March 28th, 2010

Austen Shit

Books 6-10 of 2010

6. Crash by Jerry Spinelli (152 pages)
7. Jane Austen by Carol Shields (185 pages)
8. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (120 pages)
9. Holes by Louis Sachar (132 pages)
10. Lady Susan by Jane Austen (with introduction) (103 pages)

Bold: read it now! It’s great
Italics: run away! It’s awful
Plain Text = various degrees of OK 


6. Crash by Jerry Spinelli (152 pages)  reread for teaching. A great book the deals with bullying with the perfect voice of a young teenager. Spinelli is always fantastic and never writes down to kids.

"The only good biographies are to be found in novels."--George Gissing "...the genuine arc of a human life, that it can perhaps be presented more authentically in fiction than in the genre of biography."
"The true subject of serious fiction is not 'current events'...but the search of an individual for his or her true home."
"But what did marriage mean in the context of these novels? Not a mere exchange of vows repeated in church. Marriage reached beyond its moment of rhetoric and gestured, eloquently and also innocently, toward the only pledge a young woman was capable of giving. She had one change in her life to say 'I do,' and these words rhyme psychologically with the phrase: I am, I exist."
"And in one of his judgments brother Henry was far too moderate. Jane Austen's works, he prophesied would eventually be 'placed on the same shelf as the world of a D'Arblay and an Edgeworth.' How far from the mark he was. Not only would she outdistance those all-but-forgotten names, but she would also find herself comfortably on the same shelf and in the good and steady company of Chaucer and Shakespeare."

7. Jane Austen by Carol Shields (185 pages)
A short and engaging biography of the beloved author that deals not in mundane details or idle speculation, but in attempting to draw a portrait of Jane, her life, and her works. Refraining from drawing tedious or melodramatic parallels between her life and her work, the biography instead attempts to understand how a spunky, quiet, reclusive spinster, alone in the country at a time of female repression and the birth of the novel as an art form, was able to write some of the most beloved, extraordinary, realistic, psychological novels of the English language. Jane was definitely a member of the suffering and unappreciated genius club. Part biography, part literary criticism, this book is a great read. Grade: A+

8. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (120 pages) Hazel Motes, discharged from the army, sets out to be a car-roof preacher of the Church Without Christ, preaching the fallacies of faith. He becomes obsessed with a blinded preacher, and garners the obsession of a the preacher's sultry daughter, a lost young man who abducts a shrunken mummy, and a widow. Hazel Motes literally and figuratively blinds himself to the truths of life while he navigates a dark world filled with O'Connor's trademark grotesque and bizarre images and characters. Though thought-provoking and oddly beautiful, turning the oddities of life into religious symbols, the novel does not seem to be O'Connor's form. Flannery O'Connor is a refreshing literary voice and one that requires the reader to wrestle with the characters and actions in order to find meaning. Grade: B+

9. Holes by Louis Sachar (132 pages) Reread for teaching. Great book for young adults, full of humor, symbolism, interweaving plots, and great character

10. Lady Susan by Jane Austen (with introduction) (103 pages) Obviously written by a young Jane Austen, this epistolary novel details the machinations of the cruel and scheming Lady Jane who wants to marry one man, has an affair with a married one, and plans to marry her innocent daughter to a silly man. Though constrained by the epistolary form (and so lacking her trademark ironic wit that come with her distanced omniscient narrator of her later works), the novel is interesting due to its main character who foreshadows Austen's later villains, such as Mary Crawford. Grade: B

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Elegance of una gaviota; Bookmarked Line Inferno

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
I am absolutely in love with this book. It's mostly a series of philosophical digressions in the general realm of aesthetic existentialism, but somehow the soupçon of plot and heaping handful of character study combine to make it a page-turner of a novel as well. Not sure why. It really worked for me though. Particularly recommended for those fond of Jun'ichiro Tanizaki.

Historia de una gaviota y del gato que le enseno a volar, by Luis Sepulveda
Cute little story about a seagull, a cat, and a code of honor. Charming if deliberately one-note secondary characters. The illustrations are marvelous and while the story was a bit on the didactic side, I still enjoyed it. Proud of myself for being able to read second-grade books in Spanish that aren't translations of classics I already know ;). Progress!

Bookmarked to Die, by Jo Dereske
Light mystery whose chief attraction is the main character, an old-fashioned but not Luddite reference librarian type. Fiercely proper and beset by irritating people. I could see why people like them but it didn't quite work for me enough to seek out more in the series.... I am sensitive to "mean" humor and some of this stuff felt mean to me even when I was amused. (That's REALLY subjective though, so don't let me dissuade you from trying them!) My favorite part was her sidekick, Ruth, the obstreperous artist-sterotype:P.

The Line, by William Urseth (complimentary copy from ECW's "shelf monkey" program)
This is a straightforward collection of anecdotes about some really great hunting dogs (and a few terrible failures as well). If you are in the mood for exactly that, as I was, you will be delighted with this book! The prose does a great job of not getting in the way of the story, something I wish more writers could do this well. Charmingly free of stuff that doesn't have to do with dogs (I'd read a lot more hunting books if I weren't worried about having to slog through political & other unrelated disquisitions) and emotionally honest. I really enjoyed it. I do wish this breed of dog didn't need to have docked tails to conform to breed standards, and I suspect that if I actually sat down and tried to talk to the author about this and other issues, we might end up yelling at each other. So I am glad he didn't talk about anything but the dogs and the hunt. Brought back a lot of good childhood memories for me.
(60/200; also, I'm at -9 in the ARC bank tsk tsk)

Inferno, by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (reread)
The first time I read this I thought "wow, they really like CS Lewis; this was a fun romp." Second time around, pretty much the same except there's an essay included that talks (in part) about how they like CS Lewis, so I feel marginally clever;). Always enjoy a good fish-out-of-water story, too. Anyway, if you think a science-fiction retelling of Dante's Inferno using Lewis-ian theology sounds like your cup of tea, you should read this book! I am forty pages into the sequel and eating it up with a spoon.
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129. Dancing Bear; 130. Ramona the Pest

Dancing Bear
by James Crumley

Started: March 23, 2010
Finished: March 28, 2010

I don't know if I liked all of this book as much as I did the previous two Crumley novels I've read recently, but I did think the ending was much tighter and better done. I'm looking forward to seeing where Milo Milodragovitch ends up next. 228 pages. Grade: B+
Ramona the Pest
by Beverly Cleary

Started: March 26, 2010
Finished: March 28, 2010

Finally to the Ramona books! I love this book. In fact, from what I remember of the remaining books, this may be my favorite of the whole series. It's funny and very truthful. 211 pages. Grade: A
Total # of Books Read in 2010: 130
Total # of Pages Read in 2010: 31,494

Currently Reading: Emma by Jane Austen; The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling; The Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley; Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary

18 and 19

Some more quick reads, because I am trying to get to grips with children's literature. I have been pleasantly surprised by how good the literature is.
Book 18 was Feed by M.T. Anderson and it described a dystopia in which people are 'fed' in a way that is very similar to the internet; wherever you go the brain is fed information, advertising and so on. The protagonist is rather shallow but has a deep girlfriend; she has problems with the feed whilst he is unable and unwilling to think. I was going to write 'think about the feed' but he and his friends have been fed so much pap that they are unable to think about issues. There were elements of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in it, making a very good book. I'd love to teach it.
Book 19 was New Zealand themed; Maurice Gee's The Fat Man, in which a boy, his family and his town deal with a criminal who manipulates others in his search for revenge for childhood bullying. Some good themes, and again one that is well worth teaching.
I am now up to 4802 pages, and with 19 books I am at 252 pages each, well below previous years.