Tuesday, January 31, 2012

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

La Perdida, by Jessica Abel, is the story of Carla, a young Mexican-American woman who moves to Mexico City to "find herself." While she initially spends the bulk of her time with American expats, she befriends numerous Mexican citizens and leaves her expatriate friends behind to experience a more "authentic" Mexico. When her time in Mexico begins, she barely speaks Spanish and idolizes Frida Kahlo. It doesn't take long for Carla to realize she'll gain no respect from her native Mexican friends by living on the outskirts of the culture. Soon she is entrenched in a party lifestyle with radical friends and a free flowing supply of cocaine, and it's all downhill from there.

The Mexico that Abel presents in La Perdida is not flattering in the slightest. The Mexican youths surrounding Carla are thugs and the relatives of drug lords. She doesn't realize it right off the bat, but it's one of many ways that Carla begins her journey with very little awareness of the culture surrounding her. And she's a bone head. She never seems rattled to be meeting drug lords or snorting coke. And she's not quite as disturbed that her boyfriend is dealing pot and not paying rent as I might be in the same situation. She chalks it all up to an "authentic" experience in Mexico.

When we're looking at issues of ethnicity, I suppose we could assume that by experiencing this story from Carla's point of view, we can see how Americans are less aware of...well, everything. Carla seems oblivious to most things -- mostly the bad things -- happening around her. It could be a critique of Americans' lack of  political and cultural awareness outside of our borders. In this way, the book could be considered clever.

But the book really sort of pissed me off. While there are real problems with drug cartels in Mexico, this whole story line just seemed a really easy way to go. Carla was a caricature. Mexico itself seemed a caricature. I suppose I would've rather experienced a more nuanced plot and characters that made observations in a unique way rather than a stereotypical one. Instead of investigating Mexican youth culture I got another drug lord story. Crocodile Dundee comes to mind...the second one, with the kidnapping and pistol whipping.

Blah.

This book was not a painful one to read. I enjoyed the characters' humor, and I like Abel's brush-stroke illustrations. It successfully emphasized the busy atmosphere in Mexico City and the rush of people in a large, metropolitan area. However, beyond the aesthetic, this one wasn't for me. 

Rating:
Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: May 2008
Publisher: Pantheon
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13:   978-0375714719 
Source: Purchased by me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Syndicated!


My recent post over "influence" in book blogging was picked up and syndicated by BlogHer!

Find it at "My Tipping Point Regarding 'Influence' in Book Blogging"

It's Monday! And a Book Slide!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila from BookJourney!


I'm sort of cheating today. Sort of! I got ahead of myself and talked about my current reading for The Sunday Salon yesterday, so today's Monday reading report is a little different.

When I read the list of books for The Morning News Tournament of Books, 2012, I immediately went out to my library's website and added them all (nearly ALL, seriously) to my library holds list. It's ridonkulous how many people are in front of me for most of the books, but as is usually the case, they all come in at once!

I got a notice that the first book available from my list is Ann Patchett's State of Wonder! I've been excited about this one since before it was published, but I've been dragging bootay on actually reading it. This is one I'd love to purchase since I hate dragging around bulky hardbacks, but as my wallet is currently squished under the load of books I'd like to buy, I'll be sticking with the library's copy and hoping I don't develop carpal tunnel from holding it. Also, I have an employee with a VERY similar name to Ann Patchett. Kinda weird!


The next available book on my holds list should be Open City by Teju Cole. I sincerely hope it'll be at least a week until it comes in. Else I might be crushed by my gigantic amount of holds getting ready to tumble into my hands.

On the non-library side, I received a copy of Paris My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by Amy Thomas a couple of days ago. Sourcebooks offered to send this one, and after reading the sample chapters, I was hooked! I accepted another foodie, travel memoir from them last year: Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler. I loved that one, so I have really high hopes. This looks like just the thing for a fun, bookish getaway. Also, I'll be singing the praises for Sourcebooks in the near future. In my experience, they are a model for how publishers should interact with freelance book reviewers and bloggers. Hurrah!

So that's it for now! Those are the newest goodies to fall into my hands, and I'm sure there will be copious others in coming weeks.

What new books have you snatched lately?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sunday Salon - Bookgasm

Good (early) morning! Greyson is out and about but I still wake up at 7am no matter if he's here or there. Such is the life of a mama, I suppose. Oh well, it gives me time to lounge with coffee and breakfast, getting a little reading in, or maybe watch a movie before I go pick him up this afternoon.

First off, I have to thank the SCADS of you who responded to my previous post on some growing influence and pressure in blogging. I was genuinely (wonderfully) shocked at all of the similar sentiments and the number of bloggers who chimed in. This is not the last you'll hear from me on this issue, I'm sure, but it was great to get that initial post out into the world and confront this issue that's been bugging me for a while.

As a result of this conversation, there are some things in the works in the background of this blog. Heather and I are doing some scheming for a combined project, and I'll leave it at that. Some of you will know immediately what's shaking, and others of you may be surprised. Especially if you're a newer blogger. :)

It's been a very bookish week around here. I've made a concerted effort lately to unplug at various points in the day and really focus on my reading. Heather and I were able to hunker down and bust through our buddy read of Madame Bovary in just around a week. The text of the novel is between 350-600 pages depending on the edition. On my Nook, it was 740 pages. Given, Nook pages aren't very large and don't hold much text, but I was still pretty happy to put my head down and make so much headway so consistently. This can be a problem for me, especially with a book that verges on Chunkster. The key is staying consistent and involved with the reading. Helps me avoid getting antsy!!!

After I finished up Madame Bovary on Friday, I picked back up with Jessica Abel's graphic novel, La Perdida. It was a really good graphic novel, but I had some issues with it. While I enjoyed the plot, there were parts of it that bugged. It should make for an interesting review later in the week.

Finally, I'm digging into Kergan Edwards-Stout's Songs for the New Depression. While I've had some issues with the writing from page one, I think the protagonist is gonna be an interesting fellow to follow along. It'll also be a quick read, so I should finish it early in the week.

2012 is off to a great start. The last couple of years it's taken me much longer to read through...anything! Hopefully this is a good omen of things to come. I am happy with a book a week (or a little longer if it's lengthy and/or dense). On track so far! We'll see how the rest of the year plays out. 

Oh, and who's seen Midnight in Paris?! I have it in my hot little hands! I'm so excited to watch it as I've read really good things. And who doesn't like the idea of hanging out with Hemingway and Fitzgerald after midnight in Paris?! Count me in!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pulling the Trigger on "Influence" in Book Blogging

I stay out of drama. I'm not about drama in the blogosphere because, generally speaking, this site is my happy place. To put things in perspective, I've been blogging for seven years as of February 21st (I've already written the happy, gushy post). I was here before review books and NetGalley. I was here before authors and bloggers started quibbling. I was here before there was a debate over what constitutes a "review" or a "reaction." I was here before it was cool. I was here before it made money. I was here and I remain here because I love to read, and I really love the friends I've made online. I adore sharing ideas with you.

Today, however, was something of a tipping point for me. I've already had icky feelings (quietly, and in my own brain) over what feels like the publishing industry gaining (or attempting to exert)  more "control" over blogging. It started with ARCs. Everyone wanted ARCs. Publishers started e-mailing, authors started e-mailing, the review copies started sliding through the door. This was years ago, mind you. But publishers started dangling carrots! Unlike most, I have never felt one iota of obligation to review a book unless it's something I specifically requested from a publisher or publicist. Even then, I make it really clear that if I don't want to review a book, I won't. If I don't like it. If I'm too busy. Because it's my blog. And my blog is mine.

After the scramble for ARCs started, the scramble for "traffic" started. Everyone wanted to talk about how to increase traffic and "brand" their blog. We came up with lists of best practices and what-not-to-dos.  Everyone hopped on Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Ning and Goodreads and Shelfari and had to be plugged in all the time.

Am I different? No. I'm not. I admit it 100%. My blog has a "look," I have a Twitter account and a Tumblr account and a Facebook fan page. I used to run a 'zine for BLOGGERS (not for publishers). But do you want to know why? Because I like to talk to my friends who read. Because the bloggers I know are the only friends in my life who read.

But something that "old age" in blogging has taught me and that I see more all the time is this: we are a tool. We are an available and fertile market. We publicize what needs publicizing, mostly, for free. I've also learned that I don't want to be dictated to. I don't want to be pushed or nudged or shoved into anything.

As I logged into NetGalley the other day for the first time in months, I realized something--some publishers are getting pushy! A surprising number of publishers now want to know how many visitors visit one's blog in a day or a week or a month. How many people subscribe to one's blog? How quickly one can review a book?

And do you know what I have to say to these "guidelines" and these demands?

KEEP THEM.

To the wonderful, polite, genuine publishers, publicists, and many many authors I've worked with here over the years, thank you! This anger is not for you. That's really important. But it seems like every day this idea of book blogging is becoming more mechanized and impersonal at the hands of external forces.

At the end of the day, the most important thing to me about blogging is the reading I do. It's the friends with whom I share my words. I don't want to feel pushed around. I don't want to feel purchased. I want to feel liberated because that's always what reading and blogging have done for me -- they've freed me! Freed me to open my mind and think new thoughts. They've freed me to write my experiences and send them out into the world with confidence.

Come hell or high water, ARCs, no ARCs, publisher inquiries or not. Social networking or not. Obligation or not. I will read. I will write about what I read. I will read and write what I want and what is in my heart. And I hope that as a group that is always our goal. Our ultimate and most cherished goal. To be truthful and open-minded and collegial to one another, no matter what external forces are at work, exerting influence. I can tell you this: whether it's another seven days or another seven years, this blog is mine. It is the essence of who I am as a reader, and reading is a part of my soul in a way that nothing else is. Sharing my reading and all that is literary is my job every day and my hobby, too. I am lucky. I am blessed to do what I love. I will always read what I want. I'll write what I want. And I will do so feeling strong and never intimidated by what I should do with an Internet home of my own making.

Limitations are not welcome here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Re-Reading and Remembering

Re-reading is something I didn't do for a very long time. Occasionally I would grab a book for a re-read when I was in a slump, but I've also long wished to re-read more often, to enjoy books again, or to re-evaluate them with a little (or a lot) more age. I missed yesterday's "freebie" day for Top Ten Tuesday, so I thought I'd throw these out for today instead. These are the top ten (ok, eleven) books I would like to re-read including my impressions of them as I remember them and the time in my life they take me back to visit.

From my high school days: 




The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway made me hate Hemingway! I read it as a 9th grader with no idea about anything in the world. The main character seemed antiquated and yucky and "why would he care so much about this fish?" I hated it. I'm curious what age and some additional literary expertise would do to my opinions of this slim novel.


A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens was my second or third Dickens novel. Great Expectations was the first. I read it as a 9th grader and later undertook A Tale of Two Cities as a senior taking concurrent high school/college English courses. While I didn't first love it as much as GE, it's really stuck with me in a similar way. I remember a lot of the characters, I remember specific scenes and impressions, but it's another novel I think worth revisiting. It's also the best opening paragraph in literature!

From my early 20s:




The Red Tent by Anita Diamont was one of the first novels I read at the recommendation of Yahoo! Groups book discussion groups. At 21, I had not been reading for several years, but I'd just started back. As a student at Baylor, I spent a good deal of time in the art section of the library and picked up a slim biography of Auguste Rodin, the sculptor. That was all I needed to get back into the groove of reading for pleasure. When I joined the book discussion groups, I met a lot of the bloggers I'm still friends with today and I began to read outside of anything I'd read before. At this particular point in my life, I could go into a bookstore and be completely overwhelmed because I had no idea what to read. This novel was beautiful and thoughtful and everything I knew I wanted to read more of.


Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross was another book I read at the recommendation of my book group buddies. It was a wooonderfully involving historical novel about a supposed female pope in the 9th century. My book group also had the opportunity to chat with the author, which is when I first realized how accessible many authors are to their readers. And what a delight that was to discover!


The Hours by Michael Cunningham made me think very seriously about womanhood and motherhood. At the time, at the age I was when I read it, I found it somewhat terrifying, but I could also relate to some of the feelings of isolation as I devoured it shortly after my grandmother passed away. It's one of the most oddly uplifting and hopeful books I've ever read, and the closing paragraphs remain my favorite conclusion of a novel.

From graduate school:




Call it Sleep by Henry Roth is one of those classics that not many people discuss anymore. It sort of got passed over in favor of other novels. An American Modernism professor introduced this book, and I remember camping out under the breakroom table in the university writing center inhaling this one before class time. It's a stunning novel of the immigrant experience that incorporates some of the bravery and experimental elements of the Modernist period.


The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak was a cryfest! It was also one of the best discussions we had in my Adolescent Lit class. I found an affinity for Holocaust novels in graduate school in all their incarnations. This was just a great book, and I'm still fond of the narrator, Death.


The Golems of Gotham by Thane Rosenbaum is sadly underread. It came to me by way of the same professor who introduced Call it Sleep. It's a wonderful mishmash of magical elements, history, and Holocaust. Specifically, it deals with the ways in which Holocaust families inherit the Holocaust trauma. It contains some of the most wonderful passages...
Despair, if nothing else, is a private matter. The mind isn't required to share such information. That's because the soul is the master of its own short-circuitry, the system shutdown, the fading pulse that monitors the brokenness of both spirit and heart. When a state of mind sinks to a point where the life itself--the day-to-day engagements, the nightly slumber and silences--becomes unbearable, who are we to second-guess or armchair analyze? There was no way to properly insert oneself inside the minds of the Levins and follow the logic of [Holocaust]survivors who would one day choose a synagogue as the setting to turn off their own life-support systems.


Mail Order Bride by Mark Kalesniko is a graphic novel I don't hear too much about. I read it right after grad school and found the characters to be a lot of fun: a nerdy, virginal husband and a waify, aloof mail order bride. This one was full of multi-ethnic issues that I felt compelled by and it was a lot of fun to discuss the book via conference call with the author.

From then on...




The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was just fabulous. I loved the premise, the execution, and it made me bawl like a baby. I'm kind of a sucker for books that grab me by the heartstrings.


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is the most recent book on my list, so I won't gush any more than I already have. This is one of those books that was atmospheric enough and twisty enough and quirky enough that I want to feel the same sense of wonder again. I'll wait for the memory to fade a bit and pull the book out when I need to revisit that sense of fantasy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Twisty, Twisty Books: Literary Fiction and Inextricable Genres

Last year I made it my mission to read literary fiction and it's been seven months that I've had this little scheme in action. I loved the books I read last year so it was a no-brainer to continue into the new year.

When I started this journey I wrote a post titled, "Why Literary Fiction and What the Heckfire Is It?" After these seven months of ruminating, I've pretty much decided that literary fiction is fiction marketed as literary fiction. I think I'm also still keen on my original definition that, "authors who write literary fiction might have more of an agenda than the average bear." Literary fiction is also (typically) critically well-received. This is the trifecta, you see: agenda, marketing, critical reception.


Notice, the trifecta definition does not exclude any genre, and that leads me to my next lightbulb...

As a result of the literary fiction post I linked above, Carl and I had a great conversation about the rub between literary fiction and genre fiction and how MANY MANY MANY literary fiction works do include an element of some genre or other: sf, historical, etc. It was interesting to go back and revisit this conversation Carl and I had because I've been spending a lot of time thinking over the books I read last year and gazing at my immediate TBR, and I know something very specific about my literary fiction tastes after seven months of this personal project: I MUCH prefer literary fiction that incorporates a specific genre or some sort of unique angle. 

Of the 20 or so books on my immediate To Be Read pile, it seems to me that the majority of them have a very specific angle or incorporate multiple genres. Let's have a sample...

  • Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin - historical, retelling of Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life 
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - sci-fi
  • The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer - retells or makes overarching references to Lysistrata
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters - historical, GLBTQ
This is a really small sample, but I think it illustrates what I'm driving at. Seems to me "literary fiction" is a genre imposed from the outside by publishers and consumers. Any genre can be literary fiction if the conditions are right. 

The literary fiction titles on my shelves tip the scales heavily toward historical novels (The Sisters Brothers, C), retellings or homages (Wicked), and sci-fi/fantasy or magical realism (The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake). Even within these examples it's almost impossible to distinguish one genre-within-a-genre from another! Wicked was a retelling/homage but also a fantasy. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was magical realism with a bit of historical thrown in.

I suppose what the last seven months have done for me is to really help me pinpoint and refine my tastes. It's brought me a greater sense of self-awareness (and shelf awareness!) and has made me realize exactly how closely bound all genres really are and how silly it is to get into a tizzy over genre lines. I don't tizzy, but some readers most definitely do.

In conclusion, I really want to thank all of you who responded to my original post back in June 2011 and those of you who come here and converse with me over these bookish thoughts. You bloggers, you make me think and by allowing me to discuss these items with you, allow me to understand myself and my reading better all the time. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Short and Antsy

I mentioned yesterday I'm still in the midst of Madame Bovary, and while I'm still in the midst of it today, I did knock off another 50 pages or so last night. In my 740-page e-book  (it's usually half that in print), I'm on page 400. I hope I can have this one wrapped up this week. Heather and I have been discussing this one behind the scenes as we go, and I can't wait to dig in with her some more! So much to talk about.


Yesterday morning, I was feeling just a tad antsy with Madame B. so I decided to take Nancy's advice and start reading a smaller book to keep me feeling energized. I picked up Jessica Abel's graphic novel, La Perdida. My first encounter with Abel's work was back in 2009 when I read her funky vampire graphic novel, Life Sucks. I re-read my review of Life Sucks and it brought back a lot of the details that I'd forgotten. Abel has an interesting take on life and a distinct humor. I see it coming through in La Perdida, but I already have a few problems with it. I'll hold my judgement until I'm done, but I'm thinking a post on multi-ethnic literature and criticism is in order. 

I have a few review books I've accepted recently, so those are on the horizon immediately after MB and La Perdida. First up is Kergan Edwards-Stout's novel, Songs for the New Depression. I was already looking forward to this one, but even moreso since it's shortlisted in the GLBTQ category for this year's Indie Lit Awards. I admit, I'm woefully underread in GLBTQ lit, so this should be good! 

After posing my question yesterday about which book I should read next from my TBR, it looks like I Capture the Castle takes the cake! I'm planning to read it in the next couple of weeks, and I'm really excited about it! I have wanted to read it for a good 10 years. Lots of my fellow bookworms recommended it to me back when I was an active member of Yahoo! Groups, pre-blogging. 

And that's all that's shaking in my reading today. Greyson is off to daycare since my mom was kind enough to shuttle him this morning, I'm hunkered down with a cup of coffee, and I have a few minutes to myself. All I have left before I start the commute to work is to do are makeup and pick out an outfit for the day, so I have a few minutes to Tweet or read. I should read, but I'm leaning toward the Tweeting. 

I hope you all have a great Monday full of books!


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila from BookJourney.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Sunday Salon - The Shrunken TBR

Mornin' bloggers! It's been a very bookish weekend. I dropped Greyson off yesterday for a visit with the fam, and quickly did some shopping. With some new jeans and a rad military-style jacket under my belt, I headed home to settle down with Madame Bovary. Just as many of you have pointed out, Madame Bovary is not a nice person. But I also know this novel is considered a hallmark of literary realism, and bitchy is the m.o. of the movement. I read Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie in grad school and really liked that one, and it was a whole lot of bummer. I'm ok with bummer sometimes!

I've been looking at my TBR a lot this weekend. Wanna see? Click to embiggen...



Having so few books in my possession is a great help (the rest are in storage). I don't spend tons of time waffling about what to read next when I have a small group of great choices in front of me. Also, note the jack-o-lantern candle holder. A Greyson original. So, in short, I'll be choosing from this pile next. Let me know what you'd like to endorse. :D

The rest of my day will be uneventful. Kiddo will be coming home, I'm hunkering down with more Madame Bovary until then, and doing a little blog surfing to see what the rest of you are up to on this lazy Sunday.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Linkapalooza, Vol. 3





Each week, for Linkapalooza, I will post a list of links to discussion threads and reviews from my week's bloggy reading. These are reviews that pique my interest, fun or interesting discussions swirling in the blogosphere and other stuff that tickles my fancy. The most important thing? All bloggers, all the time. No big media outlets here, people. Grassroots reading, baby!


Discussion/Opinion 


  • A Backwards Story recommends a Top Ten Books for people who don't read "Cinderella!" Very unique list, and since I love fairy tale takeoffs, this was right up my alley.
  • The library saved Sassymonkey $1,390.81 in 2011! Holy crap!
  • Trish tackles homemade baby food for Weekend Cooking!I wish this had been me.
  • Melody highlights Unbridled Books.
  • Wendy discusses Blogger Impact with grace.
  • Jackie from Farm Lane Books wonders why "Some of the Best Books Aren't Very Good?"

Reviews
  • Heidenkind finally convinces me to read Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.
  • Becky reviews bedtime board books and this could not be more timely for my household.
  • Chris writes another of my favorite reviews...The Dovekeepers.
  • Jill entices me to Take the Cannoli...
  • Brooke writes a passionate review of Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns.

Recommendations of your own??? Leave them in the comments section!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

*Trumpets sound, angels sing."

I loved it. Loved, loved, loved. And not like "love that goes away because it's really just a passing infatuation." OHHHH NO, this is real love. Real bookish, all-time favorite, gooey love.

Now let me try my best to explain because I want there to be some logic behind this lovefest and not just a gushy mess.

I only sort of knew what to expect when I picked up Gregory Maguire's Wicked. Having read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and having NOT fallen in love with that one, I thought I might pick this book up, read through a bit, and then set it aside. I am thrilled to be wrong.

Elphaba, the eventual Wicked Witch of the West, is born to a minister father and a tart of a mother. She's green, she has pointy teeth and odd eyes, and her mother doesn't really bond with her. She spends her childhood with her missionary family in an unsavory part of Oz called Quadling country and is nearly uncontrollable until her younger siblings come along. As she grows, it's evident that she's not as odd as her parents originally feared, and she's a smart little whipper snapper. She attends Shiz University with Galinda (later Glinda) and a cast of other pivotal characters, and her life unfurls into an adventure as she eventually becomes involved in political workings and endures heartache and failure throughout her life until the unavoidable ending we know awaits her.

I did not expect an epic, and that's what this book feels like. From Elphaba's birth to death, we have a peek into her best and worst moments, and rarely have I met such a sympathetic character. Is she all sunshine and light? OH no. She's smart, intuitive, moral, and conflicted. She is sensual but also practical to a fault. She might be me. If I were green. Maybe.

Aside from loving Elphaba herself, I really enjoyed Maguire's narrative on several levels. First off, there is an obvious fantasy element here -- this is Oz, after all -- but there's also a distinctly historical feeling to this book. At times I felt like I was living in Victorian England, at times Nazi Germany, and even Nixon-era America. The various regions of Oz were colorful and unique, and I enjoyed getting to know them through Elphaba's travels and their representative characters.

This book also critiques and satirizes some big, honkin' issues. Maguire explores the nature of evil, implications of religion, human rights, revolution. I was genuinely surprised and delighted by how political in nature this book became at times. I was most compelled when Elphaba was embroiled in some plot or other and impassioned by the dwindling rights and oppression of Animals (animals with a human capacity for intelligence, thought, and communication). It was easy to see how she started strong and almost naively passionate about issues in her college years, but withered and became embittered with time. Though, I have to say, she was never as bitter and never wicked as one might associate with the book or film version.

I suppose I also had my doubts coming into this book because I have no particular fondness for The Wizard of Oz. I disliked Baum's novel, though I appreciate it and have used it in my college classroom. I am fond of the movie, but not fanatical by any stretch. I enjoyed Wicked in a similar way to Bill Willingham's Fables series. The characters are recognizable because they are figureheads in our pop culture. They are archetypes. Almost everyone knows them, but Maguire tells the backstory. The whole story. It's a very smart takeoff from what we think we know about these characters. He crushes the stereotypes while still leaving some nugget of the character in tact for the sake of familiarity. He grows the story; he does not just retell it.

Wicked is a world of it's own with rich characters, settings, and a twisted plot. It's humorous and horrific by turns. It's political and silly and passionate. It is the best of what I look for in a book -- an intricate plot and well-fleshed characters and a huge emotional investment. For these reasons and more, it's going on my all-time favorites list. Having read some reviews, it seems that this novel is quite polarizing, but that's another sign that a novel is worth risking. It can be a payoff or end up in pissed off, but it's most definitely worth a go.

Rating:
Snuggle (with big, sloppy kisses) -- Skewer

Pub. Date: September 1995
Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: e-book
ISBN-13:  9780060987107 
Source: Purchased by me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Chunksters, Or My Literary Nemeses

NEMESIS:  : a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent

Yep. That just about says it. This post is an honest rant about chunksters. It's an admission of one of my readerly weaknesses. Are you ready? It's like book therapy, y'all.

First, how does one define a chunkster? Well, lemme tell you, it's a hell of a long book. As it was originally defined for the Chunkster Reading Challenge (which started several years ago and is still running) it's a book of 450 pages or more. Now, to some, 450 pages may be no big deal. A walk in the park. A piece of cake. Some other cliche. To me? Death and readerly destruction, people. 

My particular tendency to shy away from Chunksters is multi-faceted:

1. I feel like it takes me FOREVER to finish. With a hectic work/home life, I don't get that much time to read in a given day.
2. I'm something of a commitmentphobe, and if a Chunkster doesn't grab me by the nosehair at the very beginning, I will really never finish.
3. They're unwieldy and really hard to carry around in my cute Guess purse.

Bottom line: they take more commitment than a shorter book, and that just doesn't always work for me. As previously discussed, I'm a book tart.

On the flip side, I have enjoyed a slew of Chunksters in my time. When I had fewer time-sensitive responsibilities I had my nose in a Chunkster without a second thought. The Lord of the Rings? Why not! The Little Stranger? Yes, please! 

Now I run screaming from a 500+ page monster because it will bring my reading life to a complete halt. Nothing to blog about, nothing to Tweet about, except one. long. book.

And for me, this may be one of the downsides to blogging. I like to have books to blog about, and if it takes me three weeks to read one book, I'm at a loss. It's not a good excuse, and I really just realized this may be the actual reason I avoid the chunky monkeys, but it's true. Before I blogged about books, it didn't matter if I invested weeks into one novel. 

Because I realize this tendency of mine, I also try to face it head on. I read a couple of Chunksters in 2011 and I'm beginning 2012 with a book that borders on chunky (Wicked). I also have a buttload of other books on my shelves that I've wanted to read for a very long time that fall into the Chunkster category: Vanity Fair, A Suitable Boy, A Fine Balance, The Help, A Game of Thrones, and more. 

While I recognize my fear of Chunksters, I also have to admit that once I get into one, I typically enjoy them immensely. There's something about the breadth of a Chunkster and the epic feel that is ridonkulously satisfying. The author can indulge in description, and wonderful world-building, and invest time and finesse into characters in a way that many shorter works cannot. And it's with these positive attributes in mind that I VOW to read more Chunksters in 2012.

While I had every intention of joining The Chunkster Challenge in 2012, there's one leetle bitty rule that trips me up: no e-books. I am quite dependent on them for financial and logistical reasons, so I'm doing a personal Chunkster Challenge this year instead of the official -- though I loooove the hostesses and am following along with the challenge and The Chunky Book Club. If you have a similar inclination to tackle the heaping chunkies this year, I urge you to go on over and sign up. 

And now that I've virtually spilled my guts, I want to know about YOU. Do you shy away from longggggg books? Why or why not? What is your favorite Chunkster that you'd recommend that I try sooner than later?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books (and Stories) for Non-Short Story Readers!


OK! Another meme I hadn't intended to participate in today, but I am becoming quite addicted to the fun topics presented for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted at The Broke and the Bookish). I swear I'll write a post about something discussiony tomorrow (probably Chunksters). 

So, today's assignment for TTT is to recommend 10 books for readers typically NOT interested in the chosen genre. I read that lots of bloggers don't particularly enjoy short stories. I can understand that -- they're not as developed as novels, but I have found A TON of amazing short stories and short story writers over the years. Many of my favorites came to me through my classes as an undergraduate and later a graduate student in English. Other, more contemporary writers, I've stumbled upon in collections, journals, and sometimes I take the plunge and buy their books based on recommendations (or pretty covers!). These are some of my absolute favorites. I've started with the collections and then transition into individual stories. I've linked all of the short stories to their complete online texts.


No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. MJ is an artist in many respects (visual, performance, writing), and her stories are the epitome of quirk.  I read this book several, several years ago, and I can still recall specific moments from individual stories. The characters are odd, their situations are often weird, but there's a fun humanity to them. I could relate to them on multiple levels. I need to read more of her stuff, but there's not nearly enough for my taste. 

Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff. I wrote a really in-depth review of this one for Bibliobuffet a few years ago. I was really impressed with the daring in this book as Groff often takes her characters to places I didn't expect. My fave story in the collection was titled "L. Debard and Aliette" and was super fantastic. 



The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy will come as a surprise to absolutely NO ONE who's been hanging around this blog for a minute. Van Booy does imagery like no on else. Some of these stories are ridiculously short, but that doesn't take away from the magic and atmosphere of them.

Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt is a collection I picked up in 2010 and whipped through. It was my first Byatt undertaking and I could NOT have been more pleased. This collection would really appeal to non-short story readers because of the length of they stories. They're involving.

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates is classic Oates. The characters are quite normal on the surface, but there's a noticeable level of creep that works its way in very quickly. I love using this story with my Intro to Lit students because they think it's boring in the beginning, but as things begin to morph it becomes a very different story. The ending is somewhat ambiguous, but if you tease out the details as presented in the text, it's SO INTERESTING. Also lots of intertexual references and cultural references to the 60s.

"The Horse Dealer's Daughter" by D.H. Lawrence is a good introduction to Lawrence's work if you're not ready to dive into a novel straight away. It's slow building, sensual (in an unexpected way), and a good snapshot of his work.

"Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor was one of those stories I read in high school that made me fall in love with classics. IT'S SO TWISTED, as most of O'Connor's work tends to be. While I have several favorites from O'Connor's short stories, this one takes the cake. My mouth was left hanging open when I read it for the first time. If you like troubled, conflicted characters and lots of play with religious themes, this one is for you.

"Cat in the Rain" by Ernest Hemingway is a story I haven't revisited in quite a while, but our discussion of it in a grad school Modernism class left quite an impression. There's a reason Hemingway's writing is referred to as an iceburg--LOTS hidden just below the surface.

"August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradury. I've raved about this story FOR YEARS!!! If you haven't read it already, just do it. You won't be sorry! It's only four pages long, just doooo itttttt.

"Bloodchild" by Octavia Butler made some of my students want to throw up! It's a science fiction selection, and it's hard to read in spots. However, it's a stunning example of sci-fi as social critique.

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's MONDAY, and A Classics Challenge!

It's Monday! What are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at BookJourney.


Good morning, everyone! I hadn't intended to participate in this meme today because I figured I'd still be engrossed in Wicked. And I am still engrossed in Wicked with about 200 pages left to read, but there's also a new participant in the ring! 


Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert!!!


This is my first choice for this year's A Classics Challenge hosted over at November's Autumn. It's also an opportunity for Heather and I to read some tawdry French literature together. Not that Flaubert is tawdry, but rumor has it, Madame B. is most certainly a tart. 


I have absolutely no experience with Flaubert, but I'm excited to get started. I have the e-book download onto my Kobo app on my iPhone (soon to be transferred to my Nook), so I've dipped in and out of this one a touch over the last week or so. Heather gave me the official go-ahead to jump in headlong last night, so I'm going to be reading it during lunch hours and whatnot until I finish Wicked


I haven't read a scandalous classic since, oh, probably Lady Chatterley's Lover and that was even before I had a blog. I would place it at 10 years ago or so. I couldn't remember exactly when I'd tackled LCL, so I Googled and was reminded of this little post I wrote about D.H. Lawrence's short story, "The Horse Dealer's Daughter." Equally sensuous. 


So what does that convoluted little aside have to do with Madame Bovary? Not much, except I'm looking forward to finding out EXACTLY how naughty ole Gustave is going to get. This book came about in 1856, and it's always fun to see exactly what was labeled salacious and WRONG then as opposed to our 2012 sensibilities. 


One of the things that excites me most about A Classics Challenge is that it's structured much like a blog hop. Every month Katherine posts a tri-level question participants can answer and link back to. The three levels of the prompt are based on how far into the book one has gotten. Since I'm really just starting Madame Bovary, I'm a "Level One" participant.
Who is the author? What do they look like? When were they born? Where did they live? What does their handwriting look like? What are some of the other novels they've written? What is an interesting and random fact about their life?
Flaubert seems like an interesting, somewhat dramatic character himself. He began writing as early as eight years old. He studied law but abandoned it as he didn't have much interest in it. He never married, but he did have a long affair with the poet, Louise Colet. After the affair ended, he was no longer interested in relationships and sought the platonic companionship of fellow writers such as Victor Hugo. He even lived with his mother for the rest of his life. He's also one of the few people I've ever heard of who found Paris distasteful and preferred other regions of France. Flaubert was very open about his sexual escapades; he was no stranger to prostitutes and engaged in sex with other men from time to time. 


Flaubert's style was know as "Perfectionist" as he strove to choose just the right words for his novels and was known to slave over one page for up to a week. He figuratively "bled" over his writing--it was painstaking work.  


After having read about Flaubert, I'm even more excited to delve further into the story of Madame Bovary. It promises to be one interesting undertaking!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Sunday Salon - Something WICKED!

It's early in the day on Sunday, and I have quite a few online class items to take care of. Icebreaker posts to read, new work to post, but I had to take a minute to Salon with you all. I took the day off from blogging yesterday. I ran some errands in the morning -- clothes to purchase for Rocketgirl, a haircut for Greyson -- and I spent the afternoon finally really digging into Wicked. I was embarrassed that I was only on page 80 or so after a week of reading, and I figured I just needed to sit down and dig into the world Maguire is creating. And it worked like a charm. I read over 100 pages, and I'm hopelessly devoted. 

I am rapidly falling in love. How many times have I said this about a book I put off reading for a scandalously long time? Once "everyone else" in the world has read it, I pick it up and fall in ooey gooey love and gush to the choir.

I won't go into full-on review mode because I do want to review this book in full when I'm done, but I'm really enjoying getting to know the cast of characters and I'm enjoying the political bent of this novel. Oz is not a happy place to be: coups, revolutions, terrorism, issues of civil rights. While I had an iffy impression of Maguire after reading The Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister several years ago, I am pleased to be having this good a time with Wicked. While I haven't been very good at following series lately, I'm excited that there's more to come in this series. I received the final book, Out of Oz, from the publisher a while back, so that's good incentive to buy Son of a Witch and Lion Among Men.

I'll be picking Greyson up early in the afternoon, so I need to finish my online work, get away from the computer, and get back to my book. What's in store this week at olde Estella's Revenge? I'm stewing on a couple of posts, but foremost is a discussion of Chunkster novels and what they mean to me. In other words, why they scare the heck out of me. I really enjoyed the discussion on the "reading tart" post, so maybe delving into more of my self-proclaimed flaws will spur on more discussion! :D

I hope you all have a fantastic, bookish day!

Friday, January 13, 2012

SHUT the Front Door! Tournament of Books MADNESS!

Did you all hear me SCREAM this morning when I realized the 2012 Tournament of Books shortlist was posted?! I haven't checked the site in a couple of days and those sneaky little Morning News critters got past me! In the last year, this event has become the SUPER BOWL of my reading. Last year I personally challenged myself to read all of the TOB books. While I did not succeed in reading them all, it was FABULOUS guidance, and I'm looking forward to reading even more from this year's list. 

If you're not familiar with The Morning News Tournament of Books, you'll need to start by reading this hilarious explanation. Lots of irreverence and fun here, people. Including a reader judge this year who's serving a year in jail for a non-violent offense. YEAH!!!! Zombie Round voting is also going on, so once you read the explanation, vote for your fave Zombie and get in on the democratic reading action. 

So if you're wondering exactly how seriously I take this whole thing, I'll need to show you pics to prove it. 



These are both pics of my office door taken with my crappy iPhone 3GS (thus, the horrible quality). As soon as I read the TOB post this morning, I started scurrying around the office printing the brackets. I even made up my own Zombie Round promotional flier for the door. If you're wondering if it's kosher to use office equipment for this purpose, I call this PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. I'm a composition and lit teacher for heaven's sake! 

I should also mention that I ran screaming through the office laughing maniacally and exclaiming my joy. I promptly handed out brackets to anyone within earshot. Since my two fellow English instructors aren't here yet today, I took the liberty of posting the brackets in their cubicles. 

So ARE YOU READY to read?!!! You should read with me! You really should! The official tournament starts on March 7th, and I'll be sucking down as many of the following novels as possible between now and then. 

  • Nathacha Appanah, The Last Brother
  • Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (already read)
  • Teju Cole, Open City
  • Helen DeWitt, Lightning Rods
  • Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers (already read)
  • Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot
  • Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding
  • Alan Hollinghurst, Stranger’s Child
  • Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
  • Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
  • Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife
  • Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table
  • Ann Patchett, State of Wonder
  • Donald Ray Pollock, Devil All the Time
  • Karen Russell, Swamplandia
  • Kate Zambreno, Green Girl