Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Literary Blog Hop: Predisposed Books. Or something.

Alas, my lovely readers, it has been too long.  And I say that too often.  The problem is that lately I keep reading behemoths, so the time between reviews is longer, and my work schedule is making me steadily tireder (more tired?), meaning that I have to choose between reading and blogging and usually I choose reading.  Because really, how can you blog about books without reading books?

Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop to the rescue!  I generally feel compelled to answer, especially when the question is really good (like this week's!) and am thus at least temporarily lifted out of my blogging slump.  This week, the ladies at The Blue Bookshelf are asking us:

Do you find yourself predisposed to like (or dislike) books that are generally accepted as great books and have been incorporated into the literary canon? Discuss the affect you believe a book’s “status” has on your opinion of it.

My relationship with "the classics" is, like most relationships, not as clearly defined as one might like and fraught with roadblocks, though at the end of the day we still come back to one another.  I don't exactly feel like I should like the classics because of how they're generally viewed, but their canonization does make me feel that I should read them.  I pride myself on, at the very least, being honest in my opinions and unaffected by what I'm "supposed to think," but sometimes the conflict between the two does leave me with a slight feeling of embarrassment and even guilt.  Why didn't I like it?  I must have missed something!  Maybe I should reread it (ahem)!

I think I've moved into a slightly different place so I'm just going to drag myself back.  In terms of new books that get a lot of hype, that hype can heighten my sense of disappointment.  I find that books are rarely as good as people say they are, and if I don't love a book that has been really hyped, I get so disappointed that my opinion is lower than it might have been if I'd just randomly picked it up.  This is why I have yet to read Room, though I desperately want to.  The fact that it's all hard-cover and expensive doesn't help either (I do accept literary donations).

Do literary hype and accolades affect your opinions of the books you read?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Peeves

Top Ten Tuesday is a regular feature hosted by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish.  It's been a few weeks since I last participated, but I just can't pass up this week's topic: Top Ten Bookish Peeves.  My list includes anything related to books, from the content to the cover.  And away we go!

A new caption.  I appreciate the cuteness.

1.  Stickers.  You know how some bookstores like to put stickers on books and those stickers refuse to come off cleanly and then you're left trying to find a way to wash the gooey residue off your book without damaging the pages and it's been weeks and you haven't even gotten to page one because you're so busy trying to make is look pretty and why god, why do they do this to me?  Barnes & Noble is pretty good about not destroying their products - their stickers are like window clings and come off cleanly - but nearly every other bookstore does this and I hate it.  I also include publisher stickers in this, like when Oprah decides that she likes a book after they've printed a trillion and it's too late to put her seal on the cover so they make up for it by using a sticker.  If it's not part of the actual cover, I don't want it there.  Phew, I've been wanting to say that for years.
2.  Movie covers.  That's lovely that the book has been made into a movie, but that does not mean that I want Nicole Kidman staring at me from the cover of my copy of The Hours for the rest of my life.  I saw a copy of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro that just had the DVD cover.  The back of the book actually had the movie's rating and everything.  Seriously?!  I will go out of my way to not buy books with movie covers, which usually means refusing to buy them in the store and then forgetting to order the appropriate copies online, meaning that this tendency has prevented me from reading many a book.  Good work, book cover designer people.
3.  Eyes.  I abhor most of what authors have to say about eyes.  No they are not the window to one's soul, that sparkle is just a reflection, and you can not look into somebody's eyes (plural).  Your eyes track together; therefore, you can only look into eye.  What is meant by this trite and unimaginable imagery is, I believe, expression.  The wrinkle or widening of the skin around one's eye can tell you something about their feelings but other than that, tears are the only way the eyes can express emotions and even they don't spring out of the eye itself.  Biology, people.  Leo Tolstoy did this constantly in Anna Karenina and it drove me up the freaking wall.
4.  Blurbs.  Don't get me wrong, I like reading the blurbs on the back of the book.  But when they only focus on a tiny bit of the novel or provide some very specific detail that doesn't happen until the last chapter that leaves you wondering for the entire book when it will happen, that is what I like to call a failure.  A brief summary of the main plot points and/or characters without giving away anything crucial is what we're looking for.  The blurb on the back of my copy of Silas Marner is so ridiculous that I feel the need to share the first line: "This story of redemption through is one of the most perfectly constructed novels ever written; it fulfills almost all the requirements of the ideal narrative."  It goes on to list every quality of the novel that makes it admirable yet except for the first four words we hear nothing about the novel itself.  Who thought that this was a good idea?  And what exactly are the "requirements of the ideal narrative"?  Subjective and useless.
5. Books whose contents don't live up to their covers, AKA misleading cover art.  I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for a good cover, but I've been burned.  The quality of the cover and the quality of the content should be directly correlated.

Okay, I only hit five but I think that my lengthy rants should make up for that.  Forgive me?  What are your bookish peeves??

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Silas Marner ~ George Eliot

I found this picture on Google
images, but it's identical
to my mother's copy.
I had had Silas Marner on my Barnes & Noble wish list for years, never making it a priority but always having a vague sense that I wanted to read it at some point, when, while searching my shelves at my parents' house for my copy of A Christmas Carol, I came across it: an old copy, decades older  than me, with my mother's maiden name inscribed in the cover, in her script that clearly hasn't changed in nearly half a century.  The cover price is 50 cents, it was published by a mysterious publisher called Airmont Books, and the only date I can find is the Airmont copyright of 1963, meaning that she read it at age eleven.  I thought this a bit young but she confirmed it.  Who am I to question the required reading lists of the 1960s?  Every time I picked the book up (which admittedly was not many, as I finished it quickly), I peeked inside the cover for a look at my mother's name, checked out the price, and reveled in the experience of possessing this long-forgotten spot of literature from my mother's youth.

In addition to admiring the decrepitude of my copy, I also read Silas Marner.  The best word that I can come up with to describe it is quiet.  It takes place in a quiet little village tucked away in the quiet little countryside, to quiet little people who may possibly think that there's nothing else out there, that their world consists of no more than what they can se.  Sure, stuff happens, some really dramatic stuff in fact, but Eliot doesn't allow this to tear these quiet little characters' worlds apart; in fact, what could be destructive is actually healing: losing his money releases Silas from his miserly ways; an mother addicted to opium dies in the snow, allowing her daughter a better life and releasing her from the shameful existence through which she drags herself.


This isn't the journey to finding a man and also some cash story that typifies much of Victorian literature.  Sure, Silas finds his gold at the end of the story and little Eppie marries, but these plot points are not the point of the novel.  What is the point of the novel, you ask?  Well, as with anything that's well-written it's hard to say, as often there is no one point, but I would say that there is a bit of a message there: happiness  and poverty are not mutually exclusive.  When Eppie marries Aaron, she confirms that the poor life she grew up in is the life for her.  Money, though nice to have, isn't necessary for her happiness.  Hard work and love are what matters.

It's a beautiful story with an excellent lesson that peeks out of the page without clobbering you.  Short and sweet, it's definitely worth a read and probably, due to its length, an excellent choice if you've never read before read anything by George Eliot.

I completely forgot to mention that Silas Marner counts towards all three of my challenges!  Win!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Giving Up

I have a confession for you, my dear reader: I sometimes give up on books.  This is usually due to difficulty with the style, though sometimes a really off-putting plot or a character who demands no empathy whatsoever will do it.  I try to avoid it, I really do, but sometimes I just can't take another word.  I try to slog through, but if I'm having a really bad time with a book, I generally will put off reading it until later, only read a page at a time, and generally just stop reading altogether because I tell myself that I can't start anything new until I've finished this, but I'm not actually reading whatever "this" is.  At some point I just need to make that decision to give up.  Life's too short to not enjoy what you read, especially when you read it for pleasure.

That's not to say that I give up forever.  I shelved Peace Like a River back in early 2007 because I found the narrator dull and the religious rhetoric overdone and obnoxious, but recently gave it a second chance and made my way to the end (though my initial opinion didn't really change).  Anna Karenina, which I just devoted six weeks to, has been on my try-again shelf since 2004ish, thanks to two failed attempts to formulate any interest in the story and a slight difficulty with the writing.  With AK this time around, I did have some slow periods where I avoided reading it (hence it taking me six weeks) but I got through them and even  had times where I read voraciously long past my normal bedtime.

It's been a while since I last did it, but I'm sad to say that I just gave up on another one.  The Sound and the Fury, which I've failed at once before, is just too much for me right now.  Surprisingly, this time around I had no problem with part one (which is narrated by a character with severe mental handicaps) and actually enjoyed it once I got used to the time jumps (and took a glance at the wikipedia page), but part two proved too much for me.  Time jumps in the middle of sentences and the sheer lack of "he said / she saids" was just too painful.  Add into that the early arrival of my now-current read (thank you Amazon), The Cider House Rules, and you have yet another literary failure on my part.  I do plan to go back to it, maybe even as soon as I finish the Irving novel.

I think part of my problem is that I haven't been reading much if anything that was written since I was born and it's overloading my brain.  Not that the American English of 90-200 years ago is so different from what I'm used to, but maybe too much of the slight extra effort it demands is overwhelming.  I don't know.  But The Sound and the Fury is, at least temporarily, is reassuming it's spot on my shelf, right between Lolita (another double failure) and July's People.  All three are on my TBR challenge, meaning that I must succeed with at least one if I am to have any hope of winning the challenge.  Of course, reading is about challenges as much as it's about suffering through books you're not enjoying just for the sake of being able to say that you've read it, but what can I say?  I like winning and I like reading, and giving up on books demonstrates neither.

What about you?  Do you have to read everything to the very end or do you sometimes allow yourself to give up in favor of something you might really enjoy?  Do you ever get back to those books that you gave up on?

Paula at The Broke and the Bookish recently blogged on this very topic, so hop over there if you want to talk about this some more.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Road (film adaptation)

I read The Road a couple of years ago, while being a full-time nanny to my niece and therefore needing hope in something like the apocalypse to get myself through the day.  Kidding!  (Kind of.)  At that time, I had only kind of heard of it and mostly picked it up on a whim.  I proceeded to spend the next two-three days completely absorbed in it, reading it at every opportunity, until I was done.  Needless to say, I loved it.  It was so absorbing and incredible and I don't know what else to say because let's face it, writing a book review four (four?!) years after the fact is a pointless waste of time.

Enter the movie.  I'm a little late on this, I know, but Netflix just delivered it last weekend so what can I say?  I am morally opposed to paying theatre prices (yes, I know I saw Black Swan last week but we had free tickets thanks to hard-earned credit card rewards).

I thought it was bleak, in an oh-my-god-why-is-it-so-unredeemingly-dismal kind of way.  It was quite true to the book, as far as I remember it, except without all those words and imagery to get in the way.  Instead, it was just one gray, depressing image after another that had me wondering why humans seek the kind of entertainment that we do.  Most of it doesn't make us happy after all.  The conclusion I came to was that we like to feel, feel strongly, and that is what this movie does.  It filled me with disgust, horror, revulsion, sadness, empathy.  And I guess it was good, at least as far as book-to-film adaptations go.  My big issue with it was that it seemed like it was just a spectacle of horrors.  I saw little to no character development (the man thinks with his head, the child thinks with his heart, and both are true to these characteristics to the very end).  It was just bad thing, bad thing, bad thing, oh wait a good thing but that's only because an even worse thing is coming, bad thing, and Viggo Mortensen's naked ass.  Powerful in it's own right, but not broad enough.  I think the words really make a difference in this kind of story because more than bleakness exists in even the bleakest of written thoughts, whereas the image of dead trees covered in gray ash under a gray sky are little more than that.

It was worth my time, but I'm glad I didn't waste my Discover rewards on it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Laughable Literature

Literary Blog Hop

No, that doesn't mean literature to be mocked; rather, it means literature that makes you laugh, which is the topic of this week's Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookshelf.  More specifically, the question is:

Can literature be funny? What is your favorite humorous literary book?

Honestly, I found this to be a rather odd question to which my initial response was, Why couldn't literature be funny?  But I suppose that that's not a very productive answer, so I will say a bit more.

First off, yes.  Literature can be funny.  "Literature" and "classics" don't need to be the stuffy spectacles that you remember from high school English.  Perhaps literature tends to be a bit more serious than, say, (okayI'mhavingtroublethinkingoffunnybooksstallingstallingstalling) The Bathroom Reader (which really never was very fun and did not inspire to linger on the toilet for as long as the title would suggest).  That said, literature tends embody writing that is more - sophisticated, perhaps?  Clever?  Multifaceted?  And why can't one of those facets be humor?  I for one am a big fan of subtle humor, especially when layered in with not-so-humorous circumstances.

Examples, examples...  The first that comes to mind is Pride and Prejudice.  This is probably a pretty common one; in fact, it was mentioned by Lucia in the title post, and with good reason: there are bits that are laugh-out-loud hilarious, and they're not particularly rare.  For those who don't see the humor, I recommend that you watch the BBC version of the movie.  It's very true to the book (so true, in fact, that it's six hours long) but it'll really help you catch the comedy.  This was my first Austen novel and I will admit that I found it perfectly free of hilarity until I heard the humor and realized that it was there all along.

I'm currently reading Silas Marner, in which George Eliot uses humor in a similar way: it's slightly mocking in tone and doesn't around with bells and a banner that says "I am funny, hear me chuckle!"  However, I've laughed out loud a few times already, and I'm only halfway through.

There are endless examples, but I won't ramble.  What literary works do you find humorous?