24 April 2010


Like many an amateur blogger before me, I keep procrastinating my posts until I look up and it's been weeks since I last wrote. In my case, it's not from lack of copy--I'm always reading--but the opposite: I've finished six books since April 9, and am halfway through a seventh. (And I started an eighth, an attempted YAP break, but the heroine was one of those "oh poor me I'm so pretty and it's so hard putting together designer outfits" character types the appeal of which mystify me entirely. Quit after 20ish pages.) I feel like I owe each and every title a thoughtful, well-worded review; considering I used to regularly write 500 words on a single book for the Watermark newsletter, I know I'm capable of it. But the backlog daunts me, continually. So I'm trying something different today, and letting Goodreads shoulder the cataloging-and-rating burden for the past month. And I'm just going to write about the three books I've really loved.

First: a short-story anthology called, generically enough, Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. While most of these contain speculative-fiction elements, they're not really tied together by any more definite themes. Gaiman says in his introduction that the four words that drive storytelling for him are "and then what happened?"; the ensuing collection is a fine, fine narrative salmagundi of page-turners of many stripes, blurring the line between genre and lit-fic with aplomb. (As well they should. It's a stupid line--realism in Serious Literature may be the vogue of this and the last century, but it's only one way to tell a story, and not necessarily the truest. Hell, epic poetry used to be the go-to for culture-defining tales, and that shit rhymed: what's "faker" than that?) Ten days after finishing the book, the one that most sticks in my mind is by Jodi Picoult (which I learned recently is pronounced not Pih-COLT, but PEE-ko. Huh). I've been curious about her for a while; despite her being known for penning tearjerkers for middle-aged women, not my usual cup of tea, I'd come to respect her for tackling tragedy head-on, with startlingly bleak sensibility. She doesn't do happy endings. This story starts with the death of a child in the first sentence and follows the grieving parents as they grow apart. Except here, they grow apart literally: she finds herself able to reach the top shelf, he trips over his suddenly-too-long pajama bottoms. The space between them swells to the magnitude of their dead daughter. It's a breathtaking metaphor for loss.

Ingrid Law's middle-grade novel Savvy caught my fancy two Aprils ago in a big way. An X-Men-y coming-of-age tale about a family where each member acquires a superpower on their thirteenth birthday, it was warm and creative and chock-full of killer figurative language, and introduced me to a great vocabulary word, scumble, an oil-painting term that the characters use to describe mastering their often-destructive gifts. And Scumble's the title of the companion book coming out in August! Huzzah! It is, I would scientifically calculate, 92% as awesome as the original.

I'm currently flying through Robin Bloor's Words You Don't Know, based on his blog of the same name. This is one of those books that turns me insufferable--I'm this close to just announcing to the subway car, "Didja know jentacular means "relating to breakfast"? I'm going to use that all the time!!!" It's finally given me a word for my family's tradition/habit/vice of chattering away about all manner of highfalutin topics at mealtime: deipnosophy, which specifically means "intellectual conversation over dinner"! It's made extra-perfect by how often word origins is the subject of that very conversation.

09 April 2010

What I read instead!

The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway: YES YES YES. Like a dystopic Catch-22, full of black humor and tongue-dazzling wordplay, a great end-of-world-and-after scenario, and wonderful characters. Destined to be a classic--and unlike back-of-book blurbers, I do not use that phrase lightly.

Hotel Iris, Yoko Ogawa: I've read three books by Ogawa now (I think that's every one translated into English so far) and they've all been wildly different, but all stark and beautiful. This one is very dark, about the BDSM relationship between a 17-year-old girl and a man fifty years her senior. Point your mom towards The Housekeeper & the Professor instead.

The Boneshaker, Kate Milford: Middle-grade steampunk FTW! Full of creepy automatons, snake oil salesmen, and deals with the Devil, with an appropriately plucky heroine. Loved it.

Books I couldn't finish.

The Golden Calf, Ilya Ilf & Evgeny Petrov: Billed as "the funniest novel of the Soviet era"! Which it very well may be, but I'm reminded of a saying I never heard until I left my hometown: "like the tallest building in Wichita."

In Hovering Flight, Joyce Hinnefeld: Yup, creeped out by birds.

The Passage, Justin Cronin: Oh man, I really really tried with this one. It's the book of the summer, apparently, and has indie booksellers all het up about it; my co-worker Stephanie read and liked it; it's a post-apocalyptic vampire book, which should be right up my alley, right? And yet. I just couldn't get past the writing, which seems overwrought and flat at the same time. I kept thinking of Michael Crichton--and while I enjoy a good potboiler, this book is 750+ pages. To keep on keepin' on that long, a book has got to be awesome. So no. This one defeated me.
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