Friday, January 31, 2014

The Popularity Papers


Amy Ignatow has hit it out of the ball park again with number two of her much beloved series The Popularity Papers.    I love everything about these books!   The artwork is amazing; it is so colorful and appealing.  I admit that I am always inspired to go and write something in my own journal and I always wish that I could be more creative with the embellishments that I add to my own words.  Of course, I also want to start knitting something right away too, but you can't read and knit at the same time!  Appearance aside, I also really love how the story is presented.  We have two girls with different lives, who share and  learn from their personal experiences which are, in my opinion, important issues that girls at this age should be thinking about.  I love how they both arrive at the right conclusions for their particular problems and that we get to read about them in such an inspirational and entertaining way.  If I had daughters, I would make sure that they had the whole series to date, and of course, I would make sure they could create their own journals, and be able to knit if they wanted to as well!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flora & Ulysses

DiCamillo has done it again!  Perfection in a book.  Last week when this came into my library I knew then that it would win the Newbery (ask my husband if you don't believe me, I was without a doubt absolutely certain that this book must get the Newbery). 
The story is original, the illustrations provide an extra dimension of awesomeness instantly making it appealing and endearing (I'm not kidding!  When I opened up this book for the first time, before I had even read the first page  but had seen the first illustrated sequence, I just loved this book).    Congratulations to Kate, and thank you so much for yet again doing what you do so very well.
                                 Of course, I wish I had my very own Ulysses because squirrels are just so loveable...even the hungry ones.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Friend of my Youth

Keeping in mind the journey I have just completed this past year, by bingeing on Ray Bradbury, you might be able to understand how mystifying I have found Alice Munro to be.  I have never experienced her before, and have only just learnt through casual conversation, that we (meaning DH and myself) had actually visited her book store that time we went down to Victoria to drop DS#3 off at university. 
At the time I admit I was a little preoccupied with “mum stuff“, and the fact that I was looking for two other book related treats (the restaurant ReBar, and Emily Carr’s house).  So I wasn’t really paying attention when we went to Munro’s Books and didn’t realise the significance (not that I‘m saying that visiting a book store is insignificant…we did put two and two together after all and figure it out for ourselves when the only mention in the news was that she actually owned a bookstore in Victoria).

Since Alice Munro's winning of the Nobel, I thought it would be a good idea to finally read something of hers…especially since I have four of her books that I had picked up in various second hand stores. 
I would have to agree with her review blurbs.  She really is very good.  I just don’t understand her yet. 
Friend of my Youth was absorbing and uncomfortable.  Absorbing because this is my very first encounter with Alice Munro and it was engrossing, trying to understand her (haven't figured that out yet!), and uncomfortable because of the subject content of her stories.  I am captivated!  I want to know what makes Munro tick, which means I must read more of her work.  It was so easy and wonderful to read Bradbury because I understood and loved him, so each story was like an affirmation of what I knew.  Not so with Alice, she is a mystery to me, which I look forward to learning about.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Detective Wore Silk Drawers

This was the next book to be taken off the stack I currently have by my reading chair.  This was an impulse buy, bought purely on it's merit as a Penguin and I implicitly trust Penguins (especially at second-hand book stores where part of my criteria for treasure hunting  is that if it is a Penguin it ought to be good, and at that inexpensive price what is the risk?).  I was not wrong with that assumption, it is a good book.  Just not my cup of tea.    I am essentially a non-violent person and this book was prevalently violent.  I did not like those bits at all, which made the book a punishment to get through and because of this it also took a longer than usual time for me to finish it.   What was of interest was the time period, and of how Scotland Yard was beginning to do such things as having policemen working under cover to catch their murderer.  I hated what happened to the under cover policeman though, but for the sake of the story I believe it was necessary as they were after all just experimenting with this kind of policework, and had not as yet come up with regulations about the safety and welfare of their staff.  
The book ended well, though, and if you are someone who can handle all of the 'scrapping', you  might enjoy this book.

Friday, January 10, 2014

With All the Best Intentions...

I began my reading this year with the best of intentions, I would choose randomly from my stacks, read carefully (and slowly), savour the language on each page and take my time to digest what the author is saying to me.  Taking my time meant thinking more about each individual book, and having more time to do extra research rather than just counting on Wikipedia for most of my information (not that I am dissing the website in any is still my first choice for fast facts). 
With these ideas in mind I set out read my very first Goethe.  I wanted to read Faust of course, but I have always been really anal about how I start a new author, and preferably it will be with their first works and then progressing on to read the rest (this modus operandi of mine is currently getting a re-evaluation).  So I began to read Goethe's  The Sorrows of Young Werther. 
One other firmly established habit of mine is to ignore introductions in books.  I do this for a few reasons, it is hard to understand the references made because I have not read the book yet (why is this at the beginning of a book?), sometimes they can be extremely boring (not everyone is as funny as Charles Dickens or Mark Twain) and last, but not least, they might contain spoilers.  Quite by accident, I briefly scanned the first page of the introduction in this book, and right there, right on the very first page, in two little sentences, the whole plot was revealed.
I have always been a fan of the epistolary novel, but knowing what I already did, or possibly because I had to go back to work this week after  Christmas holidays, or perhaps because the moon is getting fuller, or even maybe it was just because it is January and the weather is dull and grey (post holiday blues?), but I was not inclined to like this story.
Werther impressed me from the beginning as self indulgent.  On top of that he is a very artsy, whiney, flowery, wordy, (I discovered a new hatred for the word effulgent) correspondent which had me rolling my eyes almost from the first page.  Add to that his obsessive behaviour which really brought back to me those feelings I experienced when I was reading Nabokov's Lolita .  So going in, I was miffed, already spoilt, mildly grossed out,  and I think too biased  to give Sorrows a fair chance.  There are other writings in the book, which I didn't even look at because by the time I forced myself through Sorrows (rapidly I might add, no savouring these words), I was not interested in looking further, I knew that it had been a bad idea, and that Goethe deserves a better effort from me.
I have since read that this first book of Goethe's was kind of a bad boy for it's day.  Inciting some protest about it's content, it was also an influence for the upcoming Romantic literary movement. 
For now, I will put this aside for another time when I have forgot these preconcieved notions, and recommend to you (whoever you are who read my blog posts), to be careful of your books...they might contain introductions that could ruin everything!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Sandman - Preludes and Nocturnes

I have read a few of Gaiman’s stories now and thought it a shame I had never looked at this collection of graphic novels sitting on my husband's shelf.  I have long been enjoying graphic novels and appreciating what they do for reluctant readers, but it is not just that.  There is something about the graphic novel which is to be admired, and I have often been happy to read what was once a novel in graphic form, and been absolutely thrilled at how the graphic version has incorporated ideas from the written page.  It is like an I-spy book, where you hunt and seek the images that ‘tell’ a page or two of text, an idea, which is fun and exciting all at the same time when you spot the reference, all in one small window of illustration.  
The Sandman of course, is not like that, as this is an original story with elements of the familiar (references from other comics and popular culture naturally), but there is a lot to be seen on every page.  I always find myself poring over each one seeking that little clue to help or enhance my understanding of the story being told. 
My first experience with this story is a feeling of being overwhelmed (of course, in it‘s initial form as a comic you would experience things in dribs and drabs and maybe that is a good way to get in a bit of a ‘breather‘ before going back in again for more of the nasty).  It is a fascinating story, but dark, and there are parts I choose not to think about again.  After reading American Gods, I  was prepared a little (thankfully) for the content of Preludes and Nocturnes, and after reading something as dark as Alan Moore’s graphic novels, I have been prepared, so to speak, for the darkness (there must be another word besides dark to describe this world of graphica that both Moore and Gaiman have imagined!   Black, cloudy,  dim, dingy, drab, dull, foggy, gloomy, murky, shadowy, somber, dun, faint, aphotic, caliginous, cimmerian, crepuscular, dusky, grimy, inky, pitchy, lurid, sooty, tenebrous…to name a few).
It brings back for me the age old question of what makes a good novel.  The particular question of “If it is horrible, does that make it a classic?”.   This is not typical of just modern literature (there is plenty of the awful in the old stuff as well, just read Hardy’s Jude the Obscure if you don’t believe me).  Neil Gaiman put it best in his speech for literacy so I will just direct you here for a better written and well thought out explanation which I am unable to give you.
Taking a break before I tackle reading volume two.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Rest of the Robots

Not having a structured reading challenge this year (I have decided to be very whimsical about it this year), I started out by just opening up a box of books and diving in. I have over the past couple of years just placed my purchases into boxes after buying them with no effort to inventory whatever is inside, so it is a literal surprise to see what is in each box, and a great deal of fun.  This week I opened my first box and here was this lovely treat inside (admittedly every book in the box was like that but I wanted to read some Asimov right away as it has been more than a year since I have indulged).  This is my write up for Libraything:-

"I am a huge fan of Isaac Asimov, and especially of his robots. As I have noticed with some writers of short fiction in this genre, new collections almost always include favorites from previous years, so there will be some repetition (that feeling of deja vu which is hardly ever unwelcome considering the author and the stories and, in my opinion worth a re-read). His short stories often have a punchline which is uniquely typical of Asimov, and very often an amusing one. It does not matter if I have read most of these stories before, they are always a welcome revisit, and still provide for me a fascinating look into a possible future that I find myself wistfully wishing for. ( )"

Adding to all of the robotic fun, is Isaac's remarks before each storiy, which I enjoyed as I have always thought him to be such an intelligent and witty man.
This book is my first entry for January, I have opted instead of reading categories, I will just list what I have read each month, with a few extra places for particular things I would like to do this year, also with very little structure to them, like a list for Doctor Who books, one more for Neil Gaiman because I plan to binge on him this year, and for non-fiction and vegan non-fiction.  I would also like to read more of what I own (dipping into my mystery boxes), and attempting to read what is new this year.  All of which I would like to do instead of having to.  To cap it off, I want to spend more time writing, and perhaps doing things that do not involve books .  That last one I admit, was a hard one to contemplate, but I know it is important to do. 

Fortunately, the Milk.

I have been working for quite some time on a limited budget to get all of Gaiman's juvenile literature for the school library.  Why?  Because they are unique, quirky and engaging (and oh so very Neil).  That is right...Neil Gaiman has a certain style which I am beginning to recognise and admire.
Fortunately, the Milk, is hilarious.  I was chuckling from the very beginning and outright snorting with laughter at the end.
I have only seen the Skottie Young illustrations, but I understand that Chris Riddell also illustrated a version (and why is it that there are two versions?  That is annoying but I think that given a choice I would probably go for the Riddell version, even though I like both illustrators).  So if I can't convince you to have a look, this blurb from Neil's website really ought to do it...         

There's no milk.  So Dad saves the day by going to buy some. Really, that’s all that happens.  Very boring. Soooooooo boring. YAAAAAAAWWWN. You don't want to read it.   There are absolutely definitely none of the following things inside: PIRATES!  GLOBBY GREEN ALIENS! INTERGALACTIC POLICE! ANGRY VOLCANO GODS  DEMANDING HUMAN SACRIFICE! And most definitely NOT a time-travelling  hot-air balloon piloted by the brilliant Professor Steg . . .