Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Big Letdown

Currently Reading: The Big Happy

Pg 375: "You need to work with what you have if you want to get anywhere."

David is on a quest.  He is searching for what he has termed "the big happy".  How can he go about finding it?  Well long ago as a young man, David was told he was an excellent writer.  So there you go.  He needs to write an publish a book.  Of course now approaching his thirties and having written said book, he is yet to feel contentment.  This is something a lot of people can relate to, I think.  I know that I myself have been in search of happiness my entire life.  I had an idea in mind as to what I needed in order to gain this happiness, achieved it, and of course continued to be miserable.  This leads into what David eventually discovers himself and described a bit by the quote above, there is no one thing that can cause life long happiness.  Unfortunately, it is something you have to work at continuously.  Sometimes there will be sad times, but there will be good times too.  The key to happiness, as per our protagonist, is to grab hold of those good times and truly enjoy them without losing them through one's focusing on the next great thing.  I hope that I too can embrace that idea as being sad quite simply sucks.

So that was my pontificating, now my thoughts on the actual book.  For once, I am not going to say how wonderful it was.  I am tired of reading books about writers, or rather people who want to be writers.  Lately it seems like everything I read in any genre, has at least one character who is an aspiring writer be it a famous novelist or simply working for a magazine.  What's the deal?  I suppose that writers find it easier to write about something they can relate to and who better to tell the tale of an ambitious writer than one who was hoping to get published themselves?  Even with the whole magazine thing, you look in the bio at the end and low and behold, the person used to work in publishing or at a magazine or even (a stretch) in advertising as a copy writer.  It is getting old, but still, I love reading so much that I will continue to travel along on these journeys because more often than not, they lead to pondering such as the above paragraph.

The other thing that bothered me about this book is the side stories and characters.  All of them were basically cliches of the typical twenty something.  Some of them were still "finding themselves", others were secure financially and enjoyed their jobs (but as that is not interesting, it is not talked about very much) and others of course are funded by mom and dad.  I swear, the forlorn and overlooked sensitive young man is way too over done as well.  The major players of yesteryear such as Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen have claimed this theme too much and their success has ruined it for anyone else.  I guess that's what comes from going to the library, you get older books from a bygone trend.  These pining lads are not the main characters of as many of the latest books and for that I am thankful.  Still, shelling out twenty five bucks for those other tales makes me cringe and so I suppose it is back to the wait list for me ;)  The good thing is that I have a few hold available and I am looking forward to reading about some space, some Texas thrillers, and the one that excites me the most, An Uncommon Education about a young lady (who will undoubtedly be pining, but at least it is something different!!).

Oh and for those of you wanting to take a chance on following David on this journey towards the big happy, be forewarned that there is a 15 page description of some nude hula hooping, something you'd think that would have been pared down in editing, but hey, what do I know?  I'm not published.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Past Lives

Currently Reading: An Unexpected Guest

Pg 176: "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."

Pg 241: "Maybe there was no going back, but there still could be going forward."

Take a trip through the day in the life of a deputy ambassador's wife in Anne Korkeakivi's unexpectedly wonderful tale of Clare Moorhouse.  The heroine of this tale is the Irish-American wife of Britain's deputy ambassador to France.  Throughout her life she has lived in various countries and hosted countless dinners for heads of state and local Brits, but today, there is something different in the air.  First off, she finds out there will be two unexpected additions to the dinner that has been thrust upon her at a moment's notice.  Second, it appears Clare's past is catching up to her.

As a young woman, Clare had the fortune (or misfortune) to become enamored with a charismatic youth hailing from Ireland.  He woes her and slowly pulls her into his web of deception ultimately resulting in Clare's participation in a scheme for the IRA.  This deed becomes such a burden to Clare that is clouds her life for decades afterwards.  At first, it appeared that she completed her mission and then was abandoned by her lover.  Alas, all was not as it seemed.

An Expected Guest is a modern day Mrs. Dalloway in that it follows Clare on her errands, picking up flowers, consulting with her staff, and even pops in with the hairdresser prior to the important meal ahead of her.  This dinner is not so impressive in terms of who is coming, but it could lead to her husband being appointed ambassador in Dublin, a place Clare shudders when contemplating.  She lives in constant fear of being discovered as an accessory to the long ago crime and now she has two sons to consider.

Clare's sons, particularly the younger, play a large role in her life and cause her to make decisions she may not have made without their presence.  Jamie adds an interesting subplot to the story as well as giving the reader a glimpse of what his mother was like as a girl.  He too finds himself lured into a dubious position due to raw emotions.

The novel closes not only with a completed meal, but with a catharsis for Clare regarding not only her actions later in life, but those of her past as well.  It is truly an inspiring and thoughtfully tale of life, love, and choice.  Korkeakivi takes care to move the story along while interspersing the text with meaningful reflections such as the two quotes provided above.  This one is recommended with only one caveat.  It is sad and will cause you too to look back at your past and consider how it has shaped who you are today.  Still, just as Clare managed to find solace, so too can you (hopefully).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wishin' and Hopin'

Currently Reading: Gone Tomorrow

(From Sixty Days and Counting) Pg 177: "Yeah, right Dad - she uses all these fiendish tricks - like multiplication."

While I have now moved on to some fluffy detective stuff, I did finally finish rereading the Climate Trilogy from Kim Stanley Robinson (and in order this time too!).  One of the things I found most fascinating about the whole thing was how accurate it was in predicting the future.  Phil Chase, a charismatic Senator, makes his way into the White House promising ecological shifts, increased wages, tax breaks and incentives for alternative energy uses and even health care.  Hmm... sound familiar?  While Chase is still an older white male, the comparisons can be made.  Robinson just wasn't as optimistic about the race stuff at the time of writing I suppose and given the evidence, well do you blame him?  Antarctica suffers a similar fate in the book as to what has happened now, the only difference being which ice shelves have broken off causing the sea level to rise.  Ethanol use becomes one of the hot topics, with characters planning ways to convert currently driven cars and establish technologies in future cars to use this far less destructive method of converting energy in a motor engine.  One thing we have actually undertaken recently ourselves.

So yes, Robinson's saga bodes of a near future that is in and of itself, quite plausible.  Although, his future is one where a lot more risks are taken and benefits are gleamed by people throughout the world.  I almost wish more scientists out there took note of some of the suggestions and tried to think outside the box when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint as well as simply using the untapped energy sources abound.  Now I am not a scientist myself and really only undertook some brief investigations, but a lot of Robinson's techniques are relatively sound.  I guess this does prove though that even scientifically minded novels can be more unrealistic just like those sappy romances and epic hand fights so often found in chick lit and mysteries respectively.  Still, I'll take innovative uses for tree lichen over thwarted love any day.  The lichen are far more believable.

Still, one can hope that this scene will be one more commonly seen in America soon.
Courtesy of http://energyprosandcons.org/tag/renewable-energy/

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Currently Reading: Pocket Kings

Pg 84: "They were supposed to be courteous, courageous, loyal, generous, and determined.  Was it possible they  were just as unmannerly, cowardly, treacherous, venal, and irresolute as I was?"

Pg 305: "At least I know I have a problem.  That's half the game, isn't it?"

Enter the world of online poker in Ted Heller's hilariously raunchy tale of debauchery and greed.  This was one of the most fun books I have read in awhile.  Sure there was remorse and some heartache, but honestly, how can you not help but chuckle when noticing the absurd environment in which it all takes place.  Frank Dixon is a disappointed writer who finds himself drawn into the easy money and baseless entertainment of the virtual Poker Galaxy.  In between emailing publishers and harassing his agent, Dixon finds validation in the game as he works his way into higher and higher brackets.

One of the great things Frank discovers is that he is not alone.  There are hundreds no, thousands of lost souls such as himself donning new personae and literally becoming the cartoon graphics they portray on the screen.  There handles range from the kitschy Toll House Cookie, a toll booth officer, to the misleading such as History Babe (a sad lonely teacher from Colorado).  Online sex abound, Frank finds love with Artsy Painter Girl, a bored housewife with a family of her own.  Meanwhile, Frank's wife, adoringly called "Wifey" by his pals, struggles to comprehend what is happening to her once creative husband.  Frank makes friends and money all too easily and, just as easily, loses both by the end of the tale.

Addiction is the main theme of the novel.  Frank is addicted to the game, but at one point was addicted to his writing as well.  The dynamic mood changes he experiences are conveyed authentically to the reader as Ted Heller masterfully tells what, at some points, seems to be a memoir of sorts.  Frank ridicules other writers like the hated Jonathan Franzen and David Sedaris, or those who trade on their famous last names like Zoe Heller (note the similarity??).  Frank Dixon does not appreciate the fact that his name is exactly the same as another writer's, particularly when disappointed readers return Plague Boy (Frank's most successful novel) after finding out it is in fact not the latest Hardy Boy mystery.  This all makes me want to find out more of Ted Heller's background.  Is he really just a good researcher or was their some pixelated card playing in his past?  Alas, he may never tell.  Or maybe we will have to get Oprah on the case to browbeat it out of him.

So is Pocket Kings the next literary masterpiece?  Oh goodness no!  But it does make for a fun read, especially after something as daunting as The Marriage Plot ;)

Oh and FYI, it is real.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Marriage Plot

Currently Reading: The Marriage Plot

I hadn't ever really thought about it, but yes, many novels are based upon the premise of boy meets girl, boy marries girl, then they all live happily ever after.  Sure all sorts of things happen in between.  Their courtship is marred by troubles from both the lovely couple and their scheming families.  And of course war, occupation, and all that other troublesome stuff adds to the mix as well, but at the end of the novel, hooray!  They are together at last.  Now The Marriage Plot strays quite far from that plot line, but at its heart, there is that core idea of making meaningful connections.  The novel's protagonist, Madeline, is an English major who writes her thesis about the idea of the marriage plot in mainly Victorian works.  The novel starts while the main characters are all seniors in college, an age group that Jeffrey Eugenides seems to have nailed to a T.  The story, while deep and intense throughout, does not get the characters much further ahead in terms of age at least.  Madeline finds herself in a subplot of the marriage plot, that of one pining for a man while another man pines for her.  Hmmm... perhaps a topic for her graduate thesis??

The main idea of the novel is not necessarily one of marriage, but rather one of love, and not just for another person.  Love for a religion, love for a state-of-mind, love for an idea and even love for one's self.  All these relationships are considered and explored throughout the story.  A particular trait of Eugenides' writing is that he is so able to get inside the minds of these young woman and portray their wants and needs in such a genuine manner.  Sometimes you forget that Madeline was created by a man.  Perhaps he created her, but it is clear she took on a life of her own throughout the writing process.  Eugenides is also able to profoundly depict the two men who play the largest roles in Madeline's life.  Mitchell and Leonard are two very different people yet each character interprets and explains the actions in eerily similar ways.

A main source of conflict in The Marriage Plot comes from Leonard's diagnosis of manic depression.  After doing some research on the subject, I found that it was re-termed Bipolar Disorder in the eighties, exactly the decade in which this novel takes place.  The accuracies in behaviors, symptoms, and treatments indicate thoughtful and thorough research on the part of the author.  When I look back at some of Leonard's decisions and actions, they closely match those of someone with the disorder and I don't think the story would even have been possible with a character who was not diagnosed this way.  So in essence, Eugenides writes a tale not only of love, but of dejection as well.

My last little thing to note harks back to all my ranting about the intelligence found in certain books.  Each character is really an expert in his or her field.  Madeline immersed herself in the world of fiction, becoming an expect on the Victorian age.  Mitchell, a religious studies major, finds himself in India working for Mother Teresa's organization throughout his quest to find enlightenment and true understanding.  Leonard studied Biology and while working as a research assistant, spent more time studying and experimenting with his prescriptions than actually working on the project, self-diagnosing and logging changes occurring.  Yes, while there is love, there can also be intelligence.  In truth, what really matters most is what you do with each.

PS: Sorry for the stinky title.  I just couldn't think of anything that would better state the topic!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Tops of The Bottoms

Currently Reading: The Bottoms

For the record, the Goat Man is terrifying.  Like kept me up, peeking out the windows and jumping at strange noises terrifying.  I hate scary movies, horror filled video games, and also spooky tales be they books, poems, or whatever.  Now I got into this one on the recommendation of a friend and I was shocked!!  Not because it was gruesome, not because it brought nightmare like images into my head, but because I actually like it!  I finally understand why it won an Edgar Award (something that should have clued me in from the get-go).

In The Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale takes us back in time with Harry Collins as he find himself in the midst of serial killer's plot.  The story takes place in East Texas during the 1930s.  That gives you a hint as to the main source of conflict between the characters, racism.  Harry stumbles upon the body of a young black woman and, what with his father being the constable of the town, manages to get an investigation started around the person behind this horrible deed in a time and place where most citizens just brushed it off as another "colored girl" getting what she most undoubtedly deserved.  As the investigation continues, more women die.  People are wrongfully accused and one man actually hung, despite his not being a part of the murder at all.  It isn't until a prominent white woman is killed that anyone takes notice, but by then it seems too late.  Harry's younger sister Tom is eventually targeted as prey for the madman.  How will it end up for sweet little Tom?  Well you will have to read to find out.

Racism in the South being an underlying theme in so many books these days, I must admit that I was leery about this one.  Maybe it is "white guilt" talking, but often times, reading books with this theme can be uncomfortable for many.  What Lansdale manages to do in this book, is make the ridiculous nature of it real to the reader, but at the same time, not trivializing it, something that is done all too often (see The Help).  He expounds upon the idea that it is often a mindset passed down through the generations from father to son (or mother to daughter or any combination).  This is all too true.  I provided a quote speaking to this idea in a previous post.  I know that many of my own viewpoints have been affected by the beliefs of my parents, but not all of them (religion being the biggest difference) have taken root.  I think this speaks to the education I received as well.  But what can you do in the rural landscape of Lansdale's novel?  Neither Harry nor Tom attend a public school, the teacher quit and they have yet to get a new one, so the only learning they get is from their parents and grandmother.  Lucky for them, Grandma and Mom are both open minded regarding race and have raised the kids that way as well.  Harry's father grew up in a household where rants about the "colored folk" were abound and the use of the n-word wouldn't cause a blink.  He was fortunate in that he had a personal experience that opened is eyes to the ridiculousness of the idea of the black community being lesser than the white.  However, this is still something he struggles with each day.

The Bottoms provides the reader with many thoughts for pondering, thrills for seeking, and of course you never see the end coming.  I have heard mixed reviews on this from various people, but here again is a case of letting others make up your mind for you.  The story is rich, the plot intriguing, and the landscape described in such a vivid manner that I was literally tracking through the woods and muck along with Harry as he struggled to make sense of the horrors surrounding him.  Oh yes, and of course, the Goat Man was all too real.  Brrr...  he is still giving me shivers.

PS: It is not the Goat Man!!  (Sorry for the spoiler, but I can't let you leave thinking him a monster :P)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Oops, but an Enlightening Oops

Currently Reading: Forty Signs of Rain

Pg 27: "Mathematics sometimes seems like a universe of its own.  But it comes to us as part of the brain's engagement with the world, and appears to be part of the world, its structure or recipe."

I love intelligent books.  Of course my definition of an "intelligent" work may be different from others.  To me, it means having believable plots, informed characters, dealing with issues impacting us even today and, of course, demonstrating painstaking research having been done on the part of the author.  Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favorites because although he is mainly a science fiction author, his stories are always filled with provable facts and scenarios that have or could happen to the world at any time.  His Mars series revolved around a colony on Mars (duh) that actually reflects what is being planned by many scientists this very day.  He deals with issues that are not so farfetched and actually totally relevant such as climate control, resource management and government regimes.  Michael Crichton is another example.  I love it when I find an appendix or bibliography at the end!  The quote also demonstrates one of the traits I enjoy about these types of books.  They realize that math is an applicable and really quite necessary part of each and every thing we do.  Come on folks!  Even when vegging out watching TV, there is math abound.  Sure, you might not be doing it yourself, but if it weren't for someone having used it, you wouldn't be voting for your favorite idol or gasping at the scandals in New Jersey.

Now onto this actual book.  Forty Signs of Rain is the first in a trilogy revolving around climate change, global warming in particular.  See, the first sign of an intelligent novel, relevant issues.  The second bit comes from the two main characters, a husband and wife who are a political adviser and a scientist at NSF respectively.  Both demonstrate knowledge themselves in their particular fields as well as converse and interact in meaningful ways with themselves and the other characters.  The actions that commence show a lot of research having been done by Robinson as the scientific principals are correct and even the political scene is depicted accurately.  I was totally engrossed in the entire thing, particularly when a few things were described that made the two sequels come rushing back to me.

Yes, I admit, several years ago I read the other two books in the series.  This was back when I was stupidly buying books at Half Price rather than utilizing the books I help pay for as a citizen of my city.  I bought the second one accidentally and then got the third after I finished it.  I was unable to find the first one during any of my shopping trips.  Of course, in hindsight, I would have enjoyed them all the more if I had read them after this one and of course have now requested them from the library to read again what with my being more knowledgeable about the characters and all.  I am excited to revisit the action in these two books because I feel that I will now better understand what was happening as well as be more familiar with the unique backgrounds of each character.  Once the stories came back to me, I kept imagining what would happen for all the characters later on, making the ending not so suspenseful for me as the reader, but much more suspenseful for the characters themselves.  I kept thinking, "little do you know that you are going to die soon!!"  It was terrible, but also kind of enlightening.  I don't usually do things out of order and the unique experience it gave me, provided a new insight to my reading over the past few days.

So the moral of the book's story is, don't ignore those scientists because they know what they are talking about!!  Global warming is real and life will soon suck for us all should we dismiss the warnings!!  The moral of my out of order reading is, in general, read them as written, but don't freak out if you miss an installment or two because that will make the experience a different kind of enjoyment the next time around.