Happy National Cat Day!

In honor of National Cat Day we, Chaucer and Dante, have taken over our mommy’s blog – now we’ll get some love!
First, we stole her BlackBerry so there would be no distractions.
Then we worked on looking extra sad and lonely so we would be petted lots and lots.
And then we looked very, very cute.  Can we have some treats?  Please, mommy?
Chaucer even did his trick, can we have treats now????
Give us some treats or we’ll barf in your slippers….we mean it.
Mmmmm…yummy treats.  We love you!
Happy National Cat Day, everyone!
Bookclub · Clear Off Shelves Challenge · stuff I read

The Film Club

The Film Club by David Gilmour is the November edition of our little bookclub, picked by Kat (in case you’re wondering, we drew names for each month except October).  It did look intriguing, a memoir written by a film critic who made the decision to let his son (Jesse) drop out of high school so long as the two watched three movies a week together.  It reads very fast so I finished it off the other night.

I regret to say I am underwhelmed by The Film Club.  I was hoping there would be a little more film criticism/theory, in that Gilmour would include more real discussion about the films he watched with his son.  The book instead is a memoir of Gilmour’s attempt to keep his son engaged with the world by letting the kid do something he likes – watch movies – instead of what he has no interest in – go to school – with some film trivia mixed in.  As a memoir, I really don’t feel anything for David, Jesse, Maggie (Jesse’s mom), Tina (David’s wife), or any of Jesse’s spoiled girlfriends.  There is a detachment – I’m not sure if it’s the writing or just the subject matter.  I did find there was an alphabetical list in the back with all the movies the two watched over the years but it’s just a list, nothing more.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 7/10
random · reflection

Penny for your thoughts?

A dollar? Five dollars? $9.99?

Or not?

With the release of the nook I’ve been seeing tweets and posts complaining about the prices of ebooks being “too high”/”too high at one retailer as compared to another”. Prices needing to be “competitive” between retailers. And then there’s the price war between Walmart, Amazon, and Target for pre-orders on future bestsellers (don’t get me started).

What amazes me is how people keep wanting the prices to go down which is presumably what is meant by that term “competitive”. At what point does the price get low enough? Zero? Is that really where we’re heading?

What about the author who slaved for weeks, months, years over that book you complain about being priced “too high”? Does the author not deserve compensation? Particularly if writing is the author’s source of income – books, articles, essays, reviews, etc.?  There has to be some value applied to the creative output of a mind.  Why is $9.99 so high for 250 pages of writing but $7.50 is better?  A lot of people have to be paid out of that $7.50.  If “competition” is about driving down prices, the competition isn’t between the authors, it’s between retailers so the author’s slice of that little book pie just keeps on getting smaller as the price decreases.

What I find strange is that no one is demanding that the movie industry reign in the prices, that the studios and theatre chains “compete” with one another by lowering ticket prices, that the A-list “stars” work for less.  I don’t see anyone “voting with their feet” by going to a different movie theatre chain – particularly in my town where the prices are the same and the choices no better.  I went to two midnight movie premieres this summer and not once did I hear anyone complain that they were spending $12+ and having to wait in line for hours ahead of time to get seats.

I’m not quite sure what I’m driving at in this post.  I got off on this tanget because I was really tired of reading all these wonks who purport to understand the “business model” but who I’m pretty sure have never actually had to stand on a sales floor in their life.  I sell books, pretty much everyday, and I can tell you what sells to what type of customer and what does not, “business model” bedamned.  I’m also tired of consumers who think that the entire driving goal of the capitalist system is to see how much stuff they can acquire on the cheap; my part-Scottish great-grandmother called that “mean”.

There really isn’t much of a solution in this post.  Just something I had to get off my chest before it manifested somewhere else in much ruder language.

Bookclub · Clear Off Shelves Challenge · Readathon · stuff I read

The Other

The Other by Thomas Tryon was Kat’s choice for the bookclub’s October creepy/horror novel month (Jackie’s choice was Carrie, which I didn’t re-read having read it in about 8th grade and scared the pants off myself).  I linked to the current trade paperback edition because there isn’t a link for the edition I read – Kat got a ratty old mid-70s mass market edition and then passed it off to me (the binding glue was falling out in chunks and the pages were falling out).  That copy is pretty much unuseable now and will have to be consigned to the trash bin because I won’t foist it off on the library sale in that condition.
The Other is a hard book to describe, other than a psychological horror novel, without giving too much away.  The main action of the novel concerns a set of identical twins – Holland and Niles – who may or may not do some pretty despicable things.  As in evil things.  Creepy, chilly, horror-novel-type things.  They also have a Russian maternal grandmother (who claims to have the sixth sense – alluded to as “the Game”) and a mother suffering a major depressive episode over the mysterious death of their father.  The sections of the novel are narrated by a member of the community looking back on the past so there is a frame to the novel; handy since there’s a point at which you wonder exactly what is going on here.  As with any good horror novel, I expected flinching and chills – Tryon delivered in spades.
Bookclub met the evening that readathon ended so (conveniently enough) I finished reading The Other as one of my last finished books during the readathon.  After a discussion of certain endpoints of the novel open to interpretation (which I really can’t discuss here because that would sooooooo blow the plot of the novel and ruin the suspense) we settled in to watch Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of the novel, The Other.  Tryon adapted, produced and wrote the screenplay for the movie which starred Uta Hagen as the grandmother and Diana Muldaur as the mother with Chris and Martin Udvarnoky as Holland and Niles (watch for a young John Ritter as the son-in-law).  The adaptation of the book to the screen is quite good, dispensing with the framing story (would have been too clunky) and removing a number of townsfolk to make the family more insular out at their farmhouse.  Tryon kept all the major scenes from the novel and it really was enjoyable to see a story told from beginning to end without major alterations for the movie (although I still cringe at two scenes even now – serious “ick” factor but not because it’s gory).  A very good movie for a creepy time of year and one of the best book-to-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen.
The DVD treated us to several “previews”, too, including The Hills Have Eyes and both versions of The Omen (the re-make must have been releasing at the time the DVD for The Other was, too).
Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 6/9
Clear Off Shelves Challenge · Readathon · stuff I read

Hush, Hush

I signed up for the First Look Book Club’s first ever YA group because I thought it would be fun. I was reminded that I really don’t care for paranormal romance. Regardless of the target age group.

Suffice to say, I didn’t like Hush, Hush. I forced myself to finish the book during the readathon because it was lurking in my bookshelf and if I finished it I could dispose of the advance copy. Two major reasons why this book got on my nerves:
1) if a female teenager complains to a teacher that she is being sexually harassed by another (male) student, the teacher shouldn’t blow off her concerns because it’s the only time the other student participates in class; in addition, said teacher shouldn’t decide that the female student should tutor the male student…alone
2) I am very tired of YA books that have a “helpless” quiet, studious, intelligent central female character who must be “rescued” from her life-endangering plight by a “bad boy” male….who turns out to have insert-your-favorite-paranormal-trope-here; why can’t the teen in need be a male rescued by a self-confident female sans special powers?

When the big climax of the book rolled around, I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters.

So YA paranormal romance is not for me. If you liked Twilight and others in that same vein (Shiver, House of Night, etc) then you’ll like this one – angels/fallen angels/Nephilim instead of vampires and werewolves. If the thought of reading Twilight makes you gag…you’d best skip Hush, Hush.

PS: Nora, the protagonist, chows iron tablets like they were Flintstones vitamins. I’m an epidemiologist – I have never once ran across any chronic condition that called for the ingestion of iron tablets when one felt faint. If you want the heroine to have a condition requiring as needed medication when she starts feeling bad try diabetes. Otherwise that’s just poor research (put me right off The Sister).

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 5/8

Clear Off Shelves Challenge · Readathon · stuff I read


I picked up Roseanna last fall during a mystery book sale; I decided I needed to read a few mysteries and since I really fell in love with Stieg Larsson’s writing I went for at least one Swede. Roseanna is the first in the Martin Beck series; I’m not really familiar with the crime genre so I made sure I went for a “book 1” just in case.

The storyline seems “ripped from the headlines”: a young woman’s body found in a lake, no one knows who she is, can the police solve the crime, etc. There is a bit of a stylistic similarity with Larsson’s writing and Sjowall/Wahloo’s writing, making me wonder if it’s a Swedish thing, even though Roseanna was published in the early 1960s. It’s very matter-of-fact, no swirling images conjured by a flowing description just a simple statement of fact. This is what Beck thinks. This is what Beck does, eats, travels on, says. Just the facts, making the recounting of the murder and search for the killer all that more chilling because there’s no padding between the reader and the investigation.

If I hadn’t known the book was written and published in the 1960s I might not have guessed because the crime and investigation seemed very much what is still in vogue in the thriller genre today. Even the killer’s psychological state seemed straight from an episode of Criminal Minds. I really didn’t notice the absence of computers, Internet, and cell phones; the mark of a good story, yes? I’d like to read a bit more in the Martin Beck series but I need to read the Henning Mankell I’ve got on my shelves first.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 4/6

Clear Off Shelves Challenge · Readathon · stuff I read

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

This will be a short review. For a long book.

I started Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human because Bloom looms large in the halls of Shakespeare criticism (no pun intended). You have to read it sometime so I figured I’d read it a bit at a time, not too awful. I’d listened to Bloom’s Portable Professor lectures on Shakespeare’s tragedies and thought them not bad (if you can get around Bloom’s voice, which sounds like the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride, reading Juliet’s speeches) as well as reading The Western Canon the year prior (also not bad).

But the Shakespeare book? Well….Bloom likes Falstaff. A lot. A lot, a lot. Enough to make you want to gouge your eyes out during the very, very, very long chapter on Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. Which is what I wanted to do and caused me to put the book away for a long time; the cats helped by shoving it behind the nightstand. I did eventually dig it back out from behind the nightstand, finished the Falstaff love-fest, slogged through the commentary on Hamlet, and polished off the last 200 pages during the readathon. I am glad I finished because the Antony and Cleopatra chapter had some good insights but the reading was pretty painful for a while.

One thing that baffles me is a complete lack of bibliography, index, and annotations. Bloom quotes any number of different critics during the book but I would have quite a hard time finding the correct AC Bradley source (for example) because I don’t know which piece of criticism supplied the quote. No index makes this look like Shakespeare is for a layman, which might be the intent, but the language structure is advanced and assumes the reader has prior knowledge of the entire Shakespeare canon; at that point, you need at minimum a bibliography.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 5/7

Clear Off Shelves Challenge · Readathon · stuff I read

Wolf Hall

My copy of the Man Booker 2009 winning novel arrived one week after the award announcement (luckily, I finished The Children’s Book just in time). Nice. Interesting red dust jacket. I know it’s about Thomas Cromwell…but why is it titled Wolf Hall?

I’m not going to tell you why the book is titled Wolf Hall (it’s an oblique reference, you have to know the history of Henry VIII’s reign, and then you have to draw your own reasoning). Sorry, but telling gives a bit away, not that the major action of the novel is a mystery because nearly every character in the book is/was a real person. Wolf Hall is most interesting in that Hilary Mantel has taken a man rendered very cold and scheming by history (Thomas Cromwell is usually portrayed as a bean-counting, social-climbing lawyer) and redrawn him as a family man, albeit one with a very shrewd business sense. Scary shrewd business sense. Cromwell is a man who suffers the loss of his wife and daughters yet perseveres in supporting his son and an extended network of wards, nephews, neices, sisters, sisters-in-law, etc. during Henry’s turbulent reign.

I did come to like the character Cromwell over the course of the novel. Mantel chose to write the novel using a limited third person narration so all events of the novel are told entirely through Cromwell’s point-of-view (his is the only inner monologue to which the reader is privy); it’s a bit like being the proverbial fly-on-the-wall in every scene because no scene in the novel occurs whithout Cromwell’s presence. Mantel also used “he” to reference Cromwell most of the time, instead of I, and this leads to my one and only complaint: approximately 80% of the characters of the book are male, 100% in a number of scenes, so using “he” to almost exclusively refer to a character when multiple characters speaking/acting are male becomes confusing. Does the “he” really refer to Cromwell (because it did most of the time) but in some instances does Mantel mean Henry? Or Percy? Or Norfolk, Suffolk, Rafe, Call-Me-Risley, Christophe? Backtracking multiple times in a novel does kind of get to me after a while. In a novel that is otherwise very enjoyable and well crafted the lack of clarity seems a failure on both the part of the editor and author.

If I compare Wolf Hall to The Children’s Book I have to say I’m a little disappointed. Byatt’s writing is lush, her novel well-crafted with fantastic multiple voices that give color to her time period. Mantel’s writing is much sparer – which I expected from a novel about Cromwell – but I didn’t find it as evocative of the Tudor reign and the narrative convention did rub me up the wrong way. Do I think The Children’s Book should have won the Booker? Yes. Am I biased because I think Byatt is fantastic? Of course. Does Wolf Hall deserve the Booker? On that question, my jury is still out; I enjoyed reading Wolf Hall (it is a good story) and it was a fun book to finish off during the readathon but since I didn’t read all the Booker-shortlisted titles I really can’t say if the race was solely between Byatt and Mantel. I’ve got some more reading ahead of me.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 3/5