Friday, May 30, 2008

The Duke and I

The Duke and I, by Julia Quinn

Despite my earlier post on romance, I keep TRYING to like the books recommended by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. However, not even for free could I persist past the second chapter or so of this Regency. Quinn's prose is flat and her ear for dialog tin.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Three by Dick Francis

In the wake of consolidating my and my mother's mystery collections, I discovered some appalling gaps in the collection and promptly set about replacing some cherished favorites via BookMooch. Among these were some of the best titles in Dick Francis's oeuvre.

Nerve is the story of Rob Finn, an up-and-coming young jockey, who learns that someone is systematically destroying jockeys' careers and takes revenge. Francis is never really at his best when delving into psychology, but the point where Rob understands exactly how alike he and the villain are is riveting. I also really like the romance in this one; unlike in some of his other books, it feels central to Rob's character.

In Forfeit , racing reporter James Tyrone discovers a cheating bookmaker who makes money through hyping horses and then preventing them from running. Ty takes extraordinary measures to protect the latest horse in the string and his wife, crippled from polio. Ty's relationship with his wife -- complicated by a guilt-ridden affair with the biracial Gail -- and the minute depiction of their domestic economy are truly touching. I always think of Francis as adding sex to his books much later, and reluctantly (I envision his publisher saying, "Dick, horses running around in circles is all very well, but can't you throw in a few naked girls?"), but here he tackles the subject with some frankness and without the embarrassment that seems to characterize later efforts.

Daniel Roke, in For Kicks, owns a successful stud farm in Australia, has three loving younger siblings, and is bored to tears. It takes an undercover investigation of a novel form of horse doping in England to teach him what he's made of and what he really wants in life. Villains in Francis's books are often soulless and creepy, but this pair are serious contenders for the worst in show.

2/3 of the Tummy Trilogy

American Fried and Third Helpings, by Calvin Trillin*

Trillin is one of my favorite food writers, and these books were just what I needed to wash the sour taste out of my mouth from some of the other terrible things I had been reading. A foodie before there was even a word for such a thing (his wife Alice politely referred to the species as "food crazies"), Trillin writes humorously and passionately about his constant quest for something to eat -- not the most trendy, most expensive, most organically-grown-and-locally-sourced item of the day, but something that tastes good. Whether he's discussing his friend Fats Goldberg the pizza baron, daydreaming about the Italian West Indies, or assiduously eating his weight in baked duck and dirty rice in a valiant attempt to trace the origin of the recipe, Trillin always makes me laugh and leaves me hungry.

*Edited to ask: Can anybody help me find a free or cheap copy of Alice, Let's Eat? Mom's has disappeared, and BookMooch has been disappointing on that score.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Movie Quote of the Day #5

Well, I feel for you, but I'm consumed by apathy.

Walter Brennan, Bad Day at Black Rock

Friday, May 23, 2008

Daughters of the North

Daughters of the North, by Sarah Hall

A young woman runs away from a city run by an oppressive authority that controls every aspect of its citizens' lives, including their fertility. She heads into the mountains in search of a place she's heard about that has rejected the regime, living off the grid in a self-sustaining agrarian community. Close to her destination, she's attacked, from behind and without warning, by two soldiers who knock her down hard enough to whack the hell out of her knee and break her arm, then hold her down and search her possessions. Her captors march her to their headquarters, where their leader has her thrown into a metal dog box for three days, without medical treatment or food, only a little water.

Who are these brutal captors? Tools of the fascists she's trying to escape? No, this is Carhullan, the group of women she's come looking for. These are THE GOOD GUYS.

This is an intensely disturbing, even horrifying, book, not because of its depiction of a totalitarian, post-disaster England, but because its imagined alternative is so bleakly inhumane. Even after Sister (we'll get to the name issue in a minute) is let out of the box and more or less patched up, including having her IUD removed, no one apologizes for her treatment. No one introduces her to the community or tries to make her feel welcome. Instead, they just let her blunder around and try to insert herself into the hitherto hostile group.

I have rarely read anything that put my back up as much as this, when Sister enters the kitchen for the first time and everyone begins banging on the table:

I knew then that I was nothing; that I was void to the core. To get here I
had committed a kind of suicide. My old life was over. I was now an unmade
person. In the few days that I had been at Carhullan nobody had called me
anything but Sister, though they had seen my identification card and knew my
name, and I had shouted out my story over and over from behind the metal walls
of the dog box, trying to engage their sympathies, trying to tell them who I
was. The person I had once been, the person who had walked out of the safety
zones and up the mountain, was gone. She was dead. I was alive. But the only
heartbeat I had was the pulse they were beating through me.

It was not until the first of them left the table, came forward and took
hold of my neck and kissed my mouth, while the others continued to knock their
cutlery, and when the woman next to her followed suit, and the next, and the
next, that I began to understand what was happening. I realised what the noise
was. It was not a clamour intended to drive me out or to let me know I bore some
kind of stigma. It was the sign of acceptance I had been waiting for. It was
So: brutalization, isolation, deprivation, and depersonalization, followed by inappropriate and overly personal bonding. Isn't that classic cult induction behavior? And just like a cult victim, Sister not only doesn't resent what's happened to her, she thinks it's only natural. She thinks it's great.

The cult-like nature of Carhullan is reinforced by the presence of its founder, Jackie Nixon, who leads both through her ownership of the farm and the force of her charismatic personality. Sister -- and the author -- hero-worship Jackie, but to me she comes across very clearly as a psychopath, brilliant and charming when she wants to be, but totally manipulative and utterly without conscience or remorse. One community member realizes this too late, and winds up dead. Yet we're not supposed to hate Jackie, just to think that she's made a hard choice for the good of the community. I can only say, bullshit.

The casual cruelty and militarism of Carhullen depresses and, yes, offends me. I know that women are strong and capable; I know they can fight and sacrifice to meet their goals; I know that institutions run by women aren't all tea-drinking and group hugs. But Carhullan is not my idea of what women's strength must, or should, look like. The way to counteract oppression is not to become more vicious and soul-dead than your oppressors.

As for the setting of the story, I try not to be one of those genre readers who tell non-genre authors, "You can't play in our sandbox." That said, if you're GOING to play in our sandbox, take some time to learn the rules. Hall's world-building fails for me on a very fundamental level. I simply don't believe that any repressive totalitarian society, given the existence of a large body of otherwise useless conscript labor, is going to decide that it's cheaper and more efficient to abandon all farming and depend completely on imported foodstuffs. If there's one thing American slavery taught us, it's that farming with slave labor can be very productive and profitable; furthermore, the Chinese Cultural Revolution proved that you can transform an educated urban population into peasants if you're determined and callous enough. If Hall had tried to justify these conditions through some other device, such as pollution or radiation levels that made growing food unsafe, I might have bought that; but then she couldn't have had her little pocket "utopia."

The other thing that doesn't ring true for me about Carhullan is its sexuality. The main community at Carhullan is all female. A few men in a satellite settlement do some work on the farm, but it's clear the women could function without them; as Sister later explicitly states, they're essentially prostitutes and sperm donors. She first discovers their role when she and her workmates take some peat for fuel down to the men. As the women choose men and go off with them, she realizes that the true purpose of the trip is a mass booty call. Awkwardly declining her "share" of the men, she is left alone with another woman, Shruti. The sounds of the others coupling all around her start to turn her on; instantly, she's on fire for Shruti and the two of them have sex.

My problem with this is not Teh Gay; it's Teh Stoopid. I can accept that a woman who's never given any indication of previous lesbian or bisexual feelings (Sister had been married, and all her previous lovers were male) is suddenly attracted to another woman. I can't accept that she would just start making love to that woman as though she had decided to change brands of toothpaste. Sister displays no hesitation, no nervousness, no self-doubt or vulnerability; and neither does she have any great epiphany that this is what she's been waiting for all her life. I'm not asking for deep angst here, but some moderate soul-searching, some ACKNOWLEDGMENT of the issues, would be normal.

If I can drag in another medium here, consider the behavior of Dr. Callie Torres on Grey's Anatomy. Like Sister, Callie had been exclusively straight until she met cardiothoracic ace Erica Hahn. Callie reacted to her growing interest in Erica first with obliviousness; then with nervous laughter, denial, and sexual athleticism with the nearest available man; and finally with fear of social stigmatization, realization of what was really important to her, and acceptance. This is not the most realistic show on TV, and quite often drives me crazy, but Callie's working through the stages of the process strikes me as a thousand times more plausible than Sister's failure to even have a process.

The bizarreness of Sister's sexual on/off switch is even more apparent toward the latter part of the book. After she is with Shruti for more than a year, they break up when Jackie decides to turn the community into a fighting force and the women divide into factions. Sister immediately picks up with Calum, one of the men from the settlement, again without any indication that she finds it strange or even note-worthy to change her sexual focus to the other sex again.

This part bothered me for another reason as well. In the scene where Sister realizes the men's role for the first time, she seems uncomfortable with their marginalized status. But when she starts sleeping with Calum, it's not out of any sense of caring: he's simply a male sex object for her own gratification, and there's no indication that she finds the arrangement demeaning. Again, yes, women are sexual, they have needs, blah, blah, but the way to compensate for thousands of years of sexual exploitation is not to turn men into whores.

In a way, Sister's attitude reminds me strongly of Nicola Griffith's Ammonite, another widely admired novel I hated. In that book, a plague has killed off all the men on a colony world, and that means that all the space personnel and visitors who come to the world must be women also. It's a stretch, but not an entirely unreasonable one, that all the planet's inhabitants become lesbians within a single generation. It's entirely less reasonable to say that all the women coming from Earth in the present generation also instantly "convert" without any problem whatsoever. Just as some fundamentalists seem to believe that, deep down, all gay people are REALLY straight but just stubbornly refuse to admit it, Griffith and Hall seem to harbor the conviction that all straights are REALLY bisexual if they would just let go of their inhibitions. I'm heterosexual and I'm here to represent: it doesn't work that way.**

Speaking of other books that reviewers have mentioned in the same breath as Daughters of the North, I'm quite willing to accept comparisons to The Handmaid's Tale and The Children of Men*. (It also contains echoes of those dystopic classics 1984 and Brave New World, which nobody seems to have gotten around to mentioning.) But only a person who had never actually read The Dispossessed could link Sarah Hall with Ursula K. LeGuin. Anarres isn't perfect, but everybody's trying. I would love to live on Anarres; I couldn't tolerate a second in Carhullan.

I try to make it a policy never to buy a book online whose only user review is from Harriet Klaussner. I should have stuck to it.

*I've never read the book, but I admired the movie a lot.

**Edited to say that I don't think I fully expressed my thought. In fact, I agree with those people who have said that human sexuality lies along a spectrum, and that many individuals might harbor the potential for bisexuality or homosexuality but have never expressed it. However, even for those who do, deciding to act on that potential takes more than a shrug and an "oh well, no guys available, I better start lovin' on the women."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Summer of the Big Bachi

Summer of the Big Bachi, Naomi Hirahara

There are certainly some interesting aspects to this book. It never occurred to me, for example, that there had been American-born Japanese living in Hiroshima when the atom bomb fell on the city. Nor was I aware of the lingering tensions in the Japanese-American community between those who cooperated with the Government and served in WWII and those who refused to sign loyalty oaths and were jailed. And the whole subculture of Japanese gardeners in southern California is also intriguing to this Easterner.

But as a whole, the novel doesn't work for me, mainly because I didn't like the hero, Mas Arai. One quote on the book jacket calls him "complex and honorable," and I didn't find him either. He's a selfish, emotionally inaccessible man, unable ever to tell his wife and daughter how he feels, although the truth seems to be that he doesn't feel much. It's no wonder that his daughter fled to New York as soon as she could and never even told him that she got married.

There are several crimes, kicked off by people's sudden desire to obtain a certain piece of land, and there are multiple villains running around with assorted motives. But it's Mas's very emotional insensitivity that makes the solution of the mysteries especially implausible. Mas is a guy who hardly knows anything about people; yet he puts together several very subtle clues to uncover the reason everyone wants the land and identify the killers.* Maybe Columbo could have pulled it off, but Mas is no Columbo.

Edited to add: Of course, he's got a big head start on everybody else, because he's the only one who knows the truth about the guy everyone is looking for.


Grimspace, by Ann Aguirre

Not terrible, but after 50 pages or so, failed to hold my interest. Since those pages covered a jail break, a dangerous cross-galaxy jump, and a firefight, I think that gives a fair indication of the author's inability to dial up the excitement.

Aguirre also tripped over two of my science fiction pet peeves:

  • If you're going to make up a swear word, don't make it sound just like a substitute for "fuck" and then use it as though it were "fuck"
  • Do not, for the love of God, label common animals, events, and sayings as "Old Earth" or "Old Terra." If you really NEED to convey the idea that horses, say, are now extinct or otherwise unfamiliar, at least do it with a little dialog: "I could eat a horse." "What's a horse?" "Oh, you know, that riding animal they used to have on Earth? Big, four legs, ran really fast?" Otherwise, just accept that your characters know these things and move on.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kristi Wins! Like That's a Surprise

I've never watched Dancing With the Stars [be warned; if you click, video starts playing automatically], and would be hard-pressed to find a show or concept to which I am more indifferent. But really, without knowing anything about her competitors, the level of competition on the show, or ballroom dancing in general, how astounded can I be by the announcement that Olympic figure-skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi has won the latest title? I mean, she's a professional athlete in a sport whose basic core skills include graceful movement in a set pattern in time to music.

I mean, I don't think you had to be Nostradamus to predict that one.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Thistle and Twigg

Thistle and Twigg, by Mary Saums

Buying a new cosy mystery is always something of a risk, since they more than other types of mysteries tend toward the overly cutesified. And buying one online is even more of a gamble, because you don't get the warning signs you can pick up by holding a book in your hands and scanning the first few pages.

Case in point: Exhibit A. On the one hand, we have a polite, genteel little old English lady, who just happens to be a highly trained CIA operative. (She's like Mrs. Pollifax, except Mrs. Pollifax was fun.) On the other hand, we have a rootin', tootin' Southern belle who paints her semiautomatic apricot blush and names it "Smokahontas." Really, does much more need to be said?

But there is more, including the incredibly lame shenanigans about covert militia groups and an untouched wilderness full of Ancient Mystic Indian Secrets. And of course, the ghosts.

See, this is where actually holding the book would have helped me, because the ghosts would have been a dealbreaker. Rule of Thumb #47: Ghosts in a book that's not a ghost story = pathetic and contrived plot device.

How to Marry a Ghost

How to Marry a Ghost, by Hope McIntyre

OK, I was already starting to hate this heroine when she began telling me how neurotic and special and needy she was. But when she explained how she made her perfectly innocent fiance take up jogging in the mornings so that a) she could have her precious alone time and b) even though she *totally* loved and accepted him just the way he was, so he could lose 10 pounds to fit into his wedding suit AND described it as a noble compromise on HER part -- that was when the book hit the wall.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Dream-Maker's Magic

The Dream-Maker's Magic, by Sharon Shinn

Disappointing ending to Sharon Shinn's YA Safe-Keepers series. It's not that the book is bad, exactly; it's just that it lacks the richness and emotional complexity of most of her work. Even given the premise that the hero's power makes unlikely coincidences happen and unspoken dreams come true, everything feels very scripted, very predictable. The characters and especially the setting are charming, but it didn't make my heart yearn as I've come to depend on from Shinn.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Retropost: Books for May So Far

  1. Immortal, Traci L. Satton. Dull, episodic travelogue through Renaissance Florence complete with name-dropping and heavy doses of theology and Neoplatonic philosophy, with a light dusting of unsatisfying fantasy on top. Leonardo da Vinci comes across as a kid with ADD; Lorenzo de' Medici is an inexplicable choice of antagonist; and our hero Luca, despite his strange longevity and unearthly beauty, lacks wisdom and charm. When at the end he asks whether he brought his tragedy on himself, it's impossible not to scream: "Well, duh, you stupid putz!"
  2. The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill. Excellent, absorbing police procedural/thriller about several missing people, possibly shady New Age practitioners, and the mind of a serial killer. Hill feeds the reader plenty of clues about the identity of the villain and doesn't make the mistake of many authors of trying to sustain the mystery past the point of plausibility; at the appropriate point, the story changes focus from "whodunnit?" to "how will they catch him?" The various characters are all vividly sketched (although in the end there are many unanswered questions about the killer) and add to the sense of an interlocking community in the charming town of Lafferton. The final murder is a shock and genuinely sad because you've come to care for the character so much.
  3. Amberlight, Sylvia Kelso. This book has a very interesting premise and at times the prose is beautiful, but it is seriously underwritten. There is not enough context to understand the different cultures of the area or the tensions within the city of Amberlight itself. And the names are confusing -- for example, is Shia or Shuya the housekeeper of Telluin House? Is Dinda the adjective describing a resident of Dasdhein or the ruler of another country entirely?
    The most basic problem with the book is that the economic structure of the city makes no sense -- everyone seems to be either directly involved in working with the stone qherrique, in the Navy, or else a casteless, unemployed outsider. Where are all the construction workers, tailors, weavers, pastry cooks, actors, fishmongers, booksellers, and countless other occupations needed to support the central industry and population of a city that size?
    Neither do the sex roles in the book make sense. Men do not have the ability to work with querrique. How exactly this led the women to systematically exclude them from all public life and professions, artificially restrict their numbers by exposing male babies at birth, and incarcerate them in harems is never made clear. Nor is it inevitable, as the heroine seems to assume from her hard-fought struggle to protect the querrique-handling "secret."
    And that brings us lastly to the motivation for the plot, which makes sense least of all. If the querrique (or the Mother goddess, it's not clear) senses that it's being used for evil purposes and it has the power to destroy itself, why drag four nations into a bloody and unnecessary war?
  4. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen. Of all the Austens, I think this is my least preferred, perhaps because I identify with Elinor so strongly. Marianne drives me crazy, and Edward is a dullard unworthy of Elinor's devotion. She'd be much better off with Col. Brandon.

Inconsistent Little Old Me

When I first started this blog, I was keeping a reading diary here like the movie diary I have neglected am keeping. Then my sister-in-law asked me to join her on Goodreads, and I decided to post my reading over there instead. But I'm not feeling the love, and meanwhile the blog is getting a little dusty.

So I'm changing the way I do things once again. From now on, I'll post my comments to the blog as I finish each book. I'll retropost all the books from so far in May, then carry on one by one.

For the most part these will be the types of quick thoughts I usually offer, but occasionally I may get into a full-blown review as the mood strikes me.

What can I say? It's a blogger's privilege to change her mind.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

It's Meme Time Again -- Top 106 Unread on LibraryThing

As usual, I'm behind the curve, but I saw on the LibraryThing blog that people have been ranking how they stand against the 106 books most often tagged as "unread" by the users of LibraryThing (why 106? 'Cause a plain old top 100 is too 5 years ago?).

The rules are as follows: bold the books you have read, italicize books you’ve started but not finished, strike through the books you read but hated (likely for school), and add an asterisk* to books you’ve read more than once. You're also supposed to underline those you own but still haven’t read yourself, but I don't have any of those. (For the uninitiated, the numbers represent "users listing book as unread"/"users listing book.")

My list, with commentary, is below.

  1. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell* by Susanna Clarke (236/9041) -- A fabulous book, one of my favorites
  2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (211/8954) -- Pure soap opera; slap a pink cover on it and stick it in the Romance aisle
  3. One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (183/11973) -- I still don't know what happened
  4. Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (176/10687) -- I've read enough Dostoevsky to know I don't want to read this
  5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (162/12137) -- One of the worst books ever; how it came to be a classic I'll never know
  6. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (158/10886)
  7. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (155/8789)
  8. Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra (152/6654) -- I stumbled through most of this in college, but it wasn't what I was expecting
  9. The Odyssey by Homer (136/10954) -- I've read bits and pieces over the years but never made it all the way through
  10. The brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (136/7174) -- See, this is the Dostoevsky I was talking about
  11. Ulysses* by James Joyce (135/6255) -- The best book ever written in English. Yes, it takes work, but it's so worth it
  12. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (132/6267)
  13. War and peace by Leo Tolstoy (132/5953) -- I've made numerous attempts on this tome; hated the war AND the peace
  14. Jane Eyre* by Charlotte Bronte (124/13765) -- One of the best heroines in literature, with nothing but her own steely sense of integrity to guide her
  15. A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens (124/7460) -- Not my favorite Dickens
  16. The name of the rose* by Umberto Eco (120/7706) -- So much fun!
  17. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (119/7719) -- Another one I made multiple attempts to read; now I've given myself permission to give up
  18. The Iliad by Homer (117/8723) -- Again, just read the bits that any literature student needs to read
  19. Emma* by Jane Austen (117/8949) -- When I was younger, I was all, "oh, how horrible that she should wind up with someone so much older" and now I'm all, "Where is my Mr. Knightley, goddammit?"
  20. Vanity fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (115/3827)
  21. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (114/7115) -- I'm not reading this until I figure out One Hundred Years of Solitude
  22. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (110/4806) -- Not a big Atwood fan
  23. The Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (108/6165) -- One of these days I'll tackle the whole thing
  24. Pride and prejudice* by Jane Austen (108/18293) -- Elizabeth Bennett is one of the most likeable heroines I've ever met. Can I have Mr. Darcy with Mr. Knightley on the side?
  25. The historian: a novel by Elizabeth Kostova (108/6447)
  26. Great Expectations* by Charles Dickens (106/8595)
  27. The kite runner by Khaled Hosseini (106/13572)
  28. The time traveler's wife by Audrey Niffenegger (105/11414)
  29. Life of Pi: a novel by Yann Martel (105/12692) -- I don't care how many people tell me they like this book, I'm just not interested
  30. Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies by Jared Diamond (104/7493) -- Can be dry in places, but a must-read
  31. Atlas shrugged* by Ayn Rand (102/5984) -- Skip all the speeches about capitalism and it's a great piece of science fiction; the scene where Dagny is flying her little plane chasing her mystery man is nail-biting suspense
  32. Foucault's pendulum* by Umberto Eco (101/5616) -- By the time I finish it, I'm starting to look for conspiracies everywhere too
  33. Dracula by Bram Stoker (100/6873) -- Just not that well-written, as far as I'm concerned
  34. The grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck (99/7812) -- I read most of Steinbeck when I was younger; why didn't I ever get around to this?
  35. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers (97/6451)
  36. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (97/9127)
  37. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (97/5565) -- I admire Woolf, but I hate her work
  38. Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books by Azar Nafisi (96/4404)
  39. Middlemarch* by George Eliot (96/4159) -- I love Dorothea and I wish she had better taste in men
  40. Sense and sensibility* by Jane Austen (96/8591) -- Just finished reading this one again; I so identify with Elinor
  41. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (95/5167)
  42. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (94/11617) -- Gahh, I hated this book! Boring, with an infuriating heroine who won't stand up for herself
  43. The sound and the fury* by William Faulkner (94/5043) -- I used to adore Faulkner although I haven't read him for years
  44. Brave New World* by Aldous Huxley (93/12421) -- One of the first science fiction books I ever read
  45. Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle I) by Neal Stephenson (92/3525) -- A great start to the series; I only wish it had ended as well
  46. American gods: a novel by Neil Gaiman (92/10319) -- Really enjoyed this one; Shadow is a great character
  47. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (91/8871) -- One of the best books I read last year
  48. The poisonwood Bible: a novel by Barbara Kingsolver (91/7461) -- I've loved other books by Kingsolver, but this one is a stinker
  49. Wicked by Gregory Maguire (90/8905) -- I honestly don't see how this became so popular
  50. A portrait of the artist as a young man* by James Joyce (89/6646) -- Come on, didn't we all imagine we were Stephen Dedalus when we were young?
  51. The picture of Dorian Gray* by Oscar Wilde (89/7165) -- Still as powerful and creepy as the day it was written
  52. Dune* by Frank Herbert (89/9222) -- Thrilling, well-envisioned science fiction epic. Too bad all the sequels suck
  53. The satanic verses by Salman Rushdie (88/3251)
  54. Gulliver's travels* by Jonathan Swift (88/4857)
  55. Mansfield Park* by Jane Austen (88/5360) -- Yes, I am anti-Fanny, but it's still a great book
  56. The three musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (87/4127)
  57. The corrections by Jonathan Franzen (84/5066)
  58. The inferno by Dante Alighieri (84/5873)
  59. Oliver Twist* by Charles Dickens (83/4378) -- I first read this too young. They really shouldn't introduce kids to Dickens this way, even if it is about a kid.
  60. The Fountainhead* by Ayn Rand (83/5795) -- I'm actually kind of impressed that something with this twisted sexuality could be published in the '30s
  61. To the lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (83/4608)
  62. A clockwork orange* by Anthony Burgess (83/6754) -- Horrorshow!
  63. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (83/4735) -- Somehow I ran out of energy for Hardy before I got through this one
  64. The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay: a novel by Michael Chabon (83/5956) -- An amazing book, tender, true, and funny
  65. Persuasion* by Jane Austen (82/6479) -- It's hard to choose between this and Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen
  66. One flew over the cuckoo's nest by Ken Kesey (82/5908) -- It's on my BookMooch wishlist
  67. The scarlet letter* by Nathaniel Hawthorne (82/7746)
  68. Robinson Crusoe* by Daniel Defoe (82/4437) -- An amazing depiction of capitalism and the Protestant work ethic; even in Paradise he can't relax and have fun
  69. Anansi boys: a novel by Neil Gaiman (81/6534) -- Not as great as American Gods, but still fun
  70. The once and future king* by T. H. White (81/4293) -- One of my childhood favorites
  71. Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan (80/6966)
  72. The god of small things by Arundhati Roy (80/5509)
  73. A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson (79/6266)
  74. Oryx and Crake: a novel by Margaret Atwood (78/3976)
  75. Dubliners* by James Joyce (78/5530) -- I had a great teacher who turned me on to Joyce
  76. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (78/5385) -- He'd be a great writer if he ever learned how to end things
  77. Angela's ashes: a memoir by Frank McCourt (77/6349)
  78. Beloved: a novel by Toni Morrison (77/5523)
  79. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed by Jared Diamond (76/3822) -- I really have to get around to this
  80. The hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (75/2520)
  81. In cold blood by Truman Capote (75/5473)
  82. Lady Chatterley's lover by D.H. Lawrence (73/3169) -- Good sex scenes, stupid story
  83. confederacy of dunces by John Kennedy Toole (73/6061)
  84. Les misérables by Victor Hugo (73/4694) -- It's Javert I feel sorry for
  85. Watership Down by Richard Adams (72/6255)
  86. The prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (72/6363) --Somehow you'd think in my many years of studying the Renaissance I'd have read this, but I never did
  87. The amber spyglass by Philip Pullman (72/6645) -- Pullman has some Serious Issues, but I liked the trilogy
  88. Beowulf: a new verse translation* by Anonymous (72/6350) -- I used to have an elaborate theory about why Beowulf wasn't a hero, but I don't remember what it was anymore
  89. A farewell to arms by Ernest Hemingway (71/5122) -- Hemingway has some Serious Issues too; I admire his prose style, just not his characters
  90. Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (71/5554) -- It took me a few attempts to get into this, but I really liked it
  91. The Aeneid by Virgil (71/5057) -- I read some of it in Latin, does that count?
  92. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (69/4625)
  93. Sons and lovers by D.H. Lawrence (69/2563) -- My sister explained this to me; I still don't quite get it
  94. The personal history of David Copperfield* by Charles Dickens (69/4311) -- With Jane Eyre, one of the best books about growing up ever written
  95. The road by Cormac McCarthy (67/5099)
  96. Possession: a romance* by A.S. Byatt (67/4128) -- I read this twice because I'd forgotten I read it the first time
  97. The history of Tom Jones, a foundling* by Henry Fielding (67/2131) -- Delightful romp
  98. The book thief by Markus Zusak (67/3554)
  99. Gravity's rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (66/3261) -- One of my Dad's projects for years; I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole, although I did like The Crying of Lot 49
  100. The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (66/3046)
  101. Tender is the night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (66/3131) -- I guess I ran out of steam on Fitzgerald before I got to this
  102. Candide, or, Optimism* by Voltaire (65/5083)
  103. Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro (65/4317)
  104. The plague by Albert Camus (65/4610) -- Too existential for me
  105. Jude the obscure by Thomas Hardy (65/2944) -- I never understood what he saw in Sue
  106. Cold mountain by Charles Frazier (64/4160) -- OK, OK, it made me cry

Two observations:

  • By my count, I've read 67 of these books. Does that make me a freak?
  • I can't believe that all of Jane Austen's books are in this list. Why aren't you people reading them? Go out there and do it immediately!

Edited May 22 because I don't follow directions very well.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

OK, I Lied

There won't be any Movie Diary for April because . . . well, in the spirit of the Blues Brothers (which I did just see and will be on the list for May if there is a May), I'll let Joliet Jake explain:

Honest . . . . I ran out of gas. I, I had a flat tire. I didn't have enough money for
cab fare. My tux didn't come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from
out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood.

Oh, for Pete's sake. I blew it off. There! Are you happy now you made me admit