Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Boat ~ Nam Le

It took me two months to get through The Boat, Vietnamese-born Australian writer Nam Le’s debut collections of short stories, a fact at complete odds with how much I enjoyed it.  However, this just means that I had time to savor, a verb that this collection certainly deserves.  The Boat consists of seven carefully written stories, all of which revolve around a single character in various settings.  The stories are more about character development that plot, though there is a point of conflict in each story around which the narratives revolve.  In each you can sense the care that Le gave in writing and the efforts he made to get inside the characters’ heads.  A note about each story:

“Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” takes place in Iowa, and is about a character named Nam Le struggling to write the final piece for a writers’ workshop, in which he struggles with his conflicted feelings about his father and writer’s block.  He takes risks, changes his perspective, and comes to understand more about his father, though disastrously.

“Cartagena” is about a Colombian hit man on the verge of a promotion.  I didn’t think that I would like this one but it was shockingly revealing, both about the main characters and the drug and crime culture of Colombia.

“Meeting Elise” focuses on a famous artist who is trying to deal with his art and his lost daughter while getting a cancer diagnosis.  This was also excellent, but the number of euphemisms for anus got a little hilarious distracting.

“Halfhead Bay” was a little confusing.  Though I enjoyed the story and the perspective of the character, there was a lot of distracting slang and I spent a good amount of the story trying to figure out where it was set, which was annoying.  The ending is a little jarring, but probably more honest than what was expected.

“Hiroshima” stands apart from the rest in that it utilizes stream-of-consciousness to follow a young girl in the time leading up to the bomb dropping.  One thing that really struck me about this story was what a lot of people would call “brainwashing” and what is really ideology, which Americans spout just as much as anybody but misunderstand in others.  This was extremely powerful, no less because I knew what was coming from the first word.

“Tehran Calling” was probably my least favorite of the collection.  The focal character is a weak woman who never grows and whom I couldn’t like, and the portrayal of Iran seemed stereotypical (though to be fair, I’ve never been there).

“The Boat” is hands down the most disturbing of the collection.  It tells of a girl on a fishing boat escaping from Communist Vietnam and the horrors that occur on board.  This isn’t the tale of heroism that another writer might make it, but a brutal story of the truths of what many people have and continue to suffer in the effort to find freedom (ßideology).

This was a powerful collection, and I recommend it to anybody who likes intense looks into characters’ subconscious.  Beware: there are no happy endings here, only truth.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top Ten Reads of 2011

Two posts in two weeks?  It's been months since I've managed that.  Go me!  Apparently, however, my inspiration is limited to top ten lists hosted by The Broke and the Bookish (and insomnia) but that's okay.  This week, I get to reflect on what I read in 2011.  Whoopee!  Apparently I read 22 books in 2011, including two that I have yet to review, as well as assorted short stories and at least eleven audiobooks, most of which I did not review (because most of them were Harry Potter and been there, done that).  Except for the audiobooks, most of this reading was done in the first eight months of the year.  Here are my top ten favorites, in semi-reverse chronological order:

1) The Boat by Nam Le: I finished this collection in an airport a couple of days ago and haven't had time to review it yet (maybe in the airport later today), but trust me, these stories were absolutely wonderful.  I can't wait to tell you more about them.
2) H.P. Lovecraft stories: I only read a few, but they were freaking awesome.
3) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: I know that my review of this tome was rather ambivalent, but I tore through it and on reflection, it's really grown on me.  There may actually be a super-belated follow-up post on my original review - that's how much my feelings about it have changed.
4) Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier: This novel was just beautiful.  I recommend it to anyone who loves to get lost in beautiful writing.
5) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: So the internets have been all aflutter about this book, and not just in the good way.  The industry and some reviewers (including myself) were all like whoa guys, read this, it is the bestest and then people read it and were like well it was nice but what about this and that and that other thing and then the industry and some reviewers I was all like wow maybe you have a point NO I WILL NOT LET YOU TARNISH IT FOR ME AND SINCE WHEN DID YOU GIVE A CRAP ABOUT PLOTS.  I also had the advantage of a pre-hubbub ARC, which probably helped.
6) Room by Emma Donoghue: This book was creepy and disturbing and fed into some news-related obsessions of mine.
7) The Cider House Rules by John Irving: This book was long and awesome and also fed into thought-interests of mine and made me rethink some things, which is a tall order for a work of literature.  Nicely done, Mr. Irving.
8) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: A fun, silly, literary start to a fun, silly, literary series!  Yay!
9) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: This was oddly done (in a good way), disturbing, and really snuck up on me.  It's amazing how for most of the book I could be all meh and then just be struck dumb at the end.  Wow.
10) The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood: I read this nearly a year ago, but I still remember how much I enjoyed it.  This was Atwood's first novel and a really interesting look at how much her writing has changed while her core persona still remains so much the same.  I love how her feminism comes across in this novel and how she doesn't have to write dystopia to be awesome.

Phew!  That's ten!  As I was going back through my archives, I thought that I would go over, but February and March seem to have been dry months for me and I just managed to stay within the limits.  It was a good reading year, even if I've hardly managed to read anything for the last four months.  Here's to an equally successful year of literature in (the summer of) 2012.  And to me managing to get up those last two reviews before this year is out.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

So Apparently Santa Publishes Now...

That's right folks, it's time for my first post of December!  It only took me three weeks, and to be honest it probably would have taken longer if it hadn't been for ladies at The Broke and the Bookish reminding me how much I want a select few books and how much I'd like to talk about that.  Get ready for my most covetous bookish post of the year...

(ranked for Santa's convenience)

10) Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose: This has been on my wish list for years, longer than anything else on this list by far.  I think it's probably never been bumped to the top of the list because it's not actually a novel and that tends to be what I read but I'm so attracted to the blurb on the back about examining why certain stories carry on.  Plus her last name is Prose - how convenient is that?

9) Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: So I read The Road (like every other good American) and it was horrifying and excellent and I finished it in two days and I'm not really sure why I haven't read anything else by him because I finished that years ago.  Anywho, I hear that this is the Cormac McCarthy book to read and who am I to argue?

8) Zone One by Colson Whitehead: So I'm not all that into zombies but literary zombies (funny story: I told my husband about how this is a literary zombie novel and isn't that awesome and he was all "Haven't those been out for like a year?  Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?" and then I punched him).  Plus, Whitehead is freaking hilarious (I saw him do a "reading" and it involved a whiteboard and charts and it was fantastic) and I love both Apex Hides the Hurt and dystopia, so how could this go wrong?  It can't, I say.

7) Fables Volume 1 by Bill Willingham: Fairy tales.  Graphic novel.  Highly recommended.  Need I say more?

6) Design Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney: So in my advanced age (ducks punches) I find myself becoming crafty.  Not crafty in the knitting kind of way (as I have neither the patience nor the mastery of my own neuroses to handle that) but in the hang stuff on the wall and make scrapbooks kind of way.  Plus, I like things that are hand-crafted and one-of-a-kind and how can I be sure something is one-of-a-kind unless I'm the one that hand-crafts it?  Okay, I'll probably just look at the pictures but I still want it.

5) The History of History by Ida Hattemer-Higgins: I don't know very much about this except that it does funny things with history and the description remind me of a story in Fragile Things and it comes highly recommended in a cult kind of way (by cult I mean you must be special and superior if you like it [man I hope you know I'm not being serious {it's hard to tell online sometimes}]).  Plus, I like the cover.

4) 1Q84 by Haruki Marukami: So I've only read one other book by Marukami and it was short stories and I loved it and that means two things: I'm not actually sure that I enjoy his longer fiction and I have a whole plethora of his other writing to enjoy without having to buy a gigantic hardcover copy of this but... I want it all the same.  It's kind of named after Nineteen Eighty-Four which means awesome in my book.  Though if Santa does give it to me, I'm really going to have to learn its name because I keep calling it IQ84 and wondering why it won't come up in online searches.

3) Possession by A.S. Byatt: I honestly can't remember what this is supposed to be about but I am absolutely confident that I must have it.

2) Vegan Diner by Julie Hasson: Did you really think that I could get through a list of books I desire without including a cookbook?  I myself am astonished that only one book made it on the list.  This book looks like a yummy way to have greasy diner fare at home (or just in NJ, as I don't know of any meatless or even veg-friendly diners in this state).

1) The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: Even though this book has only been out a couple of months, I already feel like I'm the only member of the book blogging community who hasn't read it yet.  What I've heard about it - Victorian literature, and English major, mental disorders, and a man named Mitchell* - makes this the number one book on my list.

*My husband's name is Mitchell; I'm not some creepster who makes book purchases based on random men's names.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Help ~ Kathryn Stockett

I managed to read The Help back in September, back before things started to be due for my graduate classes, and I had a (now defunct) book club and an assignment (though I was allowed to just watch the movie) to motivate me.  Now the idea of reading a 400-page book while classes are going on, even a quick read like this, makes me want to start pulling my hair out.  But back in September I managed it, though not the review, so I'm playing catch-up now (it's my hope to also write a review of The Awakening before the end of my rapidly disappearing long weekend).  I can't promise a very thorough review since it's been two months, but here goes.

I liked it despite myself.  And despite itself.  I went into the reading experience with some other bloggers' thoughts in my head, most notably the opinion that Stockett would have achieved her aim better by putting together a real version of The Help, i.e. the real stories of real black maids as told in their real words, and also by not making a white character their savior.  And I still stand by those opinions.  But I liked it anyway.

Skeeter, as you may know, is a white native of Jackson, Mississippi, where the novel takes place.  She misses the black maid who raised her and flinches when her racist friends make racist comments but doesn't say anything.  She wants to be a writer, so she applies to a publishing firm in New York, and is told to submit a writing sample on something super-interesting and relevant, so she says Aha!  I will write about these black ladies because surely they want to help me!  And then after months of convincing them, she becomes a hero and runs away to New York and leaves them to their fates.  It makes me sad that she's the character I mention first in a novel that seems like it should be about black women, but really it's about a white lady helping black women (oooh, I wonder if that's what the title really means).  Oh, by the way, I don't like her very much.

I do like the maids, though, whose stories intersperse hers (though not often enough).  They were a joy to read about and are really what made the story.  While Skeeter is worrying about upsetting her mom and being fired from her job as editor of the Junior Racists Newsletter, Minny and Aibileen are living.  They support their friends and families, work harder than their employers could imagine, suffer real pain and worry, get dumped on regularly, and still manage to thrive.  They expose the truths of their employers, both good and bad, while not letting those truths get in the way of their own beings.  They are why I couldn't dislike this book.

I'm not going to ramble too much, but I'm going to direct you to the Reading Rambo's discussion of a short bit of the book because everything she says I agree with, and how often does that happen?  Not very.

As for recommendations, I don't know what to tell you.  It's an easy read and the writing's decent.  Not great, but decent.  I took it out of the library (a service I rarely utilize) and am happy I did, because I won't be reading this again.  If you want something quick and balanced between fluffy and really quite serious, this is a good choice.  If you're likely to vomit at the idea of somebody pooping in a pie, you might want to shy away.  If you're looking for a great idea of a project to work on, you might consider a factual collection of the stories of black maids in Civil Rights-era Jackson, Mississippi.  I know I'd read it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Meatless Monday *er* Tuesday ~ Thanksgiving Recipes

Sadly, this is my first Meatless Monday post in months and I didn't even manage to post it on a Monday.  Ah well.  This will be a quick post; I just wanted to share with you some yummy vegetarian Thanksgiving ideas because OH YEAH.  It's possible to have a delicious Thanksgiving feast without a dead turkey in the middle of the table!  I just had my fourth annual pre-Thanksgiving celebration with friends, which was entirely vegan except for a pie somebody brought, and I really don't think anybody missed the bird.  In fact, one of my omnivorous friends even texted me ahead of time to tell me how excited he was for my cooking (which totally made my day).

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies through the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.

But first, a rant.  I HATE it when people call it Turkey Day and I always have, even before I became a vegetarian.  Calling it that completely undermines the purpose of the holiday, which is to give thanks for all you have and not verbalize your gluttony.  Also, the idea of Thanksgiving is not an American thing!  Many, maybe even most cultures have an equivalent celebration, even if they don't necessarily call it that (though some, like Canada do).  Ever heard of a harvest celebration?  Yeah, same thing.

But anywho, the recipes!  I started the meal with a repeat hit from last year: Houlihan's shrooms, deep-fried and delicious.  I subbed in Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, and nobody could care less, they were so yummy.  This year, I decided to make a yummy lentil loaf, which is a first for Thanksgiving and will certainly be repeated.  I also made a delicious sweet potato casserole, sans vegetarian-unfriendly marshmallows.  I don't think marshmallows are necessary for sweet potatoes, but if you want them, go for Dandies or Sweet & Sara's brands.  They are gelatin free and veg-friendly!  I also made stuffed butternut squash from an e-cookbook that I can't seem to find, but here's what seems to be a free updated version of it (there are about a trillion other great Thanksgiving recipes there as well).  I also made the mushroom gravy from Vegan Brunch, which is always a big hit.  There's also this stuffed pumpkin recipe (vegans beware - there be cheese).  I've never made it, but I have my eye on it for next year.  If you make it, let me know how it turns out.

Then there are the basics that you don't really need recipes for.  Boil up some potatoes until fork tender, drain, and mash with enough melted Earth Balance and warmed soy milk until they're just how you like them.  Don't forget the salt.  Take some from green beans and broccoli and saute them in olive oil with some garlic, and you have an easy and yummy green veggie to serve (I add a splash of water in the pan and cover it for a couple minutes so that they soften without shriveling up or getting burnt).  And you don't need help with the dessert, right? That link up there with a whole list of recipes also has some great veganized desserts.  Check out the list of veg references I posted a couple of months ago for more great ideas.

And here's a bit of Thanksgiving Day advice: if you're a vegetarian hosting omnivores, please don't feel like you need to cook a turkey (see above comment about how this is about the harvest not a dead bird).  Stick to your convictions and serve up some delicious veggies, and everybody will be happy, including you.  And for you omnivores that are entertaining vegetarians - use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef so that everybody is happy (and Earth Balance and non-dairy milk if they're vegan), and please don't be insulted when they don't partake in the bird.  It's nothing personal.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!  I hope it's a great day for all!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Eight

I'm writing this at work - shh, don't tell!

I'm a week behind on both the final Fragile Things post and the RIP IV challenge.  Better late than never, right?  As usual, here's the link to all of the final week's posts.  Since it's the last week, I'm also going to give you links to all of my posts up to now:

Our first (and fourth-to-last) selection was a poem, "The Day the Saucers Came."  I actually liked this poem's rhythm and pattern, so I'll share a stanza with you:
That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,
Was the day that the graves gave up their dead
And the zombies pushed up through soft earth
or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable
Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran
But you did not notice because (271)
Each stanza feeds into another (hence the abrupt stop above) and it flows well.  The content I'm not as big a fan of - zombies and similar horrors really aren't my thing - but I was still able to enjoy it.  The apparent point of the poem is for the narrator to list all of the horror some person could overlook in waiting for him to call, which was a bit of an underwhelming end and demonstrated exception immodesty but, you know, whatever.

"Sunbird" was a story that had me considering a Meatless Monday discussion but lets face it, it's unlikely that that will happen, so I'll just talk about here.  So there's an Epicurean Club of obnoxious, wealthy people whose sole goal seems to be to experience every possible thing on the planet via their gustatory systems.  As a vegetarian, I've got to say that I'm not a fan of people eating every living being they can't get their mouths on just for the hell of it.  They begin the story listing everything they've eaten - "vulture, mole, and fruitbat ... kakopo, aye-aye, and giant panda ... several long-extinct species" (274).  I think there's a bit of a problem when people choose to experience their world by digesting it rather than seeing and learning about it.  And yes, I know that this is a story, but there are a lot of people out there who couldn't give a crap about other cultures yet get their kicks from eating whatever weird new animal has made its way onto a menu.  But anyway.  The Epicurean Club is lamenting the fact that there's no new weird thing left to eat.  But their oldest member, who mysteriously dines on fireflies and coal, suggests the Sunbird (aka phoenix), so the party travels down to Egypt to catch and munch one.  They never seem to actually kill it, which I guess is the point with a phoenix, but they also don't seem bothered by the fact that they're eating an animal that's not dead.  But anyway.  So it turns out that phoenixes are delicious but they burn you up from the inside unless you train for it by eating fire and stuff beforehand, so you could say that the old dude tricked them but I'd say that they should not be eating mythical creatures to begin with.  We'll call it a draw?  I had a hard time thinking about this story in a literary sense because I was so bothered about it, so I'm sorry for the uselessness of this paragraph.  Ah well.

"Inventing Aladdin" was a poem about a woman who tells stories to stay alive.  Literally.  If she runs out of stories to tell and her husband gets bored, he will kill her.  This was obviously a fictional creation of how Aladdin came to be, but I like it.  There are some things that will never be known, and this was a good an explanation as any.  I tend to like historical fiction (though I rarely read it) and this definitely falls into that category.  AND, me liking it sets us up for a strong ending...

...which, fortunately, the book had.  The collection ends with a novella, "The Monarch of the Glen."  It apparently is connected with American Gods, which I have never read and now want to.  Which is rather impressive, considering the fact that for most of the book I was all "meh" and then it ends and I somehow want more.  Clever, Mr. Gaiman.  Very clever.

So "The Monarch of the Glen" tells of a creepy place filled with monsters and rich people who delight in barbarism.  This place is called Scotland.  Which I am now a little scared to visit and has also jumped to the top of my list of places to visit.  Our main character is called Shadow, and he is large, large enough to be called a monster and to be selected as a last-minute "security guard" at a party for people he's never allowed to talk about.  Mr. Smith and Mr. Alice from "Keepsakes and Treasures" make another appearance, which was a pleasant surprise.  So does Grendel, or some Grendel-like creature, which was odd and made me want to revisit the story of Beowulf, which I think I last read in 2003 for junior year English.  I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just say that this story was creepy, evocative, and shows what Gaiman can accomplish with more words than he uses in most of the pieces in this collection.  It was a great way to end the book.

Overall, I'm not sure that I really enjoyed this book, but I don't regret doing the group read.  It was nice to feel like I was in a book club, even if I was that obnoxious member that never does the reading on time.  A commitment like this was a bit too much too pile on top of grad school, but I've got nobody to answer to but myself, so deal. :] This also brings the RIP challenge to a close for me (I managed to stretch it out a bit), but I look forward to next year and to Carl's spring challenge devoted to fairy tales (I already have a book ready for that). 

Next I'll be reading The Boat by Nam Le, another collection of short stories.  I also have a books up my sleeve that I still need to write reviews for (The Help, The Awakening, and Neverwhere) so look out for that.  And I'm deciding what book to read over Thanksgiving, since I know I won't be devoting the whole week off to getting ahead on school work.  I'm thinking The Difference Machine, which I've had sitting on my shelf for several months now.  Thoughts?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Seven

Late again, but are you really surprised?  So here are the details, last week's post, and this week's other posts.  Onward!

"In the End" is a reverse story of one of the Bible's Creation stories, in which someone seems to be rewinding the surveillance camera at the Garden of Eden.  Okay, that bit's my addition, but you get the point.  I like when people do clever little things with that particular tale and this is a clever little thing, so I liked it.  I would like to know how one takes away names, though.

"Goliath" is about a rather large person whose world keeps pausing, resulting in him accidentally meeting a member of the system maintenance team.  Then there's this bit where the CPU teaches him how to fly fancy new technology in the real world outside of the computer world we live in and he saves the real world à la Ender.  But then they're all like, we didn't bother figuring out how to get you out of that there plane but you've got like an hour of oxygen so that's cool.  And he's like, Alright but could you maybe plug my USB into the world I used to think was the real world again?  And he goes there (AKA here) and has this awesome life and then he's back in the plane and about to die but it's cool because he had that awesome fake life.  À la Second Life.

So I kind of like those stories where they're like TWIST!  This life you've been living is just an artificial construction performed to see if you can do something that we need you to do but it's a one-shot deal so we had to make sure.  And hey READER.  Maybe you've got the same shiznat going on.  Are ya scared??  Are ya?!  Because then I get to be pleasantly paranoid and mildly flattered and it's cool.  Though I think I prefer the Goosebumps story where the family's trailer gets detached and the kids end up at the creepiest summer camp ever.  Or the novel in which a 17th century village is actually a people zoo, which The Village ripped off.  This was okay, but the whole fighting the aliens thing was underwhelming.  And what was the point of him being so large?!  But I hate The Matrix, which "Goliath" was apparently written for pre-release.  And again I wish that Gaiman had actually come up with the idea for the stories in this book himself.  And also, meh.

"Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky."  GASP CAN'T BREATHE.  In which some creeper writes a journal while chasing an imaginary person named Scarlet who may or may not be him/herself around the United States.  It's odd, in an itchy kind of way.  There's something there - Scarlet seems to have some substance without actually being real - and you can't get away from it.  Then at the end, he writes "Remember" on a post card in lipstick and it gets taken by the wind, just like a postcard he found at the beginning, and you can see him stuck in a loop.  The best part is the question of why he has abandoned his journal?  And did he abandon everything else in the shoebox?  I liked this one.  Mysterious without just flat-out failing to tell you things.


**dum dum dum**

**insert lame hold music**

**some Muzak**

**almost there**



**three days later**

Okay, here it is.  "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" is the last story of this week's selections and the fifth to last of the whole collection.  It starts off rather dully, narrated by a 15-year old boy who's being dragged to a party by his more socially savvy friend.  At said party, they find dim lighting, hot girls, and weird music.  The girls his friend encourages him to talk to say weird things which he fails to hear because he's so worried about getting with them and behaves like a junior male chauvinist.  The girls are apparently tourists from another world/galaxy/something-or-other and one claims to be a poem which she starts to recite until his friend races out of an upstairs bedroom and drags him off, flipping out, and you never find out what happened up there.  The friend says, cryptically, "I think there's a thing.  When you've gone as far as you dare.  And if you go any further, you wouldn't be you anymore?  You'd be the person who'd done that?  The places you just can't go... I think that happened to me tonight" (269).  This is an interesting sentiment, especially when seemingly connected to teen sex by an apparently confident teen boy, but is that even what he's talking about?  Did he attempt to diddle her?  Did she diddle him?  Is it something completely other??  I'm not a huge fan of mystery created by not telling you things (see comment on previous selection).  The frame was a little dull but could have been saved and even justified by something interesting having to do with the poem-martians, but then we're just left hanging.  What is up with that?!  Also, I think that "The Places You Just Can't Go" would have been a much better title for this.

So, this week was 50/50, which is better than some other weeks.  Only one week to go!  I actually haven't even started the selections for tomorrow's post, so I have no idea how I'm going to manage that, but we can always hope, right?  I hope at least to get it up by Monday, AKA the last day of the RIP challenge.  I'm going to go read right at this moment.  Really.  I promise I won't sleeeeee.........

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some H.P. Lovecraft Stories

For the RIP challenge's Peril of the Short Story, I have mainly been reading Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (as six posts should have made obvious by now), but I also decided to read some H.P. Lovecraft on the side.  This is my first experience with Lovecraft, who I had barely heard of up until a short piece about him that I used when tutoring for the SAT.  At that time, I developed some interest but mostly dismissed him as a genre writer (how awful!), but when this challenge came up and I saw that Lovecraft was a big inspiration for Gaiman, I decided to give him a shot.  I can tell you that this was an excellent decision and one that I would recommend for all you Lovecraft virgins out there.
Okay, I should probably amend that statement.  If you're not the kind of person who gets a certain amount of pleasure from tiptoeing to the bathroom in the dead of night, convinced that something's going to grab your ankles, and are likely pee the bed rather than risk it, you probably should just skip right over Lovecraft.  If, however, you like a good scare on those nights when you've got the apartment to yourself, then get your scared little butt to the bookstore, because this is some good reading.

While reading Gaiman, I can't really see the Lovecraft inspiration, but while reading Lovecraft, I can see what Gaiman is drawing from.  Lovecraft likes the first-person narrator, all of whom have the same sort of conversational honesty while delivering the most disturbing of truths that Gaiman shoots for in many of his stories.  However, I don't doubt Lovecraft's narrators, or at least not their sincerity.  There is something so engaging about them that works really well in the short form.  The stories and situations he creates don't need more space: they are a glimpse of the horrifying, incomprehensible but disturbing to the core.  And they're more than just ghost stories - they are literature in their scope and execution.

One complaint that I suppose you could have about Lovecraft is that he reuses a lot of themes and plot elements.  In only five stories, I've noticed that he uses a lot of rats and semi-human creatures who feast on human flesh (I told you it wasn't pleasant), but he employs them so well that I really don't mind.  It (oddly) reminds me of a quote from Gilmore Girls: "You don't dictate to an artist, you don't tell him what to do.  I mean, no one ever walked up to Degas and said, 'Hey, pal, easy with the dancers, enough already.  Draw a nice fruit bowl once in a while, will ya?'"  Rats and semi-cannibals are Lovecraft's art, they're what he does - and that's cool with me.  They're also probably the two things most effective at giving me the willies on the way to the bathroom.

If you're still not convinced, here's the first story in the collection I bought, "The Rats in the Wall."  It is ridiculously excellent and well worth a read.  It involves an American man who discovers his ancestor's British home, centuries of rumors and fears, and secrets buried deep.  Also kitty cats.  To get the best experience, I suggest you print it out, wait until it's dark out, turn out all the lights except for the one on your bedside table (a flickering candle will do), and curl up in bed with it.  Question: Is it weird that getting scared is so much fun for me?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Six

Okay.  Week Six.  You know what it's about, so I'll just give you the requisite links and get on with it: last week, the challenge, the host, and this week's posts.  Does anyone else find themselves resolving weekly to write about each selection as they read it and then not actually doing it and being angry about that every Sunday?  Yeah.  Anyway.  Onward!

"My Life" is kind of a poem, though really just prose broken up, told in the second person to somebody who keeps buying the speaker drinks whose effect on the speaker is apparent.  He tells of the ridiculousness of his childhood and it's okay but honestly, the amount of time it took me to remember what the thing was about should tell you volumes.  Either about the story itself or about how little attention grad school allows me to commit to my own endeavors...

"Fifteen painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot" was actually a pretty enjoyable collection of vignettes based on images from a tarot deck.  I assume that it's a work in progress, because the card numbers span from zero to twenty-two, skipping a few, and Gaiman promises in the introduction to finish the other seven.  I liked this because each little vignette is on its own but some characters seem to carry over and it included creepiness and oddnesss and sex and life, and it works.  I also like the idea of bringing to life an object like that.  Plus, tarot cards are kind of cool.

"Feeders and Eaters" is apparently the story of a dream that Gaiman had and though it seems a little too logically constructed to be the exact dream, it does carry that unreal dreamlike quality in which it kind of makes sense at the time but doesn't really.  It also carries with it an excruciatingly unpleasant image which impressed me based on how well I could imagine it.  This is another story within a story, and the setting of the outside story is perfect: an late-night, mostly empty diner, attended only by those you're least likely to want to talk to.  I imagine a sputtering lightbulb.  Really, it's quite a vivid story.  If you don't like to read about kitties getting hurt, though, this story is not for you.

"Diseasemakers Croup" is kind of clever and amusing and kind of irritating because you're all like "oh that's clever, a disease that only infects hypochondriacs and makes them talk all crazy and what the hell does that mean oh wait the narrator's got it haha oh my god I wish the sentences would make sense I'm getting tired of this make it stop" and then you read the intro and you're like "OH!  It's in a story collection about fictional diseases I would like to read it in that context because that way it would be more fun and have you ever thought about how maybe ALL of these stories would be better in their original contexts because that's what they were written for right? and maybe that's the problem with completist collections like this because yeah you've got everything that writer's written since the last time he put together one of these but the only connection they have is their author and is that really enough? because collections of short stories are more enjoyable when they're written to go together and I'm not just talking about connected short stories but stories that work together which these really don't and maybe that's why I'm having a hard time with this collection and thank goodness for that last story because it worked on its own and not all of these do."  And then your brain gasps and wishes for more punctuation.

Give me a break, I just had two glasses of wine.  Until next week, folks.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Catching Up

Ten o'clock on a Friday night that I've dedicated to studying and preparing for a paper and a presentation?  Perfect time for playing catch-up on the blog.

So, I've pretty much been a terrible blogger lately.  I haven't done a Meatless Monday post in week, I have two books and some short stories in the queue to be reviewed, I've barely been keeping up with my substandard Fragile Things group read posts, and my time spent looking at other people's blogs is restricted to the ten minutes I allot myself on my ipod in bed in the mornings and before I go to sleep, of which there is no evidence because I hate typing on the ipod.  Suffice it to say, I'm doing a poopy job of balancing blogging and school.

I am reading though, and not just stuff for school (though that's the vast majority).  I drag myself through the Fragile Things readings through sheer will-power, and have even managed to get in a few H.P. Lovecraft stories, which are really freaking good.  Maybe after I hand in my paper I'll write about them?  Hopefully.  I also just finished listening through the entire Harry Potter series on audiobook and just started a re-listen of Neverwhere, which, happily, is reminding me that Neil Gaiman is also awesome.  I think he is better suited to longer narratives.  Oh!  So the first time I listened to Neverwhere, there was something wrong with the files and they kept skipping around and it was a pain in the butt.  So much so, that the first time I attempted a relisten, I gave up because it kept happening.  Since then, I converted the files to audiobooks and guess what!  There's a prologue.  Nope, I did not know of its existence my whole first listen, which makes me wonder what other surprises are in store for me.  Thanks to the hours I spend walking to and from campus every week, it shouldn't be long before I find out.

I have been managing to feed myself for the most part, though it's included a lot a salads and PB&J sandwiches.  I'm going to try to get back to the Meatless Monday posts, but since I'm not a very creative chef and most of those are for me anyway, I'm not going to make it a priority.

Does anybody have any advice on balancing graduate school, two part-time jobs, and general housework while still making time for blogging?  I'd love to hear how you all do it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Five

It's Monday and that means I'm a little late for my weekly Fragile Things post in honor of the RIP VI group read, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  If you missed my last post, here it is, and here's a link to the posts by the rest of the group.

This week's readings were two poems and two stories.  The first selection was "Locks," a poem about a man telling his daughter the story of Goldilocks who, apparently, was originally an old lady.  This poem was sweet and I really loved this bit:

"There was a little girl, called Goldilocks,
for her hair was long and golden,
and she was walking in the Wood and she saw --"

"-- cows."  You say it with certainty... (178)

It's such a cute moment, in which a small child combines her own experiences with a familiar story in an attempt to make sense of both.  In the poem, Gaiman demonstrates the relationship between a father and his child and a man and his story, combining them into one.  You can feel the love that Gaiman has for his own daughter behind his words.  A lovely start to the week...

...which it seemed, at first, would continue into the next selection.  The first story was "The Problem of Susan," which is about, apparently, the problematic way that Susan is disposed of in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis.  Apparently she doesn't get to go to Paradise because she likes lipstick?  I haven't read the series, though I always mean to, so I wasn't 100% clear on this but anywho.  I really liked how the story began: it is told from the waking and dreaming perspectives of two women, a retired professor of children's literature and a journalist writing an article on her.  The journalist is haunted by how Susan is denied Paradise when her family (or other kids? not sure) dies in a train wreck, a fictional horror that the professor lived.  Susan can't stop the obsessive momentum that sends her headlong into this topic, and the professor responds with her own experiences of identified the mangled remains of her family, until finally she asks the journalist to leave.  I liked the back and forth and how the professor slowly melts into Narnia as her body dies, but then suddenly the journalist goes back into a Narnia dream in which Aslan the lion and the White Witch consume the four children and then engage in cunnilungus, to which I said W. T. F.  I didn't have a problem with the purposeful sex in "Keepsakes and Treasures," which many other disliked, by this sex just seemed gratuitous and to have no place in the story.  Gaiman says in his introduction that he wrote this story after a long illness - maybe this was some weird dream he had while sick?  I have no idea, but its purpose in this story is baffling to me and ruined something that I was really enjoying.  I do now, however, want to read Narnia even more than before, but I don't thank Gaiman for that.

Up next was poem #2, "Instuctions," which, as Gaiman tells us in his introduction, is a set of instructions for navigating a fairytale.  It featured some stories in this collection, like the twelve months telling stories and the door with the imp on it.  It kind of suggests a navigable fairy tale world which was interesting but fell a little short for me.  I think it would have been more compelling if it had intentionally included every story in the collection and had appeared either at the beginning or end.  The middle of the collection seemed like an odd spot for it.

Finally, there was "How Do You Think It Feels?" a thoroughly non-fantasy story about a man who cheats on his wife and is fully willing to leave both her and their twin daughters for a younger woman who gets bored of him as soon as he decides to commit to her.  Ho-hum.  The one bit I notably enjoyed was when he talks about the differences between his daughters and you can tell how well he knows and loves them (flashback to "Locks") - but apparently not enough to stay with them.  In the end, he gets back with the now-older younger lady for one last night, and then she vanishes afterwards and he decides that he will be fine without her.  It wasn't a bad story, just not particularly interesting or compelling, particularly as part of this collection.

So it was another underwhelming week, but I'll stick with it - only three more weeks to go.  I've also been reading some stories by H.P. Lovecraft which are so freaking good.  I plan to write about some of them later this week but let me just say now - I can see where Gaiman gets his inspiration but at least in terms of short stories, he does not live up to his master.  Lovecraft has me picturing monsters under the bed.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Four

On to week three of the Fragile Things group read.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, go here.  If you missed my week three post, which I only managed to put up yesterday, you can check it out here.  Check out the rest of the participants' reviews here.  And off we go!

This was, thankfully, a poetry-free week.  Our first story was "Good Boys Deserve Favors," a story that a man tells about his childhood in which he made half-hearted attempts to play the double bass, mostly because of the incongruity between its size and his own.  This was an odd story.  Odd, because even the narrator didn't seem sure what the point of it was.  He frames it as a story he has never told his children - "I would be hard put to tell you quite why not" (134).  The story was relatable - I myself have been that child whose musical ambitions have not matched my efforts (I failed to practice the flute).  Other than that, though, I was left asking "and?"  It's not a bad story, just one that I did not connect with, I suppose.  Its role or purpose in the collection is a mystery to me and Gaiman failed to illuminate it, as it is missing from the introduction.

"The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch" is another testament to Gaiman's love of the long title and the use of prepositions.  It also fits much better in the collection, telling of the disappearance of a prim and irritating biologist biogeologist at a second-rate circus.  The story is broken into chunks based on the rooms of the circus, and sometimes the text of the narrative interacts with the subheadings, which was pleasantly unexpected.  The story is strange, asking questions it does not answer, like why the narrator and her friends get into the circus for free, and how the circus manages to raise prehistoric beasts at Miss Finch's command.  I don't mind unanswered questions however - it is the way of life - and I enjoyed this little story.  It made me wonder.

"Strange Little Girls" was an underwhelming experience.  Apparently Gaiman wrote these ten vignettes to accompany a Tori Amos album in which Ms. Amos creates a persona for each song, each of which Gaiman turned into a character sketch.  Unfortunately, these didn't go beyond the level of character sketches for me and while interesting, I needed a bit more.

Finally, "Harlequin Valentine" tells of Harlequin's Valentine's Day, beginning with him nailing his own heart to his crush's door with a hatpin, and ends with him working as a line cook named Pete in a small-town diner.  Though I knew nothing of Harlequin before beginning this, I did not mind - Gaiman does a good enough job portraying the character that I did not need background knowledge.  And Missy, the object of Harlequin's affections, is great too - her reaction to finding a heart nailed to her door is to put it in a ziplock bag and tidy up.  She later tricks Harlequin into losing his identity, assuming it herself.  This is a lady I want to know (though now that she is Harlequin, I'd probably do better to leave her alone).

We're halfway through and thus far, it seems that this collection is very hit or miss for me.  I read another collection of stories by Gaiman years ago, Smoke and Mirrors, and I remember feeling similarly.  However, I've read two of his novels - Stardust and Neverwhere - and loved both.  Judging by the fact that most of these stories seem to be commissions, perhaps novels are really his craft, and what I should stick to in the future.  However, I've had enough enjoyable experiences with this collection to finish it out - I just hope the second half is a bit more satisfying.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Three

Okay, so it would seem that being a full-time MSW student and a blogger are not terribly compatible.  By which I mean that I missed not one but two planned posts and it took me five days to even acknowledge that fact (though I did notice at the time, there just wasn't anything I could do about it).  Likewise, I apologize for being a terrible blog-friend and not having a chance to read other people's posts.  I will try to atone but I can't make any promises until the semester ends.

I'm going to let this week's Meatless Monday pass us on by, since that's my own thing and it has no specific agenda other than to get you to stop eating that chicken-fried steak (don't lie, you know you are).  However, I do want to make up for the Fragile Things post so that I'll be all caught up come tomorrow.  For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about (though that's probably nobody since everybody and his mother is doing this), I'm reading Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman for the RIP IV challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  This is the third week, meaning stories 9-12.  Check out week two here.

I want to start it off by saying that I liked this set of readings much better than the last.  And I shall follow that by saying that I did not like the poem that we started out with.  The lack of rhythm and broken, awkward phrasing in "Going Wodwo" just didn't do it for me.  It's funny, because I used to really love poetry like this, with random breaks and whatnot, but I've lost my pleasure in it.  Rhythm and sound games are what I want and if they're not there, I lack interest.  I did like the idea it gave, of merging with the forest, but I did not like the half-line, "I must be nuts."  This could have been something for me, but it just didn't work.  Honestly though, I'm here for the stories, so I don't mind.

I did, however, like "Bitter Grounds," the story that comes next.  Here, we follow a narrator on a bizarre trip around America in which he befriends a professor who soon disappears and assumes his identity, then has sex with some shaman-like woman in New Orleans (some other stuff happens too).  We learn very little about the narrator's background and though the content of the story implies that he is unreliable (is he even alive?), he inspired my trust.  I like this kind of "scary" story because it is definitely disturbing but for a reason that's not so clear.  The unknowability of the situation and the way that the narrator seems both so close and so distant left me with a sense of lingering unease more profound than zombies at the door.  "Bitter Grounds" definitely earns a reread, partially because it's good and partially to more fully understand it, though sadly I don't think I'll manage it for a while.

Next up was "Other People," a disturbing loop of a story in which the foreign becomes the familiar.  A man is transformed from tortured to torturer, all by reliving the story of his life until he found the truth of it beneath all the layers of what he thought he knew about it.  The thought that this subhuman comprehension could so destroy a man is horrifying and believable.  The only thing lacking is the story of what the man in his life did to deserve this fate after death, but I would argue that that's the point - it could be anything.  It could be the crimes of a tyrant or a serial killer.  It could be whatever your life has been.  Though Gaiman doesn't acknowledge it in the introduction, this story reminds me of No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre.  Hell is not exactly other people here, but it is what you have made it.  Great, and thought-provoking.

***Surprise story!  I finally reached the point in the introduction with the freebie story that I've heard so much about.  "The Mapmaker" is tucked in between the blurbs Gaiman wrote about the stories and poems in the texts.  It begins confusingly, with a musing on tales and maps and how the best description of them are the story and lands themselves, making the tales and maps useless.  This culminates in the line "The tale is the map which is the territory" (xix).  I read this a couple of times and it just made my head spin, so I read on.  The story takes the form of an oral myth, telling of an emperor of China who seems set on squandering his empire's fortune on perfectly scaled and detailed reproductions of it, first in miniature and then in life-size.  The story was odd and not quite as compelling as I'd like until I went back to the first paragraph: a map can never capture the truth of the place, a retelling can never capture an experience.  The original stands alone, always.  I didn't love the story of the emperor, but I did find the idea behind it fascinating, though I don't know if I agree.  The tale and the story are two different experiences, and difficult to compare.**

Finally, there is "Keepsakes and Treasures," an absolutely chilling tale of a man who avenges himself of the men who raped his mother and potentially fathered him, and then reveals his participation in the sexual subjugation of others, for his own and others' pleasure.  This is no ghost tale - it's a story of how real people can go terribly wrong and it is all the more disturbing for that.  Like Gaiman admits in his introduction, I want to know more about this horrifying character and am glad to hear that he will be making another appearance in the collection.  Oh, and I'll leave you with this idea from the story: the richest men in the world aren't the ones you've heard of.  The richest men in the world can pay a person more money than you can hope to earn in your lifetime to make sure you've never heard of them.  Scared?  Me too.

It seems that what I liked about this week's reading was the departure from the fantastic.  Though the story in hell is unknowable and the story of the emperor is unlikely, these stories address human nature in a way that is far more disturbing than some of the stories we've seen thus far.  Who needs goblins when you have human beings??

Monday, September 19, 2011

Meatless Monday ~ Chilly Morning Breakfast

Uh-oh.  It's Meatless Monday again?  I'm awfully bad at this regular weekly post thingamajig.  That's okay though, since today I'm giving you a breakfast recipe which means one of two things: something for you to dream about all night or something yummy to wake up to.  Well, an idea of something yummy to wake up to at least.

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies by the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.

With the weather turning chilly, I've been returning to my favorite winter breakfast: it's vegan, it's filling, it's yummy, it's OATMEAL!  Okay, I know it doesn't sound all that exciting, but my version of it really is delicious.  Plus, I like to think of it as a time-release meal - it contains simple sugars, complex carbs, proteins, and fats, so you keep metabolizing it all morning and it keeps you going straight through until lunch.  Plus, there's a butt-load (literally - teehee, poop) of fiber to keep your tummy feeling satisfied.  Oh, and it takes less than ten minutes to prepare, and it only takes that long if you're really sleepy.  For all of those people who think that vegetarians and vegans are weak and lacking in energy, I give you the power of oatmeal.

Jennifer's Super-Duper Chilly Morning Oats
(I just thought of that title on the spot - are you impressed?!)

1 cup almond milk (plus 1 tbsp if using raisins)
1 tbsp raisins (if'n you want - sometimes I'm not in the mood)
1/2 cup oat (not instant)
1 banana
peanut butter
agave or maple syrup (or brown sugar for you traditionalists)

Put your almond milk (and raisins if using) in a pot and bring to a boil.  Watch it, because almond milk likes to foam up faster than you can say "scrumdiddlyumptious."  Add the oats, lower heat to medium, and cook for five minutes.  Microwave your banana for one minute (in your serving bowl, because who wants to wash extra dishes?) and add it to the oats while they cook.  Stir 'em up really well and dump the whole mess back into your bowl.  Top it all with a (very) generous spoonful of peanut butter, a drizzle of agave, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Enjoy!

The peanut butter gets all melty, so you can smooth it over the top of your oatmeal and have a bit with every mouthful.  Yum!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Two

Welcome to week two of the Fragile Things Group Read, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings in honor of RIP VI.  If you missed week one and/or have no idea what I'm talking about, go check out my post from last week!

Okay, I'm just going to say it up front: I did not love this week's selections.  Nor did I like them very much.

This week's chunk of readings started with a poem, "The Hidden Chamber."  Unlike "The Fairy Reel," which we read last week, "Chamber" lacked a specific structure.  I want to call this a prose poem, but according to Janet Burroway in Imaginative Writing*, a prose poem is actually "A poem that is not written in lines but continues to the margins of the page like prose" (359).  I suppose it's actually free verse, but to me it seems more like prose with odd line breaks.  There's very little apparent rhythm and it doesn't lend itself to reading aloud, which is generally a feature of poetry that I enjoy.  In terms of content, it's a bit gothic, replete with ghosts hidden away and dead butterflies.  I like ghosts, but this did nothing for me.  Overall, the poem was a somewhat meh experience.

Though I didn't love the "The Hidden Chamber," I did appreciate its relationship with the story that followed it.  "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" (yes really) is a very gothic tale, including ghosts and sword fights and things that go bump in the night.  Structurally, it is a story within a story: we first see a woman running out of the dark up to the door of a creepy house; it is only later that we learn that her story is being written by a writer struggling with his craft.  I loved how the themes continued between the two and how the story almost seemed and extension of the poem, but I found the scariness in "Forbidden Brides" overdone.  What I did appreciate about it, was that in the story goblins are a reality and the world of stockbrokers and toasters is the fantasy.  However, for me this wasn't enough to save it.  In fact, it seemed a little gimmicky - I both enjoyed the cleverness and questioned its integrity.  Plus, the title is just way too long.

Up next is "The Flints of Memory Lane," in which a teenage boy sees a ghostly woman with a scary smile at the end of his driveway, freaks out, and runs across town to his friend's house and calls his parents to pick him up.  That's it.  It's about three pages long and wholly underwhelming.  I suppose it's also about an insecure narrator, since he questions whether his ghost story is really a ghost story, but rightly so.  In terms of interesting connections making stories somewhat more interesting, "Flints" is connected to the next story in that both feature a building sold to property developers, which also did very little for me.

"Closing Time," this week's final story, is yet another ghost story, this time told to the narrator's companions at a bar.  The narrator recalls his youth, when he had formed an instantaneous yet temporary friendship with three brothers over several pages from an old, girly magazine.  They stumble into a poorly described fairy world and upon a little house with a demonic red knocker, into which the three brothers disappear.  I actually liked this story, as it demonstrated the interesting bond that strange children are able to form so easily, and evoked a creepiness that the blatant gothic style of the poem and "Faceless Brides" lacked and "Flints" couldn't hope for.  However, the outer story in which the tale of the fairy world was nested is distracting and weird, and not in a good way.  The narrator tells about the background of the bar - okay.  Then he describes the specific night on which the story is told and mentions that there were four customers there, including himself.  He repeats a few ghost stories that were told and follows that with, "And then one of us said," refusing to name the customer who tells the story of the fairy world.  Based on the end of the frame, it can only be the narrator who tells this story, yet he refused to admit to it.  Why?  This conundrum is not interesting to me, as perhaps Gaiman intended, but confusing and irritating, and ended up tainting the only ghost story I enjoyed this week.

I read all of the stories on different days, so I don't think it was something I brought to them that made them so disappointing.  Gaiman seems to lean pretty heavily on the story-within-a-story trope, as all three of these stories rely on it.  While I loved his use of it in "October in the Chair," this time around Gaiman disappointed me.  The frames were uninteresting and largely unnecessary, except perhaps in "Faceless Brides."  Overall, I found that these stories didn't at all live up to the expectations that last week's built in me.  I'm hoping that next week's redeem the collection in my eyes.

*This is a creative writing textbook that I really like - enough so that I actually bought the author's book devoted entirely to fiction writing as well.  I definitely recommend it!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read Because of Another Blogger

I think I've been forgetting the
picture lately.  Oops!
Three posts in three days?!  Holy poopers!  But I assure you, my lovely readers, that it is true.  I'm back for the third day running, this time to participate in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Today's topic is Top Ten Books I Read Because of Another Blogger, which I love.  Since joining the blogging world, I have read a lot of things that I may not have read otherwise.  Lets see if I can make it to ten!  For your browsing pleasure, links to other blogs are to their reviews of the books.

1) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: I can't remember a specific blogger that led me to read this.  Mostly, I just kept seeing references and reviews that made me think that I was missing out on something.  And I was!
2) Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde: So far I've read The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book and it's all thanks to Ally at What Red Read.  Thanks Ally!
3) Cider House Rules by John Irving: Though I'd meant to read Irving for a while, I probably wouldn't have gotten around to it if it wasn't for Christina at The Blue Bookcase.  And it was definitely worth it!
4) Room by Emma Donoghue: Like Rebecca, this one was all over the blog world so I don't have anybody specific to thank for turning me onto it, just the book blogging in general.  Thanks all!
5) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Same goes for this one which, I can now say with some lack of surety, I liked.  I think.  Maybe.  Thank you?
6) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: I'm not sure who I have to thank for this one, but thanks all the same.  I probably wouldn't have read it on my own, but now I'm so glad that I did.
7) Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: I'm still in the middle of this one, all thanks to Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings who is hosting the reading group.  Great choice!

These last three are books that I have acquired because of bloggers, but that I still have yet to read:

8) The Boat by Nam Le: The rather impulsive purchase of this collection of short stories was inspired by Lucis at The Blue Bookcase.  I can't wait to read it!
9) The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning: I picked up this tome thanks to Ellen at Fat Books and Thin Women.  When I have some time to devote to it (i.e. winter break), I plan to read through all three installments.
10) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese: This one wasn't actually recommended by a book blogger. Kristen from Rage Against the Minivan (a blog about adoption and stuff and life in general) mentioned liking it once (at least I think she did - I can't find the post where she mentioned it) and I nearly forgot about it until I saw it at the library sale last month and decided to pick it up.  It sounds great and I can't wait to read it!

I made it!  And this is why the book blogging world is so great!  In the sixteen months I've been a part of it, I've been exposed to so many books that I never would have heard of or ventured to open otherwise.  Sometimes those exposures warn me away, but often they inspire me to pick up something new which, most often, I have loved!  What books has the book blogging world inspired you to read??

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meatless Monday ~ Vegetarian Blogs and Resources

So it's only my third installment of Meatless Monday, and I already managed to forget about it.  Oops!  I walked in the door after getting back from my internship, and said "Oh crap, it's Monday."  But never fear, my veggie-munching pals, I still have veggie stuffs for you to read and enjoy!

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies by the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.

Today I'm going to share with you some of my favorite vegetarian blogs and resources for the web.  For any veggie converts like myself, making the change can be very difficult.  I come from a meat-loving family who, apart from my sister, would never even consider dropping meat from their diet.  My sister was vegetarian for a bit, but converted to eating fish, then chicken, then the whole animal kingdom, though she still identifies with me and loves vegetarian food.  My friends like their meat and though they are supportive of me, it can be very difficult just to find somebody to talk to or whose experiences you can relate to.  Thus, reason number 28593267 (thank you random finger mash) that the internet is awesome: other vegans and vegetarians use it too!  And never fear - you need not be vegan or vegetarian to participate in this community - aspiring veg-heads and people who just want to make a positive difference in the lives, the environment, and/or the lives of animals and other humans are welcome as well!

I tend to go in and out of phases of what blogs I read fanatically, but here are some that have been on my list for a long time because they're just so darned great!

101 Cookbooks - I can't say enough good things about this blog.  Heidi posts so many amazing recipes and though she's heavy on dairy and eggs, there's plenty for vegans to enjoy as well.  She posts recipes that she's found in cookbooks (with permission!) as well as the multitudes of delicious dishes that she creates herself.  She often combines unexpected ingredients and flavors, but I have yet to make something of hers that wasn't absolutely wonderful.  I recently received Heidi's new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, and can't wait to plumb the delicious depths of what it has to offer (and then tell you about it!).

Oh She Glows - Angela is pretty much the vegan equivalent of Heidi.  Okay, not exactly, but like Heidi, Angela posts lots of great recipes, nearly all of which I adore.  She also discusses her transition into veganism, and other things she gets involved in, like photography and gardening.  Angela seems like a really sweet person, and her blog is definitely worth a visit.  She doesn't have a cookbook out yet, but I would definitely pick it up if/when she writes it!

Post Punk Kitchen - This blog and vegetarian resource was created by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, one of the authors of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World as well as some other amazing cookbooks that you will see reviewed here.  It contains recipes, advice, discussion boards, and some other stuff too!  It's a definite stop for anybody pursuing a vegan lifestyle, but great for the lacto-ovo-vegetarians out there as well!

Eat, Drink & Be Vegan* - Named for her absolutely amazing cookbook, Dreena Burton's blog is a great stop for anyone interested in healthy, animal-free, child-friendly cooking.  Dreena blogs about her food and her kids, and offers up some great recipes to boot.  I can't wait to review the cookbook of the same name, because it is just fantastic!

The Chubby Vegetarian - While all of the blogs I've listed prove that vegetarian and vegan foods can and should be delicious, The Chubby Vegetarian shows that they can be decadent as well.  Though I haven't made all that many of his recipes (some have a lot of steps) I love just to look at his yummy concoctions.  And don't worry - what I have made is indeed yumilicious, so you won't be wasting your time!

craigslist's Vegan Forum - This forum is great for anybody who wants to talk vegetables.  It is much more populated than the vegetarian forum, and is filled with veteran veggies who are always willing to share their experiences and advice.  It's a great place to go when your mom refuses to leave the bacon out of the potato salad, or when your brother-in-law just won't stop asking where you get your protein.  Just avoid the trolls - they feed off of ill-will like we do off of vegan mashed potatoes.

The above is just a tiny sampling of the online vegan/vegetarian community.  There's a lot more out there, including ones that I read - I just chose to post about my very favorites.  What are your favorite online vegan and vegetarian blogs and resources??  I'd love to expand my reading list!

*I can't help mentioning how much the lack of an Oxford comma in this title bothers me.  But don't let it stop you - punctuation in no way predicts deliciousness.