Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's "Dog Ears" feature new biographies of McCartney and Lennon, as well as a characterization of readers by their favorite writers:
  • Two new Beatles biographies have been released, if you're interested in reading one more thing about Paul McCartney (who is "more artistically and intellectually complex than the sweet and bubbly caricature we have known") or a "haunting, mammoth, terrific biography of John Lennon." 
  • The Guardian features an original short story by Hilary Mantel entitled "Cinderella in Autumn," which offers a very interesting view on Cinderella's "happily ever after," as well as on the cyclical nature of the world.
  • Elizabeth Bachner has an interesting essay at Bookslut, "A Million Easy Histories," which focuses on the rash of fake memoirs in recent history, as well as the American public's sadistic interest in reading about others' pain which fuels it. 
  • The Times Online has an article which delves into John Keats' sensitivity to his critics, citing a letter written by a friend of his five months after his death.
  • Here's an interesting categorization of readers by their favorite authors, written by Lauren Leto.  I like that she prescripts the list with, "By the way, I respect all the authors on this list--kind of."

Monday, December 21, 2009

You Can't Fight the Twilight: Chapter Six

Chapter Six
People are so annoying--they kept talking to me about my fainting episode, which was really irritating.  Saturday a bunch of us got together to go to La Push, and Mike proved once again that he's pathetically easy to please by asking me to ride in his car with him. When we got there, we ended up meeting another group of kids, one of whom was named Jacob.  I had to roll my eyes when he called me Isabella, because--duh--my name is Bella.  Then he gave me an appreciative look that I recognized easily because every boy I know is in love with me.

Jacob mentioned that the Cullen family does not come to La Push, and, since I'm curious about all things Cullen, I flirted with him until he finally told me a story about how the local natives are werewolves and they think the Cullens are vampires.  Then I continued to flirt with him in order to make him as happy as possible, because apparently I don't have any problem toying with other people's emotions.

Partial Credit for Partial Readings?

I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that there are many, many books that I have not yet finished for one reason or another.  Some I've dropped because they were badly written, boring, or offensive.  Others I stopped reading simply because I ran out of time or got distracted.  Still, I firmly believe that I--or anyone--should get partial credit for the partial readings, if only because reading part of a book is better than reading none of a book.  (Of course, as has been already discussed, partial readings do not equal full readings.)

Here are the books for which I could  retroactively claim partial credit:

, by George Eliot
This is one of the best-written books I've ever read.  Eliot's characterizations are amazing, and I've thoroughly enjoyed my time reading it.  However, as previously discussed, the book is about the size of three books all stuffed between two covers, and the sheer length of the novel is not only intimidating, it is also a very powerful de-motivator. 
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I've really been meaning to get around to finishing this book, to the point that I made it my New Year's resolution this year to finish it.  I'll give you three guesses as to which book I not only didn't touch but didn't even think about touching this year, and the first two guesses don't count.
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The scene: 10th Grade American Lit, 2002.  We were given the option to read The Red Badge of Courage, Huckleberry Finn, and The Scarlet Letter.  I chose to read parts of all of them, instead of reading all of any of them, mostly because all three of them were incredibly boring.  Huckleberry Finn was my favorite of the three options, but only because it was easy to fake the answers on the test because all of the chapters included Huck and Tom arriving via raft, doing something cool, and then leaving via raft.  Easy peasy.
Ahab's Wife, by Sena Naslund
I have tried to read this book on at least three separate occasions, when I found the book at the library and thought it sounded interesting.  Each time I cracked it open with full intention of reading it and realized partway through the first chapter that I have already tried to read the book several times.  For those who are curious, I do not claim partial credit for this book, as I remember so little of the book that it is not until I am five pages in that I realize that (a) I've already read those five pages, and (b) the pages were incredibly forgettable.
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
I really enjoyed the first half of this book, but I became convinced partway through that I could already tell what would happen.  Either it felt predictable or I am psychic, because I had no desire even to flip to the end to see if my predictions were correct.  Needless to say, I am only able to recommend the first half of the book, and I would also recommend that you take that recommendation with a grain of salt.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale is a book that has more unfulfilled potential than any other book I've read recently.  (I figured I should at least read one book of Atwood's, since I've taken the liberty of making fun of her so much in the past.)  Plus, I've enjoyed most of the dystopias I've read in the past, and a feminist dystopia seemed to me to be awesome merely by existing.

Unfortunately, the "awesomeness" that I predicted was not quite delivered.  While I will not argue that a dictatorial theocracy such as Gilead is improbable and therefore unbelievable in a story (as Mary McCarthy did in The New York Times in 1986, the year after the book was published), I will say that I found the supposed pacing of the government take-over slightly unlikely.  In addition, Offred (the main character's) wide swinging between I'm-fleeing-to-Canada-to-escape-the-religious-right-regime to I'm-a-concubine-whose-only-value-is-found-in-my-uterus-and-I'm-going-to-act-like-I'm-totally-cool-with-that to I'm-breaking-all-the-rules-and-my-give-a-damn-is-broken was incredibly distracting.  The weaknesses of the story were, in my opinion, character-based and not premise-based.

In addition, the ending was a total cop-out.  Did Offred escape her place as a sex slave?  Didn't she?  What's Atwood's main point?  The "Historical Notes" at the end of the story are no help--they seem to imply that the religious fanaticism in Gilead was short-lived and, in hindsight, a bit of a joke, which completely lessens the impact and import of the story as a whole.  As I wasn't entirely invested in the story of Offred, anyway, her disappearance and the dissection of her words seemed to me be tedious and unnecessary.

The only people to whom I would recommend this book are those who just finished The Feminist Mystique and are looking for a good pairing.

Friday Featured Comic: Hume

I'm not the biggest fan of Hume, so this strip by Kate Beaton over at Hark! A Vagrant made me smile.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Can't Fight the Twilight: Chapter Five

"He was towing me toward his car now, pulling me by my jacket.  It was all I could do to keep from falling backward.  He'd probably just drag me along anyway if I did."  This is totally my idea of romance.

Chapter Five
Edward made me sit by him at lunch today, just the two of us, telling me he might as well "go to hell thoroughly."  I didn't really know what he meant, but he went on to say that he's stolen me from my friends and may not give me back.  I was kind of creeped out but figured he wanted us to be friends now.  He told me once again that I wouldn't hang out with him if I was smart.  When I surmised that he was calling me stupid, he didn't bother to disagree.  He's always laughing at me--not with me, but at me--and he warned me once again that he's bad and dangerous. How romantic!

He skipped bio today, where we were doing blood tests.  As soon as I saw the blood, I got nauseous and had to go to the nurse.  Of course Edward met me half-way there and insisted on taking me the rest of the way.  He managed to get permission from the nurse for me to go home early, but when I tried to drive my own truck home, he grabbed me and pushed me against his car.  Then he made me get in, threatening that he'd just drag me back again if I tried to leave.

As he drove me home, he began to interrogate me about my family.  All of my answers seemed to irritate him for some reason.  Then he kicked me out of his car and told me that I'm so accident prone I should try to be a little more careful.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's Dog Ears include a look at the e-books litigation, as well as a blogger who pulled a Bronte (or Eliot, or Sand, or Rowling):

300 Posts!

My Penpal: Twitter

I am now officially engaged in a social experiment.

Some of you may have noticed the Twitter widget I've added to the already-impressive array of links for Not-So-Gentle Reader.  You should also know that I have no intentions of using said social experiment to reach out to people I actually know.  Instead, I'm curious to see if Twitter increases my feeling of "inter-connectedness" with people whose work I respect at least on some level--a kind of informal "My Penpal."

I'm also a bit intrigued because Twitter is all about the written word--in a limited form, of course.  There's the opportunity to do really neat things with a form of communication that is so bite-sized.  I'll keep you updated, but so far the experiment has been less than thrilling due to the overwhelming volume of incredibly boring tweets. 

You Can't Fight the Twilight: Chapter Four

"I couldn't allow him to have this level of influence over me.  It was pathetic.  More than pathetic, it was unhealthy."  Amen.

Chapter Four:
I've started dreaming about Edward Cullen every night, but more importantly, I'm soooo popular now, and it's really, really annoying!  There's a bunch of drama about who's going to take who to the dance, and everyone wants me to go with him even though it's girl's choice.  So annoying!  I've started the story that I'll be going to Seattle just so everyone will leave me alone.

Of course, I don't really want everyone to leave me alone, just anyone who's actually nice to me.  Edward Cullen finally started talking to me again, but only to tell me that he's not talking to me anymore, but it's really all for my own good.  Then we got into an argument about nothing.  He gets mad really quickly, but he is also always laughing at me.  But I'm still fascinated by him, because he's "interesting... and brilliant... and mysterious... and perfect... and beautiful."
Then Edward started talking to me again, to ask me if I wanted a ride to Seattle.  I think he may have multiple personality disorder, and he told me yet again that it would be better if we aren't friends.  We have a date on Saturday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Trumpet of the Swan Says, "Read to Your Children!"

I went to my cousin's house last week and helped put her daughters to bed (and by helped, I mean, provided moral support while my cousin did all the work).

After the girls were settled in their respective bunks, my cousin took out a copy of The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White, to read to the girls before they went to sleep.  While I would have to say that there are problems with the story from a feminist perspective (because there always are), the fact that my cousin took the time to read to her daughters warmed the cockles of my heart.  I lay down next to my youngest cousin-once-removed (or second cousin or whatever she is) and absorbed the scene.

It reminded me of similar scenes with my mother, when she would read The Chronicles of Prydain to me and my younger brother.  There's a warmth in these scenes that is emotional more than physical, and I was wrapped in a feeling of well-being.  Despite the fact that the stressors of the world were hovering just outside the little bedroom, I was absolutely satisfied and content, and I have to believe my cousin's children had to feel at least a little of that.

Anyway, in the name of all that is holy, read to your children!

Friday, December 11, 2009

You Can't Fight the Twilight: Chapter Three

(My favorite line of the book so far: "They wheeled me away then, to X-ray my head.")

Chapter Three

Ohmygod, Edward Cullen totally saved my life today!  I was standing in the parking lot at school minding my own business when a van started careening towards me.  Edward somehow pulled me out of the way and then held my truck in place so that it wouldn't crush me.  He did it so fast that I almost couldn't believe what I had seen.  He's so awesome, every time I said that my head hurt, he laughed or smiled patronizingly.  Then, when I tried to figure out how he saved my life, he got mad at me. 

I was soooo embarrased when the EMTs put a neck brace on me and made me get in the ambulance to make sure I didn't have any brain damage.  Some people are so over-protective when girls are in near-fatal car crashes, you know?  And then Tyler--the guy who was driving the van--kept apologizing for almost killing me, which can be so annoying.

Edward's adopted father was my doctor, and he was such a Hottie McHottie!  Somehow Edward was able to check me out of the hospital even though I'm a minor.  When I tried to talk to him about how he saved my life, he turned into such an asshole, and, this being me, of course I was on the verge of tears.  Of course, he showed one moment of unexpected vulnerability, so that makes it all okay.  Swoon.

The Defense's Argument in Austen v. The World

Members of the jury, I offer here evidence that Jane Austen was not, in fact, a prudish stick-in-the-mud pre-Victorian spinster lady writer.  I strive to prove that Ms. Austen was in possession of a sense of humor that may be described as "subtly raunchy."  Below are two exhibits from Persuasion to prove this point.  The pertinent passages have been bolded for your convenience.

Exhibit A: Read first this description of Mr. Elliot, the villain of Persuasion, from Chapter Fifteen:

They were describing him themselves; Sir Walter especially. He did justice to his very gentlemanlike appearance, his air of elegance and fashion, his good shaped face, his sensible eye; but, at the same time, "must lament his being very much under-hung, a defect which time seemed to have increased; nor could he pretend to say that ten years had not altered almost every feature for the worse.
Members of the jury, now read Exhibit B, this scene from Chapter Nineteen, in which Anne Elliot and Lady Russell pass Captain Wentworth, the hero of the story, in the street:
"You will wonder," said she, "what has been fixing my eye so long; but I was looking after some window-curtains, which Lady Alicia and Mrs. Frankland were telling me of last night. They described the drawing-room window-curtains of one of the houses on this side of the way, and this part of the street, as being the handsomest and best hung of any in Bath, but could not recollect the exact number, and I have been trying to find out which it could be; but I confess I can see no curtains hereabouts that answer their description."
Ladies and gentlemen, is it a coincidence that Mr. Elliot is described as "under-hung" (which at the time also meant he had a weak chin), while Lady Russell is looking for the "handsomest and best hung of any in Bath" when Captain Wentworth is walking by?

The defense rests.

Jane Austen, Moralist Extraordinaire?

My time available to work on Not-So-Gentle Reader has been waning (due to a possible job promotion *fingers crossed*), but I had to mention Robert Fulford's piece in the National Post that I just stumbled upon, "Snide and Prejudice."  In it, Fulford argues that Jane Austen is, in fact, a "vicious gossip" because she makes it abundantly clear which characters are not to be liked and then skewers them every chance she gets.

Some choice excerpts from the essay:
"When she doesn't like one of her characters, she ceases to be the subtle, witty ironist everybody writes about and turns into a moral harridan."
"Jane Austen intensely dislikes these people, and expresses herself by chopping them to pieces for our amusement. She does it so often that she acquires the characteristics not of a moralist but of a vicious gossip."
I'm not going to disagree with him, but I think there's a larger point to be made.  Jane Austen wrote to make money, and her books were meant for entertainment.  She was not the messiah, telling parables of the Good Samaritan to make a moral lesson.

Instead, I think we need to look critically at how people today view Jane Austen.  She had, from all accounts, a biting humor that occasionally bordered on the dirty.  In fact, the modern perception of Jane Austen has a lot to do with the PR campaign her family ran after she died--her letters were burned, and nothing bordered on the unladylike was alloweed to be associated with her name.  Therefore, while I don't feel that Jane Austen was a great moralist in the truest sense of the word, neither do I think she was a "vicious gossip."  As usual, the truth falls somewhere between these two extremes.

Friday Featured Comic: Robespierre

Another strip by Kate Beaton over at Hark! A Vagrant. Perhaps it's not strictly "literary," but it's so spot-on that I laughed out loud. The story of the The French Revolution that we learn in public school is not, shall we say, strictly accurate.

Friday, December 4, 2009

For The Literary Nerd in All of Us

Check out Novel-T's literary baseball t-shirts, which include such literary favorites as Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and Thoreau.  I'm personally drawn to the shirts that feature writers rather than characters, but they're all pretty much awesome.

Friday Featured Comic: Twilight

It's almost too easy to pick on Twilight, but the third block in this strip from Head Trip cracks me up. 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

BookMine's Stupid Quotes

Check out this collection of stupid quotes from customers who entered Bookmine, a bookstore specializing in old, rare, and out-of-print books.  Having worked in a bookstore for a brief period of time, I can easily believe that all of them were said at one point or another.

My favorite quotation, however, has to be this one:
A very nice, well-appointed lady spends about an hour browsing the stock, including the locked cases. After building a rather formidable stack of unrelated books worth over $3,500 (including some very scare Mark Twain first editions), I couldn't resist asking:
What do you collect?
Oh nothing, but I will purchase these.
(My curiosity getting the better of me) A gift?
No. I am going to use them to decorate my daughter's bathroom.
(Silly me! I failed to notice that the books were all various shades of green. This is a good thing, since the books will soon be color-coordinated with the mold).
Let me help you carry these out to your car.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wednesday Dog Ears

This week's "Dog Ears" feature a piece defending Mr. Scrooge as well as the sale of a fifty-year-old typewriter:
  • This "Scrooge Defended" piece from the Ludwif von Mises Institute is probably written ironically, but it's still funny and worth reading... especially if you know any Libertarians.
  • The New York Times has released a list of "100 Notable Books of 2009."  I've read approximately .5 of them, because I haven't actually finished the one book I started.
  • The Guardian has yet more speculation on the cause of Jane Austen's death.  I'm betting TB, just because it's so fashionable for literary figures to have coughed up blood at the end of their lives.
  • Some dude named Rick Moody has decided to write a novel via Twitter.  When asked what the book is about, Moody replied, "It’s about online dating, I suppose, though that is a reductive description. A Twitter-ish description."  In other news, Ricky Moody is not as clever as Ricky Moody thinks he is and--surpise, surprise--he has a "traditional" book coming out next year.
  • The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about ghost writers, with a focus on the hot topic of cover credit.
  • Cormac McCarthy is set to sell the typewriter with which he's typed all of his books thus far--proceeds will go to the Santa Fe Institute.

You Can't Fight the Twilight: Chapter Two

(For those of you who haven't yet read Twilight, here's one of the lines that made me laugh out loud: "I made the Cowardly Lion look like the terminator." Classic.)

Chapter Two
Ohmygod, Edward totally wasn't in school today, and I'm pretty sure it has something to do with me even though we didn't even talk to each other yesterday. My dad can't cook, even though he's lived as a bachelor for most of his life, and then my mom actually expected me to respond to the emails she sent me over the last several days.  She's totally unreasonably and obviously prone to hysterics.

The rest of my first week at school is really boring, with pages and pages of smalltalk and me complaining about the weather.  By the way, I'm really popular already and everyone knows my name even though I don't know all of theirs. 

Then--can you believe this--Edward Cullen came back to school and actually talked to me in Biology.  We're both brilliant and can identify phases of mitosis, which might sound interesting to read about but really actually isn't.  Then I told Edward my life story, and he actually seemed fascinated by it even though it really just makes me seem like a whiner.  He immediately understood how difficult my life is, though, which is incredibly validating for an angsty adolescent like me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Letter to a Whale Regarding the Dismal State of Modern Libraries

Dear Moby Dick,

I went to the library several weeks ago to check out Herman Melville's account of Captain Ahab's unreasonable persecution of you, but unfortunately the Central Branch of the Denver Public Library didn't have one copy of the book.  Not one.

While I am sure you do not mind this oversight, I feel obliged to point out that there are many other classics missing from the shelves of the central branch, which should (in my opinion) be the most complete collection of books in the system.  In addition, there are four copies of Sarah Palin's masterpiece Going Rogue: An American Dream.  Four copies, and we can't afford one copy of Moby Dick

You might be interested, Mr. Dick, in reading the following article, about a library that is in fact bordering on getting rid of the classics because there isn't enough demand for them: "Checked Out: A Washington-Area Library Tosses Out the Classics."  I guess my question is whether or not demand for the classics should dictate general availability of the classics, or whether a high school student who is interested in reading a novel featuring perhaps one of the best examples of hubris should be able to get his hands on a copy right away, or whether he should have to send away for a copy from another branch?


Not-So-Gentle Viewer: Going West

The New Zealand Book Council has a cool video entitled, "Going West," which features cut paper work and is incredibly impressive.  Definitely worth viewing.

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