Thursday, August 23, 2007

LibraryThing = Gateway Drug

It's not bad enough that I'm obsessed with LibraryThing, it just keeps leading me deeper and deeper into the murky world of Internet book sites. First, I noticed these little arrow symbols with numbers beside them; following the link, I found that they represented the number of people who had the book to give away and those who wanted to receive it. Free books! Could anything be more compelling? (Only if they came with chocolate.)

So soon I was signed up with BookMooch. It's pretty simple: you list the books you have available and the books you're looking for. You ask for the books you want, and people do the same to you. You get points for giving, and give points for getting. I listed a few books available to get myself started, and literally within minutes I had my first few requests. It was a little overwhelming, but very cool.

So far I've sent out 12 books and received four. The balance is important, because you can easily spend a fortune in postage if you don't make it back in books. I'm learning other things as I go too: one receiver grumbled at me because she thought I was sending her a hardback, but it was a paperback; you have to be specific about these things. On my side, I've been holding my nose as I read one book that reeks of cigarette smoke, teaching me the value of looking for senders whose profiles state "smoke-free home."

No sooner did I have that under my belt than my sister-in-law, my reading co-conspirator, invited me to join her on goodreads, yet another site for rating and reviewing your books. Since you can date your reading, I've decided that this site fulfills the purpose of the reading diary I've been keeping since the beginning of the year. Hence, beginning with this month, I won't be posting that on this blog anymore, but keeping it on the goodreads site. (I will still post my movie diary here, though.)

For the love of God, with all this blogging and reading about books, when will I have time to actually read the books????

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Reading Diary July 2007

Books read online are in green.

  1. The Railroad Children, Charlotte M. Yonge. (Click What's New?, then the link to the story.) Oh dear, I was so excited to find something new by Yonge on the web, but this isn't the type of her work I enjoy. This didactic novellette showcases some of her least attractive tropes: anything mechanical or industrial is bad and leads to moral degeneracy; it's worse for children to be unbaptized than to be starving and ignorant; it's OK for little kids to die as long as they do so uncomplainingly and in a state of grace.
  2. St. Dale, Sharyn McCrumb. Dear Ms. McCrumb: I willingly stipulate that NASCAR is a legitimate sport that is enjoyed by fine people from all walks of life. I am also ready to admit that Dale Earnhardt was a beloved figure worthy of induction into the pantheon of Elvis and Princess Di. Nevertheless, I'm supremely indifferent to both subjects, and your poorly written infodump masquerading as a novel hasn't done anything to change my mind. Let me just add, Chaucer you're not. Sincerely, Muse of Ire.
  3. Saving Fish from Drowning, Amy Tan. Inconsequential comedy of errors about the folly of human wishes, or something like that. Some funny parts, but not as emotionally involving or deeply characterized as Tan's previous work.
  4. Wanted, Kim Wozencraft. Nicely written, well-constructed thriller about Gail, whose muzzy-headed involvement with bank-robbing terrorists has gotten her imprisoned for 72 years, and Diane, a young cop with crucial evidence in a murder case who gets set up on a phony drug charge. Together, they break out of prison; aside from running from the cops, there's a lot of tension between Gail's wanting to go underground far, far away and Diane's wanting to go back home and settle the score. There are some loose ends, and ultimately there's less going on in Gail's story than in Diane's, but both viewpoints are well represented.
  5. The Janissary Tree, Jason Goodwin. Interesting, somewhat choppy mystery set in the intriguing, exotic world of 1830s Istanbul. Are the Janissaries, the feared warriors who were repressed 10 years earlier, plotting to rise again? The hero, Yashim Togalu, is a eunuch, which becomes an important plot point at times; it would have been nice to have a little more discussion of the mechanics. Definitely planning to read the next one, though.
  6. Almost a Bride, Jane Feather. I thought Feather's Elizabethan romance To Kiss a Spy was pretty laughable. This one is better, probably because the Regency period is one she's more at home in, or at least because I learned its conventions in the same kind of romances she did. But the interesting premise and enjoyable dialog can't overcome the dropped plot points, inconsistent characterization, or melodramatic ending.
  7. Moonrise, Ben Bova. Jarring viewpoint shifts and strangely outdated racial attitudes made me give up on this after a couple of chapters. It wasn't worth the quarter, Dad.
  8. Year's Best SF, David G. Hartwell (ed). Some terrific stories, including one from Robert Silverberg about LA becoming a volcanic zone and one from Ursula K. LeGuin exploring the sexuality of the Gethenians. Unfortunately, also contains a story by Gene Wolfe that is so sexist and creepy it made me completely reevaluate my feelings toward him.
  9. Manhunting, Jennifer Crusie. Needed something good to wash the taste of the Wolfe out of my head, so turned to this frothy confection. Lacks the mystery component I usually like in her work, but still an enjoyable love story between a hard-driving woman and a drifting-nowhere man.
  10. Strange Bedpersons, Jennifer Crusie. Reading Manhunting touched off a little Crusie marathon. Decided to work through some of her older, less-read-by-me books. Tess and Nick are not my favorite set of Crusie lovers, but the minor characters are great, especially the secretary Christine.
  11. Charlie All Night, Jennifer Crusie. Enjoyed this one, but it's a little rushed. She could definitely have spun out the crusade to save the city hall into a full-length plot.
  12. Getting Rid of Bradley, Jennifer Crusie. Zach the sexy cop going from commitment-phobe to happily-ever-after-man in 5 days isn't exactly plausible (even my brother took 3 weeks to propose), but the dialog's snappy, the sex is hot, and the dogs are cute, so I'm not complaining.
  13. Fast Women, Jennifer Crusie. It's hard to choose, but I think this might be my favorite of all of Crusie's books. The sheer number and complexity of the relationships between the characters, the way that Nell and Gabe learn how to deal with their past and express what they need from each other, and the gradual unraveling of the mystery all add up to a terrific, satisfying reading experience. And the sex ain't bad, either.
  14. Faking It, Jennifer Crusie. Another good one. Everybody in the interesting cast of characters (my favorite is Nadine, Tilda's teenage niece) is playing a part or wearing a mask. Also enjoyed Tilda's knowledge of art and art forgery and Davy's con games. Surprisingly little sex.
  15. Tell Me Lies, Jennifer Crusie. The first of Crusie's books I ever read, it remains one of my favorites. Yes, Maddie does some dumb things, but I like her. I really like the way the small-town miasma of gossip and expectations colors the actions of all the characters.
  16. Crazy for You, Jennifer Crusie. One of Crusie's weakest efforts, with a pretty typical woman-in-jep plot. Her writing still sells it.
  17. Welcome to Temptation, Jennifer Crusie. Sophie Dempsey is the prototypical Crusie heroine -- organized, methodical, taking care of everyone else, trying to hold it all together but starting to unravel at the seams. I like the way Phin unravels her. More than usually tricky murder/theft/sabotage plot.
  18. Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie. Min is the Crusie heroine I identify most with. I like how she and Cal complement each other and especially enjoyed the parts where they stand up to each other's parents. I also just really like the way Crusie lets her characters be themselves in this one.
  19. Chocolat, Joanne Harris. Normally I'm not a fan of movies messing with books, but I think the film version made some smart choices. Harris's use of the priest as the bad guy -- rigid, narrow-minded, trying to exercise an undue temporal power -- is a huge cliche, and I preferred the movie's mayor. Roux's involvement with Josephine comes completely out of left field; his involvement with Vianne isn't much better established, but at least the movie gives us Johnny Depp. The thing the book had that I would have liked to see more of in the film is the hint of magic. Harris's prose is good, even beautiful in places, but her constant switching from past to present tense within scenes -- even within paragraphs -- is majorly annoying.
  20. Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, Alexander McCall Smith. Smith's sense of place is as strong as ever, and Edinburgh shines almost as much as Botswana. But damn, Isabel is one judgmental bitch. Her relationship with Jamie is the only genuine thing in this rather plotless, pointless novel. I was surprised Smith called her on her habit of jumping to totally unwarranted conclusions, but of course only in such a way that her niece could deny it.
  21. One for the Morning Glory, John Barnes. Charming, often very funny tale of characters who know they're living in a story but aren't quite sure what the story is. Somewhat disappointing ending forgets some of the book's fairy tale elements, not quite bringing the story full circle.
  22. Snow White, Blood Red, Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (eds). A seminal collection of modern retellings of fairy tales that I can't believe I never read before. Quality of the stories is almost uniformly high; I think my favorite is Patricia McKillip's take on the Snow Queen.
  23. Mr. Paradise, Elmore Leonard. More than usually meandering and pointless mystery -- if something so entirely lacking in suspense can be called that -- from Leonard. Usually I like reading him for the caper, but nobody gets away with anything here, and I didn't even enjoy watching the bad guys get theirs.
  24. Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahan. Uneven collection. Stories I especially enjoyed were George Saunders' "Jon" and Lucius Shepherd's "Only Partly There," the finest post-9/11 story I've ever read.

Movie Diary July 2007

Movies seen for the first time are in green.

  1. The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), Billy Wilder. I used to enjoy this picture more when I knew less about Charles Lindbergh. Jimmy Stewart puts his gee-whiz Americanism to great use here.
  2. Gallant Journey (1946), William Wellman. Glenn Ford = snooze. This movie did nothing to disprove that equation.
  3. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Michael Curtiz. Exhuberant, entertaining biopic of showbiz legend George M. Cohan (Jimmy Cagney) contains a raft of great moments. Corny as it is, the scene of hundreds of soldiers marching and singing "Over There" chokes me up every time.
  4. The Howards of Virginia (1940), Frank Lloyd. Laughably bad story of the Revolutionary War, starring Cary Grant in his most miserably miscast role as a backwoodsman.
  5. Seven Men from Now (1956), Budd Boettiger. Revenge fantasies and vigilantism! Some fun! [/sarcasm] I'm still dopey for Randolph Scott's voice, though. Romance between Scott and Gail Russell seems like Vertigo on his side, Shane on hers.
  6. Little Women (1949), Mervyn LeRoy. Decent but overblown production of Louisa May Alcott's classic; the genuine power and beauty of the material manages to shine through. June Allyson generally sets my teeth on edge, but she's mostly OK here. Margaret O'Brien very affecting as the sweet, doomed Beth. Both the Katharine Hepburn and Winona Ryder versions are better.
  7. The Man in the Saddle (1951), Andre de Toth. Boring, forgettable Western. Mostly notable because Joan Leslie isn't doing that wide-eyed virginal thing she does in every other role I've seen her in.
  8. Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Anatole Litvak. This is a classic why? The writing is turgid, the characters are horrible, and the actors are chewing up the scenery. Call me when Double Indemnity's on.
  9. Young Frankenstein (1974), Mel Brooks. One of the funniest freaking movies of all time. Genius by all involved.
  10. Towards Zero (2007), Mystery! Geraldine McEwan is certainly the finest Miss Marple to ever fill her sensible shoes, and these Mystery episodes always have lavish production values up the wazoo. Too bad they can't make up for the less than stellar plot in this minor (originally non-Marple) Agatha Christie work. (An old man can instantly recognize an adult who killed as a child because of a long ring finger? Yeah, right.)
  11. Pride and Prejudice (1940), Robert Z. Leonard. Entirely inauthentic, entirely delightful version of Jane Austen's classic. Yes, it gets many, many of the details wrong, but truly captures the spirit of the book. Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier are beautifully matched, and Edna May Oliver adds her customary verve to the proceedings as Lady Catherine.
  12. The Pride of the Yankees (1942), Sam Wood. Gary Cooper's stilted delivery really gets in the way in this sentimental, affecting biopic; he's much better when he doesn't speak, as in the scene where Lou Gehrig is benched for the first time in 14 years. Teresa Wright does her usual sassy/sweet number as Gehrig's wife Elly. The final shot of Cooper walking into the doorway is one of the finest in movie history.
  13. Ride the High Country (1962), Sam Peckinpah. Intelligent, leisurely Western about aging ex-lawmen guarding -- or maybe stealing -- a shipment of gold. Seasoned pros Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott are likeable and moving as old men in a country that doesn't treat old men very well. Peckinpah's vision of the miner's camp is one of the first realistic depictions of the West in film. Mariette Hartley should have sued the hairstylist, but luckily she survived to act again.
  14. Kiss Me Kate (1953), George Sidney. If you can endure Kathryn Grayson's trilling (and her shrieks that could etch glass) and Howard Keel's posturing (although he looks pretty good in Petruchio's beard and tights), you'll be rewarded with terrific Cole Porter songs and Ann Miller's legs.
  15. The Band Wagon (1953), Vincente Minelli. Slightly tired but still fun satire of "significant" theater. Nanette Fabray, Oscar Levant, and some snappy Comden/Green numbers provide most of the life. Cyd Charisse looks terrific; did she have the smallest waist in Hollywood?
  16. A Guy Named Joe (1943), Victor Fleming. I still like this movie, although I'm not exactly sure why. Tracy's character (Pete, not Joe) is the perfect alpha male -- smug, condescending, sexist, withholding, controlling, and off-the-scale macho. Plus, the female lead is my perennial favorite Irene Dunne as Dorinda (yes, she sings again). I think it's mainly the supporting characters -- a very young and fresh Van Johnson as Ted (in a reversal of the usual movie formula, he's 18 years younger than co-star Dunne); a relaxed and genial Ward Bond; and a fatherly Lionel Barrymore. There's also Dorinda's obvious skill and heroism as a pilot (despite Pete's denigrating comments) and some wonderful moments like the scene where the wealthy Ted places a long-distance call to the mother of a homesick soldier.