Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bookish Pet Peeves

This week's Top Ten Tuesday wants me to list by Bookish Pet Peeves. If I sad here long enough I could probably come up with a hundred. I seem to be able to bitch pretty well. However, for whatever reason I'm coming up a little blank at the moment. But I'll sit here long enough...

1. Poor opposite sex characters. This really bothers me. I, of course, notice more in female authors, simply because I know something about the way men think. But really the problem manifests itself in the limited range these authors paint their oppo. sex characters. For the crappy male author, his women seem to be cut from two pieces of cloth - 1) the tough (more man like?), hard-as nails but sexy as hell female or 2) the nerdy, bookish, shy woman. For the crappy female author, she also relies on two stereotypes 1) the overly sensitive, possibly gay, guy who just begs to be the shoulder to cry on and 2) the overly hetero oaf that is a bumbling idiot.

2. Shifting point of view mid-scene. This is jarring. It is like watching a film where the camera is jerking back and forth. I don't mind point of view shifts (even from 3rd to 1st person or vice versa), just do it at a scene break or better yet at a chapter break.

3. Pages and pages of italics text. It's hard to read.

4. The fact that an ebook cost just about the same (and often more) than a trade paperback book. This is just stupid. I must not be enough of a gadget person to stomach this nonsense. I like my Nook just fine. But given the choice I'll take thee real thing. When it's not cost effective to stray from the real thing...you get the point. Deep breaths, now.

5. Serial killer stories. Overdone. Generally, they remove the most compelling part of a crime book -- motive. Dude or dudette is a sick-o. End of story.

6. Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson. WTF?

7. Readers who fold the cover of their book ALL THE WAY BACK when reading. This ain't the Sunday paper! I refuse to lend books to my Stepdad again for this reason. Dude wrecked some really nice, really old John D. MacDonald paperbacks of mine.

8. People who ask what I'm reading and then say, "Oh, that's one of those brainy books". This is a weakness on my part. I should just say, "Yeah, I actually like to use my brain once in a while." Instead, I defend myself by explaining how the book isn't that "brainy". I don't know what I'll do if I ever do read "Ulysses."

9. People who ask your opinion about a book, and then want to debate the subject to prove you wrong. I like discussing books. I even like hearing dissenting opinions. It's interesting. But I'm not going to completely change my mind (this is so similar to political debate, What is the point?), and trying to do so is just going to piss me off.

10. Constant reporting of how "nobody reads anymore." To me this is right up with complaining about how much worse the generation coming up behind you is. Thanks to Ms. Rowling and Ms. Meyer (both whom I've never read) we just may have a new generation of readers. The glass is half full, people.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Literary Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop

So, the literary blog hop question for this week is:

What literary work must you read before you die?

I'll answer, much like the original poster in two parts.

First, the literary work YOU must read before you die is Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. There are a number of reasons, I'm recommending Lolita. It is a fantastic book in its own rights, but I suspect that many readers who have avoided it up to this point are avoiding it because the subject makes them uncomfortable. I think we all need to push through that resistance at times in our lives (and not just in reading), so I'm all for reading out of the comfort zone. I, also think, many readers will be surprised that Lolita really isn't all their minds have made it out to be. For one, it isn't all that graphic.

Lolita is a masterpiece of the unreliable narrator. We never really know when Humbert is feeding us the truth or not. He spends much of his time trying to convince us that he is not the monster that we think he is...so where does the truth end, and the lies begin? And why as readers do we care? The guy's a pedophile for goodness sakes! And there lies Nabokov's genius. We end up caring about this sick, sick man.

Another reason to read Lolita for Americans/natural born English speakers is to feel small. Really small and insignificant. Because one cannot read Lolita without being overwhelmed with the beauty of the prose. English is Nabokov's second language...his book is taught in American Lit. classes. He is remarkable. Most of us will never write something so beautiful in our native language.

What book must I read before I die?

There are MANY. I've never cracked open a Jane Austen book, which just seems so male of me. I've never read War and Peace...or Crime and Punishment...or the Brother Karamazov...I've never read any Chekhov stories. I seem to be woefully lacking in reading Russian authors. (I have read some Turgenev short stories). But I'm going to go with Ulysses by James Joyce. It's one of those love or hate books...and people tend to either really, really love or hate those. And I think that says something about the artistic merit of a book. I believe that great art must evoke strong emotions in one direction or another. Very few works, evoke only great love or great hate...so chances are if someone HATES a book, someone else LOVES it. Books that popularly people like, but don't evoke a strong emotion, aren't great works of art IMO. So, yeah, a lot of people don't get Ulysses and hate it. I may be one of those. But the flip-side is, the people who like Ulysses...they swear by it. I may be one of those, too.

I should also point out that Lolita is the same kind of book. Some people just will not get over the subject matter and will hate it. I'm not one of those people, but you may be. Partly, this is IMO why it is a great piece of art.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke

Anyone who knows me, especially readers and even more so writers, is probably sick of hearing me talk about James Lee Burke. I admittedly have a man-crush on him. He is my favorite contemporary author. He, for the most part, writes crime fiction, and his themes are consistent. They are the corruptible qualities of wealth and political power. The flip-side of that theme is the helplessness of "the other America"

The Glass Rainbow is Burke's latest effort in the long running Dave Robicheaux series of novels. Robicheaux is a Cajun cop in New Iberia, Louisiana. The Glass Rainbow contains all the colorful characters, lush prose, and disturbing violence readers have come to expect of a Robicheaux novel. It centers on the murders of two young girls in Jefferson Davis Parish - one a poverty-stricken local honor student about to begin studies at LSU, the other a girl who had gone missing from Canada. Burke has mentioned in interviews that the book was his attempt to give a voice to a real problem in Jeff Davis Parish of eight unsolved homicides of young, poor women. Their cases have evidently gotten very little attention by neither the authorities nor the press. In the novel, Dave and his trouble-making, buddy Clete Purcel seem the only ones interested in the crimes...which happen outside Dave's jurisdiction.

The Glass Rainbow
, for the most part, is a pretty middling entry in the series. I've seen so much of this before that I almost know what is going to happen before Mr. Burke fills us in. Reading the series has become kind of like eating comfort food. I reach for a Robicheaux because I know it's not going to let me down...it will be a good read and there are repeating characters that I love spending time with. The Glass Rainbow does those things...most of my reading was on autopilot. But there is this little piece of magic

----Major Spoiler Alert----

-----Seriously I Mean it---------

at the end. About ten pages from the end of the novel, Robicheaux starts narrating in a way that makes it clear that this is the end of the series. These last few pages are remarkable in that they read as a denouement despite the fact that all hell is breaking loose in a VERY violent scene. It's hard to explain what Burke pulled off here, but it was masterful...

Then, the closing passage had a touching, beautiful even, scene with Dave and Clete...almost perfect except for one thing. Mr. Burke used ambiguity to give himself an out.

I love the Robicheaux series, but I've come to enjoy the occasional standalone or when Burke strays from the expected in the series. I loved his depiction of the struggle of Louisianans during Katrina in The Tin Roof Blowdown, and felt letdown when he returned that story to more of the typical in the second half. I think that is what I found disappointing...the ending was so refreshing. Like I said, it's hard to explain it without quoting it verbatim, but it could have been (and I suppose still could be) such a poignant ending to the series, that I wish he wouldn't have given himself the opportunity to return to these characters. If it is indeed the end for Dave and Clete, it would free Burke to explore other stories. Something he has always excelled at, but with Dave's series his big seller, he has always returned to it. Whatever he decides, I'll be along for the ride...Burke is the only author I buy in Hardcover.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What I'm Reading...Roger Angell

I have once again learned my lesson about giving myself assignments...sigh. Black History month has to be deemed a reading failure for me. I'm about 2/3 of the way thru Uncle Tom's Cabin, but it has been that way for awhile. The thing is, it isn't a complex read. Beloved was infinitely more complex. Stowe's style, most early American lit. style it would seem, is just a little difficult to take. When I reviewed Dreiser last year, I mentioned how he tended to show up at the beginning of chapters to sort of give the reader a topic sentence for the chapter he/she was about to read. Even with Sister Carrie, I found this off putting, and I loved Sister Carrie. (In fairness, I believe Hugo did this some in Les Miserables, as well. So perhaps it isn't just Early American lit.) With Dreiser, though, he got his topic sentence out of the way, and then let the story prove his point. Not so with Stowe...she is constantly popping up to spoon feed the reader. It is irritating...especially when it's painfully obvious the point she is trying to make with her story. I am going to finish Uncle Tom's Cabin, because despite Stowe's exposition, I still find the story interest AND because I am of the mind that one of the best ways to understand a period of history is to read the fiction of its time.

Black history month wasn't a total failure for me though...as all the dear readers know, I did read Beloved, which was another great Toni Morrison book. And I also purchased a copy of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for my Nook. I didn't get to reading it, but it is waiting for me on Mt. TBR.

Right now...Spring Training games have started and that means it is time to dust off copies of my Roger Angell books. For the uninitiated, Angell is/was(?) a writer and editor for The New Yorker magazine. He is well known for his pieces of baseball, and rightfully so. Every half decade or so, a collection of these pieces are published in book form. He is my favorite writer of my passion - baseball.

I read a fair amount about baseball, and I once played the game (college and pro). So, I'm pretty well informed on the game. Most writers of the pastime attempt to uncover new ideas/statistical analysis/scandals etc. Angell does none of that. He writes as a fan. Reading Angell is about as close as you can get to sitting in the stands without actually doing so...moreso than even watching a game on TV IMO. His prose is beautiful and poetic. He writes romantically about a game that everyone else wants boil down to a few rows and columns on page 2 of your Sports section.

So, yep, every spring...Roger Angell. I'm ready for a beer and a dog.

(Oh and I've also started The Master by Colm Toibin.)