Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grown-up fantasy that is more than good versus evil (Books - The Magician King by Lev Grossman)

Since finishing Lev Grossman's dark, magical coming of age fantasy The Magicians almost exactly two years ago, I have been anticipating its sequel - The Magician King. The sequel shares the original's strong plotting, dark tone, and layer of ironic commentary on the fantasy form's popularity and most well-used devices. In the first book Quentin, a smart, less than popular boy, is trained at a magic school called Brakebills, eventually travels to Fillory, the land of his childhood fantasy, and is crowned king. When we meet him in the sequel, he lives the luxurious life of a king, but rather than being content with ruling the land of his dreams, he is bored and restless. He decides to go on a quest to far-off parts of his realm, making some unplanned for and surprising detours along the way. While the first volume focused on power, love, and fantasy, part two was about a sense of belonging and purpose, and ultimately the putting away of the utopian fantasies of childhood.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The alternative to positive thinking is not despair (Books - Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich) - The Tyranny of Positive Thinking I

Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided is a feisty analysis of the American obsession with positive thinking that includes its hypothesized origins, the areas of culture that it infiltrates - big business, religion, psychology - the multi-billion dollar industry that has grown up around coaching and products to maintain that cockeyed optimism no matter what the weather tells us, a debunking of many of the beneficial outcomes claimed by proponents of positive thinking such as improved cancer prognosis or material wealth, and finally the usefulness of negative emotions, stress, and vigilance. The anecdotes as well as the facts (if you choose to listen to them) are delivered in accessible prose with a hefty dose of irony. In addition, Ehrenreich is emotionally open about the part her own experience plays with the subject she writes about as in, for example, this about her wait for test results to confirm or reject a cancer diagnosis:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Breakfast reading, superpowers, and other important matters...

btt button
It has been a while since I participated in BTT. Here's the meme posted today.
1. What’s your favorite time of day to read?
I'll read any time but end up reading most often before I go to sleep.
2. Do you read during breakfast? (Assuming you eat breakfast.)
I usually read blogs during breakfast but if I'm at the tail-end of a really good read, I'll sometimes try to finish it over breakfast.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

False fronts on depression-era Main Street (Books - As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross)

Although Canadian author Sinclair Ross had to drop out of high school to work, he demonstrates a deep understanding of the human heart and writes in spare, unequivocal prose about life on the prairie during the depression in his first novel, As For Me and My House (1941). In this story of eroded communication between the Bentleys, a preacher and his wife, Ross's first person narrative takes the point of view of Mrs. Bentley through a diary she keeps in their twelfth year of a tense and childless marriage as they assume the parish of a dusty town called Horizon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dickens Month II - In which the characters, rich and poor alike, attempt to advance themselves (Books - Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens)

250 pages into Our Mutual Friend and Charles Dickens Month, it has struck me that Dickens is something of a naturalist - sketching studies of his characters that are rich enough in detail so that the reader may see them and that always refer to their habitat.
Reginald Wilfer is a name with rather a grand sound, suggesting on first acquaintance brasses in country churches, scrolls in stained-glass windows, and generally the De Wilfers who came over with the Conqueror...But, the Reginald Wilfer family were of such commonplace extraction and pursuits that their forefathers had for generations modestly subsisted on the Docks, the Excise Office, and the Custom House, and the existing R. Wilfer was a poor clerk. So poor a clerk, though having a limited salary and an unlimited family, that he had never yet attained the modest object of his ambition: which was to wear a complete new suit of clothes, hat and boots included, at one time. His black hat was brown before he could afford a coat, his pantaloons were white at the seams and knees before he could buy a pair of boots, his boots had worn out before he could treat himself to new pantaloons, and, by the time he worked round to the hat again, that shining modern article roofed-in an ancient ruin of various periods.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bookish things...

2012 has begun as a less than typical reading year in that I am participating in multiple challenges which involve long books. The result has been that I have finished just one book. So I thought I would do more of a Salon-like post, so I can touch on the many books I have in-progress.

Above and to the left is the main culprit, Our Mutual Friend. In order to keep pace so that I might post the last of five weekly posts on Dickens's birthday, February 7, I must read 200 pages per week. That's not a hardship as the book is delightful, but it is just enough to keep me from finishing anything else on the longer side. For that reason, I found I had abandoned Geert Mak's travelogue/history of post-war Europe In Europe, despite finding it fascinating and beautifully written in favor of...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Charles Dickens Month I - In which we are introduced to key players (Books - Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens)

This is the first of my five January posts on Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, which I began reading just yesterday in this month preceding his 200th birthday. I have barely scratched the surface at about 50

Monday, January 2, 2012

Charles Dickens Month, in which I finally tackle The Pickwick Papers, um, correction Our Mutual Friend

Thomas led me to Amanda's Charles Dickens Month, which excited me because I realized I could indulge in triple action by reading either a copy of The Pickwick Papers or Our Mutual Friend (but not both) that have been festering on my TBR pile: participating in Charles Dickens Month, the Tea & Books Reading Challenge as they are both biggies, and stay true to the TBR Double Dare all at the same time! Rock on.

Update: Let's make that, Our Mutual Friend.

Art as access to the authentic experience (Books - Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner)

I have finished my first read of 2012 Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, a suggestion of Brad Listi's and a gift from my in-laws. This smart, funny, occasionally infuriating novel is about a young American poet's experience of alienation and the art he makes out of his experience while on a fellowship in Spain.
I had long worried that I was incapable of having a profound experience of art and I had trouble believing that anyone had, at least anyone I knew. I was intensely suspicious of people who claimed a poem or painting or piece of music "changed their life," especially since I had often known these people before and after their experience and could register no change. Although I claimed to be a poet, although my supposed talent as a writer had earned me my fellowship in Spain, I tended to find lines of poetry beautiful only when I encountered them quoted in prose, in the essays my professors had assigned in college, where the line breaks were replaced with slashes, so that what was communicated was less particular poem than the echo of poetic possibility. Insofar as I was interested in the arts, I was interested in the disconnect between my experience of actual artworks and the claims made on their behalf; the closest I'd come to having a profound experience of the absence of profundity.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011 - the year that was... (A meme)

Happy 2012. I got this meme from Katherine, who, she tells us, is always walking into things, well into bookstores anyway.

1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?
Published an article in a science journal.