Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I am in Paris, France in 1720 watching the stock bubble created by John Law collapse. (The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson)

I am also in the offices of an ad agency, waiting for it all to end. (Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris)

Finally, I am at home, hanging out with my six year old son, who is out of school on winter break.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Being Dead by Jim Crace

I was not overly impressed with Being Dead by Jim Crace. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2000, this book, like my last, begins with a murder. Joseph and Celice, husband and wife, are murdered brutally on the beach at Baritone Bay. The narrative then moves back and forth between the decomposing bodies and, first the story of how the two victims fell in love and then later of how their daughter Syl deals with their deaths.

The prose in this book is quite good, but the story itself did not really grab me. I think I will try another of Crace's books, perhaps Quarantine, both a Booker finalist and a Whitbread winner. But, Being Dead really left me flat.


The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

The Tenderness of Wolves begins with a murder. The scalped body of a trapper, Laurent Jammet, is discovered in his cabin in the backwoods of Dove River, in the Canadian Northern Territories. The woman that discovers the body, Mrs. Ross, soon finds that her son, Francis, is missing and that the authorities investigating suspect that Francis is the murderer. However, conflicting motives swirl around the case. The authorities are actually representatives of the Hudson Bay Company and Jammet was in the process of setting up a competing company. Soon, Mrs. Ross, Donald Moody, a Hudson Bay Company man, and Parker, a local guide and also a suspect in the murder, all set off across the snowy wilderness in pursuit of Francis and, Mrs. Ross hopes, the real killer.

The author, Stef Penney, beautifully evokes the blustery, snowy, frigid Canadian wilderness. This is an especially impressive feat given that Penney, an agoraphobe, has never visited Canada, and wrote to book on the strength of research done in the libraries of London. Well plotted and engaging, the only weakness is that several plot lines are left completely unresolved at the close of the book. However, if you can stand the lack of closure, I would highly recommend reading The Tenderness of Wolves for its evocation of the frigid Canadian winter alone.


Friday, December 26, 2008

On Beauty is out!

I started reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty and I must say I was most disappointed. I did not like the prose, I was not interested in the story, it just plain left me flat. So, after starting it I am going to chuck it. I have removed it from my Book Awards II Challenge list. On Beauty has been replaced by Andrew Solomon's The Noonday Demon which won a National Book Award in 2001.

Some of you might ask, "Really, you are going to give up on a book, just like that?" And I have to say that it has taken some effort to stop finishing books that I started but did not like. Steve Leveen writes about the 50 Page Rule in his wonderful The Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life. I probably did not make it to the 50 page mark, but as all you other readers know, there are too many good books out their to waste your time on books you don't enjoy. As the third of Daniel Pennac's Readers Bill of Rights says, I have the right to not finish a book!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

New Books: Special Christmas Edition

Merry Christmas Everyone! As a serious reader, most of the gifts I get for Christmas are books. Now, my family has for years tried to limit the numbers of gifts we receive, so I don't get quite as many gifts as some. But this year, I got two books from relatives and two books for myself. From my mother in law I received the long awaited 2666 by Bolano. From my sister in law I received The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin. This one was recommended by Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution. Finally, I purchased The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens for myself. Well, actually, I purchased A Christmas Carol to read to my six year old son, but that didn't work out real well, so he watched the movie and I finished the book on my own. As far as The Ascent of Money, I have another book by Ferguson, The War of the World unread on my bookshelf, but I couldn't wait to get this one after hearing several talks he gave on the book. Now, that should probably be it for the month, as I am trying to read more of the books I own ... but then again, Half Price Books is having an after Christmas sale, so perhaps there will be a special New Year's edition.

Booking Through Thursday

What I want to know today is … what are the most “wintery” books you can think of? The ones that almost embody Winter?

This year I read few books that were quite "wintery." First, The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney. It takes place in the Canadian wilderness, full of snow and ice. I was reading it during several cold spells here in Texas and the book made it seem even chillier than it actually was. The second "wintery" book I read recently was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is appropriate to the winter season for all the obvious reasons: christmas, ghosts, and snowy streets. Finally, earlier this year I read Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol, a very strange tale that takes place in an Antarctic island.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell

The Siege of Krishnapur is a fantastic novel about the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. Sepoys were native Indian soldiers in the service of the British. The rebellion was sparked by new cartridges that the soldiers had to bite open in order to load into their rifles. The problem was that these cartridges were greased with pork fat, which offended Muslims, or with beef fat, angering the Hindus. And so, the Sepoys rebelled against their British overseers. The Siege of Krishnapur tells the story of the British inhabitants of a small cantonment at Krishnapur that come under siege by the rebelling Sepoys.

This novel is one of the best I have read in my life. Mary McCarthy says in a blurb on the back It has everything you could expect to find in a big old-fashioned novel or several of them -- characters, suspense, military action, romantic attachments, satire, with tenderness, philosophy. This is an apt summary. At times the story is hilariously funny, and at others it is heart achingly sad. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a good read.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday -- Bonus Question

What is the best book you ever bought for yourself?
And, why? What made it the best? What made it so special?

I would have to say that the best book that I ever bought for myself was the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. I had coveted a good OED for years. The full 20 volume OED would have been ideal, but a little too expensive. Not to mention the question of where in my crowded bookshelves I could put the 20 large volumes. I agonized between the Compact OED, which is all 20 volumes printed in one volume using really print, and the two volume Shorter OED. Many of the reviews on Amazon said the print in the Compact OED was too small to read, even with the included magnifying glass. That plus an extra $200 for the Compact OED convinced me to get the Shorter OED.

This purchase was special for several reasons. First, I had wanted to own an OED for so long that finally purchasing it for myself was reason enough for it to be special. Second, I had gone through a uncomfortable time in my life and felt that I was finally making some progress toward a better life. Purchasing a version of the OED was, silly enough, part of that progress. It was a symbol of the possibilities that were now open to me as I left the rough patch behind. Thirdly, it is special because it is the most expensive book I have purchased.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you give books as gifts?
To everyone? Or only to select people?
How do you feel about receiving books as gifts?

I do like to give books as gifts. I value reading so much myself that I give books as gifts in order to encourage others to do so too.

I am selective about the people to whom I give books though. First, I always want to make sure that the book is one that is appropriate, one that the other person will enjoy. This means I have to know that person pretty well before I can purchase the right book, and as a rather introverted person, I don't get to know many people that well. Second, in my family my wife handles most of the gift giving. So, I actually choose gifts only for close family members.

As far as receiving books as gifts, is there any other kind of gift? Anyone that knows me well enough to give me a gift knows that I am an avid reader. So, books are pretty much the extent of the gifts that I receive. Years ago I wasn't as keen on receiving books as gifts because often the books I received weren't to my liking. Now an Amazon Wish List means that I mostly receive books that I want to read.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book Review: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

The winner of the 1987 World Fantasy Award, Patrick Suskind's Perfume is an extremely creepy book. It tells the story of the odious Grenouille, a bastard born with a miraculous sense of smell. With this gift, Grenouille becomes a great perfumer, but, when he stumbles upon a young girl with an incomparably beautiful scent, his ambition becomes to steal the scent from the girl. And thereby lies a tale of murder and mayhem.

This book reminded me of the experience I have when I watch Criminal Minds on television. The story is great and I enjoy it, but I never want to go straight to bed afterward. Perfume left me with the same feeling of unease, but it was a very well written novel.


It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I'm in the cold, snowy Northern Territory of Canada, investigating a murder in Caulfield, a tiny settlement on the Dove River. (The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney)

And, surprisingly, the weather here in Texas seems to match the weather I am reading about. No snow, but it has been surprisingly cold here in Houston. Fortunately, it is only temporary. It should reach the high 70s by Thursday.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Musing Mondays

Just One More Page asks:

I always like to have a book with me at all times – call it a nerdy grown-up security blanket – and rarely do I leave the house without slipping one into my bag (even if I KNOW I’m not going to have a chance to read it). Do you take a book with you? Do you take whatever book you’re currently reading, or do you have a special on-the-go book? And do you have a preference for a these types of book (paperback, hardback; short stories; poetry etc)?

I almost always take a book with me when I leave the house, a "just in case" book. You never know if you will get stuck in traffic, have to wait in line, etc. There are so many opportunities to read if you are ready take them when they come. Typically, I will take the book I am currently reading, unless it is a rather large sized book. As a man, I don't have a purse in which to throw a book, so I prefer to take smaller books, like paperbacks, for my "just in case" book.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's In A Name 2 Challenge

I will commit to another challenge today. The What's In A Name 2 Challenge. I participated in this one last year and liked it. So, here is my list for this year:

A book with a "profession" in its title: Read Literature Like A Professor by T. C. Foster. Alternates: Book Thief by M. Zusak, The Secret Agent by J. Conrad, Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells.

A book with a "time of day" in its title: The Noonday Demon by A. Solomon. Alternates: The Night Watch by S. Waters, Nightwatch by S. Lukyanenko.

A book with a "relative" in its title: Fathers and Sons by Turgenev. Alternate: Midnight's Children by S. Rushdie.

A book with a "body part" in its title: Who's Been Sleeping In Your Head by B. Kahr. Alternates: A Mind Of It's Own by D. Friedman, The Body in Pain by E. Scarry.

A book with a "building" in its title: The Castle of Otranto by H. Walpole. Alternate: House of Leaves by M. Danielewski,

A book with a "medical condition" in its title: Virus of the Mind by R Brodie. Alternate: The Body In Pain by E. Scarry, The Plague by A. Camus.

Thank you to Annie for hosting this challenge.

Seconds 2009 Challenge

I have decided to go ahead and sign up for yet another challenge. The Seconds 2009 Challenge runs from January 1, 2009 - December 31, 2009. For this challenge you read 12 books by authors that you have only read once.

Here is the list of books I plan to read:

  1. The Black Swan by N. Taleb

  2. The Logic of Live by T. Harford

  3. Number9Dream by D. Mitchell

  4. A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by J. Barnes

  5. The Selfish Gene by R. Dawkins

  6. Grotesque by N. Kirino

  7. Doubt by J. M. Hecht

  8. What Is Ancient Philosophy? by P. Hadot

  9. Metaphors We Live By by G. Lakoff

  10. Darwin's Dangerous Idea by D. Dennet

  11. On Chesil Beach by I. McEwan

  12. Prime Obessession by J. Derbyshire

Alternates include:

  1. The Big Over Easy by J. Fforde

  2. Something by A. Nothomb

  3. The Information by M. Amis

  4. Something by J. Banville

  5. Secret Agent by J. Conrad (which I am already going to read for the Decades Challenge)

  6. 2666 by R. Bolano

Thank you to J. Kaye for hosting this challenge.

Reading Challenges -- How Many Is Too Many?

I discovered the group of book bloggers on the internet only last year. One of my favorite things about book blogging is the Reading Challenges that the book bloggers throw down. I quickly became addicted to them. This year, I am trying to use the Reading Challenges to help me read the books in my library that I have not read. But, how many challenges can a person actually complete. I am doing two right now, the BangBang and the Book Awards II challenges. And, I have already signed up for two more that begin in January. I am looking through my library for books to meet another challenge. I am making good progress on the two challenges I am reading for now, but I don't want to sign up for too many. Then again, how many is too many?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

1. Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read? (I’m guessing #1 is an easy question for everyone?)
2. If you had (magically) more time to read – what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?

As a stay-at-home dad with my only son in school, I would say that I am lucky enough to get as much time as I want to read. I would not, however, go so far as to say that I read as much as I want. I am often distracted by the television or the Internet. I also have a part-time freelancing gig that takes up a varying amount of time each week. Finally, sometimes I choose other projects over reading, for example National Novel Writing Month.

Having said that I get as much time as I want to read, the second question, as asked, does not apply. But, if I could (magically) focus on reading with a little more intensity, I would clear the enormous backlog of books that I want to read, starting with the ones I own but haven't read. This would consist mostly of classics, literary fiction, philosophy, and history. I would also spend more time studying Spanish or another foreign language in order to attempt to read non-English language literature in the original language. Perhaps, these can be goals for next year ...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

I am in Krishnapur, India, surviving a siege that occurred during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. (The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell)