There was a lot of build up for this book, what with it advertising that it was "by turns loved and reviled upon its publication," plus I remember at...moreThere was a lot of build up for this book, what with it advertising that it was "by turns loved and reviled upon its publication," plus I remember at least three separate people talking to me about it when it was first released. It made its way on to my shelf as a Christmas present (not mine, even) and being intrigued and at lose ends for my next book, I picked it up.
I read the first half of the book in two sittings over two days and spent most of my time firstly wondering at the fact that I didn't hate it (young hip and artsy people wondering "how should a person be?" can, you know, get annoying) and secondly, thinking of all my female friends that I would recommend it to. And then, well, I sort of petered out. The drama of the middle part of the book, such as it was, felt a bit manufactured. Everyone felt big, deep things and there were huge breaches of trust, but honestly, I couldn't figure out quite what all the fuss was about. Then, as the book came to a close, it certainly felt like something had been accomplished, and there was closure, but again, I'm not totally sure what necessitated the closure in the first place.
The structure is pretty interesting—episodic short chapters, sometimes written in epistolary fashion or as if you were reading a play—although I hated the numbered sentences in all the emails (not really a big deal, but why are those numbers there?).
But honestly, I'm not sure that this book is as genius or as indulgent or as insightful or as navel-gazing as anyone seems to think it is. I don't regret reading it, certainly, and I will remember things from it, but not in any sort of deep, life-changing fashion.(less)
I gather that Venetia is a favorite among Heyer fans, and it does definitely have a lot to recommend it, not least a witty, unburdened heroine (I mean...moreI gather that Venetia is a favorite among Heyer fans, and it does definitely have a lot to recommend it, not least a witty, unburdened heroine (I mean, she has her burdens, but she doesn't let them bury her), a smattering of enjoyable secondary characters, lots of banter, and the knowledge—within the first 30 pages—that everything is going to work out. But honestly, this one just didn't do as much for me as say, The Grand Sophy, Faro's Daughter (one which Heyer fans seem to like less, interestingly), or my all time favorite (thus far), The Masqueraders. It was all a bit too easy: the rake loves her immediately, she's immediately taken with him. Her antisocial brother likes him. Everyone has enough money. There are no meddling parents. All obstacles are incredibly narrative. You're really just waiting it out until enough pages have passed so that they can end up together.
Which is fine, really, but for my part, I've enjoyed some of the twistier plots and more madcap farces of Heyer's better. (less)
I'm not, as a rule, a big fan of procedurals, but I received this book for Christmas with an enthusiastic recommendation and so went in with an open m...moreI'm not, as a rule, a big fan of procedurals, but I received this book for Christmas with an enthusiastic recommendation and so went in with an open mind. Very glad that I did—it was fast-paced, decently twisty, well-plotted with well-drawn characters and just generally a whole lot of a fun. Painted a nice portrait of Bath, as well, which up until this point, I was only familiar with from Jane Austen novels. I had no problem jumping into the series from this point, and would recommend it as an entry point into the Diamond novels. I'll definitely return to this series, and very soon.
(Those of you who are fans of the series: any recommendations for which Diamond novel I should read next?)(less)
Monsters calling each other "porridge head" or flinging insults like "you have a nose like a moldy sausage" always makes for a good time. (Especially...moreMonsters calling each other "porridge head" or flinging insults like "you have a nose like a moldy sausage" always makes for a good time. (Especially when you know they will make up in the end.)(less)
My first John Dickson Carr novel—a Christmas gift bought for the express purpose of being fitting reading for a few days in a country cabin, which it...moreMy first John Dickson Carr novel—a Christmas gift bought for the express purpose of being fitting reading for a few days in a country cabin, which it very much was. Loads of melodrama (gasping, running toward one's lover just to touch hands before turning and running back in the other direction, be-veiled ghosts, passionate embraces, needlessly complicated back story...), and lots of exposition and character explanation delivered through feverish dialog. Take for example, the introduction that the the hefty, enigmatic Dr. Gideon Fell receives, upon his arrival half way through the book:
'For the ordinary case,' interrupted Nick Barclay with an air of dazzling inspiration, 'he'd be no earthly good at all. It's the hundredth instance where he scores. I never met him until tonight, but I've heard all about him. He's the cross-eyed marksman who hits the game without aiming at it; he's the scatterbrained diver you send into murky waters. His special talent is useful only in a case so crazy that nobody else can understand it.'
And even better is the abundance of amazing exclamations from the good doctor, my favorite being, "O Lord! O Bacchus! O my ancient hat!"(less)
It is always a pleasant surprise to confirm—or reconfirm, as the case may be—that that great author that “everyone” says is so good, or that “everyone...moreIt is always a pleasant surprise to confirm—or reconfirm, as the case may be—that that great author that “everyone” says is so good, or that “everyone” is made to read in high school or college, or that Time has declared to be Important, is actually, sincerely worth the hype. So it happens that I’ve had it reconfirmed for myself this year that J.D. Salinger is, yes: really, incredibly good.
I enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, but I actually read it too late (it wasn’t actually assigned to me in high school, when I really should have read it), and so it maybe hasn't been on the top of my Very Favorites list. Then I loved Franny and Zoey, which still stands as one of those books that I can read over and over, as I always remember loving it, but forget all the details, so then re-read it again and love it all over. Having just finished Nine Stories for the first time, I think it will be one of the latter kinds of books. I may not remember all of the details of each story, but I think the tone of the book will stick with me, and I will undoubtedly read and love it again in the future.
What stood out for me during this reading, stretched out over more than a month, is that I found myself constantly wanting to read little sections or snatches of dialog or wry observations out loud. Not only does Salinger just have an amazing talent for biting dialog which just sounds great to hear spoken, his turns of phrase also just tickle you (me) in a way which makes you want to share it. So it’s in this spirit that I’ve gone back through and found particularly quotable lines to share "aloud."
“A Perfect Day for a Banana Fish”
She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing.
“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”
”Well, wudga marry him for, then?” Mary Jane said.
“Oh, God, I don’t know. He told me he loved Jane Austen. He told me her books meant a great deal to him. That’s exactly what he said. I found out after we were married that he hadn’t even read one of her books. You know who his favorite author is?”
Mary Jane shook her head.
“L. Manning Vines. Ever hear of him?”
“Neither did I. Neither did anybody else. He wrote a book about four men who starved to death in Alaska. Lew doesn’t remember the name of it, but it’s the most beautifully written book he’s ever read. Christ! He isn’t even honest enough to come right out and say he liked it because it was about four guys who starved to death in an igloo or something. He has to say it was beautifully written.”
“Just Before the War with the Eskimos”
Ginnie openly considered Selena the biggest drip at Miss Basehoar’s—a school ostensibly abounding with fair-sized drips—but at the same time she had never known anyone like Selena for bringing a fresh can of tennis balls.
“What happened?” Ginnie asked, looking at him.
“Oh…it’s too long a story. I never bore people I haven’t known for at least a thousand years.”
“For Esme—with Love and Squalor”
”I thought Americans despised tea,” she said.
It wasn’t the observation of a smart aleck but that of a truth-lover or a statistics-lover.
“Yes; quite,” said my guest, in the clear, unmistakable voice of a small-talk detester.
He sighed heavily and said, “Christ, Almighty.” It meant nothing; it was Army.
Loretta was Clay’s girl. They meant to get married at their earliest convenience. She wrote to him fairly regularly, from a paradise of triple exclamation points and inaccurate observations.
Clay stared at him for a moment, then said, rather vividly, as if he were the bearer of exceptionally good news, “I wrote Loretta you had a nervous breakdown."
“Yeah. She’s interested as hell in all that stuff. She’s majoring in psychology.” Clay stretched himself out on the bed, shoes included. “You know what she said? She said nobody gets a nervous breakdown just from the war and all. She says you probably were unstable like, your whole goddamn life.
X bridged his hands over his eyes—the light over the bed seemed to be blinding him—and said that Loretta’s insight into things was always a joy.
“You know that apple Adam ate in the Garden of Eden, referred to in the Bible?” he asked. “You know what in that apple? Logic. Logic and intellectual stuff…I never saw such a bunch of apple-eaters,” he said. He shook his head.
With the Iceland Noir conference coming up in November, now seemed as good a time as any to read another Erlendur novel, the first I've picked up sinc...moreWith the Iceland Noir conference coming up in November, now seemed as good a time as any to read another Erlendur novel, the first I've picked up since Voices, maybe six years ago. I wasn't overwhelmed by Voices, I will admit, but I really liked Erlendur as a detective, so such a long pause in the series does feel a bit strange to me. And for reasons I really can't remember, if I had them in the first place, I skipped over the next title in the series, The Draining Lake and went for this one instead. So, starting it, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't remember enough of the detective's back story to follow that continuing plot line. As it turns out, I needn't have worried on the latter point, as the back story plot picks up in a new spot, but with plenty of reminders to help old readers remember, and new readers catch up.
There are an enjoyable number of intertwining circumstances and stories in this installment: Erlendur's ordeal losing his brother in a snowstorm when he was a child dovetails with the murder of a Thai child whose older brother then feels responsible for not protecting him better. Additionally, there is an ongoing missing persons case and a possible child abuse case which loom on the sidelines, effecting Erlendur's general mood and response to the case as it unfolds. Not to mention other painful life-filler, such as Sigurður Olí's ambivalence about adopting a child now that it has been determined that he and his partner can't have their own child, and Marion Briem's death.
This is also the first crime novel set in Iceland that I have read after moving here, and it is certainly interesting to read about Reykjavík and know the streets which are being mentioned, the shops, and the statues. It adds one more layer of verisimilitude.
The racial tension in the novel is presented with nuance and accuracy, I think, although I did find myself bristling at the regular use of the word "colored" to refer to Icelanders of non-white ethnicities, specifically Thai people. I have been asking around, but still am not totally sure if this is just a direct translation of a regularly used Icelandic term, or a bit of an anachronism in the English. I'm interested enough that I just might try and pick up the Icelandic version for comparison.
This is officially the longest and most advanced book I have read all the way through in Icelandic. I think this means I'm reading at about a 7th grad...moreThis is officially the longest and most advanced book I have read all the way through in Icelandic. I think this means I'm reading at about a 7th grade level...although certainly not without effort, and not fully fluently. But I have to write a good old fashioned book report (in Icelandic) on the book this week, and am confident that I understood the plot well enough to do so without too much trouble.
I spontaneously picked this book up from a shelf at the library dedicated to authors who took part in the recent Reykjavík International Literary Fest...moreI spontaneously picked this book up from a shelf at the library dedicated to authors who took part in the recent Reykjavík International Literary Festival. I'd never read anything by Douglas Coupland and loved the idea of Player One's compressed timeline, as well as the motley cast of characters. The book starts gorgeously—it almost reads like a one act play, with snappy dialog and full passages that you can't help but read out loud to the person next to you—but the momentum dissolves rather abruptly after the apocalypse actually takes place. The Player One conceit is a bit heavy handed and the worlds' end observations made by the various characters (or the narrator) cease to be all that unique.
Nevertheless, there is a wonderful fluidity to Coupland's writing, a run-on rhythm which is really fun to read. Moreover, most of the characters (with one or two exceptions) are authentically, creatively quirky, and feel like real, if slightly enlarged, personalities. And I also have to give Coupland credit for writing a novel set in the present which features a number of pop culture and technology references without feeling immediately stale or dated.
And so, in deference to the early strength of the book and the aforementioned run-on rhythms, I'll quote an early passage which is part of the introduction to the character Karen, a recently divorced woman traveling to Toronto to meet with the man she hopes will become her lover:
There's a teenage boy across the aisle in the row ahead of Karen who has glanced her way a few times on this flight. Karen is flattered to think she might be considered hot—albeit a "hot mom"—but then she also knows that this horny kid probably has some kind of sin-detecting hand-held gadget lurking in his shirt pocket, lying in wait for Karen to undo more buttons or pick her nose or perform any other silly act that was formerly considered private, a silly act that will ultimately appear on a gag-photo website alongside JPEGs of baseball team portraits in which one member is actively vomiting, or on a movie site where teenagers, utterly unaware of the notion of cause and effect, jump from suburban rooftops onto trampolines, whereupon they die.
I came upon Death of a Naturalist in a roundabout fashion, even for me. I wanted to find an example of slant rhyme, since my little sister had written...moreI came upon Death of a Naturalist in a roundabout fashion, even for me. I wanted to find an example of slant rhyme, since my little sister had written a poem using this, I thought, and I wanted to make sure I paid an accurate compliment. So I googled "slant rhyme" and came across a poetry site that used the poem "Digging," which opens this collection, as an example. There was an audio track of Heaney reading the poem and I was so taken with it that I went the next day to the university library and checked out the book, as well as another of Heaney's poetry collections and his translation of Beowulf.
I haven't read either of the other two Heaney books yet, but I've read this one twice now, and some of the poems in it four or five times at least. I think it might be fair to say that this is among the first poetry books, if not the very first, which I have well and truly loved.
I love the simple, quotidian subject matter—a creepy encounter with a rat ("An Advancement of Learning"), a child's love and later revulsion of frog spawn ("Death of a Naturalist"), potato digging, blackberry picking, the pathetic sadness of a turkey, once on the plate, a photograph of a long-dead relative. These simple topics are wonderful platforms for larger themes and explorations, of course, but they are also beautiful in and of themselves, and its lovely to read work so attentive to minutia.
I love the language—Heaney swings between sort of breath-takingly strange and unique descriptions and run-of-the-mill, commonly known quotations. In "Trout," we see "A volley of cold blood / ramrodding the current," and in "Docker," we hear "Mosaic imperatives bang home like rivets." I found myself stopping to try and picture images or hear sounds to go along with these phrasings, and not being a visual reader (at all), this was a very unique experience for me. But then in "Twice Shy," Heaney borrows the line "still waters run deep," which has been used to the point of banality by now, and in "The Play Way," he borrows from T.S. Elliot's "The Waste Land," for his line "Mixing memory and desire with chalk dust." There's a wonderful accessibility to interweaving these familiar phrases with his own unique voice.
I love that I want to listen to these poems read aloud. I have been searching, quite in vain, for a video or sound file of Heaney reading "Poor Women in a City Church," simply because I can't work out how the rhyme scheme is supposed to be read. And hearing Heaney read some of his other poems has brought them to life for me in a way that I haven't experienced before. I usually find line breaks and changing rhyme schemes to be a hindrance to my reading, but here, it very much seems worth the effort.
And maybe I'm loving this collection so much because now, living in Iceland, certain landscape imagery and descriptions really resonate with me. In "Synge on Aran," there's the line, "Islanders too / are for sculpting. Note / the pointed scowl, the mouth / carved as an upturned anchor / and the polished head / full of drownings." And pretty much the whole of "Storm on the Island," so I'm just going to copy it here:
We are prepared: we build our houses squat, Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate. The wizened earth had never troubled usWith hay, so as you can see, there are no stacks Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees Which might prove company when it blows full Blast: you know what I mean - leaves and branches Can raise a chorus in a galeSo that you can listen to the thing you fear Forgetting that it pummels your house too. But there are no trees, no natural shelter. You might think that the sea is company, Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits The very windows, spits like a tame cat Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo. We are bombarded by the empty air. Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.
From skimming reviews online, I'm persuaded to believe that Faro's Daughter (with its blatant shades of Pride & Prejudice) is not among Heyer fans...moreFrom skimming reviews online, I'm persuaded to believe that Faro's Daughter (with its blatant shades of Pride & Prejudice) is not among Heyer fans' most favorite novels, but for my part, I have to say that it was quite a delight to read. It's the story of feisty Deb Grantham, a young woman who presides over card and game tables in her aunt's gaming house, and finds herself squaring off against the cold and calculating Max Ravenscar, a wealthy man who endeavors to bribe her into *not* marrying his young cousin (who she had no interest in marrying anyway). What follows is a series of increasingly convoluted, increasingly silly hijinks and wit-battles, ranging from high stakes card games to horse races to kidnapping. A few of the side characters are a bit two-dimensional and harp on the same jokes a little too often, but they all comprise a colorful and enjoyable cast.
Heyer is great at getting a plot moving and keeping the action fun and bubbly and always promising of a happy ending. Here, the last two chapters alone have about three or four major plot reversals, many of which are based on accidental omissions of very pertinent information or small misunderstandings which explode into much larger and more serious ones. It's Jane Austen sketched as screwball comedy, and ever so much fun.
I'm finding also that one Heyer book always seems to beget another: no sooner did I finish Faro's Daughter (which I read in one day), than I headed back to the library to pick up another of Heyer's books. Luckily, there's about 50 of them, so I have plenty more to work my way through. (less)