stuff I read

Till I End My Song

I was interested in reading Till I End My Song simply because the premise of gathering “last poems” together intrigued me.  There may also be poets included in the anthology that I may never have read and, why not, I should read some more poetry.  Well, I did like all the poems. I found some new poets or unfamiliar pieces from poets I’ve read before, so five stars to the poets, but the criticism and editing for this book is weighting it down.  A lot.

This anthology is edited by Harold Bloom, which might be a self-explanatory statement and you can stop reading my review here if Bloom turns you off completely (I will say that he refrains from mentioning Falstaff or Hamlet on every page, a complaint I had about Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human).

Is Till I End My Song a book for lay people? Is it for those making a serious study of the subject of poetry and are already well-read in poetry? I can’t tell. There are frequent references made to other poets and critics (like Walter Pater, who has no work included in this volume) with no other elaboration leading me to believe this is not intended for the lay public, although it seems to be marketed that way. The annotating is hit-and-miss; some poems have a great deal of annotating but some have absolutely no annotating and they need it (particularly those retaining original spelling and punctuation, like Raleigh’s “The Ocean to Cynthia” for which I will can’t quite decide what “consayte” is meant to be). The poets’ introductory bios seem too perfunctory in certain cases (like John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester’s) or overly effusive (like Byron’s and T.S. Eliot’s).  Bloom’s editorial decision-making also leaves a gap. He chose to use three definitions of “last”: literal “last poems”, poems meant to mark the end of a career, or (and this one is the wobbliest category) poems “that seem to [Bloom] an imaginative conclusion to a poetic career”. He also made the decision to not represent some poets because he “could not locate in them a distinguished last poem in any of [his] three senses” (like Chaucer and Ezra Pound). This anthology is also entirely British until the inclusion of Emerson halfway through (poets are arranged chronologically by birth), largely male (there is no Sylvia Plath, Marianne Moore, or Anne Bradstreet), and, with few exceptions, white (there are no poets of the Pacific Rim, no Native Americans, no Langston Hughes). 

What would I have liked to see in this book? A true collection of last poems, with far less subjective “picking and choosing” by the editor, grouped by perhaps situation (poets who died by their own hand, poets who worked through long illness before death, poets who died suddenly, poets who lived to be quite old vs. poets who died young, etc.), from all areas of the world linked together by commentary about common forms and imagery. In short, more objectivity is needed and less carping about the rise of cultural studies, etc., in the poets’ short biographies because I’m pretty tired of nearly every Bloom book complaining about how “cultural studies” is maligning “The Canon”.

I’ve come down pretty hard on the editing for this volume, but in no way should that reflect on the poets’ work contained within.  Like I said, five stars to the poets.  If anything, this volume can be used as a jumping-off point to find new poets to read.  Some of the poems are quite familiar (Emily Bronte is represented by her haunting “No Coward Soul is Mine”, T.S. Eliot by the “Little Gidding” section of Four Quartets), some are not (I had not read any Amy Clampitt before and, shamefully, she’s an Iowan).  Skip the commentary and read the poems aloud instead.

Dear FTC:  I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

food · new books (yay)

You know you’re a foodie when…

…you’re geeking out at your new cookbooks.

I ditched a whole box of old cookbooks I didn’t use/had nasty recipes/had actually never opened before I moved.  I’ve been eating much better since I moved (odd how not being depressed by your house and its crappy level of hard water can affect your desire to cook and eat at home) so last weekend I wanted to get a couple of new cookbooks about decently-easy-to-make healthy food.

I like the recipes from Whole Living magazine, just not enough to buy the magazine regularly, so the power foods cookbook is perfect.  Martha Stewart isn’t a massive favorite of mine, but I know the Everyday Food magazine always has easy-to-prepare meals (and the pictures look yummy).

And then, last night, I scored a fantastic deal.  There were cookbook box sets – like gift sets – at the store that got really discounted.  As in “about 75% off” discounted.  These are fancy cookbooks, great for reference or have AMAZING recipes (also with ingredients I’m pretty sure I never heard of).  I actually had been considering buying one or the other of these sets but just couldn’t justify the expense before.  I’m so excited about this one:

Can you guess what it is?
 It’s the deluxe set, Volumes I and II of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child in a beautiful blue cloth box.  Love.
And then there’s this one, which makes me do a little “sqeeee”:

The Essential Thomas Keller box setFrench Laundry and ad hoc at home.  I may never make it to the restaurant in Napa but I can attempt to make things served there.  Keller notes in the introduction that the chef is the soul of the recipe; you can make a “perfect” dish, but if you didn’t feel the passion while making that dish then it wasn’t perfect for you.


It even comes with a facsimile copy of the opening-night French Laundry menu, signed by Keller.  Wheee!

I had a gift card left to use so I only had to fork over 7 dollars cash for those two sets.  Seriously geeking out and drooling all over that French Laundry cookbook.  Now I just need Bouchon for yummy bistro cooking.

stuff I read

DNF: Burnt Shadows

I won a copy of Burnt Shadows about a year ago and was initially excited to read it – the premise was intriguing and I’d heard many good things about the book.  I started reading right away but about 40 pages in the progress ground to a halt. 

So I put it aside.  From time to time I’d come back to it, re-read the last few pages, maybe read a few more pages, and “meh”, reach for a different book.

Unfortunately, I have to stop reading at about 50 pages.  The opening section in Japan was beautiful, lovely writing, but now that the action has switched to India I feel disconnected from Hiroko, even though I felt for her situation.  I’ve tried multiple times to continue but I just have no impetus to finish this book.  So into the DNF bin it goes, hopefully to find a new reader.

*While unpacking all my books, I took a long, very, very (painfully) hard look at the books I have “in-progress”; I made the decision to DNF several titles because I just could not summon the interest to finish them.  Not that the books are awful, they just didn’t speak to me (oddly enough, the books that irritate me enough to say they are awful are usually ones I finish).

new books (yay) · stuff I read

The Orchid Affair

Of course, timing is everything.  Right after I create and post about my anti-HEA book display I go and read a HEA book.  Hahaha.

The Orchid Affair is the newest Lauren Willig “Pink Carnation” novel and there’s no way I could pass it up.  I read it in under three hours and I have a pretty signed bookplate from Lauren.  Fangirl, yes?

The new heroine in The Orchid Affair is not so new to us.  Back in The Masque of the Black Tulip we were introduced to some trainee spies at Richard and Amy’s spy school, one of them being a rather prim governess by the name of Miss Grey.  Fresh from training, Miss Laura Grey has been inserted by the Pink Carnation into the household of one Andre Jaouen, cousin of Fouche and employed by the Prefecture de Paris, as Mlle Laure Griscogne, governess to Jaouen’s two children.  Laura has her own history in France, Paris in particular, and what seems like a simple assignment – observe and report on Jaouen’s activities, particularly those relating to Bonaparte, Delaroche, Fouche, etc. – becomes far more complicated and dangerous than Laura expected.

Lauren excels at making her heroines different from one another and Laura is no exception.  She is the oldest Pink Carnation heroine at 32 (I believe Mary was previously the eldest at about 23 or 24) and the most educated and worldly.  She is also the heroine who, if thrown out into the world, could survive easily by her wits and intelligence making her an excellent agent for the Pink Carnation and a heroine you really want to root for.  Once the major action of the Regency plot heats up, you really, really want Laura to succeed in her mission and have a good ending (being a Pink Carnation book, you do have some idea of how the book will end right from the beginning, but you still want it to happen and would be disappointed if Laura didn’t get her man).  Jaouen is a great addition to Lauren’s heroes: a father, serious, educated, haunted, and he has his own secrets.

While some of the earlier Pink books felt more like Regency Romps, there is more urgency to the plotline of The Orchid Affair and, Augustus Whittlesby and his terrible, overblown poetry aside, it is a darker book.  Lauren doesn’t skimp on the realities of torture in post-Revolutionary France and, while dead bodies have shown up in previous books, the violence is more nuanced and necessary to the action of the book.  There is more at stake in the denouement than just information, state secrets, and international espionage with masks and flowers.

I find myself far more interested in the Regency spy plots than in the framing story of modern-day PhD candidate Eloise, although it is through Eloise that we access the Regency plots.  I think this is because we only see bits and pieces of the Eloise-and-Colin-have-a-relationship development even thought the framing story usually ties in thematically with part of the book; in book 3, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, Geoff and Letty wind up married as part of a mistaken-identity-botched-elopement and have to learn to overcome one anothers’ prejudices and assumptions, while Eloise has to overcome some of her assumptions about Colin in order for their relationship to move forward.  In the The Orchid Affair, Eloise gets to spend a little more time with Colin’s air-head mother and decidedly sleazy step-father/cousin.  I actually got to like Colin a little more in this book, probably because of his rotten family (family is a large part of the Regency plot).

The Orchid Affair was, as expected, as very fun book to read.  Coming off a very hectic and disorganized three weeks of moving, not being able to find things, writing very large checks, and heaps of stress it was nice to curl up with a spandy new book, a pot of tea, and the cats to read the evening and night away with characters old and new, flowery spies, and dastardly villains.  I can’t wait until next January for a new installment!

Pink Carnation Heroine Standings:

Laura and Letty are having a face-off over who is the best Pink heroine; Laura is pretty clever but Letty is really stubborn and can create excellent distractions. Arabella is looking on to see if she can capitalize on the disagreement (if Pen doesn’t beat her to the punchline). Mary thinks she is better than all this, Charlotte is reading a book, Hen is practicing her scales (and making sure Miles doesn’t eat all the ginger biscuits), and Amy is far too busy training new spies to notice.

The Pink Carnation is, of course, observing the whole thing.  Silently taking notes.

customers · OMG and WTF · rant

When I have to "huh"?

As a bookseller, there are days when the impulse to laugh has to be squelched mercilessly.  Bad for business.

Evidence the first:
A customer on the telephone wants a copy of The Autobiography of Mark Twain – which we, as well as most of the bookstores/online sources/etc. in this country, are completely sold out of due to small print runs vs. high demand (you can get it electronically, like I did if you want to read it and want to either a) save money or b) save time, or both).  I explain this to the customer who “needs this for a Christmas present today” (it’s January, so someone’s advance planning has failed).  I apologise, offer to hold the audiobook we have on hand only to be ordered to call the other bookstores in the area.  So in the interests of “good customer service” I put the customer on hold, checked the online inventory, found that the closest on hand copy is several states away, called the local indie bookstore, and they didn’t have any either (I believe their bookseller actually snorted when I asked if they had any copies of the Twain).  So I got my customer back on the line, informed him of this, and, once again offered to hold the audiobook because no one has any hardcovers on hand and we’re all waiting for the same print run for a re-stock.  The customer explodes “That’s Communist!” and proceeds to tell me all about how it’s soooo like the Communists that the publisher didn’t print enough copies of the biography of the most famous author in America because everyone should have a copy and he wants to buy one, yadda, yadda, yadda.  Um, “Communist”?  Does someone needs a lesson in basic political and economic ideology?  It’s “Capitalist” to cause demand to go up by not printing enough copies because “Communist” is where you share everything, i.e. there’s one for everybody.  I told him that I’m sure the University of California Press would love to hear his opinion, but I didn’t think it would make the printing presses run any faster, and would he like me to hold the audiobook (hint, hint).  He took the hint and the audiobook.  Oy vey.

Evidence the second:
Three teenage girls are wandering around the store, talking loudly about books that they are looking for including The Scarlet Letter and it “has to be on the bestsellers somewhere” (they’ve walked past me and another bookseller at this point and we both looked at each other and gave the “WTF” look).  I would normally just offer to help but there’s some people who just have to learn to give up and ask on their own – these three are those people, plus I wanted to hear more of the conversation.  I should have offered to help because the conversation started to depress me.  This trio of well-fed, obviously well-cared for girls are wandering around talking about how they don’t read, and don’t go to bookstores, and are being forced to read Huckleberry Finn and it’s, like, omigod sooo hard (these girls are old enough to drive themselves to the mall, just FYI).  They are actually PROUD of the fact that they don’t read.  So they finally come find me – arranging the new bestsellers, none of which are The Scarlet Letter – and ask for the Nicholas Sparks books….and I show them to the section about 8 feet behind them, alphabetical by author’s last name.  Then one of the girls does ask for The Scarlet Letter – so I ask my favorite question ever “Do you need a particular edition?” which completely confuses the poor girl and her face literally goes blank.  So we go to Hawthorne and I pull the cheapest edition off the shelf.  She still looks confused so I take a little pity on her and ask if she knows anything about the book.  Nope, she doesn’t know anything about it but she’s supposed to read it…nope, she has no idea that it’s over 150 years old or about Puritans…and she has trouble reading Huck Finn…and I’m thinking, oh crap, so I ask her, as gently as I can, if she would like me to recommend something else for her to read (I’m assuming it’s for school, but I could be wrong).  No, no, this is fine so the trio wanders back off to Nicholas Sparks.  Pretty soon they come find me again – do I have any Cliffs Notes for Nicholas Sparks’s The Rescue?  I actually felt my teeth click together so my mouth wouldn’t fall open.  Er, no, we don’t have any Sparknotes for Nicholas Sparks books…but, yes, we do have Sparknotes for Huck Finn.  I take two of the three over to the Study Aids section (surprisingly, the girl with The Scarlet Letter is not interested in a Sparknotes for her book; she’s determined to read it – I could have hugged her for saying that – so she hung around the Teen New Releases) to find Huck Finn and the whole way there the one girl keeps going on and on (loudly) about how long the book is and how hard it is to read and how it has, like, 500 pages and that’s soooo unfair and she’s not going to read it if she doesn’t have to – I wanted to slap her.  So I pulled the Sparknotes for Huck Finn off the rack, handed it to her, and said “Just so you know, all the teachers have read all the study aids and cheat sheets for the books you read in class.  So you’ll still need to read the book.  Huck Finn is still relevant because Huck has to re-think his attitudes about slavery and people of color as he and Jim become friends.  And, by the way, Huck Finn is often marketed as a children’s book, it’s only about 200 to 250 pages depending on the edition…War and Peace has 1000 pages, that’s a long book.”  That shut her up.

Why are people so proud of being ignorant and stupid?  It’s like a badge of honor, trumpeting their stupidity (look at that waste case, Snooki).  In the case of the three girls (because I have no idea what my phone customer looks like), it’s obvious that they have money, that their parents spare no expense for them, so why parade around like some uneducated hick?  Why not take pride in the advantages of an education?  I’ve read Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason so I understand that the divide between the intelligence haves and have-nots has always existed but it always makes me go “huh?”  I try to be helpful and optimistic but the really dogged way that some people just cling to their ignorance makes me want to crawl back in my hidey-hole (or point and laugh, depending on situation).

Bloggiesta · random

It’s #Bloggiesta weekend! A tiny, tiny goal for me

Natasha is hosting Bloggiesta again this year!  Happy 4th Bloggiesta!  (If you’re wondering, it’s like a “working weekend” where bloggers do housekeeping on their sites, a little pruing, maybe a few mini-challenges and help each other out).

I did some Bloggiesta-ing last year – added my header picture and changed up the template to something a little more custom designed – but I won’t be really joining in since I’m still unpacking boxes.  Although I could work on the Reading Chemistry blog…hmmmm….maybe.

But anywhoo the reason for this post has to do with programming.  I really don’t understand how blog templates set out widgets, colors, columns, etc. and I have no idea how to read the code (I know a little bit about HTML but this seems to be CSS).  So this is my tiny, tiny Bloggiesta goal.  Ready?

Bloggiesta 2011 goal: Find a book/good reference so I can start to understand how blog templates/websites are put together so that next time we Bloggiesta I will be able to do some more customization/cleanup.

So this is where everyone else comes in – do you have good reference material that you use when you do tweaks and updates?  Books or websites are fine so tell me your faves!

happy dance · random

Who needs love?

So every year at the store we go from Christmas signage to Valentine’s Day signage – with a brief stop-over for New Year’s resolution-type books – in a blink.  So for six weeks we get to live with the Valentine’s Day table brimming with relationship, sex, and dating books in varying shades of pink, pink-er pink, and red.  For someone who is always acutely aware that Valentine’s Day is SAD (Singles Awareness Day) it can get old fast.

So I got to thinking “Why not an anti-Valentine’s Day type of display?” Not neccessarily against Valentine’s Day, per se, but one where the love stories don’t end happily or not as the reader would wish.  Also known as no HEAs (Happily Ever Afters).  Just for a little balance.  And would be full of good books to read.  Why not, indeed.  So I made one (with input from a few other booksellers – the display is buried in the fiction section but I plan on catching unsuspecting book browsers with the sign “Who needs love?”):

The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
On Love by Alain de Botton

I deliberately went with more recent novels than classics (because if I did classics, Anna Karenina would be front and center followed by Jude the Obscure and Wuthering Heights as well as very obvious plays from Shakespeare).  Do you think I’m missing anything essential?

(Looking at this list again I must have had Booker awards on the brain….)
ETA: One or two things on the display that slipped my mind writing this post.

Booker Project

The Complete Booker Challenge 2011

Sweet!  Trying again for the Booker Challenge (and add to my Booker Project).  I plan to start with the “Pix-a-Mix of Six” level:

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch
The Sea by John Banville (which I think is coming out as a movie this year, so I should read it)
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Bone People by Keri Hulme (the new Penguin Ink cover is awesome)

If I finish those I’ll bump up the goal to “The Booker’s Dozen” (pefect opportunity to read Possession again).