Welcome to my blog! I'll be updating fairly regularly with posts about voracious reading.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Big Sleep

The hubby and I just watched all three episodes of Masterpiece Mystery's Sherlock, a modernized (but still so very faithful) show about two of my favorite literary characters: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. It's gotten me in a mystery frame of mind and because I'm trying desperately not to pick up my Atlantic City beach book for this weekend (All Your Base are Belong to Us--curse you Random House and your amazing books, please hire me), I stopped at Barnes and Noble and, on a whim, picked up Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. Smart whim.

I sat down in the cafe with a chai latte and read the first 20 pages. Given the era in which it was written, I shouldn't be surprised that it has much the same noir tone that marked The Maltese Falcon. While Chandler's Philip Marlowe has a little stricter code of ethics than Hammett's Sam Spade, he finds himself being forced to make questionable decisions while mired in a muddle of murder, porn, and disappearances. Marlowe is cynical but loyal and not above a little humor at the expense of others. Upon meeting his client's younger (but still twenty-something year old) daughter for the first time, he tells her that his name is Doghouse Reilly. The slang is sometimes a little jarring just because so much of the terminology has fallen out of use but always fascinating. It's a good thing I didn't have much human contact this afternoon because all I've wanted to do is use words like "dame." Also, some of the things written about a couple of gay characters would have sparked some outcry had they been written more recently. I believe, though, that content like that doesn't make the book less valuable or suddenly no good (as some seem to believe about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet, which portrays a group of Mormons poorly or how some people feel about the almighty Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and its rampant use of the n-word). Such content becomes a snapshot of history and a valuable discussion point in the classroom or at home.

I was laughing and gasping at turns throughout this book. Not only was it highly entertaining but it was very well-written. It was Chandler's first novel and I'm really glad that not only did he continue to write but that he kept using Marlowe as his protagonist. I'm ready for more mystery and definitely more Raymond Chandler.


"You're cute."
"What you see is nothing," I said. "I've got a Bali dancing girl tattooed on my right thigh."
Her eyes rounded. She said: "Naughty," and wagged a finger at me. Then she whispered: "Can I have my gun?"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quote of the Week: Tim O'Brien

Cut for spoilers, sort of. This is the final passage of The Things They Carried and while it doesn't reveal any particular plot points it's still a very poignant final image. If you haven't read this book (please do), be aware that reading this post is like reading the last page and that you'll be getting O'Brien's final thoughts first. I hazard against it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Character Profile: Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew has been my hero since I was six. This is true. When I was first allowed into the "chapter books" section, my elementary school librarian loaded me up with Newbery and Caldecott Medal bookmarks and each one of those found their home inside the collection of old Nancy Drew books on the fiction shelf. As soon as I worked my way through all of them, I started over again.

Why did I idolize her so much? Nancy was an older girl with two great best friends (George the stereotypical tomboy and Bess the stereotypical girly-girl), an awesome car, a loving lawyer father, a stand-in mother for a housekeeper, and a college boyfriend. Those were all things that made Nancy cool but in my mind it was actually her intellect and her willingness to take risks to help people that made her a heroine.

Nancy asked questions that wouldn't have easy answers, that often led to more questions and dangerous situations. She risked her life many times and frequently for people she had only just met. Nancy wasn't concerned about being paid, she cared about good people who were in need. She turned to her friends for help and they leapt to her aid and offered her their advice (most of the time, from Bess at least, it was to be careful). Her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, was on hand to rescue her when she needed it, though Nancy often rescued herself. She combined clues (often while displaying some impressive talent) to unravel complex mysteries. For a character who debuted in 1930, Nancy is an impressively intelligent and self-reliant young woman. The women who wrote as Carolyn Keene clearly made an effort to present an admirable heroine to the girls of their respective times.

(Like Clare, Nancy will be featured again. I have a book about "Carolyn Keene" that's begging to be reread.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Mislaid Magician -or- Ten Years After

Sorry, Neil. My package from Amazon came while I was still reading Smoke and Mirrors and sadly, new books trump previously read books. I cruised my way through The Grand Tour, finishing it under the booklight on Friday night (sorry, hubby). Immediately the next morning I began The Mislaid Magician. The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician are sequels to my favorite epistolary novel (written in the form of letters or diary entries), Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede (can you tell yet that she's one of my most treasured authors?) and Caroline Stevermer.

They use an alternate dimension type reality where history in general has not changed and the world itself is very recognizable as Regency England, post-Napoleonic War. One big difference, though: magic is real, there is a Royal College of Wizards and a Ministry of Magic, and wizards are accepted members of society. The period details in all three of these books, including the phrasing that the main characters, Cecy, Kate, Thomas the Marquis of Schofield, and James, use are fascinating. Every once in a while, I'll catch myself thinking in character dialect after I've put the book down. Wrede writes as Cecy and Stevermer writes as Kate and their voices remain distinctive through all three books.

The Mislaid Magician picks up at the advent of the steam engine, ten years after Cecy marries James Tarleton and Kate marries Thomas. They each have a passel of children, fitting considering the times. Kate and Thomas are watching both families at their home (called Skeynes, which I hope is a reference to knitting and the knit messages from the previous book) while Cecy and James are headed to Stockton to investigate the disappearance of a surveyor wizard for the Duke of Wellington. I'm not very far in but I'm absolutely invested in the story. The children's individual personalities reflect their parents' and I can see everyone, including the little ones, getting into a lot of trouble very quickly in this one. I'm looking forward to finding out how it goes.

Thus far, absolutely recommend Sorcery and Cecelia, if you enjoyed it, check out The Grand Tour (which is written in the form of Kate's honeymoon diary and Cecy's deposition), and continue on to The Mislaid Magician. I'll let you know the final verdict.

Author Spotlight: J.K. Rowling

I long to write about Patricia Wrede but that will have to wait. In honor of this the final Harry Potter movie and the end of an era, I want to talk a little bit about J.K. Rowling and what she has done for children, magic, and literacy.

According to Rowling's website, Harry Potter was first conceived during a train delay and finally came to fruition years later in Edinburgh after the birth of her older daughter and the dissolution of her marriage. As if single motherhood to a real child wasn't difficult enough, Rowling worked hard to give the world Harry Potter. My mom bought the books as a set: the first four hardcovers in a box, just for my little brother to interest him in reading. I, for one, had refused to take part in such a ridiculous movement and anyway, at 14, I was clearly too old for these children's stories. Anyone who knows me, though, knows that I can't be in the vicinity of a book for a prolonged time without reading it. And there these four books were, in my very house, waiting. Possibly staring at me. Certainly demanding my attention. I gave in and, immediately rapt, read one after the other, after the other, until I was done and when was this fifth book coming out, anyway? These are not exceptionally well-written books nor is the concept that magic is hiding in everyday life just out of our reach totally original. Rowling's true genius in Harry Potter was that, as her initial batch of readers grew older, as did Harry...and his story. Correct me if I'm wrong, but no other children's series that I am familiar with has evolved from book to book, aging the character and making the plot darker and more complex, with such excellent pacing. This is a series that grabs your attention and refuses to let it go, refuses to allow you to grow out of it. Harry Potter grew up with me, so much so that I dragged my fiance along with me in 2007 for the midnight book release for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He now asks me every other day when we're going to see the last movie. Soon, I say.

I also love what Rowling has done for children's literacy. I subscribe to the books=drugs theory in that there are gateway books that will lead people to more difficult and totally hardcore books or even just more books in general. Rowling's Potter books are the ultimate gateway books. She's created a recognizable world but with a twist, a sympathetic hero and surrounded him with a great complementary cast of characters, and a wicked villain who everyone loves to hate. They're accessible and interesting, funny and sad, and best of all, they're addictive like crazy and they'll hook 'em while they're young. Children who work their way through all seven Harry Potter novels are not going to simply stop reading at the end of Deathly Hallows. They'll want more books like Harry Potter and then more books, any books that sound interesting. Rowling is creating a whole new batch of book junkies out of a generation that would have likely found its place permanently parked in front of the television if it hadn't been for her. I think that's beautiful.

Thanks to Rowling, too, other authors are getting exposure that they deserve. (See, I'm going to work her in anyway:) Older books involving magic for the same general demographic of readers are being reprinted and released with shiny new cover art...wonderful books like Mairelon the Magician and The Magician's Ward by Patricia Wrede have been combined in an omnibus edition titled A Matter of Magic. Granted, themes will fall in and out of fashion (vampire books were cool when I was a teenager 13 years ago and, thanks to Twilight, are back in), but it always takes one big book to act as a catalyst and I believe that Rowling brought back the magic to young adult literature with Harry Potter.

A single mother created an outcast boy and in introducing magic to his life, she gave it to all of the rest of us. It's not so much the ordering of her words but the fact that they exist, that they caught on like fire, and that the story she began burns on in the people who read it--that's the magic. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Missed Friday

Things got in the way on Friday and today was also full so look forward to a double-post tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quote of the Week: Kurt Vonnegut

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."
-God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Kurt Vonnegut

Husband and I have been talking about children lately (our new neighbor is a month into her third trimester and is so sweet and so excited), which has gotten my mom and I talking about decorating a nursery. My first concept was Alice in Wonderland but it got to be far too theme park-like and elaborate in my head. My mom, as always, was a settling influence: she suggested a library. I want something cute that introduces things I love to my baby from an early age but, as my mom reminded me, I also need baby to sleep in this room. Libraries are places of joy and imagination but they're also quiet and calming. I swear, this relates to the quote.

Vonnegut's main character prepares this little speech for his neighbors' twins. I find it to be a simple but beautiful summary of human life. We're here on this planet for a limited time and the place itself is the way it is. It is round and wet and crowded. Being kind may not be the rule (enough people seem to ignore it if it is) but it should be. We'd be a lot better off if all babies were greeted with this, if the need for kindness was consistently reinforced throughout their lives. Mine will: I plan to have this cross-stitched and framed above the crib.