This blog is basically about how good books are nice and bad books are the pits. And then I get grumpy.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fun with books! or, I hope I've progressed a bit since then....

Rummaging through old things and hoping to find items such as a specific notebook from my past I, of course, found nothing I was looking for. But I did find these ancient book reports from about a decade into my life. I can certainly say that I hope I've improved as a synopsizer and reviewer of books.

One thing I love about the book reports I was made to do in grade school was the artistic element of drawing a cover related to the novel or biography or what-have-you involved. I wasn't a bad artist. But I was nothing compared to other students who sketched amazing sports drawings during math class and then got caught and advised by the teacher that they were very talented, indeed, but right now was the time for long division. I think I plateaued in my artistic ability as a child, so badly do I draw now. So it was pleasant for me to find these book reports which demanded I use my language arts skills as well as math (to ascertain how many pages needed to be read by the due date - there's that long division, again!) and, of course, required me to find the Picasso in myself.

It's so great the number of talents we students were asked to utilize at that age - so very different from the monotony of adulthood wherein accountants are always calculating, writers are writing, and just about everybody is in a state of cyclical action. Repetition rules grown-up life and makes me, at least, long for the variety of grammar school where at 8am you were a theologian, 9am a mathematician, 10am a geographer, 11am an athlete, 12 noon a social butterfly doing lunch and recess with your friends, 1pm a scientist, etc....

So, here I have found three book reports, evidence of fulfilling childhood schooldays - portrait of the blogger as a young reviewer. Was I any good? Well, I filled about three pages summarizing The Moonstone Castle Mystery by Carolyn Keene with information that seems to my grown-up ears to describe a pretty interesting story. Then comes my last sentence: "I wouldn't recommend this book because I thought it was very boring." Perhaps I needed a lesson in cohesion...and a little personality. But I seem to have simplicity down pat and not a smattering of that attitude that I so often find annoying in reviewers.

Here are the sparkling reviews according to Jemima, age 10:

Ramona the Pest
"I liked all parts of this book."
by Beverly Cleary

Understood Betsy "I liked mostly every part of the book."
by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

The Moonstone Castle Mystery "I wouldn't recommend this book."
by Carolyn Keene

I was so obviously destined for
The New Yorker.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mourning the absence of a good pop-lit magazine

Someone should start a glossy magazine about popular literature. There are heaps of blogs about books and, indeed, a few magazines; the independent booksellers' Book Page and the review magazine Bookmarks come to mind. But I'm looking for something along the lines of Conde Nast Traveller or Premiere for the book-minded, something that has lovely author-at-home-or-on-vacation photos and profiles; tiny, little front of the book snippets that tell us who and what is up-and-coming or which gadgets companies are trying to convince us we need; editorials on why all you really need is a good book, a quiet space and an attentive mind; reader's letters on everything bookish under the sun; man-on-the-street Q&A's on what's popular on the streets of, say, New York or Cleveland or Little Rock; celebrations of the classics. I'd like to hold in my hand a portable, visually attractive conversation starter or conduit for information-sharing with other booklovers. I don't want to have to be near a computer to point out bits of news. E-mailed links to articles in the Guardian or Times are great but you can only do that when you're separated from the person with whom you wish to converse about that particular topic. Then what are you supposed to do - survive on e-mail conversations or schedule a lunch date so you and your book-loving buddy can finally get together with a print-out of the article to refer to? Wouldn't it be more fun and much easier to grab a glossy and share?

Perhaps the really literary only want serious mags. But I can't imagine that no one would be interested in Haruki Murakami's favorite brand of running shoe or if Joanne Harris prefers Russell Stover or Godiva chocolates. Now, wouldn't that be fun?

France seems to have Lire magazine. The United Kingdom has Waterstone's Books Quarterly. Where's the US version? Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was Pages magazine but that seems to have gone defunct. Cannot a glossy pop-lit magazine grace the coffee tables of the United States?

I say yes.

Funding, anyone?

Monday, August 25, 2008

That bold face of the last two paragraphs that I wrote

in the previous post was not meant to imitate hollering. Neither was it meant as an artistic statement. Unfortunately, though I'm picky about presentation, Blogger does not seem to be cooperating with me and refuses to undo the bold. Maybe if you squint it will look normal size. :)

Literary Pet Peeves

Book critics with attitude.

You know the type....They're more interested in turning a phrase, ultimately overwrought and grating, than in helping to guide anyone in their book-buying efforts. 'LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!' they seem to yell. Aren't I clever? As a matter of fact, I'm so clever that I'm going to rate this book a D- and show you how fancy I can write.' Do I sound like a writer scorned?

Actually, it's not all critics with attitude that bother me, just some. And, honestly, can't you say the same? It's like when you read a magazine profile of a celebrity and come away feeling that you know more about the psychology (and mental word count) of the journalist who wrote it than the famous person whose pics are splashed all over the pages.

Anyway, with all that said, I'd like also to say that some critics are quite good at what they do. My beef is with the few (but loud) who use their bully-pulpit to nauseate the rest of us readers.

So, please, if you're a book critic (competent or with attitude), keep reading. Let me show you how fancy I can write.

Self-infatuated writing by authors who've spent too much time inhaling dust in the farther reaches of the library instead of reading in the fresh air where they should.

I was once perusing a piece of literary criticism. I think the writer of that piece got a little carried away with himself. "In embryo," one phrase was just too cute. In embryo, you say? That's right.

Reader, I laughed at it.

Apparently, 'in sum' was too often used, 'in a nutshell' too casual, and 'in short' too mundane. So the writer either sat there scratching his head, tearing at his thoughts trying to find some unusual way to express himself or he spends far too much touchy, feely time with that inner child everyone talks about.

Perhaps we should send him some body-building magazines to toughen him up a bit....

Bloggers who can't resist the temptation to write fancy and read in dusty, remote library rooms.

What? You think I don't know I'm one of them? Take a look at my review of Alexandra Potter's Me and Mr Darcy from last year. Tragic. Did I jump over the edge of the QE2 with that one or what? I was kinda harsh. And way too cutesy.

Hopefully, other critics are kinder than I am.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I went crazy on the Good Reads site today writing some off-the-cuff reviews, so I thought I'd share...

Lost for Words (Little Black Dress)Sweet book! A woman with a small position at a publisher finds a mysterious love while wrestling with her feelings about her current beau. An example of fun chick-lit which isn't obnoxious with vulgar language and situations. It's frothy like a beach shore and effervescent like ginger ale.

Beware of spoiler in next review!
To See You Again: A True Story of Love in a Time of WarHow could this book not be one easily found in a bookstore? You probably have to go on-line to find this one, but it's worth it if you love a great, absorbing read.
It's very romantic. Will the lovers find each other after so many years? Incredible near-misses and ultimate reunion. I wasn't sure I should buy the book, despite its bargain price, but I did and couldn't believe I got such a great find. Recommended highly for romantics and the kind of person who used to like listening to Believe It or Not.

Inklings (The Oxford Chronicles, 1)Isn't it refreshing to find a book which does not glorify promiscuity, which actually advocates sweetness and love? There are other books,like On Chesil Beach, for instance, which contain sexual references and are, indeed, also worthy of praise for their thoughtfulness and writing. However, this is the only book I've read that eschews the modern seemingly requisite trashiness that's found so often in novels.

The writing here is a bit amateurish, but what do I care? It's a great idea for a story sweetly done.

I actually found some of the writing humorous where it wasn't meant to be. And it could use some pizazz in its structure and sentence construction. However, the concept is so great - an American goes to Oxford University, meets a new Inklings group, and falls in love - that the writing can be forgiven and a reader can be thankful the book somehow made it into print given today's stinky narrative/content standards.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

26=infinity - explain THAT math majors!

Twenty-six letters in the English alphabet and yet those relatively few symbols can express stories as complex as Middlemarch, Les Miserables, the Bible. Amazing to believe that each book is a combination of carefully placed spaces and members of the same pool of twenty-six letters. From that you get a window into the souls of characters and their authors. That's really quite powerful for these little drawings it takes less than a stroke of a pen to make. There are doodles that are more elaborate than the word 'die' and, yet, when we're reading Little Women and run across this word in reference to Beth, we are delivered a shock that causes that blood-pumping muscle in our chests to skip a beat.

I mean, a punch in the gut can make you lose your breath, so can a well-placed verb. Amazing.

When I'm in a bookstore and can't find something that really interests me, I just think to myself that somewhere here, hiding on a shelf is a collection of letters that one day I'll find fascinating. We just haven't met yet. And each of those books I see on the tables and stands are a different sequence of the same otherwise redundant twenty-six letters.

Which sequence will you choose next?

©2007-2010 Aniko at