Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Need To Read: Is This a Good Thing?

Posted by Simcha 4:31 AM, under | 4 comments

I love to read and I will grab at any opportunity that presents itself to pull out a book and sneak in a chapter or two. At home, at work or on the road, I've gotten very creative at finding opportunities that will allow me to lose myself, just for a moment, in the pages of one story or another (iPhones are great for subtle reading during meetings and lectures). But lately some of my enthusiasm for reading has been dampened by the fact that I don’t have any friends to share my love for books with. For some reason very few of my friends actually read for pleasure and when I'm conversing with them I have to forcibly restrain myself from jumping in about my latest read, because they just don't care. And frankly, this depresses me.

I have begun wondering why it is that so many of my friends, most of whom are wonderfully interesting people, don't read. When I ask them they say that they just don’t have the time, and considering that most of them are young parents who busy with work and child care, this is an understandable excuse. But if you really love to read, as I do, you will always find the time, even if you have to hide out in the bathroom while the kids are banging on the door or pull out a book while washing the dishes. And since I’m unlikely to get a better answer from my friends than the one I received, I’ve begun considering the opposite question- why do I need to read?

For me reading is often an escape from the monotony of every day life, allowing me to slip into someone else’s more interesting and exciting existence for a short time. I love the adventure and magic of fantasy novels and the feel-good happy endings of a romance. I love reading travel books because they take me to places that I’ve longed to explore, and memoirs, which introduce me to interesting people who inspire me and who I would otherwise never get to meet.

But now I’m left wondering if my friends who don’t reads are perhaps just more satisfied with their own lives and their places in the world, and therefore have no need to pursue other existences within the pages of books. Maybe they feel fully enriched by the people they know and have no need for the fictional characters in books. And perhaps they don’t need to read about far away lands because they are perfectly happy where they currently are. Could not needing to read actually be an indication of a content and fulfilled personality?

I really don't know what the answer to this is, though I suspect than when I do finally set off to travel the world I will feel less of a need to turn to my books for adventure than I do now.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Quotes

Posted by Simcha 4:15 AM, under | 2 comments

I listened to the audio of The Thirteenth Tale this week and the prose was so wonderful that it was hard for me to limit myself to just these few quotes. The narration was also really fantastic, and I highly recommend this audio book, though I'm sure it's just as good in book format.
I actually did quite a bit of non-genre reading this week, which included Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and The Year of Pleasure by Elizabeth Berg, though I haven't decided yet if I'll be reviewing them here.

So here are this week's quotes.


The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)

  • There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.

  • Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes -- characters even -- caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.

  • I know there are people who don't read fiction at all, and I find it hard to understand how they can bear to be inside the same head all the time.

  • A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story.

  • Politeness. Now there's a poor man's virtue if ever there was one. What's so admirable about inoffensiveness, I should like to know. After all, it's easily achieved. One needs no particular talent to be polite. On the contrary, being nice is what's left when you've failed at everything else. People with ambition don't give a damn what other people think about them.

  • But silence is not a natural environment for stories. They need words. Without them they grown pale, sicken and die. And then they haunt you.

  • She was a do-gooder, which means that all the ill she did, she did without realizing it.

  • Everybody has a story. It's like families. You might not know who they are, might have lost them, but they exist all the same. You might drift apart or you might turn your back on them, but you can't say you haven't got them. Same goes for stories

  • I've nothing against people who love truth. Apart from the fact that they make dull companions.

Dead in the Family (Charlaine Harris)

Being alone is a lot more fun if it's optional

Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)

The wild things cried "Oh please don't go- we'll eat you up -we love you so!"
And Max said, "No,"

(There is just something about this line I really like)

Peter Brett (Just a random comment from his blog that I liked)

Have you ever desired something without even knowing it existed, and then suddenly had it appear atop your mailbox? It’s a weird feeling.

(this has never happened to me but I really wish it would)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Posted by Simcha 7:21 PM, under | 1 comment

After I had finished reading Dead and Gone last year, I told myself that if the next book in the series does not show vast improvement then I'm done with these books- and then I went on to write my harshest book review yet. So as the publication date for Dead in the Family approached, my eagerness was tinted by apprehension. Would this be the end of the road for me and Sookie, or will Charlaine Harris come through and provide a book equal to the earlier ones in the series, which had so solidly hooked me?

Well, Dead in the Family turned out to be somewhere in the middle. It certainly wasn't as bad at Dead and Gone (which is saying something) though it didn't completely renew my faith in the author's ability to turn the series around and bring back the earlier magic.

Going in, I had my doubts as to how Harris would handle Sookie's reaction to the traumatic events in the last book, and to that end I was satisfied. Harris does not make light of what Sookie has been through and she convincingly portrays Sookie's struggles to get back on her feet and recover as best she can. Sookie's relationship with both Eric and her cousin Claude are also changed by what she has been through, and the many deaths of those close to her continue to hang over her head.

Dead in the Family is a slower book than the previous ones and focuses more on Sookie's day-to-day life, and some of the relationships in which she is involved. We get to see Eric and Sookie as a loving couple and we get to spend more time with Sookie's mind-reading nephew as well as her fairy cousin, who seems to be turning over a new leaf. What keeps the book from slowing down completely is the sudden discovery of a dead body in Sookie's yard and the suspicion that there may be dangerous fairy skulking about Sookie's house. There is also a visit from Eric's maker, which puts an unpleasant kink in the couple's new relationship, and there is some trouble with the new local vampire sheriff who apparently wants Eric out of the way.

I had forgotten what a delightful characters Sookie is and I was pleased that Dead in the Family brought that back to me. Though I'm not quite as enchanted by the new loving and vulnerable Eric. Every time he called Sookie "my lover," I felt a little bit nauseous. I much preferred the dark and dangerous Eric of the earlier books, and I miss that delicious tension between him and Sookie, which is no longer present.

Dead in the Family also suffers from an overly crowded cast of characters. I felt like I was constantly being reintroduced to characters from previous books who I could no longer remember, and this really irritated me. Though it wasn't as bad as Dead and Gone, where characters kept walking in and out of scenes for no particular purpose. I was glad to see that Bill gets some much-needed attention here (no, Sookie doesn't take him back. *sigh*), though it did feel like his part of the story was tied up a little too neatly.

I suppose my ultimate feeling on finishing Dead in the Family was relief that it was better than the last book, but also resignation that the series is probably not going to improve much more. At this point I think the best move for Harris would be to try to end with a bang by focusing all her efforts on writing one last book in the series which would satisfactorily tie up all loose ends and perhaps even offer some surprises, and which will leave readers with only positive memories of Sookie and the Southern Vampire series. The alternative is not pretty.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Writer's Block video by Jackson Pearce

Posted by Simcha 6:53 PM, under | 2 comments

This is Jackson Pearce's version of Tick Tock, entitled Writer's Block, which I found over at Michelle and Leslie's Book Picks. It cracked me up so I had to share it with you.

And if you are not familiar with Jackson Pearce she is the author of the YA books As You Wish and Sister's Red, which will be released next month.

Favorite Fictional Character: Anita from West Side Story

Posted by Simcha 6:03 PM, under | 5 comments

Favorite Fictional Character
Hosted by Ryan at Wordsmithonia

Last week’s FFC post about Mary Poppins got me reminiscing about some of my other favorite musicals, and so I decided this week to choose a character from one of the musicals I enjoy the most, West Side Story.

I’ve actually only seen West Side Story on film, not live, but each time I watch it I’m equally impressed by the character of Anita, played by Rita Moreno.

West Side Story is a modern version of Romeo and Juliet in which two teenagers from rival New York City gangs fall in love in the 1960’s. Anita is the girlfriend of Bernardo, the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, and a big sister figure to Maria, the girl in love. Anita and her friends had left everything behind in Puerto Rico for dreams of success in America, only to be faced with constant racial discrimination that keeps pushing them down. But Anita remains strong and hopeful in the face of all the obstacles; a steadying influence on her hot-head boyfriend and a guiding presence to the innocent Maria. But even the down-to earth Anita is moved by Maria’s love for Tony and so she agrees to do what she can to help the two. Though it’s the result of these actions the lead to the tragic ending of this moving story.

One of my favorite numbers in West Side Story is America, a song that successfully portrays Anita's feelings and the struggles that her and her friends face in America as immigrants. (OK, and perhaps this post is also an excuse to share this clip, which I love):

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Scifi For Beginners: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Posted by Simcha 11:51 AM, under | 6 comments

I haven’t read a lot of books about aliens though I’ve always kind of imagined them as strange humanoid creatures, perhaps with antennas on their heads, who land their spaceships on Earth and demand ‘take me to your leader.’ But I’ve never thought about the other side of the story, about the humans who themselves are aliens when they arrive on foreign planets and encounter the inhabitants- at least not until I read Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

In the far-off future many new inhabited planets have been discovered and a coalition has been set up in which these planets unite in the sharing of ideas and information. Genly Ai is an envoy of this coalition, called the Ekumen, and he is sent to the planet of Winter, called Gethan by the inhabitant, to convince the citizens to join them. Unfortunately Genly Ai has difficulty understanding the Gethan culture, which is vastly different from his own, and makes numerous mistakes that place him and his mission in danger.

Genly Ai’s one real ally in Gethan is Estravan, who due to his support of the alien envoy is declared a traitor by the mad king of Karhide. The local leaders are suspicious of Genly Ai and have trouble believing his stories about life on other planets. Though it is clear that Genly Ai is of an alien species, since he is biologically different- being limited to the male gender at all time- and which leads him to be labeled “The Pervert.”

While the local population is suspicious of Genly Ai’s differences, Ai himself has a hard time accepting and understanding the citizens of Winter for the same reasons. A people who have no set gender, but rather switch genders each month, they also have no gender identities or sexual urges. Every person is capable of conceiving a child and every citizen has an equal role in society, completely lacking gender considerations. Genly Ai’s own assumptions, developed from living in a human culture, have no basis here and therefore he is thrown off balance in his political maneuvering. Refused by the king and then betrayed by those he had trusted, Genly Ai eventually finds himself depending on the one person who he trusts least

The Left Hand of Darkness starts off a bit slow, introducing the different players in the story and providing some background on the world of Gethan. But once the pace picks up I was completely captivated. I love stories of friendship, and the development of the relationship between Genly Ai and Estravan was wonderfully done. Each suspiciously views the other as abnormal, but eventually all the differences fall to the side when they have only each other to depend on.

Genly Ai has a difficult time in particular figuring out how to relate to a person without any gender guidelines to follow. The Gethan society provides some interesting questions as to what remains when gender differences are removed. We learn that there is no history of war in Gethan, which could be due to their lack of violent inclination, usually a masculine attribute, or it could just be a result of the harsh climate.

Genly Ai, on the other hand, was a bit harder to read though his love of country comes through in his actions and often leaves Genly Ai wondering what such a love really means.

I like the fact that the story is told in first person, switching between Genly Ai and Estravan’s points of view, so that readers can come to empathize equally with both of them. neither seeming more alien than the other.

The world building is also fantastic, bringing to life a world in the grip of an ice age, There is one part in particular where Genly Ai and Estravan are trekking through a vast wasteland of ice and snow, where the imagery was so vivid I had to go outside and warm up while reading.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a must-read for all science fiction fans, from novice to veteran, and I believe that even non-genre readers would enjoy it as well.


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