Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Literary Baby Names

The Broke and the Bookish this week asks us to list our Top Ten Literary figure/character names we'd give our children.

1. Dylan. As in Bob Dylan. I DID name my son this. I DID name him after Bob. The title of my blog comes courtesy of Mr. Dylan, too.

2. Samwise (Gamgee) from Lord of the Rings. Not Sam. Samwise.

3. Spenser like the poet with an 's'. From Spenser the poet with an 'S' or more truthfully the Robert B. Parker detective.

4. Mucho (first) Maas (middle) from The Crying of Lot 49. Ok, Mucho Maas isn't much of a character, but his name cracks me up. The fact that I have a Latino surname just makes this too good to pass up. The poor kid.

5. Toni, as in Toni Morrison. Ok, I'm struggling with girl names. I like Morrison, and I have thought about naming a daughter Toni - Antonia (Willa Cather, anyone) actually but Toni for short.

6. Ok...I'm stopping here. And leaving it on this note. I always wish I had named my dog Strider (Strider/Aragorn from Lord of the Rings)

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Book Blogger Hop

It's been forever since I particpated in the Hop over at Crazy for Books. And I'm bored right now, so I figured I'd answer the question and visit some blogs. This week's question is:

What are you reading and why?

I'm reading Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I'm reading as part of my Black History Month commitment. And because I've never read it. And because I had a copy of it on my Nook, that I downloaded free last summer. And because it seems like a book that I should have read by now.

I'm close to 100 pages into it, and I can't imagine what reading book must have been like in the mid-1800's, especially in the South. I'm not sure I like it, yet. The style is very dated...Stowe has an annoying habit of showing up and explaining things to me, rather than letting her story do it. Nonetheless, it's obvious this is a revolutionary novel, and took Stowe incredible courage to write.

So...that's what I'm reading... I'll hop around and see what everyone else is reading.

Beloved by Toni Morrison (+)

I am male. I am white. I like simple stories. I like simple, tight-to-the-bone, Heminwayesque prose.

I adore Toni Morrison.

Beloved is perhaps Ms. Morrison's most praised novel. It won her the Pulitzer Prize and was certainly instrumental in her becoming a Nobel Prize laureate, something no American author has managed since. On a more Pop level, it was the first Book of the Month Club selection written by an African-American author since Richard Wright's Native Son 40+ years prior. In addition, Ms. Morrison is to the Oprah Book Club, what the New York Yankees are to the World Series. On a personal level, it is the second Morrison book I've read (The Bluest Eye being the other), and the first book in my Black History Month reading exercise.

Beloved is the story of Sethe, a runaway slave, and her daughter Denver and their trials dealing with the spirit of Sethe's deceased daughter, who comes to be known as Beloved, because this is all Sethe could afford to inscribe on her gravestone. I pretty much knew this going in, but I wasn't prepared for there to be some "spookiness" involved. Yeah, I know what do you expect from a ghost story, right? Still, I guess I wasn't expecting it from this ghost story.

I also knew that there would be a fair amount of description of the conditions of slavery. It was, of course, unpleasant. I actually do tend to feel some guilt for the actions of my ancestors, so this stuff is never easy going. Possibly the most eye opening aspect to me was how Morrisons described the slaves' need to not "love too much"...not a mother, not a father, not a mate, and most certainly not one's children. How depressing.

Beloved is a difficult read. Some passages I had to re-read two or three times to understand. Some passages I have yet to completely understand. The structure is a bit of a mess. Morrison relies heavily on literary devices such as flashbacks (the novel is alternately set during the Civil War on a farm in Kentucky called Sweet Home, and years later after the way in Sethe's home in Cincinnati), and changing the point of view, and the TENSE. The point of view changes often happen mid-passage without a break, and often do not only involve changing from one character to another, but also changing from third to first person. Same thing with the flashbacks. It makes all of it a bit of a struggle to follow. However, the flipside is that when all of the pieces the reader is juggling start to slide into place the result is a more powerful experience. Not to mention, Morrison's prose is unarguably beautiful.

My favorite character in the book was Stamp Paid. A male character, who helped Sethe and several other slaves, runaway to safety in Ohio. He is a guy, who always tries to do the right thing...pay it forward, and prides himself on the fact that every 'colored' door in town is open to him. He does find Sethe's door closed to him at one point...however, even when he wrongs someone, it is done with the right intentions. As someone who has experienced this type of man for untold years, I can attest to Ms. Morrison's ability to write believable, compelling male characters. She is understandably more known for her feminine characters (they are done well, too), but she writes men well too.

For me, Beloved was a slow, difficult read. And for this reason I understand when I hear/see other readers complain about it. It isn't easy. But, as mentioned above when everything is illuminated (apologies to Mr. Foer), the message is that much more powerful. It is worth the effort.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black History Month

It's just a coincidence that I am reading Beloved by Toni Morrison now. I just saw that it is Black History Month. One of the things I've learned in my little read more widely exercise is that I like African-American literature. This really shouldn't have come as much of a surprise as in my genre of choice (crime) Chester Himes and Walter Mosley are two of my favorite authors. At any rate, since I'm already reading the Morrison AND it's February, I think I'm going to make this a month where I focus on books either written by African-Americans or written about the African-American experience. So, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which I'm considering reading, while not written by an African-American, would still work.

Anyone else interested in joining me? If not reading all African-American centric books, possibly at least one?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Debut Novels

A good topic this week brought to us by the Broke and the Bookish...though a tough one, as I don't really pay much attention of whether a book is a debut or not. No particular order here.

1. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I haven't read about Bilbo's adventure since high school, which makes me sad.

2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I adore Ms. Morrison's prose.

3. The Brass Cupcake by John D. MacDonald. I'm mostly a fan of his Travis McGee novels, and have had a hard time connecting with many of the standalones I've read...but this one certainly is an exception.

4. American Rust by Philipp Meyer. Yep, I still love this book...scroll down and you can read my review of it.

5. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I have seen this panned quite a bit in the blogosphere. It has been forever since I've read it, but it turned me into a Hemingway fan.

6. Neuromancer by William Gibson. It reads like a futuristic-ultra punk Chandler novel.

7. Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley. Easy Rawlins' desperation in holding on to that which is he is most proud - home ownership, makes him one of crime fiction's most empathetic characters.

8. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. The first book reviewed on this blog.

9. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safron Foer. I didn't love this book, but I saw so much promise in Foer that I do think it is a strong debut. The way Foer is able to weave humor into such dark subject matter without you wanting to punch him in the face is astounding. At some point I will work Foer's second book into my reading plans.

10. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I jest.