30 December 2011

Books... about Books

In the last week I've finished Cornelia Funke's Inkheart and Alice Mattison's The Book Borrower.  Both were enjoyable reads.  They were both self-consciously ABOUT books, book lovers, even the activity of owning books (lots of them!). 

Inkheart is loaded with chapter-starting quotes from many of my best-loved books, as well as some that are on my reading list.  In Inkheart certain human beings have the capacity to read a character out of a book, into existence in the real world.  Elinor, a supporting (human) character, ponders that these read-out characters must miss their book world, in much the way that bookish people feel most comfortable living within their safe world of books. Hmmm.....

I like the concept, it's fun, and she cites a number of other books that tap the same process -- The Princess Bride, The Neverending Story, even Huck tells us in Huckleberry Finn that we've already "met" him if we've read Tom Sawyer -- but as some other reviewers have remarked, it takes Funke too long to get where she wants to go.  I think the book would be better, tighter, if it were about 1/3 shorter.  We're told that Meggie is 12 years old, but she doesn't seem 12.  More like 16.  I could stand less about Fenoglio's grandchildren.  Less about snakes and Basta's superstitions (I get it!).  Less about traveling around the Italian backwoods.

Don't judge a book by its cover,
but I just love this cover.
The Book Borrower was a surprising little read.  I really liked the cover (I dig hats).  Nice to chomp through a quick read in three evenings.  It did an especially great job at depicting women's friendships, how they are so folded among the craziness of kids and husbands and jobs (women's lives are different than men's!).  I loved the book-within-a-book structure, and that the first chapter jarred me as I got my bearings within this structure.  Like a train lurching forward.   I liked that Gussie/Jessie Lipkin aka Berry Cooper from the "inside book" ends up having a significant interaction with Toby Ruben, the main character from the outer narrative.  I appreciated the way Mattison described Ruben's grief at her best friend's death.  Lastly, I liked that the primary narrative had dialogue marked with --, but the narrative within used typical "quotation marks." A nice stylistic switch-up.

And what do you know, there was a notable reference to Anna Karenina! I would NOT have been able to appreciate this without having already read AK! There's a special circle of knowledge going on here among my most recent reads.

So... this is cool, this Post-Modernist self-reflexivity and all, but I'm ready for a book that, well, ISN'T about books.  Last night I started Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer.  It feels like a Horatio Alger tale, but I think there's a surprising twist coming.  Otherwise I'm just reading about a young, 19th century Gordon Gecko.

21 December 2011

Elf Workers of the World.... Unite!

"I should have stayed in dental school."
Just when I thought I was merrily spreading Christmas Cheer, I discover (thank you, Mother Jones) that by shopping online, I have contributed to worker exploitation and human suffering.  Right here in the the good ol' U S of A.

Pity the Elf Slaves of Online Shopping

I haven't bought books on Amazon.com, Borders.com (defunct) or BN.com (although as a former Borders customer, they are working on me... hard) in quite some time.  I think this will make me reconsider buying books online at ALL.  Viva the local bookstore!

19 December 2011

Hard to get into the Christmas spirit

Is it just me, or is it hard to feel Christmas-y this year?  We have the house decorated, many of the gifts purchased, the photo Christmas card underway (note - Goal for 2012: Several dozen GOOD photos with all three of us in the picture).  We have food, food, and more food (even Roast Beast!).  But I'm just not "feelin' it". ;-(

I find the darkness this time of year really hard.  I don't have "SAD" (although incidentally, I think that's an unfortunate acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder).

I can relate to Solstice even more than Christmas, or I can understand why early Christians would want to piggy-back on a holiday ("holy day") that says, "Don't fret, the sun will come back, things will grow again, and this too shall pass."  If we think life is difficult in a time of abundant food, electric light, and central heating (no matter how expensive we find these things to be), how much more frightening it would be to face a harsh, long Northern winter without them, knowing that there is no safety net.  For the poor of earlier eras, there was no food pantry, no heating assistance.  Those loving gifts of food (fruitcake?) might be the difference between survival... or not.

I think it's the 21st- Century expectations that stress me out.  I want everyone to be thrilled with their gifts.  I want the people I love to receive their Christmas cards before Dec 25 (although I don't think that will happen this year).  I want to WANT to go to church on Christmas Eve (even though I know it will be a hot, crowded, noisy mob scene).  I want my house to be clean so that I can feel good about people dropping by.  I want to NOT feel guilty about doing things for myself that help me, like knitting or reading.  I know I could be doing "something more productive," but maybe productivity is making sure that I feel okay, even at a time of year when that's challenging for me.

I'm not trying to hurry past Christmas, but I sure feel better once I get to January.  Then winter whizzes by faster than I can whiz down a ski slope.

09 December 2011

Anna Karenina - DONE!

Finished last night!  This one isn't just crossed off THIS list, but crossed off my "bucket list."

People ask me, "How do you like it?"  I think the truest answer is that I didn't really like it, but I certainly appreciated it.

In 2011, hardly anything is shocking anymore.  A trashy rich family is a household name (Kardashian), a congressman send photos of his "junk" to his girlfriend, a candidate for the presidency has a long and sordid history of harassing women but seems to think this is irrelevant to his fitness for office.  Female movie and music stars are, for the most part, anything but "ladylike."  The governor of California has children with his wife and his live-in housekeeper in the same year.

Flash to the 1870s. Tolstoy wrote A.K. in the Victorian era.  People of quality didn't even say "leg" because one's leg was too close to one's private parts, so instead they used euphemisms like "limb," and so forth.  But Tolstoy, whew!  Extra-marital affairs (by women!), and all the details of babies out of wedlock.  Women birthing their babies, women breastfeeding their babies.  And in Part Six, there's some mysterious (and particularly wicked) revelation from Anna to Dolly that because of her terribly difficult delivery of Vronsky's daughter, she should not have any more children, and the method by which she is preventing this is depicted like this (for real): .......................................................................................................................................................................................................................

What does that mean???  Tolstoy wants us to use our imagination. "This discovery, which suddenly explained for her all those formerly incomprehensible families with only one or two children, called up in her so many thoughts, reflections, and contradictory feelings that she was unable to say anything and only looke at Anna with wide-eyed astonishment." (p.637)  IMHO, it was either birth control or oral sex.  The horror!

Tolstoy gives us "real life" in an era when people didn't even admit to having bodies. Salacious reality.

The book is worth wading through to get to Part Seven. Anna's inner monologue is so genuine, worthy of 20th century writing of the inner mind. She's having a mental breakdown, possibly because of her personal guilt, her jealousy and paranoia, or maybe because of her opium addiction (I believe the latter is likely the biggest neurological problem).  The episodes on trains (and, sadly, UNDER them) become the structural story arc.  Trains must have been something of a fabulous novelty to 19th century Russians.

I had no idea that the Russian upper crust spoke so much French.  Even more than Russian, it seems.

Part Eight is a bit of a let down (although anything would be after amazing Part Seven).  Tolstoy is trying to make some sense of the tragedy of Anna & Vronsky.  In this case, why bad things happen to bad people.  Levin has a mystical revelation: that we must put our needs last and live "by the soul," for God.  It's as though it's BECAUSE Anna & Vronsky didn't do this that their lives follow the path ending in tragedy.  Now, maybe that's so.  Maybe because they pursued a carpe diem attitude that everything unraveled.  But I didn't like how Tolstoy boiled the whole epic down to a morality play.  Life is a lot more complicated than that.  And Tolstoy had done a darn good job at depicting life.  Real life, warts and all.  In Part Eight, he folds.  Bleh.

Excellent translation.  I had tried to read a different edition of A.K. a few years ago and stalled out.  If you're going to read A.K., I recommend this (award-winning) translation.
If I never read another long Russian name (with "patronymic" and all: Darya Alexandrovna, Stepan Arkadyich, Agafya Mikhailovna) it'll be okay with me.

Too much sadness, these last two books. 

Next up, Cornelia Funke's Inkheart.  I saw the cute movie a few years ago.  Liked it, and like most tales, I expect the book will be even better. 

At any rate, I'm quite hopeful there'll be less suicide.

08 December 2011

"Hey girl - I like the library too."

If you haven't discovered the Rabbit Hole that is Pinterest yet, well, don't come crying to me when you do, and you forget to do stuff like bathe, talk to your family, go to work, eat.  Because you're too involved with Pinterest.  It could happen.

I found this little gem on Pinterest last night: "Hey Girl. I like the library too."

Oh my heavens.  Drop-dead gorgeous men, who talk intelligently about books?  I'll try to keep my clothes on.

07 December 2011

A community saves a bookstore

I just LOVE this story: RiverRun Bookstore

Besides so many book lovers pitching in to help keep it afloat financially (amazing, really) I love that a big group of Portsmouth people planned to form a "bucket brigade" to transfer all the books from the old space to the new one.  I'd love to find out how that went!  Anyone here know?