually going to complain a bit more about the misunderstandings, but the book really grew on me as I read along. Sure, some of the plotting is a bit ludicrous, but the atmosphere is just so cozy - this quaint little Indiana town with the kind of quirkily interesting small businesses that almost no small Indiana town has anymore. (I figure New Holden, like Nashville, is a tourist attraction, and that’s what supports all these delightful stores).

The most important of these quirky little businesses is the local bookstore, which our hero, Ben Palermo, inherited from his uncle. He used to visit it as a child, and as a child he liked to sneak away to hidden room tucked away behind a closet on the third floor, where he met a girl, and they invented the tale of the Story People, who live in the hidden room and slip out to nibble on stories.

There's a children's book tucked away inside the adult book, told in short snippets at the end of each chapter, about the boy and the girl and their epistolary friendship consisting of notes left for each other in the hidden room, and occasionally serendipitous meetings. I do feel a bit wistful about that book, and its possibilities as a standalone.

But I did end up enjoying the adult part of the book too. It also has a secondary romance between two old people, and old people romance is something I always enjoy for some reason. Maybe just because you don’t see it very often?

It’s Christian fiction - I didn’t realize this until after I’d requested the book; I pretty much saw the title and slammed the “request” button. Obviously everyone is going to have different tolerance levels for this sort of thing, but I thought it wasn’t overbearing at all, and actually an interesting view into a different way of life.

Sep. 26th, 2016


Caldecott Monday: The Biggest Bear

The Caldecott project rides again! I've got a new library card, so we're off to the races.

And what a book to restart with! Lynd Ward's The Biggest Bear is a total hoot. Johnny Orchard is embarrassed because his family's barn is the only barn in the valley without a bear skin hanging up to dry on the outside. One day he hikes off in the woods determined to shoot the biggest bear he can find! ... only to stumble upon an adorable bear cub, which he takes home with him as a pet.

Naturally the bear cub eats everything in sight, which becomes increasingly hilarious as the book goes on. I think my favorite illustration is the one of the cub - no longer a cub, but a full grown bear - drunkenly guzzling jugs of maple syrup as if they were kegs of hard cider.

I also really like the illustrations in this one. They're very delicately rendered grayscale drawings. The people sometimes seem a bit wooden (especially when they're smiling, for some reason; their cranky looks are lively enough), but the bear overflows with charm and character.

Next week is Madeline's Rescue! Do you know I've never actually read a Madeline book? This is actually rather surprising; from what I've heard of them, I think they're the kind of book my mother would have considered a good example for me. (We read lots of books with tomboy heroines who didn't fit in with the others.) I'm excited to fill this gap in my knowledge!

Sep. 25th, 2016


Book Meme, Part 6

And the last questions from the book meme, for littlerhymes!

16. That book you don’t dare reread for fear it won’t be the same anymore.

I am actually pretty fearless on this score. I recently (well, within the last few years) reread a couple of books that had been important to me when I was twelve or thirteen: the Babysitter’s Club book Claudia and the New Girl and also the first book in Francine Pascal’s Fearless series, both of which seemed to me to have a pretty high likelihood of being visited by the Suck Fairy.

And I wouldn’t call either book flawless - the Fearless series in particular has a ton of flaws in pretty much every possible area, both social justice-related and on the basic plotting and characterization level. And yet at the same time I still enjoyed them, and could see why they had been so intensely important to my younger self.

However, I think I’m somewhat unusual on this score in that I started reading critically when I was twelve or thirteen, so oftentimes if books have issues it’s something that I was aware of at the time, at least to some extent. It would have to be a book I’d read earlier for me to be gobsmacked by the content - “Who knew there was that much racism in Caddie Woodlawn???” - but, even then, the racism isn’t the only thing in Caddie Woodlawn, and I can see the other elements that made me love it.

17. Preferred bookshelf organization scheme

Hahaha oh man. The one that gets all my books on my shelves? My books are totally higgledy-piggledy, and it’s worse than usual right now because I had to move things around for the move - I was taking one bookshelf with me, so I had to decide which books would go on that, and find new homes for the books that had been on that shelf but weren’t coming, and…

So they’re all kind of tucked in wherever they’ll fit.

I’ve seen people who organize their bookshelves by alphabetical order or even in color (which strikes me as rather beautiful) but I know that if I did it, the whole scheme would slowly but surely come undone. I tried to organize our picture book collection in alphabetical order, and I ought to be able to keep it that way because I’m the only one who uses these books, and yet there’s already a wodge of unalphabetized books at the end of the shelf.
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Sep. 24th, 2016


Book Meme, Part 5

Two more question for the book meme, for egelantier. Who picked hard ones!

6. If you read in more than one language, is there a difference between the experience of reading in your native language and reading in other languages?

I could, once upon a time, read in Russian (very slowly and with the aid of a dictionary) and in Spanish - still with the aid of a dictionary, but actually rather decently; I read a few novels in Spanish. So I’m not sure I can answer this question meaningfully for Russian, because I never got fluent enough for reading to be anything but a struggle, but in Spanish, yes, it was a different experience, although I would be hard-pressed to put my finger on just how.

I think the closest I can get is the time that I read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars in Spanish. I had read the book in English the summer after second grade, and it was very important to me - it kicked off a reading binge of every Holocaust-related children’s book in the library, culminating in an attempt to write a Holocaust novel of my very own after third grade, so it really shaped my identity as a writer and my interest in history, in a way. And I read it many times in English, so I remembered it very well.

But rereading it in Spanish made it feel different - even though I already remembered the plot in fairly fine-grained detail, the fact that the words themselves were different gave the book a sense of newness and tension that I don’t usually feel during a reread. But at the same time, I think because reading in another language forced me to slow down, I got an experience closer to what I had when I first read the book, when I read more slowly than I do now. There’s less sense of gulping down the story and more of a feeling that one is living in it, immersed in it, because of the difficulty of reading it forced me to keep my entire attention on it.

15. The book you reread over and over again and get new things from every time.

I’ve been trying to think of an answer for this that is slightly more, oh, literary, but honestly it’s probably Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling. Although I try not to reread it to often so I don’t rub the magic off it.

When I first read it, as a child, I was completely enchanted by Martha and Ivy’s friendship and their imaginative adventures; rereading it when I’m older, I’ve been impressed also by the care Snyder took with the background characters (it’s clear that Martha’s parents love her and want what they think is best for her, and yet don’t and probably can’t understand her), and the subtlety with which she dealt with Ivy’s family, which is at best neglectful and at worst downright abusive - and yet that went over my head as a child; I only really noticed it rereading it as an adult.

It also adds a note of poignancy to Ivy and Martha’s friendship, because all Martha wants is for Ivy to live in Rosewood Hills always, and yet it’s really better for Ivy when she’s away living with her Aunt Evaline in Harley’s Crossing. (Great missed opportunities of literature: I would love to see Martha visit Ivy at Aunt Evaline’s house. Not that her parents would ever let her.)
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Sep. 23rd, 2016


Book Meme, part 4

For inspirethoughts: 21. A book you gave up on, and the reasons why.

I give up on books with a fair amount of regularity - or, at least, more regularity than I used to, when I grimly read just about everything to the end. Nowadays I’ll give something up because it’s boring, too technical, not what I’m in the mood for right then, due back at the library and someone else has a hold on it so I can’t renew it and I don’t care enough to sit down and steamroll through it before the due date...

I think the book I abandoned most recently is Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species. I’d heard it was charmingly written despite being a 150 year old science book, but the part I read was baffling rather than charming, and life is just too short for this sort of thing.

I also gave up on Naomi Novik's Uprooted, which at the time I meant to get back to, but the more I think about it the less I want to read the romance that, I have been informed, is going to unfold as the book continues. Whyyyy do authors have to lard their books up with unnecessary romances?
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Sep. 22nd, 2016


Book Meme, part 3

For lost_spook: 30. The book you read the blurb of, constructed a version of in your mind, and were promptly disappointed by once you finally got around to actually reading it

Okay, you know Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven? I’m not sure I even read the blurb before I had constructed a beautiful version of this book where the Lone Ranger and Tonto actually have a fistfight in the afterlife. It was epic and beautiful and probably kind of slashy.

Imagine my surprise when I read this book and discovered that not only is there no heavenly fistfight, but the Lone Ranger and Tonto don’t actually appear at all. It’s just a bunch of vaguely interconnected short stories, and I’m not usually interested in short stories and in any case don’t remember them well because I was so put out about the aforementioned lack of Lone Ranger and Tonto's slashy fistfight.

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is super good, though, and neither the blurb nor the title are misleading. So if you want to read some of his work, I definitely recommend that one.
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Count of Monte Cristo: Chapter 8

After much waffling and repeated warnings not to do it, I have gone ahead and started reading The Count of Monte Cristo. Somehow none of the warnings were as powerful as the fact that I actually own the book and it has been sitting on my shelf, taking up space and waiting to be read.

And also I missed having a lengthy book project to post about every Thursday. This is probably an unfortunate sign of my long slow march toward reading Proust.

In any case! So far The Count of Monte Cristo is all right. Dantes started out on top of the world - about to be made captain of his own ship and marry the girl he loves - and in few short chapters, he has been cast down to the depths of despair, although I think he's still under the impression that he's going to get out of jail soon and go on with his life. Oh Dantes! As if accused Napoleonic conspirators get to go on with their lives.

Sep. 21st, 2016


Book Review: When Paris Sizzled

I finished reading Mary McAuliffe's When Paris Sizzled, which is about life in the art world of Paris between the Armistice and the Wall Street Crash, and which I enjoyed very much; I would recommend it to anyone with a prior interest in the time and place.

But I might not recommend it to someone who is just dipping their toe into these waters for the first time, because McAuliffe throws so many different names and relationships at the reader that I think it would be very difficult to keep up if you don't already have a working knowledge of at least some of their stories. I already knew quite a bit about some of the cast of characters - the Hemingways, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Jean Renoir (the famous painter's son and a famous film director in his own right, and also one of the main characters in the charming 2012 French film Renoir), which left a lot of space free to sort out all the others - but I still don't think I got a good grasp on who all the music composers were, for instance.

It's all interesting, mind, I'd be hard pressed to point to any particular strand and say "This. This could have been left out and nothing of value would be lost." The stuff about the rivalry between Citroen and Renault cars, say, seems in some ways out of place with the rest of the book -and yet cars are so central to modernity that they do fit, as well.

Or perhaps the sections about Marie Curie? But those are so small, and Marie Curie is one of the figures that a lot of readers will already have some familiarity with anyway...

So the breadth probably makes this book a bad introduction to the time period: there's simply too much to take in at once. But if you already know something about the era, enough to make your way through the sea of names, it's a fascinating and evocative look at an era.

The strict chronological ordering contributes to the confusion - each chapter consists of little snippets about what our many main characters were doing during that time - but it also gives the book a sense of atmosphere. Because it's all scrambled together like that, you can really feel what a frenetic and busy time this was, culturally speaking, with so many people making so much art and trying to stretch art in so many different directions.

There's not a lot of depth here, but if you have enough prior knowledge to orient yourself, the breadth is breath-taking.

Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I already posted about The Cartographer’s Daughter, and nothing else this week. It’s been a busy week!

What I’m Reading Now

I’m actually working on two NetGalley books: Mary McAuliffe’s When Paris Sizzled (about Paris post World War I) and Daniel Blum’s Sleep Wise. I’m enjoying When Paris Sizzles, although I think it would benefit if McAuliffe had picked a slightly smaller cast of characters instead of throwing in everyone who was anyone.

Sleep Wise is on hold for the moment because I am trying for once in my life to actually follow the advice in a self-help book, and therefore keeping a sleep log.

What I Plan to Read Next

My eyes were bigger than my stomach over at NetGalley: I have The Story People, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason (which is actually about post-Revolutionary War America, although you could be forgiven for thinking it’s yet another self-help book), and Winter with God, which is a devotional for when life sucks, which seems like the kind of devotional I might like, even though I’m not a Christian. Although we’ll see.

Then I went back and requested Krystyna Mihulka’s memoir Krysia about her childhood after being deported to a Soviet communal farm during World War II. I may have a NetGaley problem.

I also plan to read All Quiet on the Western Front sometime this month for my reading challenge. I have tomorrow off; perhaps I should devote it to this cause.

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