Friday, February 24, 2006

22. "Divided Kingdom" ~ Rupert Thomson

In the not so distant future, people are separated based on psychological testing. Divided into four groups using the formulas of old medicine - bile, phlegm, blood - and translating the humours into stereotypes - melancholic, sanguine, etc. - Thomson's Divided Kingdom is a compelling look at segregation of mind, of color, of opinion, and very timely.

Like A Handmaid's Tale, the author is taking an initial idea and taking it as far as he can go. In Atwood's case, she took the patriarchal texts of the Bible; Thomson takes Aristotle's four humours and Galen's four temperments.

With marvelous descriptions, mysterious imagery, it is a strange, dreamy read. A little too neatly wrapped up with a bow at the end, yet fantastic. I will probably use this book instead of A Handmaid's Tale in the future.

4.9 out of 5.0 Happy Os.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

I get a strange feeling when I see the name of this blog here. Most of these blogs have influenced me, either by encouraging me to write or recommending a new book. It's a hollow thump against my ribcage, a recognition of like-minded individuals. I remember feeling it during my first class as an M.F.A. student.

This is about books; mainly, my addiction to books. Plus, my preoccupation with alcoholic drinks. Occasionally, I'll mix the two and report on the results. Rarely, I'll give an update on my own writing.

I've posted my real first name. Very few who visit here don't know me. Now, you do, in that pseudo-lovefest of internet connections. Or, at least you think you do.

Will our heroine finish reading 80 books to meet her goal? Will she resort to 33 1/3? Or will she drink the cocktails found on #13, #9, and #2, then reinstate the goal of 146 books read by the end of 2006? Dun, dun, dun.

21. "A Childhood: A Biography of a Place" ~ Harry Crews

Possibly the best book on memoir writing ever created.

This is my fourth time through it. His descriptions never become stale. His storytelling never becomes predictable. If nothing else, just reading his work makes me want to be a better writer.

Now, if only James Frey had read this before publishing his "memoir"...

5.0 out of 5.0 Skip, Run, and Go Nakeds.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

20. "Arthur and George" ~ Julian Barnes

The same people who loved Banville's The Sea worshipped this novel.

I attempted to read this five times before reaching the 48th page, which is where I became slightly interested.

Barnes writes with understatement, like a police officer relating the news of a car wreck. Fine for a 200-page novella. Ridiculous for a 400+ page epic.

While the researched fictional piece is usually a favorite of mine, I skipped three hundred pages and didn't miss a thing. Was Barnes as bored writing this as I was reading it?

.5 out of 5.0 Alcomas.

19. "Memories of My Melancholy Whores" ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

If a gun is introduced in the beginning of a play, there will immistakeably be a shooting by the end of the play.

If a delightful virgin is introduced at the beginning of a novella about a 90-year-old man and his attempt to celebrate all of his past sexual rendezvous, there should be the deflowering of the virgin by the end of the novella.

I won't give away the ending. Or I just did.

The story is gusty, boastful, and overblown, but so is the character. Hitting his ninth decade, he wants to celebrate with a virginal whore, rather than repeat his lifetime of running with prostitutes.

While a fascinating idea, and written beautifully, it never reaches the rounded excellence of fulfilled dreams, or, at the least, a completed train of thought. Of course, this is the point of view of a very old man, so perhaps that's the point, yet I found it frustrating.

3.8 out of 5.0 Spanish Town Cocktails.

Monday, February 13, 2006

18. "A Certain Slant of Light" ~ Laura Whitcomb

Helen has been haunting several human "hosts" for the past 150 years. Her latest, Mr. Brown, is a high school English teacher. During class, she realizes a student can see her, and their subsequent relationship reveals a deeper meaning to love, death, truth, and desire.

Whitcomb's first novel is stunning in its prose. It's lyrical enough to believe that Helen comes from a poetic background (the title is from Emily Dickinson). As she begins to fall in love with James, a ghost inhabiting the body of an 18-year-old, the delicacy of their ancient forms of courting collide with modern desire, as well as their desperation for each other - the only ones who know what it's like to live so lonely for another.

As a young adult novel, it pushes many boundaries, which makes me give kudos to the author. There are messed up families, drugs, suicides, statuatory rape, sex, and the requisite pregnancy. Tastefully done, reminding me of Judy Blume's, Tiger Eyes.

However, the relationship between Helen and James seemed forced, that just because they were the only "ghosts" they could fall in love without much more knowledge than each other's names. The logistics of body-hopping left some avenues open; for example, the ghosts can feel if there is something evil living in someone's body, yet other than lending one scene to this description, it unravels in the plot.

Edgy and romantic, it will keep several teenaged girls awake past their parents, sneaking peeks at the pages that create tingles and dreams of first love and lust.

3.5 out of 5.0 Afterglows.

Second-guessing with a second cocktail

It's February 13. Between my own writing (which has picked up rapidly now that the research section is nearly complete) and teaching (which has picked up rapidly now that I've assigned research papers that are hardly complete), I don't think I should have changed my initial goal.

100 books. One year.

This is manageable. This will provide enjoyment. This is my escape from grading and grasping at the proverbial straw in my writing.

It's still a lofty goal, especially as I look at the one and a half inch spine of Arthur & George.

Then why do I feel a sense of letdown? Was I setting myself up for failure? The cliche of "being afraid to succeed"?

P-shaw. I didn't want to acknowledge my need to write and tried to replace it with reading. That's all.

Your check for psychological services rendered is in the mail.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

17. "The Handmaid's Tale" ~ Margaret Atwood

This is not the first reading, nor will it be the last. But The Handmaid's Tale is one of those books that ages well, like blue jeans or Mary Tyler Moore.

Offred lives in a time when procreation is left to the handmaids (handmaidens?). Commanders are given government issued women to impregnate - once per month, upon the Wife's lap. See the Biblical symbolism. Oh, but we've only scratched the surface.

Atwood has said that this book is her representation of what would happen to society when (not if) the population begins to decrease due to all of the poisons in the air, water, and earth, in addition to the strict regiment of the conservative Christian coalition.

With those ideas in mind, each time I read this novel, I uncover more or catch another symbol that I missed the first time. For example, the women who cook and clean are called the Marthas. After re-reading the Bible, I learned that Jesus spoke to Martha and Mary, but Mary just lazed around and listened to him while Martha cleaned his feet and cooked the supper. Later, Jesus gave his blessing to Mary... because she listened. Fascinating and demonstrates the intricacy of this novel.

The end always messes with my head a bit too much. I'm perfectly happy trying to unearth secrets of language and meaning, but in the end, don't we all want some concrete answers?

4.8 out of 5.0 Astorias.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

16. "Sweet Hearts" ~ Melanie Rae Thon

Flint and Cecile have inherited their ancestors' dissatisfaction, whether it is the sulkiness of their mother or the secrets of their aunt. The stories of their Native American grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, showcase the divide between the once beautiful symmetry of spirituality and what has been lost.

The explicit, extraordinary details make this a thick read, like swimming through pudding. It slows you down, but it tastes so good. The images flicker in the synapses long after the cover is shut.

4.25 out of 5.0 Apple Martinis.

15. "The Friendship Test" ~ Elizabeth Noble

I appreciate it when friends or family give me paperbacks that they've used, abused, or never opened. They know I will read them and, if it's a lucky little book, I'll give it a home on one of my shelves.

The Friendship Test will share space with greasy bacon drippings and wilted salad leaves.

Four friends vow to remain steadfast to each other through thick and thin... and the cliches just get worse from there. The writing is stilted. What's worse is the editing seems more like a hack job than anything. Perhaps because the author sipped tea with the big wigs at the publishing house they didn't feel the need to help her create sentences that make sense. I nearly took out my green grading pen to mark this up, but then it would mean that I cared.

Um, I mean, thanks for the book, Auntie Lyndy.

.10 out of 5.0 Jello Shots

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New Bookslut, etc.

1. The new issue of Bookslut is up. For you complete reading geeks (like me), you'll recognize Mary Roach as the columnist from Reader's Digest.

2. New reviews will be listed by tomorrow.

3. Please post your favorite book. Do it anonymously, do it with flair, do it sarcastically. I don't care, just do it. When my book pile is smaller than 30 copies, I get a bit nervous.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

AXED - "The Sea"

The Sea? Axed? But it won the Booker-Pulitzer-Kentucky Fried Book award. Everyone loves this book.

Except me.

I tried. I really did. But when the rumblings in my belly overshadow the imagery in my head, something is wrong with the book.

Specifically, this UK-version of writing, which frustrates me. I liked reading Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, but even it took a couple false starts before I got into it. I think these parallel storylines and furrowed brows over the past can make good reading; however, I think it has been done so much that it needs to be over the top (like Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go) before it is worth the effort.

And time. Because, by goddess, I am going to finish 146 books this year. No Sea is going to slow me down.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

14. "Saul and Patsy" ~ Charles Baxter

A Jewish high school teacher and the love of his life, Patsy, move to a quiet Michigan town to settle down. After the birth of his daughter, it seems like his marriage has "settled" as well; when a one-card-short-of-a-deck student begins stalking him, it changes Saul's belief systems and challenges his marriage.

Baxter's gift is the immaculate detail... those crystal specks among the silt. Sometimes he wrote such a wonderful description that the power of it made me put the book down momentarily. However, the first chapters' dialogue propels the reader through this tangled love between stormy, sulky Saul and his precious Patsy.

With such perfect prose, where can Baxter go? Unfortunately, the middle and end do not live up to the beginning, in both quality and believability. Too many plot lines are knotted, too many answers are left unknown. But the first few chapters may make it worthwhile.

3.45 out of 5.0 Mountain Blasts.