Posts Tagged ‘literature’

People of the Book and The Black Death

July 4, 2010 - 12:48 am No Comments

As promised, I did finally finish Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, and let me tell you, it’s just as amazing as my previous post, written at about the 2/3 read mark, would lead you to believe.  In an effort not to repeat myself, I’m actually going to skip reiterating the plot points and make mention of a few other things that really stood out to me.

First of all, this book is absolutely brimming with strong female characters.  For all of the pain and torment most of them have suffered, the female protagonists seem to be the strongest, most noble characters one could hope to come across in such a text.  They are not perfect by any means, and often they allow themselves to be weak, but that’s what makes them strong, in the end.

Second of all, the book is inspiring.  The sheer coming together of religions for a common cause, even though (or perhaps more because) it was completely a non-issue to those involved in the rescue of the book, the displays honesty, of respect, and of understanding are really an inspiration.  Even if all of the characters are fictional, the journey the book took, the number of times it had to be saved, is fact.  It really happened.  So whether or not the events went down exactly as Ms. Brooks speculated or not is only half of the story.

Third, it’s simply amazingly well-written. It switches easily, un-jarringly between main character Hanna Heath’s first-person slang-laden Australian internal dialogue to other POVs, sometimes third person, sometimes first.  It doesn’t interrupt the story at all, and actually serves to enhance it.  Point of view is something I’m really sensitive toward in books, so the fact that this didn’t throw me off or even bother me at all is a tribute to its fluidity.  In addition, Hanna’s internal narrative, when situations allow it to be, is absolutely hilarious, drawing away (but not discounting) some of the darkness from more heavy sections before and after her internal monologue.

I have to be honest: I picked up this book because the cover had glitter on it (oh don’t even pretend you’ve never done the same thing) and it ended up being one of my favorite books of 2010 so far.

The book I’m working on right now is John Hatcher’s The Black Death (you know, for lighter, summer reading material).

I’m about a 1/3 of the way in and I want to avoid saying anything which might change in the remaining two-hundred pages (but come on, it’s the goddamn plague; we know how it’s gonna end) but what I have to say is this: this book is so. incredibly. dry.  It’s an historical narrative, but it is very historical and very little narrative.  There is a non-fiction, italicized insert at the beginning of every chapter, and to be honest, with the way the actually prose is written, it feels kind of redundant.  It’s good for explanation, but I feel like if the narrative is this flat, the disclaimers could have some how been worked into the body of the story itself.

That being said, it’s not a bad writing style, it just feels like its doing itself a disservice by having blatantly un-story segments followed by the story, which is written in almost the same voice.  The content is heady and dark enough, pressing enough, to carry the story by itself, but I almost feel like it shouldn’t have to.

Finally, a note on the blog: I failed to mention this in the previous post, but I’ve instituted the use of categories; they can now be found in the sidebar.  So if you’re looking for something specific, you won’t have to fumble through all of my posts about food to get to a particular book review.

Stay tuned: next time I’ll be talking about An Arsonists’ Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England and, if I can just man-up and finish it, the third and final installment in Christopher Paolini’s Inheretance Trilogy, Brisingr.

Hope my Canadian friends had a great Canada Day, and I hope my American friends find an excuse to blow something up later today (they always do…).

I have successfully renewed my library card; Neil Gaimen, graphic novels, and book restoration.

June 24, 2010 - 4:47 am 5 Comments

And, after paying off $16 in fines that I didn’t actually have but didn’t feel bad about because a) it was my fault that I didn’t know when my card expired and b) the library really needs that money right now anyway, I went and checked out some new books. I got most of the things which were recommended to me, but some where out (Ubik by Phillip K Dick for one) and some didn’t seem to exist (Carmichael’s Dog by R.M. Koster, which could be find neither in the Carnegie Library nor the inter-library loan system, so I did suggest they purchase it), but in the end I ended up with far too more books than I will have time to read and that is never a bad thing. This may have been due to the newly-proffered baskets a la very small shopping carts the library now supplies so that you don’t have to balance your books under your chin, which truly was the only think that kept me from taking out twenty books in the past, as I have a very small chin-to-crook-of-my-arm ratio, which only allows for about 6 hardbacks or 10 paperbacks.

Anansi Boys
Already I’ve delved into Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, one of the very few novels by him which I have not read (due to the fact that I previously thought it was permanently checked out, then found out that no, it just lived in the teen fiction section), and I am finding it very silly. I completely empathise with Fat Charlie, though perhaps not in such a severe way: my dad is that dad who is and will always be cooler than you and when you you throw a party all of your friends from high school show up begrudgingly so when they find out, no, he has a real job now and can’t come drinking on Thursday nights. So there’s that.

History of Violence
I also have started the graphic novel A History of Violence, written by John Wagner and illustrated by Vince Locke and though I’m only about 70 pages in, I expected to me much more grabbed by it than I am being (no I have not seen the movie but I do want to, mostly because I would let Viggo Mortenson do horrible things to me). Nothing really against it so far, I’m just the type who has to get into things early on or else I shove them in a corner and let them starve (this is why I can’t have children). For something that’s reputedly a psychological thriller and also, um, a graphic novel, I thought I would be a lot more into it by now. But we’ll see.

People of the Book

And finally, I’m still reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks who won the Pulitzer for her work, March.  It is truly amazing.  It’s a fictional story about the Sarajevo Haggadah, an early Jewish seder book, rare and priceless in that it was very finely made and included illustrations (haggadahs are usually boring and utilitarian, my Gentile friends, and nearly no Jewish books were illustrated because for a very long time that was taboo, much as most Muslims consider images of  the prophet Mohammad, PBUH, to be false idolatry).  It tells how the book was created, where various stains and markings on the book come from, and how the book came to be bound in it’s current form, not to mention how it survived the Bosnian War, rescued many times over by people of all faiths, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not so much (one story line involves a very alcoholic Vatican priest and a Rabbi with a severe gambling problem).  The main plot, if you will, is about the woman restoring the book in the present day, who reminds me very much of Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel of Bones fame.  But, for as into this book as I may be, it does get very heavy and dark at times, and I had to put it away for a while because I was absolutely overcome by one of the stories of persecution of the Jews during the Inquisition.  There’s a particularly graphic depiction of a form of torture which involves making a person swallow a very long piece of linen inch by inch and then pulling it back out of them, and I had to take a breather.  That surprised me.  I’m usually very okay with violence and horror and just god-awful gore and nonsense, but that was a bit much.  When I am through, however, this book will probably have a whole blog dedicated to it (as it’s shaping up to already) because it is just so wonderfully crafted.

That’s it for me for now; I’ve gotten about six hours of sleep in the past two days so I’m going to try to catch some shut-eye.  See you all on the morrow.

“I Am Legend” (Well, no, not me personally.)

June 12, 2010 - 11:15 pm 6 Comments

Have you ever wondered why vampires can’t get a tan?

Why don’t they like Italian cooking?

And what would a Muslim vampire do when faced with a cross?

These are just a few poignant questions asked (and, shock and awe, answered) in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which is, at least in my experience, the first modern vampire novel, focusing more on the science of the creature than the supernatural nature of it.

The book, written in 1954, is still amazingly undated to this day.  There is very little within the story that would suggest lead character Robert Neville lives in any era other than this one, disregarding the fact that the setting (the late 1970s) is declared at the header of every part of the novel.  Coming to the story from a perspective which has been drenched in just about ever vampire novel from 1850 forward, with a huge emphasis on the late 1980s, I found the narrative to be smooth and easy to understand.  The only point which I faltered over at first was the difference between the ‘living’ vampires and the ‘dead’ vampires (which ends up being a huge difference, but for the purposes of avoiding a spoiler, I will not mention why).  Then it dawned on me.  I had read Anne Rice’s Campire Chronicles, and the designation between a ‘living’ and ‘dead’ vampire was very much the same in Interview with the Vampire as it was in I Am Legend: ‘dead’ vampires are dead.  They died.  They have thus been buried, and then rose from their graves.  ‘Living’ vampires are simply transitioning from life into undeath without all of that messy potting soil, and as a result, are much more sound of mind and purpose.  I thought it was a cool distinction in Rice’s works and feel no differently now.

The narrative is darkly funny, with a lot of good points you’ve probably wondered about vampires yourself, but simply allowed yourself to dismiss for the sake of suspension of disbelief.  Matheson goes out of his way to explain those little quirks, not limited to but including those first three questions up there.  The answer, wholeheartedly, is SCIENCE (take that, sparkly vampires).  And yet, despite that, the story is emotional, sometimes painful, and rings of truth.  It also sites other popular vampire texts and myths (namely Dracula) which really made it feel possible.

I had not seen (and do not plan to see, despite my inexplicable love for Will Smith) the movie adaptation, as I had heard around the time of the release that they changed the ending.  Now that I know that the ending properly is, I feel like junk-punching whoever made that decision.  I can’t say too much, but I will note how frantic and absolutely apathetic the ending was, and given the events taking place, I mean that in a good way.

In summary, if you like sci-fi, disillusionment, or vampires, and you’ve been living under a rock since 1954 (like I clearly had), read this book.  It only took me about two hours and I would gladly give up another two to read it again.

Speaking of rushed but necessary endings, I saw Splice the other day.  Very weird, kind of cute, and very sad.  Regarding some of the character exploitation in the film, particularly that of the women-type-folk, I’m not sure whether or not I can really say I liked it, but I didn’t dislike it, and it’s certainly a film which will make you think weird thoughts even days after you’ve seen it.  I would probably watch it again.

Uh, that, and Adrien Brody is smokin’. (Technical term.)

Speaking of tings I did the other day, I went to an Ingrid Michaelson show.  This has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted to gloat.

That’s all for now; sorry this one took so long to post.  My library books are just about due, so I’m going to skip doing a list of the ones I took out this last trip (I never got around to many of them anyway; life’s been kinda raaaaaahhhhh lately) and start clean next time.  I also may do a review of Theresia, a very bizarre little Nintendo DS which has more gore, dark corners, and puzzles than a Saw movie (also, it doesn’t suck.  Sorry Saw fans, but I can only get behind a formulaic plot, and a very thin one at that, for so long).

The n00biest n00b, and a tea review.

May 17, 2010 - 4:53 am 2 Comments

You guys, you guys.

I just figured out how to reply to comments.

I will now reply to you.  I promise.

I won’t, however, be replying to ALL past comments (well, the ones that I would have, at any rate), just ones I receive from now on.  Okay.  Now tea.

I’m house sitting for my grandmother through next week, and I have discovered she has a cupboard full of wonderful-sounding teas.  The one which first caught my eye was Duchess-brand Peach Apricot Pure Ceylon tea.   I am a big fan of Republic of Tea’s Ceylons, and I thought this might be similar to the mango Ceylon that they carry (yes, I am aware that mangoes, apricots, and peaches are all entirely different fruit; it was just the only thing I had to compare to).

It was not.  I let it steep for about 4 minutes, added one teaspoon of sugar and one teaspoon of honey.  It was terribly, terribly bland, which was not what I was expecting, since the color was so dark and the smell upon opening the can was so rich, and, well, peachy.  All I could figure to do was add a little more sugar, and when I did, all I tasted was sugar.  Honestly, Lipton’s little tea bag peach tea was better than this (admittedly, I think Lipton has very good teas, but they’re not very adventurous, and yes, they are a little bland unless you let them steep a good while).

I had never heard of Duchess Teas before, and after this, probably won’t go out of my way to find anymore.

If you’ve had a different experience with them, let me know! In the comments! Which I now know how to reply to!

On a final note, a few hours ago I started reading Brock Clark’s (what a name) An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England.  I’m about a third of the way through, and if I have my way (read: if I don’t fall asleep on the couch) I’ll comment on it, and the final book in Christopher Paolini’s final book in the Inheritance trilogy, sometime tomorrow or Wednesday.

The Duel: A bit of literature.

May 15, 2010 - 3:36 pm No Comments

Well, I was gonna write a really amazing and specific blog about something and it was gonna be awesome, but the trouble is that I now don’t remember what that topic is.  And, after the week I’ve had, what with being stung by wasps, being allergic to be being stung by wasps, the Pens losing to the Habs, having a mouse in my house, and then having an amazing night out with Kristen of http://carnivaloftherandom.blogspot.com (okay, so that wasn’t really bad, in fact, it was the best thing all week and that’s competing with a rousing game of Dungeons and Dragons), I’m coping out and posting a bit of prose I’ve been working on for way too many years.

This is the opening to a story I’ve been writing, and this is the only part I feel like I really have nailed down, so I’m posting it now in lieu of actually saying anything interesting (alright, it’s interesting, but I put no effort into it other than copying and pasting from where it was living before).  I’m going to do another book post, possible before the middle of next week, but I actually want to delve into some different material since I’ve really only been reading one thing all week.

On with the show!

~*~

It’s amazing how beautiful the world is just before you die.

I stood there, my sword in hand, holding it as I had been taught long ago. I could feel its sturdy leather grips beneath my fingers, sturdy as the red clay earth I stood upon. The sky above was warm with tones of evening as the sun threatened to lose itself behind a mountain, as though using it as a blanket to keep itself warm in the dark night. The fading light made the clouds blush the delicate pink of the virgin bride I had never been while the empty sky around them bled out the remainder of the day from orange into ever-deepening shades of crimson, maroon.
A breeze began to pick up and it blew, almost soothing on the back of my neck, simultaneously calming me and making my flesh crawl as though this were the very breeze that would carry the lips of Lady Death upon it.

I looked into his eyes; stark, black eyes. He was a traitor, to his people, to his cause, and to me, and there’s nothing I could tolerate less than a traitor. The same breeze that had kissed my neck now brushed his hair, tossing it just the way he hated it, and blew raw desert sand over my shoes and into my mouth.

I hated him. With every fiber of me that still cared, I hated him. He had lied, and his lies had caused the deaths of the very people he was meant to protect, which was exactly what he had intended to do. He lied as he whispered sweet nothings into my ears and bedded me as hot, innocent blood quenched the thirst of the earth, staining it red, feeding it what it should not be fed, and I was oblivious. I believed him. And he never once stopped smiling. He never failed to look me in the eyes when he vomited falseness onto me and then twisted quick fingers into my hair to sate me with a plague of kisses.

He was so fucking proud of himself. Even now, he couldn’t make a toothy sneer fall away from his lips; even still, he looked me in the eyes.

One of us was going to die.

We both had loaded guns in the holsters at our hips, but that was not a proper duel, that was a coward’s duel. And though he may have been a traitor, he was certainly no coward. And I was certainly not afraid of him.

He held his sword at the ready, and the crimson sunlight bit the edges of it, a warning sign, a threat that this immaterial red that now graced the blade could soon be replaced by something much more sinister. Catching a deeper balance in the stance of his body, he began to recite, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

“Lies,” I whispered, but the fel wind caught it and swept it to darkening heavens, an oath from my lips to God’s ears.

In that instant, he lunged at me, and I at him. The twenty paces between us were quickly reduced to nil, and in once grand, practiced sweep, our swords collided, once with metal, and then with flesh.

An instant was all it took, and then it was over. I stumbled and nearly planted my face into the dusty earth, but caught my footing, regained my balance, and stood straight up to face the setting sun. My back was to him, exposed, and I feared, if for just a moment. Whipping around to face him, my hair gracelessly caught the wind, fluttering, then laying sedate along my shoulders once more.

He was on the ground in a pool of his own blood, one hand trying to keep his guts inside his body, the other reaching for his pistol. He stopped when he saw me turn, his eyes and mouth agape, the blood washing over his lips telling me I had cut into his stomach, and could smell the acrid smell of acid and blood and death in the air, a metallic odor that molested my senses.

He had told me that bleeding to death by through the stomach was one of the slowest and most painful ways to die, and he deserved every second of it, but I didn’t have the patience.

“I loved you,” I whispered to him, and then caught him just above the ear with a bullet. Slipping the pistol back into the holster, I watched the ground soak up his blood for a moment, feeding it with his tainted blood as it had fed on the innocents he’s put to death. I spit on his chest. A fitting end.

“A fitting end indeed,” I murmured, and reached for a cigarette, but my pocket was damp. Dropping my sword, it landed with a dull clank as I touched my side with both hands. Pulling them away, scarlet fingertips prophesized my fate.

“Oh…” was the only word my moth formed, and it sounded strange to my own ears. It wasn’t an “oh!” of surprise, or an “oh…” to God, but a happenstance, “oh”.

The sun curled up beneath it’s mountain-blanket and even the wind seemed to settle down for the night. Everything was still and quiet as a red moon rose, signaling the end of a season, the end of summer. The harvest moon.

As the sky darkened, so did my vision, and I was filled with an overwhelming warmth as I crashed to my knees, then onto my side, right next to him. His eyes were still open, and still black, and the blood on his lips only made him look alive. I’d shot him on the other side of his head, and from this angle, as my eyesight blurred, he looked like an angel. He had once been my angel.

It occurred to me, then, that angels fall. We all fall. And here I was, having falling into the arms of a man who had once been my friend, my comrade, my lover, and my enemy. To him, I whispered, “I loved you.” With my remaining strength, I turned to kiss his lips one last time and my mouth was flooded with the taste of blood, a taste like sugar and copper, and I wasn’t sure if it was his or mine. I rolled my head to watch the blackening sky as tiny stars blinked into existence one by one, but then, in a last great wash of cold and blackness, they were wiped away again, and my eyelids slipped shut.

It’s amazing how beautiful the world is just before you die.

Books and books and books.

May 5, 2010 - 11:44 am 3 Comments

As you may or may not have assumed by the title, I myself am a huge fan of reading. Thanks to the wonderfully magnificent Kristen at http://carnivaloftherandom.blogspot.com (be more awesome, curb the suckage), who I am constantly pleased to have as a friend, I’ve decided, since I can rarely otherwise decide on a blog-worthy topic lest I go on and on about what I had for lunch, I shall blog about the myriad books I rescue from the library.

The thing being.

I rarely have much to say about most books, unless they’re particularly good (or particularly bad). As such, I’ve devised a system. Each time a receive a book, be it from the library, as a gift, or actually having spent my hard-earned money, I’ll update a list. Books that are particularly good (or bad) will be blogged about on the whole; otherwise, I will simply update the list with the title, author, a brief summary, general thoughts, and whether or not you should give it a look-see.

I’ll split the list up into four categories: Currently Reading (self-explanatory), Finished (also pretty clear), Back to the Bin (books I wasn’t interested in enough to continue reading after 50 or so pages), or Waitlisted (books I’ve got with me but haven’t yet started). I’m including the Waitlisted category in case I pick up something good that you, yes you, reader, recognize and can leave a comment like “Make sure you get to (whatever book),” since a lot of the time Waitlisted books end up going back to the library if I can’t get to them quickly enough.  I typically take out way more books than I’ll ever have time to read; that way, if a disproportionate number of them are Back to the Bin or shorter than normal, I don’t have to sit around twiddling my thumbs should I actually run out of them.

I believe I’m also going to start doing the same thing with albums, but that’s another blog post for another day.

So, without further adieu, here is this installment’s list:

Currently Reading

  • *Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen: I’ll be honest, I’m eighty pages in and I’m not really sure what this book is about.  So far, we’ve covered Nazis, quantum physics, sex, behavioural psych, and lush descriptions of the German country side.  That being said, this book is almost 700 pages long with some of the tiniest print I’ve ever seen.  It’s huge, it’s elaborate, and it has a tendency to digress.  Of course, I love it.  If you’re into that sort of thing, give it a good, strong chance, but if you can’t abide by translations, pointless banter, or a hearty helping of the f-word, pass it up.
  • *Dagon and Other Macabre Tales by H.P. Lovecraft:  Look, it’s Lovecraft, do I really have to get into this?  Of course, this is a collection of his less-popular works, so I’m actually probably going to give it a good, solid review when I’m through with it.  Until that point, it’s Lovecraft.
  • *Halting State by Charless Stross:  I’m really enjoying this.  The plot involves the theft of the contents of a bank in a World of Warcraft-esque world called Avalon Four, and how, since these games are so invasive to such a wide and important market, this could drastically upset a real-world economy.  It’s set a bit in the future, has lots of UK slang, and is in the second person.  If nothing else, it’s a really strange read, with a lot of good, nerdy humour.

Finished

  • *Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker:  If the words “Clive Barker” didn’t get you, then the opening sentence should: “BURN THIS BOOK.”  A story told by the world’s most incompetent demon, who is the book.  That’s right.  Is the book.  If I say too much more, I’ll give something away, for sure, so all I can say is, if you have a free few hours (that’s all it took me, both because it’s not terribly long and also because I didn’t put it down for hour-long stretches), read it.  It’s worth it.  It’s funny as hell.  This may get a full review at a later date, if I can find a way to do it without spoiling the whole thing.
  • *The Neverending Story by Michael Ende: I had a deprived childhood.  I’d never seen the movie.  I’d never read the book.  This was sitting on the shelf, I nabbed it, and finished it quickly.  It’s a story (for those of you who were as deprived as me) about a world known as Fantastica and how humans influence this world, and vice-versa.  I will say this: the first half of the book, the story of Atreyu, was one of the most compelling pieces of YA fiction I have ever read.  The second half, the story of Bastian, I could have taken or left.  The kid is simply too trite and whiny, and in such a fashion that he makes you want to strangle him.  Avoiding as much of a spoiler as I can (once again, for the six people who’ve never seen the movie), I almost wanted him to fail.  I wanted someone or something to kill him just so I could say, “HAH! SEE? YOU’RE A FUCKING FAILURE OF A HUMAN BEING.”  Maybe the movie is different, I still haven’t seen it.  I say read it, but if you find yourself in the second part and completely unmoved to finish it, don’t bother.  You’re not missing much.

Back to the Bin

  • *Sorceress by Lisa Jackson: This was a smutty romance, so I wasn’t expecting much.  It’s not even that the story was particularly bad; on the contrary, it could have been a legitimate novel if the author’s style wasn’t so amateurish, the characters so flat and obvious (and for those of you who think all romance is that way, you’re sorely mistaken, I promise).  Actually made it a hundred pages in, then put it down one night before bed, and never cared to pick it up again.
  • *The One Marvelous Thing by Rikki Ducornet:  A collection of short-stories.  Not much bad to say, her style just didn’t tickle my fancy.  Too abridged.

Waitlisted

  • *The Word of God by Thomas M. Disch: This man wrote The Brave Little Toaster.  I didn’t know there was a book.
  • *A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio
  • *Unfinished Tales (Of Numenor and Middle Earth) by J.R.R. Tolkien: Yes. I’m one of those people.
  • *The Endless Forest by Sara Donati
  • *Angel Time by Anne Rice: Her latest work.  Got a few pages in, but wasn’t in the mood.  It feels very like The Witching Hour, at least stylistically.  Will try again later, but it goes back to the library today.

All for now! More books (and music and movies, very possibly) later!

[EDIT: On a style note: apparently bullet points don't work in this theme, so the asterisks are there as place keepers so I don't have to edit this post should I change the theme.]