Tuesday, October 28, 2014

We should all fall in love with Washington Irving

Halloween is in three days, so I obviously decided to pick up The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. My last memory of it was skimming it in my local library, hoping it would be similar to the Tim Burton movie despite KNOWING the Disney version was far more in line.


LITTLE WAS I TO KNOW that my teenage self was an idiot who did not appreciate finely-tuned prose and a near-paradisiacal level of vocab choice. Washington Irving, I want to know you better. And then probably have your babies. And also go on the tour of your house, because the tour guides are "dressed elegantly in hoop skirts or formal dress of the time" and that sounds super-fun.

You encouraged Hawthorne and Poe? AND had
a badass fur collar? Daaaamn, sir.

So he's part of Romanticism, but he's part of American Romanticism, which isn't nearly as stupid as English or German. All it did is make him interested in folk stories and write really, really well. So bravo, American Romanticism! Now let's look at The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

He begins with:

In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson

OH my lord, look at it. Immediately he's personified the land AND made it seem embracing; he's alluding to America's expansiveness as opposed to being like cramped, disgusting Europe; he's broadening the fame of one of America's rivers ("oh of COURSE, the Hudson"); and he's using 'indent' adorably like it's just a 'boop!' on the shore of the river.

Then Irving decides to be cheeky WHILE writing excellently:

there lies a small market-town[...]properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village taven on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic.


Other phrases everyone should die over: "listless repose," "sequestered glen," "phantoms of the mind that walk in darkness," "drowsy shades," "supernumerary dish of cakes," "the boding cry of the tree-toad,"  and how on earth can you ignore the description of Ichabod Crane YOU CANNOT IT IS PERFECTION:

He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock, perched upon his spindle-neck, to tell which way the wind blew. 

Wikipedia (implicitly accurate source that it is) says that when Washington Irving was publishing his first book in 1809 at age 26, he created a publicity hoax by publishing a notice in the newspaper, ostensibly from a hotel's proprietor, saying that if the author ("Mr Knickerbocker") did not return to the hotel to pay his bill, the proprietor would publish a manuscript he had left behind. People jumped on this story and his first book was very popular, despite being called A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty

So CLEARLY HE WAS A MAN OF BRILLIANCE. And had some sexy eyebrows. And have you finished your RIP reading for this year, tick tock, it's almost Halloween.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix: I am never going to an IKEA at night

There's been a lot of chatter about Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix, mainly because it looks like an IKEA catalog and that is SO COOL. Not to lick Quirk Books's boots, but I keep being completely charmed by them and their publishing decisions (also they look especially lovely today). 

They sent me a copy of this to review because I asked one of their staff members if I would like it and she was basically like "TOTES."

I mean, look at that. you bring that on the train
and you are a super-cool and interesting
person that the other riders only WISH
they could know

After being burned by things like the book Night Film and countless episodes of Scooby-Doo, I worried there'd be some "It wasn't really haunted after all!" tomfoolery happening, but REST ASSURED, the faux-IKEA in this book is haunted as shit. It just takes some time to get there.

So the main character, Amy, has a dead-end life and works at America's version of IKEA, which is called Orsk. But weeeeird stuff's been happening at Orsk overnight, so the Totally Into His Job manager makes her and another employee stay overnight to try to find out what is going on, and Amy does it because she needs money to make rent because down-on-their-luck protagonists always need to make rent at the beginning of the story. Also did you know that no McFly ever amounted to anything in the history of Hill Valley?

Also Bill and Ted need to get an A on their history report, but HOW.

WILL Amy find hidden reserves of strength within herself? Will she discover a purpose for her life inside the possibly (definitely) haunted, basically-IKEA store? Will Alice be terrified by MULTIPLE scenes, but mostly one involving lots of water because sometimes when you're a kid you're coming up in the pool and you find you're under a damn inflatable raft and AIR you need AIR? ("probably" to all of these)

It's fast-paced, it's fun, and it's scary but not too scary (unlike that rat-faced librarian in The Historian who I was convinced was going to climb in my college apartment windows). It also incorporates some 19th century stuff, which every book should do. Well done, book.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Island of Dr Moreau: Well. I was not expecting that.

What could it mean? A locked enclosure on a lonely island, a notorious vivisector, and these crippled and distorted men?...

H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau has been relegated to campy film status like The Invisible Man, but Wells was about so much more than that. What I did not know going in were the themes he deals with -- I just knew "something about an island with messed-up animals."

even more messed-up than the platypus

What actually happens is there's a guy in a shipwreck who gets picked up by a boat with weeeeird passengers that look almost -- ALMOST -- inhuman. And there's another guy on the boat named Montgomery who's all cagey about where he and his weirdo passenger friends -- and also a llama, puma, and a bunch of rabbits -- are going. But the drunk captain of the boat HATES Montgomery and his weirdo friends, and makes him AND the shipwrecked guy get off at Mysterious Island, where an older dude with white hair meets them. GUESS WHO THAT GUY IS (hint: he's a doctor).

So Shipwrecked Guy slowly figures out what's going on, and what's going on (SPOILERS AHEAD) is that Dr Moreau is super into vivisection, which was the gene splicing of the 19th century I guess, and he got kicked out of Doctoring because of things he was doing to cats, so he went to this island and makes PEOPLE OUT OF ANIMALS. By vivisection. Which means he just kinda cuts things up and moves things around.

these action figures are pretty spot-on, actually

As with most H.G. Wells stuff, he's got A Point to make about humanity. 

Before they had been beasts, their instincts fitly adapted to their surroundings, and happy as living things may be. Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence began in an agony, was one long internal struggle, one long dread of Moreau.

As the afterword says, "Does he mean me? is a question we often ask when reading Wells." Because he is talking about animals made to look like men, BUT HE ALSO MAYBE MEANS US (he definitely means us). Wells occupies this time in Victorian England when all the shit everyone took for granted was changing. He uses the word sexuality in his book. In 1896! I was shocked! But England had started hearing about evolution and Freud and the main character goes to see a "mental specialist." Can you imagine that happening in Dickens? No! It is weird and modern! Moreau is supposed to be God in this strange microcosm of the world where there are Leopard Men, and Wells is here to talk to us about how our conception of God is maybe a little enslaving. 

Wells and Conrad and Stevenson marked both a change from didactic Victorian morality and a turn towards the modern era. And it's jarring. People started questioning religion and ethics and man's place in the universe in a way they had not before, and when you read books from this period it feels like the Victorian safety net has been removed and you no longer know what you can depend on. 

where is the reliance on social mores! where!

I disagree with Wells's conclusions in Dr Moreau (which he later called "an exercise in youthful blasphemy"), but I'm extremely glad he wrote it. It's one of those makes-you-pondery books. If you believe in God, it makes you sit down and think about why and if you can satisfy that belief beyond being afraid like Moreau's creations are. If you don't, it makes you think about the human condition and how removed we are from other animals and why. 

The afterword mentions Wells's "attack on smugness in general--rather than simply on the smugness of the Church," meaning the particularly Victorian emphasis on man being lord of creation and placed at the top of the ladder by God. Were we? Have we just decided that on our own? Has evolution really tended towards the best possible thing rather than just kind of made us and here we are, we're not the best but we exist? I was not expecting these thoughts to come out of this Monsters on an Island book.

It's a fast read. I'm going to read more H.G. Wells now. Bring on The Invisible Man.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why did we forget about John Grisham so quickly?

Remember how on Thursday, John Grisham defended his friend who was in prison for looking at child pornography and said the sentencing for that was too harsh, and also that prisons were full of 60-year-old white men? Remember how that horrible statement happened by a bestselling, internationally-known author?

So two days after that, The Guardian posts Kathleen Hale's piece about internet stalking and then visiting the house of someone who negatively reviewed her book, whom she suspected was not who they claimed to be, and who was also some kind of Goodreads bully (according to her).

Guess what everyone completely forgot about.

And WHY. Why are we all continuing to talk about Hale and getting SO MAD ABOUT IT and Grisham apparently gets a free pass? I mean, I could go into how women are easier targets, but I think it's more related to the idea that her transgression more directly strikes book bloggers/reviewers. "This could happen to ME; I shall be infuriated by it," as opposed to "John Grisham is a powerful author whose opinions will be used by idiots to defend the idea that prison sentences for child pornography are too harsh and that older white men are definitely the most oppressed demographic in American society." Grisham's statement doesn't CLEARLY impact us, so it just kind of fell to the wayside, and no.

I like Kathleen Hale's book fine. I think she's a little nutty. She did something that was wrong. But she doesn't have articles in TIME defending her position, because she is a young author with one book out that not a ton of people have read. I think her article should be talked about, yes, but I am angered that Grisham's disgusting comments have gotten swept under the rug. His publicist is probably rejoicing that Hale's piece came out when it did.

These are both people dealing with privileged attitudes that negatively affect society, only one is much broader and capable of greater harm (yes, it's the one dealing with child exploitation and white men being persecuted). That should have spun off into pieces about male privilege and how is it not being acknowledged more widely than it is, and what kind of responsibility do well-known authors have, and should they keep these sorts of opinions to themselves, and does it ruin their books, but instead it's just Kathleen Hale. And I am irritated about that.

John Grisham said some really douchy things. And we should not forget them.

Monday, October 20, 2014

TV over the Weekend and Can We Please Do Another Minithon?

There are weekends when there is a 24 hour readathon and you make a valiant effort (I have never succeeded in this) and then there are weekends when you read for 20 minutes and then decide to watch four episodes of the CW show Reign (I have always instead done this).

Well, not that show in particular, but its basic equivalent and OH HOW MUCH I LOVE REIGN NOW and it will get its own post later and you should all probably start watching it because season 1 is on Netflix and then we can discuss the intrigue and also whether we think Kenna is bright and ambitious or just a skank.

dunno about you, Kenna

I'm close to being done with Horrorstor, The Boundless, and....probably some others. But those two for SURE. 

The problem with reading Horrorstor is I cannot comfortably fit it in my purse, but it's scary to read at night, so I have like a 20 minute window after work before it gets dark, so it's been slow-going. I know it takes place in basically an IKEA and that I do not live in an IKEA, but I'm also fully aware that H.H. Holmes has been dead for over 100 years and cannot get me but that did not stop me from calling my friend and making her stay on the phone with me while I made sure he was not hiding in my closet after I watched a documentary about him.

I would have made ALL these ducks come with me

You know what this online book blogging community needs. Another minithon TIKA I AM LOOKING AT YOU. Eight hours is about what we can handle. And then I can make minithon tacos, which are the same as normal time tacos, but I am eating them during a minithon.

We should do minithon challenges this time, though. Like "How artistically can you photographically capture your snack choices for the day?" and "Whose reading pile is the most overly ambitious?" (it will be mine)

If we have it soon, though, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna blow off reading the entire time and watch episode after episode of Reign (there are 22 of them!!). So let's maybe plan for not-October. Yes.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: A Book That's STOLEN MY HEART (ahahaha not really)

I think it was Elizabeth Fama (I want her book covers as posters) who told me to read The Thief. AND I TRIED TO TAKE THIS ADVICE. But the library kept not having it. Then it finally had it, I checked it out and -- oh it's in first person.

You know when you go into something expecting one thing, and because it's NOT that thing, you're like "I CANNOT DO THIS." Even if the thing is really good? Yes, so I had to put The Thief down for a couple months, and only the other week when I was noodling around Oyster did I pick it up again.

It's a YA/middle grade book about a thief (ah-ha!) who's basically in Ancient Greece, but it's a place called Sounis, which is right by the kingdoms of Eddis and Attolia. Said thief ("Gen") is in prison. For STEALING something (surprise!) and is basically just languishing away in misery and filth when the king's adviser comes and gets him! "I need you to steal something for me" is essentially how it goes, and off they and three other people go! To steal a precious precious item.

NO not that one; go back to Middle-earth

Most of the book is their trip to go steal The Thing, and I got real into it a few chapters in (but it did take a few chapters, just to make that clear). The dynamics between the characters are really good, but apparently the main reason to read this book is, according to Goodreads but also Jenny who I talk to way more than Goodreads, to read the following books in the series, which are "way better."

I was into the Greek parallels. I was into the character relationships. I was into the queens of Attolia and Eddis, who are badasses in different ways. There are also SO MANY SCHEMES AND MACHINATIONS. So if you are into those sorts of things, this is probably a series for you. Also it's REALLY short and can be knocked out quickly for something like Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, which is this Saturday if memory serves.

"Do you think," he stammered, "there's some...body in the maze with you?"
I wished he hadn't so obviously substituted "somebody" for "something." Not that I thought ghouls and ghosts were real, but they were easier to believe in when standing in a cold, dark, wet hole in the ground.

Oh right, there's a maze! And a figuring out of the maze! Friendships are forged, creation stories that Megan Whalen Turner invented are told (I LOVE mythologies created for specific books), and while this book most emphatically does not pass the Bechdel test, you've gotta expect that in a basically-set-in-Greece book where almost the entire story revolves around a thief, a magus, his two apprentices, and a soldier.

And now I am off to read The Queen of Attolia, which again, is supposed to be way better than this one, even though this one was thoroughly entertaining.

I hope the Queen of Attolia looks like this because SHE

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

P.D. James's Cover Her Face: More like Cover Your Eyes, amirite? 'Cause it's not good? Yeah.

GUESS WHAT I HAVEN'T BEEN DOING? Reading. Ahahahahaha.

Ok but seriously I've started again, but I started with the WORST thing because I decided to finish P.D. James's first book, Cover Her Face.

all of the covers for this book are terrible

HERE'S THE THING about Cover Her Face. Actually multiple things:

1) The title is weird.

2) It's probably not P.D. James's fault, but this book is set in the '60s and I kept thinking it was the '30s because it's all about a murder happening to the servant of a wealthy English family and they act like it's the '30s all the time.

"Ugh, exertion."

3) I was going to say maybe this is because P.D. James is rich as balls, only Wikipedia assures me she was not at this time of her life (even though her current title is "Baroness James of Holland Park"). 

4) This book cannot decide on a POV, and it's one thing when you're like "I'm gonna alternate viewpoints in a clear way!" and it's another when you're like "Doop dee der, how about now we suddenly have access to THIS person's head for two pages and no more ever." Summaries of this book are all like "This introduces Inspector Adam Dalgliesh!" and it's like "Ok, that sounds like Dog Leash the way I'm saying it in my head, but also he seemed super-peripheral so I do not understand your enthusiasm for the character."

5) The ending was not surprising and that is literally all you really need to do in a detective story what are you doing Young P.D. James I refuse to read more of your books this one was such a letdown.

There's this wealthy (although actually not that wealthy anymore SO THEY SAY but they still have a huge ancient house and are on the board of things and run the local fair on their grounds, so. Whatever, 'we're-not-wealthy') English family and they have a maid living with them who has a baby because they have recruited her from one of those Homes for Single Mothers that apparently were everywhere back in the day. And she acts very deferential, but she is SUSPECTED of harboring rebelliousness

Bloody peasant.

There's the dying, comatose father, the noble mother, the son who's a surgeon, the daughter who's bored all the time, the nurse who's a friend of the family and in love with the son, and probably some other people. 

The son OUT OF NOWHERE proposes to the possibly upstart maid, and then that night she gets murdered. OH NO WHO DID IT I don't really care because you have not developed any of these people and also I didn't like that maid. Nor do you give me reason to later, P.D. James. In the end, you're basically like "Well, if she hadn't been such an asshole, she probably wouldn't have gotten murdered."

So yes. I cared about no one, the word 'voluble' was used WAY TOO MANY TIMES, and I heavily skimmed the last two chapters just so I could find out who did it, and when I found out, it was not a surprise, and the writing is passable but you could also be reading Archie Comics and they'd probably be more enjoyable and this book is not good do not read it.

Edit: P.D. James herself apparently said  "I would be tempted to say the first one is now my least favorite, because I think the others are so much better. But then it's unkind to say that, because it's like a first child, it got me started as a writer. But I suppose if I was told that one book had to disappear without a trace, it would probably be the first." 

So maybe -- MAYBE -- if she herself acknowledges the shittiness of this book, one can read her other books. Or try them.

Maybe. (but I probably won't)