Hello!

I’ve been AWOL for a while, and that state of affairs might very well continue for some time—and yes, this is happening while we’re in the middle of a Middlemarch readalong which I am supposed to be hosting! A proper hostess, I shall not make, it appears. BUT I am so, so SO appreciative of both Laila and Valancy who have continued to read and post their reviews despite my AWOL-ness! I love thinking that maybe that’s because they’re both enjoying the book too much to let anything interfere with it! THANK YOU BOTH SO MUCH!

You can read their reviews of Book 4, Three Love Problems and Book 5, The Dead Hand at the following links:

Valancy
Book 4
Book 5

Laila
Book 4
Book 5

As for me, things have been really busy offline. Happily so, I might add! I’ve hosted family and friends, visited the west coast (I live on the east), driven to Niagara Falls and back, attended a friend’s wedding in another state, discussed some big life changes with husband, and all of these since just my last post! To be honest, I’m just not feeling like reading/writing that much these days.

I’m still continuing with Middlemarch and hope to write a little bit about that even though I am way behind the schedule. I’m just about to finish book 4 even though by this time I was supposed to be nearing the end of book 6! The funny thing is that I kind of don’t mind this “falling behind-ness,” you know? This break feels right.

I also finished a category romance that I LOVED, Shanon Kendrick’s The Greek’s Marriage Bargain (thanks Sunita for the recommendation!), a historical romance that I didn’t (Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Leopard Prince—I had such high hopes for it but it felt. . . too. . . over-the-top-ish to me), and that’s about it.

I have returned most of the library books, and put all my holds on freeze for the near future. Basically, I don’t have any reading plans for the next few weeks, and I’m quite ok with that! I LIKE this ebb and flow!

What about you guys? I’m sure you must have had/have your phases too, don’t you? What phase are you in right now? Do you have any specific plans in the offing? I’d love to know!

Nooks & Crannies: The Fall Version

Autumn ReadsIt’s been a while since I finished Guy Gavirel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne but for some reason I haven’t particularly felt like writing about it. And then I started feeling that till I reviewed that book I couldn’t read or write anything else—which is just stupid.

I have been reading of course.

Let me start with Patricia Wrede’s Cecilia and Sorcery book 3—a fun and fluffy read that while I enjoyed was also slightly contrived in its plotting in my opinion. I will probably read Miss Wrede’s other books when I’m in the mood for some light historical fantasy.

Then there is Jess Walter’s The Financial Live of the Poets that is quite simply howlarious. I’m about 40% of my way through and have been reading it on the Oyster app that has a lovely interface but that I haven’t found myself using a lot. The app has an instant gratification component to it in that I can start reading any book that I want the very moment I want but I would much prefer a Kindle to Oyster for that. At least the Kindle will let me highlight the text. Plus, Kindle has a bigger screen and feels easier on the eyes. So what exactly is Oyster’s place in it all? What niche, if any, does it cater to amongst the public libraries, Kindles and Overdrives of the world? Perhaps it’s of particular use while commuting? But a Kindle or an e-book reader would do as well as Oyster for that. Not something I am particularly keen to think through right now but I definitely don’t see a defining need for Oyster. I also seem to have discovered a new love for paper books with the New York Public Library. (Perhaps, Oyster would be good for markets that do not have comprehensive library systems? Oyster should certainly look at international markets for that!)

I also finally found my way to Ursula K. Le Guin, starting with A Wizard of Earthsea. Oh what a lovely person she is! I loved that Ged’s quest is more about finding himself (something that I suspected early on) than about a fight between good vs. evil. I would love to recommend this book to my youngster friends and have already put a hold on book 2!

The past month has also seen me letting go of books while half-way through. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek had to be returned to the library since someone else had it on hold. I found it a difficult book to start with but once I got in the flow I found it to be a strangely liberating read—there is something compelling and freeing about a life lived only in contemplation of nature. I could read only a few pages at a time—my preferred reading time was right before I fell asleep—and yet it was an immensely relaxing and peaceful experience.

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is another book that I found myself enjoying and yet one more book that I could not hurry through. It’s a text that demands a slowing down and falling in rhythm with its cadence to get its full flavor. And then I left it at a friend’s place while visiting and by the time I receive it, it has to be returned. Gilead has so many lovely bits:

Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it.

and

There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is power in that I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time. . . . Not that you have to be a minister to confer the blessing. You are simply much more likely to find yourself in that position. It’s a thing people expect of you.

Parnassus on Wheels is one more book that I’m reading on Oyster—I love the Professor and find myself grinning through his impassioned speeches about ‘the Good’ that books can do! To use a cliché: It’s a delightful romp!

October is such a beautiful month for reading. I’m loving the mantle of chilly weather that’s slowly settling over the northern hemisphere and find myself in a contemplative mood. I was reading about Miss K. Le Guin and also Margaret Atwood (whose Oryx trilogy is now on my TBR pile after seeing her live in a discussion with Carl Hiassen—she is so graceful and wise and erudite) and one thing that struck me about both Miss Atwood and Miss K. Le Guin is their reflective nature.

It’s as if in the allowing of your thoughts and your encounters and your musings to sort of seep through and settle in your experiences become a fertile ground for your writing. I find this fascinating because I’ve always felt that the only stories I would ever write are the ones I dream about (yep, I’ve dreamt stories and while dreaming also thought that hey, this would make a jolly good tale).

On another note, I’ve been contemplating issues of identity. There was an article in NY Times a while back about the “opt-out” generation, a generation of highly successful women in high-powered jobs who left it all to take care of their kids and who for various reasons found themselves returning to the workforce and subsequently found that they had to start at levels that were sadly nowhere near where they had left. There’s a lot to unpack there but the thing that struck me the most was how much each woman’s identity stemmed from what she had done i.e. her work persona. I think this is true for either of the sexes and I have this at the back of my mind as I embark upon Rosalind Miles’s The Women’s History of the World. I’m looking forward to seeing the identities that women have forged for themselves over the course of the last few centuries.

photo credit: dbtelford via photopin cc

Bill Bryson, Louise Penny, E-readers and Jane Austen

Made in America by Bill Bryson

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was a lothario – an excellent ‘natural philosopher’ and a successful businessman of course but a regular lothario as well?

Or that a doctor was called a ‘pisspot’ and a footman a ‘fartcatcher’ in the eighteenth century?

Made in America is my first introduction to Bill Bryson. Truth be told it’s not even my copy – my husband got it for himself but I called dibs on it as soon as I saw it having heard such praises for Mr. Bryson from Mr. Husband. My morning commute is now devoted to Made in America and I have been progressing more or less at the rate of a chapter a day.

Made in America is an exploration of the origins and oddities of American English. As Mr. Bryson points out in his introduction, these explorations would be incomplete without the historical context that led to the genesis of these words and phrases, and indeed the historical anecdotes that surround the word in question and that form such an integral part of Mr. Bryson’s storytelling makes the book a fascinating read.

If I were to think of it I would assume history to be portentous, eliciting a sort of awe and bemusement. I would certainly not expect it to have an everyday-ordinariness. Or imagine that the origin-of-all-things (ok, words in this case) could have funny overtones to it. But that is precisely the feeling that I get reading Mr. Bryson. He has a gift for taking what one would assume would be banal and boring and making it interesting and fun.

For instance, did you know that the constitution of the United States of America owes its existence to the Oyster Wars – yes, a war between fishermen over the shell-shaped, staid-looking creature? Or that we can give thanks for Daylight Savings Time to a businessman who really just wanted more hours for playing golf?

This is my first time reading any sort of historical non-fiction and I am wondering how much of my enjoyment stems from the actual history and how much from Mr. Bryson’s skills as a writer.

With a keen eye for adjectives, Mr. Bryson seems to be a virtuoso at using simple, ordinary words to paint highly vivid and at times amusing images.

On the early colonists borrowing words from the Indians: “Most Indian terms, however, were not so amenable to simple transliteration. Many had to be brusquely and repeatedly pummelled into shape, like a recalcitrant pillow, before any English speaker could feel comfortable with them.”

On American English slowly assuming its own identity: “Partly from the lack of daily contact with the British, partly from conditions peculiar to American life, and partly perhaps from whim, American English soon began wandering off in new directions.”

~*~

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

The Beautiful Mystery, the latest in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec series, is the other book I’m currently busy with. This is my first introduction to Louise Penny and to crime fiction in general (my only other foray in recent times was The Faithful Place by Tana French – a novel I liked).

As with Miss French I find myself fascinated more with the characters than the plot. Indeed I have a suspicion that Miss Penny means it to be so. The Chief Inspector’s claim that a murder is really just the tipping point – a culmination of the thousands of small hurts and disagreements that began much earlier than the actual act of murder – makes me even more interested in the characters – who they are, their motivations, their ambitions – than in the plot that is unfolding.

I am inclined to think that in learning more about the individual, I will come to know more about the murder. Or that is what Miss Penny seems to be nudging me to think!

Update Feb 1, 2013: I’m now half-way through the book and the plot is thickening; the characters are more fleshed out; the fog around enimities and back-stories is slowly dissolving. In all, the book is becoming un-putdownable!

~*~

The Argument for Books— ‘Heavy, Smelly, Cumbersome, Perfect Bound Books’ –  pushes across a point that at times seems to me a big justification for physical books – that “Books are a nexus”. Reading is a solitary experience and the advent of e-readers has made it more so. “Heavy, smelly, cumbersome books” through book stores and libraries and the passing of one copy from one generation to another makes the reading experience more communal.

I love and enjoy my Kindle hugely; however, I am NOT in favour of a completely paperless world. I see value in having BOTH paper and e-books and I most certainly do not want e-books to obliterate paper books.

I also wonder at the slightly fanatical tone that seems to tinge both the camps in any discussion on this issue.

I’m also thinking about Litlove’s recent comment that, “The problem with the ebook is that it is fundamentally a gadget, not a significant technological improvement in the act of reading.”

What do you think?

~*~

In other news, 28th January was the 200th birthday of Pride & Prejudice!

Here’s a great article in LA Review: Pride & Prejudice Forever – I am tempted to look up the Patricia Meyer Spacks edition. I would love a critical reading of Pride & Prejudice with an understanding of the historical and political context in which Jane Austen wrote it.

And if you haven’t  yet you should check out The Lizze Bennet Diaries once. They’re fun!

Quick & Snappy

It’s another year! A Happy Happy 2013 everyone! To quote Dag Hammarskjöld, “For all that has been — Thanks. For all that shall be — Yes.”

Kindle Paperwhite Anyone?

As I’ve told my husband his gift to me this Valentine’s Day shall be the Kindle Paperwhite! I AM interested in user feedback before the purchase though – what has been your experience if you’re using it?

While I love e-ink which is easy on the eyes I HAVE found myself wishing for a backlit screen for all the times when everyone else is fast asleep and I’m snuggled in and too cozy to move elsewhere!

Reading & Writing Resolutions

I don’t really have any except to whittle down my TBR, and inflate it at the same rate.  And of course to write more and more.

These Last Few Weeks

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer: A delightful romp despite the implausibility of a heroine who is perpetually perky, a few character turnabouts a little hard to believe in, a 20 year old age difference between the hero and the heroine and the general omniscience of the hero.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore: Another rave-review getter which turned out to be ok-ish for me. The characters and the plot line were somewhat simplistic; they lacked the layers for me to sink my teeth into despite Kristin Cashore touching on some tough-world issues in the book. The overall tone was a little juvenile for me – which considering that Graceling is marketed as a YA novel is something that I should not be complaining about I guess! Oh, well.

The Snow Child by Eown Ivey – Review to come. On the whole, I enjoyed it!

Coming Up Next (reading-wise). Hopefully.

The Chocolate Kiss – Laura Florand
Brownies & Broomsticks – Baily Cates
Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt

No fantasy for the time being. The very thought of fantasy brings up that sickly sweet feeling that one gets after gorging on too much sugar!

a reading meme

Found this wonderful meme over at Litlove’s and wanted to give it a whirl!

The Book I’m Reading

Jo Walton’s ‘Among Others’ – universally good reviews plus a 2011 Nebula followed by a 2012 Hugo clinched the deal. This was, however, a month ago. At the time that I started Among Others I also embarked upon Francis Lymond’s 10 year journey with Dorothy Dunnett little realizing that I would be dead to everything else till I finished the six part series. Of course, once I finished the series I was left gasping for breath and had to breathe in a lung-full of something sweet, something light. Once THAT was over with as well I could finally settle into Among Others.

Among Others is a fantasy unlike others in that the story’s not choc a bloc with fantastical creatures and other-worldly happenings. In fact now that I think of it the story’s touched more by an air of mystery than fantasy – the event that triggered Morganna’s current life situation are never fully revealed (Morganna is the 15 year old socially awkward bibliophile who narrates the story). Her mother is hinted at being literally evil but we do not really hear from her or of her other than Morganna’s oblique references. The secondary characters especially Wim and Morganna’s paternal relations, grandfather Sam and her father’s three sisters, all portend trouble – of things coming to a head in the second half of the novel where all these secondary characters are going to become important. And of course writing the above just made me realize that Miss Walton has definitely succeeded in imbuing her story with a certain atmosphere – a thick pall of rain and thunder and storm is what I would associate the story with. I’ll come back to this once I’m done with the whole novel.

The Last Book I Read

Pride & Prejudice – Ahh, I loved this re-reading so much. Sort of like soaking in the warmth of the sun after a particularly chilly night. The romance between Miss Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was delightful. So too was the ridiculousness of the haughty Lady Catherine and the obsequious Mr. Collins. I appreciate the fact that while from my 21st century perspective I find these characters a tad unrealistic and tending to be a little caricature-like they probably have their grounding in the norms that were prevalent in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Of course each character could also be held up as a template of a certain type of individual that remains as true in the 21st century as it probably was in Miss Austen’s times – Mrs. Bennett and Lydia Bennett, the fluffy heads with nary a care except all that would be judged by the social barometer; Jane Bennett and Charles Bingley who seem naïve and too-good-to-be-true with the sweetness of their tempers and kindness of their dispositions; Mr. Bennett who seeks solace and amusement in his books and the absurdities of life as his coping mechanism for the choice he made in marrying Mrs. Bennett; and last but not the least Elizabeth and Darcy who in the surety of their opinions and in the blend of a certain selfishness and caring affection towards their family members and friends are perhaps the most easily relatable. I have to admit that I would not mind reading Pride & Prejudice in a proper classroom setting with a rigorous analysis of the novel as well as of the context in which Miss Austen wrote this much beloved work.

The Book I’ll Read Next

Ahh, all the contenders have been swept aside by the release of Karen Marie Moning’s next installment in the Fever world series – Iced.  I am a fan of Miss Moning’s packs-a-punch storytelling where half the world’s population is dead and the other half is busy cavorting ‘in the Faerie’. I came to the Fever series late which was odd considering that I was a big fan of her Highlander romances. However, once begun I could not put the books down – a heavy dose of paranormal elements crossed with alpha-male-hunkiness dunked in a world of non-whimpering females who can kick some major ass is as good a pleasure-read as it gets. Why these would not be the epitome of comfort-read is something that I might need to explore in another post; for the time being for a thoroughly enjoyable bout of pleasure reading I’d most certainly recommend the Fever series.

The Last Book I Bought

My last purchase was actually last night – Persuasion from the Kindle store since after re-reading Pride & Prejudice I want to go through all of Miss Austen’s works again.

The Last Book I Was Given

It’s been a while since I was given a book. I think the last one was a collection of poetry edited by Edward Hirsch. I love what I call ‘Poetry of the Everyday’ and I distinctly remember this collection featuring several of those kind… perhaps it’s time for a re-read. Speaking of poetry, I love the sort written by David Whyte, Billy Collins, Jane Hirschfield and Mary Oliver – they remind me of the joy and the poetry lurking in the interstices of life. And writing this brings the forceful realization that it’s been a really long while since I read any. I think one of my next purchases is going to be a book of poems!

In the meanwhile

I need a break. In the wake of Dorothy Dunnett this implies:

  • Prose which I can read at my normal reading speed
  • Plot which does not turn and twist on itself
  • Villains who are not creepily scary
  • Characters who have not had a classical education
  • A completely and thoroughly contemporary setting (I cannot bring myself to read anything historical for a while)

In other words a reading experience which is soothing and comforting and is absolutely the opposite of the all-consuming Lymond Chronicles. I feel like a diver who has surfaced after a particularly intense dive and is gasping for breath.

I am looking forward to reading Miss Dunnett’s Niccolo series but will have to build the stamina for plunging into her world again – something which I do not think will happen before the beginning of the next year.

For my immediate consumption I have lined up:

  • 2 Carla Kelly romances – one of my favourite comfort-read authors
  • Sarah Addison Allen – The Girl Who Chased the Moon
  • Jo Walton – Among Others

Next I want to try the Persephone books which I’ve come across a lot on other book blogs.

If anybody reading this has any reccommendations for comfort reading, do give me a shout out!