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













Monday, December 13, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - film commentary

I don't think I've yet read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, but I have read the first page and just love the first line, something like: "There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." Hee! (Sorry for the possible paraphrase, but I don't feel like hacking through my cluttered shelves with machete-like abandon.)

I saw the movie, fairly unexpectedly, on its first day in theaters. After my jaw dropped at the price of the ticket, I decided I could still afford lunch and went for Chinese. I came back, put on those silly 3-D glasses - why, by the way, are NOT worth the extra 5 or so dollars for the ticket, but I had to get them anyway because the man behind the counter told me everything would be 'fuzzy' if I didn't (and, of course, ticket prices are not optional) - and watched and enjoyed the movie. My nose pinched, but no big deal. I would have much preferred for it to be a normal movie, and if they (hopefully) make another Narnia film, I'd like them to lay off the 3-D, for the sake of my wallet and aversion to this bit of superfluousness.

The film itself had lovely, lovely production qualities; lovely, lovely returning actors and actresses; and strong new characters.Judging from scuttlebutt on the web Will Poulter's Euctace Scrubb seems to be a favorite among those who have seen the film. He does go through his character's various changes effectively and convincingly. I enjoyed Caspian's (Ben Barnes) use of an English accent, I imagine the actor's own accent. If you remember, in the last film it was an imaginary, exotic accent. I think this worked better. I particularly liked
the Lucy storyline - she's concerned about her beauty, or she seems to think lack thereof. She does some fighting in this film, and seems to have grown so much since the first Narnia film. There's a lovely minor story arc with a very young girl who Lucy acts as a sort of caretaker to; this character helps bring about a nice denouement to the Lucy-and-her-looks storyline.

I was reading about Narnia on the internet and I've come to suspect that some theaters are showing Dawn Treader without the 3-D requirement. Probably, it's a good idea to check ahead of time. Perhaps, your nose need not be pinched, and your wallet, neither.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What you find when you're not looking...

I'm reading Meghan McCain's Dirty, Sexy, Politics, where McCain writes about the three buses her father used on the "Straight Talk Express." Apparently, the first bus was gorgeous and that's where John and Cindy and the main players rode; the second was pretty good too for other staffers and journalists; the third was crappy (complete with smelly toilet) and reserved for low-level campaign blogger Meghan and staff and...journalists who were on the outs with the campaign. Interesting.

First of all, imagine riding in a toilet on wheels for a year and a half. Wouldn't you think some reporters might be tempted to make nice in their articles just to get an upgrade? Here's hoping ethics won out, though something makes me picture FOX "News" people riding happily on bus 1.

Secondly, I imagine Ana Marie Cox, a blogger and writer who talks about politics on Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC - a stellar show, by the way - was stuck on bus 3: Meghan recalls waiting to get on a bus (remember, it's crappy) and turning to Cox to ask a question. Ergo, Cox's bus was the stinker, too. Isn't that logical reasoning? If you've heard Cox on Maddow, you won't find the scenario surprising; you might happily sense the refreshing breeze of journalistic ethics sweep over you. Hopefully, Cox felt it, too. A year and a half is just too long to hold your breath and listen to Republican politics all day, too.

But....here's the exciting part, and it has nothing at all to do with smelly transportation. Well, actually it kind of does, but it's DONKEY smell! That's kind of like horse smell, isn't it? Mmmm, so good! Anyway, in a Wonkette review of Meghan McCain's book (of all things), there's a link to this wonderful video. Prepare to feel good about book lovers!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thirdly, and lastly, (and, again, why not estimate about 1 year ago)...


 Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, Book One: Moving Day

My goodness, I gobbled up the first hundred pages or so of this book! Ah, the joys of juvenile literature. First, The Penderwicks, now Allie Finkle.

I won't compare the two beyond saying they're both fun. But whereas The Penderwicks is timeless and reminiscent of books past, Allie Finkle is - it seems to old fuddy-duddy me who was never totally plugged in, even as a child - hip. Just look at her on the cover. I'd have looked like a little yuppie next to her.

Not that the heroine of this series by Meg Cabot would have cared. The girl's got sense, after all; she keeps a notebook of rules to help her live life more smoothly and, while "Never eat anything red" doesn't seem too do-able or constructive, that particular rule and many others illustrate her personality. The attitude conveyed by the voice of Allie, who tells the story in first-person, and the rules she chooses to make - at once logical and humorous - paint a picture of a very charismatic nine year old.

Barbies and Bratz, trips to Dairy Queen - Cabot certainly hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a kid. I've got to think there are a lot of little girls wishing this author was an older sister or aunt. She's seems the kind to let you stay up past 11:00 and try on her make-up. That's much like the humorous Uncle Jay character in this novel; he plays a charming role toward the book's end and, indeed, throughout. It is his influence that sends Allie into "war" mode as her parents decide to move and she decides they shouldn't, in ever-so-gentle a way.

The writing in the book will allow even oldies like me to laugh out loud remembering childhood. Cabot's got it spot-on. Annoying best friends? Check. Games of pretend in castles made out of bushes and brick walls? Check. Little brothers who play astronaut using air vents between rooms? Check.

How Cabot remembers all these things I'll never really know. I've read that she uses old diaries from her childhood. Makes me wish I'd been more of a diarist in my youth. Ah well.

You know, I've so enjoyed reading these children's books I think I might just have to keep on reading. It's like drinking a little bit of the fountain of youth. I hear one of the next books in the Allie Finkle series is called Best Friends and Drama Queens. Now how can an old fuddy-duddy afford to miss that chance at re-living her younger days?



Next up (and from about 1 year ago)...

On film adaptations of classic novels, Andrew Davies and the Davies' (nearly mathematical) 'formula'

Upon an urge to pop something in the DVD player, I watched snippets of the 1990's Davies' adaptation of Middlemarch last night. Who knew that simple act could jeopardize my enjoyment of future viewings of Davies' adaptations?

Every film seems to include some staple scenes. There are Celia and Dorothea in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Marianne and Elinor in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Isabella and Catherine in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. There are Elizabeth and Jane in their pj's and bedroom discussing men and romance. And at least three out of the four pairings are brushing their hair at the same time. Well, isn't that what girls do?

Then there's the scene when the good-looking gentleman is transfixed by the young, unsuspecting heroine's singing voice. I'm thinking Rosamond and Dr. Lydgate, Col. Brandon and Marianne, Elizabeth and Darcy.

There's also the 'manliness' scene wherein Darcy emerges soaking wet from a lake, Edward chops wood in the rain and Col. Brandon plays with a falcon. Okay, the last one doesn't involve water but it counts. What is facing the elements compared to facing down a bird of prey?

So the next time I watch a Davies' adaptation, I'm making a checklist. Whether I want to or not, I have a feeling I'll be testing my theory.

First, though, let me ask, have you noticed any other components to the Davies' formula?

I'm digging up old favorite posts from my old blog. First up (and from, about 1 year ago)...

  This is Water by David Foster Wallace

Graduation season is approaching and I guess that's why there was a new little hardcover book on the shelf in the store one day recently. It's a commencement address by David Foster Wallace that can be read in one sitting and, interestingly, is presented by printing just one idea, often just a sentence, on each page.

This presentation is probably meant to make something that most people wouldn't want to read seem readable. Who can't read a line per page? It might also be that the editors saw that there were some big ideas in this small book. Page by page they can be more easily digested. In any case, it cost somewhere around 14 dollars. Hefty, it seemed to me. The cynic in me suspects that maybe more pages mean higher pricing and this was a factor in the presentation, as well. Who knows.

It's a gem, though. Called This is Water, it's billed on the back as thoughts on compassion. It is. But it's not touchy, feely compassion. Using, sparsely, phrases like 'no-shit' to speak to his college audience, Foster keeps it real. He links thinking with compassion and shows how these two are related - how using your brain intelligently can help you put yourself in others' shoes.

But putting it in that nutshell seems so, as Foster might say, "lame and banal." He wisely describes what he means instead of preaching ideas at the students. In a wonderful depiction of the boredom and frustration of everyday life that most college students have yet to experience at their age, he relates the hypothetical but oh-so-identifiable experience of being tired after a rotten day at work, hungry, and needing to go to the grocery store before you can go through the equally rotten experience of cooking for yourself and satisfying that hunger. However, Foster says, the line in the supermarket is long, the behemoth cars on the road are cutting you off and you're miserable because all you want is to go home and eat. For most people at this point, Foster says, it's all about themselves.

But wait, he writes,

"It's not impossible that some of these people in SUVs have been in horrible auto accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a large, heavy SUV so they can feel safe; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a way bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am - it is actually I who am in his way." (Foster's italics.) This is Water, page 85

Whoa.

But reading it in context is even more impressive. So I recommend This is Water as an economy of words with an abundance of meaning. This is lean meat; no fat here. Everything is there for a reason. I suspect the 'no-shit' reference made the message more credible and palatable for young people to hear. Rather than being solely amusing or drily informative, the anecdotes at the beginning serve their dual purposes of drawing in the attention of the speech's audience/readers and illustrating a point.

Foster suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2008. Another writer who suffered depression, Tennessee Williams, once wrote in his play Summer and Smoke, "Life is such a mysteriously complex thing that no one should really presume to judge and condemn the behavior of anyone else." Sounds like Foster and Williams shared more than an illness; they seem to have had something similar to say.

And, perhaps, we all should listen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon










There's a real 'wow' factor in reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It was recommended to me three years ago and I never read it. Then, a few months ago, I felt like treating myself in the store - I think I had a coupon - so I indulged in a purchase of something different and new, Outlander. It's such a nice feeling to get something you're not sure of at a good price, experiencing adventurousness without a risk of buyer's regret. And, then, it turns out to be fun. I'm sure you know the feeling.









So, I let the book sit on a shelf for a couple of months. After I finished the Sookie Stackhouse marathon I recently undertook, I felt the fat, blue Outlander book calling me. I don't know why, and I had serious doubts about whether I'd would or wouldn't be able to finish a mammoth-sized book like it. The first few pages were pleasant, uneventful and encouraging. Yes, I realize that the adjective 'uneventful' does not seem to jibe with 'encouraging,' but it was, so there.









And, 'uneventful' seems to be, oddly, one of the things I liked a lot about some parts of this book. Make no mistake, there are tons of adventures and romance in its various incarnations (setting, love affairs, characters who will from now on inhabit fiction because they're so real and lovable in one way or another). There are hugely intriguing bits of history (though I don't know about the accuracy and am not terribly concerned about it as this is, after all, fiction) and really, really intriguing turns regarding characters and there's definitely that thing that makes a reader stop and stare somewhere away from the page imagining the 'what if's' that come to mind. In other words, there's a lot in it that illustrates why storytelling is so important to the human species.









But, I have to say that I enjoyed the pages describing main character Claire's forays into medicinal botany and the minutiae of daily living in the 18th century. It was cool to dip in and read a few pages about life in this fictitious world kind of like I was a voyeur who thought, 'Okay, now I'll look through the neighbors' window a little, entertain myself, check in, see what's going on.' Only, of course, reading a book isn't immoral or illegal, so the pleasure came without guilt. Sweet.









Tons of violence characterize the book. I got steamed and angst-ridden when Jamie, the hero, behaved in a very un-21st century manner toward his wife. Frustrating it was that he could be kind of right and his behavior kind of understandable whilst doing these horrible things. I vented on some online book forums. But, of course, the fact that I got so involved and was able to see different sides in something so abhorrent in anyone's eyes in the modern day was an argument itself that here was a book well-written with well-rounded real-person characters. They do seem like real people. I guess in approximately 850 pages you can dot that as a writer. Well, I mean skill is important, but the length allows a way to carve out characters that shorter stories won't allow. And, then, when you know you have a few more books of similar length to continue the story? You can slowly unfurl these characters' lives for the reader and expose them for scrutiny with almost (okay, I'm exaggerating) the pace and complexity of a real life.









I plunged right into the next in the Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber, which I found presented unexpected news and events from the Outlander world, funny since I had read spoilers and thought I knew what was coming. So, now I can read on in the series and concurrently read spoilers on the web (though, admittedly, never with a great deal of care so as not to really endanger my reading of the books) and not (hopefully, but where the hope has a good track record) spoil the actual books before I've gotten to them. This is great since, as you know, reading series books years after they were begun runs the risk of learning outcomes you'd rather not yet know or else endeavoring to engage in unnatural levels of discipline and restraint (read: keeping away from the internet to research the author, books, reviews and community opinions on the series). It's hard enough to keep from eating that extra cookie in the evening; no one needs to limit his or her indulgence on a great, newly-found lit-feast. Don't you think?









Surprisingly, there are those who seem very much taken with (almost) anger for the series and its writer's decisions for this and that in the books. To each her own, I suppose. So far, though, I quite like them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

libraries are fundamental and, the library card as literary passport

One of the best things about modern life is the circulating library. That we can go to a big building (or a small one) and take away loads of books (and CDs and DVDs and other stuff, too) for a few weeks without paying a cent (unless you count overdue and lost fines) is an amazing thing, and a great edifier for the soul and intellect of a society.

Think of it: If you don't have any money for recreation - and there's a lot of that going around these days when a movie costs more than an hour's minimum wage - you can still read books. If you don't have money for a paperback - again, an hour of minimum wage often doesn't cover a mass-market - there's always the library.

A library card is like a literary passport. It gets you - really your mind - into places it would otherwise have a very difficult time being allowed into. Borders and Barnes and Noble don't let hoards of students sit in their caf├ęs monopolizing books (i.e. merchandise) and table space so thet can complete their twenty page research papers. Libraries do.

To be sure, I love owning books. But, come on, you can't have everything and, when it comes to books, should only HAVE TO HAVE very little, if anything. Who can live without a dictionary? Most people have one, probably. But even if you don't, every town or group of towns has reference materials. This is as it should be.

A library provides a way for a determined yet penniless person to learn about any topic he or she wants. It doesn't take the place of a school system, but it's a necessary supplement and often an educational lifeline. It is a fundamental component of intellectual life for a people who wish to be lifelong learners and informed voters. And it's fun.

I feel rich that I have the benefit of cards to four different library systems. And I'd venture to guess that it's historically and geographically exceptional experience to live in a time and place when libraries are considered a basic human right, or nearly so. Many of our ancestors would have felt like royalty if they could have stepped into a city library and stepped out with a three week reading supply that could outlast the pace of a book a day.

And it's an exquisite privilege to have a public library system that goes out-of-state to find patrons books that it lacks in its own collection. And don't forget all the internet resources. From my corner of the world, I have searched databases in Europe and all over the United States, which is a great research tool.

So I think it's disgusting that towns and cities feel they have to close libraries as a remedy for the bad fiscal health of their budgets. It's disgusting that, perhaps, they are correct. If the choice is an adequate police force or books, obviously bodily safety comes first. I just hope that everyone remembers that, ultimately, the safety and health of societies lie in education and access to information. We need our bodies so we can live and function; we need our minds to make living worthwhile.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sookie - What I'd like to see...

I'd like to see:

- Sookie hit Bill upside the head (figuratively speaking) about his secretiveness and his treatment of her. He needs to do more than beg her lamely to come back. Harris is doing a good job of making Bill into a lame heel. I want the moment to come when Sookie calls him such. And I want him to explain himelf. I mean, really, 130 years old and he tries to win her back with a hastily mentioned word at an elevator door while he's dating someone else? Didn't he learn anything over the past century and a third?

- more with Remy Savoy. He seems like a nice human sweetie who might make a good mate for Sookie if his character is developed.

- Sookie grow up and make better decisions. So oftne she worries when she need not and doesn't when she should.

- Sookie go through a needed soul-searching about her religion and the supes, especially since she's religious and the supes bring up a lot interesting questions.

- Jason and Sookie get even closer in a mature sibling relationship. He's getting so much better.

- Sookie be liberated in the seemingly hopeless world she's in.

- Some vampire (Eric?) start a vampiric revolution to regain free will in their crazy, strict power structure. Now that would make interesting conflict, something different... There could be a lot more books if that happened and the stories would be refreshingly different from what is currently seeming like a constant case of more of the same.

Top Sookie Moments

I'm trying to think of what the top Sookie Stackhouse moments were since I have finished the 10 novels that have so far appeared.

Here are a few without book references as all the titles have run together for me:

1 - Cute little Hunter saying bye to Sookie telepathically after their first meeting.

2 - The joyful love of the 1000 year old vampire, Eric, bouncing Sookie up in the air as they waltz at the Rhodes ball.

3 - Similarly, the joyful way Sookie jumps into Erics arms at his request upon her seeing him at his house in the last book.

4 - Pam's peck on Sookie's cheek before the witch war.

5 - An exchange in an early book between Eric and Bill which involves a reference by the former to possessive pronouns. It just tickled me. Of course, it wasn't really a pronoun; it was an adjective, but the idea was great. (Perhaps, you have to be a bit of a grammar nut.) ; )

6 - I hated when Sookie finds out about Bill's motives in dating her, but since I had such a visceral reaction I am adding it here. It moved me.

7 - Eric whipping off his coat to reveal that ridiculous spandex outfit he wore to accompany Sookie on her fact-finding expedition to the creepy party in an early book.

8 - Any scene in which the enigmatic and maddeningly quiet Bill opens up, though for various reasons there are too few of them.

9 - Sookie's enjoyment of sunbathing... Particularly, the first time when her Gran is fussing with gardening or laundry or something in the yard and we first see Sookie in the lawnchair soaking in the relaxing moment, the sun and the music from her radio. It's a simple pleasure of her human existence that she gives up as her supernatural saga plays out. Sunbathing will never be the same again for her.

10 - Pam's humor and Harris's fleshing out of her personality. Does anyone else imagine her talking like Lilith Sternin-Crane in the old TV show Cheers?

11 -  Jason's paternal concern for Alexie in the last book.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ah, well....

I finished Definitely Dead. You might see my posts below describing my initial infatuation with the Sookie series, based on the first book, and the subsequent rough patches I hit. It actually ended not bad. I told you I get grumpy...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sookie burn-out - What a disappointment!

Why does bad writing happen to good story ideas??? Oh, why?


I was enjoying the Sookie Stackhouse series. But now that I'm in the middle of book 6, Definitely Dead, I have to say this is showing how terrible it is when ideas that have potential are executed so badly. Quite disappointing.

I'll submit this: Charlaine Harris is a pretty good storyteller, but really a pretty bad writer. There are so many reasons to say this, and the very, very least of them are the striking misuse of vocabulary that one wouldn't expect from a purveyor of the language.



1 - The wonderful beginning of the series - ordinary woman in extraordinary circumstances - is destroyed as the series progresses. As an observer of this imaginary universe, it seems that there are virtually no humans left on the planet. No contrast whatsoever; it's all supes all the time and the depth that gives the reader some orientation in this universe is lost.



2 - Why all the boyfriends? Even in other series this is not normal. Man, it's like some kind of manic reaction or something. Can we please just stick to one or two guys and actually explore a relationship?



3 - This brings me to the bad writing. Harris does whatever she feels will make an exciting story, and if that means major inconsistencies - far more than other professional writers - and incongruous behavior by characters (Sookie is smart but does some massively and unbelievably stupid things), then so be it, I guess.



4 - This leads to there not being a backbone to the series. No general guiding direction. We, the readers, don't need to be aware of it - we shouldn't, actually - but we should feel it. It's like she's making it up as she goes along the way you make up a story at a campfire. The characters don't work. The story has no integrity.



5 - Harris can do what she wants with her books - they're hers, anyway - but she should take care of a good idea if she has one. She discards her good ideas the way other people waste food. A reader should be insulted by this. It is irresponsible for a writer to pluck an idea out of the world of storyline possibilities that exist in our collective imagination and to then treat it so badly. To top it off, on Harris's site, she gives a curt response to why she doesn't like fan fiction. But, my goodness, someone has to do it right.

6 - There are so many interesting and juicy ideas wrapped up in the characters and fantastical element in the books readers could chew on if Harris chose to explore them. But she doesn't. Perhaps she doesn't recognize the possibilities, or perhaps she does, but doesn't know how to realize it.


7 - Finally, the careless/non-existent proofreading by editors doesn't help. It's like no one cares about the product.


Opinions, anyone?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Who knew? Sookie Stackhouse books are (based on the first one) enjoyable.

Mass market paperbacks that advertise vampires are generally not something I gravitate toward. Nothing against mass markets - I have come to have an affinity for them. It's the vampire thing. Boy, was I prejudiced against the Twilight series for the longest time. But then I pretty much loved the first three. (Haven't read the last yet.)

Then I picked up Insatiable in the store. And then I put it back down. But, eventually, that, too, got read. My comments about that book are here.

Now, for some reason, I thought I'd explore the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. I don't know...maybe it was the whole True Blood tv show that so many people are abuzz about. I don't watch it, but it looks gory and and seems like it's hopped onboard the vampire-fad bandwagon, but for a more "sophisticated" audience (read: individuals who enjoy gratuitious sexuality and blood).

None of that is really a recommendation for the books. My expectations before I began were pretty much on the lower end of the spectrum, but I finished the first, Dead Until Dark, and actually enjoyed it. We'll see about the others.

Sookie, the telepathic southern waitress, is a likeable character. The point is made that she is "uneducated" but smart. If you have egalitarian tendencies, this will probably endear her and the book to you. I really liked it. Sookie is sweet and caring and funny.

Her love interest is a vampire with the unassuming name of Bill. Bill the vampire. That's right.

Anyway, Bill is an interesting character and pulling apart his ethics would be an intriguing exercise. He's not the squeaky clean - and very likeable, if possessive - Edward Cullen of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Bill you wonder about. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

There are elements to the first Sookie book that bear great (suspicious?) similarity to Twilight, which was actually published four years after Dead Until Dark. I wonder if Meyer read any Sookie books. Just curious, not casting aspersions.... What similarities? There's a furry rival for Sookie's love, for example. There's her innocence. There is Bill's old-fashioned, protective nature. There is also the fact he kind of glows or shines sometimes.

But, in many ways, the books are very different. Sexual content is completely on another level, for instance. The book is NOT for youngsters. There can't be an argument there. It's very explicit. And it's very violent, though mostly in references to crimes. But that's enough. Language is vulgar, though it arguably serves the characters at times. At other times, it doesn't and it's annoying. Sookie is different, too, than Twilight's heroine, Bella. She perhaps has a spunk in her southern manners that strengthens her; Bella seems fairly 'damsel in distress-y' in contrast. Bill, again, is not a white knight of a vampire.

I was annoyed at times by the writing. First of all, and this is kind of petty, it's two "pairs" of shoes, socks, jeans, etc; it's not two "pair" of shoes, socks, jeans, etc. That's just like nails on a chalkboard. EEEEEEEE! Then, again I'm picky here,  I think I spotted the word 'simile' misused which for some reason irritated me. Another time some kind of editing or grammar error which I have now forgotten - so, you know, again picky - interrupted my reading for about 2 minutes.

But, these are not major impediments to the enjoyment of an entertaining yarn. Even the three or four times I was confused by writing (sentence/paragraph construction is what I remember) were not prohibitive to understanding the story, even if they were a bit frustrating.

So, all in all, not a bad read. And, tomorrow, I am attempting to find book two at a time when libraries seem out of them. That, perhaps, tells you something.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dancing Poll

Thought I'd try a new poll. See, it's over there -------------------------------------------->

I saw on the internet today that people are starting to gossip about who might be on the new season of Dancing With the Stars. But, strangely, no literary characters have been mentioned. They always seem to be overlooked. So I have some suggestions. Who would you cast?


Write in candidates are welcome in comments.

A hopefully entertaining instance of venting which should not be taken terribly seriously

Ugh. I hate pretentious writing. I don't even like it when I do it. But, you know, I think in the process of blogging it's very easy to fall prey to pretentious 'too-cute-for-its-own-good' writing.

Being inclined to bookishness, I tend to read bookish blogs and, as you know, they are very popular. Who knew pre-cyberspace that there were so many readers around who not only wanted to read, they also wanted to pontificate, share opinions and joy? I'm all for the joy. And I'm for the opinion-sharing, too...though, as everyone knows from reading book reviews and talking with new acquaintances of different tastes at parties, opinion-sharing can be problematic. For example, never, never, never talk about politics with a person waiting for the bus. They'll say the darnedest things. (This is experience speaking and I was dumb to ever try. Although, I'll probably do it again, someday. But, humor mostly aside, it can kind of be like taking your life in your hands.)

But I'm digressing. That's politics, this is books. Let's get back to what I'm calling 'pretentious' writing - writing that's just too much. Often in life, I am kind of "too much." I'm not sure how to describe that concept but if you've watched every Designing Women episode ever made - great TV from when Hollywood hadn't sold out to mindless vulgarity and blood-soaked dramas and 'reality' TV moronathons - then you'll know something of what I'm trying to get at. Because in her own words, the bigger-than-life character Suzanne Sugarbaker, was a bit "too much." She was a Bob Mackie gown in a denim world.

A bit more elucidation on this concept of being too-much: How can I describe it? Here are some ways. Well, there's, of course, Suzanne. There are always the sitcom characters whose personalities were big, showy, entertaining if nothing else. Think of Blanche Devereaux (Golden Girls), Blair Warner (The Facts of Life), Norma Desmond-types without the pathos. There is a former Russian ice-dancing couple, Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov, whose skating was thought to be too over the top, but whom I loved. There's any smart, compassionate person who thinks outside the box when appropriate and doesn't care if  he is going against the tide but who, nonetheless, doesn't seek to bring attention to himself. But now I'm starting on a tangent again.

So there's the idea of being too much. But, I hear the one or two people reading thinking. Why are you complaining, Blogger-person who thinks of herself as a little bit too-much herself? I am complaining because I wanted to complain because I was just visiting a writer's blog which I had thankfully not visited for a very long time and boy was she just as irritating as ever.

Said writer (from here on I'll call her Thinks a Bit Too Much of Herself) is constantly posting pictures of herself which is an activity that (1) has nothing to do with writing and (2) smacks of stupidity and (3) makes the endeavor of her blog seem a teeny bit like a love letter to herself. Invariably the photos are accompanied by back-handedly self-deprecating comments. For example, a photo of a somber Thinks a Bit Too Much of Herself might be captioned with, 'Oh, dear, don't I look like a Weeping Willow in this pic?' knowing full well, one suspects, that a Weeping Willow is really a very beautiful tree and that likening herself to such is actually flattering herself by coyly hiding a clear compliment inside what is generally considered a sentence construction that expresses modesty and/or true humility. GRRRRRRRRRRRR....

But that's only a small bit of what's so irritating about her blog. The big thing is that she can't write. Or, perhaps more accurately, she writes the same thing over and over again. And over again. Same style all the time. Same cutesy-type phrases. Same thematic silliness: Hey, look, I remember the advent of the internet and I'm only 25; Hey, look I'm chronically forgetful of my keys. Aren't I special?; Hey, look, I feel that misspelled words and bad grammar are horrorific. Forget about the lack of lifeboats on this ship. I don't care if there are dangerously high winds and turbulent seas. The ship builder has inappropriately place a hyphen between the word 'life' and the word 'boat' in this empty space. Get some stencilling, stat!

Ah, youthful self-indulgent drama. I remember it well. Thank goodness we grow out of it.At least, I'm hoping to do so one day. So, I shouldn't be too seriously annoyed with Thinks a Bit Too Much of Herself. Pretty much everyone is childish in some way to some degree for life. A human lifespan is not enough time to grow up. Kindness toward each other's silliness is necessary. But I don't think a bit of venting over unnamed developing writers in literary neutral is ridiculously mean. Or maybe it is. I'll let other bloggers philosophize about that. They can refer to me as Talks a Bit Too Much.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I was finally tempted to pick up Eat Pray Love after seeing the Julia Roberts cover where she's licking gelato off a spoon with coy enjoyment. Roberts' beauty paired with old Roman buildings and Italian ice cream made it seem promising. Publishers know very well that we judge books by covers.

So now I'm reading it and I have to tell you I don't particularly like it. I'm somewhere around page 18 now, admittedly not far, but even up to this early stage I've come across so many of the trite writing cliches authors tend to love but at some point learn to control. Elizabeth Gilbert - it's weird to say this about a professional writer - uses them like they're original thoughts.

Take her talk to God on the bathroom floor, for example. Basically, she claims it's her first foray into prayer and she introduces herself by declaring her name and telling him that it's nice to meet him. As though this is something the reader might miss, she underscores it by telling us it was just like at a cocktail party. Then she apologizes for disturbing him.

Do people like this exist? This whole I-have-no-idea-how-to-communicate-with-a-being-whom-I'm-told-knows-everything-thing is hard for me to buy as a reader. At least it is the way she describes it. This is sitcom stuff that's been done forever.

There seem to be annoyances on every page and I wonder if I'll make it through this book.

There also seem to be a lot of people (Julie and Julia author Julie Powell, for instance) who seem to be writing about projects they have done and it's beginning to feel so contrived. Do these people actually do things and watch themselves do them for extended periods of time just so they can write about their experiences later as though said experiences happened in a normal organic way? Or do they know all along that they're going to write a book?

I don't know, but I kind of think the latter can be argued very persuasively by reading the intro to Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert explains to us that she changes people's names in her book for their privacy. That's great and normal, but then she gives us this reason for the name-changing:

"This is out of respect for the fact that most people don't go on a spiritual pilgrimage in order to appear later as a character in a book. (Unless, of course, they are me.)"

So, I guess she admits a book was the plan to begin with. I'm being very cynical here. I mean, she's a writer. Of course, she's going to write about this big event in her life. But, people don't do these things "in order to appear later as a character in a book...Unless...they're me"? Probably just bad wording, but the cliched and cloying nature of the writing doesn't help inspire a belief in the authenticity of the back cover's claim that Gilbert's year-long journey was a way for her "to examine three different aspects of her nature." Unless, of course, the examination was meant to generate a book. Not exactly the way any of it's been marketed, I think.

Is it so naive to think people still have experiences in life and and only later decide to write about them? No. But these self-indulgent self-discovery and exploration themes that seem to have been popping up for years now are getting old and tired. In the same way that reality shows aren't really 'real,' these books seem to be too self-conscious for their own good.

Perhaps the movie will be better. I'm hoping the rest of the book will, too.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I won a contest.

Notice the lackluster punctuation in this post's title. A period is a very understated full stop. There's none of the provocativeness of a question mark or the enthusiasm of an exclamation point. Forget about the coy suggestiveness of ellipsis marks....

As you probably have seen in the post below, I read and savored Meg Cabot's Insatiable. After having raved about it to those who have no choice other than to listen to me because they're stuck living with me and if they don't listen I will just follow them to the bathroom and yell my review at them through the door as they do inside that which can only be done in a bathroom (keep in mind many a shower has been taken under a tropical waterfall - at least on Gilligan's Island - so obviously I'm not talking about that), I perused the internet for mentions of the book. I did the "simple Google search" that unhelpful people are always telling us we can do to learn about things that they are too lazy or daft to tell us about, even though there is sometimes no substitute for picking a real person's brain. So, on this search I found a contest, entered and was later notified that I'd won a signed copy of Cabot's vampires-in-NYC-tale. I gleefully dashed off a thank you email and received Insatiable today via the US Postal Service. I love getting books in the mail.

So why the listless punctuation? My inner existentialist teenager (named Morticia) is screaming the answer: people are YUCKY. All right, that's my inner existentialist teenager, Morticia, self-censoring her language. Morticia may be into the whole well-the-world-is-hurtling-through-space-and-tomorrow-we-might-hit-an-asteroid-and-die-anyway-so-why-bother-thing that some teens go through, but she doesn't feel it's necessary to use bad words. So, 'yucky.' Use your imagination.

You know those days when work just GETS TO YOU and you wish you could dream up the next big useless money-making idea (like that blanket-cape thing people wear around the campfire on that TV commercial and everyone seems to adore although humans have been doing perfectly well for centuries by draping a proper blanket over their shoulders)? And then you go on errands and someone tries to fleece you and you quite rightly complain to a manager and now you're not fleeced but you invested time and energy in the endeavor when you were all the time wishing that you could be playing Hungry Hungry Hippos like when you were a kid? You know what I mean, right?

Of course you do. Because that is the human struggle: to toil in the workaday world while harboring fantasies of flipping game chips into multicolored plastic hippopotami's mouths and watching the money roll in from your blanket-coat business. Perhaps you'll say, 'Wait a minute. Isn't it nice to come home to a signed copy of a fabulous Meg Cabot book? Count your blessings.' Well, of course you're right. But sometimes yucky people just drain you of the energy needed for enjoyment of good stuff. But writing is a good catharsis, and I'm feeling a little bit better now. So you know about those yucky people?

Yuck them. I'm going to gaze lovingly at my new book.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

'Insatiable' by Meg Cabot

I heard about this one, probably on one of those mass emails the big bookstores send out. I had a coupon and thought this would be a fun splurge given the 40% discount. So when I went to the store (a big one with a grand opening coming soon), I headed to the adult fiction section with the help of a really nice bookseller. It's always pleasant to be in a new bookstore, even if it is one of those cookie-cutter chain stores that have eaten up the market and pushed out the indies. Let's face it, it's not the employees fault these stores seem so often to be soulless.


So, anyway I was a bit surprised 'Insatiable' was in the adult section, I guess since Cabot always seems to be known for kids books (though she writes for adults, too.) I opened her book, took a quick peek and decided I wasn't spending the money. Too bad, it had sounded good when I'd read about it online.

The next week I went back for something else. Once again, I had a coupon. Once again, I was compelled to look at 'Insatiable.' This time I bought it. And, after a quick (for me) read lasting a few days, I have to say I thought this book was delicious.

Okay, that's one of those cutesy words that seem pretentious and overwrought, but you know what? Sometimes it just works. I loved this book. It didn't seem like a Cabot to me. For a long time, this author had perplexed me. I was familiar with the Princess Diaries series and not overly impressed. I'd dipped in to other books of hers and they all sounded the same to me as far as tone was concerned. I like a writer who can slip into different voices the way character actors slip into different personalities for their roles. But then I read her first Allie Finkle book and I thought, yeah, kids will like this. She's good.

'Insatiable,' about a soap opera writer who hates the current vampire trend and is thrust into the world of real-life vamps, is over the top and full of references to pop-culture. (Did I see a stab at the banking industry or did I just imagine that?) It's funny. It's romantic. It takes place in NYC. It features a character who walks around Manhattan in a long leather trenchcoat armed with a sword out of a fairy tale and no one blinks an eyelid. Who doesn't love that?

Points of views are from different characters at different times, though it's always in third person. You'd think this would be jarring, but it's perfect. It's laugh-out-loud funny. And, Cabot's right when you go on her website and find the cautionary note that 'Insatiable' is meant for adult readers. It's a bit sexy, too. And swashbuckling.And it features great supporting characters (caricatures?).

As I was just into the beginning pages of the book - maybe in the 60s - I thought to myself, Why did I ever think I wouldn't like this book? And I was grateful that that momentary misjudgement didn't permanently keep me from this novel. That's how much I enjoyed it.

This seems to be a bit of a habit with me. I laughed and laughed about the 'Twillight' series until I actually read them. Hoovered them, really. I should really write about those, too and fix some bad karma.

So, I liked 'Insatiable.'

And it has a pretty cover. ; )

How I find books

When I was a little girl in grade school, my class would take one class period a week to visit the school library, a sunny big, open beautiful room run by a nun who was lovely and taught reading and who always got my name wrong. It was a great place. After all, 'that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet' so, really, I don't remember the name thing really bothering me a lot.

This lovely library was staffed by volunteers mothers who would check out books to us kids. We would file out of our homerooms, half of the class at a time, for half a class period. Then we'd peruse, we'd read, we'd mingle a bit and borrow a book. Instead of library cards, we had sheets of paper on which we wrote the name and authors of the books we read and then we'd give a rating: poor, fair, good, or excellent, if I am not mistaken.

I'd love to see one of these sheets again. Who would have thunk back then the value a grown-up me would see in these reading records.

I was so soft-hearted that I had a great aversion to the 'poor' rating. For me, 'fair' was as low as it went, unless, truly, it was a pathetic book and, really, nothing but 'poor' would do. In these cases, I was very proud of my integrity overcoming my wussiness.

I could truly be a ditzy kid. One day at the library, I was returning my reading material and I had forgotten to rate the book. The mother sitting at the library desk asked me, "And how did you find the book?" I was stunned that she would ask me a question with such an obvious answer. After all, we were in a library loaded with books. How could you miss them? I squinted my eyes. "I looked on the shelf and there it was," I replied. Keep in mind that I did not mean to be rude; this was pretty much said in complete innocence. That was the day I learned another meaning for the word 'find.' These things happen when you're a kid.

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