Sunday, November 22, 2009

"The water is your friend. You don't have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move. "

Our big old house is most decidedly not haunted. BUT: when we first moved in and I would wander about at night after the boys were asleep, I often felt a warm, benevolent presence. I assumed it was 1) my overactive imagination, or 2) the previous owner who had died a very modern and apparently pain-free death from old age at a local hospital and not in our master bedroom. Either way, it was, as I said, benevolent, and eventually, once it became clear that we were staying and taking good care of the house (far better care than he had been able to, for that matter) and seemed intent upon populating it with lots of raucous and messy little boys, the benevolent, warm presence dissipated. After all, with all the mess and chaos around here, who has time anymore to wander round the halls wallowing in a ghostly presence? Not I. I need my sleep. And apparently, so did Henry (the previous owner).

I FINALLY finished The Little Stranger after I resorted to carrying it with me all day and reading it in completely non-creepy places like my pediatrician’s waiting room and the lobby at the gym. Because I found if I read it at home, especially last week when H was out 4 of 5 nights, I kept hearing all sorts of noises – noises I couldn’t seem to just blame on the cats, and the boys were all asleep. I would hear footsteps and rattles and snorts and all sorts of deliciously, horrifyingly creepy odd noises. So I was forced to stop reading it by myself, in my old, drafty, shadowy house. Especially since Henry no longer was around to watch out for me.

So to banish the thought of wet gurgling voices from the laundry chute and wafting cold drafts, I dove quickly into some not so creepy reading.

I picked up Robertson Davies’ The Cunning Man one night last week, because it was handy in a stack by my bed. And the thing about Robertson Davies’ books are that they are so convoluted and dense with details and tangents that often by the time you’ve reached the end, you’ve forgotten all of the beginning and lots of the middle, so he’s perfect for rereading. I am currently three-quarters of the way through and enjoying it just as much as I did the first 2 times I read it.

I also am rereading (albeit unintentionally since I didn’t remember I’d already read it till about halfway though) Mary Kay Andrews’ Hissy Fit. Good, fluffy fun, often with a mild little mystery thrown in. Andrews’ characters are more often than not antique dealers, or at the very least, interior designers or other people who have good reason to frequent antique auctions and estate sales, and considering that the only new pieces of furniture in my entire house are the TV and the dining room table, I find myself sympathizing greatly with them and often wishing I could tag along to the garage sales and junk shops…

Speaking of, I picked up a bunch of books at the local thrift shop last Thursday and immediately immersed myself in Julian Fellowes’ Snobs, which is sort of funny in an abstracted, Thatcher-era England kind of way.

I bought a bunch of books for the boys, including Dave Pilkey’s first six Ricky Ricotta graphic novels, and a pile of Children’s Illustrated Classics.

And also, for me, a weirdly delightful illustrated picture book of the saints, with strange little crayon-y drawings of each saint and a cheerfully obtuse blurb about his or her life (and bloody, painful death, where applicable).
E.g., this lovely little story re: Saint Agnes: "When the emperor saw she was not afraid of pain, he had her clothes stripped off and she had to stand in the street before a pagan crowd."
Or this gem about St Cecilia:
"The judge condemned her to be smothered by steam. But God protected Cecilia. Then the judge ordered a soldier to kill her with a sword. He struck her three times but did not cut off her head. She fell down, badly wounded, and for three days she remained alive." (Does anyone else hear the voice from Austin Powers: "I'm badly wounded..." or is that just me?)
Peaceful little bedtime stories, no? (Of course, when I was a pre-teen, I was oddly obsessed with Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which was available in our church's library for all to read. But this was the same church that loved to detail the torments of hell to grade-schoolers, so take that for what it's worth...)
All in all, well worth the buck-fifty it cost me...

In other news, the dread Christmas shopping is upon us.
But first, Primo’s birthday.
A friend very kindly gave him a Game Boy this summer, but I am discovering that Game Boy games are obsolete and practically impossible to find. All the games Primo really wants are Gameboy Advance games. So I am currently torn between (among?) 1) buying a used Game Boy Advance and the attendant games, 2) buying a Nintendo DS with which all Game Boy Advance games are compatible as well as, obviously, all the DS games, and 3) refusing to buy any game or gaming consoles at all and hopelessly abandoning my children to the outdated 20th century.

* ~Aleksandr Popov

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"...the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night..."*

Something Missing, by Matthew Dicks, is a strange and compelling little book - much like its main character. Martin Railback is a thief: he supports himself by stealthily entering the homes of his carefully vetted "clients" and stealing whatever he needs: a half-bottle of laundry detergent here, a box of cereal there, a roll or two of toilet paper, a book of stamps. Things most people would never notice missing. His thoroughness and his obsessive-compulsive tendencies lend themselves to the success of his chosen "career." But after he is almost caught one day, he throws caution to the winds (well, for him), and begins to interfere in the lives of his clients, people whom, after all, he considers practically family. Martin reasons, If he can make people's lives better, why shouldn't he? For a common house thief, Martin is a remarkably likeable and engaging guy, and I was surprised how thoroughly drawn into his story I became.

And now for something completely different:

*I Thessalonians 5:4

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"We're never getting off this island, Richard."

Sophie and Kristin asked the most frequently asked question: how do you choose what to read?

I read a bunch of blogs (a quick smattering: Pickle Me This, RubyRed Books, Make a Note). I get reccs from friends whose reading tastes I know and trust (often from their blogs – Jess, Suse, Katya) but also friends from the coffee shop or fellow librarians. Sometimes I just wander the library (usually the library) and pick up whatever looks good – I do this at the bookstore but usually with a pen and paper so I don’t have to BUY everything. Every couple months I run the names of my favorite authors thru Amazon to see if they have anything new coming out. And when I worked in an actual library, it was even easier. Every book that crosses my radar that might interest me gets entered into an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop. But I also have a little notebook I carry in my purse. I have even been known to text myself with book titles.
It’s an organized sickness.

I also find that I must be in the proper mood to appreciate the right book. Which is why I didn’t dive right into the newest Audrey Niffenegger, for example. My brain wanted fast and furious action, and so it was thrilled with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But after that maelstrom of emotion, I was ready for something calmer (albeit just as disturbing). This is why I have dozens of books on my TBR shelves, because you never know what mood may strike at 3am. And sometimes if I am in a slump, I reread an old favorite (Rosamunde Pilcher’s “big books" and Raffaella Barker’s Hens Dancing and Summertime are prime for this).

“…and then of course, there are the problems with follow-through if I actually get something home...”
Don’t let me fool you. For all the reading I do, there are dozens of books sitting on my bookshelves/floor/nightstand, etc. awaiting my attention. More often than not to be ignored for some fly-by-night newcomer…

Paula asked, Have you read The Lace Reader? Did you like it?
I have, and I did enjoy it. I followed it up with The Birth House though and for some reason constantly confuse the two.

sueeeus said...
Have you read Shantaram, and did you like it? (Long, but I liked it for the most part.)
Haven’t read it, and in fact had to go look it up on Amazon, but it looks good. So I will put it on my list.

Have you read Fraction of a Whole, and did you like it? (Tedious, but I eventually finished it. Parts made me laugh, but the tedium outweighed the rest.)
I haven’t read it, but and also had to look it up on Amazon. It doesn’t strike me as the type of book I enjoy.

What about The Housekeeper and the Professor? (Loved it.)
This looks fascinating. I think I will get this to read. The premise sort of reminds me of Nicole Krauss’s Man Walks into a Room.

And Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime? (Loved it.)
Really liked this. Read it in the “trilogy” of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark, as suggested by Badger. Who was right, as always.

(I can read 4 books to your 47,212. How on earth can you read so much??!!!!)
I breathe, I eat, I read. Oh, and I neglect my children.

And now for something completely different, but also from Sueeus:
Are you a bar soap or body wash person?
I like body wash. I will be eternally bitter that SoftSoap stopped making their Milk & Honey bodywash. Bastards.

What's your favorite 70s music?
You're not serious? I don’t know. I listen to a lot of hip-hop crap from my zumba classes (Pitbull, Lady Gaga, etc.), and a lot of stuff like Coldplay and Radiohead because my husband digs them too. I don’t actually like music usually. I have noise issues…

I'm not a follower, but I read all your posts...and here in Australia we got AS Byatt's Children's Book months ago. I still have it sitting in my to-read pile, and felt guilty everytime you mentioned not being able to get it!
Feel guilty no longer – I have my very own copy sitting on my nightstand not being read right now too.

mouselegs [I LOVE that name, btw]:
I'm sure I have questions but can't concentrate with all the shouting (school holidays here). Maybe next week, when there is only one shouting, I will be able to think again.
I anticipate not being able to form a coherent thought until mine are out of the house permanently. In like, 20 years.

I'm sure you've mentioned this before, but favorite pie and recipe? And is there a story behind having a basement oven?
Coconut custard pie. Yum. Recipe here.
And the story is that when we moved into our house 6 years ago, the upstairs oven had one setting: Broil the Shit Out of Something. Have you ever tried to broil chocolate chip cookies? No? Well, I recommend you don’t. We had brought out old range with us, and we hooked it up downstairs next to the functioning gasline, as an interim measure. Well, the interim lasted till last spring, when I finally got my upstairs oven fixed. I would never try to bake anything tricky like a soufflĂ© in there, but for cookies, roast chicken, etc., it’s fine, and it makes scones remarkably well since they requite such high heat. And that is...the rest of the story. (Did anyone else read those Paul Harvey book when they were young? I loved those…)

Eleanor told me how wonderful my blog is (she’s so sweet, if delusional) and adds: Now that I've taken care of that... a question...If I tell you that I've tried to read the 1st 30 pages of "The Children's Book" 3 times already but kept falling asleep would you still love me?
Darling Eleanor, I would love you even if you told me your favorite book was Lace, followed by Lace II, followed by Flowers in the Attic.

1. Where do you store all your books?
Do you keep them all, hand them off to friends, donate, hoard?

I used to be manic about keeping every last one, but in the past few years, I have come to just want the ones I really love or use around me. My very favorites for the most part are in lovely custom-made look-built-in shelves in my bedroom, which were a Christmas gift from H. I have two filled cases in the living room for both my and H’s books. Most of my cookbooks live in a case in the hallway just outside the kitchen. I have a wall lined with shelves on the landing up to the third floor, for all the cheesy paperbacks and travel guides and things that I don’t want to get rid of but also don’t need to display. I have more cases in the third floor office for our computer books and H’s linguistics books and things like that. All my knitting and crafty books are in a smallish bookshelf in my sewing room. The boys each have big bookcases in their rooms for their books, and there’s a bookcase in the third floor playroom for my childhood books that I think they’d like to read someday. In other words, the books are everywhere.
I like to be able to lend out books, and I often buy duplicates intentionally if I run across favorites priced cheaply, so I can give them away. But if I have a book near and dear to me, I usually won’t lend it out, except to Gina.
I usually donate a few bags of paperbacks to our church’s annual book sale, and I sell some at Half Price Books (for example, I just sold all my pregnancy and baby books. And then bought more books with the proceeds.)
Clearly I am a sick woman.

2. Have you thought of writing one?
I have two “novels” sitting in my bedroom right now. One is an outline, a lot of research, and some random chapters. The other is just writing, but it fills about half a notebook. More likely than not, neither one is ever going to see the light of day.

3. How is Flat Edward holding up? Is he going to be replaced by Bill or Eric?
Flat Edward is hanging out in my sewing room. He can never be replaced by any other vampire. However Eric grows close to my heart the further into Charlaine Harris’s novels I get.

4. Did you ever get into the Outlander series?
I read the first one and really liked it (although I admit to some appallment (is that a word?) over the wife-beating scene, and how cheerful Gabaldon was about it.)
But I never read any more. I guess I didn’t see how much more she could possibly have to say, since the first one was like a thousand pages long.

5. My word verification: morusle.
What's the first thing that comes to mind?
Perusal, a small moral or morsel? Am I the only one who plays these silly word games?

I for some reason went to mollusk. So no, you are not the only one. Not by a long shot.

Stomper Girl: Not sure if you read crime fiction (as opposed to True Crime Fiction) but if you do do you have some favourites?
I love Josephine Tey and Elizabeth George, and I like Minette Walters’s earlier stuff. Am enjoying discovering Val McDermid, although she’s very gory. I also have recently discovered Ruth Rendell, who writes psychologically tense novels which just happen to have a perfectly plausible and exciting mystery embedded in them. I am quickly reaching the conclusion that the woman is a genius.

Julia wants to know:
…do you have a favorite A.S. Byatt book, and if yes, which one is it and why?
My favorite AS Byatt book is The Virgin in the Garden. The characters of Alexander and Frederica develop and mature throughout the quartet, but in the first novel, they are so young and vulnerable, and I love learning something else about them every time I reread. The twining of present day (in the book, 1950s) with historical events, and the way in which Byatt draws parallels, intrigues me no end.

Also, do you like Margaret Drabble as well?
I have read one Drabble (The Witch of Exmoor, about which I remember exactly nothing. I know I should read more, as she is Byatt’s sister and it’d be nice to discover another such brilliant author.

And finally, very interested to hear what you think of The Children's Book. I read it last month and am still cogitating over my reactions.
I haven’t started Children’s Book yet. Trying to read Byatt with 4 children around is like, I don’t know, trying to perform brain surgery in the center ring at a circus. My time will come. For now, owning it is enough.

Beth said...
Have you ever finished a book and then hugged it, or am I the only one who does that?
No, you are not alone. I have been known to sleep with said book under my pillow (Hens Dancing); alternately, I have gotten up out of bed and put said book outside my house or in my car because it could not stay in my house One. Minute. Longer (Salem’s Lot).

Penni said...
Okay, if someone were to hand you a girl baby and a boy baby, what would you name them? (I am name obsessed). Would you keep the babies?
(I am very curious where Penni intends to find these babies...Hmmm.) I am name obsessed too. I own way more baby names books than any one person probably should. I also am fascinated by the psychology of names.
If it were a boy – oof, this is tough. I think I used up all the boy names I liked.
If, God forbid, I were to have another boy baby, I would – all other things being equal and with my husband’s opinion mattering not one whit – name him either Eamon or Mark.
If it were a girl – well, if I’d ever had a girl baby, she would have been Eleanor. So I will stick with that. It was my mother’s middle name, and I think it’s lovely and elegant. (She threatened to come back and haunt me if I ever used her first name, which she despised (it was Elsie, which I think is actually sort of cute…))
And yes, I would keep the babies. I mean, why not? I already have the world’s most chaotic household, what’s two more babies? But someone else would have to sleep train them.

If you had to write under a pseudonym what would it be?
Kate something...something hyphenated. Kate Parker – something.
There. Clear as mud. Look for me: Kate Parker-Something.

What is your favourite thing about blogging?
All the cool people I have gotten to “meet,” some in real life.
And all the cool people whom I “meet” and then get to read THEIR books and talk about them on the blog (ahem). There’s something recursively exciting about that process!

Do you like Margaret Atwood? If so, have you read Oryx and Crake? Did you like it? I keep hearing it's awful but feel like I have to read it because I want to read The Year of the Flood which sounds kind of sequel-y.
I usually enjoy Atwood immensely (Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, I even liked The Blind Assassin and most Atwood fans panned it). Her scope and range are mind-boggling. However, I did not especially like Oryx and Crake. I am dreading picking up Year of the Flood, which I fear I must, since I own and have read everything else she has written, because I think I am going to have to reread O&C and I most emphatically do not want to.

I think this might have been asked, but what book have you hated the most? For me it was Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City.
Hands down Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full. I threw it away in an airport garbage can, I hated it so much. I didn’t even want to leave it on the airplane because I couldn’t inflict it on someone else.

ssheers asks the hardest question of all:
What are your five favorite books?
And then she followed with:
Above, I asked you "What are your five favorite books?" Feel free to modify the question any way you want: go ahead and give us your six or ten or 100 favorite books or change "favorite" to "desert island-worthy" or just tell us the five (or six or ten) books that you've read recently that you enjoyed.

I am such a glutton for books, I will answer ALL of these.

First, the easy question, books I have read recently that I enjoyed. This is marginally more difficult than usual because I stopped keeping a list of what I’d read. I find it freeing to not keep track. I was tired of being stressed about something that is the primary love of my life.
So, off the top of my head:
Friday’s Child - Georgette Heyer. Think fluffy Jane Austen.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Steig Larson. Riveting, once I got past the first 30 pages of boring financial crap. Lisbeth Salander made it all worth it.
The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club - Gil McNeil. Add to my list of comfort reading. Sequel comes out in May.
Aunt Dimity’s Death - Nancy Atherton. More comfort reading. Sweet and quiet.
Abide With Me - Elizabeth Strout. One of the most under-recognized authors of the day, if you ask me. (Although she did win the Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge.)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate - Jacqueline Kelly. Think Caddie Woodlawn tackles the scientific world.
Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakuaer. Fascinating stuff. What I plan to have in my hand the next time those nice young boys in black pants and white shirts ring my doorbell. I have some questions…

Also, I am really, really enjoying Audrey Niffenegger’s newest, Her Fearful Symmetry. Like, look forward to curling up in bed and stay up way too late reading it enjoying.

My five, no, six, no TEN favorite books (sort of…I played fast and loose with the “book” concept) (also, please note: I could revise and switch and add and subtract books to this all day long, no joke, AND it is not necessarily in order):
1. Possession/The Virgin in the Garden
2. Satanic Verses
3. Stones from the River
4. Roller Skates
5. The Sparrow
6. Emma & Pride and Prejudice
7. The Sandman
graphic novels (Volume 7, “Brief Lives,” is my favorite in the series.)
8. Hens Dancing/Summertime
9. Miss Buncle’s Book/Miss Buncle Married
10. The Cunning Man

My ten desert-island books (see note above):
1. My Riverside Shakespeare
2. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
3. The Bible
4. Complete works of John Donne
5. Possession
6. Satanic Verses
7. The Divine Comedy
8. The Sandman graphic novels
9. War and Peace
10. The Michelin Green Guide to Florence

Desert island books differ from favorites because one never knows how long it will take to get rescued – you’d hate to run out of reading material.

I know I missed some questions; I swear it won't take me another week to get to them.