Monday, June 29, 2009

Second Chance Time?

I'm always torn when it comes to giving a not-so-favorite author a second shot at my bookish heart. I am perhaps the only person who read and loathed Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott. Much like the time I read and hated The Lovely Bones when everyone else seemed to adore it. But back to my point. In short, I thought Living Dead Girl was sensational, ooky, and depended too much on the shock factor instead of focusing on quality, nuance, etc. etc. All those flippy, fluffy lit words that can't really express what I want to say. If I'm putting it bluntly, I just think she could've done SO MUCH BETTER with that book, but if you're interested you can read my bloodbath of a review here.

I received a couple of Scott's other novels, Stealing Heaven and Love You Hate You Miss You, last week, and now I'm torn about whether to give them a go or not. Despite my dislike of Living Dead Girl, I realize Scott is a talented one. Her book was affecting even if I thought it was overrated and gross. I mean, really, there has to be *something* there if it illicited such a reaction. I'm woman enough to admit it.

Neither of these new-to-me novels looks terribly shocking or controversial, and as I've said here before, I'm not anti-controversy. I love controversy, in fact. So, yeah. Depending on too much shock is not good, but neither is blandness. They might be the opposite of gross and be bland! Dear God, the HORROR!

Or maybe I'm worrying too much and should jump in headfirst and report back.

Yes, yes. That's it.

Reading Update: I stalled on my copy of We when we overhauled our office space recently. Now I've misplaced the damn thing. Wish me luck finding it. In the meantime I've started Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Angel's Game for my next Reading in Order book. We'll see how it shakes out!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Urrg

Urgg is pretty much all there is to say about it. I contracted some sort of tropical virus this week that's left me feverish, cranky, sore-throated and generally unpleasant. I held off as long as I could, but mid-week I finally broke down and went to the doc. As you might imagine, I haven't been reading. Or really doing anything in particular except lying in bed and whining. Today is the first day I've felt a lot better, so here I am, back to torture you all with my rambliness. Say rambliness five times fast.

So I've mentioned that Chuck and I bought a Nikon D90 camera. If you're not a camera person (as I am not a camera person) all that really means is that it's really fancy. We bought it as an investment for our business since we're expanding into photography and multimedia soon. Now we have to learn to use it to get a return on the investment.

To my great surprise, it really does take rock awesome pics. Chuck and I really don't have the first clue how to use the thing so we're taking a digital photography class on Tuesday nights. This week was our first class meeting and we delved into shutter speed, aperture, and all kinds of other stuff that meant nothing to me before class. It's really interesting so far, and it's nice to actually know how to use such a fine (expensive) piece of photographic wizardliness with some knowledge and control. Here's a brief sampling. The really good pics are on Chuck's computer, and I'm far too lazy to download them right now.



Pardon the fuzz in this pic. Action shots of Daisy are kind of tricky. As you can see Rocketboy got a face full of Daisy love.

This one is a little better. This freakin' camera is really powerful. Pretty good picture, and we didn't know what the hell we were doing when we took this one. Happy accident!

I'm off to read or design some bookmarks for my new (and soon to be announced, I promise) Etsy site. Nothin' but love, bloggy peeps!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Personally: I Did Not Mean To Do That!

And by "that" I mean being gone from the blog so very very long! I have no idea how that happens. Well, actually, I do know how that happens. I started back to work!

I'm teaching for two colleges this summer, and one of those colleges is a vocational type institution with classes that begin at 7am. S-E-V-E-N. Yes, seven. I don't know how it is that 8:00 seems OK, but one little hour earlier seems like hell on earth sometimes. I was originally contracted to teach on Tuesday/Thursday from 7-9 and 9-11--two classes, two hours each, fine. A week after classes started, I got a desperate, shrieky call from my charming boss (I really like her) asking me to teach an additional class for a prof that had to go out with a family emergency. 1) Because I'm a softy 2) because I like money 3) because I'm new and want to "scratch" the institution's proverbial back, I took the class. It's another 7-9am...so now I'm up every morning at 5:45 giving me just enough time to hit snooze three times, crawl into the shower and hose off, take Daisy out for her morning potty, and drive the six minutes it takes me to get to campus.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL! No no. Two 7am classes, otherwise known as four days a week of 7am classes, would not be so bad if I didn't have to teach at another school. After I get out of class Monday-Thursday I drive an hour out to the Sticks (where I grew up), and I teach a class for the college I've been teaching for for the better part of five years. They're always good to me, and under normal circumstances I only have to drive out there two days a week. Now that it's a short summer session it's four days a week. Four days a week, two hours round trip, on top of my 7am classes. In total, on Monday/Wednesday I teach for four hours and drive two, and on Tuesday/Thursday I teach for six hours and drive two.

Now, I realize this sounds like a whiny teacher spiel so far. Ohhhh, poooooor professor has to get up at a normal time and work a regular work day. No shit. But really, I went into this profession 1) because I love reading and 2) because I don't want to work a "normal work day." Getting to sleep late and barely go anywhere is one of the MAJOR PERKS of teaching college courses. Plus, I've gotten spoiled by teaching the bulk of my classes online. I admit it.

All kidding aside, this schedule is wearing my ass out. Not because I'm gone a lot or whatever but because being "on" that early and that many hours a day is friggin' exhausting. Like I was telling Chuck last night, teaching is the ultimate multi-tasking type job. I have to put on a smiley face, skip hop jump and prance around the room to keep their attention, be funny and charming when appropriate, listen to their problems and concerns and anal retentiveness, monitor the class for disciplinary issues (because there are some), think on my feet, pull answers out of my butt, and otherwise be all teachery. I love the job, but this much of it in the SUMMER chaps my hide. Not to mention the two hours of driving every day really sucks because it's 172 degrees in Texas. Oh, and did I mention that the class I drive two hours round trip for has three people in it? Yes, three. I cancel class and make them do online work sometimes so I don't have to drive. I don't feel bad about that at all, just in case you were wondering.

So, yeah, you don't have to feel sorry for me, but do know that I'm thinking of you all and not really reading too much right now. I keep waiting to fall into a "groove" but after two weeks it hasn't happened just yet.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan




Now this is one extraordinary book! Shaun Tan's wordless novella/picture book, The Arrival, is absolutely, positively one of my new favorites. I'm a sucker for wordless books in general...David Wiesner's Tuesday comes to mind first. However, The Arrival is infinitely more complicated and far more artfully illustrated.

It's the story of a man who leaves his wife and daughter in a nameless "old country" as he sets out in search of a better life for them elsewhere. He has a handful of money in a strange land teeming with weird creatures, indecipherable language, and he has to find employment amidst all the chaos. He doesn't understand the food, the communication, or the local customs, but along the way he meets kind strangers who help him get acclimated to his new environment, and the reader is able to experience small snippets of their pasts as well.

Obviously Tan's artwork is the star here. He weaves a delightful tale with nothing but his pencil drawings, and they are truly beautiful. I was swept away by the images of the man's new city--at once spacey and elegantly curvy. The whole book had an otherworldly quality to it, and I just can't put into words here how affecting it was.



This is one illustration example from the book: a view of the harbor where the man arrives in his new world.

This is one of those books I'm itching to teach because it puts such an interesting and surprising spin on an old type of tale. The Arrival is an immigrant tale, and one that I find refreshing for its ability to put the reader into the immigrant's place. We have to struggle to put the parts of the man's new life together right along with him. It's really a great feat on Tan's part that he can create such a vivid and touching story exclusively through artwork.

I can't wait to get my hands on some of his other stuff...namely Tales from Outer Suburbia. If you're interested in seeing more of Tan's work, check out his super-fab website: http://www.shauntan.net

I'll be counting this one for My Year of Reading Dangerously since it's such a unique book.

Highway Robbery, by Kate Thompson


Highway Robbery, by Kate Thompson, is a cute little illustrated children's novel. The story is told through the experience of a nameless street urchin. One day as he's begging on the streets a man on a horse whisks into town and the man asks the little boy to take care of his horse while he runs an errand. Hours later the man hasnt' returned, and two shady characters try to bribe and trick the boy into giving up the horse. As it turns out, the horse may be the infamous Black Bess--the property of a famous highwayman named Dick Turpin. Hot on the heels of the thieves are the King's soldiers dead set on capturing Dick Turpin and bringing him to justice.
While the story is cute, I also thought it largely unremarkable. The best part of the whole thing is that the narrator may not be trustworthy, as the entire tale is told as if he's trying to sell the supposed Black Bess to a potential buyer for money to buy food and pull himself out of his dire financial situation.
The illustrations in this book were suitably moody. Drawn in pen and ink, they were the perfect accent.
So, yeah, maybe I wouldn't re-read this one, but if you have a kiddo I think they'd probably enjoy it. It's adventure, horse tale (no pun intended), and it's a quick read.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Lazy Butt Sunday


Happy Sunday Salon, everyone! I'm a little later than I'd planned logging in and posting today, but I have PMS and I want to strangle everyone around me. 'Nuff said!
So while Chuck was sleeping in this morning I took a few hours to read. I started and finished a children's novella by Kate Thompson called Highway Robbery (review coming soon), and I dove back into Stargazer, by Claudia Gray. I've been reading the book for-effin-ever, and I'd pretty much given up on it, but this time around it seems like it might not be completely dreadful. I'll keep you posted.
I should've been reading We, but in all honesty I was far too lazy to get my butt out of bed and retrieve the book out of my purse, so I settled for whatever was waiting on the nightstand.
In other news, I received my copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Angel's Game this week, and I'm looking forward to starting it. I don't even feel particularly guilty about reading a new-to-me book on the stacks since his name starts with Z! My second Z of the Reading in Order Challenge. Woot woot! I have to admit, when I read The Shadow of the Wind I thought my eyes might pop out of my head from all of the eye rolling due to the copious amounts of melodrama. That said, I still liked it and remember a lot of it to this day--and I've slept a bunch since I read it. That's a compliment to ole Carlos.
So that's my Sunday so far. I have every intention of stretching out on ye olde IKEA couch in the office while Chuck works late into the night. I'll try to polish off We before I get on with Stargazer and start with The Angel's Game. I'm such an anal retentive reader. And I'm OK with that.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

We is a Winner


So far, so good! My first book of the Reading in Order Challenge is going swimmingly. It's not surprising that We is right up my alley since I've been in love with dystopian fiction for a very long time.

To give you a little background: I became interested in dystopian fiction as a high school student. I read Ray Bradbury's short story, "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains" when I was a sophomore--about 15 years old. It's a tale about the Earth reclaiming a family's automated home after nuclear war. If you'd like to read the story yourself, click HERE. It's a nice, easy-to-read PDF. It's a selection from The Martian Chronicles, by the way.

I wasn't reading much in those high school days--occupied by extracurricular activities, boys (those are one and the same), the usual teenager stuff. However, Bradbury interested me enough with this horribly beautiful creation that I wanted more dystopia. Though, thinking about it now, "There Will Come Soft Rains" is more post-apocalyptic fiction. Oh well...whatever. It whetted my appetite for more! With the help of a great English teacher and a lifelong friend, I discovered Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

I think what fascinated me then--and still fascinates me now--about dystopian fiction is the way it takes elements and problems of our past, or elements and problems from our contemporary world, and blows them up to such outlandish proportions so as to make us ponder where we're headed.
We was written in 1921 and is considered the first dystopian novel. I can definitely see shades of it in Huxley's and Bradbury's work, and I haven't read Orwell yet (for shame!), but I will definitely pick up 1984 during the course of this challenge. Zamyatin imagines the society in his novel to be completely based on math--concerned that life be one beautiful, infallible equation. Like Brave New World each person is open to have sex with any other--just need a pink ticket and you can close the blinds with anyone. We's main character, D-503, meets a strange woman who wishes to test the boundaries of the OneState rules. She drinks alcohol, smokes cigarettes, and wears savage clothing...yellow dresses and stockings...in private. All of her daring feats are punishable by death, and death consists of being reduced to water by a scary leader called the Benefactor. What's more, she makes D-503 think he's losing his mind. He starts feeling things he's never felt before like jealousy and having vivid dreams. For shame!
I won't reveal any more of the plot right now, but it's really a great book so far, and I'm really enjoying the translation...something I was concerned about in my previous post. If you're a dystopian fiction fan--or not--go ahead and snatch this one up!