Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Picnic at Hanging Rock

This week my teaser lines come from Joan Lindsay's 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock. I'm reading it for the Aussie Authors Reading Challenge and just got it from the library today, so I haven't gotten very far. The book tells the story of the mysterious disappearance of three schoolgirls and their teacher during a picnic in Australia in 1900. This snippet comes from the end of the third chapter, where the mystery is just beginning:
The awful silence closed in and Edith began, quite loudly now, to scream. If her terrified cries had been heard by anyone but a wallaby squatting in a clump of bracken a few feet away, the picnic at Hanging Rock might yet have been just another picnic on a summer's day. Nobody did hear them.... (p.34)
This is a short book and I have a feeling I'll be putting aside all my other reads until I finish this one.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I actually managed to finish a book last week and do a report on it right away! I'm hoping this means I'm finally completely done with the dreaded reading slump I fell into for a few weeks there. Don't know about you, but when I'm not getting any reading done, I feel like the whole of creation is slightly askew. But now that I'm back among my books, all's right with the world! So, here's the lineup:
  • Read and reviewed last week:

    A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan.

  • Reading this week:

    Tassy Morgan's Bluff, by Jim Stinson (This is an Early Reviewer book from Library Thing and it's taking me much too long to get it read. Must do better.)

    Mr. Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt (Ditto. Another Early Reviewer book, but this one arrived many months late -- so I don't feel so bad about not having finished it yet.)

  • Next up:

    Iron House, by John Hart and Prophecy, by S.J. Parris. ARCs -- again, books that should have been read and reviewed by now (Parris' book came out in March). But I also want to read something for one of the many reading challenges I'm involved in this year. And since I haven't read anything for the Aussie Authors Challenge yet, I'm thinking I might try Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock if I can find a copy. Loved the movie, and I've always wanted to see how faithful it was to the book.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reading Report: A Visit from the Goon Squad

Written by Jennifer Egan
Alfred A. Knopf, 2010; 274 pages

Description from the publisher:
Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.... A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates.

I don't know about you, but I'm already bored to blazes with books written all or even partially in teen slang, text-speak, gamer jargon, or e-mail correspondence. It seemed new and cute back in the 90s, but now it just feels very stale -- which, I think, is the opposite of the effect the authors are trying to achieve.

But I digress. Already!

The problem is, Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of those books. Each "interlocking" chapter in the book (some very short, some longer) is written in a different style, from a different point of view, with a different focus and tone. Which, in itself, is not a bad idea for a novel. But somehow in Goon Squad, the result is just a little too self-consciously clever: a sort of "And now look at this!" effect.

It could just be that I'm the wrong generation for this novel. I'm obviously missing a lot because so many other readers have loved it. Maybe if I had been a punk rocker, or if I knew (or cared) anything about the music business, my reaction would be different. But a lot of the book just really made very little sense to me. I couldn't even really tell if parts of it were supposed to be about some sort of alternate reality that I just hadn't picked up on.

And that power point presentation chapter just felt like cheating.

More than most, this book's success probably depends on how you react to its main characters. If they don't hold your interest, you're left with simply a sort of sampler of literary styles and techniques. Unfortunately, there really weren't any characters I could identify or sympathize with. Yes, I understand that we all have our flaws, and in the real world no one's perfect. But here I felt it was almost as if Egan made a special effort to people the book with unappealing personalities. Even the children are off-putting.

I do think some of the writing is lovely, though -- Egan is a very gifted writer, and I plan to read more of her work in the future. And parts of the book were actually pretty enjoyable: I especially liked Chapter 6 ("X's and O's") and the story of Scotty and his fish (you'll just have to read the book to find out more). The idea of constructing a novel from a series of linked stories is an interesting one, but not easy to pull off. And in this case, although some of the stories are intriguing, I just don't think it works.

Note: My copy of this book came from the public library. They let me read it for free!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday's List: Nine Questions

I've stolen this list from the Shelf Awareness newsletter. It's from their "Book Brahmins" interview they do with authors, once or twice every week. Looked like fun, so I decided to borrow it for a little self-interview.
  1. On your nightstand now:
    An ARC of Tassy Morgan's Bluff by Jim Stinson, Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt, and Faithful Place by Tana French.

  2. Favorite book when you were a child:
    Lewis Carroll's Alice books, The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis, and a big storybook by Nan Gilbert called 365 Bedtime Stories.

  3. Your top five authors:
    Barbara Pym, Anthony Powell, Muriel Spark, P.D. James. Those are the top four. That fifth place is a problem -- today I'd probably say Mark Twain or Edgar Allan Poe. Ask me tomorrow, and you might get a different answer.

  4. Book you've faked reading:
    Pride and Prejudice, when I was in high school. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but the goings-on of Lizzie and Darcy and their ilk bored the pants off me when I was seventeen. I read the first chapter and the last and faked my way through. Read the entire book years later and loved it.

  5. Book you're an evangelist for:
    Another changeable area. But over time, I guess Wuthering Heights is the one book I've urged the most people to read. One of the greatest novels of all time. I'm always surprised to learn how many people haven't read it.

  6. Book you've bought for the cover:
    Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand. A mistake. Loved the cover -- wasn't able to stick with the book beyond the first few pages.

  7. Book that changed your life:
    Be Here Now by Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert). All I can say is it was the right book at the right time.

  8. Favorite line from a book:
    "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversation?" (-Alice in Wonderland)

    I also like "Reader, I married him" from Jane Eyre, but always feel like that's cheating a bit because I've never actually read Jane Eyre.

  9. Book you most want to read again for the first time:
    Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, or Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Rut (You Should Excuse the Expression)

This week, BTT asks: "Do you ever feel like you’re in a reading rut? That you don’t read enough variety? That you need to branch out, spread your literary wings and explore other genres, flavors, styles?"

Well, maybe and maybe not. When I was younger I was always eager to explore new genres and subjects -- felt I owed it to myself to be always testing, always learning, always searching for fresh fields. And that was good. Over the years, though, I've tended to narrow my scope quite a lot. Today, I'm not as likely to experiment in my reading; I'm much more sure of what I like and I generally stay within that "zone." There are some sorts of books that I just don't have any interest in, so I don't bother with them. Since I read almost entirely for pleasure now, I can read what I like -- and I do.

But I don't really consider that being in a "rut."

Would I benefit from branching out a little more? Probably. But I don't really intend to. At my age, the phrase "so many books, so little time" has a much deeper resonance than it did when I was younger. I might be in a reading "rut," but it's a comfy rut and I intend to stay right in it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: A Visit from the Goon Squad

This week my teaser lines come from Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. I've read almost a hundred pages in this one and still haven't really made up my mind about it -- some parts are wonderful, some parts bore the hell out of me. But so far, it all balances out, so I've been able to stick with it. Here's the snippet:
I checked the directory, saw that Sow's Ear Records was on forty-five, took the elevator up there, and breezed through a pair of beige glass doors into a waiting room, which was very swank....I slapped my fish on the marble reception desk. It made a good hard wet thwack.... (p.72)
Nice way to announce oneself. But I imagine they could smell him coming.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week was a strange week around here. Lots going on, but I was a little out of commission most of the time -- still taking pain meds after my recent dental adventures. So I did get some reading done, but not as much as I would have liked.
  • Currently Reading:

    Tassy Morgan's Bluff, by Jim Stinson. Started this last week. Need to finish it up and get it reviewed for Library Thing as quickly as possible. Which shouldn't be difficult if I can just stay awake -- I'm definitely enjoying it so far.

    A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. I was on a waiting list for this at our local public library, and my number came up this weekend. I only have it for two weeks (very popular book, as you can imagine), so I went ahead and moved it up to the top of the TBR stack. I'm liking it more than I expected to and fortunately it's a short read (a large chunk of the text consists of a power point presentation).

  • Next Up:

    I'm not making any plans at the moment, since I really want to get those two read and reviewed. But while I was at the library I also picked up Tana French's Faithful Place just because it looked so tempting. I haven't read any of her earlier "Dublin murder squad" books, but I might give this one a try anyway. So that's a definite possibility for "next up."

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday's List: You Don't Wanta Go There

Flavorwire.com has posted a list of Ten Novels That Will Disturb Even the Coldest of Hearts. The post by Kathleen Massara features "books that expose the darker side of humanity — a roundup of the most disturbing novels and short stories through time, if you will." For a look at the covers and a little description of each book, drop by the website here.

And the titles are:
  1. A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O'Connor
  2. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  3. Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee
  4. Blindness, by Jose Saramago
  5. American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis
  6. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
  7. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
  8. The 120 Days of Sodom, by Marquis de Sade
  9. Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
  10. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
I'm sort of happy to say, I've only read two of the books -- The Handmaid's Tale and Invisible Man -- and both of those were, indeed, pretty disturbing.

And I'm a little surprised that George Orwell's 1984 didn't make the list. Maybe the fact that we're so accustomed to living in the world of constant warfare and Big Brother, we don't find that one quite as disturbing as we once did.

If I had to suggest a book for the list, I think it would be The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist. Not as well-known as the books on Flavorwire's list, but it's a portrait of a society that's certainly one of the most chilling I've ever encountered (see why in my review here). I'm sure I could come up with other possibilities if I thought about it a while, but in general I try to stay away from books that expose me to the darker side of humanity. If I want that kind of exposure, I just watch TV.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Age-Inappropriate

This week, BTT asks: "What do you think of censoring books BECAUSE of their intended age? Say, books too “old” for your kids to read?"

Guess I should have seen this one coming, after last week's topic. And it's a good (and thorny) question.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, I suppose), I don't have to worry about the problem, since I don't have children. I really don't believe in banning reading of any kind for any age group, but that's a theoretical opinion that I've never had to test in a real-world sort of situation.

I do think parents and teachers need to monitor the books young children read, just as they should screen movie and TV-viewing choices, internet browsing, computer and video games, etc. But for older kids -- say middle school age and beyond -- I'm not sure censoring does much good. You can recommend and caution, but ultimately if a kid wants to read something (what a thought!), he/she will most likely go right ahead and read it, with or without parental approval. And I suspect that if a book is too advanced for them, they'll probably get bored with it before it does them any damage.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: A Shilling for Candles

This week my teaser lines come from the vintage mystery novel A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey. First published in 1936, the book is the second entry in Tey's series featuring Scotland Yard's Inspector Alan Grant. In this snippet, Inspector Grant is questioning one of his suspects, and finds himself becoming a little too charmed by the young man's likable manner.
Charm. The most insidious weapon in all the human armory. And here it was, being exploited under his nose. He considered the good-natured feckless face dispassionately. He had known at least one murderer who had had that type of good looks; blue-eyed, amiable, harmless; and he had buried his dismembered fiancee in an ash-pit. (p.37)
I know it's a little long. Sorry -- just couldn't decide what to leave out.

(The cover of the Pocket Books edition from 1980.)

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or take part yourself, just head on over to her blog.

And please feel free to leave me a link to your Teaser Tuesday post in your comment here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, this is my first post since the Great Blogger Meltdown last Thursday, but so far everything seems to be working fine -- so I guess we're back in business. I wasn't really too upset about the down time since it spurred me into finishing a couple of books last week. Here's my list:
  • Finished last week:

    A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey

    Art and Madness by Anne Roiphe

  • Reading this week:

    Tassy Morgan's Bluff by Jim Stinson, and Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt. These are both Early Reviewer books from Library Thing (one was delivered several months late), so I'm anxious to get them read and reviewed as quickly as possible.

  • Next up:

    I've managed to amass a whole pile of ARCs that need attending to, and I might start with John Hart's new thriller Iron House (due to be released in July). Also, I want to read another book for the Once Upon a Time Challenge -- probably another one of Edward Eager's wonderful vintage fantasies for young readers. And I've got another pile of books I've read in the last couple of months but haven't reviewed yet -- will try to get to that task this week too, if Blogger doesn't throw me any curves!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Age-Appropriate

This week BTT asks about the age-level of the books we read:
Do you read books “meant” for other age groups? Adult books when you were a child; Young-Adult books now that you’re grown; Picture books just for kicks … You know … books not “meant” for you. Or do you pretty much stick to what’s written for people your age?
Good question, and I'll be interested in seeing what others answer. As for me, I'll just say that I read all sorts of stuff - if it sounds intriguing, I'll read it no matter who or what age group it's aimed at. And I think I've always had that habit; as a child I read "adult" books if I thought they sounded interesting...and if I could get away with it!

Last year, I didn't read much kiddie lit, but since the beginning of this year, I believe I've read more books aimed at young readers than those written for adults. So I guess I must go through phases. Or maybe I'm just regressing - at my advanced age, that's also a definite possibility.

Monday, May 09, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Well, I think I've finally clawed my way out of the reading slump I was in for several weeks there. For a while I just couldn't settle down to any one book long enough to finish it, but I'm doing a little better now and hope to get a few reviews posted this week. Here's how things stand at the moment:
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. If you want to let the world know what books you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday's List

According to today's Shelf Awareness newsletter, AbeBooks.com, the online booksellers' marketplace, lists these books as their top sellers for the month of April:
  1. How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
  2. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
  3. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  4. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  5. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
  6. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. The Anatomy of Persuasion by Norbert Auberchon
  9. The Seasons Sewn by Ann Whitford Paul
  10. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Kind of a strange list, don't you think? The only one of those I've read is The Great Gatsby, although I do remember skimming Dale Carnegie's book back when I was a teenager. Have to admit, I'm a little surprised it's still being read these days.

AbeBooks also lists their best-selling signed books for April, and right at the top is The Good Book: A Secular Bible by A.C. Grayling - a book I knew nothing about until a few days ago, but now I'm seeing mentioned everywhere.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Booking Through Thursday: Not in Theaters

Well, I missed last week's BTT question (some very nasty dental problems that I'm still recovering from). But I find that this week's question is the reverse of that last topic. We're asked to "Name one book that you hope never, ever, ever gets made into a movie (no matter how good that movie might be)."

And my answer:

Big Girls Use the Potty! (by Andrea Pinnington).

Or anything by Al Gore.

(Sorry, Al and Al fans. It's probably just the Vicodin fogging my brain.)