Friday, April 21, 2017

A Reading Vacation

This past week I needed to read, but not too hard so I had a look at some of Joanne Fluke's cozy mysteries.

 I had seen some movies on television, the Murder She Baked Mysteries, and liked them (sometimes you just want to watch something on television that is itself another sort of vacation from the norm... Hallmark is good at those, though I didn't like their whitewashing of Charlaine Harris' Aurora Teagarden Mysteries).

 I thought the books might be interesting too.  "Not really though..."  if you have read some of them you would get my little pun there.  Hannah Swensen, our protagonist, was working on getting a masters degree in English Literature but gave it up to to take care of her family after her father had passed away.  She loves to bake so she opened up a cookie bakery and coffee shop, and solves murders on the side.  She has sisters that she helped to raise, a mother that nags her to get married (because Hannah is close to her thirties) and a cat she rescued who has specific needs.  There is also a love triangle between her, a cop and a dentist.  At the end of most chapters is a recipe for a cookie or dessert that was mentioned in the previous chapter.
So there you have your formula.  Presently I think there are twenty-one books, but I decided to stop at the Peach Cobbler Murder (#7) after Fluke made what I consider a colossal blunder.  Not that I wasn't already bored with the love triangle, the nagging mother, Hannah's endless mental grammatical corrections of the people around her (which just smacks of her personal sense of superiority) and these endless recipes ( it's just really boring for a vegan who has no intentions of making them, and I also think it's a hinky way to fill out an otherwise too-short chapter).  
Back to the colossal blunder (with comments from me in parentheses) :

    "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."   (says Hannah)
    "That's Shakespeare, " Andrea ( little-not-as-smart-as-Hannah-sister) announced, stopping at the curb to wait for a car that was driving by.
    "I know.  It's from MacBeth. "  (says all-knowing almost-a-masters-degree-in-English-literature Hannah!)
    "Do you really think Vanessa Reads Shakespeare?"  Andrea asked, missing the point entirely     (yeah... because big sis is just so much smarter!).
    "Not without moving her lips," Hannah said.

Aargh!  I stopped, did a triple take (yep I went back and re-read it three times to make sure I had read what I thought I had read), and decided to stop reading this particular author.  I want to point out right away that this quote is a blunder because it is from the play Hamlet not Macbeth (and since I have read the play Macbeth twice in the past year and seen two of the movies and got an A+ in grade twelve English for my essay on Hamlet) I think I have a firm grasp of who says what, and where.  I would also like to point out that I don't feel superior to anyone else for knowing that.  This is not the first thing that bugged me of course.  But after reading that, I thought back a little over the other books I had read and there are quite a lot of character flaws in this character.  Of course, I also wondered how many other examples like this I may have missed because I was just skimming these books without really paying too much attention to the content?  Which introduces some other questions of which some are really paranoid so I won't mention them here!  There is a reason why I don't spend a lot of time reading this formulaic type of book.  They get boring fast, and in these days of easy publishing I don't think they are edited as rigorously as they ought to be.

It was a vacation from reading anything too challenging, but it was like one of those holidays you take in Mexico where you eat or drink the wrong piece of food and end up with Montezuma's Revenge!


Monday, April 10, 2017

Something to "Squee" About

I'm not kidding... when I found out that there would be five of these screenplays I really did squee!
I haven't seen the movie yet, but I am really looking forward to seeing it soon.
After Rowling's play the year before last of the Cursed Child, I really didn't know what to expect (because while I was happy to have another Potter tale, I felt that Rowling was right the first time and that she should have stopped at seven books).
 Fantastic Beasts was marvelous!  I am delighted with the whole idea of a magizoologist whose main concern is for his creatures (since I am a hardcore vegan). Newt Scamander's focus and dedication to the protection and care of his fantastic beasts has elevated his status in my eyes to "rockstar".  Plus the fact that this is an entirely different story in Rowling's universe that doesn't have Harry Potter or Voldemort in it is really exciting and a refreshing idea.  I know that there will be lots to look forward to in the next four screenplays as Rowling has really loaded up this first one with lots of hints of what is to come... and I love it that there is a little romance in there too.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Unconsoled


The Unconsoled was a very puzzling read for starters, but when I gave up trying to make any sense of it, I found it easier to follow.  There has always been a pattern I have found throughout an Ishiguro book where you are always left feeling anxious for the protagonist.  What this anxiety is about is not always clear like in this book, but it is there nevertheless.  Is this a signature trait?  I think it must be.  
As with any book I read I assume that the protagonist is the only sane one in the room... but I believe that in this book he, Mr. Ryder,  was the one that had some problems.  A quote from the back of the book:

"From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go is an audacious novel that is at once a gripping psychological mystery, a wicked satire of the cult of art, and a poignant character study of a man whose public life has accelerated beyond control."

Frankly, I felt really daft while reading the book because while I saw these traits the quote spoke of, it didn't really explain to me why this book was so disjointed.  Why this town that Mr. Ryder was visiting was so freakingly full of odd, self-involved characters and inconsistencies.  Was this a town of nutballs?  It really seemed that way.  There is no help from beginning to end to give you a clue either except there is a part in the book close to the end when Mr. Ryder, is faced with an impenetrable wall and his feelings, his frustrations are expressed in a way that make you realize that it is he that is walled in and he cannot get out, and that the confusion of everything previous stems from him not from everyone else (they are still odd, self-involved characters which want something from Mr. Ryder and I got the mental picture of him being pulled in many different directions but not really being aware of it).
I think that when you understand that, it all clicks into place.    But that is all I think I can say about the book, except that when I read it again (and I will!) I will have a new perspective to help me see what was so baffling before.
So, even when it's not making sense, Kazuo Ishiguro's writing is a force to revel in, to embrace, because he reaches a level of consciousness inside me that nothing else does, not even myself.  After reading just four of his books I am amazed at how he draws me in and doesn't let me go until the end.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Worlds of Exile and Illusion


I have, for the past year or so, been focusing on reading as many books by Ursula K. Le Guin as I can get my hands on.  I have not, until this book, been able to understand what it is that I have loved about reading her work and even then it was not until I was reading the third story in this collection, City of Illusions,  that it finally all came together for me.  She reminds me strongly of Isaac Asimov. I can't believe that I never made the connection before!   I would not do her the injustice of saying that she is the female Asimov, because her stories, especially the Hainish series are unique.  She reminds me of Isaac because she writes in the same way as he did for his Foundation series; stories about humans and how they differ from planet to planet with a long ago Earth origin.  I have always been extremely fond of science fiction that hints of an Earthly past.

Of all the Hainish books I have read so far, I really enjoyed Worlds of Exile and Illusion the most.  While Le Guin is the first to say that these books are not a series, they have small connections to each other which is, I think, a very human thing to relish... making a connection in an otherwise completely unrelated story.  All of her novels are very relatable because no matter what planet they may be based on, or whatever variation of human or culture may be inhabiting that world,  they are socially themed, rather than scientifically (another correlation to Asimov's own social science fiction). Which is why we, as humans, can make our own associations with it.

I haven't read everything yet, I expect it will take this year as well to catch up an all of her work, but it is well worth the effort to get to know this writer and her writing.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Macbeth 1971 (Hugh Hefner Style)

I was quite surprised to see that Hugh Hefner produced this version of Macbeth (and I admit when I saw how many naked folks were in the movie I had some less than generous thoughts about his influence).  But I have since discovered that all of the nudes in this movie were the directors' idea, Roman Polanski's rather than Hefner's.

For instance getting an eyeful of a cave packed with naked hags was far from sexy and added that extra oopmh to how truly repugnant the weird sisters were.

Lord and Lady Macbeth were beautiful, and everything I would expect in a young, ambitious, and happening couple.  In the photo above you can see Lady M. getting her man to screw his courage to the sticking place. 
...and then afterwards as they both begin to unravel...
 I just love how these actors played their roles!  The murder scene was obscene (as murder should be), there was no escaping the violence and the reprehensible act of betrayal that Macbeth performed (it will be many months before I can screw my own courage to watch another version of this play!).

 
There just the one crown which was not dorky at all!

If the murder of Duncan wasn't gory enough have a gander at poor Banquo who is haunting his king at dinner...

After watching so much violence and experiencing such revulsion at so many graphic scenes in this movie, the beheading of Macbeth was comic relief at the end (yeah...I laughed out loud and hard for a minute or two).  
This is, so far, my favourite version of the movie.  The costumes were gorgeous (and appropriate!), I really liked the cast.  The scenery was beyond beautiful.  



Monday, April 3, 2017

Ulysses


I place Ulysses by James Joyce in the category of really hard books to read so I have some tips on how you can read it.
I stopped and started this book a lot until I understood that there were no quotation marks and just a hyphen to mark when a speech begins.  But even that breakthrough didn't help a lot with the reading of my book.  So I decided to try listening to it instead.  My first attempt did not go very well, and I found that I needed to read along with the recording because some things weren't very clear.  That is when I put it aside for a while.  It was not until I found what I think is the perfect recording of Ulysses that I gave it another go and I will tell you why this version was of so much use to me... it was a full cast of Irish actors who did the job!  With different voices helping to differentiate lines and a copy of the book as well, I was able to successfully read and understand James Joyce's Ulysses! 

Once my technical issues were dealt away with I was able to focus on what the book was about.
In a nutshell, it is basically an account of Leopold Bloom as he lives through a twenty four hour period in Dublin.  Stephen Dedalus who I am already familiar with from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is a secondary character (but more prominent than the rest).

What is also to be understood about Ulysses is that it is meant to be an odyssey of the mind (many passages being the stream-of-consciousness of not only Dedalus and Bloom but other lesser characters).  Listening and reading at the same time really helped to keep track of these switches from dialogue to what I can only describe as musings.  The episodes are named after characters from Homer's Odyssey (though the content of each section is only vaguely parallel to each other).   It was fun to spot the connections!  What I wasn't too keen on is the idea that Stephen was meant to be Telemachus and Bloom was Odysseus (ugh!).  While fascinated with these connections and what Joyce did with these characters I am still the purist when it comes to the Odyssey and I didn't like either Dedalus or Bloom at all to be connected with some of my favourites.
However, it was an odyssey-like experience reading this book, and I can safely say that I will attempt it again at a later date to see what else I can see (or what I had missed) in a second reading.  Listening and reading felt a lot like binge-watching a show, I was exhausted after each episode. It wasn't an easy, comfortable read, but I am glad I made the attempt.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Brontemania!


Last weekend the television show To Walk Invisible: The Lives of the Bronte Sisters was shown on Masterpiece.  I was enraptured!  I loved the show so much I watched it again the the very same day and then again on Monday.  Each viewing gave me more to love and appreciate of the work and skill that was put into this production.  After seeing it the first time I wanted to get out my Bronte collection and read them again!    Last night I just contented myself with flipping through Jane Eyre and stopping to read at random places.  It is the beauty of this particular book that you can do that and be entertained wherever you open up your book!
The scenery was astounding.  Emily quoting her poetry on the moor just sent shivers down my spine.
Of the sisters in the show I loved Emily the best,  she was so fierce and passionate.  Anne and Charlotte were wonderful too, but Emily inspired me the most and I would like to believe that these amazing, wonderful women were really like what was portrayed in this production.  I wondered how I could possibly find out, but then I realized that I already knew!  You just have to read their books to know who they really were and then you can see that To Walk Invisible was faithful to them.    A love letter on a grand scale!


Newbery 2017

This year's Newbery wins were very interesting.  I really enjoyed reading all of them.
I started with Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.  It is an issue book... but I liked the story anyway.  I'm curious to know what a child would take from it, because I was bummed out (being just a little tired of the novel that has something to teach), but there was enough of a story there to keep my interest. 

I've already written about this book here, but I will say again that it was an unusual treat and I really enjoyed it.

This book is really beautiful.  I have often admired Bryan's art in other books, but this one is extraordinary due to it's content.  It's definitely something I would like to add to the library's collection of African American literature.

Last but not least, I was enthralled from the beginning to the end of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.  It was a clever and magical story with many twists and turns that reunite into a very satisfactory whole.  It had all of my favourite and essential parts to a magical/mythical tale and it definitely deserved this year's Newbery Medal.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tips


There are books that are very difficult to read.  Being as obsessed as I am with "reading it all", and wanting to tackle all of the books listed on my Great First Lines of Literature coffee mug, I had to read this book, no matter how hard it is to read.  Not because it was just on my mug but because Thomas Pynchon is listed in a few of my reference books and Gravity's Rainbow happens to be the most often mentioned books of his to be read...

I tell you now... it was a doozy.  That is where the title of my blog entry comes in today.  I have tips for die-hard readers who want to tackle this particular book (which was a really hard slog).  
First, I found it hard to begin (even with it's Great First Line!), and I had to backtrack a few times before I could get into the rhythm of it.  I had the ebook to start, but felt that it was too hard to move around in (going backwards and forwards as I did), I considered buying a hard copy (but after some progress through both the ebook and the audio, I found my disgust for the subjects in the book made me very reluctant to hold such a book in my hand!  I knew for certain that I would never wish to revisit this novel ever!).  So the audio book was my primary route through this book with the ebook on hand for some clarifications on certain names etc.,

Essentially, I think that Gravity's Rainbow is all about what men may like to do with their penises (and I'm not saying that all men would want to do this!).  I could look beyond the various sexual encounters in this book, and the sex-free portions to try and find the underlying meaning of what it is all about, but to me it read like something I remember learning in college at one of my psychology courses and it bored me to tears then (what else could the rockets be about but the many ways of "lifting off"?).  I truly do not care about complexes, ids, egos or the bodily fluids of humans and what they might want to do with them.  It is not essential to my understanding of the world to know or care about such things.  I should state that while I was disgusted about a lot of what I read, I am not standing in judgement of what two consenting adults may like to do to each other, honestly it is none of my business! 

So, on to the tips.  I strongly recommend that you not drink or eat while reading this book or even have much food in your stomach (this really helped me a great deal).   I was nauseous a time or two before I decided to cut out the food and drink.  I also recommend that you give yourself some time after reading each installment to soothe or cleanse your mind of what you read (it can be very disturbing).  Music is great, a fluffy, comfort read is good ( I would visit some of my favourite fan fiction sites), poetry can be helpful... I mixed it up because I didn't want to associate any of my favourite things too much with what I was reading.  
You should know... I don't think that there really was any point to this book.  No real purpose other than my statement on what I think it was about (penises). Or maybe all of the gross stuff just distracted me from what Pynchon was trying to say... I'm not interested in re-reading this book to find out!  
Good luck!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Inquisitor's Tale


I love it when there are coincidences in my life.  Every year I outline a plan for what I want to read and what I want to focus on.  I have lots of categories to choose from (wouldn't want to get bored...) and last year English literature was one of my categories (though really, it is a category every year!).  I generally flit about, from one century to the next,  popping from one author to another.  Often the things that I read refer to other books (in reading terminology that is referred to as the book bullet), so I will cheerfully head in that direction (if I haven't already read the book mentioned). Since I discovered the pleasure of audio books I have been having fun listening to books I read more than twenty years ago (because after two or more decades and thousands of book later I can't quite remember the plots any more).
One of my favourites was a reading of Gulliver's Travels  by David Case.  His voice was perfect for reading such a cheeky story and I had many fits of the giggles over his dry and acerbic delivery.  What was also listened to last summer was Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales by a cast of narrators.  I loved it and was laughing hard and often (though I really hated The Parson's Tale which was basically a two hour sermon at the end!).
Which brings me back to what I said at the beginning about coincidences.
The Inquisitor's Tale is exactly the style of story telling that was used in The Canterbury Tales. I was thrilled when I picked it up at the library, all shiny, new and embossed with gold, and excited to realize what it was about!
  The story is situated in 1200's France with remarkable characters, an exciting beginning which keeps you hooked until the finish (and no creepy sermon at the end!).  There is only a hint of bawdiness (it is a book meant for kids after all).  The violence was a bit much at first (but really, so many tales from that time are stuffed with violence I don't think Gidwitz could or should have left it out).  The story was also stuffed with religion (which wasn't as annoying or preachy as it could have been) and had smatterings of real people and true events.  It also had plenty of mysticism and flatulence (all these things that are, believe it or not, in The Canterbury Tales!)
There is something good to say about that kind of storytelling, and even though Chaucer's tales in some part were unfinished, I think he left us something very valuable beyond the prose and the poetry: the narrative frame.  I am profoundly grateful that Adam Gidwitz decided to write this book.
Also, the illustrations throughout the novel are perfect and in keeping with the style of the era.  They really made the story a bigger and better thing.
I think Neil Gaiman would approve.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Change of Plans


I began this blog with the intent of polishing up my out-of-shape writing skills.  I had thought that it would come in handy when I began university courses.  In the past six months I have changed my mind about getting that university degree.
This was a hard choice.  I have always dreamed of having a great education, with degrees and masters galore in the fields that interested me.  Practically, however, I am a 47-year-old woman who lives (and will probably keep on living) in northern British Columbia with very little in the way of career choices.
So this is my compromise (it really isn't too far from what I am already doing):  I will teach myself!  I will study the fields that interest me, indulge in what is appealing to me and use the money that would have gone into a very expensive degree or two, to pursue my own goals in the literary world and to travel!  In some ways, it is a relief to not worry anymore about how I will be able to pay for or even get a university education.
I am not a writer, I am a reader,  a very enthusiastic one, and my interests are vast and very exciting to me.
I will continue to write in this blog because it is interesting to see my opinions and writing from years ago and to see how my thoughts have changed since writing about them, plus I love writing about reading.  I want to share my love of books!