Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Club Dumas

"For Dumas, the history of France was a rich source of material.  His was an extraordinary trick: he'd leave the frame alone but alter the picture, mercilessly plundering the treasure that was offered to him."

-- The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte. This is great fun already and I've only just started it. I can't wait to sink into the story.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Knitting and Sundries is hosting Mailbox Monday in November. Thanks Julie!

Nothing came for me in the mail last week, but I did pick up a stack of books at the Grant High School annual used book sale.  All of them were in very good condition, mostly hardbacks, and only $2 each (because I went when they first opened -- they would have been $1 if I had waited until the afternoon, but these books may have been gone by then).

It's quite a mixed up mix of books:

Just Enough Liebling: Classic Work by the Legendary New Yorker Writer (great cover!)

The Gate House by Nelson DeMille

A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (on the All-TIME 100 list)

In the Woods by Tana French (Edgar winner)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Club Dumas

"The flash projected the outline of the hanged man on the wall."

-- The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte.

I have high expectations that this will be a fun book, although I know nothing about it besides what I read on the cover -- that it is a bookish mystery involving a rare manuscript of The Three Muscateers.  Someone (I can't remember who) gave it to me because my last name is Dumas.

I wanted to kick of the Christmas season with a book I read for pure enjoyment. Come the New Year, I'll have the energy for "important" books, or books I feel like I should read. But during Christmas, I like to read for cosy entertainment.

Although, this one will count for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, so I will accomplish something.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Notes: The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener is the only George Pelacanos book that I've read. It has a good story, especially if you like your mysteries to have a hard edge.

But there is one thing that is so distracting that I am having a hard time enjoying the book, and it is this:

Randolph (aka Randy),
Raynella, and

Those are all characters in the book! Apparently Pelacanos's random name generator got stuck on R. The hero goes by Ramone, a main bad guy is Romeo; the hero's wife is Regina, his partner is Rhonda. It is really confusing. And now I am more consumed with finding "R" names than I am with the plot.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Shopping Day: Books & More

The turkeys have all marched on, so it is time to start Christmas shopping.

For those here in Portland, here are a couple of fun idea to help avoid the mall:
  • Friday & Saturday, 10 am -6 pm, Second Glance Books is having its Annual Holiday Sale & Open House. Everything in the store is at least 10% off. All holiday books, children's books and cook books are 20% off. Bargain books are 50% off the clearance price. There are refreshments and a chance to win a Second Glance Books gift certificate.
  • My new favorite non-book store, ink & peat, is open early today and will be festive all weekend. Click the picture to see a bigger, readable version. Remember to print this to get 10% off.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Night Gardener

He used her credit card to buy gas for the hack and also for cash advances to buy more rock.  He stayed high and without a plan, except to wait for the police, who he knew would eventually come.
-- The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos.

I'm having a hard time getting absorbed by this book. It is hard for me to go from the fluid elegance of Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea , to hard boiled crime and Pelecanos's lickity split cadence.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Knitting and Sundries is hosting Mailbox Monday in November. Thanks Julie!

One book came in the mail for me last week. OSU Press sent me a book I've had my eye on. I am looking forward to this one, in part because my parents live in Oregon's High Desert.

Where the Crooked River Rises: A High Desert Home by Ellen Waterston. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Announcement: Portland Used Book Sale

The annual Grant High School Used Book Sale is this week. Donated books are for sale to raise money for the school library.

Here are the details:


Grant High School

2245 NE 36th Avenue, Room 130

Portland, Oregon

Dates and Times:

November 22nd from 8 am to 8 pm

November 23rd from 8 am to 6 pm


$2/book from 8 am to noon on the 22nd

$1/book from noon to 8 pm on the 22nd and all day on the 23rd

Review of the Day: The I Hate to Cook Book

The 50th Anniversary edition of Peg Bracken's I Hate to Cook Book is welcomed re-issue of a charming and funny cookbook classic.

Bracken wrote humorous newspaper and magazine pieces -- and several books -- about cooking and housekeeping. She clearly had a huge influence on the housewives of my mother's generation, since my friends and I grew up with meals I now recognize from The I Hate to Cook Book: pot roast made with dried onion soup mix, a "Mexican" casserole made with taco chips, Turkey Tettrazini, etc.

These recipes are still great, in that church supper kind of way that 1960s cookbooks tend to have -- lots of condensed cream of mushroom soup (known as "the casserole maker" at my house) and things served on rice. But the best parts are Bracken's funny asides and tips, like this one for making "Indonesian Curry":

. . . Simmer it all from half and hour to an hour, while the rice cooks.

This gives you a nice breather. You may now put your feet up and have a highball, or else you may dirty up a lot of little dishes with

chopped peanuts
chopped green onions
chopped almonds
toasted coconut . . . .

to serve as side boys with your curry. Take your choice. 

Any recipe than suggests a highball during cooking time is worth the shelf space.  Another recipe instructs: "Add the flour, salt, paprika and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink."  It's the Mad Men of cookbooks.

What seems funny now is that Bracken wrote for an audience of housewives looking for an excuse to cook quick, easy meals -- they hated to cook.  Today, women (and men) don't need an excuse for wanting a homecooked meal that doesn't take hours to prepare.  This is still the book for them.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: I'm Not Making This Up!

Literary Blog Hop

The Blue Bookcase has started a "Literary Blog Hop" for blogs "that primarily feature reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion."

Each week, in addition to hopping around and visiting some terrific book blogs, participants answer a bookish question.  This week's question is:

Is there such a thing as literary non-fiction? If so, how do you define it? Examples?

Connie answered "yes" on behalf of the Blue Bookcase team and makes the case for Maya Angelou as a master of literary non-fiction.

I have to keep my answer short this week (compared to my Finnegans Wake diatribe last week) because I am in a frenzy of pre-holiday prep work this weekend. So I will say this:

Yes, "literature" is not confined to fiction and poetry.  Non-fiction can be, and historically has been, literature.  In my mind, I count any non-fiction as literature if it is well written, expresses ideas as well as facts, and has some lasting value -- either because if its historical significance or because the ideas still resonate.

I've read quite a bit of non-fiction this year, not all of which I would count as literary, even though they may have been entertaining or useful.  Those I would put in the literary category include the following:
These include travel, essays, memoirs, biography, and straightforward non-fiction.  I definitely think history and historical biography can be literary, but I don't seem to have read any this year, although I am halfway through Antonia Frasier's biography of Marie Antoinette, and that definitely counts as literature.

I look forward to reading other people's answers to this question. It is another interesting one.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Joy Luck Club

"The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum."

-- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

Amy Tan is one of those authors who is so in my consciousness that I think I have read more of her books than I have. This is probably her most famous, but I am just now getting around to reading it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How Cool!

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon won the National Book Award last night.

I just got this book last week. I feel so lucky. And so cutting edge!

I want to go read it right now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review of the Day: Titus Alone

Titus Alone is the final volume of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy about the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. In Titus Groan, the eponymous first volume, Peake created the elaborate world inside castle of Gormenghast and introduced readers to the extended Groan family and their court of retainers and hangers-on. Volume two, Gormenghast, picked up when Titus was a schoolboy, allowing Peake to focus on the antics of a mangy band of professors responsible for Titus’s education.

This last volume is not really an extension of the glorious saga of the first two books, but its own story of Titus’s adventures after he leaves Gormenghast. It is much shorter than the first two, giving Peake less room to develop the intricate descriptions and side stories that make the others so seductive.

The plot moves forward in fits and starts as Titus tries to find his way back to Gormenghast, or at least back to surefooted sanity. There are gaps in the narrative and some characters disappear quite abruptly.  And the story is emotionally ragged as Titus and several other characters are, for no clear reason, quick to anger and violence.  Scenes go instantly from potentially humorous to disastrous, and then the story moves off in a different direction, leaving the reader struggling to catch up.   

Overall, Titus Alone lacks the polish and delightful detail of the first volumes, which makes it a letdown.



See also, The Voice of the Heart: The Working of Mervyn Peake's Imagination
by G. Peter Winnington

Judging from other reviews I’ve read, I’m not alone in my assessment. But there are some fans who very much enjoyed the third volume and make a case for its literary and entertainment value.

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.


My review of Titus Groan is here. My review of Gormenghast is here.

The Gormenghast Trilogy shows up, in whole or in part, on Anthony Burgess's list of his favorite 99 novels and on the BBC's Big Read list.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Sea, the Sea

"At that moment I heard a terrible sound, a sound which in fact I had been dreading ever since I embarked upon my perilous adventure.  Hartley upstairs had suddenly started screaming and banging the door."

-- The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, a novel about an aging playwright/director/actor who retires to the North Sea coast of England. This teaser makes it sound a little more thrilling than it is. It is a wonderful, fantastic story, but more about people and ideas than scary adventure. Murdoch knows how to pace the story, though. Just when it starts to seem too talky, something startling happens, like in this scene.

I love this book, even though it is taking me a while to read. I enjoy it so much that I don't want it to end.  (Also, I took a break to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I reviewed here.)

The Sea, the Sea won the Booker prize in 1978. I am reading it for my  Battle of the Prizes, British Version challenge. It will also count as one of my Chunkster Challenge reads.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading, where you can find the official rules for this weekly event.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mailbox Monday

Knitting and Sundries is hosting Mailbox Monday in November. Thanks Julie!

My mailbox overfloweth last week. Actually, only the first three came in the mail. But I did a little library book shop hopping when I was out in the suburbs and found several books I'd had an eye out for or at least caught my eye.

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (a National Book Award finalist)

The Hanging Tree: A Starvation Lake Mystery by Bryan Gruley (from the Internet Review of Books, for review)

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris (my first order from Book Depository)

Walk There! 50 Treks In and Around Portland and Vancouver by Laura O. Foster (a tiny book with a big picture)

Ghosts of Everest: The Search for Mallory & Irvine by Jochen Hemmleb (for Hubby, because they may have to eat the sled dogs -- his high water mark for literature)

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope (I'm going to tackle the series, but first I have to figure out which ones I own)

Paradise Postponed by John Mortimer (it caught my fancy)

The Red Scream by Mary Willis Walker (Edgar winner)

Brazil by John Updike (because I am working on reading all of his books)

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski (on the All-TIME 100 Top Novels list)

Marrying the Mistress by Joanna Trollope (I know nothing about this author, but this is the second of her books that I've bought in the last month. Why? I don't know why they have been appealing to me.)

And because I have been on a big mystery kick, I got a stack of pocket paperback mysteries:

Knockdown by Dick Francis (I am tearing through his books these days)

The James Joyce Murder by Amanda Cross (seemed appropriate after my Finnegans Wake diatribe the other day)

Some Buried Ceasar by Rex Stout (I just started the Nero Wolf series)

The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook (another Edgar winner)

A Venetian Reckoning and Acqua Alta by Donna Leon (because I read the first book in this series, Death at La Fenice years ago and always meant to read the rest)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Night Gardener

The crime scene was in the low 30s around E, on the edge of Fort Dupont Park, in a neighborhood known as Greenway, in the 6th District section of Southeast D.C.

-- The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos.

Great opening -- if you need to give directions to a cab driver.

It is time to get this book off my Guilt List.  I won this in a giveaway so long ago that I cannot retrace my steps through the blogosphere to find who gave it to me. Thank you, whoever you are!

Book Beginnings on Friday is a weekly Opening Sentence event now hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages.  I'm a day late this week.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: Don't be Difficult!

Literary Blog Hop

The Blue Bookcase has started a "Literary Blog Hop" for blogs "that primarily feature reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion."

Each week, in addition to hopping around and visiting some terrific book blogs, participants answer a bookish question.  This week's question comes from Debbie Nance at Readerbuzz:

What is the most difficult literary work you've ever read? What made it so difficult? 

Ingrid answered the question for the Blue Bookcase crew this week. Her essay on Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus is excellent. I read Goethe's Faust in college, but never Mann's retake. Ingrid makes a good case for doing so.

For me, that question is a lead pipe cinch to answer, because I've read Finnegans Wake. If anyone who has read it does not pick it as the most difficult book, he is lying.

Before I started FW, I knew nothing about how it was written and had no idea that it was so crazy. I knew that it is Joyce’s magnum opus, that it took him 17 years or so to write, and that he had staff helping him research.

I also knew from reading about FW that it all takes place in one night, but is a history of all time, and that the main dream character feels guilt about something he did in a park with two "temptresses" and for vaguely incestuous feelings he has towards his daughter. I "knew" these ideas only in the sense that I read about their existence. But by 100 pages or so into the book itself, I still had no actual comprehension of them. Or anything, for that matter. The closest I could get would be a vague suggestion of some of these themes from sentences like this:
And so they went on, the fourbottle men, the analists, unguam and nunguam and lunguam again, their anschluss about her whosebefore and his whereafters and how she was lost away away in the fern and how he was founded deap on deep in anear, and the rustlings and the twitterings and the raspings and the snappings and the sighings and the paintings and the ukukuings and the (hist!) the springapartings and the (hast!) the bybyscuttlings and all the scandalmunkers and the pure craigs that used to be (up) that time living and lying and rating and riding round Nunsbelly Square.
Yep. That's what the entire book is like. All 620 pages. Made up words, foreign words, amalgamated words – crazy stuff. I never understood an entire paragraph; only occasionally comprehended an entire sentence, and definitely only short ones; and was delighted at every word I caught. I read it for the experience of reading it, but gave up trying to understand it after the first page. Yes, I tried reading it out loud, and that helped – but only to a point. I decided to just let it flow over me and enjoy the sounds like poetry or music.

And I was so pleased with myself for finishing it. I was free to "shun the Punman" after months of effort. I was also a little concerned, because I seemed to understand it better after about page 500. I hoped this meant it just hits an easier patch as it gets to the end. I hoped it did not mean that I had learned enough FW language to comprehend more, because then I would have been tempted to start over at the beginning!

Of course, that is what Joyce intended. He wanted to publish FW in a spiral binding without covers, so there would be no official beginning or end and people would read it non-stop. As it is, it starts in the middle of a sentence. The final sentence in the book is the beginning of the sentence that starts the book.

Finnegans Wake was definitely the most difficult book I have ever read. It is not that I hated it. It was incredibly frustrating, but it has poetic beauty. I do not think anyone should read it unless they are compulsive about finishing their book lists (like me), or are really into James Joyce. But I like the idea that there is a structure to it (even if I couldn't follow the structure). For me, it was like that famous Hieronymus Bosch triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. I do not like it. I think it is weird. It takes too long to look at and there are so many things in it that I do not understand. But, I admire the mind and talent that created it.

That said, I was thrilled to be done with FW! When I finished it, I keep thinking of that joke about the 85-year-old, widowed rabbi who goes into the confessional at St. Mary's and says to the priest, "Father, I just had sexual relations with a 24-year-old aerobics instructor." The priest says, "But Rabbi, why are you confessing? You aren't Catholic." The rabbi says, "Confessing? Are you kidding? I'm telling EVERYBODY." That was me – I told EVERYBODY.

And now you can "suck it yourself, Sugarstick"!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veterans' Day! Happy Anniversary!

Happy Veterans' Day! Especially to all my family and friends who serve or served in the military.

This is also our 10th wedding anniversary. We got married on November 11, 2000. Our marriage "marches with the years" so we always know which anniversary it is.

The traditional 10th anniversary gift is aluminum. Aluminum?

Chunkster Challenge: Updated

I kicked myself for not signing up for this last year because I read enough books to meet the requirements. So I signed up this year for the "Mor-book-ly Obese" level, which means reading six 450+-page books (or three 750+-pagers).

I got off to a slow start, but I am catching up. I've now finished three books, am halfway through a fourth, and will be reading a fifth for book club in January. So I will only need to find one more and read it by January 31, 2011 to complete the challenge.


Three Loves by A. J. Cronin (reviewed here)

Echoes by Maeve Binchy (reviewed here)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (reviewed here


The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch (which I am halfway through and am reading for my Battle of the Prizes: British Version challenge)

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (which my book club is reading for January)

Them by Joyce Carol Oates (which I am reading for my Battle of the Prizes: American Version challenge)

Last updated November 10, 2010.

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