Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Words of the Day

1. Valetudinarian. It's like cheating to include this word in my Dictionary Day post, because 1) I didn't come across it while reading a book, and 2) it was defined for me. I read it here. But I'm using it anyway, because I have read Emma before (though it's been years), and I wouldn't have remembered what it meant if Tracy hadn't told me--in fact, I don't remember even seeing it in the book. But here it is: a whining hypochondriac. Webster says: a person of a weak or sickly constitution; esp: one whose chief concern is his invalidism. I can't count this one for me, but Tracy gets one point.

2. Exigent. From Tom Wright's fourth book, which I hope to tell you about soon. "The killing clearly was not exigent, nor did it strike effectively at the illegitimate occupation forces of Washington, either of which might have justified the effort and risk of such an undertaking." I gotta tell you, I've got nothing. Unless "exigent" is related to "exiguous" which was one of my previous Words of the Day, meaning excessively scanty or inadequate, though that really doesn't fit the context. Webster says: requiring immediate aid or action; requiring or calling for much; demanding. So, basically, my kids. And nothing like exiguous (other than the first four letters). Dang. Zero points.

3. Parlous. From Anna Karenina. "Oblonsky's financial affairs were in a parlous state." Sounds to me like the redneck pronunciation of "perilous." And--would you believe it?--it kind of is. Webster says: full of danger or risk; hazardous. One point for me!

4. Concatenation. From What I Was. "The sea was oddly flat. There was always at least a gentle swell and fall, though more usually little white riffles and uneven waves. It looked eerie out there now, unnatural. Dead flat and motionless. A concatenation of signs." As much as I want that to be something about a country of felines, judging by the context I am sure it is more of a confluence or a "coming together." Webster says: Linked together. Yeah, I was close enough to get point number two.

5. Exeat. Also from What I Was. I'm a little annoyed at myself for not writing down the sentence, but I remember it referred to a note signed by a teacher allowing a student to leave the boarding school campus and make a trip to town. Webster doesn't know this word (so I should get two points for it, right?) but wikipedia tells me that "exeat" is used in Britain to describe weekend leave from a boarding school. Another interesting tidbit: the word is Latin for "he/she may leave." I guess I'll just take one point. Three points for me and at least one for Tracy.

I've got a bonus phrase for you today. It's not one we need to define, but it's one I was surprised to find in Anna Karenina. Oblonsky "was kept cooling his heels for two hours" in a waiting room. I would have guessed that people started cooling their heels in the 60s (and by this of course I am referring to the twentieth century, not the era of Tolstoy).  I can't help but wonder if this is an anachronistic idiom or if the same phrase is found in the original Russian version. My brief search for the origin of "cool your heels" was unsuccessful, so if you have any information on this, please tell me. Otherwise, I will just content myself with this fact: at least Oblonsky didn't cool his jets instead.

Speaking of the era of Tolstoy, here's a fun parallel. Anna Karenina (written between 1873 and 1877) is a contemporary of Laura Ingalls Wilder (born in 1867). So the childhood we read about in the Little House series was taking place in America during the same time that Tolstoy was writing in Russia.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein

I didn't expect to like this book. It's about a race car driver (not interested) and it is narrated by his dog (double not interested). But it was recommended to me by Anne (who, by the way, ought to post on her blog more frequently because I know she has all kinds of interesting things to say). Anne's book suggestions are worth something to me, so I thought I might give it a try.

Judging by the source of the recommendation, I shouldn't be surprised that I enjoyed the book. I was afraid the doggy narration would either be too silly (look! a squirrel!) or too human, but Stein achieves a fine balance in anthropomorphizing Enzo the dog. He is smart, even philosophical, but not so clever that you lose sight of the possibility that maybe dogs really can think this way. Not my dogs, of course. One is too lazy, the other is too spastic, and neither has the look of a deep thinker. I can't help but figure that when they bark their minds are devoid of anything beyond "woof." But I have heard of dogs whose responsiveness to humans surely reflects an internal monologue every bit as steeped in astute observation as Enzo's.

Enzo is not omniscient (which is a good thing, of course, so that the story is not impossible to swallow), but he sees and knows and understands so much. It was a bit jarring at times when Enzo was clearly a thinly disguised vehicle for the author's own opinions (like the brief diatribe on allergies and pharmaceutical companies, among others) but it was never to an extent where I lost the magic and fell out of the book.

Some of the weirdest parts of the story (the zebra, the crows) were my favorites. They kept the narrative from being too syrupy, too saccharine, too sentimental. It was just as Enzo explains when postulating that a true hero is not perfect and must overcome obstacles of his own making in order to triumph. Unfortunately, I found Enzo's owner a bit too good to be true, belying those observations, but this was not a fatal flaw in the book.

My prayer to the movie gods: please give up on your film adaptation of this book. I can only picture two possible movies, and they would both suck. Movie #1: Just Denny the driver's story, with Enzo sidelined as a mute witness. This would drain all the life from the story. Movie #2: a movie more faithful to the book, with an Enzo voiceover by someone like Judge Reinhold. Please, no.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Free-Range Chickens" by Simon Rich

Sometimes a book isn't what you expect and that is not a good thing. I bought this book because I was seduced by the price (a dollar for a hardback!), and I liked the cover, and I like chickens. I chose to read it next because it was short (129 pages!) and claimed to be funny.

I promise I really did read the cover copy before buying it, and although I'm sure I didn't pee my pants over it, what I read was at least chuckle-worthy. But evidently the price tag prevented me from flipping through and glancing at random excerpts the way I normally would before buying a book. I had expected one funny story, or possibly even unrelated but cohesive chapters, but instead it is basically just a joke book.

The text is divided into several categories, but there is no flow within those categories. It's like Short Attention Span Theater. I'm guessing the title refers to how scattered these unrelated thoughts are.

I wonder, had I not already read in the author bio that Simon Rich writes for Saturday Night Live, would I have been able to guess? Most of these bits read like skits that were either too short or not funny enough to make it onto the show. A show which I stopped watching years ago because it wasn't consistently entertaining. If only one or two skits are funny out of the entire show, it's too much of a gamble--a waste of time.

Don't let me give you the idea that the book isn't at all funny. Rich takes everyday circumstances and twists them so that the absurd or ridiculous is visible. I never did roll in the floor, and probably didn't even literally laugh out loud, but the book was at least humorous enough to bring a smile to my face.

I have to wonder how much more I might have appreciated this book if I had been prepared for what it really was. But I know what I do appreciate--someone has already requested it on paperbackswap.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"What I Was" by Meg Rosoff

I had vaguely heard about this book but didn't pay much attention until I saw it during my most recent foray into Books-A-Million. It has such a pretty cover! And it was on sale for $3.97, so I picked it up and read on the back about H and Finn and was reminded that I'd kind of heard of this book before.

The blurb phrase "this whole novel is built on a surprise" sold me on it, though if that hadn't, the next one claiming this was "a richly patterned work about secrets" would have worked on me just as well. And now, since it fits the shorty requirement of my Anna Karenina Recovery Program, I've given it a go.

So, a bit about the book, since I failed completely in conveying a sense of what my previous read entailed (beyond a faint mention of smoking, drinking, drugs and NOT hard-core porn). H is an English boarding-school student in the 1960s who comes across "a beautiful boy named Finn." Though a teenager like H, Finn lives alone in a ramshackle hut on the beach which can only be accessed during low tide. H develops what can only be called a crush on Finn, which borders on the obsessive. The two spend time together whenever H can sneak off from school; H is driven to see Finn, and Finn seems to passively tolerate H's visits.

It's always nice to be surprised by a book, and this one does not go in the direction I was expecting (which is more than likely the direction you are thinking right now, too). Even though very early on in the book H makes it clear that he "didn't long to see [Finn] in that way. It wasn't even that I longed to see him so much as to be him . . . " I think I didn't quite really believe that. Although I did begin to entertain suspicions of The Talented Mr. Ripley sort (which proved wrong, also).

One thing that impressed me about this book was Rosoff's ability to show me Finn through H's eyes. I  understood the obsession, and I keenly felt his desire to break through the shell keeping Finn aloof, to somehow make Finn aware of him, to be deserving of that awareness. Likewise, I was blinded to the same facts about Finn that were hidden from H.

I don't know how much of this is based on the fact that the book was not 800 pages long, or the fact that I spent less than four dollars on it (and very likely less than four hours, too, though I didn't count), but I really thought this book was excellent. In fact, I had a difficult time deciding to post it on paperbackswap. If this was a harcover copy maybe I wouldn't have. But I finally convinced myself that I can swap it for something that may turn out to be just as excellent.

I've never read anything else by Meg Rosoff, but she has also written How I Live Now and Just in Case, among others.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Looking for Alaska" by John Green

Nothing like a little Young Adult fare to cleanse the palate. It's certainly the sorbet of the literary world, which is exactly what I needed to get over Anna Karenina.

Too bad I chose one that made me cry. Yes. I, of the iron will and the stone stomach, I who am devoid of sympathy, I who roll my eyes in the face of Nicholas Sparks and his tear-jerking ways. I shed a tear over this book. Or two.

In my defense, I did not boo-hoo. It was just a very quiet leaky-eye thing. I could have blamed it all on a wayward eyelash or a misplaced elbow (not my own, of course, because that's not possible. Try it. You'll see). Instead, a much more logical explanation is the fact that I cried for the time in my life that was awfully similar (though not so that anyone else would recognize it) to the cause of sadness in the book.

But I don't want to talk about my secret sorrow. I want to talk about banned books. It seems that next week is "Banned Books Week," which has come accompanied by a timely stink. Looking for Alaska is one of those books that has been frequently challenged, so far as to be called pornography. (Um, whaaa?) Hard-core, even! I am not a seasoned reader of "hard-core porn," but I hardly think a few scenes of teenagers making out constitutes any kind of porn at all.

However, I do have an opinion on book banning and I'm about to share it with you, like it or not. I must admit I am slightly ambivalent on the matter. On one hand, I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of banning books. The whole thing just seems wrong, up there with imprisoning journalists for speaking out against the government. On the other hand, there are many cases where age appropriateness should be taken into consideration when choosing reading material.

Looking for Alaska deals with a lot of topics that I don't want my kids reading about yet. Of course, my oldest is ten. He is completely unconcerned with this sort of book and I hope he stays that way for at least five more minutes. Once he hits high school, however, I'm pretty sure my resistance will fade. After all, it's kind of naive to think that high school students would be surprised by anything found in this book. I would not prevent my children from reading Looking for Alaska when the time was right, though I would want a chance to reiterate my opinions on smoking, drugs, drinking, and teen sex. Opinions which, if I've done my job right, my kids will already be plenty familiar with.

Because that's what it all comes down to: personal responsibility. It is each parent's job to be aware and informed, to decide whether they feel a book is appropriate for their own child, and when. It is not any other person's job to conclude that my child shouldn't read a particular book. Yes, I do ascribe to the somewhat old-fashioned notion that it is my job to give my children some guidance, rather than allowing them to open Pandora's box and flood themselves with all the evil in the world while they're still practically babies. But once they are ready for more adult themes, I'm not going to shelter them from books like these while I still have the chance to help them form their worldview.

Oops. I don't usually do this. I mean, I have opinions, but I prefer not to bring up touchy subjects on my blog. I like this to be my happy fun place. But these were the thoughts brought on by this book, and beyond expressing them, all I would have to say is that this book is edgy, well-written and a page turner. I can imagine that high school students must love it, just like the kids at the children's library loved Phoebe's singing because she told the truth.

And a sort of post script on the author: over the past few months I've gotten the idea that John Green can do no wrong. In the style of a true literary amnesiac, I can not remember which bloggers gave me that idea, although a quick google blogsearch shows me that two blogs I read (Raych and Nymeth) have discussed the author in general and this book in particular, so maybe it's their fault. One of these days I will also be reading Paper Towns, since I've already bought a copy based on the Can Do No Wrong theory.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reading in Retrospect: "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo

I first picked this book up at the library because of the subtitle I saw on the spine: "Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread." Sounds like a delightful combination, doesn't it?

This is a cute little story and a very sweet book, not to mention a fast read (as I suppose most children's stories are). Despereaux Tilling is an unlikely hero: an unusually small mouse with unusually large ears who finds he loves music (“it smells like honey”) and breaks the rules of the Mouse Council because of it. He’s certainly not like the other mice who also live in the castle. Despereaux would rather read books than eat the glue from their bindings, and he not only speaks to humans, he even falls in love with one--namely, the Princess Pea.

The castle of the Princess Pea sits atop a dark, foul, dank dungeon that is full of rats. One of these rats, Roscuro, concocts a fiendish scheme to imprison Pea in the dungeon with the help of a half-wit serving girl, Miggery Sow, who longs to become a princess. Despereaux, banished to the dungeon by the Mouse Council for speaking to humans, is helped to escape by the kindly old jailer Gregory. Despereaux then sets about to foil the plot of the rat.

Kate DiCamillo has also written several other children's books, including The Magician's Elephant and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which I expect I will get around to reading someday. To the kids, of course. That's my excuse, anyway.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Jacob's Ladder" by Brian Keaney

I found Jacob's Ladder while hunting a selection for this month's Book Club meeting. The title caught my eye first, making me wonder if it was in any way related to the 1990 freak show of a movie by the same name (it wasn't). I flipped through the first few pages and was intrigued by the the idea of the main character waking up in the middle of a deserted field with no recollection of how he got there. (Remind you of college? Yeah, well, it's nothing like that.) The book met a couple of the more important Book Club criteria (it was cheap, and Books-A-Million had multiple copies on the shelves), so I decided we would give it a try.

It was an interesting and fast read. There were plenty of questions to keep me turning the pages--why were the children in Locus and how had they arrived there? What had happened to their memories, and when might they be able to return to the families they knew they must have loved but could not remember?

But even with the absorbing aura of mystery, I'm afraid this book won't evoke the best Book Club discussion. The story had immense potential, but it was only spun into a single thread. As I read, I yearned for the complexity and depth Keaney could have given it with further development. I wanted strands of many colors woven into a tapestry. Instead, the straightforward and unadorned narrative reminded me of The Alchemist. Of course, Jacob's Ladder was written for kids, so I probably shouldn't complain about its simplicity. For what it is, it's a great story and is well-written.

The author has his own blog and you can read an interesting bit about the book here. And now I am off to book club! I hope you have as much fun tonight as I'm about to.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy

Kathy 1, Tolstoy 0.

Today I am finally able to remove this albatross that has hung round my neck since early August.  Victory is mine! After a grueling double overtime, I WIN!! Suck it, Leo! What a weight is lifted from my shoulders. I deserve a gold star and a margarita. But, in Tolstoy's own words, "it's not the reward that's precious; it's the work itself."

I expected this book to be a kind of cross between Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley's Lover. I also expected to need a notebook to keep track of the characters and their multiple names. Those Russians! Between the given names, diminutive forms, patronymics, and surnames, sometimes it seems like there are dozens more characters than there really are. It doesn't help that an incredible number of people in the Russian aristocracy somehow ended up with the title of Prince or Princess. But as it turned out, I did not find the names as troubling as I'd expected.

I read with interest and trepidation the story related in the foreword about the difficult birth of this novel. I feared the reading of it might be as much of a struggle as the writing of it. I was also afraid that by the time I got to the middle of the book I would already have forgotten what happened at the beginning, and by the time I got to the end I would just have to start over.

Happily, that does not seem to be the case. This doesn't look like an 800-page book, and it doesn't feel like an 800-page book, but it is an 800-page book. 807, to be exact. And though I am amazed by people who have read this book more than once (I'm talking about you, Rachel!) I have no plans to join their ranks. I will soon be mailing it off to a fellow paperbackswapper with relish.

I don't want to give you the idea that this was a horrible book. It's an excellent story, skillfully written, fully deserving of its place as an eternal classic, encompassing themes that will resonate with readers for as long as humans populate the earth. But it just took me freakin' forever to read and I am never going to do it again. Even with the help of LibriVox audio. Which, by the way, Tolstoy scolded me for. "Every acquisition that is disproportionate to the labor spent on it is dishonest."

I wonder why I was more accepting of marital infidelity in a book like Lady Chatterley's Lover, and scornful of it in this book? I was almost rooting for Lady Chatterley to cheat on her husband, but Vronsky and Anna whining about how it just couldn't be helped rubbed me the wrong way.  I wanted to smack them both. Vronsky's words were,"You know that I have come to be where you are . . . I can't help it." And Anna later echoed him by saying, "Can it be that they won't forgive me, won't understand how it all couldn't be helped?"

I'm not convinced that this book's title is especially fitting. I suppose Anna is one of the main characters of the book, but she isn't the only one--especially as she is barely mentioned in Book Eight, the final division. I don't think she's even the main-est main character. She is probably on equal footing with Levin in terms of significance in the story, but I don't think the book should have been solely named after him, either. For a while I was thinking a better title might be "Cheaters Never Prosper," but (besides how corny that would sound) there's far more to the book than infidelity, just as there's far more to the book than Anna.

It was interesting to consider what linked Anna and Vronsky with Levin and Kitty, other than their tenuous familial bond (Kitty's sister is married to Anna's brother). I came to see comparison as the purpose of their juxtaposition, showing a healthy marriage as a foil for a diseased relationship that sets out in ignominy and is deteriorating almost before it has begun.

I wasn't sure if I was allowed to laugh at this book--it's so serious--but when one character pleads, "Please manage that there may be no talk of my having shot myself on purpose," how can you not laugh when another character responds, "No one does say so. Only I hope you won't shoot yourself by accident anymore."

Speaking of laughing, is it just me, or did anyone else want Levin's brother to go on and die already? Hemingway could have made it happen in one sentence, but in Tolstoy's hands poor Nikolai dragged on interminably. I had to laugh when the book expressed my very thoughts on the matter: "They all knew that he would quite inevitably die soon, that he was half dead already. They all had only one wish, that he would die quickly." (In case you are currently gnashing your teeth, I promise that's not a spoiler; Nikolai is unwell from the moment he is introduced.)

And I couldn't help but snigger while listening to the audio version as the reader seemed to be saying that one of Kitty's sisters was Madame La Vulva. I was glad to have the print version to refer to so I could see that Kitty's sister was the much more politely-named Madame Lvova.

When I was halfway through the book, I felt these characters had been with me for so long, I would miss them after they'd gone (meaning, after I finished reading). But by the end they were like guests who had overstayed their welcome. I was ready to say goodbye, in some cases even good riddance, and send them on their way.

Two more orphan comments that don't seem to fit in anywhere else: First, thanks to Jane Doe, I noticed every time Vronsky's strong white teeth were mentioned. Too bad nobody kicked them in. Second, I CAN'T BELIEVE I was dealt a spoiler about Anna's fate--and all from a brief mention in a silly, fluffy magazine. That will teach me to read silly, fluffy magazines. Argh! It was akin to Rachel spitefully telling Joey, "Beth dies."

I hereby pronounce that I will be reading only skinny books until I recover.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

As if I need any more books to read . . .

I have ordered two new books from Paperbackswap. And when I say new books, I mean new books! Hardcovers, even! Paperbackswap occasionally buys overstocks of a certain title and then makes them available to members at a great price. These are two books that were on my wish list but, had I waited for a swap, it would very likely have taken years to get a copy of each.

First up is The Melting Season by Jami Attenberg. I heard of this book from a reviewlet I saw in one of those fluffy brainless magazines nearly a year ago. I have no recollection of the review's content, but something in it must have caught my interest. And since I am never immune to book recommendations, regardless of the source, it went on my list. I don't know what the book is about and I kind of like it that way.

Just now I ordered a copy of The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I am not quite sure how it is that Paperbackswap is able to mail out copies of this one when it's scheduled for release on November 9th of this year, but shhhh, please don't tell anyone. If it's a mistake, I don't want them to figure it out until they've already shipped my copy.

The Distant Hours was quite a bit more expensive than other new books I've ordered from Paperbackswap, but at only 10 cents more than the Kindle version (which I couldn't get for nearly two more months anyway) I went ahead and ponied up. I don't have any idea what this one is about either, but after how much I enjoyed The House at Riverton (and how much I expect to enjoy The Forgotten Garden), I figured there was a pretty good chance this would be a good one too.

Is it as clear to you as it is to me that I am collecting books at a far faster rate than I am reading them? Thoreau is reported to have said, "Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them all." I'm beginning to fear that will be true for me, even if I manage to stick with only the best.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame

I just finished reading this book to the kids last week. It was one of our nightly bedtime stories (Hudson's choice) and it took us almost as long to read as it's taking me to get through Anna Karenina. (Are you tired of hearing me whine about that? Never fear. I am now in Book Seven!)

But back to Grahame's classic story. We read about ten pages each night. For some reason the girls weren't too interested in hearing this one, but either it kept Hudson's interest or he's polite enough that he managed to listen quietly anyway. Judging by the way he likes to sing about bodily functions, manners are not his strong suit and I'm guessing the book must have grabbed his attention.

That's not surprising, of course. It's such a sweet little story, and who can resist talking animals in a quaint and old-fashioned setting? (I specify quaint and old-fashioned because of my dislike for live-action films featuring talking animals, with the exception of Babe.) But you would think that quaint, old-fashioned talking animals would capture the interest of my little girls too. Oh well.

When Hudson first handed the book to me and I opened it, it was fun to find that it came from my old high school. It must have been given to me decades ago by my former neighbor Mr. Black. He moved away while I was still very young, so I'm not sure what job he had with the local board of education, but he used to give us things the school was getting rid of. He also owned a yellow Tin Lizzie and gave us a ride around the neighborhood once, but I suppose that's neither here nor there.

At first I wondered at this book being taught at the high school level--wouldn't a teenaged student be insulted on being assigned a children's book? The back cover even says "BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS." It made more sense to me once I began to read. Judging by the impressive vocabulary, it is probably written at a high school reading level. Still, I think the choice of subject matter would annoy a teenager.

This edition contains the wonderful illustrations of Ernest H. Shepard, the same artist who drew for the Winnie the Pooh books. There are dozens of delightful pen-and-ink drawings throughout. Sadly, wikipedia claims that Shepard "grew to resent 'that silly old bear' and felt that these illustrations overshadowed his other work." It really is true that his Pooh drawings are his most well-known, but they are also quite well-loved. However, to keep Shepard from turning over in his grave, perhaps you'd like to peruse the list of the works he illustrated.

Now it's confession time. I'm sure I read this story in my childhood--this very copy, in fact--but in my memory (mixed up with blind self-centered nationalism) I thought the story took place in the U.S. I'm not sure how I ended up with this notion, as the story very clearly takes place in England. But I should have known. No American wildlife can talk.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trade Paperback Snobbery

I'd been hoping for a quaint little store like this one
This weekend I snuck off to a local used bookstore. I didn't even know the place existed until Lydia and Renae told me about it during Book Club last month. (Didn't know a local bookstore existed? What kind of book lover am I??)

I was pretty sure I wasn't in for a wonderful surprise like the Tattered Cover in Denver which kenpen blogged about last week (though I must admit I kind of hoped), and I wasn't looking to buy any books. This was just a recon mission. I already have plenty of books in my Leaning Tower, and I arrived at the store just five minutes before closing time. I know, I know, people like me should be shot, but I made a quick spin through the store and was out of there in four.

Only four minutes in a bookstore? What could it mean? Other than the fact that I was determined to allow the shop girls to close on time, unfortunately it also meant I was a bit disappointed in the store. I think the Friends of the Library bookstore in Los Alamos has spoiled me. They always have an incredible selection of used books. I want (and buy) at least a third of the books I touch in there. Good thing I only visit it about once a year.

I didn't put my finger on my main problem with the local store until I perused the most recent link list at Farm Lane Books. One of the links was for an article about the difference between trade and mass-market paperbacks. I'd never really thought about how I prefer one over the other. Maybe it's common knowledge that a trade paperback is more likely to be a quality book--they sure cost more, anyway--but I'd never noticed how I gravitate towards them and away from mass-market paperbacks. It's not as if it's impossible to find quality among the mass-markets, but there's a lot of dross to wade through.

Have you guessed why I was disappointed? The local used bookstore was wall-to-wall mass-market paperbacks. Of course I didn't even walk through the Romance section, which seemed to take up half the store (why waste precious seconds?), but the other half looked like it could be all James Patterson and Clive Cussler. Granted, if I'd had more time to browse, it's possible that I might have come across a few treasures. That's why I'm not telling you the name of the store--I ought to give them another chance first. But judging by what I saw during my four minutes, it didn't look promising. (There was also a marked dearth of hardcover books, but I didn't find that so surprising.)

The realization of my prejudice against mass-market paperbacks caused me to take a good look at my own bookshelves. I noticed that, though we do own a fair number of mass-market paperbacks, most of them are hiding their squatty little spines behind cabinet doors where you can't see them unless you're looking for them. This forces me to admit that it's not just a matter of a difference in quality of content. I am also an unrepentant cover-judger.

How about you? Are you a Trade Paperback Snob who snubs the poor little mass-market paperbacks?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Topping Off the Leaning Tower of Books

This week I have been given two more books to add to my dangerous stack of TBR.

First, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Cultural Life by Jacques Barzun. This book was given to me as a thank-you gift for reading Tom Wright's manuscripts. At 802 great big pages jam-packed with information, this is a book I'm going to have to put myself on a schedule to read (for instance, ten minutes a day for the next THREE YEARS). It looks a whole lot like a textbook. I expect to learn quite a bit from it.

Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer. My mom bought this book for a quarter during her trip to Maine last month. She finished reading it on the way here for her Labor Day visit, and asked if I wanted to read it. This was just after I was told that Sam Taylor was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. (I almost put that book on my TBR list, more because I thought it was something I ought to read than because it sounded like fun . . . but I didn't.) However, apparently the universe is conspiring against me and wants me to read about Hitler's Germany. Fortunately this book is "only" 619 pages.

These two great big doorstops are both the sort of book that I would love to just rest on my forehead and absorb by osmosis. I don't expect to enjoy reading them, but I want to know all of the information they contain. Perhaps someday I will. Meanwhile, I may need to put them at the bottom of the Tower, if only for safety reasons.

Meanwhile, there is one more book that I have added to my wish list, but it is not a part of my Leaning Tower because I haven't gotten a copy yet. The Tower will need to shrink some first, which will definitely include the reading of something Fun and maybe even Light (both in subject matter and in physical mass) as soon as Anna Karenina will let me.

Anyway, the newest book on my list is The Canon: The Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier. I heard about it when Nymeth reviewed it here. I have my BS in a science, but if there were anyone in charge of gauging information retention, I'm afraid they would take my degree away from me. Anything I don't use on a regular basis has completely flown out of my head. Not only that, but we have already established that physics makes no sense to me. This book sounds like a great way to review what I should know and learn things I never did grasp.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reading in Retrospect: "Under the Lilacs" by Louisa May Alcott

If you're like me, the name Louisa May Alcott brings to mind Little Women and not much else. You may know about Little Men and Jo's Boys (unfortunately I can't remember for sure if I've read one or both of those). But when Under the Lilacs caught my eye at the library a few years ago, it was a delight to find it was authored by Alcott.

This was a sweet little story. I could see why it was not one of Alcott’s better-known classics, but I still enjoyed it. It was a little slow to start but was a pleasant read. At the time, I thought I might recommend it to my book-loving child when she got a little older. I'm glad to be reminded of that thought, because I think she's at the perfect age to read it now.

Mrs. Moss, who has two young daughters named Bab and Betty, is a caretaker for a large old house that has been shut up for some time. They take in young Ben and his dog Sancho who have run away from the circus. Not long after, Miss Celia and her brother Thorny, wealthy orphans, move back in to the house that Mrs. Moss cares for. Everyone is great friends and has grand adventures, like putting on a play (an Alcott staple) or walking to the next town to watch a circus. I can't remember how the book ends, but I have no doubt it was happy, one way or another.

You can download a free e-text copy of this book from Project Gutenberg, or listen to the free audio version from LibriVox. Or borrow it from my local library. I wouldn't call it a must-read for the garden-variety adult reader, and any true Alcott fan is probably already aware of this title, but the little girl in your life might appreciate being introduced to it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Words of the Day

In today's list, the first word is the only one that comes with its original sentence. Without much to go on, I'm pretty clueless about the other four, so you are welcome to sit at home and singger about me. Especially you Australians, when you get to number five.

1. Imbricated. Another one from We Were the Mulvaneys. "Nothing progresses in a straight line, it's more--well, imbricated. The way a roofer lays tiles, shingles, overlapping one another, for strength." That's my guess right there. Webster says: Overlapping of edges. A good visual: fish scales! Which brings me to another interesting word: Squamatology. That is the study of scales. I felt bad taking a point for "imbricated" since the definition was right there in the sentence, but because I also learned "squamatology," I don't feel bad anymore. One point!

2. Trenchant. I want to say this means stubborn, but maybe I am getting it mixed up with intractable. Don't ask me how. Webster says: I was definitely getting it mixed up because "trenchant" has absolutely nothing to do with "stubborn." It means keen, sharp, vigorously effective and articulate, caustic, sharply perceptive, penetrating, clear-cut, distinct. Gosh, I feel like I was so far off that I ought to get negative points for that one. But I won't. 

3. Peripatetic. I don't recall where I saw this word, but it was used to describe the life of a halftime show emcee. I have no clue what sort of life that might be. I know "peri" means "around" or "near," and I know what pathetic means, but not -patetic. Maybe halftime show emcees like to hang around craft services and eat the pâté. Somehow I don't think that's a very close guess. Webster says: pedestrian, itinerant; movement or journeys hither and thither. A peripatetic is given to traveling from place to place by walking. So, perhaps kind of like a nomad with a schedule? Not surprisingly, it has nothing to do with pâté. Zero points. 

But this one comes with a bonus definition too. If it's capitalized, Peripateticism refers to Aristotelianism, which applies to those who followed the teachings of Aristotle. The word comes from the peripatoi (colonnades) of the Lyceum where the followers met, though later legend suggests it was related to Aristotle's "alleged habit of walking while lecturing." 

4. Eidetic. When I wrote this down, I thought maybe it meant amazing or detailed. Or amazingly detailed? Looking at it now, it could be anything, though it is probably not related to eiderdown. Webster says: Marked by or involving extraordinarily accurate and vivid recall, especially of visual images. In other words, my memory would not be described as eidetic. But I think my guess was pretty close, which brings me up to two points. 

5. Bollocky. My original, context-related guess was that this meant "naked." But isn't bollocky more like "gutsy" or "ballsy"? Of course, in certain situations you'd have to be pretty gutsy to be naked. Webster says: Nothing. What a prude. Off to the internet in search of a definition. says it's a variation of bollock-naked, so it would appear that my original guess was correct. Sure would like to know which book I found that one in. But I'd say this gives me a third point, anyway. To sort of paraphrase the immortal words of Meatloaf, three out of five ain't bad. 

A final word-thought for the day: wouldn't it be cool if the word "palindrome" could actually be one?