Thursday, August 28, 2008

BTT: Stories

If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite reasons to read is for the
story. Not for the character development and interaction. Not because of the
descriptive, emotive powers of the writer. Not because of deep, literary meaning
hidden beneath layers of metaphor. (Even though those are all good things.) No …
it’s because you want to know what happens next?
Or, um, is it just me?

Yes and no. I have read books simply for the plot (most of the Twilight books) and I have read books simply for the language (The English Patient). The thing is, while those books were enjoyable enough, I didn't love them. I didn't absorb them and rave about them. A good book, to me, needs a combination of all of these:

Characters: At least one character has to be likable. That's why The English Patient felt hollow, and why I have such a hard time reading Steinbeck books.

Language: Language can be as indispensible as the plot. What would a Wodehouse book be without the appeal of its language? I don't really care if a book is evocative and flowery, as long as it is comprehensible and more-or-less readable. I dislike the very simple and the very embellished.

Plot: There is nothing more frustrating than a good story broken to pieces by philosophical or whale-related digression.

One last note: I have no use for "deep literary meaning", as defined by critics and scholars. Reading books not for enjoyment but for some other hazy academic reason is something I don't have any interest in doing. (I'm looking at you, James Joyce and Mrs Dalloway.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

BTT: Libraries

Whether you usually read off of your own book pile or from the library shelves
NOW, chances are you started off with trips to the library. (There’s no way my
parents could otherwise have kept up with my book habit when I was 10.) So …
What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any
funny/odd memories of the library?

I did go to the library when I was a very young girl. I remember the children's section because it had a cushioned window seat that I loved to sit on. As I got older I didn't really go to the library. I mostly borrowed books from the shelves of my teachers in school.

Now, as a college student, I go to the library usually once a week. My local library is superb, with a wonderful media section and lots of room to sit down and read. They even have a small coffee shop! Last fall I would go down to read the library's copy of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, a book too big to tote back with me. I would sit on a bench by a window on the second story, overlooking a tree and small pavillion. It was heaven.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

BTT: Beginnings

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you
liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you
didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

P.G. Wodehouse's The Luck of the Bodkins is as hilarious at the beginning as it si the rest of the book. Behold:

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel
Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty,
hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

Spoilers for Bleak House.

When I was 13, I read Great Expectations. It left me with lukewarm feelings regarding Charles Dickens. I found the book mildly enjoyable, like every other school book I read and then forgot about. It certainly didn't inspire me to hunt down any other works by Dickens. So five or so years later I was surprised to read a review of the beginning of Bleak House and finding it intriguing. I was even more surprised to find myself buying the book on an impulse

The biggest suprise of all, though, was that I ended up loving it.

There were so many memorable things about the book:
  • I loved that all the places and characters had names that suited them (Miss Flite is a crazy old bird lady, Mr Krook is a bad guy, etc.) except for...wait for it...Bleak House, a happy safe haven!
  • Krook spontaneously combusted!! Someone spontaneously combusted in a Charles Dickens novel. I can't even wrap my brain around how awesome that is.
  • The minor characters were amusing rather than annoying. I especially liked Mr Jellyby with his head perpetually against a wall, Mr and Mrs Bagnet who have the most solid marriage in all of literature, and on and on.

I even liked Esther, who seems to garner a lukewarm reaction from other readers. She was a little more perfect than necessary, but I quite liked her. I also really liked John Jarndyce, even if his proposal to Esther skeeved me out a little bit. Richard was amusing at first, and then just annoying. Of course you would die, you idiot. *rolls eyes*

One cool extra feature of my edition (Penguin Classics) is a timeline of sorts written out by Dickens as he was plotting the book. He wrote just one or two words to tell him what he plot points he needed to bring up, when he needed to bring them up, and which characters would be featured Here's an example:

Jo? Yes. Mr Snagsby? Yes. Mrs Snagsby? Yes. Slightly.
This is my favorite note:

Jo? Yes. Kill him.

I highly recommend this book. It's a chunkster, to be sure, but a book that you can really take your time with and savor.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

BTT: Fantasy Worlds

From the awesome Booking Through Thursday:

Are there any particular worlds in books where you’d like to live?
Or where
you certainly would NOT want to live?
What about authors? If you were a
character, who would you trust to write your life?

The first, most obvious thought I had was that I could die happy if I lived in Middle-earth. Middle-earth has gorgeous scenery, loads of history, and is populated by handsome, chivalric men and elves. Maybe I would even be an elf! Sure, it's a little dangerous, but I could count on Tolkien to either see me through tough situations with grace and courage, or at least give me a rockin' death scene.

I think I would like to experience life in the 1800s or early 1900s. It seems like a very cool time to be alive, fictionally speaking. Oh, I almost forgot! The world of Wodehouse. That is my ultimate fantasy world. The old-fashioned feel, without those pesky things like wars and poverty and sufferage and stuff. To live at Blandings would be heaven, especially if Bertie and Jeeves came for a visit. :-)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I would never choose to live in a dystopian novel, or anything by John Steinbeck. Things just don't end well for his characters.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Breaking Dawn, by Stephanie Meyer

Spoilers, my friends!

As a story, Breaking Dawn was entertaining. The first third was a little weird with the Rosemary's baby thing (like...what?) and Bella drinking human blood from a cup was foul. I was especially over Edward's angst about, well, everything and Bella's immaturity. After Bella was vampirized, though, it picked up. I really enjoyed reading about her newfound vampiric sensations and her freaky daughter, and it was far past time her and Edward were equals.

(Speaking of Bella's daughter, is Renesmee the dumbest name ever, or what? Gave me "Albus Severus" flashbacks and giggles, quite frankly.)

The visiting vampires were interesting and fun to read about, especially Garrett the revoutionary war leftover. I kind of wish there was a battle, so we could see 'em in action.

My final thought on the Twilight series is that it's a quick, entertaining read. I probably would've enjoyed it more as a 14 year old, but what can you do? :-)

Just a short note on the "suitablility for teens" aspect: I've mentioned at the end of the first book that I was thankful for how suitable the books were for young teens. I still stand by that in terms of language and the presence of sex in the book, but I do hope that impressionable readers keep their heads when reading Bella's story. It was a little disconcerting to see how much uncontested power Edward and Jacob had over Bella. Not the power that comes with being loved, but physical power. Jacob kissing Bella by force, Edward "forbidding" her to do things, etc. etc. Of course most readers won't confuse their lives with lives in stories; they're not stupid. But I was a pre-teen girl not too long ago, and I know what it feels like to want to emulate characters in books. I just hope that all the Twilight readers are wise enough and secure enough to know that those behaviors are not romantic or sweet or healthy.