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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Spoiled: Stories" by Caitlin Macy

Here's another one that has been on my List of Books to Blog About for months. I remember when I read it (last March); I remember where I bought it (the super-awesome Friends of the Library bookstore in Los Alamos); I remember how much I paid for it ($6, used) and why I felt like it was worth that price when most of the books there are $1 or less (it was already on my TBR list . . . plus it's a really nice hardcover book); but what I can't remember, and what I'd most like to remember, is how it ended up on my TBR list in the first place. Alas, that knowledge is gone forever, but aren't you lucky? I recorded a brief synopsis of each of the short stories in this collection as I read them. Posterity, rejoice.

"Christie": A study in jealousy. Who does it affect? Even if you rationalize or disguise it as a detached criticism of supposed pretensions, this perspective doesn't change the fact that it is truly envy at heart, nor does it change the fact that it eats away at you, not your target.

"Bait and Switch": This time the jealousy is mine. A rented beach house in Italy? One for me, please!

"The Secret Vote": Alice takes responsibility for a major decision on her own shoulders, avoiding input from everyone else. What she decides--in more than one matter--could be seen as slightly ambiguous. Would everyone read it the same way?

"Annabel's Mother": Like The Nanny Diaries condensed into a short story.

"Spoiled": Horse people at their best. Which is oddly similar to horse people at their worst.

"Eden's Gate": Something tells me Caitlin Macy had a spell as an initially-slightly-successful-but-ultimately-failed actress somewhere in her past. The pages of this book are far too populated with such characters for it to be otherwise. But that doesn't make it any less interesting to see that this actress's relationship is destined for failure well before either of the participants can see (or at least admit) it.

"The Red Coat": The awkward relationship between a Manhattanite and her unexpectedly iconoclastic cleaning lady.

"Bad Ghost": A woman at a funeral reflects on her adolescent stint as the worst babysitter ever.

"Taroudant": Rich Americans get the Authentic Experience in Morocco.

Anything else I might think of to say about this book (as I recorded nothing further when I read it) is a vague shadowy memory. I would venture to say that I found it intriguing even if I didn't necessarily identify strongly with any of her characters, and (having so many unread books on my shelves) I probably wouldn't choose to re-read it any time soon, but I can confirm that it was worth the $6 I paid for it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Reading in Retrospect: "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins

Hear ye, hear ye! I am fighting my way out of this blogging slump that feels like it has lasted decades. Just thought I would officially announce that.

So, The Moonstone. I read it more than a year ago. Lucky for me and my literary amnesia, I jotted a few notes as I read. AND I was smart enough to keep those notes tucked in the front cover of the book where I would be sure to find them again, along with evidence of this copy's origins: it was sent to me by Trisha at eclectic/eccentric. Unfortunately I can't remember the circumstances (maybe she had a giveaway and I won it? Maybe she was being generous in getting rid of excess reading material?) but no matter the occasion, I'm always appreciative when I'm the recipient of a free book.

Especially when the free book doesn't suck! The Moonstone is a good solid read, even at the ripe old age of 144. There are many who would award it with the title of "First Detective Novel Written in English," and it ranked high on my Agatha Christie scale. It's got secretive servants, honorable heiresses, dying dowagers, discerning detectives, and genial gentlemen, all in search of a damned diamond--or so it seems. There are some who may be more concerned with hiding than with seeking, and all the fun is in discovering the truth of the matter.

So it was a good read. But wouldn't you love to hear my criticisms? (You knew I would have some, didn't you?) My main complaint is that the solution to the mystery seemed less clever than contrived, making it difficult for me to sufficiently suspend my disbelief. On a brighter note, at least the solution was a mystery to me. I couldn't guess what the answer might be until it was spelled out. Which would have been perfect, if the answer hadn't been a disappointment.

Shall I go on? Betteredge and Clack were really well-developed characters; the others, not so much. Even Clack was somewhat of a caricature--I don't think I would have found her believable, except that I know people just like her! People who would say (or at least think) things like this:
"The true Christian never yields . . . we go on with our work, irrespective of every human consideration which moves the world outside us. We are above reason; we are beyond ridicule; we see with nobody's eyes, we hear with nobody's ears, we feel with nobody's hearts, but our own . . . we are the only people who are always right."
Looks like my complaints list was brief, and not too harsh. And this is obviously not because I'm afraid Wilkie Collins will read my blog post and be offended by it. I may not be labeling this as a Must Read, and I may never re-read it, but I enjoyed the experience the first time around--probably even more than I enjoyed The Woman in White. As those two are generally considered Collins' two finest works, he and I may never meet again, but it was fun while it lasted.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Stardust" by Neil Gaiman

Stardust was my third Gaiman book, and I must say he hasn't disappointed me yet. This story was very like a fairy tale, and I really enjoyed reading it. It tells of Tristran Thorn, a young man from the village of Wall who sets off into Faerie in search of a fallen star at the request of his grey-eyed love.

With two minor exceptions (Yvaine's reaction to her broken leg and the brief chronicling of Tristran's origins), this story would be completely appropriate for Bookworm Child, and I think she would love it. However, she did give it a try a while back--long before I ever picked it up--and didn't make it very far. Apparently she thought it was boring, though I can't see how that could be possible.

As with many recent books that are at least half-decent, this one has been made into a movie--one which I've seen but I hardly remember. Luckily I have my movie blog to tell me that I enjoyed it, even if it was predictable (and it evidently is not one of the more memorable movies I've seen).

Here's what I'm trying to figure out: why did I like this story so much when the equally fairy-tale-like The Book of Lost Things was somewhat of a disappointment to me? Looking back, I don't know that I felt any more absorbed by Stardust than by Lost Things. But I certainly found I read it with far fewer criticisms in mind. All I can think to chalk it up to is Gaiman's superior storytelling skills.

So this was a good one. Sorry, Paperbackswappers--I'm not letting it go. This one is staying in my collection. Unless, that is, I ever have the chance to replace it with the original publication, which sounds like it was basically a series of four really nice comic books.