Thursday, January 31, 2013

Parade's End

For those interested in Ford Madox Ford after the BBC miniseries, the Wordsworth edition of Parade's End for the Kindle is available for $2.49 -- now that's a bargain. (I got it because shockingly I only had The Good Soldier, and Mizener's biography -- and shamefully haven't read either.)

Speaking of bargains, the Kindle store also has some Dorothy Sayers (Whose Body?, Lord Peter Views the Body, The Clouds of Unknowing, &c) on sale (from $.099 to $2.99) but reviews seem to indicate there might be problems with formatting. ALWAYS PREVIEW BEFORE YOU BUY ON KINDLE. I cannot stress this strongly enough.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

reading Wednesday

What are you reading now? 
 The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin, and boy, is it terrible. I first got into his writing a looong time ago when he wrote about his addiction for Salon, and while I wasn't that impressed with Hard News, I still thought it was pretty good. This book -- altho I sympathize mightily with the subject and don't mind having bought it because that supported actual science reporting/writing -- is just BAD, really. Something I already made fun of on G+: "Instead of thinking as F=ma as being wrong, think of E=mc2 as being more right." Footnote to this immortal sentence: "Don't worry if you're having a hard time following this oversimplified explanation of physics' most challenging problem. For most of us, understanding special relativity is a little like true love: We should consider ourselves lucky if we can grasp hold of it for even one fleeting moment." Special relativity! A little like slippery soap in the bath: We should consider ourselves lucky if we can grasp hold of it for even one fleeting moment. OR: A little like trying not to drop an ice cube: We should consider ourselves lucky if we can grasp hold of it for even one fleeting moment. OR: A little like -- MAKE UP YOUR OWN, IT'S FUN.....

....yeah yeah, I know the audience he's writing for, and he's trying to emphasize how science really isn't dogmatic and no scientist will ever come out and say "there is no possible way this vaccine could harm a child" (although....anyone who's spent about fifteen minutes around doctors when a loved one is having a major health crisis will know that already, really). But, my GOD. It's also too short and just too shallow -- for example, why the fuck did the Lancet originally publish that study that arguably kicked off the whole crisis? I don't care about all the supposed disclaimers "slapped" on it, why PRINT it in the first place? What do you mean, the editor was young and inexperienced? The book is like 400 fucking pages long, couldn't there have been 2 pages on why the editor made this horrible, world-changing decision? (Or was the space needed for fulminating about Twoo Wuv and extra-special relativity?)

Then again, I'm glad he wrote the book, because my God, these people are batshit. "'He had the MMR and he's autistic,' one mother said (on the BBC's Panorama)....'Overnight he had the fever, the high temperature. Literally overnight. He was never the same again. He stopped talking and his behaviour was bizarre.'" OVERNIGHT your kid went autistic? What the actual fuck?

What did you just finish reading?
Mostly comfort reading -- some Pratchetts (I always go for the first three Witches books when I fall ill),  two mysteries by B.J. Oliphant (mildly disappointing), Dead Souls by Ian Rankin (rather meh -- the strands just didn't come together). I really want to read something JUST A LITTLE MORE intellectually challenging, or at least stimulating, but that's not happening when I don't feel well. -- Oh, and I did read Pat Barker's Border Crossing, in which everyone was so unpleasant I was longing for the grown-up juvenile killer to throttle the smug divorcing shrink who'd put him away, but basically nothing happened. It was very very well-written, as is everything I've read by her so far, but seriously, Nothing Happened.

What do you expect to read next?
This always stymies me. NOT NONFICTION. Probably not another mystery. Not more rereads dear God. Maybe Seven Gothic Tales -- I think the last time I read that was about ten? years ago -- maybe some Christina Stead, maybe Dorothy Sayers....possibly....

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

list of books read in January 2013

From my Librarything 75 books in 2013 thread (which, for me, overlaps with the Read The Books You Already Have, Dammit thread).

Fiction is in red, so I can track it more easily.

1. The Man in the Empty Boat, Mark Salzman (Kindle Single)
2. The Last Novel, David Markson
3. 43, Jeff Greenfield (Kindle Single. Do these count as one book? .5 of a book?)
4. Final Vision, Joe McGinnis (Kindle Single)
5. Battleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins
6. The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton, Joe Klein
7. Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow!: Inside the Strangest Presidential Election Finish in American History, Jeff Greenfield
8. Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan, Jeff Greenfield
9. Libriomancer, Jim C. Hines
10. The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright
11. People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up, Richard Lloyd Parry
12. Death Served Up Cold, B.J. Oliphant
13. Here's to the Newly Dead, B.J. Oliphant
14. Dead Souls, Ian Rankin
15. Border Crossing, Pat Barker
16. The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin

VIDA count: Twelve books by men, four by women (year-end goal is 50% or better)
ROOT count:  a big whopping FIVE (year-end goal is fifty books I didn't buy in 2013)
Fiction vs. non: Ten to six, a bit better. This isn't as big a goal, it just bugs me that I wound up over the years somehow reading much less fiction -- I think that's mainly because so little mainstream big names (Franzen, et al) don't appeal to me. It also means I read wayy too many memoirs, mainly for research, but still.

2013 booklist

Sunday, January 27, 2013

the good, the bad, and the /ugly/ unread

Great, it's even WORSE than I thought originally.

Read books: 321
Unread books: 828

Friday, January 25, 2013

the read and the unread

I am so serious about this (my thread is here) I spent actual HOURS organizing my Kindle and from one folder called "books" creating two new ones, "new books" and "read." This took for-fucking-ever and drove me BATSHIT because there are over 1000 books on my Kindle, and it's one of those old keyboard ones, and it was a lemon out of the box because it's always been very halting. Maybe it knew how hard it was going to be driven. Anyway, the total damage is about 300 books read, and 750 books unread.

....yeah. That's a worse percentage of read/unread than my paper library. //cries

-- Some people on LibraryThing seem bent on downsizing their libraries, tho. I find that horrifying. (After about three giant culls of my own library -- just before I went to college, when I had to sell books in bulk in grad school because I was so broke and when my parents sold everything we owned when I was ten because we were Moving To Europe Forever ((i.e. Nine Months)) -- I got so absolutely sick of not being able to find books, or not remembering what a book I'd had was called and being unable to replace it, I determined to NEVER GET RID OF A BOOK AGAIN. Yeah. Basically I don't get rid of books unless they become unreadably damaged somehow, and even then I might keep them for sentimental reasons, like the Smollett-translated Don Quixote I had at St John's which my tiny adorable evil kitten peed all over before she got fixed. It lives in a vacuum-sealed bag wrapped in a series of bags in a taped-up box sunk deep in a closet. But anyway.)


I just figured out it would probably take me over ten years just to read all the paper books in my house I haven't gotten to so far, which was so depressing I had to spend a quarter of an hour updating my Amazon wishlist to cheer myself up.


I think I also probably "won." Especially if you count the unread books on the Kindle. //facedesk

Thursday, January 24, 2013

75 books in 2013 - LibraryThing

Blog redesign! Still not happy with the link colour, or the font, or oh my God the header, but it was fun to do anyway. You'll notice this looks more like a page in a book now (hopefully, anyway) than one of your typical blog designs with the columns and widgets everywhere. Yes. (Okay, there are still some widgets.)

I'm doing the "75 books in 2013" challenge on LibraryThing -- my thread's here. This is unofficially my "SUCK IT, GOODREADS" project for the year. Heh. I'm just so sick of being bullied and hassled in other ways by men over there (not to mention the really horrific bullying -- stalking and harassment, to put it plain -- by would-be "authors" of some reviewers, and the utter inability of GoodReads to respond in anything like a timely and appropriate manner, but let's not even go there). LibraryThing is a lot quieter, and a lot less slickly designed, but it's -- well, yes, quieter. Like a, you know, library.

Quiet is not bad. Obscurity is not bad. Not having 500 "friends" on your social network is not bad. I am almost completely out of step with these our times, I know.

my Librarything icon

The word “howdy” should probably never appear in a poem


(For the record, I think Blanco's poem sucked. I also thought the poem from Obama's first inauguration sucked. I don't like that Frost poem, either -- "this land was ours"? Nice one, white man -- and I fucking hated that "drone poem" everyone too hip for the room is raving about. I don't know if there can be such a thing as a good inaugural -- Establishment, if you will -- poem. Think of Ted Hughes writing that awful slop for the Queen. Poetry doesn't go well with official capacities. You'd never catch Emily Dickinson at an inauguration.)

Judge: And what is your profession?
Brodsky: Poet. Poet and translator.
Judge: And who told you you were a poet? Who assigned you the rank of poet?
Brodsky: No one. Who assigned me the rank of a human being?
Judge: Did you study for this?
Brodsky: For what?
Judge: To become a poet. Did you attend a school where they teach poets? Where they train you how to be a poet?
Brodsky: I don't think it comes from school.
Judge: From where, then?
Brodsky: I think that it....comes from God.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

waste of breath

Speaking of that (fucking TERRIBLE) book, there's a really odd little moment in it -- when her family buries Lucie's ashes, her sister has two little silver plaques with the first lines of "Lucie's favourite poem" on them - Yeats's "An Irish Airman foresees his Death," which seems a strange choice for a twenty-one-year-old girl without much education whose parents were interested in, respectively, woowoo and yachting. Absolutely nothing is said about what this might mean, which is also odd because it's a very haunting poem -- it speaks of exile, passivity, suspension in limbo, and that seemingly goes with the odd rootless freedom so many Westerners in Japan describe in the book (and which is fetishized in pop culture like, say, Lost in Translation).

I KNOW that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,        
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds, 
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind 
In balance with this life, this death.

fun with metrics

reading Wednesday 1/23/2013

FINALLY I catch up and post on the actual Wednesday! It only took about....three and a half weeks, go Moi!

What are you reading now?
Well, nothing currently. I may update that in the next five minutes!

What did you just finish reading?
People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up -- yeah, that's some title, isn't it.  Yes, this is the fairly typical story of the beautiful-missing-blonde-girl-in-a-foreign-land, except the author gets inside her personality enough you feel the actual loss of her life (which is, well, depressing) and he does interrogate the Missing Blonde Girl stereotype/trope/whateveritis, somewhat. HOWEVER, the book goes completely to hell when he tries to defend the indefensible actions of Lucie's father, who not only accepted a giant payoff from the man who killed her and then cut her into little pieces, but also signed a statement prepared by either the nutcase or his lawyers about how bad the evidence against him was. (The author says "This didn't affect the guy's being acquited of those charges at all, because the judges said so!" WELL THEN.) What did he do with the money? Glad you asked. He bought a yacht. A second yacht. The author also then natters pointlessly on about how you can't call the murderer a sociopath (despite his raping hundreds of unconscious women and killing at least two), you can't judge the father for accepting the money, and you can't judge Japan by what happened to Lucie (despite detailing dozens of rapes that went unreported out of fear, and rapes that did get reported which were then ignored).  Despite that, the first two-thirds or so really is fairly well-written, but I would not recommend this at all. If it sounds interesting, either buy a used copy or go to the library. You need to go to the library, anyway.

What do you expect to read next?
Such a good question. I am afraid, unless I'm researching something (my school days are loooooong behind me....altho my student loan debt sure isn't) this is governed pretty much by whim. I have so many good books I should be reading -- Hermione Lee's biography of Virginia Woolf, Bad Blood, Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Angelica Lost and Found, Seven Gothic Tales....I might go for fiction, short fiction at that; I'm a little burned out on long nonfiction books since that's mostly all I've read this month, I think.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

books read in 2013 - January

Nothing too elaborate for right now; I'm just going to split the record out by month like I did wayy back when I first had a blog, because it's harder to remember what I read when otherwise. And I'm just a little sick of fucking Goodreads at the moment.

The Man in the Empty Boat, Mark Salzman. Really not as good as the talk it was based on; also has the weird abbreviated quality peculiar to "Kindle singles," which sound like they'd be great for novella-length fiction or longer nonfiction features (I am not using that fucking fake word "longreads" and you can't make me), but somehow wind up oddly....hollow.

The Last Novel, David Markson. I read this out of sequence -- it's the last of the four "index card books" -- but I couldn't help gobbling, and in the end I'm almost glad I did so, despite its being so disappointing....I would've hated to have read it as the very last one in the series. A very bitter aftertaste. People joked about Markson writing "The Posthumous Novel," but this really felt like that title. It's prickly, sad, and self-pitying, obsessively concerned with posterity, critical judgements, and the impossible subjectivity of same. (Bookslut managed to miss the point impressively.) The reader is gone -- it's all critics, all about criticism, not reading, not writing; it's not play, anymore. Suicide is constantly hinted at, but Markson also jabs at "the casual reader" (or, more likely, the skimming for-pay book critic) so the emotional impact is diluted. If Wittgenstein's Mistress was about creating, the world well lost for works of art -- literally -- this one is about what happens when the world fights back and does its best to seemingly destroy the artist. Markson/the author keeps talking about how high the building is and it seems like a long, long suicide note, but then he also keeps undercutting it elsewhere: Schrödinger's Author? (Open the book/box, is he dead/not dead?) It's a sad end.

Two more Kindle Singles: 43* by Jeff Greenfield,  which was like a missing or extra chapter of his book on the same topic. Greenfield's a funny and slick nonfiction writer, but his fiction is sort of thuddingly traditional, and when he tries to write fancy, the result is wince-worthy. The original setup (Gore doesn't lose Florida partly because Elian Gonzales' mother didn't die in the crossing) was interesting, but then it went OFF THE RAILS, which is just about what happened in the bigger (actual book-sized) book of his alternate histories, which I got after reading this, which I suppose I was supposed to do. So basically this is sort of like a fictional ad for his not-a-novel.

And then Final Vision by Joe McGinnis, which was mainly about Jeffrey MacDonalds' appeals and included some snotty remarks about A Wilderness of Error, which I read last year. (Shameful true-crime addict here.) Basically a ripoff - large chunks of Fatal Vision are cut and pasted without any revision at all, and while he does answer Errol "Thin Blue Line" Morris, it's not done very well at all.

Battleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins. Every year there's a book everyone loves but me, and this one is probably going to be 2013's. (Others: the first Harry Potter book, The Time Traveller's Wife, Jonathan Strange, you get the picture.) This is the kind of book that knocks you out if you've never read any MFA-produced, self-consciously "gritty," this-is-my-territory-let-me-stake-it-out first short story collections. I have GOT to stop getting books based on glowing NYTBR reviews. The author gets a bit of notoriety because her father was Paul Watkins, and I'll wait here while everyone under thirty has to go Google that name. She wrote a much better memoir about him in Granta. She does describe the Southwest, especially the charred isolation of the high desert, very well, but her plots are cardboard and her characters are worse. Probably we'll see either a novel or memoir (or the oh-so-modern combination of those genres) from her about her childhood in the next few years.

The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton, Joe Klein.  I actually remember reading Primary Colours when it first came out anonymously (yes, I am THAT OLD), and the big flap about figuring out who the author was, &c &c. I didn't realize Klein was this....conservative. Sort of interesting in a historical sense, in terms of how Clinton's personality and two terms badly affected Gore, and how he fits into the phenomenon of New Conservative Democrats, but not that good, really. If anything's interesting in the book it's the topic, not the prose style, or the narrative choices, or the longer perspective afforded by writing books after the fact rather than newspapers. This is typical of nearly all 21st-century nonfiction I've read lately.

Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow!: Inside the Strangest Presidential Election Finish in American History, Jeff Greenfield. Despite the goofy and hellishly long title, a valuable inside look at the 2000 US election, which I just couldn't read anything about for a good long while (I still can't read even news articles about the one in 2004). Greenfield's a real smartass and this book basically is all the thoughts he couldn't say on the air or even out loud off-camera at the time. He gets a bit defensive now and then but it's hard to blame him. It was particularly sweet to read this right after Karl Rove made a huge deal out of the networks "not prematurely calling Florida for Obama like they did in 2000" in 2012.

Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan, Jeff Greenfield. (Yes, I tend to focus on one author or topic at a stretch, sue me.) I've read a lot of genre "Speck Fic" (as Ursula Le Guin terms it) alternate histories, and the ones gathered in this book -- JFK's assassinated before he becomes president, RFK isn't, and so on -- just aren't that good. The tone is a very weird mix of detailed reporting, wild speculation, pulpy fictional plotting and at least one terrible shaggy dog punchline involving President Gary Hart, Governor Clinton and Secretary of State Rodham (don't ask). I might check out Greenfield's entirely fictional account of a contested Presidency, The People's Choice, but if it's written in the same style as his rather stuffy fiction, I'll take a pass. (Primary Colours, way back when, had the same problem: everyone knew they were reading real details about real people, so the fictional "waking dream" never took over, but the story was shaped as if it were fiction, complete with artistic license here and there, so it also felt very inauthentic. The whole question of pop nonfiction -- ghosted celebrity "books," rushed ebook or paperback true crime tie-ins, memoirs written two or three decades after unverifiable events, histories more poorly sourced than freshman term papers -- is a vexed one.)

Libriomancer, Jim C. Hines. I really wanted to like this, because it was supposedly urban fantasy done "right" without a passive heroine trapped in a limp love triangle, because the author writes great posts about feminism, rape, patriarchy and the like on his blog, and he's behind the entirely delightful Striking a Pose series where he tries to copy those terrible urban fantasy covers. Unfortunately the description everyone's quoting, a "cross between Dresden and Thursday Next," is accurate, and I....don't like either of those series. I actually had a similar reaction to reading the Next books: I thought there would be a lot more literary in-jokes, and instead it was sort of focused on geeky cleverness. There was a fairly lengthy discussion of the book's flaws (including especially its female lead) here.

(Yeah, I also hate Jasper Fforde, along with J.K. Rowling, Audrey Niffenegger, Susanna Clarke, and so on. Neil Gaiman gets a bye, but not really. In my spare time I kick puppies cultivate my exquisite taste.)

Finally, I did just finish The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright, which took about two and a half days of sustained reading -- I wanted to really understand it (I read fast, but I'm also one of those people who reads all the endnotes....the acknowledgements....the list of sources....the index. You can tell a lot about a book from its index). I'm not sure what to say about it -- it was gripping, even riveting, altho the places where he tried to write fancy (what is it with reporters suddenly wanting to turn out embroidered prose in books? Does it just become a pent-up urge after so many years of Just the Facts and strict wordcount limits?) were pretty bad. I was really surprised at how much I didn't know (which I am not going to reveal here because it would be very embarrassing) (this included: what Osama's father did to earn all that money, who Sayyid Qutb was, the Grand Mosque Seizure, the Luxor Massacre, you get the picture). I wonder, inevitably, what the author's thoughts were on bin Laden's finally being killed, by a Democrat administration no less. The book seems to stop a little abruptly, because he goes into the causes of 9/11 so thoroughly and then very briefly (but harrowingly) describes the Twin Towers dying, but I could understand it. We've all seen those final moments endlessly on film, the hijackings have been filmed over and over again too in very sketchy "docudramas," and this is about what we didn't know, what we didn't see -- and what the people in the book didn't see, either. Like all good books this one made me want to read more books: Through Our Enemies' Eyes, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, The Man Who Warned America....This book does lean very heavily on the testimony of those authors -- Michael Scheuer, Ali Soufan, memories of John O'Neill -- but that's not a bad thing.

That's it so far -- I want to read some more serious stuff before the end of the month (this was what I was saying for nearly all of 2012. sigh). I also reread some -- the Sherlock Holmes canon, The Taste of Sorrow, Wintering, Tweak -- but I try not to do that because well, the stacks just go piling on up and up in here, and rereading is really not the best use of my time unless it's for research, or I need comfort when I'm sick.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Amanda Palmer, "The Assistant" (Live)

reading, uh, SUNDAY, whoops

DAMN I keep forgetting to do this "WWW reading" thing. It's a cool idea, and that's a shame, so....

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

(I'm recovered from the sinusitis, THANK GOD. For now. Judicious use of Sudafed and Afrin, plus Flonase, plus it's been really really foggy around here. Cold, but foggy. ((Husband asked the other day: "How are you enjoying the particulars?" Geek.)) )

Currently reading - My signed, PERSONALLY INSCRIBED copy of Hanne Blank's The Unapologetic Fat Girl's Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts, which is awesome: hilarious, wonderfully written, wry, and incendiary indeed. As one review puts it:

Redefining exercise as "body practice", and treating it as affirming self-care rather than a chore, and acknowledging that it encompasses everything from intense training in a sport to simply moving around and lifting and carrying and bending to get things that have fallen under the entertainment center, and that it's the sort of care every body deserves, is both a radical and a comforting thing.

Recently finished - A reread of Hound of the Baskervilles, a perpetual comfort book (altho that bit about "We chatted about the skulls of the Hottentots and Bushmen" - oy), and What Fresh Hell is This?, a terrible biography of Dorothy Parker (also a reread), sparked off by reading a Nora Ephron column on Dorothy Parker, altho that references a different terrible Dorothy Parker biography. Note to self: write biography of Dorothy Parker that isn't terrible, for sake of own sanity if nothing else. Altho I understand this book is neat, so of course I don't have it. SIGH.

What I might read next - Either The Looming Tower or the new Scientology book, both by Lawrence Wright -- I started reading his stuff when he was writing about ritual Satanic abuse for the New Yorker, so it's nice to see him get a lot of recognition. Maybe the People Who Eat Darkness, even if that sounds fucking terrifying. I seem to have a nonfiction jones right now.


INTERVIEWER: What, then, would you say is the source of most of your work?
DOROTHY PARKER: Need of money, dear.
- Paris Review interview

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Merry New Year!

Merry New Year! (and merry marriages!) Photo by T from our apartment house roof.