The Sunday Salon: A Late-November Interlude

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Today has already proved to be quite the dreary, cold, blustery day, and to be honest I can’t think of an environment more friendly to a day of solid reading! I’m so woefully far behind on my Goodread’s classics bookclub’s reading of Swann’s Way by Proust that I think I’m just going to have to throw in the towel on this go-round and add it to the list of classics I’m planning on reading in 2012. The book is beautiful and sweeping, but my interest and attention span just don’t seem to be on board with reading it right now.

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While I’m not exactly succeeding with Swann’s Way, I’m actually cruising along at a rather surprising pace through Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth. The sprawling story is, as might be expected, rather operatic and soap opera-esque but for some reason it’s working for me at the moment. I don’t necessarily understand much of the cathedral construction terminology, but the opportunity to get lost in the sprawling kingdoms and political intrigue of the Middle Ages has been a rather wonderful distraction from the mundane task of mass job-applying that’s been on my plate lately. I’ve still got about 400 pages to go (it IS a 1000 page book, after all) but I’m hoping/excited to finish before I leave Wednesday for T-Givings. I’ll have a much more in-depth review later, but for now let me say that I adore Philip and Aliena and can’t stand the rapist William Hamleigh.

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As much as I’m loving Pillars of the Earth, I’m feeling like I need that extra little confidence boost of actually finishing a book, and as I’ve delayed my reading of Little Women until after the new year, I’ve decided to satisfy my classics craving with Bronte’s Jane Eyre (and a HUGE cup of coffee with caramel macchiato creamer, as you can see in the picture above). This is a re-read of one of my favorites, one I haven’t visited for the two years or so since my British literature survey course, and I’d almost forgotten how much I love dear Jane. I’m barely started – I just got to the part where John pulls Jane from behind the curtain in the study, and Jane is unfairly sent to the red room – and already I’m remembering my dire urge to punch Jane’s pseudo-siblings in the face! They’re such miserable little brats, and it just makes it that much easier to sympathize with Jane.

All in all, I’d have to call this one of the best reading Sundays I’ve had in quite some time, and I hope that whatever yours is stacking up just as well. Happy reading!

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A R.I.P. Movie-Pallooza

I can’t believe Halloween is basically here and October is almost over! Not only does this mean my other two favorite holidays are just around the corner (Thanksgiving and then HELLO, Christmas!) but it also means I’m down to the wire to finish all those great R.I.P reviews! Seeing as how I haven’t watched nearly as many scary movies as I would have liked to, and the fact that I’ve been watching them rather sporadically, I figured I’d just do one mega-post of the 5 screen-y things I’ve made sure to watch to get myself in the Halloween mood!

There are 5 movies (well, 4 movies and 1 TV show) that I’ve included in this year’s go-round of Peril on the Screen. This is for a couple of reasons: 1.) I think I left most of my good movies at my parents house last Halloween, when I was home housesitting, as I can’t seem to find almost any of them. 2.) FBM is not exactly a scary-movie kind of guy, so it’s either watching them alone (clearly not always the best idea) or finding something in the common ground. So, keeping those two things in mind, here’s what the past month or so has been all about, film wise.

1.) Hocus Pocus – This has been one of my favorite Halloween movies since I was a little girl! My dad and I actually went to see this one as one of our first father-daughter dates (other hits include Anastasia and a crap-ton of Pizza Hut individual pizzas) and every year I wait for just the right mix of cloudy night and cooler temperatures top pop in this classic! I think the reason I love this movie so much, besides the fact that the lovely Bette Midler is one of the idols of the women in my family, is that it’s really a great blend of scary, sad, and funny for kids (and adults that think they’re kids). The scary scenes never get too scary, and the sad scenes end up having pretty much happy endings. Plus, the two ‘evil’ kids in the story, Ice-Man and Jay, crack me up every time I watch. They’re this hilarious mix of, like, white ghetto kids with nothing to do but steal candy from kids and make lame jokes. They’re not intimidating at all, which is what makes them so much more hilarious as ‘bullies’! This movie also inspired me to ‘fly’ around my house singing the song that Sarah Jessica Parker sings to lure all the children of Salem to her (“Come little children, I’ll take thee away/into my garden of magic). If you have no idea what this movie is about, or what I’m prattling on about, do you, your kids, and/or your inner child a favor and  go check it out!

2.) The Exorcist. Or, what my mom still calls ‘the scariest movie ever made’. She told me this when I was 14 and saw the movie for the first time  and I watched it and was just, like…”really? scariest movie ever? really?” (NOT a recommended viewing age, by the way. Not because of the scare factor but because watching a ‘possessed’ girl stab herself in the naughties with a crucifix is too disturbing on too many levels). Even now I don’t necessarily consider this movie “scary”. I mean, don’t get me wrong. The concept of demons and possession and exorcism freaks the hell out of me. But the dialouge is stilted, the guy who plays Dimi (the junior priest helping with the exorcism and dealing with his own metaphorical demons at the same time) is like a bad Marlon Brando, and the special effects are anything but. But all of that isn’t necessarily the point. This movie has a GREAT scary soundtrack, and some of those cold and blustery shots of Georgetown really do set a fantastic horror-movie mood. I think the thing that will always stick out to me about this movie, though, and what has kept me watching pretty much every Halloween, is the fact that so many other people have been scared out of their wits by this movie, my mom included. I mean, there are reports of people having strokes and heart attacks and believing in their own possesssion after they saw this movie in theatres! Plus, the actress who plays the little girl, Reagan, never worked on or in another movie – CRAZY!!! It’s kind of like the curse with Poltergeist and all the unfortunate things that happened to that cast (no idea? check out this wikipedia). Definitely a must see, and not a scary movie to be particularly worried about. At least, not for me!

3.) Beetlejuice – This is one of those movies that, when it’s mentioned, everyone around nods their heads and goes ‘oh, yeah! I forgot about that one…’ At least, that’s what happened when I mentioned to a bunch of co-workers that I was excited to watch another one of my mostly-funny Halloween movies. Be warned, though, that this one is a little bit creepier than Hocus Pocus (and possible The Exorcist, depending on what you find scary). Michael Keaton does a FANTASTIC job as the ghost-with-the-most, hell-raising bioexorcist Beetlejuice, who does nothing but plague Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis after they die in a car accident. And yes, these characters have names in the movie that aren’t Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, but whatever. Anyway, Winona Rider actually gives one of her least-annoying performances here, too, as the dark and depressed Lydia Deetz, a step that doesn’t seem too far removed from the real Winona. This movie sprung from the mind of one Mr. Tim Burton, who I have often believed should share his DNA with one Mr. Neil Gaiman and one Mrs. Helena Bonham Carter (who Burton is technically already married to) in order to produce a super-genuis child of twisted creativity. If the name Tim Burton isn’t ringing a bell, he also did Edward Scissor Hands, The Corpse Bride, and Ed Wood, just to name a few. Oh, and the most recent version of Sweeney Todd, the one with Johnny Depp. Oh, and The Nightmare before Christmas (another great classic that works for both Halloween and Christmas!) Wow…apparently he’s done more of my favorites than I thought. But yes, you can see the style that Burton works in, and Beetlejuice is no different!

4.) Carrie – A great movie based on a GREAT Stephen King novel (I mean, honestly, The Shining is probably a better movie, but Carrie is a far better book) about a girl with telekinetic powers who gets pigs blood dumped on her at the prom and then goes APE SHIT WITH HER MIND POWERS and kills everyone she knows. Like, pretty much literally. Not to mention the fact that her mom is a religious wack-job, she gets tampons thrown at her in the school shower when she starts her period, and she’s asked/taken out to prom by the most popular boy in school just to be humiliated…yeah, I’d be pretty pissed too. In all fairness to the popular boy and his girlfriend – they’re good people, they were just trying to help, and really didn’t know about the pig’s blood. Sissy Spacek does an amazing job in this movie, striking just the right balance between scared and shy and really, really damn mad when the time calls for it. The movie as a whole might by more jumpy or freaky than scary, but if you can watch those last ten minutes without jumping out of your own skin, than you’re doing way better than I am! It’s best not to have one of those guys or groups of guys who think it’s really funny to wait for an obviously tense moment to grab your shoulder and shout intelligibly, laughing when you jump and spill popcorn and Diet Coke everywhere. Not that I’ve had that happen…I’m just saying. There are a number of  ‘gotcha’ moments that will make you jump, and having a group like that around could very quickly ruin your upholstery. Of all the movies posted here so far, this one is probably the scariest for me, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Carrie’s mom is not only crazy, but crazy religious and there is just something about mixing fanatic Christianity with insanity, possible schizophrenia, and a daughter with mind powers that gets under my skin.

5.) Criminal Minds – Yes, this is a TV show. But Carl said we could do that, so hah! *blows raspberry*. Sorry about that. I’m done being, like, six now. Promise. Anyway, this show is fantastic. So fantastic that I’m thinking about  doing a Nerdgasm volume on it. For those of you out of the loop (or who watch things on TV that aren’t crime-solving, procedural cop or courtroom shows), Criminal Minds follows a team of profilers who work for the FBI’s B.A.U (Behavioral Analysis Unit, got to give it up for the federal love for acronyms). These guys and  girls basically profile different suspects, victims, and locations in order to learn who killed whoever died on this week’s episode. Basically, it’s a show about the brains of sociopaths, murderes, rapists, pedophilists, and other various real-life baddies (and the people who make it their work to understand these brains). I know by now you’re probably what makes this R.I.P. worthy – which it is. It’s all-year-round worthy. The answer you’re looking for is that, if you’ve been following any of my R.I.P. reviews, you know that I often think that the horrible things human beings do to each other is more scary than any monster, werewolf, or vampire out there. And this show if chock-full of real life monsters, on top of witty dialogue and characters I just dare you not to fall in love with (Reid! Garcia and Morgan! I just love you all so much!). If you’re looking for a 45 minute fictional glimpse in to the kinds of horrors man can do to each other (where the bad guy actually gets caught in the end, unlike, say, the news), this is most definitely the show for you!

And there you have it, ghosts and ghouls! With Halloween weekend upon us, I hope you’re doing whatever it is (tricking or treating) that puts you and your family in to that delicious, candy-apple-and-wood-smoke fall feeling we all love about this time of year! I’m off to the twisty alleys of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Cirucs, but I wish you all happy reading!

Review: The Oracle of Stamboul: A Novel by Michael David Lukas

I can’t believe I almost forgot to write about this book! I first heard of this book from Nancy over at Bookfoolery and Babble and I reserved it from the library immediately! when it came in, I proceeded to devour it and then gave it to my mom for her to do likewise. Unfortunately, this passing the book around meant that I lost track of the little beauty (literally – look at that cover! It’s even more beautiful in real life, because that gold color is all gilt) until now. I’m just glad it didn’t slip through the cracks completely, because I really did love reading it. Check the Goodreads:

Late in the summer of 1877, a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, and Eleonora Cohen is ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth.

But joy is mixed with tragedy, for Eleonora’s mother dies soon after the birth.

Raised by her doting father, Yakob, a carpet merchant, and her stern, resentful stepmother, Ruxandra, Eleonora spends her early years daydreaming and doing housework—until the moment she teaches herself to read, and her father recognizes that she is an extraordinarily gifted child, a prodigy.

When Yakob sets off by boat for Stamboul on business, eight-year-old Eleonora, unable to bear the separation, stows away in one of his trunks. On the shores of the Bosporus, in the house of her father’s business partner, Moncef Bey, a new life awaits. Books, backgammon, beautiful dresses and shoes, markets swarming with color and life—the imperial capital overflows with elegance, and mystery. For in the narrow streets of Stamboul—a city at the crossroads of the world—intrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem. Eleonora’s tutor, an American minister and educator, may be a spy. The kindly though elusive Moncef Bey has a past history of secret societies and political maneuvering. And what is to be made of the eccentric, charming Sultan Abdulhamid II himself, beleaguered by friend and foe alike as his unwieldy, multiethnic empire crumbles?

This summary doesn’t even begin to do this book justice! Eleonora’s precocious child genius reminded me so much of a female, more literary Ender Wiggin (yeah, that’s right, I’m repping the love for Ender’s Game) that I couldn’t help but love her immediately! She is the kind of character who made me wish that I had been born a child genius. She’s playing chess and reading ancient Greek by the time I’d learned to write my ‘e’s the right way and tell time on an analog clock. Her reputation with Moncef Bey was just the right combination of mentor, friend, and caretaker that it really did make it easier to stomach some of the more tragic happenings in Eleonora’s life.

So, speaking of tragedies, here’s a mini-spoiler: Eleonora’s father is killed about a quarter of the way through the book by a boat explosion that turns out to be a kind of terroristic act. However, the fact that she deals with this tragedy by reading it away only helped to make her even more one of the best-written characters I’ve read in a while. It’s always fun to read about fellow book lovers, and what reader hasn’t taken solace in books a time or two? This action on her part makes her easier to relate to, especially considering that I know some readers have a harder time suspending belief where child geniuses are concerned.

So what did I love about the book beyond Eleonora and Moncef Bey (who is quite the silver fox, if you know what I mean – dignified, attractive, intelligent, quite, gentle…much like a Middle Eastern Richard Gere)? The setting was breathtaking:

  

and the pictures don’t even do justice to the way Lukas describes the smells, sights, and most importantly colors of the (slightly older than those pictures) marketplaces, libraries, and palaces of Stamboul. It was a wonderful world to get lost in, and I had no idea Stamboul was a real place until I had finished the book (yes, I know IStamboul is a real place, but apparently the two are related somehow? Not really sure on the details here, despite extensive wikipedia-ing) but its definitely made my list of places to visit when I win the lottery and have nothing but time to travel with!

All in all, I think this a book that most readers would love to sink in to. There is just enough political intrigue to spice up the novel’s events, but not such extensive background information that the reader feels weighted down. And I REALLY can’t stress enough just how much of a joy it is to get to know Eleonora, and to watch her grow as a student and as a person! In other news, keep a look out for the vlog coming up (I’m going to discuss two recent YA reads I read, or tried to read, and why they just didn’t quite work out for me) as well as, I hope, a review of Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches, which I’m reading right now and is seriously one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while! Happy reading!

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson: Read-a-Long Week One

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Hello, all! It’s fall break here, so my today and tomorrow are deliciously clear, and so there is no better time to write my own contribution to Carl V.’s read-a-long of The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson! This is the second read-a-long I’m doing with Carl V. for the R.I.P. Challenge, and I’m super excited to have discussion questions to work from this time. The Fragile Things is far more open, and it’ll be fun to mix it up a little. So, without further ado, the questions!

1. This may seem like an obvious opening question, but what do you think of The Lantern thus far?

I’m loving it (gets McDonalds theme stuck in her head)! It’s been the perfect R.I.P. read and the whole things just smacks of gothic foreshadowing and dark twisty secrets! Lawrenson’s style is lush and is almost as beautiful as the Provence she writes. I’ve often fantasized about doing the ex-pat thing, finding and fixing up an old manor and spending my days reading and market shopping and wine drinking. Of course, this is total fantasy (versus Eve’s similar but more menacing reality) and it’s the discrepancy between my own dream and the way Lawrenson writes the story that has me so intrigued thus far. I also thinks it’s a fantastic show of writer-ship to be able to craft a story clearly lurking beneath the story being told — through everything from foreshadowing to interconnected details, and Lawrenson seems able to do this in spades.

2. The book appears to be following the experiences of two different women, alternating back and forth between their stories. Are you more fond of our main protagonist’s story or of Benedicte’s or are you enjoying them both equally?

To be honest, a this point, I’m far more interested in our main narrators story than I am in Benedicte’s. Again, the appeal of a modern ‘turning over a new leaf’ tale is too much to overcome a story that’s more quasi- historical fiction than anything else. Of course, I absolutely loathe Pierre, so I will be intrigued to see how the relationship between he and Benedicte develops.

3. The Lantern is a book filled with descriptions of scents. How are you liking (or disliking) that aspect of the book? How do you feel about the lavish description of scents? How are the short chapters working for you?

I’m loving the shorter chapters, actually. I feel like it really does help me feel like I’m just zipping along as the chapter numbers get higher and higher, and switching points of view in this manner keeps each chapter ending on a mini-cliff hanger and keeps me from getting overdrawn or tired of any one of the certain stories (I will say that sometimes I got a little worn down by the Eve/Dom relationship drama, which left me very tense and frustrated a certain times).

4. How would you describe the atmosphere of Parts 1 and 2 of The Lantern?

I love, probably more than anything else so far, the opening descriptions of summer at Les Genevriers, the dining on the deck, wine and candles and delicious summer scents and warm evenings. I think it’s this love Lawrenson created in me for the summer setting that caused such delicious growing tension as the seasons progressed in to fall. Which, you know, is pretty, but for me doesn’t pack the same punch as the summer setting. I also greatly admire the way that Lawrenson is able to use the shifting seasons to both create ans mirror the shifting tensions and dynamics between both Eve and Dom and Benedicte and the rest of her family unit. As a writer, I know that can be difficult to do well, and I think Lawrenson pulls it off beautifully!

5. Has anything surprised you to this point? Anything stand out?

Pierre and the kitten! That’s all I’m going to say in case I’m mistaken and this actually happens in part three. But if you know what I’m talking about, then yeah. It’s been a long time since a single action by a single character has literally filled me with so much anger and disgust that I was literally shaking.

6. What are your feelings about Dom in these first two sections of the story?

I have mixed feelings about Dom. Right at the very beginning, I was as enchanted by him as Eve was. He seemed funny and kind and sexy as all hell!! However, I got way sick and tired of this whole “don’t-ask-me-about-Rachel-or-I’ll-be-MAD” thing A LOT sooner than Eve did. I mean, for real. I can get being devastated by an ex and that loss. But after a certain amount of time it’s just, like, DUDE! Get over yourself! You’re either ready to be in a new relationship or your not, and I’m so not letting you jerk me around while you figure it out! There was something very Max DeWinter about him (which is no surprise, considering the many obvious similarities), but I think that the reason this didn’t bother me as much with Max as it did with Dom is that Max had the oodles of charm to pull it off, and Dom so just doesn’t!

Bonus question: Did anyone else hear “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” ringing in their ears through the first sections of the book?

Ohmygoodness YES!! Of course!! The only way, I think, you could miss them is if you’ve never read Rebecca! Especially when Eve begins with such strong foreshadowing to a broken romance and destroyed way of life all centered around a house…yeah. I definitely heard the echoes! The only thing that really bugged me, actually, was that Rebecca was actually brought up within the story as being just like the story currently happening. Stuff like that just never quite sits right with me – it’s like yelling a subtext at the top of your lungs, hitting the reader about the face with subtlety. I’d like to be trusted to get it on my own a bit more!

Well, y’all, there you have it! I’m sure it’ll be one of the last ones up, but I couldn’t miss out on the post completely, but better way later than intended than never at all! Happy reading!

Fragile Things Read-a-Long Week Four

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Hey guys! I hope that everyone out here has seen October dawn as beautifully as it has here in the Midwest. With the exception of one quite toasty day here this week, it’s been cool and sunny and all kinds of wonderful with those glorious changing trees! One of these days, I’m going to make it out to New England for a real fall, but until then I’m perfectly content with what I’ve got! The stories for this week’s installment of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman were, in my opinion, some of the best so far, although I seem to be among the few who really didn’t mind last week’s stories. This week we’re talking about “Good Boys Deserve Favors”, “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch”, “Strange Little Girls”, and “Harlequin Valentine”. And while I was totally in love with three of the stories, “Miss Finch” really did nothing for me.

“Good Boys Deserve Favors”

I think I loved this one for many of the same reasons that I loved “Flints of Memory Lane”, because of it’s realism, it’s tone, and a lingering feeling, when done, of something hiding just below the surface. It’s a fictional example, I think, of what Neil does best! However, whereas “Flints” was more about seeing the horror in he minutia of the everyday, “Good Boys” is more about the magic of reality, or at least things that exist in the everyday. At least, I like reading it that way more.

I love the concept of music as magic, of there being almost a literal spirit than can overtake you and produce beautiful music through you. This is, I believe, what happens to the “I” of “Good Boys”, and it’s why he’s able to do

things with the bass that an experienced jazz bass player with hands as big as my head would not have done

I mean, that’s magic in the everyday if I’ve ever seen it. I also think Neil does a wonderful job of creating a character who is so beautifully ordinary, who sounds like I did when I was in the sixth grade and playing the violin in my elementary school orchestra. It’s because of this normalcy that the magic of the music is that much more extraordinary. Truly, I thought this was probably one of my two favorites of the week, and I just hope that everyone else loved it as much as I did!

“The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch

Alright. So. Here is what I got from this story. I’m BEGGING for someone who liked this story to enlighten me: couple eating sushi. Fake name, bitchy lady. Creepy circus-type haunted house freak show. Many rooms. Animals, magic jungle, no more lady.

That’s it! A total, total loss for me.

“Strange Little Girls”

This was definitely my other favorite story of this week. Because I love vignettes. And because I love Tori Amos. And because they succeeded in perfectly creeping me out, right as the weather was cooling off. It was the perfect story at the perfect time and I love when that happens!

I think that some of my favorite prose in the entire collection so fa has been in this story. Take, for example, the seven lines that is the first vignette, “New Age”:

She seems so cool, so focused, so quiet, yet her eyes remain fixed upon the horizon.
You think you know all there is to know about her immediately upon meeting her, but everything you think you know is wrong. Passion flows through her like a river of blood.
She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell. All your tomorrows start here.

I mean, COME ON!!! That’s gorgeous, and while that’s not all it takes for me to love a piece of writing, it certainly helps. I also loved recognizing so many of the lines from the liner notes of Tori Amos’s CD by the same title. One of my college roommates was a huge Tori Amos fan, and turned me on to the lovely lady herself. She’s been a favorite ever since!

Some of my other favorite vignettes include “Silence”, “Time”, “Heart of Gold”, “Happiness”, and “Real Men”! Hehe 😀

“Harlequin Valentine”

This story was an interesting read for me. I loved it, but it made me sad. I was fascinated, but still get a little lost about the whole commedia dell’arte thing. I tried to wikipedia what I could, but am still having a tough time feeling comfortable saying I understood the full extent of the story. But, the good news and the blessing of it being a Gaiman story is that not fully understanding it didn’t keep me from loving it so, so completely!!!

I loved that the story started with the Harlequin pinning his real heart to the door as a valentine. There is something so grossly romantic about a gesture (emphasis on the grossly!) That he follows her all over town, spinning verse and sweets nothings in favor of his beloved Columbine I think is just the curran thing – there was something that totally drew me to the Harlequin and all if his charming, cocky swagger! 🙂

I also love that, in the end, Columbine and the Harlequin switch places. I seem to have read a number of stories like this recently (most Gaiman’s, some not!) and the idea is just fantastical and creepy enough to work. And here, it’s done with such humor that I couldn’t help but chuckle. The only problem I had with this story, in fact, is what happened after the switch!

The ending to this story was so heartbreakingly sad for me that I’m sure it’ll stick with me for a long, long time. The fact that this once magical, fun, spirited being is now living amongst the mundane, devoid of the skip and sparkle that made me love him so much to begin with. And the very end? When that single red diamond appears on “Pete’s” sleeve?! I lost it! It was so sad that I think that kept it from being one of my favorites. Not necessarily on it’s own merit, but in comparison to the other amazing stories we read this week!

Well, folks, that about wraps it up for my reflections on the fourth week of the read-a-long! In other bookish news, I’m finally going to get around to posting my latest Library Loot, which I actually recorded before Banned Books Week! I’m also glad to say that I have quite the little back-catalogue of books to talk about, so I’m looking forward to catching up on those this week! Thing with me and FBM are good, if boring, and I’m just enjoying the beautiful weather and the fabulous books! Hope that you’re enjoying your Sunday, however busy you are, and that this week is full of happy reading!

Review: Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

Stitches: A Memoir is my second ever experience with a graphic novel. My first, a flu-induced bedridden weekend and a copy of The Complete Sandman by Neil Gaiman. And let me tell you, if you’ve never read The Sandman graphic novels, that is some dark business. Dark, and wonderful. However, even though I enjoyed The Sandman, I just never really thought graphic novels were my thing. Probably because anime and manga also came to mind, and having read those, I KNOW those aren’t my thing. But, tonight I was culling my TBR pile, as I’m not going to be able to get to the library tomorrow, and I came across this book, which I bought when it was assigned for a contemporary literature class. And, I decided, why not. I’d probably be able to get through it quickly enough.

I got through it. Oh yes, I got through it. I practically inhaled it. It was less than an hour, start to finish, I would say. And it was a whirlwind of an hour. I’ve seen this book described as a “tragicomedy” by a number of reviews (yes, I’m a little late to this bandwagon. Par for the course, I’d say). But I didn’t see it. All I saw was tragedy. And a pitiable circumstance. But also a brave boy to have survived through something like this. At it’s heart, this is a story about a broken family, in an oppressed time and culture, who didn’t know how to love their son; and, of course, it’s about their son, who learned to love regardless. It’s a memoir, which is the first time I’ve ever read a non-fiction genre of graphic novel (considering it’s only my second, that shouldn’t be surprising. 😀 ), and I loved it. Which is to say, I loved David Small. Not only was his story heartbreaking and scary (how could a parent do that to their child? How can we not pity them?), but his ability to illustrate it with such beautiful, sparse artwork only echoes the feelings of sparsity and claustrophobic stoicism that runs throughout the novel.

Stitches tells the story of David Small’s life, growing up in a midwestern town of industry, with a father who is a doctor and a mother who stays at home with the children. But this is far from the happy family unit that it might appear to be on the outside. This is a family where the mother spends her entire life enraged and bitter, lashing out at her family **SPOILER** because she’s a closeted lesbian who can have affairs (with the nextdoor neighbor), but never a full life of love. ** END SPOILERS**. This is a family where the father, believing the medical science at the time, repeatedly exposes his son to X-rays in an attempt to help cure him of some sinus problems. This, while sad, could be understandable, given that the father was just following what he knew to be appropriate medical procedure at the time (this story begins in the early 1960s). However, the incredibly outrageous part (by which I mean I was outraged) **SPOILER** was that David then ended up developing cancer in his neck/throat and has to have part of his vocal cords removed, which leaves an incredible scar and permanently alters David’s life. And the even more ridiculous part? THEY DON’T TELL HIM. They tell him the mass on his neck is just a ‘growth’ that needs two surgeries to remove. I find this, I have to say, unforgivable. **END SPOILERS**

I wish I could throw this book at every person I pass. I handed it to FBM literally minutes after finishing it and, half an hour later, he was done. That’s how absorbed he was. In all fairness, it took me about an hour, but FBM is just a freakishly fast reader! If you’ve read this book, PLEASE let me know, because I’m dying to talk about it, and I have to say that it was a totally successful first attempt at graphic novel reading. Not only was the artwork beautiful and fitting, but the frequent interludes of only illustrated narration really helped me figure out my own way of ‘reading’ graphic interpretations of narrative structures. I’m hoping this will come in really handy because I just picked up The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle by Patrick Rothfuss from the library, and I’ve heard such great things about it that I can’t wait to get started.

Speaking of the library, I just got back with a HUGE haul so you can be (finally!) expecting my second Library Loot vlog sometime within the next few days. I picked up close to 30 titles on this last trip, so I’m going to do my best to keep it short, but I got such a good mix of old and new, adult and YA, fiction and non-fiction, that I may just have to spend a little bit of time ranting about just how beautiful they all are! I’m still plugging away at the R.I.P. Challenge, adding more and more novels where I can, as my short story reading actually seems to be outpacing my novels, for once! I’ve also taken up  The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells for the Dueling Monsters challenge, and as I’ve already got Cthulhu under my belt, you can expect reactions on both of those before too long! And that, my fair friends, has been an update on things going on in my reading life. Hopefully, whatever you’ve got going on, it’s happy reading times for all!

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, Read-a-Long Post One

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Oh goodness me, where to even begin with the first post on Neil Gaiman’s wonderful short story collection Fragile Things . For the first installment of Carl V’s read-a-long (part of the wonderful R.I.P Challenge VI) we read the introduction as well as “A Study in Emerald”, “The Fairy Reel”, and “October in the Chair”.

“Introduction”

I have to say that I was initially nervous to be including the introduction, as I’m not usually a big reader of introductions, especially in short story collections. In my experience, they’re usually either vague listings of various awards won, or spoiler-filled gabfests that keep me from actually having to read the story. However, with this story collection I found them to be that way only occasionally. Mostly I loved having the insight in to what prompted Gaiman to write what he did when he did, and as an aspiring writer, I find it extra inspirational to hear the authors I admire discussing their own writing processes. I’ll probably go back and read the different introductions for each story as they come up, though, as reading them all at once did cause them to become a bit jumbled in my mind.

“A Study in Emerald”

This might have been the story I liked least, due entirely to my lack of familiarity with either H.P. Lovecraft or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While I do think that Gaiman did a fantastic job imitating what I always imagined Sherlock Holmes’ voice to be, I just didn’t have enough background knowledge to fully appreciate what Gaiman was trying to do. Interesting enough, both A Study in Scarlet and a book of Lovecraft short stories were in my library loot this past week, so I’m planning on reevaluating this story when I’ve finished both of those!

“The Fairy Reel”

This poem was short but still took me a few read-throughs to fully appreciate. Once I really understood what was happening, however, it became my favorite reading from this section of the collection. Not only was it slightly haunting and macabre, it dealt with a concept that I find especially intriguing – the world of the fairy, existing at the same time alongside and yet detached from our own. Gaiman, I felt, captured this in a way I have yet to see equalled.

“October in the Chair”

I have mixed feelings about this story, and the complicated thing is that neither feeling is bad. I loves both parts of this frame tale. The idea of physical embodiments of the months, as well as the way Gaiman creates those embodiments hinted at a delicious world I wanted to lose myself in it for much, much longer. There is also the inner tale that plays with the themes of the ignored child and what gives horror it’s impact. I can see the early work that made it’s way into Gaiman’s later novel The Graveyard Book , that Gaiman says in the introduction he was working on at the time. The parallels between Bod, Dearly, and Runt are palpable from the moment the story begins. However, as great and scary as the inner story is, my problem with the story as a whole is that I felt short-changed in the part of the story I loved the most, which is the relationship between the seasons, as well as the way the embody themselves. I wanted more – way more – of that!

Well, there you have it! My first contribution on the first four stories (well, three technically) of Fragile Things . He next post will be up September 18th and will cover “The Hidden Chamber”, “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desires”, “The Flints of Memory Lane”, and “Closing Time”! I should also be back later this week with another Library Loot vlog and my thoughts in Stephen King’s The Shining . Until then, happy reading!

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