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

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.

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