Monday, December 31, 2012

The C-word Rant

I have just recently read The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (well...not very recently, I had to take a couple of weeks to mull it over first before I could write calmly about it).  When DH first bought it I automatically dismissed it because instinctually I just don't want to go there in my mind, but a friend recommended it to me so I thought it was time to have a look.  It was pretty much as I expected, the usual story, with some neat little extras,  a story told in letter form to his fictional daughter, and it was nice how Ned tried to tone down his cursing by substituting the word adjectival instead of the usual words.  Which was probably a good idea as he had a lot to be adjectivally mad about.  At the end I felt the usual frustration and anger, which I have always felt.  Maybe this is hardwired into all Australians?  The indignation felt over such outrageous treatment of another human being.

At the root of it I will always be angry about how convicts and descendants of convicts were treated.  It has become personal for me.  When I was a kid and was taught at school about Ned Kelly he was always held up as a colonial hero (even though he was a thief and a murderer which was much more than what his father, who was a convict, was sent over for in the first place).  He has always been a folk hero because he fought against the English which has always been a very hard thing to do. Those Emglish bastards had so much power over everyone else (and incidentally there were thieves and murderers too among the upper gentry who could get away with it because of their class and power).  To be fair, the English weren't all like that, and I have been making a study of various journals and books written by people of the times, trying to get a grasp of my own heritage and history.  No matter the origins, these are the people who built Australia from the bottom up.  That's nothing to be ashamed of.

It became personal for me because since I immigrated to Canada I have been asked a few times if I was descended from convicts (I don't know if I am), but the latest, most rudest, stupidest, arse-hattiest question was pointed at me last spring where the tool who asked outright after finding out I was Australian,  "Are you a criminal?".  He thought it was funny and even laughed at me.     The guy was actually raving about a trip he wanted to take to Australia specifically to do the surfing etc. and it occurred to me at the time to give him a little warning about not asking that kind of question to people there, but something stopped me from doing so, and I can only hope that he does ask someone there, hopefully at the local pub filled with really beefy guys from the local footy team.

Thing is, Australia would not be what it is today if it weren't for the convicts and colonists.  Douglas Adams wrote this lovely little story about Australia that is included in his very last book The Salmon of Doubt  (compiled after his death), which I recommend reading because, naturally it is funny, but also provides a different point of view to the whole idea of dumping criminals in a paradise like Australia.  I am proud of my heritage, no matter what, because hard working backbone-of-the-country type people stuck it to the English and made a great nation, chock full of the most brightest, creative and beautiful people.  It's something to be proud of.

So give the True History a read.  Even with it's fictional elements it is still really close to the original story, he did those things, and for those reasons.  Try not to get too mad about how it ended for Ned and remember that he is a legend, which is more powerful than anything he could have ever done while he was alive. 

The Vampires of 2012

One of my reading categories this year was vampires.  I am not a huge fan of vampire stories, but there is so much out there now I wanted to get aquainted with what there was (sadly I didn't even get to any of |Anne Rice's works which I have heard are quite good).  I don't seem to have found a lot of great vamp books to read this year, the limit was twelve but there were only three that really stood out for me, the rest (which I won't mention because that would just be mean), were pretty mediocre, predictable, and what I had expected of the new craze/fad for most stories about vampires these days which must include some sex, violence (preferably at the same time) and some gore (perhaps in an attempt to mimic Charlaine Harris or to emulate Stephanie Meyer had she wanted to take things that extra adult step).  Not everything is created equal.
For starters I began this year with Bram Stoker's Dracula.  It was about time.   I have seen the movies  and had been very scared of them when I was a little girl. I loved the movie Van Helsing with all it's steampunk gear and sexy star actor (Wolverine with long hair grroowwl).  I chose it to read after finishing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 1 by Alan Moore.  Mina Harker was one of his characters and I thought it was time I finally got to the true story because I was pretty uncertain about what happened to Mina in the movies I saw.  Did she divorce her husband like Alan Moore wrote, or did she actually turn into a vampire like in the movie loosely based on Moore's graphic novel (which is a favorite of mine even though Moore has disassociated himself from it).    I honestly had expected it to be a bit dry and possibly boring (old stuff can be that way), and was surprised in a very good way.  I loved the story telling format of letter writing in the first part, the underlying fear and suspense was brilliant and I was very worried for Jonathan Harker's sake.  When we are moved to England and into the second part it does not disappoint, it's full of flowery language on Van Helsing's part ( I thought he was really gabby), and full of action and certainly not dry and boring!  The ending was very satisfying (after all of that suspense). 
My second favorite was unexpected.  Abraham 
Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith.   I had been ignoring this book simply
because of it's popularity and because it seems the style in recent years to make these mash-ups and odd pairings.  I don't have anything against them, I'm just a very busy reader and they were low on my list of thing to read.  I'm glad I had a look at this one, it was fabulous.  A nice break break from the stories I had read so far.  I have always had a tremendous respect for Abraham Lincoln, so it just seems to make perfect sense that he would kick ass if he had to fight such an adversary (certain other people from around that time in history made cameos in this story too, I won't say who, they just belonged in the story and added to the historical fiction).
 Some photos that have been making the rounds on the internet have provided me with many moments of laughter, especially this one (if I could have a t-shirt made, I would!)
 Last but not least is The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks (Australian!).  Not your regular run of the mill vampires.  It was another refreshing change, and I got a kick out of imagining this group of vampires out and about in Sydney,  Australia.  I can even picture the television movie they'd make of this book.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year End Round-up For Kid's Lit.

There were a few kids books that I really liked this year.   Out of the sixty-odd children's books that I got through in 2012 a few of them stood out from the crowd.  They are in no sense current, but spread out all over the place and years. 

For starters there is the Leviathan Trilogy.  I was lucky to stumble upon this threesome in a steampunk package and was pleasantly suprised and delighted with what I had read.  I loved the alternate universe, the mechanics of a Darwinist versus Clankers society, and most of all I loved the female protagonist who not only exceeded expectations but had me laughing out loud.  This is a must read for all the young girls I know (Ages 12 and up)
When You Reach Me  by Rebecca Stead, was a powerful, punchy read which will have you on the edge of your seat until you have finished the book.  Another great female character.  I love it when a story is so intricately woven.  No wonder it won the Newbery. (ages 10 and up)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (another Newbery winner) was pleasure beyond measure. It was wonderful to hold in my hand ( I loved the feel of the cover and it's embossed words),  the illustrations were perfect, and  the story very original.   Great for both boys and girls.  (Ages 10 and up)

 The Invention of Hugo Cabret  by Brian Selznick.  I plan on including this with my illustrators unit next year.  I was enchanted.  A great big lovely book, such a pleasure to hold and such a wonderful story to read in an afternoon. (Ages 10 and up)
Marshmallow Magic and the Wild Rose Rouge by Karen McCombie.  Another powerful story of a coming of age girl who gets through the bad stuff in an interesting way.  I liked the very Scottishness of it.  The cover is just delicious. (Ages 10 and up)
Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach.  A good mystery read.  I don't very often come across mysteries for kids anymore (though we have the classic Hardy Boys, Nancy Drews, and The Three Investigators collecting dust on the shelf).  There just hasn't been the interest, but I liked this one. (Ages 12 and up)
The Twits by Roald Dahl.  The perfect combination of really disgusting things and a children's revolt against grownups that should appeal to any kid, it works every time. (Ages 8 and up)
Kenny and the  Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi.  I have just started looking at other things that DiTerlizzi wrote,  I really liked his The Search for Wondla.  He just makes a beautiful book.  A great story and gorgeous illustrations, he is the whole package!  What's not to love in a story about a rabbit and a dragon? (Ages 10 and up)

The BFG by Roald Dahl.  I loved this story from start to finish, it wasn't hard to read at all, and I loved the BFG's message.  His arguments were priceless and still very relevant.  'Dahl's Chickens' still cracks me up!
(Ages 10 and up)

To finish up The Witches by Roald Dahl (can you tell I was buying up the rest of the Dahl books we do not have in the library?).  Another winning book by Roald, complete with evil, cruelty and revolution.  The book is better than the movie for sure (but then for the most part the book usually is better than it's movie counterpart.)

My favorite discovery this year is Oliver Jeffers.  I have only bought the one book so far but I plan on getting the rest because they are just magical.  Simple, rich and  beautiful illusrations with sweet little stories to match.  DH and I bought some for our grandnieces this Christmas and they were well liked.

On The Home Stretch

2013 signals the end of a fascinating story.  The Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris  is coming to an end at book thirteen.  I have followed this story with interest and the characters are my absolute favorites, I love the main protagonist Sookie Stackhouse.    Usually I don't hold much truck with series (lets face it there are so many out there now and some of them are so long winded that they have lost my interest before completion...Wheel of Time anyone?), and  there are the series that will just not ever end! (I shrink in horror from those).

Sookie Stackhouse's story is a hard one, and I have been impressed (for the most part) with how she has dealt with adversity.  Harris wrote her characters very well, I have a strong sense of what it's like to be a well brought up southern woman, complete with good manners, a strong backbone, and a determination to present a certain front to the rest of the world which has it's own 'old world' kind of charm.  I have always liked a story that has presented a strong southern woman as I admire them immensely (Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe).  I imagine that  Harris has inserted her own personal strength into her female characters, that makes them strong even after suffering as they have (and with a sense of humor too).  After reading all of her other books, and her blog, Harris impresses me with her  strength and intelligence. 

This next year I will be re-reading the whole series as part of my reading challenge for 2013 completeing them all in time for May 5th when the last Sookie Stackhouse story will be published.  I am a little sad to see her go, but at the same time it's a good thing that the story is ending (that line from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes "A lady always knows when to leave..." comes to mind).
I don't know how it will end, every book has been a surprise for me.  Sookie has had a few relationships which have caused her some pain (though she has always become stronger because of it), There's Bill who was her first lover, Sam who is her boss (he's on the list though they have never been together), Eric the Viking Vamp and the weretiger Quinn.   I know what I hope for, and it has actually been biasing what I have read so far this week.  I hope that Sookie will live happily ever after with Sam who can protect her, give her children, and grow old with her.  Not that these are his only good qualities, he has been in love with her for years, has supported her through all of her troubles, and consistently treated her with the greatest respect (and has always spoken his mind if he hasn't liked something she's done), which to me are the ingredients of a good marriage, and with the way that the last book Deadlocked ended, I am optimistic that Sam just might be Sookie's Happily Ever After.  Of course, Harris might have other ideas which is why this series has been so very good from start to almost finished.
I have just finished Dead Until Dark, my introduction to Sookie and her life in Bon Temps.  I have been thoroughly scrutinising every word because I don't plan on reading this series for a good long while and I want to savor every page.   There's interesting little tidbits everywhere which I have forgotten (or perhaps not noticed first time through because I am usually in a rush to find out what's happened), which incidentally support my Sam theories (it has been flavoring my opinions, but don't worry though... I know that Harris could easily go a whole 'nother way).

One influence that I do find rather annoying is the tv show.  I will state right now that I really don't like what they have done in True Blood.  This is not my picture of Sookie's life.   It is overdone, overblown and makes Sookie out to be a bit stupid and crass (which she certainly isn't), and the town of Bon Temps and the characters in it are over the top (waaaay over that top!).  I stopped watching it after the second season, realizing that the focus was on all of the bad stuff and the small stuff (like the sex etc.,).  And some of the characters from the book have had awful treatments and alterations which add an ugly bias of their own and take away from what has always been prevalent in Harris' books which is Sookie's tolerance and acceptance of everybody, no matter what type of person they are, whatever supernatural leaning or level of intelligence. Sadly, I have lost the picture in my mind of what I thought the characters used to look like  and the True Blood actors have imposed themselves in their place.  While I realize that certain story lines are impossible to put to screen, most of these embellishments are not necessary and frankly take away from what is, in my mind, the most important thing in the story, Sookie Stackhouse.

I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the series and will try to contain my excitement until May.  No matter what Harris decides to do in the end, whichever way she decides to go, I know that I am just going to love it!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Green Shadows, White Whale

This is one that I have never read!  When I was in my twenties and had first discovered Ray (The Martian Chronicles), I kept the local library busy bringing in through inter-library-loan every single book of Ray's that they had.  But this one eluded me, and I was pleasantly surprised to see what it actually was about.  I had always thought that since he had written the script for the movie with Gregory Peck in it, that it was a novelisation of the movie and since I had read the original by Herman Melville,  I really did not need to read what he had done. 

What it really was about was Ray's slightly embellished experiences of Ireland while he was writing the screenplay for the book. From the very first page I was enthralled with what he felt and saw and heard.  I liked how he wrote about the director John Huston, and I loved how in one chapter he described a stale wedding cake (the wedding had been post-phoned a week) to Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.  I loved it so much I laughed a great deal and quite hard, which is a switch from my usual experience with  a Bradbury collection.  Usually, when I read a story by Ray it is a very intense feeling, my heart swells, I am awestruck, reality shifts and I am taken to a surreal plain where only Ray can take me.  I'm not kidding... it's really like that!  That's why he's the king of the short story, why he will live forever, because I have yet to find anything by anyone that has ever transported me like this. 
 I think after my earlier response to The Dinosaur Tales, Green Shadows, White Whale  was like a balm for my grief, and I feel strengthened by it to carry on reading through the rest of his books next year.

Dinosaur Tales

I spent a couple of months after  Ray's death buying up whatever books I didn't own of his (it was a job I had often thought of doing but always put off because it would be such a huge undertaking!).  After he died it became urgent for me to get them all before they would disappear too.  Of course, I was never disillusioned into thinking he would live forever... I knew he was very old, and it was such a gift to me whenever I discovered a new collection of his stories in the library, but that doesn't make it easier when they do go.  This is a personal hurt for me, because through his books I felt that I knew him, and there was such a deep sense of loss when he died.  
I haven't, except for The Halloween Tree and The October Country,  read any of his work for quite some time, so this little book, with its illustrations and poetry was a new experience.   I learned something new about Ray which was that he was friends with Ray Harryhausen, and that he was a lover of dinosaurs (which, of course, makes perfect sense knowing what I do know about Ray).  So this collection was a nice way to begin a year long challenge of reading those books of his  that I bought this year.  At the end I have to say that it was tough.  Usually at the end of a story or a collection of his stories I have this feeling that I have been touched by greatness, I can't believe where he has taken me and every experience is different.  This time it was bittersweet for me.  While he has physically left us he will never really leave, because his stories will live forever.  I can keep him alive as long as I am living simply by just reading something of his.  He isn't really gone, he didn't disappear, he's still here with me, every time I open one of his books.

Among Others

Just finished this gem of a novel this morning!  It has several things about it that appeal to me and they are this; 1. It is written in the form of a diary.
2. The protagonist talks a lot about what she reads (which is mainly science fiction, and because she was excused from doing three hours daily of exercise at her boarding school,  she read a great deal!). 3. It is what it is.  What I mean by that last part is that there isn't, like current popular fiction, a nasty twist at the end.  I seriously was waiting for the other shoe to drop because this story reminded me very strongly of the feel of The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks which had a seriously wicked, twisted ending, so when I was just ten pages from the end I was almost shaking in my boots wondering how this story would end, and then it did end!  The world did not drop out from underneath me, I was pleasantly surprised and I loved it!  What a mindfully suspenseful non-twisty tale.  Of course, I will be seeking out the rest of her books, once I have read all of the ones that were mentioned in this book (which I have not already read).   Jo must have made an extensive  study of the craft,  the knowledge is all there (which I can attest to having read a great deal of the books that were mentioned), I got the references.  If you are a sci-fi book-geek, this is a perfect book for you!    It won both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Once More into the Breach

Wow!  I had not realised how much I had neglected this blog.  All I can say is that it has been a difficult couple of months and I have not felt the urge to share about my reading experiences.  Not that I didn't read... I think the almost complete total for this year (so far) was over 250 books, I still have a few more weeks to go! 
It was a good experience this reading challenge year, and next year's challenge (which I officially started on the 13th) will be quite toothsome.  Thirteen categories, thirteen books in each (some LTer's are quivering in their boots, but I am definitely up for it!), I have also added an extra challenge of thirteen more categories but in a stepped challenge eg., 1 large chunky book, 2, books of poetry, 3 quilting books, 4 plays etc.,  just for fun because I love to have as broad a variety to chose from as possible and it was very satisfying to complete my extra-long challenge this year as I read so many books that I had wanted to without feeling restricted.
2013 will be the year that I finally settle down to read the books that I purchased this last year (I never got around to counting how many!).  I bought up as many books I could get my hands on by Ray Bradbury (there are still some out there  but I will get a hold of them in the summertime), and this coming year's challenge is to read them all and to write about them if I can.  I have to admit that even now, six months after Ray's death, I still feel it keenly.  More on that in my next blog entry.
I have to say, even though I never met the man, he has touched my life in such important and profound ways, and through his books I feel I  know him so well!
To finish, I do plan on writing about some of the books I read this year, one in particular that will be, I promise, full of those colorful metaphors which I wouldn't usually use in polite society (but I just can't help it with this book!).  There's much to do before the year is up so cheers again for today, and be prepared for some prolific activity from me these winter holidays (just one more week to go!).  Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

All the Pleasures of Time and Leisure

Since owning my own laptop I have been introduced to the joys of electronic books, and since I also have a huge selection of music on there as well I have been combining the two for a couple of years now.    It just makes more sense (to me) to combine the two (because there just isn't enough time in a day to do either separately)  though I know that most people do not like to do this claiming that the music or the reading would be too distracting of the other.    I beg to differ.    Admittedly, before I even considered doing such things, there was always music in my head... like my life has it's own soundtrack, wherever I go and whatever I do, if it's just walking early in the morning and watching the sun come up, driving along the highway to and from Terrace (a very beautiful drive any time of the year), working, cleaning, quilting, writing.  It's never really quiet in my head, so I've never had any problems incorporating the two.

Before I even had my laptop I noticed the enhancement of my pleasure  of listening while reading,  my first experience being some Heinlein juveniles, whilst listening to the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robot.   The Rolling Stones were never so good as when I was listening over and over again to Aproaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon.  
I strongly recommend reading some thrilling space opera to the music of The Flaming Lips as their genre, while being stated as alternative is really space music of the finest calibre.

Next to make a great impression was a selection of space music from Hearts of Space, a radio program out of Berkeley, California featuring the best of electronic and classical music with a spacey theme.  One such piece resonated with me while reading book two of Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet (a truly sad story of love and pain in Mormon America).  Adagio to Silence  was so invocative, I could not help but be overwhelmed with sorrow and compassion for the protagonists of this side story with a perfect selection of Mahler, Kitaro, Messiaen, Landowski, Stearns and Tempel.    Have a look at their website... there is lots there to enjoy.  Hearts of Space

 The pairing of Tanya Huff's Blood Books with the last two albums by U.N.K.L.E Where Did the Night Fall and Another Night Out.   A terrific co-operation of Sleepy Sun, Katrina Ford, Gavin Smith, The Black Angels,  Autolux, Gavin Clark and the awesomeness of U.N.K.L.E.    Perfection!

Another  truly significant  and well mated couple is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov joined with Dmitri Shostakovich's neo-classical string quartets.    I don't think I could ever separate the two now from each other, both being so integral to the power of the story each tell.
Master is a very creepy,  sinister book with a fascinating story within a story within yet another story.   I stongly recommend using this combination of music to story.

This year's serendiptious pairing was The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick being well met with the French electronica band Air's soundtrack  to the Georges Méliès film  Le Voyage Dans Le Lune (the album having the same name).

 As you can see there are quite a lot of choices out there for this kind of reading, and I promise to share some of those perfect combinations that I manage to stumble upon while working through my collections of books and music.  Of course, in the future we will have holographic novels which will have all the senses engaged whilst reading/watching  the story... so this concept really isn't that far off eh?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fahrenheit 451

It has been a pleasure for me this week to re-visit an old favorite by Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.   It was originally one of those books that scared the living daylights out of me, and firmly entrenched a dedication to the act of reading (and buying books...lots of books 'cos I want to save 'em all!).   

When I was a young girl, high on the joy of reading, I was negatively teased about it by my family.  Though I can't remember far enough back to say with absolute certainty when I first began to read, I can clearly remember the excitement of understanding letters, and being able to string them into words that meant something (the A-ha! moment).  I can also remember the hunger to read more, to read them all, and to never stop reading, ever.  It wasn't an easy thing to do.  It is a difficult concept for me to accept (and believe me today I am still mystified that there can still be such a thing), but there are households out there  in the world that do not read, and mine was one of them.  My mother wanted me to be a secretary or a nurse until I got married.  She wanted me to take Physical Education and Cooking at school, all good subjects to take to support what her expectations of me were (which was to be like herself, or what she had always wanted to be), and having my head in a book did not agree with her image of what I should be. The sad thing is, my mother never had the opportunities that I had, she didn't even finish grade school (my memory is fuzzy on just how much schooling she actually recieved), so she was never able to appreciate the joys of a good book (I don't remember her actually having a book in her hand ever). It took a long time for me to understand that and it wasn't until I was an adult and far removed from my mother that I realized  her ignorance and jealousy was what had fueled her contempt for me and my puzzling interests.  I had this fantasy when I was a teenager about the kind of home I would have when I grew up, and the most noticeable feature was the wall to wall library in every room (plus the really bitchin' stereo and music room!).

When I had my own family, I made sure from the very beginning, that books would be a part of their lives.  All of my children were read to from an early age ( I remember reading to 20-month-old DS1 while cradling 3-week-old DS2 in my lap).  Books were important... perhaps because they were such an issue when I was young.  I have always had that contrary streak that makes me want to do even more the things that other people tell me I cannot do! (Just watch me during Banned Books Week!)  So books have been a major part of my adulthood my children love to read (plus they have always had the freedom to do as they wished in their life and career choices with support from myself and my husband).
So you may understand why Fahrenheit 451 was such a devastating book to read for me as I could understand and sympathise with all of the people who were punished, arrested and forced to watch as their books were burnt in front of them.  No-one should be able to tell you what you can and cannot do, and free thinking of any sort, is a right for every person.  This is why I will always fight against censorship, why I have the best job in the world (in a library), and why I am constantly reading.  Books are life.  Freedom of thought,  full of knowledge, dreams and imagination, books are anything and everything to me.

                               "Through my love of words and my love of ideas and metaphors, I can convince you of the most unlikely things.  That's what a magician does.  He can make an elephant disappear on stage.  I can make an entire world disappear or appear in a story.  Or I can make dinosaurs fall in love with lighthouses.  It's magic!"
                                                                           Ray Bradbury

If you have never read Fahrenheit 451, I recommend that you try to get a hold of the 50th Anniversary Edition, as it has a coda  which was really quite profound and very classic Bradbury waxing poetic about something he is passionate about (censorship!).  And if that is not enough (and I don't see how it could be!) have a look at BRADBURY SPEAKS: Too Soon From The Cave, Too Far From The Stars Essays on the Past, the Future, and Everything in Between.   In that book is a very clear and poignant insight in to the genius  that was Ray Bradbury.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Am Legend

I had this interesting conversation with a seventeen year old kid the other day about books and how there are so many movies being made these days from them.  While he thought that it showed a lack of originality in movie makers, I was thinking about how my own standard practices have changed since I was his age.  These days, I don't watch a movie without first finding out if it was first a book.  I prefer to have the proper story first so that my own imagination is engaged without bias, without my characters already chosen for me by a movie director.  Either way though, there is room for disappointment.  I can remember when I first read Twilight, I had the thought several times "Gee, I hope this is in the movie", and ended up being really disappointed (though it was an all-round generally disappointing movie).

I saw the movie, I Am Legend starring Will Smith, first.  I just love Will, and always try to see whatever he has acted in, and this one did not disappoint.  I was devastated.   This movie was awful.  I have seen some terrifying post-apocalytic/apocalyptic/dystopian movies in my day, but this one was the worst.  This movie did an amazing job of showing just how the protagonist felt, the one-man show of Robert Neville (Will Smith), coping with isolation, danger, and grief, it was poignant.  So I was pretty happy to find the book.  But after one chapter I put it down and didn't look at it again for nearly two years.  I was psyched out.  I couldn't face what I knew would be happening next in the story.  It didn't start on a good note, and I knew it would just get worse.  Which was too bad, because when I finally was able to face the story again, it was a powerful experience.  I've already mentioned that the story begins on a bad note, the tension and suspense is thick right at the beginning (and constantly throughout!) and I was constantly worried about the protagonist (which is ridiculous because I know how the story ends).  But it is a worthy read.  When I finshed the story it was an "Oh wow" moment.  I have not yet figured out how to describe the strong emotions I felt at the end.
I am pleased to say that the movie payed suitable homage to the book, which, to me is a very good thing (keeping in mind my huge disappointment with Twilight the movie).

So it's just a standard practice now.  Book first, movie second, because imagination can take me places movies never will.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fan Fiction

After my recent experiences with the Shades of Grey trilogy (which was originally fan fiction), I decided to have a closer look at this phenomenon.  I have read some before (I have my own illicit collection of Austen analogs...there's just something so tantalising about a book written from Darcy's point of view!).  I recommend looking at this site FanFiction.Net for a very wide selection of fan fiction.  This is a great site to waste time on!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 2 (spoilers)

I have really looked forward to reading this graphic novel.  Volume two in the series promised to be  particularly thrilling for me as it is, basically, all about what has always been for me the genesis of a long lasting love affair with science fiction.  Ever since I was nine-years-old and was freaking out over Jeff Wayne's  musical re-telling of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, I have been hooked.  Terrified, fascinated, but hooked.  Throw a mention of Mars or Martians into the story line of any book and I have to read it.  I have found several great writers that way, Ray Bradbury being one of them when I read his Martian Chronicles (my first ever Bradbury), there was just no looking back after that.

The first book was really exciting for me.   We begin on Mars itself, with Gullivar (of Gullivar of Mars by Edwin Lester Arnold) flying on his carpet to meet with none other than John Carter from The Barsoom Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  They are planning an attack on some unwelcome guests (guess who?) that are encamped in molluscs.   This is something I have just loved about this series of comics by Alan Moore.  All of our heroes, featured in a story together.  For the most part, I had already read most of these stories (with the exception of Gullivar but I got right on to that).  I was almost vibrating with excitement to see the Sorns in the fight against the molluscs (from Out of The Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis).  Gotta love that!  We get our first look at a martian (another shivery thrill fest), before they all flee the planet, leaving Gullivar and John to discover that the invaders have been observing Earth (by using a device from H.G. Wells' The Crystal Egg)  and are now on their way to the planet.

(End of spoilers, I promise)

We cut to Earth from there and I have to say that I was really pleased with how the story was written, and illustrated.  I think that of all the movies I've seen, and cover art, this was the most faithful rendition from H.G. Well's book.  With graphic novels you are able to say so much more than words, and looking at each page it felt like a treasure hunt looking for clues to what book might be featured in each page. The literal graphic nature of the violence that a story of this kind includes was not gratuitous and very neccessary to the telling of this story (and what a twisted, horrible story it was!), and all in keeping with the orignal horror story of  Martians invading the Earth in the late 19th century.  While I don't know if I could go on and read more from this series, the first two are just simply wonderful reads, and a brilliant combination of artist and writer, who are obviously huge fans of classical science fiction.

The Fifty Shades Trilogy...Not quite What It Should Be

 I have been working on trying to keep up with everyone else out there in Bookland (not an easy thing to do with so much new material out there), so when I saw a partial review of the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James (the latest hot thing going) I thought I would get right on that and see what all the fuss was about.
I don't like to see reviews before I have read a new book,  I'd rather find out about it for myself, make an unbiased first impression and then read what other people think of it ( there is a lot of entertainment value to be had with that, I promise).  I have also always had an issue with the reviewer who just basically sums up the whole book for you and writes maybe a sentence or two about what they thought and if they liked it or not.  I dislike even more the people who read those kinds of reviews and decide not to read the book because of it.  It's not only really tedious to read such reviews but frustrating as well.  How could anyone but myself really know if I would like something or not?  It's ridiculous (and unfair to the author).
Since Twilight by Stephenie Meyer was mentioned in the little snippet of  review I saw, I thought that I would do this properly by going back and re-reading the Twilight Saga (along with all of those other little tidbits of writing you can find on her website here: Stephenie Meyer ).  I really recommend that you do this first before delving into Fifty Shades because it really will enhance your overall entertainment value (trust me).  In a way, reading through the trilogy was like an I-Spy book for adults... a spot the Bella, Edward or someone else from Twilght reference, as well as lines, words that stick out, and behaviours (don't worry... I won't point them out for you, it really is loads of fun to find them all for yourself!).  You won't have to wait long!  The very first Twilight-isms are in the opening paragraph. 

Like Twilight, I have re-read this trilogy a few times now... for the same reasons.  While I liked the story, there is something I am struggling to understand, and haven't quite figured out yet.  I need to know why these books are such a huge success.  It is a fascinating study.  I can see the basic lure  in each story, and if I go to what I think of as the best romantic story there is (in my opinion), Pride and Predjudice by Jane Austen, I can find similar elements there as well (we all know Meyer did borrow from Austen in this regard as well as other authors for each of her books using them as an underlying theme for each book, though not taking directly from them as E.L.James did).  We have our first impressions (that essential first meeting), the main issues/predjudices to overcome and then the reward of our two lovers finally getting together and the satisfying conclusion of living happily ever after.  These are the basics, and I love a good romance.  In my life I have been fortunate to have already read some really beautiful  love stories, with great characters that were intelligent and interesting personalities, and intensely romantic ones both of which are beguiling prerequisites for a good romantic novel, so I have some high expectations for what I consider a well written romantic novel.  Twilight wasn't written for adults, I think that critics forget that sometimes, and I haven't agreed with most of the complaints against it.   As far as relationship literature goes, Twilight is on a higher level compared to the Mills and Boon tripe that I read in my teens.  I like Twilight for this reason as it not only features good, strong characters with good morals, but also does a push for classic literature.  I cannot help but wonder how many girls out there after reading Twilight went out and read their first ever Jane Austen novel? 

Fifty Shades is the 'grown-up' version of Twilight (and a badly summarized version,) with lots of stuff taken from Twilight but arranged in different order from the original... a trick I used to do in school when I had to write a summary on something and my teacher would say "in your own words" so I would just mix the order up to make it seem like it was my own work.    We don't have vampires, or other mythical creatures, instead we have a porn book (though I am extremely grateful that James decided on some more tasteful alternatives to the usual 'cock and pussy' labels because I probably would have put the book down after the first couple of chapters), with a BDSM theme.  I must say that I am worried about this, because young Twilight fans out there will want to read this, and I hate to think of someone like my niece or my friend's daughters reading this.  Easy access to the internet means easy access to this.   Which leads me on to my next concern, the quality of the writing involved.  After my first read through I was really puzzled.  There are so many mistakes in the text!  It was my husband who informed me that this was deliberate, that the publishing company who bought these books did not want to change it in any way (because it was so popular the way it was).   This really has me worried.  What will this do to the standards already set in place in the publishing industry?  What will this do to future literature?   I heard that when E.L. James was asked about this issue in an interview  she responded by saying that great writers like Mark Twain and William Shakespeare didn't use editors.  What does this mean?  Does she think that she is as great as them? Is she arrogant or just ignorant?  Or both?  I don't really think that she meant it that way, and I suspect that she has been getting lots of questions about the quality of her work... it's just a really unfortunate choice for a rebuttal.   I suggest that both Shakespeare and Twain did a great deal of self-editing, that they did a great job of it, and that it is not really a relevant statement to make about works that were written in past centuries, and that in this century there are established standards, requirements, and procedures which are more appropriate to today's works of literature.  It's also really unfair to established writers who have done the hard work and have earnt their success.

Lastly, I want to say that I did like this story.  It has great potential to be one of those great romances in a modern setting.  I wish that this trilogy of books had been edited.  There is too much there that really isn't necessary (let's cut out 95% of the sex okay? ...and those long strings of one word sentences, I mean, come on!) is just annoying and slightly painful (and not in a sexy BDSM way).

  I am reminded of a quote by C.S.Lewis: "Don't use words too big for the subject.  Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very', otherwise you'll have no words left when you want to talk about something really infinite".

Friday, June 8, 2012

In Mourning

The day before yesterday my world fell out from underneath me.  I had heard that my most favorite (of all time and until forever) writer had passed away.  It was a shock, which is ridiculous because I knew how old he was, it had actually been weighing on me the last time I had read one of his books, We'll Always Have Paris.  Ray Bradbury died at age 91 after more than seventy years of working on his craft, performing magic tricks with words, and working  on living forever in the only way he knew how.

It's sad, and maybe a little strange, for me to be mourning someone I have never met, but I have felt so connected to Ray since the first book of his I ever read.  His writing impacted me so deeply that over the years I have sought everything he had ever put into books, every one of his stories had such depth and resonance, that I truly felt he had no equal, and that he was, as I fondly put it The King of Short Stories.  
 I have chosen to deal with this grief in two ways:  I have started buying up all of the books I don't yet have of his (though I have read them all) which I plan on re-reading, and I have begun to write again.    

Ray always said to write every day, wether you felt like it or not.  Not that I consider myself a writer in any good form, I will never write my own novel, or even a short story, I don't have the gift, but I do love to write.  Unfortunately, I don't have the drive I wish I had to do it on a daily basis.  I go for long periods of time where I am just not in a sharing mood (even in my personal journal), where whatever is happening in my life is just too hard to write about, or I am just so mentally exhausted that I don't have the strength to think too hard about my life.  It's sad because this is something I love to do. 

So to honor Ray I am going to give the writing thing an earnest try.  I have been shocked out of my writing funk, and it feels like an expression of love to one I have lost to begin writing,  sharing my love of all things bookish and the written word with you.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The End of an Era

There isn't much that I can say about these last two books which conclude Asimov's long, long story.  I can't give away anything.
  I feel I must remind everyone that he had never intended it to be that way... that over fifty years of writing about the future history of humanity and of science itself, he had never intended it to be a consecutive tale... it's just serendipity that it ended up that way, and in four final novels he 'made it so'.

After reading Foundation's Edge  I was positively lathered up into a froth of excitement because I thought that the story was heading towards a conclusion that I had always hoped.

Foundation and Earth did not disappoint me.  In so many conclusions of series that I have read over the years, there is sometimes a little sadness because the story is over or disappointment over how it was finished, but I am glad to say that this was not one of those kinds.

Without giving away spoilers I will say this... I had two reactions, or I should say impressions.  The first being  this... do you remember a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Starfleet is infested with a lifeform similar in appearance to a giant beige earwig, that takes over key officers and is trying take over the Federation?  It was quite intense but concluded satisfactorily with Will Riker And Jean Luc Picard 'phasering' the queen bee into goo and all the earwigs exploding.    But not before the lifeforms had managed to send out a message far into space and the episode finishes with a picture of space and the sound of a message being transmitted to who knows where meaning who knows what, and you get a little creepy chill because you just don't know what will happen next.  Well I got that feeling right at the end, so much so that I had to go back and re-read the last page so that I could make sure of why I felt that way.  Shortly afterwards though I had another image, and that is of Dirk Gently standing outside on his front lawn shaking his fist at the night sky and yellling "STOP IT!" (from the Long Dark Teatime of the Soul by Douglas Adams).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Foundation Trilogy


What an absolute joy it was for me to read this very special group of books.  You might expect after reading the two prequels and then slogging through the original trilogy, that I might have gotten a little bored at this point, but there is no fear of that!
I began with some reluctance, as I was not sure what to expect.  After such a build up from the prequels, I was a little worried that the original trilogy might not measure up to what had been written more than thirty years later.  Each book had it's slow points and were each punctuated with crises that made the event and the solution to it exciting, very clever and even funny at some points (I just couldn't help chuckling with glee at some of the solutions).  Foundation and Empire  was just devastating.  The story of the Mule was so upsetting and intense, where was Isaac going with this, is he killing the Foundation off, is the Seldon Plan kaput?  I feel sorry for the people who had to wait for the next installment.  Luckily I had no such problem and with eagerness I plunged into Second Foundation.
Let me tell you, the first sixty pages of that book were read in one sitting.  I wasn't going anywhere until that story arc was told. 
Now there are only two books to go, and I have a lot of expectations.  I am very curious about how it will all end, but I won't pose my questions here because no matter how I try to write them up, they just give too much away so I will have to keep it all to myself.  I know I won't be disappointed.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Prelude to and Forward the Foundation

 Have I said before how grateful I am to Isaac for tying up all of his stories together into one pretty package?  I probably couldn't say it enough.  I love how he has done that!  
Since I haven't read the Foundation Trilogy yet I'm not sure what to expect.  But the hype that Asimov built in with each chapter by adding inserts from his Encyclopedia Galactica adding a sense of greatness and history to the story, you just know its going to add up to something really really special.  I actually got sick of the term "psychohistory" it was bandied about so much, but I loved the backstory of Hari Seldon, and of how Isaac pulled it all together to make his legacy.  Forward the Foundation was his last novel which makes it all that much precious as we see Hari at the end of his life and the success of his life work accomplished, as Isaac has accomplished his.   

The Eyre Affair

I really got a kick out of reading this book!  Like in The League of Extraordinary GentlemenThe Eyre Affair is laced with literary references ... with a twist!  I enjoyed it just as much and know it would have been even better if I had've read the books that were used in this story (yes... I am ashamed to admit I have not read Jane Eyre, or Martin Chuzzlewit!).

This is an alternative history of which Thursday Next is the protagonist.  You'll notice right away with her name that this is no regular kind of book.  It is richly flavored in a  Dickensian way by the names that a lot of these characters have (one of which is Jack Schitt, and I still cannot read that without giggling a little bit because it was used with great skill throughout the novel).  I recommend to anyone to read the book just for that fun value alone.  More also is a science fiction/ futuristic element of technology, in a world that has to protect its literature ( Next is a cop that hunts down literary felons...and I don't mean that literally).  This is where it's a good idea that you know your literature, though I think you can get by pretty well without it (though I'd like to see you not go back and read all the books mentioned afterwards).  I won't tell you any more because I don't want to spoil it... just go out and get it!

There are a few more to read in this series, but I want to be prepared beforehand, so I will read the books featured first (so I don't feel like a stupid boobie for not knowing my stuff).  This year seems to be, so far, a year of finding books that seem to be almost tailored to my own tastes, and I am having a great time discovering them.

Great Expectations

In honor of Charles Dickens 200th birthday I chose Great Expectations to read.  I am embarrased to say that I had not read it yet!  Hopefully I will read them all one day.  I cannot help but feel that Charles Dickens is one person that I wish to get to know well, and the best way to do that is to read all of his works.  I haven't read many so far.  I read David Copperfield in my early teens, and later there was A Chrstmas Carol and Little Dorrit.  An interesting sampling so far which already gives me a good impression of the character of its author.
I admit at this stage in my life my knowledge of this century is still very skimpy, and much of my original reading was done when I was younger so the memories are hazy.  Once, when I was watching the movie Fahrenheit 541 and Montag was reading from David Copperfield, I felt like I wanted to cry too (one of the women he was reading to was) because the passage he was reading aloud  was beautiful (though I think the woman who was crying was doing it for another reason entirely).  Dickens shows me a world I cannot possibly know, but I feel as if I could because he paints very clear pictures with his words.
I am glad that I have made a point of not seeing any of the movies that have been made from this book.  I didn't know what the story was about which was great.  I loved it.  The characters were all so different from each other and some were very strange.  I loved the name Mr. Pumblechook (I think that alone helped me not to hate him!), crazy Miss Havisham, and dependable Joe.   I even joined a discussion group about this book, and earnestly defended Pip to another person who thought that he was a very selfish and awful character.    He really wasn't.  It was a valueable discussion, because I developed a better undertsanding of Pip (because my own initial impression was that he did end up being a selfish so and so). This is something I love about Dickens' books.  You are there with your characters at the beginning, so you can understand them and why they behave the way they do, and you get to share, not only in the adventure of their lives but also the characters they meet along the way.  While there is always adversity, it is sweetened with healthy helpings of good people from all walks of life to soothe the protagonist's way.
So you can see why I wish that I could meet and shake the hand of such a man, to get to know him.  He was brilliant, and an amazing scholar of human nature.  His characters are believable, they are true.

In case you would like to see this as a movie, I recommend watching the PBS 2011 television series as a good place to start.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Some Things You Can Never Get Back... the morning I just spent reading this book.  My first instinct was not to read it, I'm just not interested in these kinds of things.  Books about personalities, rockstars, actors etc.,  just leaves me  bored.  It wasn't really all that bad,  I did learn one or two new things, and I laughed a few times.  It was just one morning's effort.    
The issue for me however, is confusion.  I am puzzled about why people now are writing such books about themselves when, to my point of view, I don't think they've done that much (be on the lookout for Justin Bieber's book coming soon...not!).  It has always been an assumption of mine that when you write an autobiography you have already lived a long and eventful life and have much wisdom to share.  The exception being I suppose that one really special noteworthy thing has already happened to you and there is so much material to write about this event that it couldn't possibly wait for years from now when you are old and grey.  Apparently not.  These days anyone with a bit of renown can churn out a book about themselves and it doesn't really have to make much sense...or have a point.  
When I read a book I expect to get somewhere at the conclusion, even if it is a series or a trilogy...whatever.   When it is a one-off non-fiction deal, shouldn't it make sense?  Where do you want to go?  What are you trying to say?  

This is a genre I have not really looked at before, because I have not really been all that interested in non-fiction, and it has been something I have wanted to change.  So with the aim of reading LibraryThing's Hot This Month list, and trying to improve myself by reading something possibly educational, I thought I would give Bossypants a whirl (at #10 on the list).  I don't know much about Tina Fey (being too tired to stay up and watch Saturday Night Live and I have never watched 30 Rock.  So it was all new information to me. 
She's funny and smart,  a person who works hard and does a good job.  She's had some success in her career, and has a nice little family.  At the end there we all know how ambivalent she is about her job and her family,  and she really can't make up her mind about having another baby. 
My question is why does it have to be in a book?  Isn't it something more appropriate for say a journal, or even a blog?  Those one off entries you can make about something that concerns you at the moment, but have no need to be decided on or to be concluded in any way?  There is just this very unfinished feeling about the book, which annoys me.  And inspires me to rant a little about how these days the world is just being flooded with every concieveable media and it all seems to be about quantity, not quality.  
Ok I promise to stop being grumpy now.  And I promise to have a look at her next book when/if she writes one  twenty nears from now (stuffed with experience and wisdom I fervently hope!)
 Also, I will not be reading #4 on the Whats Hot list... Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  Just reading the contents make my eyes glaze over and my stomach clench at how many pages are in there... over 700!  While I know it meets my criteria for what I think should make up an autobiography I just can't read that many pages about computers and people who make them  So I will go with my instincts on that one and give it a miss. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Color Purple

Over the years there have been a few movies I have watched that have moved me emotionally, so deeply that they have held a very special place in my heart. To name a few, in Steel Magnolias the scene after the funeral always has me tearing up a bit and ready to bawl because the pain that Sally Fields portrays is so very real and raw.  The English Patient  is another tear-jerking  movie which I have only seen once and have yet to read the book of because it was just so hauntingly heartbreaking.  Then there is the movie I Am Legend with Will Smith (yet another show I will never be able to see again because of it's suspense and frightening content).   The Color Purple directed by Steven Spielberg is one of the most emotionally evocative movies I have seen (yet).  This scene pictured above is what I consider to be the most powerful one I have ever encountered.  If the movie is on the television, I will always stop to watch it even if I only catch the last half hour (which is, in my opinion the best part), just so that I can see Whoopie Goldberg again perform one of the most touching and overwhelmingly emotional parts of the whole movie.  I always cry because it is just so beautiful.
So it was with great interest that I read the book, and I am pleased to say that Spielberg didn't muck it up (meaning that he was pretty faithful to the book).  I must admit I would have been tickled pink to see Danny Glover quilting with Whoopie on the front porch, but I guess you can't have everything. 
Written as a journal (one of my favorite formats!), we get to follow Celie throughout her life, to a most satisfactory conclusion.  The writing is simple and the imagery is vivid without detail (though I thought that might be because of the movie at first, but I was wrong because as I went further into the story I had other images come to mind which are not a part of the movie).
It is a great story to step into and experience another way of life for a short while. It was great to have a peek into the strong and loving bond between women who are the best of friends. It was also a great way to be reminded of the value of simpler things that life can be about,  a good home-cooked meal or a hand-made quilt, which are more powerful and important than anything else I can express the significance of here.