Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

It's time for trick-or-treating and masquerade parties again. Got any plans? And what are you "going as" this year?

If I were going to be dressing up (and I'm not, darn it!), I think I'd like the costume this lady is wearing. Love the fan and the hat.

But I don't think I'd ever get the hubby in a suit like this. Especially those shoes!

Have a happy, safe Halloween, everyone.

The November Novella Challenge

This one is just too good to pass up. The November Novella Challenge, hosted by Bibliofreak, runs (oddly enough) just through the month of November, and sounds very do-able. There are four levels of participation, so you can read just one novella or as many as you can squeeze in. And there really aren't any other rules – I love challenges like that! But you can read all about the challenge and its non-rules over at the challenge announcement page.

I've already got a "bucket list" of novellas and short fiction that I'd like to read before I shuffle off this mortal coil (ah, the famous someday), so it should be easy to find likely titles. Right now, I'm just going to commit to one novella – but I'm hoping to do a little better than that. So I'm considering a few of these possibilities:

A Simple Heart, by Gustave Flaubert
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Black Water, by Joyce Carol Oates
Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, by H.P. Lovecraft
The Kreutzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy
The Ladies from St. Petersburg, by Nina Berbova
The Lesson of the Master, by Henry James
The Lifted Veil, by George Eliot
The Lover, by Marguerite Duras
The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett
Van Gogh's Room at Arles: Three Novellas, by Stanley Elkin

Hard to believe I've managed to avoid reading Animal Farm all these years, so I probably should start with that one. But I'm thinking of taking on the Henry James title first – I'm pretty sure I've already got a copy of that one. So now I guess I just need to get back to my reading – believe it or not, November's almost here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Blurbs

This week, BTT asks a couple of questions about blurbs: "What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?"

I've always found blurbs interesting. Back in my younger, more enthusiastic days, I used to collect blurbs. Always thought it would be fun to write a little article about them. But after many years of reading books and reading about books, these days I try to ignore most blurbs.

Of course, there's a difference between a blurb and brief synopsis or description of a book. We're talking about those short little snippets of promotional hyperbole you find on the backs of dust jackets or in ads in places like the New York Times Book Review? Yeah, I try not to pay too much attention to those. They all seem to say pretty much the same thing and don't really tell us anything at all about the work itself. All-purpose and interchangeable, they usually go something like this:
"A riveting and passionate account!"
"A detailed and nuanced presentation!" (Nuanced is the newest buzz word in blurbs. It took over from bold.)
"A novel of uncommon perception!"
"Harrowing, affecting, ambitious and powerful!"
"A stirring and inspirational book for a troubled era!"
(And what era doesn't think of itself as troubled?)
"---- has hit one out of the ballpark this time!"
But while they're not very likely to make me want to read a book, I think blurbs are definitely handy in helping me find books to avoid. If a blurb screams "hard-edged, uncompromising, visceral and gritty," or anything remotely similar – then I know that book's not for me.

And now here's something blatantly off-topic (sounds a little like a blurb itself, doesn't it?).

I just have to point out that this is my 500th post on Joy's Blog! I had intended to have a little giveaway or something to mark the occasion, but real life has sort of intervened and kept me busy and away from doing a lot of blogging lately. So maybe I'll save that for number 550 or something. It's taken me over three years to get here. Back in January 2006 when I started this blog, I had absolutely no idea what I'd do with it. I never would have predicted it would still be alive three years later. Or that I would have had so much fun playing with it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: They Do It With Mirrors

This week, I've just started reading Joseph Kanon's Stardust. And I really mean "just started" – this morning was the first time I'd opened it since I brought it home from the library a couple of weeks ago. It's a mystery novel by the author of The Good German, and it has a very noir-ish 1945 Hollywood setting. This taste is from page 89:
The mirror, some optical trick, reflected the mirror on the partly opened bathroom door. A leg, resting on the rim of the tub, just one, her hands moving up it slowly, as if she were putting on nylons, moving together toward her thigh, then out of the mirror. The hands again, the same smooth drawing up, rubbing. Not nylons, some kind of cream, maybe suntan oil. He stood there, unable to move, his eyes fixed on the mirror. A perfect leg, arched. He imagined his hands moving along it instead of hers, slick with oil . . . .
I'm not exactly sure who either of these characters are, or what relation they have to each other, or why "he" seems to be spying on "she" while she's oiling herself down in the bathroom – but the passage was so striking, I just had to include a bit more than two lines. And for the mirror lady's sake, I'm just hoping this peeping tom's a private detective on a case or the meter reader or the man who delivers the ice or something, and not a crazed mirror-gazing serial killer. Hmmmm. Think maybe I've been reading too many thrillers lately?

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or participate yourself, head on over to her blog. And these are the rules: Grab your current read; Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you're getting your "teaser" from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you've given! Please avoid spoilers!

Tuesday Thingers: Tweets on Library Thing

Tuesday Thingers is hosted by Wendi of Wendi's Book Corner, and this week her topic is Twitter updates at Library Thing:

Have you checked out any of the links/tweets on some of the author pages for the books in your bookshelves? Have you added any links/twitter information yourself?

No, I haven't checked out any tweets at Library Thing. I didn't know about this feature, but now that I do, I'll definitely give it a glance. I doubt that it will become one of my favorite LT things, though, because I'm not usually all that interested in author updates. I just want to read their books.

And actually, I'm really not much of a tweeter or twitterer or whatever they're called. I do have a Twitter account, but I mainly joined up because I heard that publishers sometimes give away free copies of books and announce the giveaways on Twitter. So far, I haven't seen that happening. Of course, I guess in order to notice a free giveaway, I should probably check in more than once every couple of months, which is my usual Twitter schedule.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: One Question

This week, BTT asks a question about questions: If you could ask your favorite author (alive or dead) one question … who would you ask, and what would the question be?

Interesting. Well, I've got several "favorite" authors, and it's hard to choose just one. So I'll go with a couple of favorite authors and a couple of nagging questions. Best I can do. How's that?

I don't know that there's any single question I'd ask her, but I'd love to have a conversation with Barbara Pym. Probably wouldn't talk lit-ra-chure, though. More likely to chat about fashion, pet pussycats, and local gossip. Maybe exchange a few recipes. Have a couple of G&Ts in the garden. That would be great fun.

Also not exactly a single question – but I'd like to find out who wrote all those Shakespeare plays. Was it really the actor Will Shakespeare who lived in Stratford? The one who's buried in Trinity Church there? And I'd love to hear what he has to say about his will, his wife, and all that "second best bed" business. Slap in the face? Or richly symbolic?

And while we're on the subject of literary mysteries, I guess I'd probably want to ask Charles Dickens how he intended to finish his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, even though he's not exactly a favorite of mine. But as a mystery lover, I always like to have the loose ends tied up, the secrets revealed, and the culprit getting his (or her) comeuppance.

Photos of Shakespeare and Dickens: Wikipedia's Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Barbara Pym is from the book A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Diaries and Letters, edited by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym (E.P. Dutton, 1984).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Stoker's Worm

This week, my teasers come from Bram Stoker's The Lair of the White Worm, one of the books I've been reading for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. I debated a little with myself about whether or not to use the book, as I generally think "teasers" should be from a book I'm recommending as something readers might like to try. And I'm not really sure I'd put this work in that category. However, it is my "current read," so I'm using it anyway.

In this excerpt, the young protagonist Adam Salton is conferring with his neighbor Sir Nicholas, who's helping him rid the world of the ancient evil residing in a nearby castle:
". . . being feminine, she will probably over-reach herself. Now, Adam, it strikes me that, as we have to protect ourselves and others against feminine nature, our strong game will be to play our masculine against her feminine. Perhaps we had better sleep on it. She is a thing of the night; and the night may give us some ideas." [p.71 of the online edition at Project Gutenberg]
Well, ordinarily I'd be a little miffed at all that blather about her being feminine and "over-reaching herself," and having to protect everybody from "feminine nature." But in this case, the woman they're talking about may or may not be getting ready to turn herself into a gigantic, antediluvian man-eating serpent creature. So I guess you can't blame the guys for feeling a teensy bit threatened, can you?

(Oops! Guess that's a smidge of a spoiler. But this is such a silly excuse for a horror story, I don't think those same rules really apply.)

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or participate yourself, head on over to her blog. And these are the rules: Grab your current read; Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you're getting your "teaser" from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you've given! Please avoid spoilers!

Bram Stoker, ca. 1912. Photo: Wikipedia's Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Weeding

This week's BTT questions about "weeding" your library are interesting because just this morning my husband and I were searching around for a few books he might take to a book sale his agency is participating in. And we couldn't find a single book to donate. You'd think that with all these books piled up everywhere – spilling off shelves and tables, out of cabinets and drawers – there'd be just one we'd want to get rid of, wouldn't you? But such is not the case, alas.

Well, actually I already donated a couple of books to the sale, earlier this month. But that's it – just two books. One was a duplicate of a Preston-Child thriller, and the other was a paperback copy of The Devil Wears Prada which I never finished reading and now have to admit I'm never gonna. Awful book. And yet it made such an entertaining movie. Go figure.

Anyway, back to the questions at hand. Do I weed? Do I pare? Do I donate or throw out? It's always tough for me to face these questions because this is a subject I have a lot of problems with. (Hello. My name is Joy and I'm a book hoarder.) I'm addicted to books – always have been. I love buying them and reading them and reading about them. I love handling them and just looking at them on the shelves. I love accumulating them, and I do that very well.

What I don't do so well is part with them. Once a book comes into my hands, it's usually mine for life. (Unless it's borrowed, of course – then I'm almost always pretty scrupulous about returning it because I know how upset I get when my own books are borrowed and not returned.) And since my hubby is also something of a book addict, we've managed to amass an enormous number of books over the years. We have boxes and boxes of books in storage because we don't have room for all of them in the apartment. I keep telling myself that one of these days we'll move into a place with a room big enough to house the entire collection.

Yes. Well, it's a nice fantasy anyway.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: The Friend of Madame Maigret

Written by Georges Simenon
Translated from the French by Helen Sebba
Published by Penguin Books, 2007; 186 pages

The Story

While sunning herself on a park bench, waiting to keep an appointment with her dentist, Madame Maigret is surprised when a young woman wearing a white hat asks her to look after her child. The two women are only casual acquaintances, but Madame Maigret agrees – and ends up sitting with the child all afternoon, wondering what's happened to his mother. When the woman reappears many hours later, she snatches the little boy and whisks him off in a taxi without a word of apology or explanation. Meanwhile, Madame Maigret's husband Chief Inspector Maigret has his men investigating what might or might not be a murder at the home of a Parisian bookbinder. An anonymous tip has turned up some alarming clues in the bookbinder's apartment and basement workshop, including a man's suit covered in blood, and a few human teeth! But without a corpse to go with them, the grisly items aren't enough to prove that a murder has been committed – a fact that leaves the Chief Inspector frustrated, puzzled and just generally grumpy. And as the story meanders along, Maigret comes to believe that the possible murder may have some connection with his wife's encounter with the woman in the white hat.

My Thoughts

I've seen several different TV and film versions of Maigret over the years, but this was the first time I'd read any of the novels. And though I hate to admit it, I was a little disappointed in the book. (Perhaps it lost something in the translation – always a definite possibility.) The major characters were interesting enough, especially Maigret and his wife, of course. But there were so many minor characters popping in and out – policemen, lawyers, suspects, witnesses, bystanders – that I kept losing track. And it wasn't really obvious that the two separate story lines had anything to do with each other – Maigret saw a connection but it seemed to be simply that a taxi ride was involved in both incidents. Rather a thin hunch to go on, even for such a seasoned investigator.

One part of the book I did enjoy was a brief section where Madame Maigret takes matters into her own hands (even she seems to believe the investigation is taking too long) and mounts a search through the milliners' shops of Paris, looking for a copy of the woman's white hat. As she tells Maigret, after she returns home:
"The hat, of course! . . . I thought it wasn't a man's job. A coat and skirt is a coat and skirt, especially a blue one. But a hat, that's different, and I'd had a good look at this one. They've been wearing white hats for several weeks now. Only one hat is never exactly like another." [p.94]
I hope it's not too much of a spoiler to say that she has some success in her search, which pleases Maigret so much he's not even annoyed that her escapade means she hasn't had time to cook him a hot dinner.

Georges Simenon wrote over seventy Inspector Maigret novels, plus a number of short stories featuring the detective – beginning in the 1930s and continuing until the 1970s. The Friend of Madame Maigret was first published in 1950; it comes roughly in the middle of the series and probably is not the best place to start an acquaintance with the famous police inspector. So even though I wasn't really favorably impressed, I won't say I'll never read another Maigret. I certainly think he's worth a second chance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Slightly Suspicious

This week my teaser lines come from The Murder at the Vicarage, Agatha Christie's first novel to feature her famous elderly spinster sleuth Miss Marple. I've read quite a few of the later Miss Marples, and I'm a little surprised that it's taken me so long to get around to this first book in the series. I'm just starting the book, so I'm not sure exactly what Miss M is referring to here, but it's pretty quintessential Marple:
"Ah!" said Miss Marple. "But I always find it prudent to suspect everybody just a little. What I say is, you really never know, do you?" [p. 118]
No, you don't. Especially if, like Miss Marple, murder and mayhem seem to follow your every step.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or participate yourself, head on over to her blog. And these are the rules: Grab your current read; Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you're getting your "teaser" from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you've given! Please avoid spoilers!

Tuesday Thingers: Listing e-Books

Been a while since I participated in the Tuesday Thingers group, so I thought I'd check back in. This week, Wendi (of Wendi's Book Corner) has some interesting questions about e-books:
Do you read ebooks? Have you used Library Thing to record ebooks in your book shelves? Whether you do or don't currently read ebooks, if you read one, will you be including it in your book shelves, and will you tag it as an ebook?
Well, I don't have an e-book reader, so any e-book reading I'd do would have to be done online. And I haven't done much of that. I think I've read three books online at Project Gutenberg, and I'm reading another right now (The Lair of the White Worm, by Bram Stoker). Gutenberg is a great source of older and out of print works – they have a wonderful list. But I'm not really a fan of reading long works on the computer, so it has to be something I really can't get anywhere else before I'm likely to go that way.

But if I did have a Kindle or other reader, and started acquiring e-books, I suppose I'd go ahead and catalogue them in my LT listing, along with all my print books. At least I don't see any reason not to. And then, yes, I'd definitely give them the "e-book" tag, along with my usual tags about genres, etc.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Review: Two by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story
David R. Godine, 1986; 160 pages
Originally published in the UK by Hamish Hamilton, 1983

The Man in the Picture: A Ghost StoryThe Overlook Press, 2008; 145 pages

Two spooky but elegant little novels with supernatural themes by one of the best modern writers of macabre stories.

In The Woman in Black, up-and-coming young solicitor Arthur Kipps travels to the isolated Eel Marsh House in order to attend the funeral and settle the estate of a deceased client, Mrs. Alice Drablow. While there, he falls victim to a series of eerie occurrences, including the phantom sounds of a child screaming in the fog, and a pony struggling to escape a deadly bog. But the most terrifying is the apparition of the woman in black who haunts the area. Kipps slowly learns her secret, tragic history, but only later begins to realize just how sinister and lethal her influence can be.

The Man in the Picture takes the classic form of a tale related on a cold winter's night by the narrator's old professor. The older man is the owner of a mysterious painting depicting a Venetian carnival scene. But this painting hides strange forces that seem able to entrap unwary victims, and eventually exert their evil influence on everyone who owns it.

Her publishers have described Susan Hill's work as "a ghost story by Jane Austen." And the comparison is attractive, but not exactly on target. I'm reminded much more of the classic tales of M.R. James. The Man in the Picture has strong echoes of James's work – I especially kept remembering his stories "The Mezzotint" and "The Haunted Doll's House." And in The Woman in Black, Hill has even titled one of the chapters "Whistle and I'll Come to You," – an obvious homage to one of James's most famous stories, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad."

Both of these books were great fun – wonderful examples of the timeless English ghost story. They're fast reads – The Man in the Picture could easily be read at one sitting. Just the perfect reading matter for the Halloween season.


**Full Disclosure Statement**:

I got these books from the public library.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: And All That Stuff

Got several books going right now. As usual. Really shouldn't be starting a new one. But I picked up a copy of E.L. Doctorow's new novel Homer & Langley last week, and I've been looking forward to reading this one for several months - so I guess it's going right onto the "currently reading" stack. The story is based on New York's famous Collyer brothers - the notorious hoarders who were found dead in their brownstone, surrounded by tons of STUFF they had accumulated over the years. This is from page 37, with Homer speaking about his brother:
When Langley brings something into the house that has caught his fancy - a piano, a toaster, a Chinese bronze horse, a set of encyclopedias - that is just the beginning. Whatever it is, it will be acquired in several versions because until he loses his interest and goes on to something else he'll be looking for its ultimate expression. I think there may be a genetic basis for this.
Well, so far I don't have newspapers stacked to the ceiling or a Model T in the dining room, but if there is a genetic basis to the hoarding impulse, I've definitely got the gene!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by mizB17 at Should Be Reading. If you'd like to read more teasers, or participate yourself, head on over to her blog. And these are the rules: Grab your current read; Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) "teaser" sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you're getting your "teaser" from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you've given! Please avoid spoilers!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Would You Lie?

This week, we have a very intriguing little BTT topic: "Two-thirds of Brits have lied about reading books they haven’t. Have you? Why? What book?"

OK, this is really embarrassing to admit. The book that comes readily to mind – the one book I can remember actually lying about reading – is Pride and Prejudice.

I was supposed to read Jane Austen's masterpiece in my high school senior English class. Only made it about a third of the way through, then flipped ahead to the last few pages, and wrote the report. At seventeen, I found the goings-on of Lizzie and Darcy and their ilk soul-crushingly boring. Will they get together? Won't they get together? Does she or doesn't she? Who'll marry who? What's for tea? Don't you like my bonnet? It all seemed like just so much mindless gibberish.

A few years later, I decided to give the Bennet girls another try, and absolutely loved the book. By then I was a different person, of course, so I guess that's not so surprising. And since then, I've reread P&P at least once and it's become one of my favorites. So I guess there's no accounting for teenage tastes.

These days, my reading life isn't bound by any rules but my own – I'm free to read what I want when I want, and I read for pleasure, not to impress. So there's no need for me to lie about whether or not I've read any particular book. I'm sure I've probably committed literary subterfuge a few other times in the past, but nothing else comes to mind. How about you?