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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Madame de Treymes" by Edith Wharton

I love books. (I imagine you're not surprised.) Just about any book will do, but I have a special place in my heart for really old books.

I have a lot of fond childhood memories of my great-uncle Ed's house in Virginia. I could tell you all kinds of stories about our visits to that huge and creaky old place, but of paramount importance is the fact that Uncle Ed and Nancy actually had a library. It was just a smallish side room, but it was completely lined with books, many of which seemed ancient to us.

My sister and I (very carefully, and when Uncle Ed was elsewhere) used to have little unauthorized competitions to see who could find the oldest book on those shelves. I honestly don't recall the title of a single one of them (give me a break, it's been decades) but I can remember the wonderfully musty smell as if it were yesterday. I trace my fascination with old books back to Uncle Ed's library.

For a short while I thought I might become a collector of old books, but sadly it turns out that paying bills and eating are more important. Of the very small collection I amassed during those delusional days, one is this first edition of Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton, published in 1907. I'd somehow never gotten around to reading it (yeah, I'm one of those heathens who reads them--what else are books for?) but after reading The Age of Innocence I was reminded of this little novel. I finally picked it up this week.

Madame de Treymes is a slim volume (more of a novella, I suppose) about an American in Paris who hopes to wed his love, although there is the complication that she is already married to a very Catholic marquis. The pages are filled with subtle intrigue between family members who are each quietly tending to their own interests, though--no matter the outcome--it will clearly be impossible for everyone to end up happy.

I was once again struck by the similarity of themes between Wharton and Henry James. Both authors wrote about the same class of people during the same general time period, when keeping up appearances was often far more important than what those appearances disguised. James probably would have made a chunkster out of this story rather than keeping it to 147 pages, but I think it would have worked either way; Wharton did a beautiful job in her concise manner, but the framework of the story could likely have supported a James-style fleshing out.

One of the fun things about old books is the mystery of who they once belonged to. More than a century ago, Mary Blair Burgwin inscribed her name on the flyleaf of Madame de Treymes. I can't help but wonder who she was, why she chose this book (or was it a gift?) and what she thought of it after she read it. Mary Blair may not be quite as compelling an enigma as Mrs. Baja Greenawalt, but I'm still curious about her.

I thought I might mention that during my brief foray into collecting, Christine at Walter-Saxena Rare Books was very friendly and helpful, in case you are interested in contacting a book dealer.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"When We Were Orphans" by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is freaking BRILLIANT. I may be the last person in the world to have figured that out, but that doesn't make it any less true.

After the last couple of stinkers, I decided it was time to choose a book I'd been promised was excellent. I'm elated to report I was not a bit disappointed. It's about time I came across another Must Read.

Ishiguro writes the story of Christopher Banks, an Englishman who spent much of his childhood in early twentieth century Shanghai but was then sent to England as an orphan at the age of nine. It's been his lifelong dream to become a detective, and once he reaches this goal he travels back to China to determine what really happened to his parents.

Banks is an adult as he tells the story, but important childhood events in Shanghai are woven into the narrative as memories, made all the more real by their elusive and possibly unreliable nature. He readily admits that his perceptions may very well differ from reality, but his perceptions are, after all, what his memories are composed of. After he returns to China, it becomes evident that it's not only his impressions of the past that may be unreliable; his obsessive qualities taint even his grasp of the present.

Ishiguro's choice of words is so precise. Do you ever find yourself mentally editing as you read, thinking you would have used a different word or phrase? I didn't do that with Ishiguro. His prose is subtle but beautifully descriptive, with an elegant simplicity that belies the deft and clever writing. Ishiguro never seems to be trying too hard, but he doesn't have to.

Of course, no part of this book was boring. But the way the tension subtly built, I reached a point where I had to stop my eyes from racing ahead. I tried to force myself to read slowly, to savor the story. When I noticed I only had about thirty pages remaining, I actually put the book down and stopped reading for a bit to prolong the inevitable and avoid finishing the book too soon.

Allow me to pause mid-gush and concede that this novel isn't perfect. The resolution of the mystery was a little bit Scooby Doo. (Maybe there weren't any meddling kids, and no one had a mask pulled off, but there was a sort of "it was you all along!" vibe.) But don't let that deter you in any way from reading this book. You know you thought Scooby was awesome when you were little, too.

Even with my criticism, I was surprised to read on wikipedia that this is "considered one of Ishiguro's weakest works, with Ishiguro himself saying, 'It's not my best book.'" That's actually kind of encouraging for me, though. If this is not his best, I can only imagine how good some of his others must be.

I'm here to tell you it's time to move Kazuo Ishiguro to the top of your TBR pile. I already have The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go on my wish list, but I won't need much of an excuse to add more.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Tell-All" by Chuck Palahniuk

One of the girls in my book club is a Palahniuk Evangelist. She sent me home with a loaner last Friday night, which I was really excited about since I thought Palahniuk's Fight Club was pretty great when I read it just last month.

Well, my second foray into Palahniuk-land was not a win. After Fight Club, I expected mind-bending, dark and edgy. I got a predictable, gimmicky cliché. The best part about this book was the cover. Even that should have sent up a warning flare. It's so . . . colorful.

The book is written in the style of a Hollywood tell-all (hence the title) from the point of view of an aging movie star's personal assistant. There's a very annoying device of name-dropping throughout the entire book, with every famous person or expensive brand picked out in boldface type (to make sure the reader notices each one, I suppose). That got old fast. Actually it never wasn't old.

Judging by Fight Club, along with a vague memory of someone mentioning it, Palahniuk is known for his plot twists. Well, this one fell flat. The truth was clear to me, though I can't remember exactly why, when Hazie tossed Terry the "blueprint for Miss Kathie's most recent brush with death." Which was exactly 55 pages before it should have dawned on me.

Fight Club drops hints so subtle that you never realize they're hints until you get to the end and look back. Tell-All bashes you over the head with obvious insinuations in just the loud and insufferable way you'd think something with such a loud and insufferable cover would do. (By the way, you can't tell it in the photo here, but the cover actually sparkles.)

I didn't mean to read this book all in one day, but that's what I did. It was kind of like the way you might sit down with a bag of Oreos and find they're gone before you know it. Afterwards you're left thinking, I sure had better things to do. But at least it wasn't boring. There are lots of ways a book can be bad, but "boring" is the worst of them.

I want to give Palahniuk another chance, since I thought Fight Club was so clever, but I've already got my fingers crossed that the next time I read Palahniuk it will be much more Fight Club than Tell-All.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"The Resurrections" by Simon Louvish

What if World War II had never happened? What if Rosa Luxemburg had not been executed in 1919, but had seized control of Germany in 1923 and formed a communist German Soviet Republic, forcing Hitler and his National Socialists to flee to Austria?

These changes in history allow for a lot of interesting speculation. Who knows where this new track through the twentieth century might have led? When I saw The Resurrections (on sale for two dollars!) it sounded like a promising premise; it was the application of it that I had a problem with.

This was a difficult book to read. At just over 200 pages, I should have blown through it, but that I definitely did not do. It was written in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style, with maybe a dozen narrators taking turns, but there was nothing to distinguish one from another beyond the label on the chapter. They did not have individual voices. Other than the varying points of view, it could have been the same person narrating the entire book.

Some of the alterations of history were hard to get a handle on. My only other experience with reading "alternate history" is with Harry Turtledove's World War II books. (Aliens attack! Former enemies ally against the invasion! It only makes sense that this would knock history askew.) That series may not be especially well written, but it makes for an interesting story. And, more importantly, there's a clear impetus behind the alteration in history. But with The Resurrections, the reason behind the changes was never explained to my satisfaction.

A few of the changes make sense. If WWII had never occurred, the eldest Kennedy son, Joe Jr, may well have survived to become a successful American politician. A lot of the differences revolve around the idea that many of the Axis "villains" lived well into the 1960s rather than dying at the end of the war: Mussolini, who went on to form an Italian empire; Hitler, who moved from Austria to the US and entered American politics; and Goebbels, who changed his surname to Gable and followed Hitler as a puppetmaster. 

But I found most of the other changes inexplicable. I'm not sure what was supposed to have happened to Stalin, but somehow Trotsky succeeded Lenin and died of natural causes in 1967; Chicago's Mayor Richard J. Daley died in a car wreck in 1956, 20 years before his actual death; King Edward VIII did not abdicate the throne for Wallis Simpson but instead continued to reign until his death, and had three daughters; Chairman Mao died "in a skirmish" in 1942, more than 30 years before his actual death. And Howard Hughes ruled Las Vegas. Most of these purposeless "facts" were just tossed into the book without being tied in at all.

Hitler's character in this book was regrettably undeveloped. He was an ex-Senator from Illinois (the book was written in 1994, so I don't think we're supposed to draw any interesting parallels to Obama) and doesn't come into the book much at all. Even worse, the book ends with Freddy Hitler (Adolf's American-born son, of course!) as President of the United States. Yeah, that's kind of a spoiler, but let's face it--you're never going to read this book.

I was disappointed that there were no actual resurrections in the book--just historical figures who lived a lot longer than they did in real life. I thought, based on the title, that surely somebody (and my money was on Mengele) was bringing villainous historical figures back to life in a diabolical plot to take over the world. Implausible? Sure, but at least maybe then I would have enjoyed the book. As it is, I'm just glad it's over so that I can read something good.

The author's purpose in writing the book wasn't completely worthless. It's made clear by the final narrator who says, "I wanted to show how fragile we all are, in history, blown this way and that in the wind. The only answer we have to all these storms and tumult is that we survive, somehow, with our critical faculties intact." I say, along with the narrator, "I'm sorry if it's not an earthshaking conclusion."

I may soon be won over to Chris's way of thinking: that if a book is this cheap it's for a reason. But I have found a few gems for really low prices, and I will probably keep looking for another.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See

I first heard about this book from Georgia (who is the weirdest person I know, in an I-fried-my-brain-on-acid-in-the-60s kind of way) and then from Kate of Kate's Library. Both Georgia and Kate recommended Snow Flower to me, so I put it on my wish list. And then, if you can believe it, I won a copy from the lovely and generous She! I've been plagued by a lifetime of neverwinanythingness until just this past year. I'm hoping a new precedent has been set. Maybe I should start playing the lottery.

It took me forEVER to finally pick up this book, and I know exactly why. Though I am fascinated by subtle cultural differences, I tend to overlook books that are too different from what I know. I like discovering what I have in common with other people (whether real live ones or literary characters). I'm sure this has much to do with the fact that I can more easily relate when I'm able to draw clear parallels to my own life. Not only is this is unfortunate, but it's probably also a misconception. I think I often underestimate an author's ability to show me how I can relate even to people (or settings or situations) I find foreign. As Lisa See said in her "Note About the Writing of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,"

Yes, our lives are completely different from those lived by the nu shu writers, but inside we are the same . . . at our cores we still long for love, friendship, happiness, tranquility, and to be heard.

My version of footbinding.

I found the book a bit slow to start, and the vivid descriptions of footbinding were pretty horrifying, but it quickly picked up after that. The author was right--I really can relate to characters whose lives are completely different from mine. And I realized how grateful I am that I can walk and run quite comfortably on my great big feet. The only time I experience painful footbinding, it is temporary and completely voluntary.

The real thing. I prefer my version.
Allow me to display a bit of my ignorance (yeah, like I've never done that before). I always thought that footbinding just kept a child's foot from growing. I had no idea how grotesque and painful the reality was. Did you know that footbinding trained the four smaller toes to curl under the sole of the foot, and that it rotated the calcaneus so that the bottom of the heel met the ball of the foot? Or that it was common, even expected, for bones to break during the process? Or that, if the desired results were achieved, an adult woman might end up with a foot just seven centimeters in length? Anne, you have probably broken out in a cold sweat just reading about this.

But this novel is not about footbinding. That practice is more of a backdrop for the story. It's a constant presence, but ultimately it's only one of the many ways women were constrained in nineteenth century China. The true story lies with the deep friendship between the narrator, Lily, and her laotong, Snow Flower. The two girls were paired at the age of seven, kind of like kindred spirits but with an official contract. Their story, from childhood to maturity, through happiness and hardship, affinity and betrayal, is woven together with the history of China's Taiping Revolution.

It's a good thing I enjoyed this book, because there is more Lisa See in my future. I already have a copy of Shanghai Girls, and am curious about Peony in Love. I wonder if it's about the same Peony mentioned in Snow Flower?

Movie news: they're currently filming this one too. I'm not sure when it will be released, but it looks like it will be some time during 2011. Here's a head-scratcher: Hugh Jackman is in it. For a bit of comic relief on that topic, read this first--but the really funny part is here.

To pass along the good karma (maybe you'll start winning stuff too!) I'm going to give away my copy of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I'll ship it anywhere in the universe. Just leave a comment with your email address and I will randomly select a winner one week from today.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Words of the Day

I really am almost at the end of my List of Words to Look Up, but who am I kidding? As long as I am still reading living I will continue finding enough new words to do a Dictionary Day post occasionally.

Not my dad
1. Tonsure. From The Tooth Fairy. "Was that unfair of me, laddie? Not warning you about that, I mean. Not telling you not to buy a hairnet for your uncle's tonsure?" It must mean "bald head," but my dad has one of those and I've never heard it called a "tonsure." Webster says: The Roman Catholic or Eastern rite of admission to the clerical state by the clipping or shaving of a portion of the head; the shaven crown or patch worn by monks and other clerics; a bald spot resembling a tonsure. OK, so my dad doesn't have a tonsure; he's more like a cue ball. But I still get a point.

2. Specious. From One Day. "But in the years since leaving college this line of argument had come to seem so abstract and specious that she had finally succumbed to Dexter's nagging and got the damn things, realizing only too late that what she had really been avoiding all those years was that moment in the movies: the librarian removes her spectacles and shakes out her hair." Could it have anything to do with "species"? But how could something be abstract and specific? Webster says: Showy; having deceptive attraction or allure; having a false look of truth or genuineness; sophistic. I was way off! No points.

3. Bespoke. Also from One Day. "Something of an amateur DJ, Dexter had a wallful of CDs and rare vinyl in bespoke pine racks, two turntables and a microphone, all tax-deductible, and could often be spotted in record shops in Soho, wearing an immense pair of headphones like halved coconuts." The only other descriptor for pine I can think of is knotty, but I don't think that's right. Webster says: Custom-made. Well, I was right that I wasn't right, but that's not right enough for any points.

4. Picaresque. Sorry, I don't remember where I found this one. My mind wants it to be the same as "picturesqe." But . . . it can't be, because why would it be so similar but not exactly the same? Webster says: Of or relating to rogues or rascals; a type of fiction dealing with the episodic adventures of a roguish protagonist. Yeah, not exactly the same. Once again, no points.

5. Metafiction. This wasn't actually in a book--I think I saw it on a book blog. I have the idea that it refers to a book within a book, but since I'm not sure, I'll look it up. Webster says: Nothing. I guess that's what I get for using a dictionary that is more than twenty years old. Google to the rescue: Any work of fiction that takes either itself or some other work of fiction as its subject matter. Yay! I get another point, but I'll take a piece of chocolate instead.  That makes one point out of five, plus a piece of chocolate. I win!

Want to hear something sad? I almost put "fulminating" (from The Tooth Fairy) in this post, until I realized I'd already used that as a Word of the Day here. Obviously it didn't stick with me. I ought to subtract a point for that. But I won't.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"One Day" by David Nicholls

I have been beaten over the head with this book (in a good way). I've seen this cover on so many blogs that I can't imagine there's anyone reading this post who isn't saying, Ah, yes, I've read that one. So, when I saw it at my local library last week, I borrowed it like a good little lemming so that I could go over the cliff with the rest of you.

If you've been beaten over the head with this book as well, you already know the shtick: this is a series of snapshots (or maybe more like video clips) in the lives of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew during their lifelong almost-romance. The entire book takes place on the fifteenth day of July, but each chapter is exactly one year after the previous.

You know about my compulsion to read every part of a book except for the copyright page and the barcode. I thought I'd let you board my train of thought as I perused the back cover. First I noticed that some author named Tony Parsons claims this is "the best weird love story since The Time Traveler's Wife." My thought: Oooh! Could it really be? I kind of ignored the "love story" bit but liked the "weird" and loved TTTW.

The next quote that stood out was from Nick Hornby, who I've heard of but haven't read. He says this is "the perfect beach read [and I thought, oh no] for people who are normally repelled by the very idea of beach reads." Oh, OK. He snatched that one from an untimely death.

The last quote I marked left me a bit more ambivalent. BBC Radio Five Live claimed, "I couldn't think of anyone who wouldn't love this book." Hmmmmm. That's ambitious. If I've learned nothing else in reading book blogs over the past year, it's that there is no one-size-fits-all book. People don't always love my favorite books, and I've read some stinkers based on the breathless recommendations of others.

But I did like this book. I really cared about "Em and Dex," even though Dexter was quite vain and self-absorbed, and both characters had somewhat self-destructive tendencies. Dexter during his TV presenter days was the way I imagine Ryan Seacrest would be if he had a soul, but somehow I still wanted to know what was going to happen in his life. All the near-misses were frustrating (as I'm sure they were intended to be), but my favorite part was one of them--the vacation in Greece with all the sexual tension.

The story reminded me a lot of Bridget Jones's Diary, except seriouser. And maybe Emma was less pitiful than Bridget most of the time. Every now and then some Four Weddings and a Funeral was thrown in, along with a bit of Notting Hill for good measure. But this book had more substance than the usual romantic comedy. It teetered precariously over fluffy territory at times, but at least I never had to read about anyone's throbbing manhood or heaving bosoms.

I've had the feeling before of not enough pages remaining in a book for a satisfactory resolution. Here I had the opposite problem. In the middle of chapter sixteen--75 pages from the end--life is simultaneously good for both Emma and Dexter for the first time, and it's such a relief, but with 75 pages to go I knew it was going to sour. When I reached the inevitable sad part, all I could think was, Oh, come ON. The book really kind of lost me at that point. Which is odd, since more than likely Part Five is the place where a true human would be crying buckets. If you have ever questioned my heartlessness, here's the evidence: I didn't cry, nor did I even feel like I was trying to avoid it.

So, my verdict? The book was great up until Part Five. After that it was still good, but I'd lost my connection with it.

Did you know? The movie is coming out next year, with Anne Hathaway as Emma and Jim Sturgess as Dexter. Which reminds me of the book's quote from the Daily Mail: "The feel good film must surely be just around the corner." They were right. And you know what? I think it's going to suck.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"The Tooth Fairy" by Graham Joyce

What puts a book in the YA category? (Other than a publisher's marketing department, that is.) Is it the fact that the main characters are teenagers? Or that the author wrote with a younger audience in mind? Is it related to the frequency or degree of profanity, sex, or violence in the story? Should a YA book be short, or have short chapters? Does it have anything to do with reading level? (I've heard the depressing claim that the writing in most contemporary books is no higher than an 8th grade level--an eighth grader is usually 13 or 14 years old, for those who are unfamiliar with the American school system--in which case there shouldn't be any difference in reading levels between the average adult and young adult book.)

The line between young adult and adult fiction is more blurred than I thought. I always assumed that a YA book would be toned down as compared to a book for adults (not necessarily devoid of vulgarity--just with less of it). But in poking around online I found that often the definition of YA revolves solely around the age of the main characters. Frequently, the only difference between an adult or young adult book is marketing.

My YAdar would not approve this book. I think there is too much talk of penises to label it as YA. But Elvis defines YA as fiction that appeals to teenagers through subject, characters and writing. He even takes it one step in the opposite direction and says he thinks YA fiction should have more vulgarity than adult fiction because "that's what teenagers like."

Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, the idea of a teenager reading a book meant for adults doesn't really bother me much, but I don't like the idea of YA marketing for a book like this one. Of course, this might be rather a moot point where The Tooth Fairy is concerned. It won the British Fantasy Award in 1997 (which, to my understanding, is not a specifically YA award), and I've seen nothing that indicates it was marketed as YA, although the author has written some other books that were.

Beyond its categorization (or not) as YA, The Tooth Fairy is a dark and intense story of three friends who sometimes call themselves the Heads-Looked-At Boys. Sam, Clive and Terry could be any ordinary British schoolmates (albeit perhaps missing a couple of appendages), until one day when Clive punches Sam and accidentally knocks out a tooth. Sam puts the tooth under his pillow at bedtime, just as you might have done, but the Tooth Fairy who visits him later that night is not the innocuous incisor-collecting creature we all grew up thinking we knew.

Sam's introduction to the Tooth Fairy is the beginning of a turbulent coming-of-age for the three friends. Under the Tooth Fairy's sinister but subtle influence, the boys behave increasingly like little hoodlums, yet in an almost naive way. Sam sees the Tooth Fairy's fingerprints on every aspect of his life as well as the lives of his friends, which results in a mixture of fear and fascination.

Elvis loved the book and thought it was brilliantly written; I liked it a lot and enjoyed the read. It was interesting to speculate about the nature of the Tooth Fairy, as the book leaves the question open for interpretation. Have you read this book? What exactly did you think the Tooth Fairy was?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"When the Nines Roll Over & Other Stories" by David Benioff

Here's a collection of short stories I picked up at Books-A-Million probably a year ago. I figured it was about time I read it. It's not the book that has been in my TBR Pile of Doom the longest (I'm thinking that dubious honor would go to Cornelia Funke's Inkdeath) but I'm pretty sure it was second from the bottom.

1. The first story, "When the Nines Roll Over" is about selfishness and opportunism and the music industry. The whole time I was thinking, Something's gonna happen, something's gonna happen, something's gonna happen . . . but by the time I got to the end, nothing had really happened. My first thought was, What was the point of that?

2. "The Devil Comes to Orekhovo" follows a trio of Russian soldiers on a mission through the snowy Chechen countryside. This is the one that EW called "the best Hemingway story Hemingway never wrote," but I forgot to remember that while I was reading. Even so, I was impressed by the tangible and genuine setting (if someone who has never been to Chechnya can be a judge of this) and how the men lived and breathed. It felt as if the author must have been one of the three soldiers, although I'm pretty sure he wasn't.

3. "Zoanthropy." (By the way, this is a mental disorder in which a person believes that he or she is an animal. I looked it up before reading this one.) A bizarre story about an escaped lion in New York City and the Lover of the East Coast.

4. "The Barefoot Girl in Clover." I LOVED this story. It's like the beautiful, nostalgia-ridden song "Kiss Me" stretched in a thin veneer over a rancid pit of slime.

5. "De Composition." A survivor types in solitude in his bomb shelter and is horrified to find his com01puter has a virus. I would have edited out one paragraph that makes it all too obvious. OH HAHAHA I JUST GOT THE TITLE. DECOMPOSITION. GET IT?

6. "Garden of No." An aspiring actress finally gets her big break. I liked this one almost as much as Barefoot Girl. I'm not sure why I so enjoy reading about monstrously selfish people, unless maybe I see myself in them.

7. "Neversink" is about the rise and fall of a relationship, followed by the revelation of deception. It reminded me of the movie Closer. It's amazing how much can be packed into a short story.

8. "Merde for Luck." Kind of a horrible little story about crapping in your airplane seat and dying of AIDS. It's not as funny as it sounds. What's that? You're right, it doesn't sound funny at all. But it's another one that seemed so real I thought it could be autobiographical (though it's not).

Overall, it's a decent book of stories, but I certainly liked some of them better than others. I wish I could keep a few and give the rest away on paperbackswap.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Check it out!

I've made a sort of FAQ page for my blog. You can view it by clicking here, or you can go to the sidebar at the right and click on "In Case You Were Wondering . . . "

Anything else you want to know? Ask and ye shall receive (within reason).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"The Ask and the Answer" by Patrick Ness

I had to force myself through the first half of this book. I was already strongly invested in the trilogy due to The Knife of Never Letting Go, and I never thought of giving up, but it wasn't until I reached the second half that this book regained some of the breathless momentum of its predecessor.

Spoiler avoidance hampers me from saying much about the plot; not only do I have to worry about spoiling this book, but the first one ended with such a cliffhanger that anything I say could spoil it too. However, I can't imagine anyone coming to this book without having read Knife first, and all you really need to know is that it's a continuation of Todd Hewitt's story.

One thing I really appreciated at the beginning of the book was the way that Patrick Ness managed to remind his reader of all the pertinent details from the first book without seeming like he was doing so. Reintroducing the characters and their situations was not merely a repetition of a list of attributes; Ness managed to seamlessly work this information into the story.

Another little bit of magic that Ness impressed me with was his villain. I can't explain to you why I did not find him completely hateful. I wouldn't say I ever really sympathized with him, but oddly enough, throughout most of this book I almost liked President Prentiss. I'm not usually one to root for the evil oppressor, but there was something fascinating about this one. As the book wore on he sort of lost his sheen, and by the end--as they say in Texas--he "needed shootin'," but for most of the book he was quite intriguing.

While reading, I marked several brief passages that interested me. I'll let you in on a few of them for your own personal edification. Be grateful that I'm sparing you my thoughts on each, though I will say I found more truth in them than in Paulo Coelho's steaming piles of crap. Here you are: We are the choices we make; nothing more, nothing less. How do you know you're alive if you don't hurt. A man is capable of thought; a crowd is not. To see the ocean once is to learn how to miss it. An idea lives on after the death of the person. AND, women don't really fart in their sleep . . . do we?

It's a good thing I was already prepared for the lack of resolution at the end of the story. Whoever warned me that this book was just as ending-less as Knife was definitely right, but since I was ready for it, I was much less frustrated by the fact. Even so, I'm going to take another break from Chaos Walking and read something else. But it won't be long before I wrap things up with Monsters of Men.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Words of the Day

I am coming to the end of my List of Words to Look Up. After these five, I still have three to go. But never fear . . . this is the sort of list that will never truly end. At least until I learn all the words.

1. Deliquescing. Charlie St. Cloud. "Soon, when they were ready to go on to the next level, they would fade away, deliquescing like mist in the sun." It must mean melting or burning off. Seems tediously obvious, just like the rest of that book. Webster says: Becoming liquid by absorbing moisture from the air, as certain salts; melting away. Mmmmhmmm! One point.

2. Coruscated (not corrugated). I didn't write down where I found this word, but I did write down "sounds like scolding." I don't know if this was a guess according to context, or if that guess was really just based on the sound of the word. But it does sound kind of harsh and abrasive. And since I really have no clue what the word might mean, especially with no context, I'll go with harsh, abrasive scolding. Webster says: Gave off or reflected light in bright beams or flashes; sparkled. I don't think I could have been more wrong! No points for this one.

3. Adumbrates. I actually marked down where I found this word! It was in Lolita, on page 36 . . . but I didn't keep the book. OK, I'm going out on a limb here, but I think the prefix ad- means drawing towards, and an "umbra" is kind of like a shadow . . . and I still have no idea what this word might mean. A shadow going towards something? Webster says: Foreshadows vaguely; suggests, discloses, or outlines partially; overshadows, obscures. One tenth of  a point for saying "shadow," which is kind of like "foreshadow" . . .

4. Obdurate. The Age of Innocence. (Can you believe I still have two more Words to Look Up from that book? Go Edith!) "It was the note the family had taken to sounding on the mention of the Countess Olenska's name, since she had surprised and inconvenienced them by remaining obdurate to her husband's advances." Stubborn? I think I am mixing it up with obstinate. Resistant or opposed to? Webster says: stubbornly persistent in wrongdoing; hardened in feelings; resistant to persuasion or softening influences. I say I get a whole point for that one.

5. Probity. The Age of Innocence. "So far there had been no exception to its tacit rule that those who broke the law of probity must pay." Solvency? Webster says: Adherence to the highest principles and ideals. I'm taking a half a point, because someone who adheres to the highest principles and ideals would be solvent, right? Yeah, maybe it's a stretch, but hey--stretching is good for you.

Looks like I got 2.6 out of five. How did you do?