Friday, February 27, 2009

The Talent

I surf over here every now and again for the lovely wit (haven't read any of her novels so can't say anything beyond that I like her blog writing) and this post had me laughing just at the title. It's possible I've been reading too much Smart Bitches, Trashy Books but The Talent seems like a saucy nickname for a large penis.

Apologies to MJ, she wasn't being immaturely crass, that's reserved for me!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Margaret Atwood describes a sticky situation.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Letter to a Friend

Question from a friend: I'm finding a lot more time to read. Have you read the Twilight Series. It is a fun romance/drama/horror? I'm almost done so if you have any good books to recommend, let me know.

Answer for a friend:
Oh man, did you ask this of the right person at the right time (or the wrong person at the wrong time depending on how you look at it - I'm about to give you an eyefull:)!?!? I looooooooove to read and am always reading and almost always thinking about new books. On top of that I'm back into my own writing which has sent me zipping around cyberspace getting writing/author tips and so I have been reading a ton of author/book news. To do the best possible job I can it'd be great if you told me what kind of books you enjoy reading. Or rather, if you like a lot of stuff but there are certain things you don't want to read just tell me those so I don't suggest anything that is outside of what you prefer to read.

Anyway, to answer your original question I have not read the Twilight series. I am very familiar with them, their author, etc. I really like young adult (YA) fiction, and I really like fantasy but I often don't enjoy books that are set in high school. I don't mind if the characters are high school age but I need them to be in a setting other than high school. However, I may eventually give these a try. I'd love to hear what you thought of them.

As for some suggestions I highly recommend The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (YA fantasy). This book began a series so there are two books that follow. They are set in a fictional history that is inspired by the terrain of the Greek coastline. I have read each book in the series at least three times. I really like them. :)

If you like historical fiction, Katherine by Anya Seton is very good. It is well-written, well-researched and a true to life 'fairytale' love story. It always makes me feel like a giggly school girl. Another historical fiction book I like (and not at all a love story:) is Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

I'm not usually a big fan of memoirs but The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls was really interesting to me.

Two good non-fiction books I have read recently are:
Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

A few fiction titles that I think are very good are:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay [Ed. Note. I no longer recommend this book]
Pretty Birds by Scott Simon
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Ok, this was probably more than what you were expecting! I tried to give a variety depending on what you are in the mood for. Let me know if you want more (hehe) or rather just some more suggestions in a certain genre. Also, I'm on so if you're interested in sharing book ideas there I can send you an invite to join...I think.

Ah, happy *sigh*! I love talking about books. I miss my book clubs and I miss having a great variety of English language books. However, since the library here [Utrecht, Netherlands] has foreign language sections at all I should probably not complain.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Reading List

BBC believes the majority of people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.

After a two (mby three) minute search I couldn’t find actual BBC confirmation of this and then I lost interest.

1) Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
2) Add a '+' to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.
4) Tally your total at the bottom.

I’m not so much interested in these instructions so I am just going to put comments after each title.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
One of my all time favorite novels
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
A great fantasy trilogy that I have read more than once
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
How can you not like a book that uses the phrase “furniture of the mind”
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
Yep to all 7
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Had to read this one in high school and I thought it was good
6 The Bible
Yep, couple of times
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
This book invented melodrama and I love it!
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
Do it to Julia!!!! Got to love that!
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Been thinking about giving these a read…
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
I read this in college and thought it was crap til the last chapter – then I loved it
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
I did read this but have never understood the appeal…
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
One Hardy book was enough for me and I’ve heard this is quite a slog
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
I love this book and have read it twice
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
Not complete but quite a few, love some…am indifferent to others…
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
I don’t know anything about this book
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
Yes and I like it but not as much as the Rings trilogy
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
Haven’t heard of this…
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
I can’t remember, I get Salinger’s books confused as they don’t seem to make an impression
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Just read this last week, bang-up first half but the second half wasn’t any fun
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
A couple times actually. I think it was my first 1000+ pager
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
Yes, love this one!
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
Haven’t read it but I seem to recall that it’s very long…probably not cheery either…
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Keep meaning to…
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
Haven’t heard of this one…
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Ugh! Steinbeck…tried this and another and yech!
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Nope but I hear it’s worth a read
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
Can’t seem to muster any excitement about these…
34 Emma - Jane Austen
Yep though it’s my least favorite Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
For sure, love this one!
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
See 33
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
Is this more interesting than it sounds? I read the back at the lib. and wasn’t interested
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
Love this one!
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
I really enjoyed this one, esp the ex-American jokes, they made me giggle
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Haven’t heard of this one
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
See 12 (it was Jude the Obscure that I read if you’re curious)
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
Love love love this book!
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
BEST BOOK I’VE EVER READ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
Ooooh I love this one and just re-read it a couple months ago
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
Don’t think so but it sounds so familiar…
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Yep and what a random story
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
Love this book!
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
A very good one!
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
Yep and ugh again!
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
No, but I’ve been meaning to
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
I own this but haven’t read it yet
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
I love Dumas and this is my favorite!!!!
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
Yep but I’m not a fan of the beat writers
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
Aaack! Here it is! Yes, but total crap.
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Have tried twice but can’t get through this boring tome
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
Yes and I love it!
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
Nope, just can’t get into Bryson….have tried several times…
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
Yes but I didn’t like it much. Very average…surprised it has kept up its popularity
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchel
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
Had planned on it but then didn’t like some of his other stuff so skipped it
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
This book is total shit and I can’t believe someone actually suggested I read it. Jerk!!!!
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Don’t think so…
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Have been meaning to…
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
Haven’t heard of this…
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
Yes but I remember very little from it…need a quick refresher…
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
Yes and it’s so much fun!!!!
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
What’s with the repeats??? Loooooooooove Hamlet!
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
I don’t think so but can’t remember…
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Not a Hugo fan so skipped this one.

48 out of 100

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bloody Great!*

The best dedication ever can be found in Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!

"They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No-one ever asks them if they wanted to.

This book is dedicated to those fine men."

*phrase I sincerely hope we Americans will poach from British English. It is, well, bloody great!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Logical Failure

I’m a firm believer that reasonable logic is your best ally in an argument. In fact, because I try so hard to keep to this I am quite sure that more than one person out there has the wrong idea about what I believe. It’s not that I don’t want to express myself or be honest with people but I have found that the best way to change someone’s mind is to listen, empathize and then pull out reasonable logic.
This means that I can be having a conversation with someone and they’ll say something that I think is completely wrong, offensive (though admittedly I’m hard to offend), or just plain bone-headed.

Rather than getting my ire up, I try to listen and understand how someone could come to such an opinion. In doing this you can glean an incredible amount of information re how receptive that person is to change. If I get the impression that they are not that interested in hearing another opinion then I try to listen carefully, drop what I hope is an illuminating comment every once in a while, and go about my way. However, if I feel that someone is genuinely interested in a discourse then I try to pull out all the reasonable logic that I can. Timing is everything (those who know me well know this is practically my mantra) and a well-timed comment can move a mountain of prejudice.

While having a discussion recently with a friend, not an argument at all, we were both all reasonable logic and congeniality. Then they said something, not unkindly and that technically wasn’t personal, that caught me so completely off guard –and offended me so deeply – that I actually began to stutter. I am usually well-spoken and fairly well-composed and I was grasping onto this as desperately as I could. All the while hearing the dreaded statement like a broken record in my mind AND trying to come up with an appropriate response. It wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to let go by but it was also something that I felt so strongly about that I wanted to say just the right thing. With all this buzzing in my brain like a head-rush I stuttered over the first part of my response and I have no idea if I was actually cogent for the first half of it. I think by the end I managed to make my point well enough and though I am not at all sure if I changed a mind I did plant a seed of another idea. Sometimes that is the best that we can do.

So I will take from this the rare experience of being greatly offended and a window into a new opinion that I would not have expected such a person to have. I think I have learned something valuable and added a new tool to the toolbox of my reasonably logical future.

This entire post presupposes that all my opinions are right and it is my duty to convert others to the pinnacle of my life philosophy. I understand the wanton superiority of this and I wish I could say I’m sorry but I am not. Maybe someday someone as enlightened and patient as myself will be around to gently reform my superiority complex.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What makes a good book?

As an avid reader of author, agent, and reader blogs the idea of what makes a good book is oft discussed (argued) with almost more opinions than there are books, good or otherwise. Since I love to read, am trying to be a writer, and write book reviews these discussions got me thinking of my criteria.

First a tangent:

For most of the years of my existence I went wandering through libraries and book stores thinking there were four kinds of books: good, bad, ones I liked, ones I didn’t like. Simple, easy, comforting. Now I have learned that books (apparently) have all these categories. The two big umbrella categories are fiction and non-fiction. Fair enough, it’s nice to know where to go for the reference books and it’d be weird (though not unpleasant) to stumble across a fantasy novel whilst looking for a book on home repairs.

Let’s stand under only one umbrella for now and talk about fiction. Right now I’m thinking of the library and it’s nice to have adult, young adult, and children’s sections for ease of shelving. Still no beef with this, but now we’re in a pickle. Mixed in with all these books I have learned are genre books!

Here you might ask, what’s the big deal about genres?


What’s the big deal about genres? What’s with genre fiction? I’ve recently come by the statements “I read genre fiction” or “I don’t like genre fiction.” WTF? Please place the book in front of me that can not be listed under a genre heading! I’m pretty sure such a book does not exist. Even if it’s one of those completely random stream of consciousness books it’s still going to go under the Stream of Consciousness genre. Since I don’t like that particular style does that mean I don’t like genre books?

Ok, ok, I do actually know what people are trying to say when they say genre fiction. But if a book is well done then what the hell does genre have to do with its merit?

And this is the first of my criteria for a good book. It transcends.

A good book transcends genre, transcends caveats like “it was a good book except for…” I think a truly exceptional book would even transcend time and age group but I hesitate to make that a criterion. Some books are good precisely because they are so rooted in the time in which they were published, and still others are good books even if a Reader might not be ready for them in their teens or too mature for them by retirement.

The second of my criteria is a good book will display excellence of craft. For a book to truly be good it must be well-written and well-plotted with outstanding character development.

The last of my criteria is that a good book will be accessible. I firmly believe that a book must be accessible to an audience. I don’t see the point of writing a book if it is not.

You’ll notice from my four categories that I did not assume that I would like every good book or dislike every bad book. I have read books that I thought were lovely examples of craft yet still I did not care for them. Conversely, I’ve read books that would not have got a passing grade in some of my writing classes (I will not insult them by calling them trashy, or worse, genre books) but that I loved and read twice! This is where the subjective of good and bad comes in but I think that’s separate from the objective (or at least as objective as anyone can be when analyzing art).

And even if you were to agree with my criteria I bet we could come up with a lot of books where we disagree re whether they are good or bad (in fact, you can give that a try by checking out my goodreads list). And that’s where the objective part gets fuzzy, though I think that’s the fun of a topic that has no right answer.

So my brief flirtation with trying to understand genre books will be happily put aside. I return to good, bad, books I like, books I don’t like and I am relieved that something as irrelevant as genre won't prevent me from reading a really good book!

And as they say in one of the very best books, be blessed in your endeavors!