Monday, August 25, 2008

Book Mush, Reviews and General Frivolity

Now that I've got my head on straight, I'm back to blog! Well, almost straight. Here's a timeline from the last few days:

Friday: Much work, much grading of work from the online classes I'm teaching, lots of reading.
Saturday: All day library class. Boring for the most part, but the final portions of the day got me REALLY EXCITED to be a librarian. Sadly, I'm still recovering from a bitchin' case of eye strain. That's what happens when you stare at a poorly lit, story-tall Power Point presentation all day!
Sunday: Lunch with Susan (yummy yummy hoagies, pasta salad, and carrot cake). Unfortunately, we watched the most horrible movie ever made: Hogfather, an adaptation of a Terry Pratchett novel. Someone please tell me the novel is better.

This morning I met with my lit class for the first time, and they seem delightful enough. The college is working out of a brand new facility, and on the whole it is heavenly. Not so heavenly: the fact that they didn't build the parking lot big enough and late-comers have to camp out in the fire lanes. Awesome!

OK, here's where the bookishness begins...

This week is my ranty review of The Solitary Vice, by Mikita Brottman, at Bibliobuffet.

In other bookish news, I had my delicious reading flurry last week (When You Are Engulfed In Flames was the first of the three books I read that day), and I still have two reviews to post. In the spirit of "short on time" I'm ripping off BookFool's method which she might've gotten from Dewey if I remember correctly.

Mail Order Bride, by Mark Kalesniko
Copyright 2003
Fantagraphics Books
Graphic Novel
261 pages
Author's Website
Challenges: Dewey's Graphic Novel Challenge

What led you to pick up this book? I love me a graphic novel and all. I picked this one up for a graduate class originally (back in 2006 or so), and I ended up not taking the class. However, I guest lectured in the same professor's undergrad version of the course, and he invited me to take part in a conference call with Kalesniko. It was great fun, and I really enjoyed chatting with the author.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. From the publisher: Monty Wheeler, a pathetic, emasculated, 39-year-old virgin struggling with his own societal demons, expects Kyung Seo (his Korean mail order bride) to fulfill his female Asian fantasy stereotype: domestic, obedient, hardworking and loyal. But Kyung, tall and accent-less, is much more human than Monty is ready to accept. Kyung soon finds, in addition to predictable dissatisfaction with her husband's inane expectations, outspoken inspiration in Eve Wong, a western-born Asian woman. Could Eve be Kyung's ticket to rebellious self-fulfillment, or do her actions not always ring true? Through explorations of art, passion, identity and rebellion, the reader must ponder strength and cowardice while Kyung herself fights a potent war between independence and safety.

What did you like most about the book? This is one of those cases where I really liked everything about the book. The illustrations are stunning, the story is both provocative and quite funny, and it made me think! What more could a girl ask for?

What did you think of the characters? I found Monty exceedingly annoying. I wanted to shake him (and the majority of his friends) and tell them to snap out of their stereotypical assumptions. If you've read American Born Chinese, by Gene Yang, this book has much the same type of message. It confronts ethnic stereotypes in a very clever way.

Share a favorite scene from the book: Near the end of the book there's a big showdown between Monty and Kyung wherein they basically both come to realize that their assumptions about each other are not as black and white as tehy originally assumed. They realize they're both at fault for the disintegration of their relationship. It's a very powerful scene--both in image and written text.

Recommended for those who like graphic novels and a good story in general. If this were made into a written novel, I think it would be just as powerful and entertaining a story.

In general, I'd call the writing, illustrations, and story beautiful! And a really quick read. I polished it off in an hour or two.

The Fires, by Alan Cheuse
Copyright 2007
Santa Fe Writer's Project
2 novellas
117 pages
Author's Website

What led you to pick up this book? I first heard about it on a literary podcast--NPR I believe. Later, I was lucky enough to win a copy from Elizabeth at As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves. Thank you, Eli!

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. From Powell's: In the first novella, 'The Fires,' a museum worker named Gina learns that her husband, Paul, died in a car accident while en route to Uzbekistan. Gina travels to Russia to ensure her husband gets cremated, per his wishes, and the foreign, surreal and familiar collide when Gina takes Paul's body to a Hindu ceremony to be cremated. 'The Exorcism' applies much more overt dark humor to similar feelings in a substantially different character. An unnamed baby boomer discusses his sadness following the sudden death of his first wife, renowned jazz pianist Billie Benjamin, who fatally overdosed on heroin. Billie's death hits her daughter, Ceely, hard (she lashes out postcremation by torching a piano at her college), and the narrator's fond recollections of courting Billie are not received warmly by his new wife.

What did you like most about the book? The first novella, "The Fires," was definitely my favorite. Cheuse is an adept writer, and managed to balance out a great deal of humor and sadness. Gina is dealing with some early menopause issues which makes the business of her husband's death all the more harrowing both mentally and physically. The story opens with her dashing to catch the phone in the midst of trying to catch a urine sample. That's humor, my friends. I found the whole story very affecting, and it was quite hopeful in the end.

What did you think of the characters? I found them believable. Cheuse is able to paint a rounded portrait of Gina in "The Fires" and the unnamed narrator in "The Exorcism."

Share a favorite scene from the book: The point at which Gina has to take part in her husband's cremation was incredibly powerful. There weren't many surprises in these novellas, as the plot is pretty much laid out from the beginning of each tale, but the power in Cheuse's writing in that moment was stupendous.

Recommended for those who like good storytelling in a short space. I'm always really astounded by any author's ability to make me care in less than 100 pages.

In general, I'd call it a winner! I will definitely look for more of Cheuse's work.

Currently reading: The Position, by Meg Wolitzer
Tossed aside: Mary Modern, by Camille Deangelis (slooowwww going)


  1. Hello! I stumbled upon your blog and was glad to find a fellow UNT SLIS student!! I am doing the distance program and have two classes left. How exciting! And a fellow blogger/friend has graduated from the program. Her blog is at:
    If you have any questions or whatever let us know! SLIS 5600 can be quite the busy class. Good luck and I am enjoying your your title :)

  2. The book is better than the TV adaptation, which is also true of the adaptations of the colour of magic and the light fantastic. Probably not his best work, but worthwhile if you've read the other Discworld books focussed on Death and/or Susan Sto Helit.

  3. Yeah!!! Welcome back to school! Gotta love the no parking thing, I hated that when I went to school, I couldn't imagine being the teacher and not getting a spot. And in the fire lane.....for shame! LOL

  4. Never trust an adaptation of a Pratchett novel. He's a hilarious, brilliant writer, and I can't imagine anybody could do his books justice.

  5. Thanks for stopping in, Amanda! It's always good to meet another SLISser! lol And I'll definitely check out your friend's blog as well.

    Stu, thank heavens! It was fun, no doubt, but the adaptation was really bad. Teatime was hilarious, though, I have to admit.

    LOL, Kristina, luckily I got there early enough that I didn't have to partake of the fire lane. My Prius doesn't jump curbs very well, though, so I'll probably have to at some point!

  6. I'll meet with my lit class for the first time tomorrow. It's a brown-bag lunch seminar. Three of the students have taken my summer class. I'm excited now! :)

  7. Yea, I'm glad you enjoyed The Fires. The first story was my fave, too. Good luck with back-to-school stuff...=)

  8. That's funny that you mention "Hogfather". I had never even heard of that movie... except that there was a preview for it on a movie I watched last night. I thought the previews looked pretty terrible, so its interesting to know that it is about as good as the previews were leading me to believe.

  9. If it's any consolation (which I suspect it won't be) when universities build brand new buildings in the UK they don't provide any parking spaces. At least the one I was working at last semester didn't. I had to park at a station six miles away and take the train in!

  10. Hi, Andi!

    Check my blog for an award you've received! :-)


  11. glad you're back. Do you find that it's easier to grade more objectively when you don't actually see your students? I think it would make me grade better because I am shallow and would probably grade people on their appearance, etc. Like the blonde chick in the back row would probably get a bad grade b/c I know she's an air head and she's just in this class because she likes the guy in the 3rd row...

    Okay, I'm just kidding. I'm not that much of a nuntz BUT, I do think it would make it easier to grade on the quality of the work when you don't see who is turning it in. Don't you?

  12. hmm...i was shelving my books today and had thoughts of being a librarian and then you mentioned being excited about it. serendipity? hmm....

  13. Matt, that sounds like so much fun! Enjoy!

    Thanks, Eli! I could read that first story over and over. It was a great mix of very awkward human moments (the pee) and those transcendent, surreal moments.

    Kim, sounds like that preview really nailed it down. I wish I'd been warned ahead of time!

    Wow, Ann, that does make me feel sort of humbled. I lucked out and didn't have to buy a parking sticker, so all is right with the world.


    LOL, Funky, that's a great question. I think I probably do grade more objectively on the whole when I'm working with online students. Not because one is dressed better or anything, but in the in-person classes I know who's talking to their friend and annoying me during class, who rolls their eyes all the time. In my own fantasy online world they're all sweet and attentive.

    Julie, it's meant to be! Do it!

  14. Good review! I read The Fires recently too and enjoyed it. I agree the funeral scene is one of the most powerful in the book. Chuese's latest book is sitting in my review pile.


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