30 December 2002

Reads & Listens, December 2002


Firebird by Kathy Tyers
Apparently, the edition I read is a rewrite of the original novel from the 80s. I have a feeling I would have preferred the original which is purported to be less spiritual and romantic. Mostly, I found this to be a frustrating novel. Specific cultural issues kept coming up again and again until I wanted to scream while other very interesting issues were only hinted at. Character development wasn't what it could been, either. I understand this was her first novel, but it's also a rewrite and, generally, when you do a rewrite you improve on the original.

Fusion Bird by Kathy Tyers
Yes, after all that bitching, I went and read the sequel to Fire Bird . Why? Why? Why? I am not reading Crown of Fire.

30 November 2002

Reads & Listens, November 2002


I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother by Allison Pearson
Really amusing novel about the impossible balance between work and home. Probably, one of the funniest and truest novels I've read lately -- I stayed up until 4 am reading it and then wanted to read it all over again. Kate Reddy is my long lost sister. Her actions and opinions are eerily familiar. Scarily, I can see myself become a mother just like her. Perhaps a good gift for The Husband ... or not.

In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner
Delicious. Funny. Poignant. Devoured it in five hours flat and then spent the day in a happy glow. And to think I almost didn't read this book because the reviews made it sound too cute. Silly woman.

Lucky in the Corner by Carol Anshaw
A pretty pedestrian mother-daughter relationship novel. Oh yes, Mom is an adulterous lesbian and Uncle Harold likes to crossdress, but really that doesn't do much to make me like the book anymore. I can almost see Oprah recommending this book to teens or Hallmark sponsoring a movie version of it.

Code of Conduct by Kristine Smith
I am loathe to describe this as a hard boiled detective novel with sci-fi overtones, because that wouldn't do this book justice. Yes, there's a crime or two or three to be solved, and a lot of the story involves real practical sleuthing rather than technological magic. Generally, I think I'm biased toward this kind of novel. It has the type of hard edged female protagonist that I prefer in my science fiction and the alien idomeni culture is both original and interesting (these aren't humans in funny makeup). Also, the rather unusual focus on documentation (a subject dear to my little librarian heart) did a good job at keeping me sucked in. The only thing I wasn't really happy with was the cover art. This whole giant gun thing is not the point.

Rules of Conflict by Kristine Smith
Stayed up 'til 3 am reading this book and immediately wanted to start the next one, but didn't actually have it on hand so I had to go to bed. Very unhappy, because the library that has a copy won't lend it as it is "too new" so I may go to localoverpricedcorporatechain and buy a copy. Yes, I am enjoying this series that much. It's that good. Go read it. Go. Now. Read. Just ignore the cover art.

Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson
Laughed so hard I snorted.

30 October 2002

Reads & Listens, October 2002


Blessings by Anna Quindlen
Sweet with no surprises, but still worth an afternoon's time.

Dreamscaping: 25 Easy Designs for Home & Garden by Ruth Rogers Clausen
Gorgeous coffee table book for the weekend gardener. Garden designs offer no actual dimensions. I could figure by reckoning out how much space each plant needs and multiplying, but that's more work than I want to do for an "easy design."

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
I had to keep reminding myself that this was a YA novel and, therefore, required additional suspension of disbelief. Otherwise, I kept getting annoyed with it. It's a good book, but the author's treatment of certain plot points seemed too simplistic.

Sorcery Rising: Book One of Fool's Gold by Jude Fisher
This reads like the third draft of what could be a very good book. That said, it's still worth borrowing your library's copy.

Foreigner: A Novel of First Contact by C.J. Cherryh
Cherryh's Downbelow Station was my first real introduction to scifi and I prefer her style to that of other (mostly male) scifi authors. Therefore, as anything I write about her works will be heavily biased, I'll try to say as little as possible. Foreigner is a nice blend of science fiction and spy thriller. It could be summarized as "it is both wrong-headed and dangerous to assign your own thoughts or emotions to others," but that would be too simplistic.

Biting the Dust: The Joys of Housework by Margaret Horsfield
A book on the social history of cleaning doesn't sound like it should be amusing, does it? But it is, and highly informative to boot. I now have great respect for Florence Nightengale and her ilk -- women who I had previously dismissed as products of Victorian propaganda and the myth of the Good Woman.

Biblioholism: The Literary Addiction by Tom Raabe
Very clever and humorous look at biblioholism (also bibliomania and bibliophilia). Truly funny in places, but also a little maddening as this it not in anyway a serious look at the love of books. Annoyingly, the author seems to equate biblioholism with ownership and never mentions libraries at all. Which means, of course, that I'm not an addict. Whew.

Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale by Catherine Orenstein
This is an excellent book for those who want to know the real dirt behind the cutesy Disney-fied fairy tales we grew up with. The Brian Lehrer Show interviewed Orenstein on 23 August 2002. Listen to "My, Grandma, What Big Metaphors You Have!" here.

Playing the Jack by Mary Brown
Well-crafted historical romance with gobs of humor, unrequited love, and high adventure.

30 September 2002

Reads & Listens, September 2002


The Rules for Marriage by Ellen Fein & Sherrie Schneider
Agree with whatever he says, do what ever he wants, and feel free to speak your own mind (as long as it agrees with his). Fuck that shit.

The Rules II by Ellen Fein & Sherrie Schneider
As a woman, your whole life is dedicated to getting and keeping a man. You are incomplete without a man. You must have a man. To get one, you must entrap him by following the Rules.

The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake
Raw, gritty, and much too good to put down. Read it all in one marathon session and then re-read the sections I twitched through.

Water: Book Two (Reunion) by Kara Dalkey
Nice play on the whole Lady of the Lake/Merlin & Nimue mythos.

Thrush Green by Miss Read
All Creatures Great & Small without the veterinary practice. Are Ella and Dimity the most horrible stereotype of a lesbian couple or what? Not as if most of the characters aren't stereotypes, anyway, but I find Ella and Dimity's to be particularly annoying. I know these are supposed to be "charming," "simple," and "gentle" reads, but I think I'll stick to James Herriot.

The V Book: A Doctor's Guide to Vulvovaginal Health by Elizabeth Stewart & Paula Spencer
Every woman should own a copy of this book. Every heterosexual man, too.

Mmm ... Christmas presents ...

Water: Book Three (Transformation) by Kara Dalkey
Too much happened in too little book. I'm reading along and stuff's happening happening happening and then *bang* here's the end and there's Merlin with King Arthur and I feel like I have whiplash it all happened so fast.

Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Less magical than The Mistress of the Spices, but still quite a fairy tale.

The Faded Sun: Kesrith & The Faded Sun: Shon'jir by C.J. Cherryh
Hard going in some places, but that's more due to Cherryh's style than to the content of the books. Her aliens are, after all, alien and so understanding some points requires close reading. Also, as there is very little that is light or humorous about these books, it can all get a bit depressing. On the other hand, considering the topics, how could there be anything light or humorous? Still, quite interesting and well worth the extra effort. If you want light science fiction, go read Anne McCaffrey.

30 July 2002

Reads & Listens, July 2002


Raising the Stones by Sheri S. Tepper
Stones shares the same universe as Sideshow and Grass without actually impinging on either of those novels (or they on it). Obviously, it can be treated as a stand alone novel, but linking it in with Tepper's other works brings a different spin to it. I've read this book three times. First, as the very first Tepper I'd ever read. Secondly, in conjunction with Sideshow. And now, having read all the rest, I come back to Stones.

The very last thing we want is a god that works -- what happens when we get one? Is it a convenience, a kindness?

Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman
In the same vein as The Midwife's Apprentice, this is a coming-of-age story about a bonesetter's assistant. Matilda has largely been raised by her priest so she knows a lot about suffering and saints, but nothing about love, laughter, and friendship. All this changes when she moves to Blood and Bone Alley, blahdy, blahdy, blah. All they all lived happily ever after.

I Thee Wed by Amanda Quick
Take a slightly "eccentric" paid companion, a wealthy member of the Ton, the search for a stolen "magical" recipe, add some really bizarre quasi-Eastern mysticism/martial arts, and the result is this ... drivel. For the last time, who (besides Clark Kent) honestly believes that wearing glasses makes you look completely different?? The plot is silly (think Eric Van Lustbader attempts romance) and the character development is ... well ... what character development?

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman
California Morning Whipple hates her name, hates the state, and wants to go back East. Much of the book consists of her complaining about California and plotting to get back East. Same characters and similar plot development to other Cushman novels.

A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity by Whitney Otto
Interconnected stories about a collection of beautiful and intelligent young women in 1980s San Francisco. They're all over-educated, under-employed, and looking for something more to life, although unsure of what "more" is. Each story (or chapter) is prefaced with a Japanese print and analysis -- sometimes, I wasn't sure where the analysis ended and the story began. I found the characters to be weirdly compelling and, although this book is set in the 80s, their problems are quite familiar.

Cats, Cats, Cats! by Lesléa Newman and illustrated by Erika Oller
Charming children's picture book about Mrs. Brown, her sixty cats, and why they sleep all day. Oller's watercolor illustrations fit the text purrfectly. (Interestingly, Newman is also the author of Heather Has Two Mommies).

Affinity by Sarah Waters
A wonderfully atmospheric novel with a truly clever, not just "I see dead people" clever, ending. Historically sound plot with well developed characters. Painfully realistic and completely addictive. Am I incoherent? Yes? Well, it was that good.

Fair Warning by Robert Olen Butler
Ostensibly, this is the story of a thoroughly modern woman who finds the man of her dreams. Unfortunately, the characters are unglossed stereotypes and the plot developments aren't particularly interesting (Did her parents hate each other? Will Missy get divorced? Which man will Amy pursue? Do I care?). This is a romance novel for the emotionally stunted, perhaps. On the other hand, I could describe this book as a good summer read for those days when you want to read something, but haven't the patience for depth -- it is short, light, and uncomplicated.

Toot & Puddle: You Are My Sunshine by Holly Hobbie
I grew up on Holly Hobbie's girl-with-the-enormous-bonnet collection, so discovering the Toot and Puddle series was quite a nice surprise. The illustrations are excellent and the stories are really quite cute without being stupid. This isn't Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, too. Sunshine is nice change from the rabidly happy children's books I usually shelve. Golly gee, it's okay to be unhappy for no good reason!

Tipping the Velvet
by Sarah Waters

Yummy! Borrow the first, buy the second.

The Ring of Five Dragons by Eric Van Lustbader
First volume in The Pearl series. Vast, sprawling, unintelligible, unoriginal, and often boring. As if someone kludged Dune and The Wheel of Time together. Space opera at its worst.

Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown
First book in the Sneaky Pie series. Cute, but not particularly engaging. The scenes with the pets are amusing, but the human characters are about as interesting as cardboard cutouts.

Dive from Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer
Okay, but not nearly as compelling or provocative as I had expected from everything I've heard. (At one point, I found myself desperately wishing Carrie would fall in love with the lesbian poet, because maybe then I'd give a damn).

Mr. Maybe by Jane Green
Unfortunately, what with the success of Bridget Jones's Diary and all, it has become trendy to publish disastrous books about English girls who have "fun" careers and a nice ("zany") circle of friends, but desperately think they need a man. The ending of this novel is quite predictable -- if you haven't guessed it by the end of the first page, what the hell is wrong with you? Basically, it's a sweet and not-too-cutesy romance. I had to squash most of my feministic sensibilities in order to enjoy it properly. What is this obsession with The One, The Big Day, The Ring??? Maybe it's because I was never a girlie girl, but I don't get it at all.

30 June 2002

Reads & Listens, June 2002


Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg
Highly seductive and bittersweet coming-of-age novel. I am a little worried by my own indifference to the age difference and power imbalance between the characters -- if Anne were a male TA or professor, I know I would have been repulsed by the whole affair. Instead, all I could think of was the achingly long hours I used to spend in lectures with women I really, really, wanted to make love with. A good read for a lazy summer afternoon.

Upstairs, Downstairs by John Hawkesworth
This is a novel based on the television series so mostly just a cludged together version of the scripts. Therefore, it is even less a real book than some of the romances I've read lately. It might even have negative literary value. Regardless, it was light, amusing, and a good advertisement for the series.

Sarah & Rebekah by Orson Scott Card
These are the first and second books in a trilogy about women of Genesis. While these books spend a fair amount of time fleshing out these women's childhoods and early married years, as soon as we enter into the known scripture stories everything becomes very rushed and choppy. It's as if Card is saying "oh, you know this part all ready so I'll give you the Cliff Notes version." Also, these books follow the Mormon interpretation of scripture and so some events (and characters) seem a little distorted to me.

Poetry Speaks narrated by Charles Osgood
Mmmm ... wonderful book. Great poems and essays as well as amazing recordings on the poets reading their own works. Now I know how "anyone lived in a pretty how town" should be read. However, I wish the editors had decided to clean up some of the early recordings as they were nearly unintelligible without the read-along text. Is that Tennyson or static I hear?

Falling to Earth by Elizabeth Brownrigg
Falling is a wonderful little novel -- a weirdly delightful blend of mysticism and realism. This book is marketed as a lesbian novel, but I think many readers might be disappointed because the books does not focus on Alice's lesbianism. On the other hand, why should the book focus on her lesbianism if it's not important? The book was, for me, about trying to let go of the safe predictable life to rediscover one's creative self.

Freeze My Margarita & Strawberry Tattoo by Lauren Henderson
"Miss Marple crossed with weedkiller." Sexy and wicked.

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
Fast paced and generally well written YA. Mel and her brother Bran make a promise to their dying father that they will free Remalna from the oppression of King Galdran's rule and uphold the Covenant. Unfortunately, their rag-tag army is more of a nuisance than an actual threat. Mel is repeatedly taken hostage again and again by Shevraeth whom she detests, but ... do I sense an attempt at romantic tension?

Court Duel by Sherwood Smith
The romantic tension in Crown Duel comes to a head in this book. Unfortunately, so much of it reads like a watered down romance novel. The whole secret admirer scenario was so obvious, I wanted to smack Mel with a clue stick.

30 May 2002

Reads & Listens, May 2002


The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
Highly entertaining memoir in which Bechdel describes her progression as a cartoonist and includes lots of early drawings of men (oddly enough). The bulk of the book is made up of strips from her calendars, for other magazines, or special occasions, and autobiographical work like her highly amusing coming out story.

The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
Very clever juvenile novel about a young girl, Corinna, who disguises herself as a boy and works as a Keeper of the Folk. The Folk are what we might think of as boggles or imps, but much stranger and more inhuman -- more something that stepped out of a nightmare than characters out of the Blue Fairy Book. The Keeper must keep the Folk fed and placated lest they make mischief. At fifteen "Corin" is hired by the Lord of Cliffsend to be the Keeper of his estate. At Cliffsend she encounters mystery after mystery ... An extremely well imagined story with several neat twists and turns along the way.

Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds by Judy Grahn
Mine is the "updated and expanded edition," but it doesn't seem much different from the edition I read obsessively in college. This book is an extremely educational combination of gay cultural history, folklore, and memoir. Damn fine poetry, as well.

The Crazy Makers: How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Brains & Harming Our Children by Carol Simontacchi
"Nutritionist Carol Simontacchi takes a hard, shattering look at how the pseudofood being promoted today ... can, in fact, physically erode our brains." It's an interesting and, perhaps, valid premise (bad food is bad for your brain), but the book is badly written and doesn't contain the amount of clinical research I expect. Instead, it reads too much like another hysterical diet of the month book. It's also quite shamelessly (and erroneously) linked with Rachel Carlson's Silent Spring.

Consumed: Why Americans Love, Hate, & Fear Food by Michelle Stacey
Well written social history of America's love/hate relationship with food and the pseudoscience behind these obsessions. Supports what I've suspected for a while -- for many people, food isn't merely food, but either a clever enemy or a wonder drug. Me? I am an apologetic Food Hedonist. I like my pirogi fried up in some nice butter with lots of onion until everything is a golden brown. And I eat it with gobs of real cow full fat sour cream. Then I feel guilty and don't eat any for another 3 months ...

A Thing of Beauty by Casey Claybourne
Amusing romance novel about a socially inept bluestocking, her magic "beauty cream" (boot polish), and the rake who loves her. Makes decent use of British history.

Naked by David Sedaris
Neither as funny nor interesting as Me Talk Pretty One Day, this is similar bitter collection of adventures and mishaps. I expect the audiobook version would be much more entertaining.

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
Quite disappointingly, I couldn't seem to get into this novel at all. The characters? A lot of annoying prats and wankers. The plot? Another story about middle age angst and the search for fulfillment. In the end, it was just so much blah, blah, blah ... A great pity, as I loved High Fidelity and About a Boy -- they were witty, sharp, and had characters I cared about.

Black Rubber Dress: A Sam Jones Novel by Lauren Henderson
Sam Jones is much more kickass than Stephanie Plum will ever be and thank god for that! The world only needs so many whinging Jersey girls. Sam is sexy, cynical, and really quite brilliant. Am I smitten? Oh, yes. This particular novel (I'm not certain it's the first in the series) is a neat little mystery about the dirty world of the Sloans -- blackmail, drugs, murder, and champagne.

Juniper by Monica Furlong
This is billed as a prequel to Wise Child (which I haven't read). Happily, this book stands well on it's own. Juniper is the only child of the King of Cornwall. Her privileged life ends when she is called to study under he godmother Euny. Euny is a doran (a wise woman) who disdains creature comforts like filling meals and soft beds. After Juniper has learned all she can, she returns to Cornwall to fight her wicked aunt. A good read although the end did seem ... rushed? pat? not clever enough for the rest of the book?

The Wayfarer Redemption: Book One by Sara Douglass
My library catalog has this cataloged as Battleaxe and I've also seen it referred to as Book One of the Axis Trilogy. I think the problem is that this series (whatever it's called) has been repackaged for the U.S. market and, somewhere along the line, names were changed and books were condensed together -- six into three, or something like that. Anyway, it's a very good book and I look forward to reading the other two (or five). Unfortunately, the cover art, while very good, bears little connection to the content of the book.

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins
The newest collection by the US Poet Laureate -- this is actually a collection of previously published poems plus twenty new poems. Very good, but I still want to listen to The Best Cigarette.

Dress Codes of Three Girlhoods -- My Mother's, My Father's, and Mine by Noelle Howey
"Memoir of three journeys into womenhood as experienced by a transgendered father, a tomboy mother, and their daughter". Really good. Makes me realize my childhood experiences were normal -- or, at least, others have had similar experiences. Go read it.

Darkling I Listen by Katherine Sutcliffe
All right, so I knew straight away that the nurse was Anticipating. Disappointing? Yes, because it was just too fucking obvious, but I hoped the how and why would make up for that. Did it? No, she was just the son of an abusive conservative Christian cult family who grew up to be a transgendered psychopath. How original is that? It reads like an over-the-top Jeffrey Deaver novel that tried too push itself too far. I'm also quite bothered by the whole linkage of psychological instability with transsexuality. Oh, yeah, freaks and murderers. Brilliant.

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quinlan
Very amusing and insightful book about the joys of reading. I wish this book had been around when I was twelve and feeling life a freak of nature :)

Farm Fatale by Wendy Holden
Surprisingly flat. Such a pity, because I loved Holden's previous novels, but this one lacks the wit and charm of its predecessors. It's cute, but not clever. The ending? Ick. How perfectly Disney. The characters? Two dimensional, at best. Still, a good library book for the train or waiting room.

The Birthday of the World by Ursula K. Le Guin
"Short" story collection set in the Hainish Universe. Many of the stories reminded me of stories by other authors. Particularly, "The Matter of Segri" (ah, the power of naming things!) which reminded me of an anthropologist's look at The Gate to Women's Country. However, what Le Guin has written is distinctive enough from the other stories, that I did not find myself doing a compare and contrast exercise in my head.

Song for the Basilisk The Tower at Stony Wood Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip
I love Patricia McKillip. Ever since The Riddlemaster of Hed, I have been completely enamored by her storytelling abilities -- the lushness and rhythm of her language is positively addictive. Already, I want to read these books again.

29 April 2002

In Praise of The Old Kingdom

I just skimmed a few of the sample chapters for Abhorsen at Nix's site and I am just beside myself with the need to read this book. Alas, it won't be published until 2003 -- by which point I am certain I shall have memorized Sabriel and Lirael. I love these books ever so much more than I ever loved Harry Potter. The Harry Potter books are good reads, but nothing to keep me up reading into the wee hours of the morning. I never wanted to fake sick so I could stay home and read Harry Potter. When I borrowed Sabriel from the library, I kept "forgetting" to return her, until I finally promised myself a copy of my own.

I rank Sabriel and Lirael right up there with McKinley's Deerskin and Shinn's Samaria books as far as "Books I Would Never Let Anyone Borrow, But Would Tell Everyone to Read" Interestingly, most of Nix's favorite authors are my favorite authors, too ... and he does say:
Robin McKinley's work, I realized upon a recent re-reading, has had a major effect on my own writing. My Sabriel owes much to her heroines Aerin and Angharad (Harry) Crewe, who appear respectively in The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. These two books are among the best works of 'high fantasy' around and McKinley's other books are also a must-read.

On a slightly different note, the last few days have been pretty shitty. Literally and figuratively. How do I remain my usual cheerful self? Well, my dears, I eat a lot of ketchup1 and think about the "little brown druid" from Billy Collins "The Country:"
... the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time

now a fire-starter, now a torch-bearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,
lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, one-time inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?
Heard Collins read it on the April 20 Prairie Home Companion.

1Everyone knows ketchup has natural mellowing agents. And it's chock full of endorphins. That's why they call it "nature's anti-depressant".

23 April 2002

My Favorite Novels (Right Now, This Minute)

Favorite novels are books which I:
  1. Like so much I own 
  2. Have read more than three times 
  3. Tell other people to read, but will never allow anyone to take from my home
*Warning: purple prose ahead*

Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
The first time I read this book, I was also reading Charlotte Gilman Perkin's The Yellow Wallpaper. At the time, both stories seemed similar -- two women being devoured by an essentially male society. I read the novel very seriously and managed to miss much of the humor. How? I don't know. The characters are almost caricatures, saying and doing things that no one in their right minds would ever do in real life. Well, very few of us.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 
The first "real" book I ever read. Besides being a classic gothic romance in which the good girl gets her man and the bad boy turns out not to be so bad, after all, this is a great look a social order and class structure.

Deerskin by Robin McKinley
Based on the "fairytale" Donkeyskin, this is a story of incest and recovery; discovery of self and rebirth. Despite Mckinley's brilliant use of language, this is not an easy book to read. Indeed, much of it is extraordinarily painful. I have read this book nine times since I bought it in 1994 and the book is different each time.

Sabriel by Garth Nix
The first time I picked up this book it was because of the cover art. A sensibly dressed girl with a sword and a lot of bells? What could the bells be for? I started reading it and, after the first three pages, knew it had to come home with me. A truly delicious book! Nix just sets the reader down in the middle of Sabriel's world and leaves it up to the reader to figure out what's going on and why. I prefer this over the authors who see fit to cram the entire history of a world into the prologue or into stilted conversations between characters.

The Samaria Trilogy: Archangel, Jovah's Angel, The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn
I flirted with Archangel for quite a while before I actually sat down and read it. It looked too much like a romance novel masquerading as science fiction. I couldn't decide from the first few pages I skimmed at the shop, whether this was a serious re-write of religion or if the novel was going to be like one of those in which everything is set in a world that looks exactly like modern Earth, but all the names have been changed and the technology is slightly different. Really, why bother?

I was delightfully wrong. Archangel is the most romantic of the three, I think, but also the most intense. They are still good reads, however, as the sequels to this book delve deeper into the nature of the Jovah and the existence of angels. I'm becoming a great fan of Shinn -- she does interesting things with religion. In many ways, her books remind me of a younger, lighter, less political Sheri S. Tepper.

03 April 2002

Poetry Flashback

While I was at The Happy Carrot yesterday, splurging on brand spanking new copies of Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader and Jamaica Kincaid's My Garden (Book), I spotted a copy of Louis Glück's The Wild Iris. I remember when I first read Glück's poetry in "Vermont Writers." Her poetry -- so exquisitely brutal and lyric -- obsessed me. I read and re-read that one slender volume near a dozen times and then, exhausted, gave her up. My relationship with those poems was too intimate, too painful, too reality warping to continue. Everywhere I looked, I saw echoes of Glück's poetry. It was a very tiring relationship -- rather like having a crush on an unsuitable person. "What a nothing you were, / To be changed so quickly / Into an image, an odor- / You are everywhere, source / Of wisdom and anguish." (Vespers: Parousia)

It wasn't by accident that I happened upon The Wild Iris yesterday. April is National Poetry Month, after all, and I was hoping to re-introduce myself to that particular pleasure. I was quite torn between buying either a new virginal copy of The Wild Iris or the Kincaid book. My copy of The Wild Iris is full or marginalia. I wanted to start fresh this time. To be unfettered by my old obsessions. Eventually, I recognized that this is impossible. Just as it is impossible to think on old crushes without twitching even though the emotional & hormonal whizzies aren't there, anymore.

Reading Jamaica Kincaid is like reading poetry, as well. I've always thought her books should be read slowly, savoringly, aloud. Her books are beautiful even in their ugliness. Certainly, there are images in Lucy I want to eat with a spoon while, at the same time, cringing with ... shame? horror? guilt?

So this month's mission is to work more poetry into my "regular" book diet. Haven't actually started re-reading The Wild Iris (too painful), but I have Glück's Triumph of Achilles, Descending Figure, and The Seven Ages queued up with Seamus Heaney's Opened Ground and Whitman's Leaves of Grass (which is right up there with The Wild Iris for painful infatuations). I've never read any Heaney, but his poetry was recommended to me by one of my favorite librarians -- a woman of great sensibility and integrity who always seems to have good books on hand. When I grow up, I'm going to be just like her.

30 March 2002

Reads & Listens, March 2002


Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie
Witty, funny, sexy romance.

The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
I was happily reading along and quite enjoying this book when I encountered the "so-called 'gay syndrome'" -- while I did enjoy the rest of the book, this brief passage left me bewildered and shaken.

The Fresco by Sheri S. Tepper
Aliens come to Earth to invite us to join the Confederation if we can clean up our act. Amusing and full of interesting view points. Alien/human love affair was too much of a cliche, but that's just me.

Ring of Earth: A Child's Book of Seasons by Jane Yolen (illus. by John Wallner)
Beautifully written and illustrated children's poetry book that explains the cycle of seasons.

The Architecture of Desire by Mary Gentle
Alternate 17th-century England with magic and much wickedness afoot.

The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian
Comfortable middle class white couple take in a black foster child after their daughters drown. The story of the boy and the elderly neighbors was much more compelling than that of the couple (which just seemed kind-of tired and dragged out).

The Countess by Claire Delacroix
Fluffy romance about a widow who, driven from her dead husband's estate, finds her new home not only in ruins, but already occupied by a man.

The Temptress by Claire Delacroix
Man needs to marry to secure the safety of his home. Girly refuses to marry a man who does not love her and thinks to "own" her. She leads him on a merry chases, they fall in love, the end (more or less).

The Victory Garden Kids' Book by Patricia Lanza
Everything you need to know about gardening without getting in over your head.

Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza
Gardening without breaking your back.

Princess in the Spotlight by Meg Cabot
Mia's mom gets pregnant. Mia gets interviewed and embarrasses herself. The obsession with Michael continues.

The 20-Minute Gardener by Marty Asher & Tom Christopher
Garden smarter, not harder.

Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie
Her first book -- a Harlequin-type throwaway -- and not as good as her later novels.

Second Act: Life After Colostomy & Other Adventures by Barbara Barrie
Irreverant and encouraging book. It's a very intimate, honest, and funny look at her experience with colon cancer and colostomy surgery. Some of it's absolutely toe-curlingly terrifying -- the herniated stoma that looked like "a pink penis coming out of a donut," frankly, just make me want to vomit. But Barrie treats it all with a fine dose of humor and spirit -- extremely admirable and practical behavior I shall try to keep in mind the next time I'm shooting peas at the bathroom mirror.

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus
Oh, sweet god, given me back those two hours of my life.

Survival Rates: Stories by Mary Clyde
Nine surprisingly comical stories about people in crisis.

Twilight of the Tenderfoot: A Western Memoir by Diane Ackerman
Lyrical look at life on the ranch.

28 February 2002

Reads & Listens, February 2002


Emma by Jane Austen
If it were not for The Best Friend's love of Austen and her introducing me to BBC productions of Austen, I would probably never have re-read this book. You know what? It's a surprisingly contemporary and humorous little novel. Way better than I remember from high school.

Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics by Starhawk
I felt rather obligated to read something by Starhawk after being told (rather hotly) that she was one of the most brilliant women ever born. Unfortunately, this book seemed dry and dated. I mean, I'm usually all for Witchcraft, environmentalism, and gender awareness, but this book left me wondering what was the big deal.

The Professor & the Madman by Simon Winchester
Another book I read based upon the opinions of others. Interesting story, certainly, but not a ripper.

The Cyberthief & the Samurai by Jeff Goodell
So very, very bad.

Amanda's Wedding by Jenny Colgan
Amanda is getting married and her friends vow to make sure the wedding will never take place. It sounds horrible, doesn't it? Actually, quite fluffy and rather fun.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
So much better than the movie.

London Holiday by Richard Peck
Three middle-aged friends holiday together in London. A delightful story to give your spirits a little boost on a rainy day.

Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden by Diane Ackerman
Garden erotica for those of us who are appreciate the idea of gardening, but would rather read about them than dig one.

Talking to Addison by Jenny Colgan
Wonderfully amusing little read (especially the geeky bits).

Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin
I had to keep reminding myself that this was a novel, not an anthropology book. Amazing collection of stories, songs, myths, and more of people who "will be might have been."

The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation by Karen Houppert
Amusing and horrifying, it makes you seriously consider what the whole feminine hygiene industry must think about its consumers. Also, makes you think about how fucked up we are as a society that we can talk about sex quite casually, but Auntie Flo's strictly for darkened rooms and lowered voices.

A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman
Like all her other books, both educational and entertaining. Would make a wonderful Valentine.

The Pooh Perplex by Frederick C. Crews
Utterly ridiculous literary criticism of Winnie the Pooh. Perfect fun for English Literature students.

Bountiful Women: Large Women's Secrets for Living the Life They Desire by Bonnie Bernell
Both a celebration of voluptuousness and a practical guide for living as a woman of size (like how to ask for a seat belt extender without feeling ashamed).

The Bride of the Wind: The Life of Alma Mahler by Susanne Keegan
"And that is the story of Alma, / Who knew how to receive and to give. / The body that reached her embalma' / Was one that had known how to live." Now, there's a woman I'd love to have to dinner.

Under the Radar: How Red Hat Changed the Software Business & Took Microsoft by Surprise by Robert Young
A boring and badly written piece of propaganda. Ugh. I mean, I love the penguinistas, but dear god.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
I picked this up largely based upon my enjoyment of the "SantaLand Diaries" and was not disappointed. Caustically hilarious.

30 January 2002

Reads & Listens, January 2002

The Moon By Whale Light by Diane Ackerman
I love Ackerman -- she blends poetry and science into something so compelling I can't help but fall head first into her books. And the penguins! Can't go wrong with penguins!

Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds
So, you're married to a code monkey who's all penguinified. For your own protection, you want to learn about the cult he's joined, but you don't want end up trolling on slashdot. This is the book for you.

Journeys to Self-Acceptance: Fat Women Speak by Carol Wiley
Collection of uplifting essays discussing the myths and stereotypes about women and fatness. I recommend skimming it whenever you come down with The Horribles.

The Invisible Woman: Confronting Weight Prejudice in America by Charisse Goodman
This book makes me want to stand up and start slapping people around. I can "accept" myself, but without a major social shift acceptance doesn't mean a thing.

Fat!So? Because You Don't have to Apologize for Your Size by Marilyn Wann
Thin does not equal healthy. Eat nutritious foods, get some exercise, and stop fucking worrying about your knee dimples.

My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki
Kept forgetting this was a novel and not an autobiography. Well written, thoughtful, and weirdly humorous.

One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women's Suffrage Movement by Jill Liddington & Jill Norris
This book uses much unpublished material and interviews to paint a vivid picture of the suffrage movement in the Great Britain.

Can't Buy Me Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Feel by Jean Kilbourne
Marketing influences how we feel! Industry doesn't care about you! Industry just wants to manipulate you into consuming! Simply shocking, dahling.

Myrtle of Willendorf by Rebecca O'Connell
On the onset, this book seems to employ a lot of stereotypes. Not only is Myrtle fat, she's also depressing, sloppy, and constantly eating. How flattering is that? Not very, but then Myrtle isn't very happy with herself, either. It's only in the end, when she paints her "masterpiece" does she become beautiful -- not by morphing into a someone else, but by accepting herself. This is a delicious book. The descriptions of the characters, the setting, and the food make me want to read it again and again. The only thing that would have made it perfect where if I could see her masterpiece.

Dying for Chocolate by Diane Mott Davidson
Cute. A murder mystery and recipes all in one slim volume.

Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah
While I found this book profoundly moving, Adeline's perfect goodness got to be a bit much.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey
Veddy interesting, but not sure it stands out from other Tolkien biographies I've read.

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner
People who are afraid, consume.

The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan
Beautiful illustrations, lovely text, and some truly yummy recipes. Foodie erotica.

Catering to Nobody by Diane Mott Davidson
First book in the Goldy Bear series (I started out of order). A lot of fun to read, but not very filling.

Wake Up, I'm Fat! by Camryn Manheim
Funny hah-hah and funny ouch. Who wouldn't want Manheim as an older sister or friend? Nice legs, too.

The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World by Lawrence Lessig
Sometimes, I read books to increase my cred with other people. Generally speaking, this never turns out to be a good idea. I like Lawrence Lessig and I enjoy listening to what he has to say, but (about half way through this book) I became lost and couldn't make heads or tails out of what I was reading.

The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint
Finally, Jilly's story. Unfortunately, I've been waiting so long to have it told and read so much de Lint in the process, that I don't care. All his books are too much a like and, while familiarity can be comforting, it can also breed contempt.

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin
Yummy. I always wondered what would happen with Tenar and Tehanu and hoped there would be another book some day. The Earthsea books, along with Cooper's Dark is Rising series, and Pierce's Darkangel trilogy were the defining reads of my adolescence.

01 January 2002

Just Another Awkward Girl With Too Many Books

As with most biblioholics, my addiction began at a very young age. I was one of those awkward girls who preferred books to people and couldn't see the point in crushes or boy band worship. Anne Shirley was much more relevant to my life than the New Kids on the Block. This would have made me a social pariah, I think, except that I learned to at least try to hide my ignorance and nod knowingly when my friends talked about hotboybandofthemonth. I probably did a bad job of it, but they didn't take the piss out of me too much and I managed to muddle through child and young adult hood fairly unscathed.

My favorite books were mostly science fiction and fantasy -- C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time books, and Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series. Unlike most girls I knew, I never got into horses or unicorns, but I did like a few books about animals -- Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, and Richard Adams's Watership Down. I also liked (and still prefer) books about "non-girlie girls" like Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, and (later) Signy Mallory.

The first "real" (adult) book I remember reading was Jane Eyre in fourth grade. While the teacher was spouting off about "Fire Safety Week" I was sneak-reading the book I had tucked under my desktop. This was a small disobedience I would commit again and again. I felt I couldn't help myself -- books seemed a lot more relevant than school work. My parents and teachers were obviously confused about how to deal with me -- yes, I wasn't paying attention in class, but I was not paying attention in order to read books.

Why start with Jane Eyre? I had read a YA novel about a fat girl named Franny who spends her time hiding in her closet reading books and eating (It All Began With Jane Eyre: Or, the Secret Life of Franny Dillman by Sheila Greenwald). I identified rather strongly with Franny and thought I might love the book she loved. And I did. I've read my copy near a dozen times since then and can still quite safely call it one of my favorites.
"Is your book interesting?" I had already formed the intention of asking her to lend it to me some day.
"I like it," she answered, after a pause of a second or two, during which she examined me.
"What is it about?" I continued. I hardly know where I found the hardihood thus to open a conversation with a stranger; the step was contrary to my nature and habits: but I think her occupation touched a chord of sympathy somewhere; for I too liked reading, though of a frivolous and childish kind; I could not digest or comprehend the serious or substantial.
                             (Jane Eyre, Chapter V)